Stories from the Road

I remember the first time I ever saw the mountains. We were in Arizona, going down back roads before the sun set, and I saw them coming in the distance like melted red wax. We go around the corner and, bam! they stretch out in great huge space and distance, towering up more than any building, making you feel really small and insignificant, but feeling incredible. You stick your head out the window, to feel the wind blowing through your hair, and smoke a cigarette, watching the scenery go by in wonder. It’s the best ride I’ve gotten, me, Big John and the Indian all together in the truck drinking beer.
The Indian gives Big John a cigarette and then takes it back, it was broken, to hand him another.

“Indian giver! HA HA HA HA!” Shouts Big John.

The Indian really was an indian, he lived in Oklahoma and worked with Big John, but was from Tucson. He was a good time guy, laughs, makes me laugh too. Drunk, the Indian starts singing a song from his tribe, I don’t know if it was a song to the sun, a harvest song, a story-song, but he sings it loud and annoying to fuck with John.

“Shut up! Shut up!” shouts Big John and starts beating him with his newspaper to shut him up. Everyone laughs again.

“Why are you staring out the window so much?” asks the Indian to me, I guess he saw the wonder in my eye. Big John defends me, “I would too if it was the first time I saw mountains.”

Distracted, I look back in the cab. Everyone has their shoes off, relaxed, it’s a long trip, all the way from Texas with its sweat and its gnats, to this paradise in the desert. My feet are hurting, I’ve been wearing the same socks and shoes for 4 days, I feel comfortable and chuck off my shoes. The truck goes screeching to a halt.

“Ok bud! The shoes are goin’ in the back!” I look down at my socks and they’re just black, steamy, reeking in the dry desert sun. John comes around and puts them in the bed, we start moving again, and without meaning to I start rubbing my steamy socks in the truck carpet blissfully. They ignore me and roll down the windows.

Big John is the kind of guy who likes to help, but he makes sure that you know that HE’S the one helping you. He offers you a cigarette, “Marlboroughs, they’re better.” I look down at my everyday budget cigarette. I can’t really tell the difference but free is better so I accept. “You know how much I make a year? 50,000! Ha!”

I used to follow the bands,” he says, “I’d hitchhike around to the shows. We’d get by, it was fun.” He didn’t look like the hippie type, “I work for Yahoo,” he hands me a card, “My kid’s got TB, we’re transferring to Tucson cause it’s easier to breath. It’s the smallest big city. Him and the wife are coming in a couple days. But I miss this. I don’t know what it is, something about the road that brings people together.” So his desire to please. I imagine his wife like some sort of typical hot college girl turned housewife. You know, the plastic looking girls that guys like to look at.

But Big John helped me, he bought some glue and clamps to fix my guitar, he gave me a backpack and some old jeans, he got me the fuck out of Texas, he gave me advice, “You need to just go into a Sheraton like you own the place, go ask for some soap and razors at the front desk, and walk into the pool where the showers are to clean up.” For all his big time self-absorption, you knew he had been where I was before.

I slept in his truck and went out, the next day the Indian asked me what I’d done, this was his town.

“I checked out the city, went downtown, went to this guy’s house, I thought he just wanted to hang out, but he ended up being gay.”

“BAH HA HA HA HA HA HA!” The Indian thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. That was the end of my story, I wasn’t going to tell them any more. Big John’s wife was coming. The Indian went back to Oklahoma and I kept going west.

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Lima Street Actors

Picture by Faviola Torres

Picture by Faviola Torres

I haven’t every really seen another city in the world where people are as resourceful as in Lima, whether the con-artists, the beggars, the businessmen, or the real artists. In the United States or Europe people waste so much that the bums live well digging through garbage. There’s too much competition in Lima.

You see strange people some days. One day there was this guy coming down a major avenue, Faucett, completely naked in the midday sun, when everyone was with their families buying lunch in the market or coming home from school.  And he was completely unabashed by it, like he maybe didn’t notice.  Everyone was ignoring him as if they didn’t notice it either.  But I couldn’t really hold myself back and burst out laughing, staring at him.  When he passed he stunk, had a long brown beard and his hair was a little matted. People talked after he passed, sort of shocked by it.

