I hate small talk

I hate small talk. I thought when I was alone in the dark while all my flatmates were deep in their sleep. Drops of water were falling on the roof outside. I wondered how I was always arrested by the sound of drops on the roof at night, no matter where it was in the house I lived with my parents, at the Grand Manolis, in the residence hall where I stayed during my four years in college, or at every apartment and studio I used to live in. Is it perhaps because it is the only sound you can hear at night?

I would love to talk to ALMOST everybody I know, to listen to their childhood, their love stories and share with them mine, their struggles and their thoughts. Is there anyone out there still awake at this hour like me? What are in their minds? I would love to hug them, to kiss them, men and women, and spend a night (with or without sex) with them, to know what human touch means and to what extent people can share their experiences and memories. I would love to spend hours on end with my mother in our garden back home, to tell her my romantic affairs and to listen to hers, to stare together at the sky above while millions of stars are shining on us. I would love to hug her and fall asleep as if I was a child, to feel her heartbeats and breaths.

I thought about how much I have changed since I left home at the age of fifteen.

On a night like this, before Patrick’s father was diagnosed with cancer, he would come and we would spend the night together. And so many times I thought, when we were making love, I would tell him I love him. But I held back. Even until I hugged him from behind and kissed his neck could I not tell him I love him.

I thought about the letter I would love to write to Thomas, but I would be unlikely to write because I was afraid that it would disturb him. How many letters are there that ones love to write but cannot? How many loves and sleepless nights have been flying high and fading away with time while ones age and die?

I thought about our time together. And in the end, he supposed that I did not love him but I was sorry for his love for me.

Can ones ever be known? Their deepest thoughts and desires? What in their minds when they are making love? Their self-hate and self-deceit? Can ones ever know what is in each other’s head and heart? Even their closest?

Advertisements

He will sing me happy birthday

Il n’a pas encore écrit”, Ludisia thought while she was watching a snail trailing on the grass, her nails filthy; the sky hung low, des nuages comme des vagues. They granted her enough freedom to go around. After all, she was too old to run away, and she had nowhere to go.

It fell down, and she stayed there in the garden. Outside the fence, some children were playing in the rain, splashing. She remembered the wool jacket that she knitted for him. Though it was not as beautiful as those that other mothers in the neighbourhood made for their children because she was not good at knitting, nor at other household tasks that women of her time were supposed to be good at, he loved it and he wore it with inexplicable euphoria, and he treasured it.

She came to wonder why she was also not good at keeping and raising livestock and poultry. When she kept pigs, they refused her efforts to feed them, and they lost their weight. The rabbits refused to milk their kittens while the chickens caught avian flu and ended up dying in myriad and the dogs died out of some mysterious diseases. The only exceptions were ducks, mulards and cats; the former two he would joyfully look for earthworms to feed, the latter she had many and managed to keep despite her husband’s aversion for the animals, and the first of which she brought home when he was twelve years old, which he loved dearly, much to the extent that he slept with the cat every night, and kissed him every time he went home after school, whose death he mourned with bouts of tears. She had to sell the cat for someone whom she believed a butcher upon pressure from her neighbours and her husband because the animal killed a great deal of chicks for food. She tried to have him neutered, without success.

“The poor boy,” she thought.

She was not good at cooking too: she boiled everything, and she argued that oil and fire were not healthy. And she remembered how, durante los variosos años, she would hold his hands while he was sleeping, a summer came to her mind, and fan him during the night. The boy would wake up and stand motionless to watch the sunlight coming aslantwise into the house, reflected in the mirror. “What had he thought,” she wondered.

And she remembered her feelings, years later, when she ran her fingers along words that he wrote in his notebooks, those that she couldn’t understand but for her, they were like his soft skin when he was just an infant pulled out of her womb. She touched those lines with great maternal pride, and with a strike of nostalgia, tears appeared in her eyes, droplets. She tried to imagine how it was in Argentina, the land she knew nothing about.

