By Bert Wee
1 July, 3 am,
I am stuck in this airport.
This realisation disheartens me as I look up at the Departures Screen and sigh at the blinking green Spanish words. My flight was supposed to have left four hours ago, and I'm still stuck here, in this cold-looking boarding gate lounge. The lounge doesn't have enough seats. There aren't any cafes or drink kiosks left open to buy any coffee from, and worst of all, there is no Wi-Fi, which means no Facebook, no Messenger, no e-mail, no porn. Nothing.
I rub my eyes and looked around the lounge at the somnambulant mayhem caused by the delayed flight. Some of the passengers are splayed out in their seats, nodding off or already asleep, like mute, slumped-over crash test dummies. Kids are half-heartedly whimpering in one corner, their frazzled parents trying, with even less conviction, to console, or control them. There are half a dozen passengers with no seats sprawled across the floor against walls or glass panels, foetal with bored exhaustion.
Travel is a funny thing. Most places look like slices of heaven in pictures, small pieces of visual dessert that you can nibble on and savour. But like certain individuals, and like love, the reality can pale closer up. On occasion, places can still creep up on you, and suddenly, before you know it, a place has wrapped itself around your soul, and you start to harbour all sorts of illusions of staying on and living there. There were a few such places in South America for me, and they tended to be empty of people, like Patagonia and the Atacama.
These vacant places suited me. They were a necessary refuge after my last job, which from day one had been a slow attrition war intermittently interspersed with rearguard victories, culminating in four seemingly wasted years in a good position with a bad boss. At the end, my overwhelming emotion had been a sense of indifference.
Hence, this trip; an act of rebalancing and a flight to solace and rejuvenation in a place literally half a world away from the familiar and the mundane.
It had served its purpose, and if I had one regret on this trip, it was only that I hadn't had more company to share it with. Lonely places, vistas of stark and savage beauty, catch your soul and take your breath away in the daytime, but I think there is an instinctive and deep-seated human need for company and a warm body at night.
And now? Having already flown some hours from Buenos Aires, and after more than eight hours in transit here in Santiago, including the delay, I am just tired.
My eyes are heavy and I feel unwashed.
I am just about to doze off when, out of the corner of his eye, I glimpse a curiosity here, another Asian face, a male one, the owner of the face walking towards the restrooms. His gait seems young and from his profile, he looks promisingly dashing.
I wonder about him, about how far he is from home, and whether he has anything in common with me. Is he on holiday? Where did he go, and what are his dreams? This is a little conceit of mine, a game I created for myself in these months of travel. It helps me to imagine people in a better light than their actual lives probably warrant. When I make up stories for them, suddenly the dreary, washed out present seems more interesting.
Maybe this is a cop out because it prevents me from actually wanting to get to know these people, those whose stories I have made up in my mind. I hesitate, and doubts arise – "what if they're really boring? Or mean?"
Better I think, to remember them as the models, writers, secret assassins and other baroque and cabalistic characters I made them into. I wonder sometimes if anyone else looks at me in the same way, and imagines that I am a special, interesting person. I hope so.
As I look at this guy, something twitches in my mind, a sudden, but vague longing, and I hesitate, just for a moment, as opportunity presents herself, a coy ingénue beckoning me towards the possible.
"Hmm, he does seem alone. And I need to use the toilet anyway," I think. I get out of my seat, leaving my bag on it to prevent anyone else claiming it, but I bring my passport, wallet and iPad with me, just in case. A few faces look up at me as I stretch once, and then stumble off in the direction of the restroom.
I barely notice the glances.
While I'm not ugly, neither am I actually good-looking. The best people have said of my face was that it was interesting.
What I do have is a physique, a really good one.
Not long ago, a much smarter friend of mine, Jason, told me that I had a nice physique and that I had to take good care of it. "James. Stop underplaying it. You only get one body, and you need to take care of it, because it needs to last you a long time. Don't waste it."
That last bit had struck me as being somehow quite profound, and so, ever since then, I've taken it very seriously.
In the toilet, I do the necessary and go over to the washbasin to clean my hands and splash water on my face. The other Asian guy is there, at the leftmost sink, taking a couple of pills, probably for a headache. I notice he is rubbing his temples, and drinking from the tap, which makes me slightly queasy. I am a germaphobe.
The other Asian gives me a couple of furtive glances. "Ah hah…," I think, and wonder whether he'd had been checking me out in the lounge too. I notice that he has a nice face, quite appealing in fact, in a longish, vaguely Japanese way. He seems to have kind eyes, which I really find attractive.
But as I take in the rest of him, I recalibrate, because he's a bit too skinny. At the same time, I notice he has great shoes. I wonder if he's noticed that my jeans are Japanese too, from a cult brand called Undercover. They cost me a jihad hostage's ransom and I am inordinately proud of them.
