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.”

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.

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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…

… so was gone Grandma

‘Where are you?’ asked my uncle.

‘I’m working.’ I replied

It’s always the way I detour when I cannot, or do not want to, answer the question directly. It’s the way I will give the other with a snippet of information which is not by all means relevant, but which will quench their curiosity and prevent them from asking further.

‘So you has yet to know. Your maternal grandmother passed away. I thought that you were coming back home.’

‘No, I don’t know. And I don’t come back.’

And that’s how I get the news.

 

I called my mother. And after I pulled up, my limbs were shaking in their numbness in my memories of her, Grandma, which were just fragments. All memories are fragments. And I imagined her, a young woman coming there to a new economic zone, from her lowlands, fearless and ambititous to find something new, to make her own life far from the village where she was born. And she met her would-be husband, who died eleven years ago, whom she survived with dignity and deeply concealed sorrow, from then onwards her health worsened, as did her memories. And she had five children, my mother was her first.

 

It was not until I was four or five years old did I come to visit her for the first time. My mother had not come home for such a long time then that she lost her way in the city. And we, I and my older sister, visited Grandma’s almost every summer, until I went to highschool, far from my parents.

She was a stern woman, who quickly gained her notoriety as the most cantankerous one in the neighbourhood, of whom we, I and my cousins, would be very afraid when we were playing around with our mischievious games and pranks.

All came flooding back, her house, its enigmatic smell, which I usually fondly refer to as ‘the smell of Grandma’s’, her orchard, where I would bath near a well always full of fresh water, her tea hills, where we would come to harvest green tea leaves, as did her way when she looked after my youngest aunt and Grandpa when they fell ill, always stern, with her own love, which was hardly describable.

She was my last surviving grandparents, and of whom I had most memories. She was also the only one among my grandparents well enough to come to visit us when I was a child.

 

And I missed her dry bamboo fence, and the strange plants in her garden, which I would bring home, with bliss, to grow among my patches of peanuts. And I missed the way she would scowl at us when we did something wrong. And I tried to imagine what she did when my mother came home from her school, cutting her hair short, by which Grandpa was enraged and chased after her in the garden.

 

When I visited her last September, she hardly remembered a thing, nor even her first child, my mother, but she somehow managed to call my name, at which I did not give a response, as reckless and unapologetic as I have always been. And it was the last time she could ever properly call a name.

 

‘We never prepare for the last time.’ Patrick once told me. Yes, we never prepare, nor will ever do.

 

The house that Grandpa and Grandma had built, in which we enjoyed playing, was abandoned for good. The grand old longan tree was gone, chopped down. A star must fall, somewhere in the universe. And so was gone Grandma.

so a new year comes: year-end notes

20 December

After some beer, I decided that I must go out, that I could not stand being here any more, that I needed to see le monde. I walked, along the river, and stopped only when I passed the royal palace, where I managed to find a place on the quay. And as soon as I sat down and lit a cigarette I saw a boy, likely an orphan. His skin dark, his hair short, and he wore a white coat. He took a coconut from the dustbin nearby, shook it to check if there was any juice left, then he licked the top, and after a moment he took a straw also from the bin, and drank, his face motionless. I thought our lives converged in that very moment. And in minutes, he left. I looked around but could not find his trace, only the dried coconut left.

Some day I will miss my life here, sitting on the balcony, drinking and wandering my eyes from the trees, the bougainvilea bush to the post office, to the sky. I wondered why I was always at ease every time I was by a riverside. A monk came and sat right where the boy had left, talking on his phone. Across the river stood, perhaps, the most luxurious hotel in town. The boat floated away, on its numerous well-off passengers, mostly foreigners. Above my head, the flag of Portugal was flying in the wind. Years from now, memories of these days might have been well broken like discrete mosaics of a never-finished picture of my past.

How many times have I imagined Patrick would be dead on his way to meet me.

Spots of light were playing on the cloudy sky, against Sufjan Stevens’ Mystery of Love.

 

24 December

The young tourist guy stood with, let’s say maybe his boyfriend, and a local tour guide, who was pointing at the post office, talking something that could well be his story about the place, everything of his reminded me of Daniel, his bag, his legs, his figure, his shadow under the scorching sun, his reluctance.