And she remembered the time when she led her children to the field where she worked. He would play with his sister, throwing their hats, which they called boomerangs or UFOs. And they would drum on an old empty shell to make false alarms. “Planes coming,” they shouted. And she smiled at the memories of those times when she brought them to public screenings of Russian films which both she and the children did not understand but which served as some rare intervals away from the idyll of monotonous life in the mountains.

She had not come back to her hometown for five years since his birth when she brought him there. She almost lost the way. And memories came flooding back to her when she stepped into the house, around which she had run frantically when she came home with her hair cut short, much to her father’s shock and anger. “I used to be rebellious,” she thought. It was perhaps in the same rebellious, stubborn, and sometimes mischievous way that he dressed up in role plays, sometimes as a handsome prince, sometimes as a glamorous princess, to a great degree of comfort, defying definitions of gender, that he deceived his peers in the neighbourhood into eating poultry food and plant roots, that he tried to grow his hair long during his time in schools when boys of his age were discouraged to do so, that he refused to attend tutorial classes for university entrance exams, that he chose a career path against her husband’s wills, that he loved boys instead of girls.

She trembled with cold. She almost lost him when he was six, suffering from a grave diarrhea. What if he did not make it, she asked herself hundreds of times.

“Oh, my poor naughty boy,” she sighed.

 

The rain let up, and she was alone in the garden. The children were not there on the other side of the fence.

“I need to make a cake. I already have all ingredients. Today is my birthday”, she mumbled, almost to herself. Then she would make a cake out of mud, and bake it in a fire she made with small dry logs she managed to find.

The snail was still trailing, now on a plant’s branch.

“He will sing me happy birthday,” Ludisia thought.

the terrific news

“Last night I dreamed I came back to Grand Manolis.” It is not an illusion from the last days I was in P anymore. It is what I say to myself every day when I wake up in the morning, to the patches of sunlight coming through my window in Saigon. It is the thought that I come back to Grand Manolis, lying on that huge bed in the 150-odd years-old house and that I would wake up the day after with the sound of the vendors downstairs and a thin veil of mist from the river that serves as sleeping pills that help me go to sleep every night.

Everything was a dream, I once thought when I first came back to Saigon. Ning dans le sommeil, je niyeah various idiomas, including el idioma étranger que j’ai inventé quand j’étais petit.

With Toru, I went for a hike. I drank the local wine that he brought with him, of which sweet aftertaste I love. I would love to die there, if possible, with him, I told him. He also shared with me the love of the idea that we would die somewhere like this, in the forest, and the death would disturb noone. And we went on, to explore a cave, then we would go farther, as far as there was no beaten path. We would walk on the grass until we reached where mountains stood as great walls to stop us. And we sat by a lake, from which came emerald-like light, surrounded by bushes. He made a fire while the night wore on and I was rambling that we should have made a camp there, and that we should have brought a tent and food.

In the end, we came back home. In the darkness, we were holding hands. And days after, he texted me to tell me that in those very moments, when he held my hands to lead me out of the forest, he thought that perhaps in a second when he looked back, I would disappear. He was so afraid that I would not be there.

I told Patrick and Thomas the terrific news. Thomas did not even reply my text. And I and Patrick had a fight over it, and he did not say anything good about it (yet). We have rarely talked ever since, though we met and made love, one of the best we could have. I also told Toru, who told me that he was sad because I would travel far from him, but anyway he sent me congratulations and wishes. No lovers of mine were happy with the terrific news I told them.

I studied Patrick’s nude photos that I took, again and again, and thought about the good times when we were happy, when he talked and I hardly said anything, when it would rain almost every time we went out and then we would come back to my apartment late at night, maybe soaked, and we would kiss, when we first talked when were on that island… while I was waiting for his messages.

The Grand Manolis, to whom I said, in the local language, before I left it “Goodbye, I hope that one day soon I will be here again. See you.” will be there for me to come back, soon.

I looked up to my bookshelf, on top of which stays a clear bag in which there is a piece of paper on which lays Riht’s name in his hand-writing, an artefact for our first rendezvous when I first kissed him.

the language of love

Last night I dreamed I came back to the Grand Manolis. The sentence has haunted me for days.

