Tuesday, March 1, 2016

北京麻雀 - London - 5

5
London
2001

On the bed of the suite, were papers. Not rating papers, but papers with notes attached to staves. She looked at them and expected to see Beethoven, or Mendelsson, or perhaps Bruch. Instead she did not recognize the composer.

Is this yours?”

I said I would write something for you. This is a Sonata for 'cello and Piano - it is my third. Though I am not quite done with it. That is the second and third movements, I have not written the first movement, or even have an idea for it. It me just be those two movements, I do not know. It is called Sparrow of Beijing.”

Interspersed with melodic moments were things that she could not understand at all. But she did understand that he knew her secret, that she was a sparrow on the fields of the Accident. She wanted to ask if he had really been to Beijing – he claimed as much, but many people did.

You know my brother teaches the accordion? You could write for him.”

Yes, you told me very early on in our conversations.” There was a flat rejection in the tone of voice; a very cold tone of voice, with intimations that she should never bring it up again.

What do you call our conversations by computer? Please tell me they have a different word from our view times over the phone.” Meanwhile she rummaged through her belongs, and pulled out a book – it was some plays by Eugene O'Neil, including his famous one about Elektra - which of course went back to a Greek myth. She handed him this without common, and his eyes lit up with delight.

He spoke: “What do you call them?”

Typing. Their just typing. Words are what we use when we are talking. Characters are for when we write letters to each other, which we both do.”

There something about writing words on a piece of paper?”

She smiled. “Yes there is, though I would wish you would do so more often. It is as if you are a different person, more eloquent, more assured, and if I may say so, a bit regal in character. Which does not show when either typing, or talking.”

I have not noticed. You can see all of this in words? What is it about them that is different from my other two modes of communication with you?”

She picked up the sheets of paper, and looked at them. “Every mood that you use, is different and unique. And your only the second person I can say that of.”

Who is the first, your brother? Or am I missing out on someone who is heart caught your fancy before?”

No, you were right the first time. It was my brother. And you are the only person who has caught my heart. It was the first and only time it happened.”

You will excuse my saying so, but the nickname you had said otherwise.”

I slept with other guys, I do not deny that. But they were - how do you say it in English? Oh that is right, they were tristess.”

That means a sadness, or melancholy.”

A post coital tristesse.”

Was it always sad for you?”

Always, that is why I wanted more.”

Is it that way with me? A post Coitum animal tressed, if you know the film by Bridgette Roun.”

The difference is, your a man, and the others were just boys. And yes, I know the film, but only when translated in to English, because in China that was the fashion at the time.”

I have it seen it in English, just in French.”

It is called After Sex in English.”

You know what the trouble with us is? We type though we express, and when we are speaking, type. We have it in reverse.”

She pondered this for a moment. “When where far apart, we wish we were together, and speaking all of the things which are forbidden. When where close together, we want to be like animals. And devour each other.” At this point she lunged playfully at him, as if to drag him back to bed. Then she ran her hands across his very short hair. “ do you you want me to have an affaire?”

That will not be necessary.”

It was a joke, in the film the actress had a very sympathetic affair.”

Yes I know, you have got to, just do not tell me anything about it.”

She pouted, and immediately he knew he had said something wrong. And this is where time takes on its wicked face, it does not allow to go back and do things over. He felt he was at the bottom of a metaphorical cliff, and where as before it would be easy to avoid the cliff, it was very hard to make oneself an extraction once one was in it. And what is worse, he felt the inside of his mind bawling for another chance, when obviously there was not one forthcoming. It was if the mountain had opened for a moment, tempted him to take a step, and then closed when that step was by no means the best one. But he would only see that once he had taken that step.

He tried to think of any way to get out of this. Line from a book, such as 2001 a space Odyssey, or Franz Kafka, or Absalom, Absalom by Faulkner. But none of these had the right words. And has looked her face grew even dimmer. He thought it might snap, and she would go into a rage. But that never happened. Eventually they grew quiet together, with neither having any courage to say the words that each wanted to under. That was that this was not going anyplace, and they should depart, and never call each other again. And each time one would begin to say these words, the other one group frightened at what that would mean. A life alone, with no one to talk to about the secret life that each one would imagine. And each one of them needed to talk about that life. So first one would say that there relationship should end. Then would see the other disagreeing, and so halted the words that they wanted to utter. This would happen many times, even though the words were all unspoken.

It was the way he wanted it, but she wanted to know, but could not open the discussion. So she did her lip, and stared into his eyes. Then she cupped her hands over his cheeks and kissed him, with the first level of passion she had experienced. Than she pulled back and watched every muscle on his face for something which would tell her what he felt. She thought she did, but she was not sure. Then an animated look cropped on to his face, and she responded with a deep smile and kissed him again. It was only later on that she found out she slept after this second kiss, not from fatigue, but to dream.