I kept staring at the red wall of the opposite building, birds jumping on branches of the tree outside. I thought about those who had lived here before me and those who would live after I left. Dans la grande melancholie, I watched the dusk falling.

 

25 December

In high school, with no mobile phones and almost no Internet, we would come to a phone booth with a prepaid card to call home and we would write letters, heaps of letters. I would lie on my berth in the dorm room, and I would wait for winter nights to pass me by.

… At the beach nearly a year ago, I would have been singing A la claire fontaine, as I was doing now, in the grand house.

 

26 December

I had dinner at Armand’s near the Old Market in my neighbourhood, which I enjoyed with happiness. Maybe partly because my heart had long yearned for happiness. I rained hard when I reached home… I thought about all the men with whom I had affairs, both in long-term relationships and flings, what they said to me now I could only recall in my own voice. The rain reminded me of my childhood summers, when it would be raining hard like this, and of those times I went out with Patrick. It finally abated, as every rain, and as every love, and the night was silent, disturbed only by occasional motorbicycles passing by.

Everything was ephemeral like the the smoke I poured out. The sound of water pattering on the roof of the opposite building was ringing out in my mind.

One more drink and I would go to sleep.

 

28 December

When I washed away the dry semen on my belly from the masturbation the night before and my sweat and all the tiny dust from this city on my body at night, my memories of him were fading, so was my burning desire for him. I have come to embrace my loneliness which gave me tranquility though I have been still thinking about him and speculating about all that could have happened. Scattered white cloud scudded against the velvet of the dark blue sky, then gone. Stars and the moon lit brightly.

When I finished my last cigarette or my first one of a new day,  breezes moved up the trash on the street.

 

Early in the morning, I woke up to find a butterfly had landed on the floor, immobile, his wings so delicate, as a thin paper. I took some pictures of him, and it was not a few days later did I knew that he died on the same spot, perhaps out of tiredness, of his life, that I wondered.

 

30 December

I thought, in retrospect, that one year before, at this time, I could not imagine that my three-year relationship with Thomas would end, and that, even in my wildest dreams, that I have come so close to Patrick, not to mention that I slept with him, through the long rainy nights. I had not given him a thought, though we saw each other every day. At the end of the day, we could anticipate nothing. Rien du tout.

 

31 December

On the morning of the last day of the year, Patrick texted me to tell me that he had had a dengue fever that confined him in bed for ten days, and that he had yet to check his postal box, and so he had not seen my postcard. And we spent the first half of the day talking, about Call me by your name the movie he had recently watched, and almost everything about him during the time I was not in S. I resorted to all my willpower not to tell him where I was, that in the letter I had sent him three weeks before I had invited him to come to visit me during the festive days, which by the time had certainly become disillusion.

On New Year Eve, right at midnight, when two hands of the clock on the façade of the post office seen from my window reached twelve both, a fifteen minute fireworks display began, which, as I was engrossed in reading, had mistaken as a terrorist bomb exploded, because it was so loud that it shook my apartment. It was the first time I have been so close to fireworks that I could even smell the gunpowder in the air. All the previous years in my life, I would always be disheartened by the claustrophobic scenario of jostling around in a crowd to watch such a show that I would prefer staying at my home, and watching whatever I could. Now I know what it meant to have the best balcony in town, in the extent that you could enjoy the show alone, which brought me both excitement and serenity. Children kept playing with their firecrackers until very late at night. And I lay in my bed, and recalled my childhood, in which we had enjoyed firecrackers too before it was banned by the authorities. And the memory took me back as far as we would shout with unconcealed excitement every time a plane flew by…

Earlier in the day, I had thought I would write down these notes and publish them on my blog before the new year came, because I had always set time at Greenwich, which was seven hours after my own, so I always procrastinated, superstitiously and mean-spiritedly thinking that I would have more seven hours, though not too much, before a day ended. And when I sat before my computer and started typing, it must well be the new year, even in Buenos Aires or Santiago de Chile, probably the westernmost cities I dreamed I would live in one day, or even in the far away islands in the Pacific Ocean. I have seven hours behind my back, I had thought.

 

And so a new year comes.