"Payam yen? Naan irukku!" 'Why fear, I am here!' Were Alex's last words, a mantra for the hour of death taught him by an unkempt auxiliary male nurse called Jothi, a Sri Lankan refugee with the strong faith, which I like all of Alex's friends lacked. Jothi sat at Alex's bedside, holding Alex's hands, praying in Tamil, and teaching him this mantra which eases the pain. According to Jothi the mantra is Lord Murugan's, The Eternal Youth's, the God of Beauty's message: Why Fear? I Am Here!
I still feel sorry and guilty when I remember how little support I was able to offer him in his last weeks. It was a long cruel death - for us, his friends, death soon appeared less painful than watching the endless suffering, but still Alex wanted to live, but not live this pain, this fear.
After his death I told myself to forget and focus on new things but my heart turned backwards, to Alex, and loved him even more. All my big and small mistakes, cruelties, weaknesses came back to me, how much he must have loved me in spite of my faults, and I felt more thankful than ever for the love he had given me, for the fate which had brought us together.
Alex's life had been joy, beauty, luxury; with untiring energy he created around him a world of love and art, where joy was the purpose of art, art the purpose of money and money never in short supply. That death came to him so soon in afterthought doubly justifies his devotion to joy and beauty - CARPE DIEM was the motto on his letterhead - Alex had been right not to waste his time with the hateful and the ugly and right not to save money for a future which he didn't have.
Alex's death was like a stage rehearsal of my own death. Nothing will ever be the same again, if he who was gifted, unique, the beautiful darling of society, had to die, then of course commoners like me must die for sure. Alex ordered his estate well ahead of his death but his sister Gerty managed to overthrow his will, to take away even his body from the friends who had lived with and for him and to whom he had intended to leave his collection and his wealth. Alex and I shared a large house and never considering anything in the house 'mine' or 'yours', now in her eyes everything had been his and had become hers.
Her greediness knew no limits. Whatever he had given me, he had not given to her; had been criminally withheld from her. She was not satisfied with the $ 20+ millions she received, she questioned every single item in my flat he ever gave me or of which she suspected that it was a gift from him. Month after month she would ask for additional items, pictures, objects, books which she thought where his and now must be hers and which she wanted me to deliver to her immediately. She used ruses and threats, even made curators borrow pictures from me for exhibitions and then return them to her instead of me. I was so devastated by Alex's death that I let this happen, not expecting to survive him by much and thinking that I should put my time to wiser use than fighting his sister. In my grief I was no match for her greed.
Time passed and while her requests became fewer they increased in substance. I saw one picture after the other go, the things we had loved together, every few months she would call or have her lawyer write, every word proving how much she hated me for the love her brother had given me instead of her. Then one day, more than five years after Alex's death, her lawyer demanded the one item I was not ready to give her: Alex's portrait by Andy. Alex had asked Andy to paint it for me, and I couldn't imagine to live without it. Her lawyer set me a deadline of three months by when I either had to pay for the picture or surrender it. The price asked was $ 500'000. I still did not possess the emotional strength to fight her, if I would have had the cash I would have paid up, maybe in exchange for an agreement that this now was the last item she demanded, but I didn't have the money.
I thought about selling another picture, a Fischl, or a Clemente, but these pictures too had been like our children for us, I'd rather sell a pound of my own flesh. Then I remembered I still had in a safe deposit box a Fabergé egg Alex had given me for my thirtieth birthday - how old we had felt then - and to which I felt less attached because Alex had in a fancy characteristic of him, never told me how to open it. It was a rather unique egg, with a complicated programmable lock, according to Alex only three of them had been made, and this was the only one known to be still in existence. Fabergé had made them to flatter the young Tsar's whim of singularity - once the emperor had programmed the lock, he was the only person in the world to whom God had revealed the secret. I supposed that an expert jeweler or locksmith would easily open it. Beyond its secret mechanism it was a beautiful work of art, blue guilloché email with thirty-three small flowers each made of a diamond center and pearl leafs.
I took the egg to Christie's where the world's foremost expert on Fabergé estimated it in the range of $ 700-950'000 but cautioned me that it was made so intricately that he didn't think it was possible to open it by force without damaging it irreparably. According to the expert the lock consisted of two parts, an old fashioned combination lock, where you had to press selected two or three of the diamonds and a unique moving ball lock, where a specific flower had to be on top, while you pressed the correct diamonds. He thought that the fact that it could not be opened would be a major handicap at auction.
