It’s only few hours until his flight. We are laying on the bed and he is playing with my fingers. Neither of us says anything. It’s been truly a good run. Specks of dust glide around us and draw invisible arabesques. I watch them from behind my eyelashes and listen to his heart beat – so much slower than mine; so much stronger.
In the morning we went for a breakfast and he started explaining to me how he is not great in keeping in touch. I sat opposite him and didn’t say anything. This whole monologue seemed like an unnecessary list of excuses why we are not going to stay in touch; why by the end of the day everything will be done and finished. My mouth filled with bitter saliva and probably for the first time since we’ve met, he made me feel cheap and not important. I knew that it wasn’t his intention, I actually also knew that this is not exactly the case and mainly he is just trying to wrap up everything that happened so far and translate into terms that he can understand and deal with. I didn’t get angry – but it made me sad. In a way that was him sealing the bag with a memory of me in his head.
I didn’t want him to know any of that but he noticed: he noticed the tension in my face and shoulders, he noticed my silence and how I avoid looking him into eye. We walked next to each other, with our arms passing one another in the pendulum motion only few centimetres apart. Suddenly he stopped and grabbed me by my wrist. He asked me why am I upset but I couldn’t answer without talking about the big sad that lives in my brain, without talking about some of my past, without bringing up all this stuff that I’ve promised not to talk about… The past few weeks were so good because from the very beginning both of us knew about the ‘use by date’. Our affair was just a fluke, a brief moment of rest, cut out from something much bigger and much less comprehensible. I knew it and I thought that so did he. I couldn’t tell that the fact that he felt he needs to tell me these empty and artificial excuses flattened all of it and made it more of a cliche than it actually was.
But maybe it was just a part of me that can’t sleep at night thinking, maybe it was just a part of him that sometimes tries to sleep through life talking… I took a deep breath and a large step away from what was happening inside of me. I smiled and simply shook my head and somehow it became true: I wasn’t upset. We went back to our room to perform the last few acts from this play.
We need to leave for the airport in the next half an hour. He strokes my cheek and looks at me with a smile. This is probably the last time when for a brief moment I am still a real girl for him.
We take a shower to wash down the sweat and the smell of sex and he goes back to bed, while I look for my shorts and t-shirt and head out to town. Something happened to my mind and these days I can’t distinguish between him simply being tired and him feeling overwhelmed and hiding from our here and now in the sleep. But I don’t ask, the same way he doesn’t ask me to explain my silence, the one that expands with every hour and holds me hostage more and more.
It’s still hot, so damn hot – in less than ten minutes my clothes become uncomfortable, they are too much; my whole body feels like too much.
I pick at random left and right. I am not lost – my brain is very much like a brain of a postal pigeon – so I’ll find my way back one way or another.
I am probably walking with some sort of a smirk on my face, I know it even without looking into a mirror. From time to time I pass some other white faces, there is more of them the closer I get to the backpackers district. They travel in packs and I know it’s not just my blonde hair or blue eyes that make me stand out of the crowd – it’s as well my number – my oneness.
I’ve started this whole journey alone and even though for the past few weeks I have been travelling with him, since Hoi An, even if we are together, I feel alone again. Maybe it’s because of everything we said and didn’t say out loud during the flood; maybe it’s the fact he has already started treating me like a memory or maybe I am overthinking shit and there is no actual reason for that – nevertheless – since Hoi An I am alone.
On my way back I buy cigarettes that don’t make him allergic to my kisses and a bottle of Russian vodka. I don’t even have to pay much attention to where I am going and – just like a pigeon – I come back to him.
In the evening there are finals of Asian football and Viet Nam is playing. I don’t care much for the game itself but I also don’t mind going out to watch it in the bar.
The side streets are filled with people squatting on the small chairs and staring at the TV screens. We find a free table in one of the nearby places and order a beer. I alternate between smoking and playing with a three year old that came here with her father and older brother. Both of us are still cheering at the right moments but I suspect she has also no idea what’s happening on the field. At some point the screams become even louder, everyone around starts to yell and howl and I know – WE WON. He finds on one of the tables a forgotten red band with a yellow star on it and ties it around my wrist. We follow everyone else onto the streets, filled with noise, bikes and people. I make my way between them and it feels as if I were dancing with the whole Saigon. After all – we won.