But not everyone in this city is lost. There’s another guy who makes goat sounds, we´ll call him Goat Man.  Goat Man stands at major intersections, he was left behind somewhere, no one cared for him, and bahs in a really loud voice, you could hear him all the way from my apartment.  Then he walks between cars and people give him money out of pity.  One day Goat Man came to the intersection in a suit.  He was dressed in a nice suit and he was bathed and his hair was combed.  But he was exactly the same.  He made Goat sounds in his suit.  I wasn’t sure if the suit was his own idea, in a shrewd investment to make more money at the intersection; or if someone took pity on him, and took him in, cared for him, dressed him, and wanted to get him a minimalist job (and that Goat Man had escaped back to the life he loves, away from the cares of society).

Goat Man soon had imitators.  The imitators stand downtown, very shrewd at lunch time, by the nice stores where all the money is.  But you can tell Goat Man is sincere, he has an innocent look in his eyes.  The imitators always wear sunglasses.

There´s also Robot Man.  Robot Man goes all in silver, clothes and body painted, in homemade get up with cardboard and this mouth piece (perhaps a part from a squeaker toy) that he manipulates to make robot sounds.  But Robot Man isn’t a bum, he’s an artist.  He has various acts, the most ingenious of which is the money jar (also silver) which upon moving in robot metal moonwalk in front of the cars, he looks into the jar, shakes it upside down in metallic fashion, and makes cute robot sad-sounds, upon which the audience is elated.

The trouble is that this act takes too long.  Factoring in both the slow moonwalking and the time to look in and move the jar, it leaves scant little time to walk between the cars.  45 seconds at quickest, and few lights in Lima last that long except in heavy traffic.  And people are too pissed off in traffic to give money.  Robot Man has followers too, they also act in the city center.  But these aren’t so good, they’re kids, I get the feeling that perhaps they’re disciples of Robot Man, practicing in front of people for the effect.  Now, when you walk the streets, there are sellers selling the Robot Man mouthpiece that makes these noises.  They’re packaged and becoming popular.

The best is the Acrobat Boys.  Acrobat Boys are truly acrobats, they come from the cerros, are poor, pretty young.  Acrobat Boys have an act where they do a flip over the other crouched down a little.  Then one throws the other up in the air and he does a double back flip.  But then 3 of the kids crouch down in a row, and one of the kids does a flip over all three kids.  This takes the whole 2 lanes, the kids basically flies across the whole road.  Then they clap, pump up style, do a little cheer.  The athletic acts always do this.  I saw holes in their shoes, bugging one of the kids on the hot pavement, needing new shoes badly.  They were good, they didn’t have imitators.

Dancing Fool had a mannequin, he was a hippie.  He loved his mannequin greatly, she had on this skirt, it was cheap but elegant, and a wig, and had perfect breasts, wide eyes.  They swayed along the sides of waiting buses, in long and passionate swirling, twirling and footwork on the side of the bus.  At the end he dipped her, a long, arched dip, and kissed her on the lips deeply, laughing, because his girl was there for real, she dressed stylishly and was handsome, held out the hat smiling along the side of the bus.  Dancing fool wasn’t a regular, he did it only for a while, his real girl wasn’t there the next time, maybe he left her for the mannequin.  He didn’t smile at the kiss the next time, was bitter.  Mostly he just liked to dance.

On Faucett there was a girl that lived around there, he was really a guy, a transvestite it was easy to tell, but I stared at her hard one night because I was curious, she didn’t look like anyone else in the neighborhood, had on the purple Janice Joplin type of hat with dingleberries, like hanging from a lowrider in the 70s.  I think she mistook my look for desire, or maybe it was because I was the only gringo in the neighborhood and stood out, but she was madly in love.  I returned it with polite small talk.  She told me “God bless you” the day I moved away.

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Johnny was always with the dogs. There were 3 of them, and they looked the same to me, but Johnny knew exactly which was which. He kept food in his pockets he always gave to them. One day the wind was blowing so hard, it was fall, that one of the branches cracked and broke, it hit the dog. Johnny was back there for an hour with him.

