… 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.

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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.

the best balcony

The streetlamps outside the post office are shining their pale golden light onto the pavements.
Against the velvet of the sky outside my window… the only star… is it a planet or a star which died out billions of years ago and whose light now reaches me…
After a while, from my broken basic knowledge of astronomy, I can tell it is a planet… how far is it from here, I wonder.

Oh stars stars please forward my words of love to him, hundreds of kilometres away from me… 

He sat on his bed, staring out of the window, at the guy standing in the opposite building, whom he supposed was staring back, who, after a moment, could not stand his gaze and turned back. He thought it might be a picture, with frames would be those of his window, of which the centre was a man sitting alone, his room and all the secrets, thoughts and desires in it invisible to the watcher’s eyes.

He went around in the room, finished two slices of bread, poured himself more wine, which was sour and watery to his taste.

It was cold, all colder in this part of the earth. It was much like the autumn in his home, Thomas would mock him, years ago, though he was never in his home.
He came to touch, and reorder a few books he brought along from S, Willa Cather, Colm Toibin, Jaime O’Neill, Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, L P Hartley, Radcliffe Hall… many among which, if not all, he had bought when he went out with Thomas to their favourite bookshops.

He had just finished a novel by a Malaysian author about a complicated love-hate relationship between a half English half Chinese young man with his Japanese sensei this morning, which moved him to tears when he read the letter the father of the former sent him before his execution, which was the first time a book was ever able to have such effects on him. He thought of his own father. It was perhaps too melodramatic. And he let his sentiments flow.

He thought less of his sex partner in S. Maybe he has grown used to being on his own, to his loneliness. He desired him less.

He was a third on his way to finish a Japanese novel about a man who tried to hide his homosexuality to come to terms with the social presumptions of gender roles and norms, and started an Irish one, about love between two young soldiers amid the atrocities in American Civil War.

He started to learn some local language too, which he would speak with inexplicable bliss with people in the market near his apartment. And he was excited when he found out that the language and his mother tongue had the same word for noodle, though his had so many, and that they had similar words for day, one, three and four, cheers and fried though at the end of the day, he could not really know why linguists put them in the same language family because the two were too different, and that his was tonal and the local one was not.

He put on a light coat, went out to the balcony, drinking and smoking. This time last week he must have been writing letters, and it would take two weeks to reach their receivers in S, and three weeks to the Netherlands. He had wanted so much to hug Carmen and Albert before he left for P. Yet somehow he managed to quench the urge.

You have the best balcony in town. Lorrain once remarked as they had dinner together the other day.

When he tried to put the phone number of his partner on the envelope, much to his dismay, he accidentally wiped out all their conversation history, as he had done a few months ago. And last Saturday, coming back home after heavy drinking of a mixture of wine, gin, whisky and beer at the bar where he came waiting for the guy he had met more than a month ago, whose face he hardly remembered now, and who never showed up, and where he had whispered to himself it was my mistake not giving you my name and phone number in the first place, he texted his partner and asked whether he could call him. He was refused. Everything, he thought, in retrospect, never went out the way he had expected. He had intended not to reach for his partner after he was in P. Yet another ego of his had wanted his partner could be there with him, they would be holding hands in public, without fear or risks. And then we quietly fucked and then we slept, he thought, quoting a piece from the Irish novel.

He turned on almost all the lights in the apartment, though he did not need them.
He poured another drink, and sat there on the balcony, thinking nothing more, alone.
His glasses must be somewhere on his bedside table, or on his stack of books, everything blurry in his eyes, his perception of the world.

1:30

It is half past one in the morning, and in a few hours I will be leaving for P.

“As if I could put you in my luggage and just carry you along.” said I.

“If I could, I would have been going with you.” replied Patrick.

We made love, in which he was more active and fierce than ever. We both knew that our time was running out… He even let me take photos of him, that he would say against if it was months ago…

“When you come back, we can be together again, and everything will be the same, if it is the destiny.” he said, when I hugged him while I was thinking that nothing would ever be the same, and that we could never know whether we could be together or not.

I think about the noise that Daniel’s flip-flops make on the floor at my office will be still there, without my notice.

 

Yesterday, when the sun was high in the sky, I came back home after going out to buy ground coffee, I was thinking about the time when I was at home a few months ago and I thought about us getting married, which would never be realised. And the warm sunny afternoon when I was thinking about us getting married will be lost, forever.

 

Yesterday evening, I went to the airport to see my Mexican teacher off. And when she is transitting in Dubai, I must be well on my way to P. And later today, I will sit, alone in my apartment, thinking that I have made a long journey, though in fact it is not too long.

el paraguas rosa

One night, I decide to go out with my bicycle. And at the end, I find myself riding to Thomas’ house. I ride at my top speed, which can equal that of a motorbicycle, unstopped by traffic lights, and about two kilometres from his house, I smile a happy smile at the memories of when I was at high school when on a day like this, I came back to the dormitory when the gate was closed, I called the guard and asked him to open it.

“Open the gate, please.”

