Great Expectations I

Bannu Boy

"Great Expectations Lead to
Great Disappointments."

The little framed notice was the only odd about the room. Cold smoke and humid dust covered the walls and the dark plywood art nouveau furniture upholstered in turquoise plastic. Thousand dollars per night couldn't have bought me a better room because the dark and cold cave was the Presidential Suite, and it cost only forty-six dollars including taxes. Presidential was the size, an enormous expanse of spit stained brown carpet, the aircraft engine noise of the air condition cooling the room below condensation point, the double doors. You would need a presidential ego to feel comfortable with so much useless space lit by a single tube light on the gypsum squares ceiling.

The bedroom was another room of the same size with an imposing and shabby king-size plus bed and a sitting area for men to smoke while their whores got dressed. A small opening to the bathroom was the only window. Tube lights there were two: A full-size on the wall above the bed and a smaller above the mirror. A fat black telephone signaled that this was a room serving the powerful. Grayish, limp bed sheets hid whatever dirty mattress there was. Cover, I saw none. The whole room seemed designed for the cheapest kind of sin.

The not air conditioned bath room was the size of the communal showers of my boarding school, same yellowing tiles, same piss smell, same well broken-in look, but devoid of the sudden rush of naked boys a ringing bell would bring. Where in my boarding school six basins lined the wall, there was one ungainly basin. The plastic bucket in the corner was the same I would have got in a room for five dollars, or that I would have had to share in a room for two.

The boy who brought up my luggage was in such a hurry to open and close doors, switch on lights, turn up the air conditioner and fan, run away with and bring back the thermos with drinking water, that his white clothes were like a frieze of fast moving geometric shapes against the dirty tan walls and the windows glazed with greasy tinted glass.

I asked him for tea and biscuits.

His eyes signaled that while I might have lived longer and seen many boys like him, he was old enough to know what I was up to. I was old enough to know that his short and slim frame, small hands, feverish eyes, and this job meant one thing: Poverty.

Minutes later, he carried in a large tray with an old silver tea set and a roll of Orange Cream biscuits.

"Good, Sir?"

He poured the tea for me. The smell of sun-dried teabags and the grayish color of the milk gave me a chance to test the waters, "What brand of tea is this? Did you prepare the milk with filtered water?"

"If the Sir insists…"

"Yes, please."

I gave him a small bill to make him understand that I was the better kind of foreigner.

When after a few minutes more he returned with Lipton Red Label labels hanging out of the pot and snow white milk, it was understood that we would be friends. I gave him another small bill. He thanked me with a smile.

"Our name is Peace. Please always ask for us, Sir!"

Still later Peace brought me dinner. Maybe I had forgotten how rich food tastes when you are allowed to touch it. Maybe it was Peace's presence, his pouring the water from a big steel jug into my steel tumbler, his eager questions, his voice quivering between boyish submission and youthful self-assertion.

"Are the Sir a Merican?"

I denied it in his language.

"Do you like our country, Sir?"

"The boys are beautiful!"

That he had guessed right my tastes, made him smile again, "From afar men are coming to enjoy. Do you want a massage, Sir? We are good!"

Why should I frustrate his salesmanship?

Of massage, he knew little, but his small strong hands felt good. Seated on my back, he asked whether I wanted more than a massage. I could feel that he was in the mood. I was in the mood for more.

I explained him what I was looking for.

"Such we are not!"

I asked for his help.

"That is an expensive thing, Sir!"

I gave him the money for more than a massage from a big moldy paper bag full of local currency.

"With great difficulty we will find it for you, Sir!"

To find sleep in that vast bedroom was difficult. Without another body to cling to, the too wide bed was as hospitable as a table mountain. The bathroom window lighted the room enough not to let me find comfort in absolute darkness; it was difficult to dream up the imaginary other I needed. I should have asked Peace to stay with me for the night.

Towards the morning, I fell asleep.

The phone woke me up. Peace's voice said: "Sir, whom you expect, they are here!"