As I am mulling over whether to meet the other guy's glances, there are announcements in Spanish and I hear my flight number. "Aww, why now after all the waiting? He was checking me out too…," I think, suddenly realising how much I'd missed having regular company during my three months in South America. As we both leave, wanting to catch the inevitable English translation, I notice he gives me a slightly knowing sidewise glance, and I instinctively crook the leftmost edge of my mouth up in a slight smile at him as we both walk out of the restroom. Ahh…lingering eye contact, the lingua franca of the whole gay universe.
1 July, 10 am,
The queue in front of the check-in gate snakes around the departure terminal like some tortured, writhing animal, its head vomiting out surly, tired passengers at the stoic check-in staff. The check-in staff who wear glasses have tiny blue words from their screens reflecting in their lenses, which together with the crowded clutter of the terminal and moving electronic billboards overhead, lend the whole scene a washed out and debased Blade Runner feel. This is not a bad thing, because I like Blade Runner.
I am getting increasingly frustrated, having been forced to check out my luggage and ferried, with the rest of the passengers, to some antiseptic hotel on the outskirts of Santiago after the airline staff had informed us, quite blithely, hours ago, that the flight was cancelled and had been re-scheduled to fly off at 2pm the next day. Why we had to check in so early, at 9 am, is beyond me.
As I glance round, I notice that a few fellow passengers nearby have fallen into commiserating about their shared plight, still in surprisingly good humor.
I look away and glance absently to my side. With a start, I notice that the slim Asian guy from the toilet is suddenly standing quite close, just in the next lane. I hadn't noticed him at all earlier, so he must have arrived in the second or third bus after me. But the queue having snaked around, he's now practically at my elbow, in the adjacent lane. And, he is glancing at me, in a way that is, well, quite fetching.
In that interstitial moment after the glance but before actual conscious thought, my mind goes through a sort of automated gay algorithm, assessing and concluding the following:
(a) Yes, the Asian guy is surely gay, and interested;
As if on cue, the Asian guy says "Hi". He is two feet away, and facing me, and there is no way to ignore him, even if I wanted, so I smile back, offering my hand in a firm handshake.
"Hello, I'm James."
He smiles back, pointing to his chest - "Hiro," he tells me, and then, unexpectedly, pointing at my chest, "Singapore?" He says this with a small look of triumph, as if he has won some arcane point of banter.
How did he know? I have no answer, so I stall and I nod, smiling encouragement, but saying nothing. This is just before I notice I am holding my Singapore passport with the cover facing him.
Hiro cocks his head, and motioning to me, he says something in Japanese. I can only smile apologetically, and then I catch the words "Undercover", as he points, unexpectedly to my pants, where there is a subtle blue plastic button and bright but unobtrusive orange ring around the pockets. I am suddenly quite excited, (he recognises my expensive, high street, cult brand pants!) and feel a smile coming on to my face. "Yes, yes." I grin, and pull my jacket up a bit, showing off more of the subtle detailing and stitching around the front and sides. My estimation of him rises exponentially.
"Ahhhh" said Hiro. "Undercover – good!" and then "Singapore. Clean country." His voice trails off, and it is suddenly apparent to me that this is about the extent of his English. Oh dear, I think, unwilling to let this opportunity pass. Finally, a cute gay guy on my holiday and it's just my luck we can't communicate. A slightly awkward silence ensues when we run out of eyebrow lifting and meaningful glances.
We forge on anyway, and as the conversation resumes, fitfully and in snatches and gestures, our small talk dwells over the long queue and other mutual complaints. I manage to work out that Hiro is from Tokyo, and that he has been on some sort of pilgrimage or journey rather than a normal holiday. He is smiling most of the time, but there seems to also be seriousness about him, a hovering nimbus of sobriety. I am intrigued, and I do want to share, but I don't bother to try to explain my own family background in Singapore, with my two-dialect group and three-language heritage. The subject is a bridge too far for Hiro's rudimentary English, and completely beyond my stillborn Japanese.
In any case, the words aren't that important anyway, because Hiro reaches out before we move apart, and pats me on my shoulder, his hand lingering just that little bit too long, and with just a bit too much pressure on my upper arm.
2 July, 11 am,
I am in the middle of my second inflight movie, trying to turn away towards the aisle yet again. I am only halfway through the flight, and already I am suffering, the lady next to me having farted continuously from Santiago till now, five hours later. She does it silently, and slyly, with a practiced nonchalance, as I turn away ineffectually. I grimace and glare, but she just looks on, reading, pretending nothing is amiss, like some implacable olfactory assassin.