—Johnny get your ass in here!

—Fuck you man! Looking at the dog he started muttering.

—Johnny, the wind’s blowin’ hard, we gotta go tie that boat down.

—Oh fuck off man.

The dog was just slowly dying, we lived in the middle of nowhere.

—Why don’t you just take a rock and get it over with.

—Dude, fuck off.

—It’s just in pain, there ain’t no way it’s going to live through this.

Johnny didn’t say a damn thing, he just sat there with his two forked hands. You could always tell when it was him when you saw him from far away, his arms just swung like that. We used to call him “fork hand.” He fucking hated it. The poor bastard was crying.

“Fuck.”  He picked up this big stone, heaved it up, sat there breathing hard and balancing the huge rock.

—What if it doesn’t kill it? still grunting.

—You better make the fuck sure that it kills it.

—I can’t see his fucking head, dude, I can’t do this.

—What the fuck else are you supposed to do?


He heaved the rock down as hard as he could. It hit the dog in its leg—”God damnit!” The dog cried mercilessly and just looked at Johnny, betrayed—”God fucking damnit!”

Johnny was crying geat merciless gulps of air. He loved that dog. He used to drive for an hour to get out of town so he could take it down to the river. It would sleep with him. He was shivering now, it was really cold out.

“Finish—” his eyes turned red fire on me.

“I can’t fucking do it,” he sobbed. “I just can’t.” The dog had this faraway look in its eyes now, was only dimly whimpering. You tried to tell yourself that it was thinking about some long lean steak or impossible rabbit, on a sunny day, in ever-youth. It was probably really thinking his last thoughts of his master betraying him, cursing the day he ever looked in his eyes with love, no longer wishing to live.

Johnny put his hands on the rock again, the dogs ears fairly pricked up. He heaved it up, the wind was blowing his tears away as quickly as they came. “It would be better to let it die, wouldn’t it?”

—What are you God?

—Shut up Garry!

—Do you want me to do it?

Viciously—He’s my fucking dog! Go fuck yourself!

He heaved the rock with all his might, he was passionate in his throw, he wished his dog well, he really had loved him. The rock flew with all its power at the dog’s head and landed straight on its snout. If that snout has been its head, the dog would have been really, really dead, the rock shattered that snout. Pieces of bone shot through it. The dog screamed in agony. It didn’t even have a sense of betrayal anymore, you couldn’t recognize anything in its eyes, just pain.

—God fucking son mother fuck Ahhhhh you!

—God dammit Johnny!

You know those guys at the bowling alley? In the winter everyone went bowling in Springfield, there was ice on the ground, you couldn’t drive, and there was absolutely nothing else to do. We’d skip school.  You know those guys that can throw really hard, but have absolutely no aim? That hit the corner pin as if they wanted to break it? As if it had stolen their wife. Johnny was one of those guys.

I picked up the rock, smashed it on the dog’s head as quick as I could, never letting go of the rock, doing it over and over again. Johnny was all white. He didn’t say a single word. He walked off towards the road with the wind blowing and all. Occasional cars were passing, the headlights showed the dust from the road swirling up in great clouds. I didn’t say anything.

—What happens in the wild, when some animal gets hurt? What if flies are eating at him before he’s dead? Wouldn’t you want to kill it?

—If you were on your deathbed, and were in incredible agony, and someone told you they could go ahead and get it over with, would you say, “Yes! Kill me!”?

—Johnny we live in the middle of nowhere, there’s no doctors and hospitals and a dog can’t say anything.

I went inside to get away from the wind.  Johnny just stood there by the road in the darkness. The windows were all rattling, it kind of swept you off your feet, we were in a valley. Nature in all her power. The waving pine trees were almost bent half-way over. Rain started pleating against the window. The next day the sun came up grey and wet, but when it went down it turned red again for a minute, below the grey clouds, it painted fire across the sky, the crickets started chirping, dogs barking, life as normal. The two remaining dogs played a little. Lightning bugs started dancing in the half-dark. The river kept its calm rolling sound, moving back to mother, back to the sea.

