1a. (sunday october 5/97, 11.52 p.m.)
acid rain slithers slatternly through the shutters of the strip-joint on richards street in which benedict ochieng sits suckling the teat of his sixth beer. porcelain mist hurdling the city's northern perimeter. a dank and moldy traipse over velvet knuckles of clear-cut mountain. this as chafing frothy ocean -- the pacific -- moshes impervious.
he'd quit drinking that morning. another uneventful vancouver morning stapled grey by grumbling cloud. but ... finds himself, late evening, having lost track of the number of times he's said. enough, no more. failing, like before, to meet another commitment misplaced in the maze of this perpetual haze he's become. leading, once again, to imbibing, yet again, on the medication he's prescribed himself -- heineken washed down with shots of lemon gin. this to take the edge off his latest catalogue of regret: the student visa having long ago expired; low on cash; now hiding out in a room on the east side.
he tries to focus ... the upcoming gig. the a/saxxy fro crew at the azure. focus on all that has been sacrificed for another moment up on stage. kicking it. doing what it is he wants to do. what he feels compelled to do -- which is sing.
but ... he's stuck. a tractor tire wedged in and spitting up rank muck. unable to find the fix. make the mix. that'll give him back his chops. stringing together a mesh of phat tones. instead of all this clumpy ... couldn't-much-care /thrombosis of drabness.
a piss-ass glaze of smoke rusts away his lungs as he surveys the room. trying to locate ... another beer. attempting to find ... a waitress. one who'll ripple the surface of yellowing eyes. buckling corneas until they snap moping muscle in shackles. shoulders. releasing him into ... mint-scented entrails/forgetting.
his body is weak -- countless experimentations with an arsenal of designer drugs. and he peels the label off his heineken hoping for the day this infernal funk will vanish like ivory blossoms wilting in heat.
he hasn't had a decent night's rest since the previous gig; another indifferent audience. the experience having left him ... in the zone -- the hasn't-slept-in-days zone; an aimless meander from bar to café; the chameleon; level 5; joes. obsessively ruminating on the perpetual trail of has-beens packing them in on tours venturing across far flung corners of the globe; the stones; duran duran; his fallen idol, the artist formerly known as whatever it had been he once was.
mariah carey leaks from house speakers. as he ... searches the room, once again, for ... an oasis. stasis. yet again ... somewhere to rest. hell, someone who'd allow him to trail the underbelly of his tongue against the veins of her neck. just until he finds the elusive formula to manufacture a solution to his woes.
downloading neon advertisements for coors dangling from walls. his overtaxed faculties sluggishly format a televisual collage of burning car n' speedboat crashes among body-crunching bodychecks. the clang of cash registers indifferently documenting the steady sale of booze.
... "i'd like you all to put your hands together and give a warm pet club welcome to luuuuuuu-cy rox, lucy rox gentlemen."
handclapping erupts to whistles n' catcalls as numbness unlocks into ... ripple/ripples ... his eyes snagging on ... a dancer he'd hit it up with during a too-short visit he'd made to the brick-laden streets of old montreal three humid summers before. snacking on lucy rox/anna -- an unanswered question still ... after all this time ... cluttering up his centre.
he'd vowed to return to her then. she to wait for him. but -- distance/other priorities -- nothing had come of it. at least until this ... unexpected ... paths inexplicably crossing after weeks heaped into months of displaced hope buried in a trek of hearts unable to retrieve the two days before the blue/black night in which they'd said so long/good bye. we'll write. i'll call.
nothing ... until this serendipitous opening/ glimpsed -- all ankles n' knees; hair of dark brillo; ring in bellybutton n' bottom lip -- saxxily descending a ladder onto centre stage.