Christie's staff in Geneva who handles most Fabergé sales worldwide contacted various experts, even a Romanov princess, locksmiths, lock pickers, but the lock baffled all of them. In the end I listened to the advice of my secretary and started visiting a kind of clairvoyants called 'finders', experts in an art called 'horary', and mediums to either find the secret key through wizardry, oracle, or contact Alex in the beyond and ask him for the combination.
This dragged on for several months - while Alex's sisters lawyer kept writing and calling about the picture, threatening to sue me - but the weird world of these practitioners of the occult was so thrilling that I continued the quest. I didn't hope for more than that one of them would maybe manage to open the egg by fool's luck. Among the various clairvoyants was a charming young woman called Suzan, an ardent student of Tibetan Buddhism, who, ashamed that she was not able to contact Alex, proposed to consult her teacher, a certain Rinpoche living in Nepal. I had never before been to Nepal, and she was so adamant that he would accomplish the impossible, that I consented to fly with her to Kathmandu to see this Rinpoche. The trip promised a colorful experience, a fascinating search for Fabergé's secret; each baffled expert, clairvoyant, medium suggesting another one, maybe one Rinpoche another Rinpoche, until, I imagined, it would be the Dalai Lama's turn to bother about the secret of the egg
Suzan proved to be an entertaining travel companion, who eerily read my thoughts and liked to ridicule our precious and precarious existence - she was a Brooklyn Jew and the New York sense of the funny surfaced again and again through her Buddhist piety. A job at the World Labor Office had brought her to Geneva where she had married and divorced and now earned her money reading the cards for UN staff worried about promotions, relocations, love and whether it was wise to return to Kampala, Lagos, Karachi, Tripoli, Havana or Moscow when called back by one's superiors. Regarding the egg she told me that she 'saw' it covered by a dark cloud, and that she believed that it's former owner did not want it to be opened, "maybe it's not even locked, it could just be held closed by a spell". Merely a spell!
In Kathmandu, her Rinpoche was an old man, smiling about nothing, obviously satisfied with himself and the world, or maybe just very nearsighted, who talked with us through a clever young good-looking interpreter lama, who seemed to tell us rather his own thoughts than the old man's - one short sentence of the old teacher becoming a long sermon of the young lama. Suzan explained to the young lama the importance of contacting Alex in the beyond; the young lama talked for a long time to the old sage, who gave a curt answer, "come again tomorrow!"
We spent the evening in the Sun-Koshi, Kathmandu's best Tibetan restaurant, Suzan informing me about the relative merits of various Tibetan teachers with the same shrewdness her mother probably would have compared Brooklyn dentists. While I ate my Momos I watched two young men, one a Sherpa, the other an American, at a neighboring table who from hardly knowing each other, during a short meal went through their relative existences, and, after the American had presented the Sherpa with a pair of secondhand hiking shoes, to "we go to your room?"
On the way home to the Hotel Annapurna we saw young kids trying to keep warm in entrances of small shops along the one metalled street. We talked about third world problems, Suzan looking for a solution involving the UN, I silently considering to go out again later to solve one of them's problem by solving one of mine's, secretly nostalgic for a time and a place where nobody would care. Of course street boys were not what I desired, the Sherpa had looked more promising, and where there was one, there must be many - should I book a trek? A solid young male body ready to love me, just holding me, to make the shadows go away. I spent the night alone, or not alone, in the imaginary company of street urchins who had more hepatitis B and crabs to give than love, and of a strong young Sherpa who erected our tent on a Himalayan meadow, to make love, and wash our pricks in cold mountain streams. Oh, to be still twenty like that lucky American, and uninhibited, knowledgeable, to enjoy a deal which was a great deal for both.