Summer came and went, cicadas, crickets, June bugs, screened porches, hammocks, beer, barns, autumn came with color and dry leaves, said goodbye.

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Coca Then and Now

Peru produces almost 130 metric tons of coca leaves a year, according to a recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. One hundred twenty tons of that is used to produce cocaine. Though there is a long and established tradition of using coca leaves for medicinal or cultural practices, cocaine is still one of the leading cash crops in the country, not benefiting the economy, with the largest consumer being the United States, spending about $38 billion dollars a year on the habit. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Peru has now taken over Columbia as the leading producer of this drug. The US, being the leading consumer of cocaine in the world, is also the most influential in exhorting its eradication.

There had been little international interest in this leaf until 1860, when the cocaine alkaloid was extracted. What followed was widespread recognition in the western world of its benefits: the first local anesthetic, an important ingredient in many medications, and a base for the now famous Coca-Cola. Sigmund Freud, among others, became a leading advocate and completed some of his influential work under its influence. It wasn’t until the 20th century that cocaine use was condemned by the international community, induced by its growing abuse and publicity, until it became more or less demonized. In 1961 the United Nations officially condemned the coca leaf as well, aiming to eradicate it completely from Planet Earth within 25 years.

In Peru controversy over the leaf stopped being a hot issue a long time ago. When the Incas were in power its use had been largely ritual and confined to the upper classes. After the conquest there was pressure from the Catholic Church to remove it due to its association with the pagan religion, and in 1551 the Bishop of Cusco imposed capital punishment for consuming the leaf. Twenty two years later, in a complete reversal, the Spanish Crown ordered that coca cultivation continue and began to tax it. The Indians working in the mines chewed it to overcome fatigue and hunger in the high-altitude mines, and the Spanish may not have wanted to lose the increased output which resulted from its use. Since that time the leaf has retained its original ritualistic and cultural importance for the people of Peru. The cocaine epidemics of the developed world were never much of a problem here.

Photo by Faviola Torres

Photo by Faviola Torres

This tradition has remained strongest in southern Peru, where the majority of both legal and illegal coca plantations abound. In an attempt to regulate the exodus of cocaine from the country in more recent years, largely from external pressure, the government has installed stricter regulations for legal coca leaf growers, with ENACO (National Entity of Coca) being the only nationalized company. However, it is estimated that only about 1/3 of traditional coca leaf buyers in Peru get their product from ENACO due to quality and availability. Instead the company has increasingly been turning to commercialization of the leaf, being one of the main providers of “decocainized” coca leaves for Coca-Cola.

Today, the plaza de armas of Cusco is fairly rife with local sellers trying to make a couple soles from the tourists. It is not uncommon to see a young American tourist with a local seller staring in wonder at a huge pile of coca leaves openly piled up on the bench where they sit. This tourist had been raised on stories of how cocaine-laced Coca-Cola had gotten the masses addicted to the bestselling drink. He may have paid 200 American dollars for a gram of cocaine sometime in his life. He had never seen it so openly displayed. Peruvian sellers have quickly capitalized on this innocence. You can find coca leaf “energy beer”, digestive coca pisco, coca candy, etc. One is reminded of the recent fad for energy drinks in the US.

In January of this year, in a complete turnaround, the UN gave exemption to Bolivia for the 1961 convention which had banned coca leaves, allowing them to be used for traditional purposes in that country. Although there was a lot of opposition, notably from the US, Russia, the Netherlands and the UK, Bolivia was granted the exemption in an attempt to channel production away from cocaine and toward legal uses. The effects of this reversal remain to be seen. Peru, whose government has affirmed plans to eradicate 22 million hectares of illegal coca this year, appears to have a stronger illegal coca market than ever.


Alan Foresburg: The Wonders of the Coca Leaf
Francisco Durand: El Comercio Informal de la Coca para Uso Tradicional.