"see-through fishnet everything!" a bloated suit bawls over a pitcher. scarlet embers sparking to life in crinkled features. his liquored-up colleague glancing up from where he decompresses with a brew. hoping to kick back after another day of paperwork n' phonecalls -- cutting loose, no place else to go; hell-bent on avoiding any number of domestic chores awaiting him at home -- trimming the hedge; walking the dog; lighting up the goddamn barbecue. as four gangly teens -- still unable to grow beards -- distract away with furtive glances towards non-existent authority figures in the direction of the front door. borrowed i.d. imbuing their evening with mawkish intrigue.
anna, wired on smack, struggles to a hip-hop beat in thigh-high stiletto boots, before lavishly pirouetting to lean with her back to a pole. quickly sliding down. downward. landing in a heap/legs splayed open in front of her. shyly covering her mouth. and ... after thinking things through, flashing a tan buttock.
boisterous beer-guts -- bodies jumping crudely about in overtaxed clothing -- belch n' curse in solidarity over the right to leer at this cornucopia of elusive cunt n' evasive ass.
"take it off, bitch. take it off."
anna winks before straddling the pole. hips seductively bucking the metal between her thighs. her eyes closed. then ... opening to focus on ... benedict who grips tightly at the neck of his half-empty heineken. her cortex ... tweaked n' tweaking with where they'd been. a fucked-up weekend degenerating into an all-out coke binge. two blathering n' free, adrift. the tactical use of french in lovemaking colliding with eclectic reworkings of the kama sutra.
... "can i get you anything?"
it's ... the waitress. a sista wearing a too/too short black skirt and frilly white blouse.
"uuuumm ... sure. what's on special?" he's speaking too fast ... he should apologise to her for his presence here. make an off-colour reference to audre lourde. or toni morrison. or better yet, both. tell her he's read bell hooks -- the academic dominatrix -- n' enjoyed it too.
"the special ... pale ale, darling."
"a pale ale it is then."
she moves over to the next table -- an impenetrable smile playing at rubysticked lips.
... anna, tripped out n' finally going to work, rolls up close to the once boisterous, now studiously silent, beer-gutted pair. lingering. pouting. before rolling away again. the larger of the two greedily biting down into a knuckle as she rolls up into a one-armed handstand.
"she's native," he shouts. "i love native women."
disgusting, benedict thinks. adjusting in his seat for a better look.
three blue collars -- jeans stiffened with dried mud -- slouch around a table, preoccupied with hockey highlights up on a screen. the sight of them over benedict's shoulder trapping anna back into ... rubbing her tan buttocks grandesquely up then down against the pole. music braking from frenetic to lush n' slow -- boyz II men crooning out a song for mama.
she arches back, then bends forward, lime underwear dropped to knees/exposing a triangular shock of dark hair.
voyeurs locate themselves in bellows n' cheers. anna responding with delicate flicks at a pubic ring. before slowly pulling underwear to ankles then discarding the garment behind her.
"shower. shower." it's the gangly teens. having finally relaxed into the occasion. one pointing to the glass-encased shower at the back of the stage. yearning to watch her stripped naked caressing booty n' pulling on nipples in steam n' splashing water.
she smiles. shucks. shimmies. then glides over to the shower. the numb indifference of cash registers carping nearby.
robson street suits engross themselves in a game of pool at a table in the back of the room. the taller of the two -- a wrinkle-free armani -- stopping to answer a cellular phone. as benedict toys with a lump behind his right ear.
could he coax anna into leaving with him -- as he had once done -- tempt her back to his hideaway; there to nestle up against each other -- as they had once done -- achily putting off straightening his itchy ass out with the folks at immigration? spending till the ends of time. finding an eternity of moments in those soap carvings for cheekbones.
he thinks this while watching ... always and forever ... the suits? people who get up each day and slip on ties. get into sporty hatchbacks -- stick shift; auto theft device -- and drive off to offices in ... yaletown. beeping brokers. making investments on the stock market. then hitting the boardrooms before a three-martini lunch. a lifestyle which would resolve so much for him. ensuring he'd no longer reek of the need which kept the people of this city uninterested in the story his sorry-looking threads betrayed. providing the security which would keep some clingy soul stuck like lint to him.