“No.” said he.

“Ok, then. I won’t come in.” said I. Then I turned away and rode, first without a destination, then to D., where I heard somewhere, somehow that there were fossils of ferns which had been living millions of years ago among coal beds though coal is itself a fossil. I clung to the thought, and kept riding. I did not come back until dawn the next day. And mis compañeros in the residence hall demonstrated at the front of the guard’s office.

“If he does not come back, you will be done with us.” the boys said, in their seething anger, while the girls cried.

It was not until four in the morning did I come back, sneaking through the steel chains over the wall around the school. From then on, the guard, considered the hardest among his peers, did not dare to not let a student to come in in late hours.

In fact, I rode around thirty kilometres, for I reached the capital of the district, without seeing any hints of the fossils. Or I was too naïve to believe they were there, not in a museum.

The road to Thomas’ is as familiar as that to your own home, that when you are drunk, you still manage to arrive, safe and sound. It was as on a day in May two years ago, I also rode to his house, to meet him, and to confess that I had just cheated on him. It was heart-wrenching.

And I think on Friday, when people wake up for work, and Thomas can be still deep in his sleep, I am leaving for P.

I think about how Thomas has changed my eating habits. I ate phalau for the first time here in Saigon with my second ex, I had not liked it. And I have come to love it when I went out with Thomas, he is the only one with whom I enjoy the dish, even until now. When we broke up, I stopped eating it. And fast food too, though I have never enjoyed it.

And on the road to Thomas’, the scent of milkwood-pine’s blooms remind me of my time in high school, with Toru, in that dark harsh winter, more than a decade ago.

I pass his house, and I look up at his window, brightly lit. I know for sure that he is not asleep at this hour, and that, of which I am more certain, he does not go out, not like me, dragging myself through those bars and others, drinking almost all alcoholic beverages from wine, whisky to champagne and beer, the list can go on, smoking incessantly and going back home totally intoxicated and falling on my bed, to sleep. Or to oblivion?

Drops of sweat are falling on my glasses when I stop, to gaze at his window, wondering what he is doing: reading, editing, listening to music, watching films, or porns. And the memories of my staring out of the same window, to the bush of bougainvillea in his neighbour’s garden, it was raining hard, and we had just made love, as we had done numerous times, in his room, came back to my mind.

 

Then I come back, stop at a convenient shop to buy a beer, a Belgian this time, which I am drinking while recalling a warm, sunny afternoon when I was waiting for him at the same shop. I could not go to his, because his father was at home, and he did never like my presence, which reminded him of his son’s homosexuality, I assume.

Love is not gone as long as the memory of it stays… I think.

 

I come back, and along the way, I think about Patrick, who might be thinking that he is still young, while the breath of death is inhaling and exhaling next door.

 

Está lloviznoso, no mucho, pero persistentemente.

Se llama K, another K, not Kelvin.

Los calles son desiertos. El barrio tambien. A veces pienso que el ultimo refugio es debajo de mi paraguas rosa.

Patrick might have come in a day like this, at this hour. I would love to sleep in K’s lap, I thought, in a sudden.

 

Outside my window, a perching bird jumps, jumps…

My eyes could capture his figure in the darkness, but my phone could not.

The road to the office is as familiar as the road to a lover’s house…

Carmen said in a few years from now Patrick would be so sick…

The cats would die one day. And I would cry my eyes out as when rabbit kittens died when I was just six or seven years old. I would sit by Patrick’s deathbed… now I am going to tell you… and then I would tell him about my childhood, when we kept a fire under a eucalyptus tree, when we played along on a vast stretch of sand, when I sneaked to see young boys’ adolescent bloom.

As era inevitable: el olor de las almendras amargas le recordaba siempre el destino de los amores contrariados. It was inevitable for me to miss Thomas when I see my two cats, who I took from his house.

 

I thought my niece would be born when I was with Patrick. She was born today, and I am going out with Patrick, maybe for the last time.

 

When people wake up for work, and Thomas is still deep in his sleep, I am leaving for P.

en el invierno

Yo pensaba morirme en el invierno de 1987.

Yo ya no existía. No era joven. Allí mismo pensé que lo mejor era la muerte. Siempre he considerado un acto miserable mendigar la vida como un favor. O se vive como uno desea, o es mejor no seguir viviendo… Ahora la única fuga que me quedaba era la muerte.

It is how Antes que anochezca begins, el comienzo por el fin.

Kelvin stood at the head of the stairs, he brushed his hair with his fingers, thinking that it would be long in coming months. He drank his cerveza and smoked. When he was walking in the neighbourhood, he stared at his own window down from the street, and he thought there was a gay guy living there, inside the window, and that he had been making love there, inside the window, and that the guy stared out of the window, thinking.

When Kelvin was at the foot of the stairs, he was smoking while staring at the curtain. Nearly two weeks ago, on Monday, Kelvin met Thomas at the bookshop where, more than four years ago, Thomas had met Kelvin for the the second time. He called his name, but Kelvin did not hear.

“Hi.”