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Found written in cover of a book

The World today has no need of theologians,
there are many not of Moralists for these are not a few
It has no need of Legalists for most make themselves law.
It has no need of Leftist or Rightist
for even if one knew where to stand it would be crowded

But the World does have need of a prophet of Joy
In the midst of the World’s complexities,
people’s fears, suspicions, the multitude of doubts that plague man
we have need of a Prophet of Joy
One who will show what a happy Christian is
One who is Alive with the life of the Risen Lord
One in Love with the triumphant Christ and fallen man
One united with the Glorious Jesus and the inglorious human condition

If we need anything today
If the world cries for one thing
If you will to be
desire to be
hope to be
Be a prophet of Joy

—Sister Martin de Porres

(found written in the back cover of a stolen book on Quilca street in Lima, Peru)

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True story

The week brings the simplest and strangest of circumstances. For once I look at my surroundings, and they are as new as the day is long. Going out with friend Kelly, getting drunk in the night, dancing awkwardly, losing my feet, strappings of conversations that don’t really prove any points (oil pipeline politics and the inner conspiracy workings of the Nazis) and then a spur-of-the-moment-friend’s house, a climber. He abashed while you vent your problems with your man and I return enthusiasm, and then not realizing it’s morning, daylight streaming through, he ushers us off as he goes to bed. And then walking and wondering with you, you leading the way, walking up grey-haired Mtatsminda, holy mountain, and today it is holy. I’d always seen the damn Ferris wheel light and space needle circus lights, visible from anywhere in the city, citadel to gain bearings of direction, but up top it’s beautiful, a wetland, misty morning wonder, paths leading through, a waterfall full and muddy and cold. And we slide down the mountain path, slip muddy and groping. You throw your clothes off in innocent comfort to go swimming, skin white and beautiful beneath, unassuming breasts, natural. And I awkward with little coaxing make it about as far as one shoe left on and my underwear remains, the water is fucking freezing. I get half wet in the onward gush and then in a rush of desire throw my arms around you, completely uninterested in the cold water.

You march at first in defense away from the water. But then see my goodwill, I like your man, and you love him well. But I feel my sex crying out, my dick is warm next to you. We walk back up in the grey magic morning, see the red roofs of the city below, the churches and old buildings, picturesque is the closest approximation to describe it. The buildings shine red and religious, round tops not flat, lovely, bricks and castles, years and years of building and rebuilding, thousands of years. I’d always gauged the metaphor of time as hundreds, here it was kind of irrelevant. The glass bridge over the water, limp in the grey morning without its modern lights, looks like a big slug.

I put my arm in yours, Georgian fashion, without any ill intent, as close friends. You, I’m sure you don’t miss the metaphor. Walk down the steps on top of the world. Past the churches, Kelly playing the part of yourself, scoff comments of superiority of the opiate of the masses, and through old steps and quiet stones, calm, soothing, careening in the rain. We get in a taxi, sit close, you say “let’s go to your house and drink some vodka,” in a fuck-all attitude, good times frame of mind. At my house there’s no vodka, we’re both reeling drunk, morning streaming in.

You tell me secrets of your life, hard times, your dad killed himself in his car with monoxide, you heard it second hand, never from your mom—good time gal—, from a friend, your man knew about it before you. Such instances of cowardice, you’d talked about your mom a lot, in mock ditsy impersonation, but obviously you loved her. Such minute instances of your life. And telling me about Alex, how he cheated on you, maybe you guys are more open about such things as sex than I allow myself to be a part of, still conserved in such matters, despite my opinions of a free spirit. I give you the comfort of a friend, I try to.

Vadi had been bare, protective, more jealous than me in such matters. I hold friendship higher, but not sure if love on a morning would move the winds one way or another. Anyway, with excuses of a more comfortable bed, you go to sleep with me in my bed. And I want you, and you want me, your eyes are blue, not pale, but like the sky, golden hair over your white face. And a foot away from each other, we ache, want, need, this feeling of closeness, of the warmth of your body touching mine, we stare into each others’ eyes. Your eyes sparkle, I kiss you on the forehead with affection, “goodnight friend,” you mutter motions of self-pity, beautiful in your need, and don’t make my move. I know that if you decide, I won’t push you away, I’ll fly in strength, in smooth touch, in my other half, and lose myself in this thing called life, wonderful in such moments, alive, free, thinking as much as a tree swaying in the breeze, warm under the sun, it’s leaves coming alive, no pondering or praying or regrets or hopes, the whole boatload of human emotion. I feel my beating heart, feel yours, I reach out…

