Whither the hours that fly?

It is raining cats and dogs outside. I woke up at the middle of the night and cannot go back to sleep, which is rare given my constant sleepiness. And I do not have alcohol’s assistance by my side because I am currently in a tattoo aftercare.

I think about Thomas and how our three-year relationship ended up. And it just dawned on me a few days ago that he was the only lover with whom I have gone to supermarkets. Of course we did many other things together: bathing, sleeping, cooking, studying, all together. We love reading, but it is strange that we never read together. We tried at least, but never succeeded in doing so. My language is broken. I took my two cats from his beloved female cats when the kittens were just a month old. And in his thesis’ acknowledgement, Thomas referred to me as “mon amour.”

“I have a terribly bad memory. What left is a moving collage that is sometimes played in my mind like a broken trailer of a bad film. Yet I believe ones are changing, in every second.” I told Toru when he asked me if I found that he had changed a lot since the day of yore. (The expression is far too much superfluous, yet I and Thomas love it, or else I think so).

“I think you are all the same, exactly the same as what I have been thinking about you all along. There is something about you that I find very endearing. Perhaps you are careless as always.” Toru said.

“That’s why I love you.” he continued.

My memories run wild and bring me to Wolf and Chris, whom, for me, are somehow dead. We have not talked for too long and I don’t know about their well-being, nor they know mine. Some of my former sex buddies did text to wish me happy birthday in July, to whom I have no need to talk or just keep contact details, nor I remember their birthdays. They are all dead in my world.

Sometimes it might hurt to think that the bodies that you used to hold very dear, for which you used to have burning desire, and on which you spent your fruitful youth are rotting somewhere else and vanish, like the hours you had been together.

I first had sex with a guy well in his late 40s when I was 19. I don’t tell many about this. I want to deny the fact, and to forget the story behind it. He once told me that he had a son about my age.  It does not matter anymore. Nothing matters, at the end of the day.

And I come to miss Dylan. We loved when he was in his 12th grade and now he is going to do a master’s. We barely talk once or twice a year when he comes back home for summer holidays. We would plan a rendez-vous that never occurred.

“Are you ill?” asked Daniel.

“No.” I replied. “I will show you something.” Then I unfastened the handkerchief I had put on my neck and rolled up my sleeves to show him my two new tattoos: one fiddlehead and one lambda in a triangle.

He smiled, a beautiful, gentle and warm smile that he might have been cracking thousands of times in his life, and that is what I captured and tried to store in my mind so that years away from now perhaps it will be the only thing I remember about him.

A whiff of delicate fragrance from Patrick’s body lingers in my nose… (That was last Thursday.)

My language is broken, so are more my memories. It is still raining hard and it is nearly four in the morning.

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Grandma’s house

In the very last days I was in the North, I came to visit my ailing grandmother and insane aunt. The neighbourhood is exactly the locale in Nguyen Binh Phuong’s fiction, which made me think about Macondo in Marquez’s.

 

As the hazy sun first appeared to warm the earth, I took some photos of the house and along with me some old dishes in vain to capture the past, or my memories of it I did not know.

Grandma gained notoriety as one of the most cantankerous women in the neighbourhood. She used to sleep so little that I had wondered how a person could live with such little sleep. Now she is ailing, confined to her bed, cannot feed herself nor articulate even a word, and she naps a lot. When my aunt has gone insane after a break-up, it must be her first love, Grandma turned pious, with which my Grandpa found uneasy. And then Grandpa had a stroke, Grandma was confused and then she blamed that must be his fault not believing in her gods, for which he was punished. A few years later, he died. I did not attend his funeral and so did not know the reactions of members in my extended family  to the death. Grandma started losing her mind since, reaching her present status of health.

Although she does not remember a thing, she managed to ask “Who is that? Khai?” as I entered the house. I was reckless, unapologetic and cruel enough to not even say “yes” to validate the fact, and to ensure her, even though perhaps she cannot aware of, that it was a single golden moment in her lost memory, that in those miliseconds, synapses and neurons in her brain were somehow connected to successfully make her remember me, the one who lives with her less among her children and grandchildren, who just visits her once every few years, who, before one of my cousin left for Taiwan to work in a farm, lived farthest from her, both physically and emotionally.

The house was surrounded by a wall made of dried bamboo and strange thorny plants, now it is a brick wall hardly over my head. It has a unique, strong smell that I usually refer to as “smell of Grandma’s house”, in which my mom and all her siblings were born and passed their childhood. It was where we, I and my cousins, used to play along happily and where part of our childhood also passed. We used to go up hill to harvest tea leaves and be involved in tea production process.There were five of us: one was evil, one was angel. The Angel is of the same age as me. I thought I had a crush on him. I still remember in teenage years I lay beside him on my bed at home. At that moment, I wished I could have had enough courage to hug and kiss him. He is tall, handsome and well-built, his skin is white, as always.

