Take me to the Hilton!
Man 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
Man smiled, took my hand and pulled me towards the bedroom door. His wet hair smelled of jasmine oil. His hand holding mine, his eager movements, the slight noise of his naked feet on the cool terrazzo floor, his beauty and my desire: Ripping my eyes off the wise advice, I told myself that this one moment of his eagerness and my desire had to be enough.
Man opened the bedroom door for me. I wanted him so much that I felt dizzy. Stepping inside the room, groping in the dark for the light switch, I heard an eardrum-shattering explosion. A split-second later something heavy fell on my head and knocked me out.
When I came to, my head felt like a weight stamped 500 TONS had dropped on it. My eyes didn't open. A lot of stuff was wound around my head, my right shoulder and arm. I smelled iodine and in my neck and shoulder rolled the pain you feel recovering from a bad fall.
"May we inquire after Excellency's well-being?"
Did I remember this voice? A dry, strong hand took my left hand… In the dark of my past, I found a hotel room and… Man! I closed my hand around his fingers. When I tried to lift my arm, the pain stopped me. I tried to speak but first had to spit out the plaster particles in my mouth.
"Is it you, Man?"
"It was God's will that one bomb happened to explode just outside Excellency's hotel, and it was written in your destiny that one roof rafter should fall on Excellency's head. Thanks to the graceful protection extended by the perfumed shrine of the most beloved son of this holy city, Excellency's life was spared. The doctor attending to Excellency will return on short notice."
Were his lips touching my hand? Was it tears I felt wetting my hand?
"Are you crying?"
"Whatever untoward would have befallen Excellency in the future, that your slave will bear, this we vow at the perfumed shrine of the most beloved son of this holy city."
He was crying. I smelled roses. He lifted my head.
"Out of friendliness, Excellency will drink!"
Cool porcelain touched my lips.
"What is it?"
"Rose water, Excellency, it will refresh your disposition!"
I drank. It was wonderfully cool, and after drinking, his fingers wiped my lips. I could not see, I could not move, but as long as Man let me hold his hand, I was in paradise.
"You would have been a goner but for your friend doing…" By his colonial service slang, I recognized the doctor. His nicotine-smelling fingers removed enough of the bandaging around my head to free my eyes. "…CPR in the nick of time." The doctor's dark complexion, his yellowish eyes, his brownish suit, his common greedy worried family father voice melted into my pain and the irresponsibility of being sick. The doctor filled small yellow, small red, large white, and long white-and-yellow pills into little plastic bags, which he marked PAIN, SLEEP, FEVER, and STRONG PAIN. "This will be twenty dollars, if you please." While he wrote his bill, he asked me, "Where do you come from, Sir?
I mumbled the name of the country embossed on my passport.
Man fetched the paper bag, "With Excellency's graceful permission, we will reimburse the European doctor."
"What about my money in the hotel safe?"
"Excellency will not worry, nothing will let go astray, that we vouchsafe."
"Would Excellency care to piss? Excellency will just let it flow!" I was lying naked on the concrete floor of a basic bathroom, and Man was washing me. The rich lather of the soap smelled of synthetic American luxury, of female facial powder, lavender, roses, and talcum. Man's left hand kept my erection in check, "Due to the miraculous power of the perfumed shrine of the most beloved son of this holy city, Excellency's health will return quickly. Soon, Excellency will enjoy!"
I tried to focus on kissing him. He lifted my head for me and kissed me on my brow. I closed my eyes. Where his lips touching mine? I wanted him to make love to me but the fever was carrying me away…
In a spinning, checkered universe stuffed with cotton, I dreamed of Man, of trying to touch him, of hidden meaning and lost memories. His fingers put pills on my tongue; his hands made me drink. In his arms, I was sleeping; but in my dreams, I was floating towards empty space and oblivion, desperately holding on to his name: "Man!"
My own shout woke me up… There was breakfast smell and breakfast clatter of cups and saucers.
"Holy Oath, this is not tea for Excellency. Necessary to bring better milk too, brother-in-law[i]! Holy Oath! Best food only is needed, brother-in-law! Excellency will die if Excellency smells this bitch-in-heat shit…"
Man was sharing his feelings with a bearer. After a cup of tea, I would be all right, but why get up, shower, and dress… Let me stay in bed; let Man own my body one more day!
