Until that moment, he had been only words. Only words without a face.
That doesn’t mean there is something totally wrong about it. That’s why literature is literature: everyone can imagine the characters as they want and, although the writer describes him with periods and moles, wrinkles and commas, on the reader’s mind that character will always have different faces, depending on whoever reads the lines who cherish him.
The problem is when the writer has not even clear how that character looks like. And the problem becomes even more serious if he is as important as the man of my life.
However, and despite the cup of coffee (from which he takes a drink) only lets me see his eyes, and despite the smoke of that cigarette that he is smoking deliberately doesn’t let me see more than a distorted features, he acquires, little by little, a face. Him. He, who beyond backpacking, feels wanderlust. He, who is able to speak of intelligent things and with whom I would never get bored; even though he would be seated next to me on a rocking chair, watching how the light of our own stories fades away until it becomes impossible to read our own end. He, who calls things by their name, whether it is love or rejection, passion or neglect, sincerity or mere cynicism. He, who even wears Converse.
He, who is using those words I’ve had already written and who, meanwhile puts the cup of coffee back on the table and puts out the cigarette and the smoke finally disappears, acquires a face.
This is, then, how the man of my life looks like. He, who, until that moment, had been only words.
“One of the wonders of traveling is that you can find the same characters of the book a few chapters later,” I write with the first picture we have together, when the second chapter begins in Kuala Lumpur.
He took it, of course. It is up to this moment that I understand why all my boyfriends have been photographers. Maybe I look for them to put images into my life when words fail me. I hate to admit it, but what the hell: I’ve always been envious of photographers, who can tell stories in less than a second.
Then, I should have seen him when, just over a year ago, we were at the same Manu Chao’s concert at Jodhpur’s fort, in India. But even though that was the night with the brightest full moon of that year, I didn’t see him. I saw him for the first time that morning, at the train station. But there was not much light; the sun had not even risen back then. Perhaps I should have realized it seven hours later, when it was broad daylight and I ended up with him in the same rickshaw towards the same hostel. But I think the sunlight was not enough after all. Ultimately, I would have known when we camped in the desert of Rajasthan, under the black-and-white rainbow the Milky Way is, and he invited me a beer. But even all the stars in a galaxy didn’t give enough light so I could recognize his face, when darkness inside me was so deep.
That is why, in this chapter, the first one, there are no images of both of us mixed. Only a few lost dialogues.
I realize it just until now, when I follow him for a month throughout Malaysia, jumping from hidden tribes in the mountains to Burmese refugees hiding in cellars where the light never goes through and, then yes, the pictures begin to getting accumulated.
It’s funny (and until now I realize it) that his passion are portraits. Photographing faces, as he didn’t have one until that moment when the cigarette’s smoke finally faded that afternoon. Faces, so poverty and misery won’t be only words, because I hate to admit it, but what the hell: sometimes words are not enough.
I’ve never believed in coincidences. What happens is that, often, we are too close to see how the universe connects the dots and we don’t distinguish the figure formed with these seemingly random events, that we innocently (or rather, I would say arrogantly) call “coincidences”. Therefore, I don’t think it is a coincidence that his name means “ray of light” in Sanskrit. And that he is a photojournalist. And that, on top of it, he has illuminated himself so much until the point that, finally, I can give him a face.
Nor do I think it is coincidence that I have to say goodbye to him on the 13th (13, always the 13) just in the middle of the night, when there is no more light. That is one of the most heartbreaking ironies for us, those who write: that in your own personal story you can’t keep the character you want the most.
But that’s the way it is, because life is not a picture (especially not my life) that stays happily static at the perfect time. The only thing that even the devil couldn’t promise to Faust when he sold his soul was the perfect ability to say: “Time, stop!” I can’t do that either; I’m not a photographer who knows how to stop time. Thus, in that half illuminated basement at that station in Kuala Lumpur, I barely distinguish him from the window of the bus, even though he insists on staying there, halfway up the stairs. Still. As a photograph.