In the garden, there are still plants whose names I never know but which I, as a child, brought home to grow among patches of peanuts. Yet the longan tree, under whose large canopy the kitchen, from which clouds of wood smoke belched out, used to be situated, was chopped down. And the large tank, along with the apparatus, once used for distillation, was no longer there. All that I love and that linger on my mind.

I visited the abandoned well, around which I loved to bathe, naked, and I would love to do so again.

My aunt used to be taciturn, barely saying a word, and now she talks excessively to herself, all of trivia, about which no one knows.

When I imagined myself living there with a writing table in the small room upstairs overlooking the garden with lychees, hawthorns, sweetsops and jackfruits, I also wondered if it was the last time I was there.

“Please don’t nap, Mom”, my mom told Grandma while feeding her.

Some tokay gecko still croaked as when I was a boy, here.

 

Patrick texted me that he wanted us to have lunch on Sunday and spend the afternoon together. And we both knew what we were going to do afterwards: drink and make love. I don’t know if he ever misses my body as I miss his. Or he is just scared to be lonely on a Sunday afternoon.

On the flight to Saigon, I stared at a male flight attendant, who, in blurred vision, I mistook as my namesake. He has a round face, dreamy eyes, easy and gentle yet winning smiles. And a ring on his fourth finger.

Today I sat opposite a young guy with long hair when we had lunch at a broken rice restaurant. We were staring and smiling at each other. I fantasised how he would be in bed, how I would kiss his neck, and et cetera. He left, and I jostled down his plate number on my mobile, just for nothing, as the same way I remembered the name of the flight attendant, as pinned on his white shirt.

In the dry approaching dusk, I filled my room with French music from a Belgian radio, while drinking and writing.

 

I met Patrick on Saturday night, right after I arrived in the city. The broad and radiant smile he gave me when we met up the stairs at my apartment evoked for me the memories of the time when we were on the island.

 

home, summer

Yesterday, I came home. For years, I had never been home during summers. I am sitting in front of the window in my room, overlooking the garden where the sunlight, sieved through the canopy of vigorous plants, pours into the wet soil, making patches of a strange painting. Leaves are rustling in light breezes, like children playing in a kindergarten. Sounds of the French language surround me, in reading Madame Bovary. Occasionally, a motorbicycle or a truck passes by, jostling for its presence in the symphony of the day.

The last two days in Saigon, I was also looking out of the window in my room, thinking about myself in front of the window at home, exactly like this, and I would miss Patrick. If the plane I would be on had crashed, all my belongings would have vanished, including the USB in which I archived his nude photos, along with my memory of him, I thought. Years after, I can sit in front of many other windows, missing his skin, soft, sweet and voluptuous, in which also holds an enigmatic melancholy. Images of us making love in my own room, or sometimes in the garden, at home, with all his moans and groans, are conjured up, and slipping through, in my mind like those of leaves rustling, evoking no rush of desire nor further thoughts, undeniably and inexplicably. They somehow seem akin to my memories of long and sedentary summers in the faraway past that are vaguely rekindled while I am wandering around in the garden, and then fall out.

A room

It was about 4 in the afternoon. It was letting up, after hours of hard rain. He could not hear the sound of the rain outside the windows. He was watching the rain, attentively. He was making up the sound in his mind. Droplets of water were running on the glass windows. It must be cold outside, he thought, as it was cold here, in the room.

His mind was foggy, as it was foggy outside. Images of kisses, the smell of the skin of the body he hugged conjured up in his head. Something was churning up in his stomach, he felt.

The moments had come, and gone.

He watched the white curtain, and thought about Woolf. He seemed to be wondering something he did not even know himself wondering. He was startled, by being his own. The body was fresh, soft, young and voluptuous.

It was a room of the past. And he was ceasing to exist, seconds by seconds.

a tiny lizard

Last Friday I woke up late when the sun already climbed high in the sky, and it was getting so hot. I was having a bath before going to the office when I saw a tiny lizard, whose tongue was flickering out to taste a drop of water sloshing around on the wall of the bathroom. I was watching it, with interest, while cool water was running through my body.

I have been listening to music by Spanish, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Colombian musicians, yet it is Argentina that I want to visit and live in for a while.

Earlier today my mother called to tell me that tomorrow she will, along with some of my neighbours back home, go to the provincial capital for the first hearing of the court, where they filed a lawsuit against the president of the province over the land grab of the area we have been living for more than 30 years, which is precedented, at least to my ears. And I have been wondering for a long time what I could do as the one who was born and grown up there, and as the son of one of the partcicipants. What can I do to help? Should I tell some of my friends who are also lawyers and journalists, to help spread the news about the case? Should I write an article about that?