But he stayed awake. Now there sleeps arrangements were reversed: he should have gone to sleep and she should have stayed awake. But he got dressed in formal close, and slipped out the door with out a sound, with a pair of loafers just barely clipping the door as he went out. He was quiet in all of his movements, because that is the way he was normally.

Then he passed by the front door, and even gave a nod – but just briefly as if to say he did not need any attention. The night manager was very up to her neck, and did not even notice his entrance. And then he was gone in to the night fall, because there were still a few hours left. He then realized that he had nothing to drink, and the Metro was not running. Mind the gap.

Thus he had few options, and almost was willing to go back and grab the nasty tea that the inn supplied. But then thought the better of it, because it was truly nasty tea. So he strident across the square and hailed a cab. In London this was not hard. As in most places there were foreigners – Pakistanis mostly – who would compete for the odd hours. When he was delivered to a nondescipt address in the outer boroughs – he could not say where exactly it was, because London was not his sort of city – but he imagined it was out of the first ring. Thus he rounded up and added a view pennies more, and he did not have to say “keep the change”, but instead got a surly look from the cab driver. Perhaps the actual driver was dozing off and allowing this buffoon only to work for whatever tips he could get.

He reached for the air, and braced himself for the nature of the air – because he did not know how cold it was going to be. But there was no chill in the city streets, and he promptly forgot about the weather, per se. the street was neoclassical, and charged a bit more for atmosphere then it should have. Here and there along the street there were lights on, as would be to all New York City. In fact there was a light on on the second level, and he imagined he was going to be up with its compatriots. This was planned, because the people here had invited him, and they would make their pitch for money to him. They were not exactly patriots, call them instead ex-pats from Iraq looking to do business by skimming off the 50% or so. Yes, it was that high. Which showed that they were amateurs, real professionals would have taken 80% or so. Just look at how much Saddam was taking, back at that time. People on the street were starving. In retrospect, the people were not really better off, but there was a layer of them which could pocket money and then pass the rest along. Such is progress. The progress of subdivision.

He knocked on the heavy door knocker, because that is the way things were in such districts. A bit further out things were more fancy, and their would be apartments as opposed to buildings who were rented out wholesale. Things were just not done, as in Washington. He waited for what seemed to be a long time, and then just as he was about to try again, the door opened. Because after all, he should be expected at this ungodly hour.

He came in, and dispensed with trivialities, and he had no accouterments to take off. This alone would have marked him as a foreigner, in the meaning of someone who was not from around here. Usually some form of overcoat was expected, more as formality then really being necessary. In fact, he noted that there were overcoats piled up along a bench. Which was from the 1700s, not more not less. At least 4 in number.

In London, no formal demarcation suggested what was city from what was not. Washington, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, were all different – each had a city which was close to the boundary. Instead there were different Londons for different purposes. Even as he was thinking about it, he realized he would have to pillage some time with a true Londoner as to which distinctions the Londoners considered important, and which ones they did not. But one thing he was clear on: their was not one great London which everyone knew existed. There were different Londons for different aspects, and the “ city of London” was a mere tourist attraction, which came with its own mayor and so on. And no one outside London – except for a few fans – knew that the City of London had a different mayor that no one except the few fans of London remembered the name of. He realized that suburban buildings – and this was his suburban building when it was built – had a rather gray-black appearance. He remembered something about higher and buildings be made with stucco. What this meant in practical terms was that the tenants were not rich, which would be noted in the report he was already forming in his mind. In his mind brick which was handmade was obviously better, but the locals had distinct differences that they preferred. He was motioned by the gentleman who was a guest here like himself, not merely a servant, and certainly not a titled servant, for those would be rare, and at this point a distinguished class of themselves – even the footman of later day gleaned a kind of patina of rank.

Up on the second floor whose windows almost reached the floor he stood on, there was a certain character to the decoration, what his mother and aunts and uncles would call “panache” - but he would call hiding the great social changes which were invisible to most of the people. Then he realized that the woman he was with would also recognize them – having been taught them by her parents. He would have to make sure that he did not repeat them, lest he gave away that he was in a private house without telling her. This would not do.