Him. He, who knows how to extend his thumb to hitchhike in the middle of the road. He, who has no more clothes than the ones he can put in his backpack. He, who always hugs me while he is falling asleep. He, who knows how to make from every place a home to which I feel I can come back after weeks and months of being on the road, no matter how far I go. Yes, he, the one who I can call home.
He disappears and I stay on the bus, with a simple yellow lighter that he gave me before I left as a single lamp to illuminate a very dark road ahead of me.
An impossibly orange sun sets directly behind the plane that will take me back, while I wait sitting at the airport in Yangon, Myanmar.
Since I can remember, sunsets give me a slight feeling of anxiety and melancholy. There is no worse time for me than six in the afternoon, when everything starts to get colored of an asphyxiatingly purple and you can’t tell if it is day or night. Maybe I was not born for half measures. Maybe not even for balance.
But this evening I don’t care about it. “Go away, sun. Have fun at the other side of the world. I don’t need you. I have my own ray of light”. And the yellow lighter in my bag, of course.
Meanwhile, I start writing on my mind the third chapter. Although I have no images. I know he will give them to me later. The chapter in which, after the plane lands and the flight attendant says: “To foreigners, welcome to Malaysia, and to Malays, welcome back home”, I think, “Well, I am a foreigner, but I’m back home”. The chapter in which I get to the airport and I know which bus I should take without getting lost, in which I can tell the taxi driver on which street should he drive, in which I know which door to open of all the ones that are on that street, in which I go up the spiral staircase I have gone up before, so close to the rooftop’s ceiling (against which I never hit my head, but he, who is taller than me, yes, always) and, finally, I can whisper to his ear You are my home, before turning myself around and sleep quietly, feeling his breath next to me.
I try. But I only hear an asthmatic snap, accompanied by a spark, insufficient and fleeting to even light the cigarette. Fuck… But it doesn’t matter: I will try a second time. If his name means “ray of light” in Sanskrit, mine means “courage” in Greek and even if I die trying, I’m not one of those who write What if… on my pages. I will never ever write that sentence, the sentence all curses start with, because those loves who are cowards fail to become love, they even fail to become stories and just stay there, and not even the memory can save them, and not even the best speaker can tell something about them. And I’m not the best speaker, not the best writer. That is why, at least, I am not a coward.
However, when I try to ignite the lighter again, all I get is a brief flash, a patch of light that gets lost in the darkness of the stairs where, next to the window, I try to smoke rage.
The pictures, along with the days, continue to get accumulated, but there are no words. Or at least, not the ones he would say. Now, all I hear is me, me, me. I hate to admit it, but what the hell: it is as if he would not be longer him and he had turned into a me. That doesn’t mean there is something totally wrong about it. I could never fall in love with a perfect and abstract he either. But among so many me I don’t see any space where an us can be written.
And what I think it is the saddest thing: among so many me, my words are lost. There seems to be no one to listen to them, which for a writer is something as terrible as death itself.
Only images. Images that I don’t want to remember. And, occasionally, words, words that are not mine and are not for me: “We need to spend more time together”. “I really like you”. “Trip to Thailand to see her”.
The funny thing is that when I read those words everything around me is so dark… Only the screen of his phone (which I would happily let it fall from the Petronas Towers 88th floor) illuminates the room. In that case, I prefer darkness.
I know how backpacking is: it’s very difficult to be 100% with somebody, almost as difficult as it is to be in the same place 100% of the time. But at this point of my life, even when I am not ready to settle down somewhere, I am ready to settle down with someone. I am just sick of the worst part of traveling: to say good bye over and over again without knowing what could have been. I am sick of writing just chapters, but not the long and imperfect story.