It’s several hours before we return to our room. It’s a fair guess to say we are both drunk. We lose all our clothes on the short way from the door to the bed. It’s a bit like before the flood, it seems that we are both very much here and very much now. We talk and our words are no longer just falling into the space between us but actually mean something. I tell him that that’s actually all I wanted, that I don’t need promises that neither of us can make or keep. He kisses me and smiles a little bit sad. I know this kind of a smile. I smile like this a lot so how could I not recognise it? He tells me that he is in love with me. He tells me I am the best thing that happened to him during this journey. And then he tells me his secret – he tells me about this wound that he was hiding behind his too long sleep and behind that particular kind of a smile. After that he goes under the shower. I follow him few minutes later. There is really not much that I can say, so I say only the bare minimum – as bare as his and mine body. When we finally go to sleep he holds me tight and doesn’t let go for the whole night.
In the morning he doesn’t really want to wake up, he tells me that he needs more sleep. It’s OK, in a way I have been expecting this. From what I’ve learnt in the past, there is always a price to pay for becoming close to other people. The thing that made you close in the first place is also the thing that eventually builds a wall between you. He wouldn’t tell me his secret if it wasn’t for the fact that he fell for me. The fact that now I know his secret will make him push me away.
I get dressed and go outside. It’s hot – same way it was yesterday and it’s going to be tomorrow. I pass through a small shop and get myself a beer and an ice-cream. I make my way through the maze of little streets and finally sit down on some steps that lead to nowhere.
What I’ve told him yesterday is what I’ve finally learnt to tell myself several months ago: bad things are just that – bad things that happened to us – nothing more. But the same as I couldn’t apologise for what I’ve said in Hoi An without bringing it back, I can’t tell him that we don’t need to talk about what was said last night without actually talking about it.
Maybe it’s the heat, maybe I am still drunk from the last night, maybe it’s this second beer drunk in hurry – so it matches the pace of my thoughts – but everything around me starts to shake a bit and I know it will be much more difficult to get back to our room. Maybe I shouldn’t be opening another can, maybe I should start walking towards our hotel, maybe I should eat something – I actually don’t doubt any of that – nevertheless I stay a bit longer on those steps and lazily follow random lines of thoughts and finish my third beer. I know that if I am drunk when I get back, it will be better that way. It will be easier to pretend that the last night never happened; it will be less painful to become yet again just a memory for him.
There is something about the sky here. There are so many more colours that I notice these days (or maybe it’s not the sky, maybe something changed in me?). I wish I could paint it, but I am still not there (I do think a lot about it though).
[will I ever be?]
I am sad in the very non-sad (neutral?) way and even I struggle to actually put a finger on it.
There are red flags though – like the fact I try to move barely on the surface of everything because I really do not want to go under (in any way).
Somehow we’ve made it to Saigon. We’ve made it to Saigon despite of the words we have said on the second day of the flood; we’ve made it to Saigon even though I started to hide behind silence more and more often; we’ve made it to Saigon after he said “too much talking” and kissed me and both of us became closer with everything we don’t say and more distant whenever we’d say anything out loud; we’ve made it to Saigon because it seemed like a good place for our the end – but obviously neither of us had admitted it.
It’s humid and hot – so damn hot. We are walking slowly through the maze of the little streets, randomly taking left and right; there is no set direction; there is nowhere we need to be. We’ve left the mapped in our brains part of the city behind us and by now we are slowly yet systematically getting lost.
From time to time his fingers touch my arm, my hand or my neck – just for a moment, it never lasts longer than few seconds – that’s him making sure I’m still there; that’s him assuring me he is still here. These days, if we talk – we talk about nothing, only from time to time one of us will say unfinished sentence that could resemble at least a shape of what we are actually thinking. The closer we are to our own private end, the more all of that is like a walk on the minefield. Sometimes I catch him staring at me with a smile but if I smile back, I know I am becoming too real – because, at least partially, he’s already started thinking about me as of a memory and the mental pictures of me, together with the few weird drawings I’ve made in the past few weeks will soon be packed into one of his ‘memory bags’ (that’s how he keeps himself safe; that’s how he protects himself from life).