Next morning after breakfast - müesli on Suzan's side and espresso and a croissant on mine, we went again to see the Rinpoche. The old man was in a good mood, asking us how we liked Kathmandu, and then merrily confessed that he couldn't contact Alex. I tried to look shattered, but was still overhang with last night's dreams, to find a Sherpa seemed as important as opening the egg. Suzan pestered the young lama with questions, until the old man started to laugh so hard that his dark red dress began to slip. The young lama didn't want to let us in on the joke. Finally Suzan convinced the young lama to tell her what was so funny: Alex had been born again! That's why nobody had been able to locate him in limbo. Suzan enthusiastically told me that Rinpoche could find out where and when Alex was reborn; that we just had to insist. We returned to the hotel with another promise of "come tomorrow", two hounds in hot pursuit. After lunch we visited the giant stupa of Bodhnath. Suzan tried to convince me that we could find Alex's reincarnation. She talked until I nearly became an enemy of the idea. Yes, it would be nice to see Alex again, but what if he had become a crocodile in Nile? A whale or a condor? How did she know he would be born on Earth and not on Mars? Still it was amusing to find myself in the middle of this 'Romancing the Egg'.
At night I went out, alone, to look for a Sherpa, but when I entered the restaurant where I had observed the romantic hurried dinner, the tables were all taken by a package tour, stretch pants and soft powdered faces of which age had wiped all traces of gender. I went to another Tibetan restaurant, less expensive, less clean, and sat down at a round corner table. A smiling teenage waiter served me finger food on dirty plates, drinks in blind glasses, and guessed my desire. Once the place emptied he sat down near me, talking, offering himself without saying so, gladly accepting my interest - it probably would have taken a week at least of washing, disinfecting, hairdressing, perfuming and clothing him until I could have enjoyed to touch him. As he was, he smelled like a Yak and had all its uncouth charm. I hope the tip was more than he expected to get from the complete business, thus saving both of us the more bothersome part.
This night I slept in his arms, without his kitchen smells, and half-wake turned him step by step into a perfectly groomed beauty with dark eyes and long black hair, in my dreams I licked his nipples, caressed his body which I fashioned according to my desire, a strong, male, lean, teenager turning into a man.
Back to Rinpoche where now the great teacher, his young aide and Suzan went into a session of most extraordinary technicalities, translating Tibetan calendar and Ptolemaic geographic data into the Western system; I just relaxed and let it happen. I had been foolish enough to get myself into this occult quest, now I had to go along. I tried to imagine what most unreachable spot we would be sent to find Alex's reincarnation. I expected it would be Tibet, India or Egypt; it mostly is, isn't it? It turned out, after long discussions, that Suzan and the young Lama were not able to do the necessary calculations. They would have to go and see some specialists at a monastery half an hour away. To Suzan's disappointment I preferred to spend the afternoon in another quest.
The many beautiful young men on offer in Kathmandu confused me: I liked their strong bodies and soft eyes, I longed to touch them, hold them in my arms. But I didn't want to bother with crabs, lice and problems which I couldn't solve.
I took a taxi to the botanical garden, walked through it then had tea in a hotel next to it; the weather was fair, and from the terrace restaurant I had a nice view over the valley, where some tents had been put up. Kids, boys and young men were playing or sitting around the tents, playing with all the abandon of puppies, sitting on the ground as if part of the earth. If only Alex would be with me! He would now discuss the pros and cons of the boys and with unlimited energy and confidence organize a party with the most beautiful street urchins of the town, all dressed up in new rags, and the way he would do it they would enjoy it as much as we, a party for us, a happy day to remember for them, and none would go away without more money and gifts than expected. Alex wanted people to be happy not just satisfied, not just a deal, like sex for money, but ecstasy.
I was the only guest and the waitress left me alone; I watched the kids in the field, the sun warmed and an icy mountain breeze cooled; while I sipped my tea one of the boys approached me "you American?" He was wearing red, torn climber pants, a rotten pullover, rotten sneakers. He squatted on the ground, making himself invisible to the restaurant staff, and asked me these Third World questions which never mean what they mean, pieced together from the few words he knew, full of a charming and moving hope, that suddenly I would provide a ticket, a seat in one of the jumbos which every day he sees climbing up into the sky from the airport close by, that I would turn into Eddie Murphy and take him to where the action was. If I was able to pay for a cup of tea as much as he earned in a day, if he found work, it had to be in my power to help him - if only I wanted. He was so naive, I can't remember his face, just his torn pants, his charming stupidity, I never felt more the cruelty of not being able to say "come!" But even just to bring him into my room in the Annapurna I'd have to bribe or trick the security. Of course Alex would have done it, would have charmed the Annapurna's security manager, who could resist Alex? But I was not Alex. I asked the boy to show me the way back to the hotel, a long walk, giving him a right to get something from me, and me the chance to spend more time with him. I was falling in love and was glad when passing the first shops of the main street he asked me to buy him a pair of sunglasses. He liked to have the most sharp shades, black frame, mirrored glasses, cat's eyes. Outside the shop, which was close to the hotel, I let him go. He was in a hurry to show off to his friends. I walked into the hotel satisfied that two Dollars still had the power to make a boy happy. I didn't mind not to bring him up to my room; it was nicer to remember him rushing away overjoyed rather than an awkward good-bye after awkward sex.