 

I drank vodka, with cannabis, which gave me illusions that must be the experience, it is believed, one would have in one’s last moments when one’s life passes before one’s eyes. Je suis tombé an abyss, against whose floor I was beaten myriad of times. I wondered if I was going to die, if death would be like this.

At nights, I would sit by the window, my head on my crossed arms, nocturnal wind ruffling my hair, a cat lying on a air-conditioner outside the opposite building where, I supposed, Riht was deep in his sleep.

‘When I leave, they will rent the house out or maybe sell it. When I come back, I won’t live here anymore.’

‘That’s a pity. I’m so sorry to hear.’ said he.

 

Toru sent me a message to tell me that he knew a place in our hometown similar to a Mongolian landscape, that he would like us to go there when I am back home. I was writing when Riht appeared at his window, and gave me a sad smile, which was, for me, unbearable.

I would lie on my bed, staring out the window and think I would love to die like this, here, staring out the window to wait for days to pass by, thinking about the next book, a beautiful novel I have in mind but never write down a word, about a picture I have in mind but too lazy to touch on the brushes. Soon, so soon that one day my neighbour, my lover, my dancer will look out his window and will not see me waiting for him there. So soon that if I have ever a chance to come back, I will not have that window for my own use, with the view to the the building opposite, painted in red and yellow, and wake up in the warm sun to the sounds of street vendors downstairs.

He must have stood by that window long before I came and will stand there long before I leave.

It was one in the afternoon when I first came, with my heavy luggage, to start my sojourn of four months here. I must have spotted him several times before I gave him my first smile, with which began our story.

‘I didn’t like Vietnamese before. Until I met you. I think I like you.’

 

The motorbicycle driver is very nice to me, he taught me some of the local language, and smiled and talked to me almost every time I sat on my balcony, drinking, smoking…

 

The other day we, I and Riht, went out for dinner. Then we would come back to my apartment, and we would learn ‘yeung peei-l-ngeah’ (we together), and we would repeat the words.

The day after I was gloomy. Only the sight of him could give me joy, but at the same time it is the reminder that I will not see that face before long.

Summers are endless here but they are not endless for me, or anyone else.

 

I am Riht. I am fifty years old. Each time I visit this part of the city, memories of the short-lived romance twenty years ago come flooding back. I will stand, sometimes for hours on end, staring at the shopping mall, and making up in my mind images of a young man standing there by his window in an old French colonial building, perhaps the most beautiful one I have ever seen, he would appear and hold my gaze. He is three years younger than me.

The building was destroyed, and replaced by a modern one, flashy and chic. And he never comes back. He is the most free-spirited man I have ever seen, easygoing and open with his homosexuality. I still remember his strange accent, his incredibly slow speaking, and his insatiable curiosity in everything in my language, trying to learn it in short time himself.

“You’re a liar. I can’t believe you. You’re too easy to go to bed.” I told him, through his computer, when he told me he had no boyfriend back home at the moment, upon which he laughed out loud and told me that perhaps he was the most sincere person on Earth, at which I burst into laughter.

I have been bored with life, sometimes I think I don’t want to live anymore.

The last day he was here, he gave me a bottle of honey as a gift, such a bad choice he had, I thought, which I could only take a small spoon each time, for I was afraid that it would run out soon, which took one year. I still keep the empty bottle, and two pieces of paper, on which were written his phone number on the first day we exchanged looks and smiles and later his address in Vietnam.

And… tale has it that one day he will come back, my prince, my sok sabaay, my beh-daw.

 

I am doing everything more slowly, preparing my dinners, reading, working, washing dishes, as if by doing that I can slow down time.

 

Towards the end of my stay here, my love for the place and the country has become somewhat overwhelming, de profundis. And if I love it that much, will the apartment remember a young man who, in his last days, at nights, would drink and cry his eyes out by the window for the sorrow of being apart?

 

One day, I will write I stayed at an apartment opposite W. P. Post Office. I was sitting on the balcony while local men were gathering down the street, talking vigorously in the language that some day, became, for me, the language of love. Or perhaps, it is more likely, nothing will be written because memories have chosen to leave me, forever.

