Friday, January 30, 2009

remembering the tinman, part 3

January 2002, meeting M

The first time I saw him, he was talking to a group of people. I found myself staring at his legs. Beautiful muscular legs covered by the dusting of dark blonde hair encased in dark walking shorts that did not disguise his bubble butt. His upper body was similarly rounded with a hint of beer belly about to erupt in a few years time. He has a head shaped like an egg-a similarity heightened by his receding hairline and hair shaved close to the scalp. His Cockney accent was lilting. Sentences ending in an upward sweep making you think each one is a question.

He suddenly looked my direction and caught my eye. His other body parts receded into background when I looked in his eyes. It is of indeterminate color that always seems to be smiling. He strode towards my direction, all the while looking at me with those mischievous pair as if we were sharing a joke even before he introduced himself. He had a crooked smile. I wanted to bite his lips.

"M," he said extending a hand.

"Kiel," I said, clasping his hand, trying hard not to stare. His handshake was firm. Yet his eyes maintained that mischievous glint that I started to wonder if there is any external manifestation of the unbridled lust I was feeling.

February 2002, the call way after the morning after

"You shouldn't expect anything from me," I detect his imploring tone despite the choppy connection of my mobile phone. I can almost see him frown. "I’m basically a selfish bastard."

Two weeks after M’s visit, this is the first time he calls. Separated by thousands of miles, perhaps just as well. I was afraid I was going to jump to the first bus to where he is in Eastern Cape at the slightest hint of invitation. Apparently, that is not forthcoming. Since he drove away from my house, I was listing down all the things I wanted to say when we finally get to talk. Now all I am left with is uneasy silence and an increasingly loud thumping on my chest.

"That's just it. I'm not expecting anything," my voice sounded unsure even to my own ears. "Let's just talk about it when we see each other in Cape Town in a couple of weeks."

February 2002, text messages after the call way after the morning after

"Thinking of you -," the short message in my cellphone read. It was from Brian. It was 10 P.M. - three days after his phone call.

"No shit," I muttered under my breath, thinking of that vague brush off in our phone conversation a couple of days ago. Where does he get off sending me a message like this?

I decided to play it cool- as all my friends seemed to insist, so I wrote back teasingly, "the sort of thoughts that give you wet dreams or nightmares? too bad you're a -selfish bastard- "


"Well thanks. I've been thinking about you too but I don't know if that's something you want to know," I retorted. I imagine I can hear all my friends' indignation at the way I'm handling this. As I watched the miniature envelope travel from one phone through the other, I wanted to cancel. But heck, he asked for it.

"I'm confused, excited, interested and unsure in us." Finally, some truth. My heart resumed it's almost forgotten thumping.

With renewed confidence, I sent a message back that read, "Unsure is good. It's definitely an improvement from the don't-expect-anything line. Remember, I maybe feeling the same thing."

In two minutes, my cellphone rang.

"I'm sorry if I'm such a shit," he apologized not even bothering with the usual pleasantries.

"Why do you say that? Did I say that?" I asked, genuinely puzzled. I started walking out of my bedroom, out of the house and lit a cigarette.

"No, but I thought you may be thinking it." Brian explained. I wish I could see him try to get these words out. Why is he apologizing?

"I said -selfish bastard- but those are your words, not mine." I wonder where the guilt feeling is coming from. I suddenly felt afraid that he might feel sorry for me. Shit. That's the last thing I need right now.

"You'll have to understand. This is unfamiliar territory for me, eh? And there's all this uncertainty on how long you'll be staying in the country. Or how long I will." The thumping in my chest suddenly increased a notch higher.

"Hey M, one step at a time, OK?" I took a drag off my cigarette and blew the smoke out lengthily, thinking of words to say. I'll be damned if I let myself sound like a bimbo again. "I'm just wary of putting limits to anything before knowing what it is all about. The thing is, if I don't expect anything I don't have any options. And for me that sounds like a defeatist self-fulfilling prophecy."

"You're right. No options closed at this time. "Then there was the silence that lasted for a long time.

"Oh M, what am I going to do with you?"

"Right now I can think of something that I want to do with you so badly." His words taking on the familiar mischievous, naughty lilt.

"Oh. Right. That is precisely how it all started." How did we get here? I was asking him and myself silently. I know that our affair is not turning out to be a mess of Miss Saigon proportions. Then again, real life never had to have the absurdity of a musical to be tragic. And for those involved, utterly compelling.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

remembering the tinman, part 2

September 2001, meeting & leaving E

I was trying to hold back the tears as I piss in the airport toilet I spent half an hour trying to find.

What am I doing?” I half-consciously muttered to myself. This merited a raised eyebrow and embarrassed smile from the man occupying the urinal next to mine. I wanted to explain but I didn’t think it was too wise with both of us holding our cocks, piss gushing out of them. Compromising position notwithstanding, I don’t know if I know the answer to my own question.