At dinner Suzan was bursting to tell me the news of her success: They had pinned down the place and time of Alex's rebirth, it was now only a matter of some more calculations, and she had a friend in the Tibet Institute in Switzerland who was just the man who could do it. She showed me the papers she had got, "it's probably March, 19th, 1989, that would fit the date of death you told me; my friend at the Tibet institute will work out the time to the minute and the place - just now it seems to be in the Atlantic, but he'll know better".
What if it was real? What if we found somewhere a small boy who did remember to have been Alex? If he remembered anything, would he then not remember our love? I tried to imagine what it would be like - the small shepherd boy somewhere in Tibet story - how I would find him maybe somewhere in a Harlem tenement building, a small boy with Alex's smile, who from a choice of glittering pens would without hesitation chose Alex's favorite Hermès fountain pen, would prefer his Toucan plates over Samuraï and Flora Danimarca, in short, the poor infant in the stable and I one of the magi coming to adore him bringing Lalique, Hermès, Gucci. I didn't believe in it but still it would be nice, wouldn't it?
We flew home in fact not much wiser, but Suzan full of the brightest hopes to find the child within weeks at worst. Next day I went back to my office work, she to the Tibet Institute to have the exact nativity calculations done. She called me in the afternoon, telling me "I have it all, you'll be amazed!" We met at my home, she spread a map - of New York, where she had marked a block "here, 19th of March, 1989, 20:21 exact, a boy! Isn't that amazing?"
By coincidence I had to travel to New York two weeks later, and I arranged to take Suzan with me. She would search the birth registers to find Alex while I would attend to my business. The Fabergé egg had been all but forgotten, only Alex mattered now - to meet him again! I didn't believe it was possible; still I had to follow up even on the remotest chance of seeing my lover again.
We stayed in the Waldorf, Suzan with her photocopies of address books, birth notices from newspapers, I with my legal stuff. Every evening we pored over her successes and disappointments: Yes, there was a clinic in the block the lamas had indicated, lower Park Avenue, yes; three children have been born there on 19th of March, 1989, but all in the morning, and all girls. She called the lama in the Tibet Institute in Switzerland, then the Rinpoche's secretary lama, whether it could be a girl too, but no, they were firm about gender and time.
Suzan checked once more the whole block, whether there was another clinic, then checked whether there was another birth, nothing. She was so desperate that we went together to the Registrar of Births and Deaths, a nice black lady in her fifties, who after much entreating was kind enough to hint that there was a separate register for the diplomatic corps whose children were registered as being born in their native countries, even though in fact born in New York, a register which was not open to the public, but after checking it, she told us with a broad grin "I can't exclude that a boy may have been born at the place and time you indicate - unhappily the rules don't allow me to tell you more."
It seemed just one more step; Suzan used her old ILO connections to get into the UN library where she scanned the UN and diplomatic corps newsletters for the happy news of a boy born on that day. I called the chief gynecologist of the clinic, who told me "sorry, I can't comment on this, and can't tell you why!"
When we met for dinner Suzan showed me an Arabic full page ad in the UNews of 22nd of March 1989 which looked rather royally and had an English caption "Good Wishes for the Birth of a Son to H.R.H. Ambassador Prince Muhammad abd'ul Bakr abd'ul Saud". She also had cut out a little notice "BIRTHS: March 19th, 'Aziz Ahmad Saud, a son to Ambassador Mhd. Bakr Saud, and Afifa." She had already called the Saudi Embassy to check the time of birth but they didn't know and didn't want to help. Then she had called the clinic under an assumed Arabian name and, with a heavy Middle-Eastern accent pretending to be a secretary to the ambassador asked for the exact time of birth of his son, which he needed to give to his astrologer; this time she got it: 19th of March, 1989, 20:21!