A minute later, Peace led a haggard tribal carrying a carbine into the sitting room – and a big-nosed, dark-eyed, fierce youth in a long shirt reaching to his knees and dirty wide trousers touching his ankles. The youth's feet were dusty and his clothes looked as if they had been washed in a muddy river.

Should I ask the youth to undress before I decided? The armed tribal didn't look like he had a sense of humor. Peace said, "They are from…" pronouncing the name of a mountain kingdom, as if it were the brand name of a powerful sports car. Did he mean the beauty of its youths? Or that not accepting their offer was not an option?

I felt dizzy. Was this what I had come for?

Peace said, "They are asking…," twice what he had told me the day before.

The youth kept his hands crossed on his breast and inclined his body respectfully with each sentence Peace pronounced. I was still half-asleep. The youth's face glowed healthily; he had sensuous lips with a sexy shadow above them, a playful spark in his kajal-lined eyes… and fresh flowers in his unkempt locks. He was too beautiful to sell himself; he didn't belong into this room.

"What time is it?"

"Eleven o'clock, Sir!"

I counted out the bills to Peace.

"Should we come back, Sir?"

"Yes, and bring breakfast, boy!"

As soon as Peace and the carbine-carrying tribal had left, the youth scolded me in archaic language: "Why did Excellency bestow such largesse? They are one ruffian. We couldn't covenant for ourselves, could we, Excellency?"

His voice was manly and boyish at the same time: Dark, scratchy, and rebellious.

"Will Excellency present us with one gun?"

No doubt.

"Do Excellency hail from England?"

I denied it in his language.

"Does our republic please Excellency?"

"The boys are beautiful!"

"We are one lowly mountain boy, Excellency."

I remembered how to ask, "What is your honored name?"

"We are Man, Excellency!"

Peace returned with a large and heavy breakfast tray, "Good, Sir?"

"Can you get him clean clothes?"

"Sir, money would have to be employed, Sir!"

I handed it to him.

"You allow, Sir?" Peace picked up yesterday's roll of cream biscuits.

"He needs sandals too!" They agreed enthusiastically, and rushed out chewing Orange Cream biscuits.

Dazed by jetlag, I sat in front of my breakfast. I felt deliciously bewildered: Had I seen enough to know whether I liked Man? I imagined him slim and sinewy below his rags. Would he let me kiss him? He didn't look shy. His eyes, his voice, the way he moved… His big nose corresponded promisingly to his big hands, to his big feet… Soon I would know. I would have to buy him a walkman, a G-shock watch, a cell phone… Love is an expensive thing!

I ate half a toast, drank a cup of tea. I felt sleepy and fell asleep the moment I touched the bed.

A few confused dreams later, they let themselves in again, already friends in their shopping excitement. Peace had bought a shirt for himself too, "There is a hope that this is ok, Sir!" adding quickly, "They are a good boy, Sir!"

I let Peace pocket the change, "Make him have a shower!"

Pulling and pushing each other laughingly, they vanished into the bedroom,

When they reappeared, they were still wrestling: Peace's head was under Man's arm. Man's black hair was wet and glistening. The new clothes were cut of thin cloth and elegantly embroidered; he hadn't bothered to button his long shirt over his impressive pectorals.

The fire of Man's eyes, the ferocity of his glances, the dark red velvet of his lips, his sparkling teeth: I wanted him so much that I gave up all hope of ever possessing him. Lifting my hands towards him in admiration, I said in mock poetical language, "What splendor! We are all beggars!"

"Among the devotees of love we shine; Excellency will notice!"

"With your kind permission, Sir!" Smiling without malice, Peace left.

I asked Man, "Are you hungry?"

"Not at all, Excellency!"

His hand hovered over the breakfast tray.

"In the name of God!"

If Man made sex with the same urgency he shoveled food with his large hand into his equally large mouth, and with the same relish, I had a handful to look forward to. He finished his food, washed his hand pouring water with his left from the tumbler over his right hand onto the plate, chewed some anise seeds, poured more water from the jug into his wide-open mouth without touching the vessel with his lips, and asked, "Would it please Excellency to go inside?"

Getting up my eyes fell once more on the small rosewood frame with the adage:

"Great Expectations Lead to
Great Disappointments."