I’m on my way to Africa leaving a loving partner, my meticulously designed apartment, my mother and a powerful consultant position for a government department. All because one day I woke up, looked in the mirror and decided I don’t like myself anymore. No. There must be a more precise way of describing how I felt. I cannot think of a better way to put in than Tom Cruise’s in Jerry Maguire,

I hated my place in this world.

All this I blame to that darned job that I mistakenly stuck with for 2 years. Lured by the prestige of being a government consultant for a multilateral development bank project, not to mention the money that goes with it, I left a very comfortable position in a non-profit organization 2 years ago. I had such high hopes in introducing reforms in government. At the age of 30 you would think I left all this romantic idealism long ago. But I tell you, it only took 2 years in government to snuff out all the living light of idealism in me. Before I knew it I was the epitome of everything I once hated.

So I thought, I have to get away from here. I have to find a place where I can search my soul or what’s left of it and find out how I can get out of this rut. Ergo, South Africa. Where else can I go where the delineation between the good and the bad can be so clear? Black – good. White – bad. Simple, isn’t it? A lot I know then.

So I sought to volunteer in Africa. Tired of the rat race that a high paying job inevitably brings, volunteering seemed to be a dreamy option.

Everything was going as planned and I resigned from the job with aplomb worthy of an academy award when things went haywire.

In a bored night chatting in the internet, a guy with the handle of “engineer” double clicked my name and invited me for coffee. We agreed to meet in a coffee shop in the mall within an hour. He’ll be wearing an orange shirt. I hastily washed my face, sprayed on cologne, and hailed a cab.

The first thing I noticed as I walked into the café to his table was his height. He was the only guy in an orange shirt so I approached with unusual confidence. My god, he can’t be more than 5’2”. My suspicion was confirmed when he stood up to shake my hand.

Hi, I’m E.” He smiled. His smile seemed to light up the whole café. I was hooked.

After 30 minutes we were back in my apartment. Shortly after, 1 night of unbelievably good sex ensued. Needless to say, we fell in love.

And now I’m leaving. Sure, my relationship with E is but 33 days old. Considering, however, that he practically moved in the day after we met; it’s a relationship with an intensity to be reckoned with.

Damn, you should have asked me to stay”, I muttered to myself again as I try to lug my guitar into the passenger waiting area.

I can still see his face so sad a few minutes ago as we hugged in the check-in area to say goodbye. The sight of planes taking-off from where I sat suddenly made the idea of being apart so real. Suddenly, and to the embarrassment of co-passengers waiting for the boarding announcement, I started sobbing.

And for the life of me, I cannot seem to stop.

Friday, January 16, 2009

remembering the tinman, part 1

February 2002, setting the scene

I used to work in a farm in Africa. I don’t want to do a Baroness von Blixen-Finecke impersonation here but I don’t know how to tell this story without telling you about where it all started.

Zebediela is a citrus plantation in the Limpopo about 400 kilometres north of Johannesburg. Unlike the city of gold, though, Zebediela looks as if apartheid is not yet over even when the whole world celebrated its demise more than 10 years ago. While it used to be a booming citrus plantation boasting to be the biggest in the whole world, the whole community seems to be living in the quagmire of poverty, ignorance, disease and disempowerment.

To be truly accurate, there have been some changes. Black civil servants have replaced the white management a few months before I arrived. Still, the life of plantation workers seems to be in a time warp. The workers receive the same wages they used to receive in 1994 before the democratic elections. Extended families averaging in 7 people have to live in small dilapidated mud rondavels about 3 meters in diameter. TB, HIV&AIDS and skin diseases plague the community. They still address white people “Morena” – meaning Lord. Unfortunately that includes me. They talk to me in hushed scared tones refusing eye contact.

Having spent a good part of my youth as a student activist, the plantation should be ripe for what we used to call a revolutionary situation. It’s jarring to realize that sadly, for the people of Zebediela, the revolution passed them by.

I went to Zebediela as a volunteer to help uplift the lives of the people in the plantation. For somebody who has worked in the non-government sector demonstrating rural development models for more than a decade I believed no community should be too wretched as to not benefit from organized efforts.

I was naïve.

This shouldn’t be so bad. The opportunity of working in Africa alone is a chance of a lifetime. There were times that I still held my breath at the view of the majestic expanse of the Limpopo mountain ranges as I walk on my way to work. The myriad songs of birds wake me up every morning as sunlight pierces through the curtains of my bedroom window. Monkeys, snakes and other forms of exotic wildlife nonchalantly cross the street almost oblivious of my presence. And yes, the beauty of the sheltering African sky at sunset cannot be captured in words.

After six months of failed attempts to get the management and the workers interested in organizing efforts, the mountains started to look like prison walls. The sunlight is scorching. The birds emit cacophonic mockery of heralding another futile day. The wildlife once enchanting seems ominous, deadly. And the sunset is just another reminder of the days still to end without the comfort of home. I wanted to make friends, but nobody would even look me in the eye.