Unhappily her calls and mine didn't work; neither the embassy nor the ambassador cared to answer. I tried to understand that Muslims did not believe in reincarnation and that they wanted to protect their privacy and security, but still if 'Aziz really was Alex, wouldn't he too want to meet me? Wasn't it inhuman to keep us apart? We returned to Switzerland in a depressed mood.
After a few weeks Suzan was again full of ideas how to get beyond the parent's blockade. She proposed to have a whole series of horoscopes calculated which would indicate the exact places Alex would be on given future dates and then to try catch him there. She got this done for various dates via fax and phone in Nepal, it took months to obtain these from the Rinpoche and translate them into western geographic terms.
I had lost hope. But then Suzan called and announced good news. Suzan was optimistic that we would see 'Aziz and urged me to take the Egg with me. We had breakfast together in Geneva. The good news were that according to the calculations little 'Aziz was now and would be for quite some time to come right here in Switzerland, near Lausanne! She had the approximate location and had already located there a luxury boarding school called Villa Romaine..
The headmistress showed us the place which was quite impressive, obviously their ambition was to make the place a Beverly Hills Hotel for kids. From her office we could see young boys and girls play in the large park in groups of two to five children, each group accompanied by one or two female educators. The rooms looked like they were done by major interior decorators and proved that kids will always be kids - Michael Jackson posters tacked to the silk wallpaper and large dedicated color pictures of Magic Johnson, George Michael and Mid-Eastern royalty in heavy gilt frames. The students greeted us with the perfect politeness and the nervous self-assuredness of seriously rich people's kids.
But of course we didn't find out anything about 'Aziz. We were handed a beautiful prospectus, "the children depicted are, of course, models", which informed us that Muslim students were led in prayer and instructed by an Imam from Geneva and their food was prepared by a Muslim cook according to the strictest rules. All I could see was that if 'Aziz was staying in this school then obviously his taste for graceful living had not changed. Still, we had not found out much. We drove down to the old city of Lausanne looking for a quiet café where we could talk. Suzan parked the car and we walked into a depressing pedestrian area where the only place to get coffee seemed to be McDonalds. Suddenly three dark blue Volvo limousines stopped in front of it and a group of overdressed and too well-combed kids together with their educators and absurdly good-looking bodyguards stormed into the place. "They could be from Villa Romaine", said Suzan, "let's follow them." So we sat down in the McDonalds. The kids told the teachers what they wanted, which was all fries and burgers and salads and coke and ice-cream, then jumped around in the place while the teachers queued up and brought them their burgers and fries. Was 'Aziz among them? There was a boy who seemed to be the center of attention of the other boys and of the bodyguards, and I thought I heard them call him "'Aziz". He looked charming and stared at me with a "I'd like to remember but I can't" look in his dark eyes. I told this to Suzan, desperate, and she said "show him the egg!"
I took the blue velvet box containing the egg out of my briefcase and making sure I was watched placed it demonstratively in front of me. The boy was staring at me. I opened the box slowly, then dramatically took out the egg, showing it with a gesture which I thought would have befitted a cabaret magician. I held it up to the light, pretending to look at it, ravished myself by its immense beauty in the glare of the McDonalds lights. I checked whether the boy was watching, but to my amazement he was already standing beside my table and with swift fingers took the egg from me and walked back to his table. Immediately one of the teachers told him to return the egg, while another one assured me that I should not worry that of course it would be returned. But 'Aziz did not want to return it, and showing the large jewel to his friends, claimed that it was his.
I was terribly moved and at the same time worried, but Suzan had the presence of mind, to approach the clever boy and ask him "can you open it?" - "Of course, look" but just at that moment a teacher moved between me and 'Aziz asking me how much the egg's worth was. I said, "500'000 $" and he said, "don't worry, his father is a Saudi prince, if he doesn't give it back, they'll pay whatever price you ask." At least my Fischl seemed save.
