Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Playa [FICTION]

It is the way they laugh, when you talk to them. How they will hang on to your every word, as if it were the most important word ever uttered, as if the very fate of the world depended on it.

What did you do all day?, she asks him, Did you miss me?

And he tries to sound easy, and he laughs and says no.

The way it feels, as you make your way through the day, knowing there is someone out there in the world, in whose imagination you had been recreated, fresh, a hero, a god, capable of everything.

You have other girlfriends, she says. Her tone is more probing than accusatory.

Why, he says, would I cheat on an uurul aini.

He has used the line before, it is corny as hell and he knows it and she knows it but it always makes her smile.

Sore baayut fen, she says, but the way she says fen she clearly likes when he does it.

Hai suma raka, he says, mock-taygaling, my fen in your mouth. And not the only thing, by the time I'm done.

She titters. Chem. Chaga bi leh, she says, and it sounds almost affectionate.

Your flaws all will mean nothing. Do you have a club foot that has made you always walk with a limp, that you have hid in shame? She will run her hand over it as you lie in bed, and call it her sexy leg. Have a nervous stammer that ruins your conversation and makes you sit resolute and wordless in company? She will listen patiently as you speak, and the spaces of silence she gives you to complete your words in will not feel claustrophobic and judged - they will be vast spaces in which you can roam, finding the syllables you need, carefully assembling them, and you will feel so comfortable your stammer will disappear as if by magic.

When you lie with her, and speak to her of your ambitions, they will sound less like spurious dreams than a future reality that awaits you.

You will be Mansa Musa, you will be Lat Dior.

You didn't call me today, she says, as soon as she picks up.

What're you - high?, he laughs. We spoke in the afternoon d.

Only once.

I was busy at work. You know this. He tries to sound reasonable, and secretly he feels proud, feels chuffed that his presence is missed this much, that in his absence she is so alone.

Not too busy to call the people you want to call.

Neneh - lu hew?

Nothing. Never mind.

Come on.

Ah nothing - how was your day?

It was OK. I was taking about you with Bun and them.

What about me?

Everyone had to describe their dream girl. I told them I didn't have to imagine mine anymore. He cannot see her but he can feel her smile. In any case there is a melting away of tension.

Mum asked me for you today. She speaks softly now, the edges of her phrases melt away like honey and there is a relaxedness in her tone, as if she had been sitting up, and now had lain back with a sigh. She said she hadn't heard from you in a long while.

Wawe Merr - tell her dinaa jaar elayk. Your mother is in love with me.

Yabarteh - dore em! Did you miss me today?

He smiles.

You want to be tender to women. You want to be kind and gentle to them. You want to do this, not for sex, not for gratitude, but because when you are kind and tender to a woman it softens her. Not noticeably at first (though if you listen closely you will hear her tone get warmer by almost imperceptible degrees, over many phone calls). But then the first undoubtable signs. The way she gets just a little mad, at night, when you have to hang up (though she denies it the next day when you tease her). The way she will call you everyday, and pick up your calls sometimes you swear before they even ring. The growing surrender in her voice. How impatient she sounds, at your self doubts. How sure she is, that you will prevail. And more than the vain chest poundings, more than the measuring of penises in public, this is what you think defines you as a man. This ability to have women depend on you, abandon themselves to you, believe completely and without doubt in you - your sisters and your mother, your lovers, past and present, that look in their eyes when they look at you, as if they have, after a lifetime of searching, found hope, and it is your form it has taken.

Some guys in the van were talking about you today. They were sitting behind me.

His smile turns sardonical, though she cannot see him. What did they say?

That they do not know what you give all the girls of Gambia, that they are such fools running after you. A beat - he does not speak. Only her breathing crosses the line, the silence between them.

Finally, she changes the topic. So what did you do today?

You fuck around. The wrong verb, you think. Right from the outset - this is what removes them from the race, fills them with frustrated notions of women, violent and wrong notions. So they accuse you - and admire you - for "fucking around", and you do nothing to dispel them of the belief that this is what it's all about, that you would follow your penis anywhere it led. They make crude jokes, and yours are the crudest of all, in their midst, involving sexual positions consisting of bent waists and bent ankles, and farts belchily erupting from open orifices. And they howl with laughter, and sometimes turning around fast enough as you demonstrate you can catch a glimpse of the envy in their eyes. Things you would never say to a woman. Oh you have your dirty jokes with them - they love those too, just like your boys - but the perspective is different, the tone is not denigrating, does not treat them like objects. Graphic descriptions from their wildest sexual fantasies, scenes you narrate late to them at night as their voices gradually turn more and more husky. You have become quite adept at this, this mastering of another person's sexual appetite, this ability to serve her - with a look, with a kiss, with a word, a half-finished threat implying much and specifying little - the exact dish she has been hungering for all these years, across successive relationships and successive men.

You have a philosophy. You know that a woman's face and body are the wrong places to look for a woman's beauty. For these may display a certain beauty but it is not the true beauty: it is fleeting, and of no import or permanence. You think women guard their true beauties like treasures, deep within them, for they are fragile things, and not for just any fool to gaze upon. And a woman's true beauty cannot be described, but only understood, and each woman's own is of a different shape and a different form. And when will you know when you see it? You will have no doubts - it will come, in the middle of the night when she is in bed and you are on the phone, the last person she talks to, the last person on her mind, everything around her in darkness, half-submerged in dreams, your voice her only link back into a fast-fading reality, a link to which she attaches herself, and lets herself be bonded, and lets herself be led. Or it will come as you sit opposite each other at the nice restaurant you have taken her to, as you look up from reading the menu, and her eyes are there waiting, and her gaze is like a cat's, strange and wonderful and encompassing the whole of the known world, with you at its head. Or the way she holds on to your arm, carelessly, automatically, without a thought, as you stand in a group on the beach talking, the wind picking up and the waves crashing. Or in a hundred other situations - but when it comes you will know it, there will be no mistaking it. And no matter what woman it is, and no matter what she looks like on the outside in that moment she will be the most beautiful being in the world, and you her true man, a real man, the chosen one. It is this feeling that you have spent your life tasting, until you have become a connoisseur of it.