We talk a lot, drift to sleep, the sun shines golden in your hair. And the next day you puke well into the night. Drunker than I it seems, but not really. Such are the winds of the world today. We spends some days together, sleep till 5, I have the house alone. Eventually you go home, hug me goodbye, it’s been good. We shared a lot about life. From 2 different sides of the world, lives not all so different, just different situations. We learn a little from each other. Strange how the lost children conglomerate in strange places such as Georgia, from all over, for different reasons.

The next day I walked, wondered the mountains close to home, the city was smaller from up here, crawled down the valleys, walked among the shepherds with their sheep, went places they could not. The sun shone bright and warm. I sat and thought for a while. A rainbow struck itself proud over the city, it stayed a long time, until I walked back down, only visible from the great heights, leprechauns ever beyond your reach, this was my city, oh Tbiliso. Reminded me of Portland, one day on top of a park, I imagined other cities down there, changes in my life, Vadi had fought with me that day, left me cold and pissed, walking in the rain, fighting over deadlines, drop zones, organization, differences between me and you. And after spending all night in an endeavor for you, not me, you had found an excuse for its limitations, it shortfalls, it powder drifts over the road.

The night before the wind had picked up again while Kelly and I were talking. It was going fucking crazy, rattling all the windows, sweeping through the valley like it does here, Kelly and I could hardly hear each other. Then in the distance, midnight, the church bells started ringing. You could hear it through the rattle and the roar. I couldn’t pick it out at first, it wasn’t a sound I was used to at that time of night. Easter had begun, the all night solace, praying red eggs, semblance of blood. Then they stopped. Without realizing it the wind had stopped too. For no particular reason, just shut off, gone by the time I realized it, lost in thought or something. Images of the supernatural had filled my head. Images of complete serenity. Not a word was said.

On the mountains, the city was like any other, houses dotted the proud peaks. Families were in the villages, spending time at the cemeteries, I was alone and content and climbing. The streams rushed brown and cold here too. When I went back down, I wondered through back yards, side paths, it wasn’t concrete here, but green hills between complexes, bullfrogs going crazy in a rainy pond, man-made contrivances gone wild again, loud and beautiful sounds, seeking love. There were man-made fences, pieces of whatever strapped together, tin, tubes, tires, concrete… to make temporary boundaries, people sheltering blossoming trees, white and unreal, gardens, bushes, grape vines long from fruit. There was also the sound of children—stark contrast to the silent serenity of the mountains—and car alarms, and old men sitting outside, drinking. playing backgammon…
Home again and hungry and food and simple sensation. Life is really good sometimes. Sometimes you don’t even have a good reason for it.  Just feeling the freedom of sensation, like sitting on your steps in the field, and watching your children play. Some days I can do it well.

Once as a kid I sat on top of a hill in Missouri, late summer, and the grass was tall and the ground hot, close to evening, and the grasshoppers buzzed and flew everywhere, and smells were in the air, and life was breathing. I imagined a girl sitting up there with me. It was similar…

—Jim Stone

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the beach the beach the beach

Castle standing sentinel to the sun
Waves crashing rising crying
cringing at the inevitable meeting
Castle stands proud, unbeknownst to shattering Waves
wrecking havoc on coastlines, cities, nuclear power plants, peanut factories
Castle looks at Waves, smiles calmly, takes in the setting sun
children have gone in for the cool night breeze
Waves whitewater crashing, trashing, splurting foam and fizz in proud triumph
Castle tickles his feet in the soaking salt, white in the early moon
giggles, thinks about lost love, days at the river as a kid, wandering the woods or the world
Waves conquers, shoves up high and mighty, proud and erect in his shapely sheen—cracks sprinkling foam at Castle’s barricades, is relentless, bites at his toes
Castle resists the urge to cry in pain, then resists resistance
He simply looks at the setting sun waiting to say goodbye, melts, flows into it
Waves gets higher, louder, lounging more leisurely and sure than ever throws himself onto the shore with an all-out thrust, almost coming…