We sit down on the stairs of a close down shop. There is a big sign above us that says “Fashion Virus”. I like that name and think to myself that maybe it used to be a brand that I’d like. Opposite to us there are two old Vietnamese women chatting about something (they laugh a lot and they are the only ones here that look like something real, that look alive), few metres to my left another woman, slightly younger than them, is smoking a cigarette and removing stitches from the piece of the shiny fabric. I look at her through two clouds of smoke, hers and mine, and observe her hands. After a while I move up, to her tired face with a slightly smeared eyeliner and visible circles around her eyes – they are in the colour of the burnt sienna. I sit still and try to ignore the drops of sweat running down my spine (it’s so damn hot).
The woman looks back at me but I don’t know how to read the look on her face, I can’t even say if her eyes met mine by accident or maybe that was the intended thing. For a very brief moment we have this weird and lost in translation staring contest (our eyes remain wide open and neither of us blinks) and then – as sudden as it all started – it finishes and she looks down at her hands busy with tearing apart the shimmering cloth.
Truth be told – everything around seems a bit shiny, a bit blurred – the whole bloody air that fills the Saigon streets shimmers and trembles and makes everything and everyone a bit less real, a bit more like a mirage.
I look at him and he is also shimmering and in his whole silence, with a beer can in his hand held more like a shield than anything else, he also seems unreal. Maybe that’s the memory of him I should be putting away somewhere safe for myself…
I think he has misread my silence (my armour built from the thoughts that I keep only to myself) and the way I am trying to hide behind my eyelashes because he smiles at me. I could smile back and let this misinterpretation grow even bigger and spread out on this whole day – but my face doesn’t want to comply and remains as it was: half-hidden in the shadow and probably sort of absent. So I pretend that I haven’t noticed his smile and slowly turn my head away.
The seamstress is no longer there – she is slowly walking away, looking even more like a fragile mirage. I notice that she has left scissors on the step, so I pick them up and run after her. When she turns to me I simply extend my arm (I don’t know any words that I could say). For a moment nothing happens and then she smiles. It’s a pretty, maybe a bit tired smile. Finally I feel that my own face starts to change and I think I am smiling back. All of that doesn’t last long – just enough time for her hand to extend towards me and wrap her long skinny fingers on the scissors – but in a way we are having a whole conversation on the corner of this small and dirty street. I imagine her telling me a colourful, bold and maybe at times bitter story from her youth. I also imagine her imagining a story about me – there might be even some part of this story that talks about him. The moment passes and I turn back. I am still smiling so I look straight at him; I look straight into him. I think to myself that if I am to be nothing else but a memory, I may as well be a damn good one. He doesn’t see or maybe doesn’t understand that my smile is sad – but that’s a good thing – I don’t want him to know that. Instead I lean forward and whisper to his ear that we should go back to our room. My breath is warm and shaped like my naked body.
(Random messages from the boy from the past. Never direct. It is a kinder thing not to reply so I didn’t – although, no matter how kind I’ll try to be, German kids will be always kinder…)
1. my head is fragile
and I don’t want you
to cut yourself to see all of the
when it falls apart cracks and dents
under the thin layer
of a brand new paint
2. I’m in love
of what it will do to me
when you’ll leave
(I’m not ready yet)
3. I still wake up
a lot at night
you always know
stroke my face
4. my mornings
you’re ok with that
5. you are in love you said
with me you love me
even though I am full of but I’m still full of
red flags and lines
not to be crossed
– with you on the next day
I’ve realised you’ve slept
I laugh too loud the whole day
and I’ve disappeared
in the city
6. we are bad in waking up
and leaving the bed
there are only
two days left
ahead of us
7. I like your eyes
they are green
most of my favourite things
have green eyes