Or maybe it’s my Latin character that doesn’t fit these Asian latitudes. For example, the mantras make me feel very relaxed, but so spiritual and so ethereal that make me fall sleep in a static state that must be very similar to death. Instead, Latin music makes me feel alive: you don’t dance flamenco without hitting the ground with the intensity of an orgasm, you don’t dance reggaeton without mixing sweat and libido, you don’t dance bolero without falling in love, you don’t dance merengue without the speed of the life that goes away without waiting, you don’t dance tango without wanting to get lost in the illusion of movement and in the illusion that, for a moment, we’re not really alone. Us, Latinos, risking to end up writing archetype labels, we are passion. When we cry, we cry; when we laugh, we laugh; when we love, we love. We don’t give up on any of the colors of the rainbow or try to hide our feelings, we accept them as part of life that we know that, if it is indeed an art work, won’t be flat and it will come with currents of disappointment. Maybe that’s why I can’t take this situation in the zen state as he (who is so Asian) would like. You give me light or darkness. But sunsets, no. I don’t want them.
Now it seems so symbolic that the yellow lighter can’t give me light, not even for a second…
But he is not him. He is not him, for whom my story is as important as his, so important to stick until the very last page.
I begin, then, to take away with me the most valuable things, as any person whose house got caught in fire would do: feelings first, those that are so fragile that inevitably end up getting a little bit broken in the rush of the escape; then the memories that remained among the tea plantations in Cameron Highlands, among all the steps we had to take to get to the seven wells and among the stars we watched from the beach in Langkawi, the same ones that light Rajasthan tonight, where I am no longer there and he is no longer there… Then, some self-esteem… I ask myself if it’s worth to take my pride as well, but what the hell, I will take it with me too, I will need it.
And so, all that remains of what was once my home, consumed in flames, is my body. He will try to get lost inside it that night, but he doesn’t know I’ve already taken all the feelings away, because I’m the writer and words are my thing and I know the soulless rhetoric of a man who can’t love me.
He doesn’t know that I’m empty, as the pages that will no longer be written.
The alarm rings, insistently. I improvised a curtain hung from the hostel’s top bunk bed, so the light doesn’t wake me up when he leaves this morning to catch the flight to Thailand to see her.
Bloody hell… I didn’t want to realize when he leaves, but of course, he and his stubborn habit of setting the snooze… It crosses my mind to let the alarm ring until he miss his flight, but I have to find the strength to erase him from this chapter, the courage because, after all, that’s what my name means … “Which part you don’t understand? I told you so! This guy is not him, who never sets the snooze!”, I tell to myself, insisting on getting disappointed of him in every possible way, while I remove the curtain to turn off the alarm. In any case, he is not there. He has already been awaken and, although his backpack is still on the floor, he’s gone.
I go back to my bed. His bed’s light is still on, I can see it behind the curtain. He shines so much that he can’t see those who are around him… I close my eyes. I don’t want to get blind by that light too.
But even when I close my eyes more and more, with all the strength I have left (not much, because you can’t have too much when you have lost your home) I can still distinguish the shining. It is still there.
Until he finally turns off the light and I hear his footsteps walking away. Walking away from me. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. No images. No words. Only sounds. Only darkness.
And that’s how he, who will shine more than any star until he becomes the little prince I am looking for, he, the protagonist of my story, becomes words again. Only words without a face.
Any writer understands, since the most elemental fairy tale, that you can’t write a happy ending if you haven’t written before the saddest chapters of farewells. Any writer understands that there is no better character than the one who fails you, than the one who disappoints you, to then evolve and become someone even better than he ever dreamed of. The real hero. The one who can start over and over again, many times, and about who you can write a second part, a third one, even a fourth one. But this morning, at least this morning, I’m no longer a writer: I am just a woman.
And so, having already reached the last page, without writing on any of them What if, the only sentence I refuse to write and whose absence is the only absence that gives me peace, I write the chapter’s final period, with the sound of the door being closed.
I hate to admit it: he is not him. But what the hell: from a distance, he looked so much like him, so, so much like him…
the original Spanish version Sobre el caballito.Sorry about the mistakes! 😉
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