The phone rings three times. On the fourth she picks up, and is silent.

Neh...neh...his voice mocking, sing-song, until

Don't call me tha!

He is taken aback, perhaps more than he should be, at the lack of vehemence in her tone, how flat it sounds.

Guess who I saw today?, he ploughs on. An indifferent naïveté - a technique that has worked before, pretending not to notice how upset she is until she finally gives in and begins to talk, saving her complaints for the end of the conversation, when their intensity has decreased and he is able to dispel them with a few compliments, a few apologies. But she is having none of that, not today.

If you choose to go around being a chaga, then at least do it with women who have class.

He sighs. Who is it this time.., he begins...

Don't lie to me!

He falls silent. Her breathing comes hard, and he feels a sudden sadness, that tugs at him and makes him panic.

If some mbahal from Banjul is all you're interested in... But it is all my fault...

He is suddenly tired, and he feels cold. All he wants is to be alone. He is tired of conversation, and tired of words, and tired of his role - tonight he thought perhaps he could be role-less. Half of him wishes she would hang up, and make more sense in the morning. But there is something in her tone that has not been there before, on other such occasions. A grim resignation, the beginnings of a final decision.

Neneh, he tries again, weakly...

I said don't call me that! You know what - I am tired of this shit - sorna naa - from now on do what you want with who you want, get AIDS from some chaga, die if you want.. Don't call me.

And it takes him a few moments to realize that it is not her silence on the line, that she hung up.

Girls like you. You open your mouth and speak to them and they do not want you to ever close it, to ever stop talking to them. And in time they begin to want to possess you, to themselves, they wish to make you their exclusive property. And this creates problems, and the more problems it creates the more your reputation grows. As a womaniser, as a breaker of unguarded hearts. And a new girl hears about you, and she thinks, first what does he have, that so many speak of him like this. And she thinks, second whatever wiles he possesses I will not fall under them, he cannot enchant me. And so when she first meets you you can see the wariness in her eye, the reservedness in her manner, the restraint in her laughter. But you speak to her like a friend, like an equal, not like anything she had heard about you, not like anything she had expected. And there, right there, confounding her expectations, is where the first of the softenings happens.

He called her, once, in the afternoon. She would not pick up. , he texted. Then he went back to work, and tried to put her out of his mind. She would call.

But she did not, not that whole day, and she did not text. This had happened before, with her and other girls - he would wait her out, he was good at waiting. Yet a strange feeling filled him, that he had not felt before. The way he kept putting his hand over his jeans pocket, because he thought he had felt his phone vibrate. How every time he got a text how impatient he was to read it, and how disappointed when it was not her. But she did not call, and she did not text, not that day, or the next. And by the third day he began to get worried, despite himself. In the night after dinner he called her. The phone rang and rang. Every time it paused between rings he thought she had picked up, only to be disappointed by another ring. Finally he hung up. Fine! If that was how she wanted it! Why did he feel so irritated? And why, all of a sudden, did he feel so lonely?

So women come and go. That is another thing you had to learn in the beginning, how to grow very attached (because you cannot fake attachment) and yet be able to move on quickly. Cool as a cucumber, the king of ice. They are many, like bazaars, each filled with her own singular riches, places you can always re-visit. And each one that comes brings with her a whole new world to explore, a delightful chain of Islands containing everyone and everything important in her life: best friends and birthdays, aunts and uncles and her frustrations at the tailor, late with making her juli dress. And they explore your world too - you give them full access: your funny friends, your eclectic taste in music, how you cannot pronounce "Russian" correctly (and how this makes her laugh, like a parent showing off their child's clever trick). And this is what constitutes the difference: when it is time for you to leave her world behind, she is never ready to leave yours. She wishes to stay, to continue to play at njaykay-jabarr with your little sister, to be the one who gets to call you baby, to be the one whose hand is in yours as you walk down a beach road, one April evening.

It takes many arrangings to get an invitation, a chance to speak. It is harder than he ever thought it would be. He sits opposite her in their living room, prim and proper. The evening is on its way out, and the room is bathed in twilight.

Let me first say, she says, that what you are about to say makes no difference. I have made my decision, do not feel you have to defend or justify yourself. Not anger - a flatness in her tone. He hears her mother shouting at the maid in the back. Her little sister runs past where they sit, ignoring him.

I do not know what I did. No, he cannot say that, not with the way she looks, like mother justice, a terrible beauty in her eyes - he cannot look her in the eye and lie.

I am sorry. Not that either. It will make no difference, in this room, he has used it far too much in the past. And in any case she is not angry, does not desire apology.

He stands. She looks up at him, and for a moment he can see past her mask to the pain he has caused her, and he almost cannot bear it. He looks down at the ground.

I am sorry, he says. I know it does not mean much, but I am sorry. And there is no artifice in his voice, and when he says mean it breaks, and he has to repair it with a cough.

He turns and he leaves that room, and though he does not look back he can feel her eyes on him as he walks away, and he wishes he could turn and run back to her, and make a silly joke and have her laughing again, and her little sister running into his arms and laughing with them.

But he does not turn, and he does not look back. He walks out of the room, and he drives home, and he takes a shower, and he turns off his phone, and he goes to bed.

No comments:

Post a Comment