up to the line of hotels, Castle doesn’t even pack up his embankments, or rustle his sparkling spires, or think of a way to save eons of memories, stacked civilization pillars or privy or escape routes
Trinities of sentiment and geometry, livelihoods of design, one’s children and progeny, start to wash away
Castle ain’t even proud, he’s peaceful
The last golden rays of the sun sink behind wild washing waves, to the eternity of ocean and evermore
laced fingers wash walls and white sands blue with a single sweep, reminds Castle of time, of life and death, of mother

Waves’ fury sees Castle’s calm as pride, of never giving up, of fierce and noble death.  Waves can’t get it up any more, can’t come past the beach and dark walls of blind buildings
Castle couldn’t care less, whispers watching and wondering, sweeps to the wild thrashing wild waves, the approaching storm, unresisting.  He remembers his first love, of riding drunk through the hills in the back of a pickup, flying
and he flies floating into the evermore, turrets trumping, banners protruding, foam enveloping memory, the rhythm of life

—Maggie from Brooklyn

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For Gentle Maii

Maii was a different one, she had lights in her eyes and masses of dreams she said she couldn’t explain.  She didn’t talk too much but her eyes said a lot.  She was a part of this world but also another creature entirely.  I woke to her screaming one night, her eyes were wide awake, she was breathing a million miles an hour, but her hands were unclenched, smooth, relaxed, draped over the side of the bed like an angel, a sacramental dream, or something.  I don’t remember what she said the dream was about.

I´d come to Georgia because I needed a change, I don´t really know what I expected to find, I just kind of ended up there.  My life had been going nowhere, and I hadn´t been happy.  It was an ancient world with ancient traditions, remains of castles and cobblestone streets, covered by grapevines, dry grass, and storms from the mountains that never reached the city.  I imagined Turks speaking in the archways, but really there was just a lot of traffic and people doing their thing.

When I met her she was begging, asking for pennies on the street.  She was just getting old enough that people didn’t feel sorry enough to give her money.  She was at the stage of selling useless crap or pretending like she was decrepit in widow black.  On the metro with about 5 million people she looked like she did not belong in the least.  Her hair was done up fashionably, wrapped around the side of her head black and straight, and at the same time tangled as all hell.  I kept looking at her but she didn’t meet my gaze, aloof, didn’t seem to really give a damn about any of us.

I got her attention finally as she was switching cars, telling her she had dropped her bag.  Her eyes lit like fire and flashed across my face.  It silenced me, brought me back.  But her black dress swayed and I stepped forward, asked her name, told her a bad joke (she didn’t laugh at all), and I asked her to come eat with me.  She saw a perfect opportunity and of course complied.

Later on I got drunk enough, she never left me, to offer to get a hotel.  Into the room I tried to make small talk, told her she had beautiful hair, danced when she walked, all that kind of thing.  She was completely untaken by it, slipped close to me, put her hand down my pants, my breath shot it, she was amazing, she smiled for the first time that night, mysterious and sincere, I was blown away by how beautiful she was in the half light.

Later on she danced for me, it was like nothing I’d ever seen.  I danced with her awkward and clumsy, there was a group playing in the bar next door, it was the farthest thing from dancing music you could imagine.  She smiled then too.  I paid her while she lay dark and unfolded next to me in the bed, her arm draped over mine, her legs spread comfortably open, she’d done this before, there was none of the virginity queen matriarch crap that the Georgians held so dear.  Maii laughed at my awkwardness.  She took the money mischievously, kissed me on the lips full and long and with a hotbed of desire, laughed like a girl, jumped up and left.

I found my wallet missing the next day, knew exactly that it would happen, held nothing against her and laughed because I’d put my money card in my shoes.  She had my library card, I went to the café, asked around, found out where they stayed.  I really didn’t give a damn but a library card was the best excuse I could come up with to try to find her again.