he reaches for another snatch of brew. a sepulchral sound thudding in the base of his belly. spinning heretofore untested spindles to puke out ... yards of remorse. as ... another thought ... he invests these strangers' lives with a certainty they have yet to attain. and in doing so undervalues their capacity to suffer. because they too seek the opposite of what they've become. which is what he suspects they would see if they noticed him -- all they'd reluctantly given up on to become men.
the room tilts ... loco/motion -- the end of the set. as anna wraps up angles in a mustard towel. stoked. peaked. this registered in twitches at the corners of her eyes. his heart clunking ... as she collects scattered undergarments. aware of his gaze spiked with yearning. conscious of his desire to entice her with words of lace lilted after the rain.
but ... where would he begin? how would he start that conversation which would make sense of his under the table/on the run/below-minimum-when-he-can-get-them wages to her? all for the sake of his impractical obsession with sound strung musically to soul on bone. this dream which maroons him on an isle of uncertainty -- she'll need more from him; STABILITY. thinking this as he's enticed forward ... nevertheless ... towards another moment in her eyes. outside, night of tree as darkened shadow shaking beneath obscuredbycloud moon.
innards burble like skin percolated by boiling oil. as ... trying to hold on/hold on. for how long? he watches a stranger order her up a cutty sark. the elusive lover whom she will imagine has finally made her scene. the one with whom time will ripen in wrinkles on skin. as ... looking up towards a clock ... she finds ... benedict -- the sinewy, intense-looking cat whom she'd remembered never to forget -- noticing her notice him.
there's a ... TUG ... look away . but ... something familiar ... her eyes of ash/his sable cheekbones. before each quickly turns -- asphyxiating on ... at a loss for language -- back to a purgatory they'd managed a brief escape from.
1b. (monday october 6, 1.16 a.m.)
benedict tips out the door. the night dour and skanky with a rhumba of traffic. warily adjusting a long s/lick multicoloured patch-leather jacket to cover ears. collecting himself before tilting forward/falling into rain's cool viola sting.
corduroy bell-bottoms clap uncomfortable at chilled flesh as he drunkenly meanders west on davie street. steam rising gently off sallow tarmac. a distant light peering green through the onset of fog.
nostrils pick up the stench of tobacco dyed into unwashed clothes. as it no longer rains. just this cold stillness that is long shadow. the lean and linger of tree. light from streetlamps and dented moon glistening in discoloured autumn leaves.
jacked on nausea he tries ... try to ... head up. head up . in a whir of bike chain n' cars struggling n' birds calling out names only they can understand. sediment gathering in puddle-water. as bush everywhere flips in phlegmatic breeze.
a heaviness descends upon him like a sudden ageing. and he gathers before another stumble south on burrard street. the prickly horizon line jittery with the flash of car brights drowsily etching his shadow. which bends in the wind.
motorists crawl along the bridge beside him like beetles half asleep. motors thunderrolling by -- dissonant symphonic pounding.
if only he had an answer-- anything -- for questions he'd yet to adequately formulate. thinking this as he slumps over cold railing. sick to the pit of his stomach. black water spanking eyes.
he burps up bile sputtering from a distended belly. a safety latch busting loose into a sloop of yachts. belching out clumsily on another of these vancouver nights that will not sleep. as the darksmooth inlet disturbs with the odd drop of rain. a drizzle of translucent beads drowning him in memory. high school. sweating in a boiler room, bare knuckles breaking skin against a canvas punching bag. trying to be cassius clay gone ali. maybe taking it to the golden gloves. a skinny n' scared brother who could bust your lip or blacken an eye.
he leans up against the moist metal. kicking a pebble out into brooding water. waiting for ... PLOP. as he meanders into another yesterday still.