It can turn out to be something like what happened in Van Giang (Hung Yen Province), Tien Lang (Hai Phong), and most recently in My Duc (Hanoi). And what can I do to help?

… I am just sitting in the darkness and feel that I am somehow becoming a part of it, that I am myself also particles of that darkness before my eyes…

In a rainy afternoon

The boy in the balcony of one of the houses opposite, in the sight from my window, is stretching his arms to catch the rain. The sound of the rain is mixed with that of music, Philip Glass, Duport and Schubert and many more. I can see blankets of cloud far away still reflect the sunlight of the afternoon, that makes them shining brightly white like bales of cotton. I have no clothes on but a black boxer, lying on my bed to watch it raining hard outside.

Sometimes I am dying to write H. a letter to tell him that I have been learning Spanish and about my obssession with D. Even though H. knows nothing about D. Yet I did not write a word, and the letter is just a product of my imaginative mind.

The dusk is falling and life matters no more.

… when I was around 7 or 8 years old, an uncle of my paternal lineage came to live with us. And I had a huge crush on him. He is gay I believe. I spied on him, found every occasion to watch him take a bath. I would sneak in my parents’ bedroom, where windows would be opened during the summer to alleviate the heat, from which I would have the vintage point to watch him perform his ablutions, under blossoming Tonkin jasmines. Once he caught my eyes, and he smiled back, almost invitingly. I liked to sleep with him, to hug him and feel his warmth, and to rub against his body. I thought he liked me too. And he got married. As every guy in my village. My father got married at my age now, my mother bore me when she was 27, the same age as me now. My uncle came to live with us when he was 27 too. He got married, as my first love is going to do, thinking it is what needs to be, that it is inevitable, that it is one of the must-do-s in one’s lifetime. He got married and has two sons, among whom the elder is going to college. He, the son, must have gone through a lot of difficulties, having a gay father, with the fact known in the neighbourhood. He is turbulent, and quite handsome the last time I saw him, about 6 months ago at my sister’s wedding. How has he, my uncle, seen his life? I wonder.

And after the span of 10 years from now, which flies, I will be at the same age as my father when I first went to school. He would take me to my class, on his bicycle. And I would wear a short and a T-shirt, which would make me stand out among my peers, because I was the only kid who wore a short at school. He would play football with me, just two of us, in the playground in front of my house, with a red plastic ball. He would hug me so often and I would tell him everything I experienced at school.

Once he got angry at me and my sister for something wrong we had done. He took a rod to punish us. “How many rods do you think you deserve?” he asked my sister. “Three.” replied she. Then she got three. He repeated the question when it was my turn. “One hundred.” I said. Then he dropped the rod and hugged me deeply in his arms. He could not do it. I knew it. It might be my trick at the time. I was somehow sure that he could not do so. But what if he could?

When I was 22, I came out. And since then we rarely talk. Sometimes, like this time, I want to write to him so much, when I am young like he used to be, drink much and get drunk. I am like him, at least in the way that we can consume a lot of alcohol. At least…

When I was 12, I had an injury in my leg that I had to have a plaster cast. My father took me to and fro to the local hospital, also on his bicycle. He also had me bathed, with all the awkwardness as I was already in my early teenage years, when I started to be able to turn on and had pubic hair, when I learned to yearn for a male body. Then I had a very close friend, who had been my academic foe for years. We would spend summers to naughtily swim in the public lake which was used as a source of water for residents in our neighbourhood, and in the stream so far away from our homes that we had to ride our bicycles for hours in scorching sunny days to get there, where we would enjoy ourselves in the water, naked.

Once when I was in high school, during one of my visits home, after dinner while I was having a walk in the garden. It must have been cold then, and the night fog was falling, my father suddenly came and hugged me from behind. I did not remember exactly but it was not after numerous quarrels I had with my parents during tumultuous years of mine, when my bad performance at school was a headache for them. Perhaps then he had some shots of liquor…

A note from the beach

March 31

This is what I need: some shots of liquor, after which the reality could become some kind of an illusion, or it is not exactly as it is supposed to be; a good table, with good lighting would suffice.

I was sitting alone in the restaurant. There was something kitsch about the décor. I stared at colour-changing globes for a while. It was inexplicable. I could feel my heart beat. And, out of the blue, I touched the cover of the lamp, in the manner as if it was a moribund leaf. In fact, I could feel it that way.

These day I have become somewhat disillusioned about the world around me, and the future. I don’t really care about anything, myself included.