Then 'Aziz came over to our table and said to me very politely, "please, let me keep this…" and I said "I let you keep it for some time if you can open it". He said "I did open it, your friend, has seen it," turning to Suzan, who confirmed that he had opened and immediately closed it again. Then 'Aziz told one of the educators to get him his tray and sat down with me and Suzan. He turned to me and while he loaded his fork with as many fries as can possibly be put on a fork, he asked me "who are you, I think I know you, but I cannot remember where I've met you; like this, how do you call this", and he pointed with his nose to the egg which was securely inside his pocket; I said "Fabergé egg", he continued "Fabergé egg, which I am sure I've seen before, maybe when I was very small - have you ever been to New York? Did we meet in New York? I was born in New York, and lived there when I was very young. Have you ever been in New York?" - "Of course I've been in New York, you were born in the Sloane Memorial hospital, aren't you?" - "Yeah, how do you know? Are you a doctor?" But then the educators started to herd the kids back to the limousine and the one who had talked to me sent 'Aziz back to the car. 'Aziz flatly refused to give back the egg, "I'll ask my dad to buy it for me, I like it too much."
The educator who had talked with me before gave me his card and took mine, advising me to send a bill for the egg, maybe with an estimate if I had one, to the school, "you see, he wouldn't understand if we wouldn't let him have it, he's used to get whatever he wants."
I flew back to Zurich in great confusion. I had exchanged the $ 500'000 Fabergé egg with which I wanted to pay for Alex's portrait against a teacher's word that some Arabian prince would pay for the egg. With each passing minute I felt more foolish. What if they simply denied ever having seen the egg? What if it got damaged? Was it all just a trick by Suzan; suddenly it looked like out of a crime novel. I didn't sleep well that night. I turned in my bed and if I turned to my left, I could see how cunningly I had been cheated, and turning right, I saw 'Aziz face in front of my eyes, and had to admit, that it was just what Alex would have done. "Not to buy something you like, just because it is expensive, is stupid, joy and beauty is always more worth than money. What does the man have who has money? Nothing, figures on a paper. But what has he who has a work of art which makes him happy every day? I say, art is even good for your health, and he went on about some other thing he thought were good for his health though they killed him…"
Few days later I got a very haughty letter from the director of the school praying me to send them a bill for the egg, if possible together with an estimate by a recognized expert, and praying me to forgive the caused inconvenience etc. with the expression of their most cordial best wishes etc.. - I sent them bill and estimate immediately, and received by return mail a check which calmed my nerves and Gerty's too.
After some weeks I got an even more royally worded printed invitation to attend H.R.H. Prince 'Aziz Ahmad ibn Mhd. Bakr Saud's birthday party at the Chateau de Richemont in Ouchy. Before the date of the small party the school and the embassy and the security of the chateau all called me with various worries about what my relationship to 'Aziz were, whether I would come, what I would eat, that they would send a driver to pick me up at the airport, even dress code. I bought a beautiful kite from Hermès for 'Aziz. The kind of kite Alex would have liked.
At Geneva airport a six feet plus black driver picked me up with a huge bouquet of lilies - the sign - and a broad grin; curbside I found the most tastelessly stretched stretch Rolls I've ever seen, a white monster, with a burr walnut shelf full of CDs and Naked Gun video tapes, and, hidden behind more veneer, a 21" color satellite TV.
At the Chateau I was immediately led upstairs, "he wants to see you - if you don't mind", and into an enormous unbelievably luxurious boy's room, toys everywhere, in the middle it of 'Aziz was laying on one of several white sofas, his jade color Belgian shoes propped up on a cushion, talking into a white cordless telephone. He motioned me to sit down.
I sat down on another white sofa; the room clearly bore Alex's mark, a joyous display of beauty and wealth. He switched the phone off and greeted me, obviously delighted to see me. I handed him my gift, he opened it and sent the kite flying across the room. He said, "I've got something for you too," and produced the egg, "look, there is something inside for you."
He turned the egg and pressed three of the flowers and it sprang open, showing a large red heart shaped ruby and a little paper, which he handed to me. I unrolled it and found on it written in Alex's big hand the words "I LOVE YOU" I felt Alex had come back and began to cry. I forgot about 'Aziz until his small strong hand touched my shoulder. He kissed me gently and whispered into my ear,
"Why Fear? I Am Here!"
Copyright 2012 Martin Frank