When I came to the camp I was kind of thrown back.  There was trash in the streets and the buildings were dilapidated and worn down.  I don’t know if the buildings had actually been like that for years when they moved into them, or if the buildings were built new for them and they managed to let them go to pot so fast.  They would have had to actually go at them with sledgehammers I think.

I just said fuck it and went for it, walked down the street before I looked like a housing developer, or desperate broke bloke, or something funny.  There was no other way to go about it.   Suddenly the whole camp was quiet.  The kids just looked at me.  I didn’t think I was dressed all that well, but apparently I stood out.  I got about 20 meters into the place when I was surrounded by about 10 large, stone faced men wanting to know what the fuck I was doing.  I had no idea what I was doing there.  I just wanted to see her, I couldn’t get her off my mind.

When I tried to explain, they either didn’t understand me or else didn’t want to.  When I saw what I’d got myself into, it was too late.  They beat the shit out of me and took everything but my shoes.  I was walking back broken and buzzed.  I bought a pint of vodka and tried to forget a little, sat on a little hill overlooking the place and figured they wouldn’t care enough to bother me so I could rest a little.

I could hear them laughing down below, someone was playing an accordion.  It was really pretty, rough, but pretty.  Maii came out of nowhere, she was wearing green like the trees, out of place otherwise.  She saw me all bloody, burst out laughing hard, aloof and as if she didn’t belong there as always, and walked on.  My heart stopped, I tried to say something, gave up and got up to walk home, freezing in the rain.  When I got around the corner she was there again, gave me an old coat, kissed me on the cheek, never really looked me in the eyes, not really even tender, I wasn’t sure what to make of it.  Maybe the day wasn’t so bad.

I saw her off on and on for the rest of that year.  She was magic, she was fire, a dark angel, a dancer, not really a dreamer, just sure of herself, absolutely beautiful.  We had nothing in common, what she told me was all bits and pieces.  Her dad was a merchant one time, a soldier one time, a traveling circus man, whatever she thought I might believe.  She showed me how to sing some songs, some words in her language, I taught her how to curse, it’s pretty easy in English, one or two words will suffice.  The only time she ever lost it completely was when I made a joke about the mother she wouldn’t tell me about.  She was like a child, and sometimes the strongest woman.  She was my friend and I loved her fiercely.  We got wasted on vodka, got kicked out of more than one place, I lived in the woods with her sometimes, my clothes got old, I sang a lot.  I still never got to know who she was.

One day she just disappeared.  I went to the camp and they were gone, not a trace.  She hadn’t said a thing to me.  I’d seen no lasting sadness in her eyes.  No sorry goodbyes.  Her eyes had been dark and impenetrable as always.  Sometimes I like to pretend that she was a Martian, she fit in about as well.  I miss her, she’d taught me to live.  She was on my mind a long long time.

I moved to Russia, there was no revolution there, it was cold snow and ice.  The nights left you too much time to think.  I don’t know why I went, I hate the fucking cold.  There was a little bar where you could get cheap vodka, and there was sometimes live music, I went there a lot.  I met a girl there, my first and only internet hookup.  She was older than me, had a husband, never told me, was tall and blond and pretty, but there was no love.  She pretended like she was hard to win, but there was never any waiting and no mountains to cross.  I tried to give her my heart, she never gave me hers.  Maii had given herself so freely, but was never one I could catch, or name.  I know that wherever she is she moves others like she moved me.  You couldn’t look away, darkness drew you in.

In the streets of my own country again I felt utterly and completely alone.  The dust drew me and the water didn’t wash it away, just turned into mud.  I remembered the girl I’d left so long ago while I loved her, I remembered my friend I was too shy to meet her advances in high school, I remembered wasting my time building roofs and the chemicals of my mind turning the meth I was smoking into the taste of a woman’s lips.  I bet all those roofs have been replaced by now, long past the 15 year warranty.

So I walk on, I move forward, my friends live in different worlds, I have no one anymore.  I’m thinking of you, you go with me where I walk.  The lights still sparkle in the cities, I bet you can see them from the sky.  It amazes me when the whole city goes dark, loses its power, becomes what it always was, a part of the earth.  For you, gentle Maii.  For the rest too.

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