“Can I buy you some books?”

“No. There is no need.”

Thomas tried to avoid Kelvin’s eyes.

“Ok, fine. Enjoy yourself then. Goodbye.” said Kelvin. He left, thinking that it might be the last time they ever saw each other, as he always thought when he was with Patrick.

He stared at his arms, as if he was studying them as a specimen in a laboratory. He wondered what it would look like, his cadaver, and how his hair and tattoos would look, on the cadaver. How would it smell? asked himself. The fluorescent light from the opposite block fell on his bookshelf.

 

The city was a great emptiness… The wide waste ground below him was empty. He closed his eyes and thought about the other flats on this floor, most of them empty now in the afternoon, just as the little bathrooms were empty and the open stairwells were empty… bedrooms empty all day, the downstairs rooms empty all night, the long back gardens, neat, trimmed, empty too for all of the winter and most of the summer. The sad attics empty as well. Defenceless.

 

He thought he would think so when he is in P, though P is certainly not the city in Tóibín’s story.

 

“Oh, it is raining, you see. Everytime we go out, it rains.” said Kelvin, cuando salieron a noche for a beer last Friday.

“It is raining harder.”

“I must go home.” said Patrick. Then he checked Uber and Grab for Kelvin.

The rain, it stopped.

“Can I take you home?” “Yes.”

“Can I… spend the night chez toi?” “Yes.”

 

Nací en el verano de 1990, y se murió en el invierno del mismo año, Kelvin thought.

No lo sabe.

his perfume was still on my bed

A faint whiff of his perfume was still on my bed a few hours after he left. It was not the same as the one he applied the last time he was here nearly two weeks ago.

I woke up today morning at 11 o’clock and there were already some messages in my inbox.

“Can I still send you something to your present address?” asked Toru.

And messages from Patrick. He asked what I was doing during weekend. “Nothing.” I told him. I usually sleep all day during weekends. “I drew yesterday.” “What did you draw?” “You can see and guess what it is when you come.” “Are you home alone? Well, I am thinking about…” And I knew what he meant by that: I am thinking… is always equivalent to I am going to

 

“Why do you turn down all window blinds?” asked Patrick when he came. I reached out for the book and gave him while I was explaining. “It was said that Dr Urbino and his wife had followed the Roman strategy against heat, which consists of closing houses during the lethargy of August in order to keep out the burning air from the street, and then opening them up completely to the night breezes.” “Have you read it?” I continued. “No, not yet.” he replied. “Is it better?” “I don’t know.” “Let’s see what I drew yesterday. What do you see?” “It’s my shirt.” “You are the only one who knows what it is. One said it was a bear in a cage, another said it was a piece of underwear.” “Oh, I know what you are thinking.”

 

I had some beer and thought that I would go to a bookshop, but I would have something for dinner first. I was riding my bicycle, and the destination would be the broken rice restaurant near the first studio I rented when I was a new arrival here in the city, of which the owner was a beautiful young woman, on whom I had a very positive impression. I rode past the streets and the brigde I used to go by everyday years ago, and memories came flooding back. I used to wake up very early in the morning, when the skyline was just in its light purple. I used to walk fast in the morning and slothfully in the evening along the same streets, to work and back home. And I recalled even the mirror I took from my first studio to the second logement which was actually an apartment, the mirror I just discovered days before I left the former, it was hung high above the door. It was where I first saw Chris, and we broke up while I was still there. It was also where I spent long long nights after I broke up with Dylan. And I missed the plants I used to grow, which I brought with me when I moved out, and the last of which died at my 5th accommodation.

But the broken rice restaurant was not there. I kept riding, through the house I rented years ago, to find the landlady sat in the living room staring out to the street. I avoided her stare and kept going. She might have seen me, or she might not. If she did see me, she might wonder what I was doing here, and why I had not come over to say hello. I turned my eyes up towards where I used to live, there were some clothes hung on the drying line…

I went to the bookshop, and in a second, I imagined Thomas might turn up and stand right before me. “Well, it’s good to see you here. Do you find something to buy?” he would say.

It was just eight o’clock in the evening and in the busiest city of the country the streets were deserted, much to my surprise.

 

He was awakened by sadness. Dr. Juvenal Urbino was, as I was this afternoon from a siesta after Patrick left, to find his perfume was still on my bed, I sniffed, and inhaled and kept it in my lungs as long as I could.

I was knitting and drinking while waiting for Patrick. I already had three cans of beer when he came. Te quiero, I practised several times and I thought I was ready to tell him while we were making love. “What did you just say?” he would ask. “It is in Spanish. I won’t tell you what it is.” I would say. But I did not say it, nor did I when he was about to leave, when I tried, with success, to kiss his neck, maybe for the last time, and even before that when I hugged him from behind. “Can I go home now?” (it was much more an announcement than a question), he asked and I unfastened my arms.

What if I said “No, you cannot.”?

 

Would his perfume be still there when I come back, I wondered while riding home.

 

No, it’s not. I told myself and finished my cigarette.