He counted the figures, there were six, so at least for more – like himself – visitors. Though he would guess that some of them were rather much more visitors than he would like to suppose – because among Arab men they formed intimate attachments, rather than to their wives or girlfriends. This did not mean a sexual bond – though it might, and they did not talk about it. Homosexuality was taboo in that culture. But whether sexualized or not, it had the bonding such as Western men formed attachments in their teenage years. For Arab men this went on their entire lives, as it did with fewer Westerners. Two of the men were old-ish, in the sense that they stood upright, but had the crags of weariness about their face - a touch of slumber hung about them. They were not truly old, because they did not droop, as old men do. The would imagine they would call them selves “hail”, or something like that. It was also clear that they knew each other quite well, and were talking to themselves. The other four were talking to each other, with a great deal of animus from the youngest one of their crowd – who was easily 40. there was a deep divide, where to men could be close in age but look far apart. The years gifted some gently, and others harshly. And all of the men were passed that age. One who was bald and had what looked like scars from long ago – was leading the conversation, and did not broke any interruption. He thought back to how Winston Churchill would lord over a monologue, and guest this man in his own way would do the same. The difference was that Churchill would dominate intelligent men, where as this crowd was not quite on par with that illustrious group.

While all of the men were dressed in Western style, two of the men were dressed in white – or very light beige, the lights were low – which would not truly do. Englishmen preferred dark gray, or dark blue suits – or tweed jackets for the University set. He noticed that one of the younger crowd displayed a handkerchief from the high front pocket, which meant he was trying to blend in with a snobbier crowd than his companions. Reminding himself that some would know that there were foreigners in the midst, while he did not know if all of them knew this – he rather suspected not, because some were fashionably dressed, while others were not. Working his way backwards, this meant some were in the know - and some were not. Which was in itself interesting – because remember it was late, and one would think that foreign would have arrived by now. He also reminded himself while he was foreign he was not alien – such as a group of Japanese men would be. The difference is that Arab men of this crowd were used to dealing with Western men on and intimate basis. Many would count Westerners as “friends” - though not friends. There was a clubbiness that exuded from them which, once one noticed it, was hard to shake off. It was not that they were attached to the lower orders of their set – heaven forbid – but they were pointed inwards to era men, and use to a conversation which would involve Arabic discourse as well as English discourse.

One of the lesser men – perhaps hoping to breath when the dominant member of the group was not talking – motioned to him and begin right in middle of the conversation:

Here I would like to introduce a friend – no truly a deep friend – of mine. Please say hello to Scott, he has traveled very far to be with us, and will catch up with everyone.” With that he inserted a pause for the formally announced greetings – which everyone did.

Going through the motions of what he had prepared – though not since he had been in London, but on the plane – he began to ease in to what looked like it was not rehearsed. There was a nonchalantness which could not easily be faked – but of course he had mastered this technique. As someone in Hollywood said : “If you can fake that, you got it made.” To which a science fiction writer had added, “It is either a gift – or 20 years of practicing; and 28 he had worked for it.” meaning that at the time of a 8 he knew he wanted skill of looking like something was spontaneous, when in fact it was calculated to a breathtaking pause. Call it “the turn of a friendly card.”

He begin simply, almost on a low note: “I am here to meet all of you, and to tell the people back in Washington that there is an opposition movement, one that is waiting to take power and exercise it for the good of the people of Iraq.” which was almost exactly lie – he could see that these people either wanted power or money or both. And, what is more, while they may have desired money and know how to get it; they did not know anything about real power. And where real power was was not exactly clear to him, but he could tell that none of these people had any grasp where to start. He was sure that some of his professors back at Harvard could give a much more detailed description of their foibles. Let alone the time you spent with Galbraith – the elder of course - which was not in a class – which sparkled with insight.

He then continued - “But what they have to hear, in your words not my own – is what you plan to do first, because it is at first that there will be the most pressing matters and no one to take charge of them.” He very much hoped that they would not realize his age, because among Arabic people there are two kinds of leaders – old, and very young with a good pedigree. And by their lights neither of them would apply to him.

So I will speak to each of you individually, because at least a few of you did not realize you were going to have two allocute on this matter. Thus I am just a taste of the esteemed members in Washington – on both the Senate side and the House of Representatives – who will have questions much more probing than I will. So please count me as a friend, but a friend who will ask difficult questions.” He realized he had done badly, so retired to a wooden chair painted black – with a gold leaf University stamp.

He was right of course, he had done rather badly – but it did not matter, because they were shambling pile of wolves, and rather aged ones at that. For the next two hours - or so – he then began to answer questions from first one and then another. Two of them identified themselves by names he knew were fake. Which was an inherent problem in his line of work, both on the American side and on the Arabic side. he wondered whether he would have taken the fake program director or two of these. But he did notice that they were up on the latest details about stringing communication wire – which he guessed was there real business. The only problem was – stringing communication wire along the barren corridors of Iraq was only one of its disadvantages. And it was not the group who he would have selected anyway. And he was sure that more expertise would only find more problems.


Mercifully, he retreated and took a cab back to his hotel room, where she – the woman – was still asleep. He very quietly took off his clothes, and settled down – completely nude – and fell completely asleep. He dreamed about skiing in the Rockies, where the snow was plush and pampered. Unlike the “carving the porcelain” effect of the Adirondacks, or other such ilk.