Em ơi, đi đâu?

‘Are you afraid that your mother might be worried or that our neighbours may gossip about us?’

‘They are already gossiping about us.’ said he.

My mother has an ear illness. And I don’t want our neighbours look down on me, which can make my mother’s health worsen.’ he continued.

‘Do you speak Vietnamese?’ asked he.

‘Of course I do. It is my mother tongue.’

Perhaps he has noticed that I always speak English.

 

And he told me that he once used to have a boyfriend, seven years ago, before he was married and had a son, and that it was because it was tradition that he would get married. I tried to imagine how his boyfriend was, how they loved when he had been at my age when I was still in college. I would love to talk to him in his language, of which my command was confined to basic conversational phrases.

 

And I and he, we were talking in our sign language when we were making love in silence.

 

Em ơi, đi đâu?’ asked he. It was one of the very few sentences he can speak, in mine. And with that he cracked a wide, beaming, childish smile. And I would teach him how to say Happy New Year in my language, adding that I am speaking with northern accent, which has more tones than its southern counterpart, and which is more difficult to a foreign ear, in my opinion.

 

‘I do hope that one day you will have such freedom as I have now.’ said I, though I am not sure how much freedom I have at the moment.

 

And in the morning, I will wake up, deep in my melancholy, standing by the window, looking towards the opposite building, to wait for him to appear right in the frame of his window, to see him smile, half naked, whose the lower part of the body I already know quite well, thinking that we had only brief moments together while birds are jumping on the very tole roof where every noon those s’va would play their game.

 

Sohm mawng pak ch’muy keo. I told him when I called. I would tell him that he is sang-ha, and he would tell me that I am s’aat. Khnyom sro laeng naah. I would tell him, after which he would repeat the sentence. And with him, I have learned the word p’teak vinh, “home” in English it is. He told me his birthday, which was September 9th 1987 when I showed him my passport with my photo taken five years ago and my own birthday.

 

I felt a sudden pang in my heart when the thought that one day, when he is old, he will say to himself, in a hot afternoon like this, thinking about me, came to my mind. Will I think about him then? Or will I be alive then to think after all? Where will I be then?

 

I woke up this morning, with the hangover which I did not know of alcohol or of love, waiting for him at my window, thick grey clouds hung in the sky, signalling a hard rain, which did not come. The day before yesterday I took a photo of his window when he was not there, and pictured him in the middle of it, my imagination served me well, and then he told me that he rented the house, and gave me his address in the countryside, which is about more than 70 kilometres from P. and that I could find him there, which I thought was more improbable than the scenario that Patrick would meet me here.

 

We hugged when we said lia-hao-ih and riet th’ray sua s’dei at two in the morning when he had to leave for his house, just metres away from me across the narrow street.

 

I will try to remember when we kissed, and when he loved to play with our mixed semen, with childish joviality.

 

One day, will he think about me and say ‘Em ơi, đi đâu?

Heureux ici. Pourquoi partir?

This morning I woke up early and sat at the table outside my bedroom, overlooking the garden, of which trees were rustling in the wind from the river, the red sun rising, birds singing and insects chirping, and at times a rooster would cluck… It was about ten kilometres away from the city’s centre. A few days before, I had anticipated all this, and that on that table, I would write about him.
I believe that in my last moments, when it is said that all memories in one’s life will pass by in a minute, I will remember him, a traditional dancer three years older than me, once married then divorced with a son, and I will remember his smell, his lithe body and his radiant smiles. He will always be thirty, in corners of my mind, standing by that window with blue shutters, half naked, the building where he is staying is painted yellow, corrugated by time. I would stand by my window, drinking and smoking, and watching him, giving him my welcoming smiles, fixing my gaze at him until he disappeared from the vista. And we would talk in a sign language only we know.
Love does not need words. I thought.

I’m scared, my family is here, he said.
Don’t be scared. I am three years younger than you and I am not scared. Why are you? There is nothing to be scared of. We are young and we need to live the lives we want. If not now, then when? I said. (It has become somehow a motto.) And I started undressing him, and bathing his body with my kisses. We silently made love.