The golden rice paddies brightened in the scorching sun are running fast before my eyes, so fast that in the end it would only form an still image of what my eyes received and perceived at that time…

The sound of the sea has not the power to lull me into going to the beach just to hear it, any longer. It could be sad, but I have no desire to go to the beach, to feel sand under my feet. What do I need now? I do not really know.

… I would, and should, think about the plot of a dystopian short fiction that I have mulled over for months now.

The waves are rolling beneath. I can hear the sea roar, the sun and the wind are playing on my skin. It is strange, so strange that all my philosophical questions have ceased to pop up in my mind, nor the sudden, inevitable pang of fear of the death occurred. I would jump… and nothing would matter anymore. It is the way I would die. I would go to sleep, and never wake up…

It was a month ago, I was sitting in a hotel room after the dinner with my collegues during the two-day vacation we were taking. Some hours before, a cover designer in the publishing house, who had helped me with the cover for my debut novella published in French last year, had a performance in which he dressed as a girl. The performance itself was incredible, and he was really beautiful by any standards of female beauty, which was also stunning. I was very surprised. And it made me think about the politics and philosophy of clothes. Do clothes signify anything? What is all about body and clothes? And my thinking was brought back to the short fiction Story of your life, on which Academy-nominated film Arrival was based, in which heptapods were described as a species who use a non-linear language and have a mind that enables them to know everything before it happens. Consequently, their actions are much like a performance on a stage of theatre. By drawing analogy from this, I have been thinking how clothes play a part as a gender performance of human beings, as other dispositions determined by the society in which a subject lives. For example, when one is born, one’s sex becomes known by his or her parents and doctors. Then he or she will be dressed accordingly. When the one is grown enough to have some kind of perception of the gender they want themselves to be, one can act and/or try to act as the very one and the rest of the society think that fits for that gender role. Why and what makes a man think that he feels more like a woman? Who is the woman in his mind after all? The woman who will wear a skirt, high heels and lipstick. The woman who must have a vagina and breasts? I am somehow very distressed to know that by looking for some measures of surgery to change ones’ sex organs, they are unhappy with the current sex organs they have at the moment. And once again, a man wants a vagina and all female clothes to feel fully as a woman, to perform what a normal woman does by social standards. All he does is just to imitate the image of woman set by the respective society. Why ones need to think of themselves as a specific gender? Can ones be, and become a gender? As regards genders and gender roles, it seems to me that human beings, like heptapods, are just performing the roles set by the society and traditional thinking. And I have been wondering that if it is our binary sight that helps build up our binary mind about the world: right and left, right and wrong, male and female, black and white; that in our world there is nothing like a blurry and heterogenous system of conceptions in which we can think. A man who feels himself like a woman will dress like a woman, and may be transgendered to be a woman. A woman who feels herself like a man will dress like a man and may be transgendered to be a man. Even in homosexual world, they categorise and characterise themselves as masculine/effeminate, top/bottom, active/submissive, husband/wife, seme/uke, and so forth, which fits perfectly into the binary system of gender roles by old standards. So why is that?

*

I have been learning Spanish for two weeks with an instructor who is also a Mexican nun at a foreign languages centre named after Alexandre de Rhodes, a French missionary, whose major book Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum, based on works by previous Portuguese missionaries Gaspar d’Amiral and Antonio Barboza, laid the very foundation for modern Vietnamese writing system. The language sounds very breezy and sexy. And I believe I have a head start for I have learned French before and the two languages have so many similarities. Though I do not think that Spanish is as easy as many people claim. The verb system and conjugation must be as complex as in French.

I have been listening to Alvaro Soler (a singer based in Barcelona, born in 1991) long before the first thought of learning the language ever came across my mind. And it was incroyable for me today when I played a CD by him and could understand some words of what he was singing. I come to realise that while in French textbooks you can easily find materials by and about Camus and Sartre, French famous writers in 20th century, both Nobel laureates, who happened to be philosophers; cuisine of course; and clothes; along with their obsession about politics, labour unions, elections and demonstrations; you can find also, in Spanish textbooks, many topics from cuisine (of course), and literature (García Márquez and Pablo Neruda, both Nobel prize winners, yet they were not philosophers for good!), films too (Pedro Almodovar) and so much about music and how to spend free time. It seems to me that Spanish-speaking people have some kind of a movable feast, which is safer to conclude after watching some Spanish music videos. I find that Spanish has the most vivacité among the languages I have learned, perhaps mostly by the spirit of those who speak it.

*

I stare out of the window to catch the sight of the national flag moving in the light wind. One of my cats has gone away, and I do not know if I am able to finish the story I started writing. While the night wears on…