A fat, utterly disgusting Afrikaner told me once over dinner in a rare moment of social life that Africa was not for sissies. I was dumbfounded with outrage the first time I heard it. After 6 months in the plantation though I’m thinking - fuck, yeah, maybe he’s right.

I was feeling this way when this story started.

February 2002, the morning after

I woke up with a start feeling something has definitely gone wrong. A hairy muscular arm was resting comfortably around my waist. Slowly, I turned around and watched the man sleeping peacefully beside me. I smiled to myself remembering our frantic and sweaty fucking last night. I search for a sense of guilt about having cheated on E to whom I swore fidelity. My smile broadened when I found none.

I looked around and looked in amazement at our clothes strewn all over the bedroom. So uncharacteristic of the usual order and bareness. Our pants looked good together entwined on the floor.

My eyes were drawn back by his gruff handsome face trying to figure out how I got into this situation when he shifted, eyelids fluttering as if sensing and being brought back to wakeful consciousness by my wonder.

"What time is it?" he asked with a smile, his voice thick from sleep. His eyelids still heavy.

"It's 7 o'clock. Almost time for you to go," I whispered softly.

"Hmm." he moaned snuggling closer. I felt his hardness against my stomach. I was still looking at him when he suddenly opened his eyes wide, smiled and kissed me on the mouth. "Good morning."

I mumbled a similar greeting. I wriggled out of his embrace, stood up, reached for and started putting on my pants. All the while I was uneasily aware of being watched by a pair of sleepy eyes. I was never the one to know what to say the morning after. The harsh daylight seems to banish all the intimacies forged in the dark.

"Would you like to have breakfast before you go?" I asked before leaving the room on my way to the toilet.

"Nah. Tea will be nice, though." He said, looking around the room for his clothes. He found his gray boxers, reached for it and put it on while still in bed.

"How do you take your tea?" I asked, my legs shifting. I really need to go to the toilet.

"No sugar with a little milk. Just a little," I vaguely saw him making a gesture with his thumb and forefinger as I hurried to the toilet. There, I thought as I watched the golden arch of my piss making its way to the toilet bowl noisily, I now know how he takes his tea in the morning. I can claim I did not sleep with a person I hardly know. Somehow that gave me a deep sense of satisfaction.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Losing Rings

what are the things that bind us? it’s a question that all of us have asked ourselves at some point in our lives. at the beginning of this year 3 friends, [G], id and kiel decided to connect their blogs, in a way that a blogroll cannot. they decided to write about something around this very theme and let another introduce the post from a sympathetic perspective. to make things challenging, the question must be answered around a specific piece of jewellery: the ring. this is mine. for the full picture, take time to read [G] and id’s.

Introduction by [G].

If his dick was detachable, he must have lost it several times. Not that he doesn’t value that part of him; he was just simply not an ideal keeper of valuable things. Material things, that is.

Good thing it was just a ring that he misplaced several times. But then again, they were not just simple jewelleries consisting of circlets of precious metal. They were rings that were given by his life partner as a sign of being inside the same circle that binds them as a couple.

Not that he doesn’t value whatever those rings signify. He does, believe me. He was not just a keeper of materials things. But he does value the quintessence of the ring more than anything in his life

ever since i can remember, i was good at losing things.

on different occasions, i have lost my passport, a number of IDs, mobile phones, monies, my dog and a car (alright, this one was stolen, but it was lost to me no less). heck, i even lost my way a number of times.

i always tell myself, this does not make me a bad person. i just don’t need to hold on to something as much as the next guy. when i lost my way, i somehow find another path to get me where i should go. in the face of loss, self-preservation kicks in, i let go.

when i say i was good at losing things. i actually meant i was good about losing things.

it’s one of those quirky things my family and friends love and hate about me.

but then i also lost 4 rings jp gave me as a sign of our love and commitment.

again that doesn’t make me a bad person, per se. just a lousy boyfriend.

last year i lost the giver of the rings twice. just when i thought i lost him for good, jp came back to me with another ring. this time it’s a chunky silver number with elephant hair weaved across, put in place by transparent resin. (did you know that animal behaviour studies show that an elephant never forgets?)

when he gave it to me, my terror at the prospect of another possible loss must have been apparent because he gave me this look. to me it was a look that said, ‘it’s OK, i know you get the message even if you lose it.’ i think it was a look that can otherwise be described as, well, love.

here’s the inevitable question:

will i be a good boyfriend this time and manage to keep this ring? or lose it like the 4 others before it and stay true to my nature of being good at losing things?

i can run rings around the question. but let’s face it. despite my most resolute attempts to keep it, chances are i’ll probably lose it again.

but this ring: it’s more than a piece of jewellery. it’s more than micro-handcuffs disguised as ornament detaining me to a relationship. it’s more than metal and animal parts and resin. i may lose the ring, but i will never lose what it stands for. nor forget the look on his face when he gave it to me.

for the first time, i think i need to hold on to this. if i can be true to myself, i just may learn to be good at losing being good at losing.

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