1975. four years old. another childhood. living on the motherland/alego district/western kenya. cloud darkened on the edge anticipating another storm. as, shrouded in black, cloaked in it from head to toe, he stands next to grandmama. men in black suits shovelling red soil onto the wooden casket. as a part of him disappears along with his parents into a tomb. a lake of water spilling from sky. washing over them. shepherding the dearly departed into this place where his parents -- whom he hasn't known for long -- are now slumbering. their skin wrinkled n' black and crinkled like dry grapes. wrapped up in the white sheets they've been buried in.
their van had been struck by a truck as they'd returned from an evangelical meeting in the rift valley; the right reverend jim toshack, also dead. all crunched and crushed in the head-on collision.
grandmama, after learning of their passing, hadn't risen from bed for three days. HER daughter. her ONLY daughter now gone. when it was she who was near the end of her journey of many moons and suns and lightning storms.
benedict watches sombre men pack down damp earth with shovels. as mourners slowly begin to disperse among twigs crackling underfoot on their way back to the mission. inconsolable grandmama collapsing into the arms of other mothers. wailing. benedict shaking. afraid because he's never seen her like this. staying as close to mrs toshack as possible.
he clutches the hem of her black dress. as the widow pulls him close -- lost in reminiscences of her lovely christian dish as he'd been the last time they'd spoken; elated by the progress they'd been making in the villages; his latest batch of converts having given up on an allegiance to the bush buck; now replacing it with an image of christ hanging buck-naked from a cross ... and benedict grips folds of wet cotton. unwilling to cry ... NOTHING. that part of him now banished in that soil. replaced with this jigging at what mrs toshack had said. about mama and baba resting in a better place. the hows of this beyond him.
... what if she didn't know? what if no one knew what now happened to them and wouldn't let on ... that no one knew?
petals of rain sluice from cheekbones into his mouth. as famished eyes feast on fields of maize and sugarcane. water running over earth cracked in places. in spaces. as he notices, the first time he really knows this, that grandmama is greying to feeble, weak.
will this also happen to him? too tired to sit up in a bed. someone coming in to clean the places one makes a life of hiding with modesty.
he squeezes the soggy hem of mrs toshack's dress. trying to forget the danger they're all in. this fear of a beyond none of them knew.
"we have a friend in jesus, my son," she whispers. "a friend in the lord."
and he clutches tighter. tension abating ...
"a friend in jesus," he snorts. dropping another pebble into the inlet. "fuck that noise." ... PLOP. and searches through pockets for a cigarette. to settle ... anaesthetize him. KICK. afraid ... these memories he's held at bay for so long ... will finally devour him like the unequivocal monsoon consumes its season.
shaky ... shaken into visions he's recoiled from for so long. slag heaps breaking out of silence. his creaky head drops into clammy palms. before the threat of tears -- which, for so long -- still will not come ... space and time/ space and rhyme. the moment slipping forward. backward. receding into ... a hand in the small of his back startles him. sky suddenly jarred n' festooned with seeping cracks of bright lightning licks. anna ... taking his hand. the clack following another flash ... closer this time. as she silently pulls him north on burrard. and down/down into trails of swaying grass which slap up against outstretched fingertips. still silent as cool wind trims the fronds of her hair. shoulders touching. hands snacking on the braise of each other. a daze of electrical frays lashing deliriously out into the gloom.
rain tentatively spits/drumming against tombstones as they silently walk a cemetery. white crosses. beige slabs of stone. rain slipping sideways from rooftops outside the bars of distant windows. a hint of ocean murmuring "butterfly/swallow" till wind flicks water to froth at eyes so wild they bloom awkward. names. dates. as they walk on towards the seawall. old hurts momentarily shed like skin on a rattler. a tugboat hauling a ship from harbour. water crashing lickety-split. a distant lighthouse murky with graffiti/weed.
thunder draaawls/its reverberation hovering over treetops. the odd seagull chattering. disappearing. as they spoon in a crevice gouged in rock. a pack of unopened players lights bobbing in the water. her sweater -- thread in tatters hanging from sleeves. hair -- smears of coconut oil. still silent. just staring off. salt splattering up to taste between lips. as they continue to spoon. rain falling into droplets of flavour on tongues. a fishing boat -- paddles drunk at sides. as they continue to spoon.
chill descends to the belly of muscle. cutting to marrow. their names balanced between wet lips. as they continue to spoon. night passing from dark to grey to bright to day as they continue to spoon.
Copyright © 1998 David Nandi Odhiambo. All rights reserved.