"Where is Peace?"
"Peace has come to death. That roof which fell on Excellency, it was in his destiny that it should kill him."
Man's hands continued massaging my right arm. I said, "That is a great big sad thing."
"Due to the miraculous power of the most beloved son of this holy city, Peace will now enjoy in paradise. What sadness is there? Rejoice!"
"Excellency will rise please; it has become advisable to leave at once."
Man helped me to get up and dressed me in 'genuine clothes'. I could walk but had no strength in my right arm and felt a strong urge to close my eyes. "Did you get my passport and my money from the hotel safe?"
"Excellency will not worry; it is under tons of rubble. One friend will get it for Excellency as soon as digging starts."
"Where are we going?"
"We have packed Excellency's things, please come now!"
Outside I heard the sound of distant artillery, the air felt like early morning. Man made me climb on the back of a lorry, "This is most safe, Excellency," and guided me to a bedding hidden among bags. He covered me with several blankets. I wanted to ask him more questions, but then the noise of the lorry made talking difficult and I felt tired…
"Where are we?" I opened my eyes. The lorry wasn't moving anymore. Around me, there was perfect silence. The sun was shining onto the blankets. I removed them. The back gate of the lorry was lowered; I saw no building, no tree, no hill. Dry earth stretched until the horizon. I climbed over the bags towards the open back gate.
As I slowly lowered myself down to the ground, I heard Man's voice. I moved towards his voice… From the corner of the lorry, I saw him talking with a short brawny fellow wearing soldier's fatigues and a dirty olive t-shirt, who carried a gun.
When Man saw me, he said, "He is very sick, please excuse me," and came towards me. He told me curtly, "No talking!" and helped me to a seat made from four bricks near a small fire site. Speaking in the standard national language without much of an accent, and using the kind of modernist words TV speakers use, Man told the soldier that I was a 'Falcon'[ii]. Didn't Man know that the 'Falcons' were a fiction? The self-assured air with which Man answered the soldier's questions didn't betray the mountain boy.
The soldier offered me a cup of tea from a thermos, cleaning the rim of the cup by spilling a small quantity. My right shoulder hurt; I used the opportunity to swallow a pill against the pain.
We climbed into the back of a jeep. The soldier was driving. As soon as we were moving, I got drowsy again. Man put my head on his shoulder and held my body to let me sleep safely. The noise of the motor, the hot air, the slight curry smell of Man's body, the shaking of the vehicle: I let myself be carried wherever Man wanted to. Maybe he was my friend as the doctor had said. If not, then Man imitated friendship more convincingly than most of my former friends. I pulled his fingers in front of my eyes: His skin was teak colored; his hand dry and warm, his nails short, square and clean. How can you not trust a young man who lets you sleep in his lap? Was Man really 'one lowly mountain boy?' I wanted to give it some thought, but instead turned my head to feel against my cheek through the cloth of his pajama his half-hard cock, and fell asleep.
I woke up more dead than alive on a string bed in a small clean brick hut. My clothes were soaked from my sweat. Man asked, "Excellency's health?" He sounded worried.
Man was sitting on the edge of the cot, wiping my front with a wet towel. I opened my eyes. In the corner of the hut, a guy was squatting… Didn't I remember his face? I remembered the wooden stock of the carbine leaning to the wall next to him. What did 'one ruffian' do here?
To go to the latrine, I had to leave the hut. Man helped me get up, held me, washed me, carried me back and lowered me unto the bed. He put a pill onto my tongue, and lifted a cup of water to my lips, "Drink, please, you must drink!"
I had come for the exotic sex the mountain boys are famous for; disbelieving what friends had told me: Extortion, robbery, kidnapping, murder, and war. – I liked Man's voice, his eyes, his hands but who was he? What did he want from me? Was he in love with me? I should have asked the doctor to call the embassy to repatriate me. Now, I had no papers, no money, and nobody, not even I knew where I was. What if Man simply left me in the middle of this desert? Who would stick a note to my corpse:
Take me to the Hilton!
[i] A term of abuse.
[ii] 'The Falcons', an organization of prudish do-gooders, are the heroes of a bestselling Pakistani novel.