I will come back there, sitting in the warmth of the sun, watching him. I made a promise, almost to myself.
I will remember all this, when I die.

Pero, je pense que… Anyway, kom barom. I must have said, mixing the languages after shots of whisky, Irish.
We danced and kissed. And when the lyrics read ‘el corazon’, I made a heart shape with my fingers and pointed to my chest where the heart is.

It is a pity that we can only meet briefly, he said.
Please go with me.
I cannot afford it. But when you have time, please come back to see me.

We kissed goodbye when it was time for him to come home, one hour and a half later than the normal 10 o’clock. Riet threy sua s’dei.
I came to bed, whispering Recuerdame myself to sleep.
Many years from now, if I have chance to come back, and stand by my window, will I see him?
‘… one afternoon at four o’clock we separated
for a week only…. and then-
that week became forever.’ Cavafy
Will a week, or a month become forever?

At one point, I would imagine when I grow so old, I would open my files and look for a picture of him that I took, he, deeply suntanned, standing by the window, half naked, would once again give me his winning smiles, yet reluctant at first when I gave him signals to come over and have a drink, who, in our second encounter, as if sensed how brief it was (or was it his nature), was wild in love, though still that wildness was enveloped in his shyness, where my words failed me, and at that very moment I would probably think:
‘That’s the very same body I once enjoyed.
‘I see those beloved, naked limbs again.’ Cavafy again.

With our first sua s’dei are already harbingers of departure.
On the wall on the way downstairs from the living room, I caught sight of a plate that reads Heureux ici. Pourquoi partir? Perhaps some time I will ask myself the same question.

bubbles in the rain

P has had two days of torrential rain. I was awoken today by the cold, like yesterday, my breath smelled of vodka, Latvian.

I stood by the window, watching the rain, thinking that Patrick might have hugged me from behind. And I watched the window of the oposite building, where, on Friday, a young neighbour would stand looking at me. We exchanged looks, and smiles, those easy and radiant smiles he had. He is young, his body lithe and deeply suntanned. And we waved at each other, at dusk. The night came, and he stood at the window, with no shirt on, and gave me his winning smiles while I gave him signals that he should come over to have a drink, upon which he shook his head in refusal. And we talked, I by my window and he by his, with our fingers. I asked him his phone number, which, after he returned to his room, he wrote on a piece of paper, which I told him that I could not see. I was about to give him mine, with my fingers, when another neighbour came to the window next to his, talking on his phone and smoking. He returned to his room, and I stood there whispering my wish that he would come by again, only once would suffice. After all, the annoying neighbour disappeared, leaving the vista for my muse, who smiled and signalled that his much younger sister would come downstairs and give me the note in which was written his number. And I hurriedly scratched a piece from my notebook, wrote down my number and dashed off downstairs to give the girl.

So I had his number. I texted him to tell him my name, and where I came from. And it was not until a moment passed that I called him. And much to my dismay, he talked in the local language, and all I could get from it was that he does not speak English.

Late at night, he came by the window, waving me goodbye and, his hands clapped together and put under his tilted head, telling me that he was going to bed soon. And with the closing window, he was off the scene.

And today morning, I stood by the window and imagined that he was standing by his, smiling at me. And a sudden feeling awakened in me that I missed my ex lovers less and less, in the rain, and even that I was less certain about Patrick. They all now stood behind a veil that I could not reach out for. And I stared down at puddles on the street, and thought that my memories were flowing like bubbles in the rain. And I recalled those times of rain when I was a child, I would play in the puddles and make boats out of my notebooks and exam papers, and let them float away along the stream. The neighbourhood was deserted, because of the hard rain.

And I stood in the garden while the moon was rising, bathing the river with its golden light. I was enveloped in the silence, disturbed only occasional boats passing by. And it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. 

That was what I thought when I sat in the garden at Helen’s. And one morning in February or March, I will wake up in one of the rooms there, and I will watch the sunrise and think that much later I will miss these days when I thought about the young men with a title in my mind “Boys in the country of endless summers.”

Like bubbles in the rain, my memories flow…