I need to do something, but am at a loss. "Can there be any polite way to raise such a thing with this woman?" I wonder. Still, I console myself that I am going to have one hell of a good story to tell when I get home. As the lady beside me isn't only smelly, but also old, very pinched and ugly, I feel the novel emotion of being simultaneously pitying and nauseous.
Thus pre-occupied, I don't even notice Hiro approach from behind his seat until, standing next to me in the aisle, he silently puts his hand on my shoulder.
"Hey! How are you?" I blurt out, so genuinely relieved to see him that I fleetingly wonder whether Hiro is clairvoyant, somehow having known that I am in need of rescue.
Before he says another word, I grab him down and whisper and gesticulate urgently "Hey Hiro, any free seat beside you?" He takes a while to process this, and I find myself doing a furtive, ridiculous seated version of charades, with surreptitious hand gestures to avoid offending the woman next to me, before Hiro, wide-eyed, understands my predicament.
But alas, the flight is packed and there are no spare seats and nothing is to be done. I am crestfallen.
As the plane engines drone on, an ever-present mechanical susurrus, Hiro frowns as a faint whiff of unpleasantness wafts past me, onto his own notice. He taps me urgently on my shoulder again, this time without any hint of suggestiveness, and motions me to leave my seat. As I fumble with my seat belt, practically falling out onto the aisle, Hiro stops me, and gestures to me to bring along my iPad.
3 July, 5 pm,
I glance at Hiro. He is a lifesaver.
While GOOGLE Translate couldn't work on the plane when Hiro had excitedly explained to me his idea of using it to help us attain mutual communication near the plane galley, we'd both managed a genial and warm, if somewhat spottily understood impromptu chat, before agreeing to meet up again at Auckland International Airport.
Afterwards, I had very reluctantly returned to my seat, and after being assaulted again by my seatmate's silent killer wisps for the next half-hour, I was at the end of my tether. I finally overcame any lingering sense of polite awkwardness, and ended up berating the woman about her 'problem'. She'd been cold, unapologetic, and not in the least bit embarrassed, even after the passenger on her left, another woman seated by the plane window, had also chimed in vigorously, supporting me. The stewardess had been duly summoned, and a tearful tantrum thrown by that smelly old bag, who insisted that she had a medical condition. The window-seat woman was unbelieving, but I decided to let the issue rest, and resigned myself to a purgatory of etiolated farts for the remaining hours of the flight.
Thankfully, Hiro came by a couple times, once with a spare Kit Kat, giving me pitying, amused looks. I noticed that his visits seemed to involve more pats and laying of hands on the shoulder and arm than actual chats.
The hours passed interminably and finally, upon the final approach to Auckland, my last act on the flight had been to visit the tiny airplane restroom, by now a dank mess of strewn tissue paper, discarded toothbrushes and dropped hair, to spray deodorant on myself. It had somehow become important to me, sometime during the flight, that I should be presentable to Hiro at Auckland Airport.
I needn't have worried, for he sought me out immediately upon landing in Auckland Airport. Now, finally, in a happy cloud of Wi-Fi, we sit together, staring at my iPad. The screen shows the GOOGLE Translate page, and both of us take turns typing out our thoughts in our own languages, into the left column, seeing the results being translated into the other's language on the right column. I am very impressed, first with Hiro's brilliant idea in the plane of using GOOGLE Translate to communicate, and second, with the surprisingly accurate translations from Japanese to English and vice versa.
Hiro is somehow good with puns…and he has a way of telling strange jokes about people and animals that is somehow funny, rather than offensive. There seems to be some urgency when he talks to me, as if he knows that this is one of those 'travel friendships' that blossom during a trip and peter out after, like a dramatic, fleeting play of clouds just before the winds blow everything away.
We are waiting in the queue for the bus which is bringing us to the Auckland airport hotel that we've both been checked into, victims, yet again of another misconnection and flight delay. After the thirteen-hour flight from Santiago seated next to that rancid horror of a woman, I'm keen to crash in bed, and have a good night's sleep before connecting again with the next leg of my flight home, this time from Auckland to Sydney.
Afterward, Hiro seems pensive. He's taken more aspirin on the flight, no doubt to numb the same neck-aches and headaches that I'd had been feeling too.
We GOOGLE Translate a host of random thoughts, mostly about what gay life is like in Japan and Singapore respectively. It turns out that Hiro, amazingly, hasn't really been out much. There seems to be a tinge of regret in this, and I chide him gently by telling him that it's completely within his power to change that.
He smiles, a bit ruefully, as if I've pointed out some fatal flaw, but appears to acknowledge my point. He's awfully touchy-feely though and I have to move his hand away a bit a few times, because it is a public place after all, even if it is generous, liberal, permissive Auckland and not mean-hearted, puritanical, judgmental Singapore.
Hiro types something into my iPad and the English translation comes out:
"Can I share your room tonight?"
I hesitate. I'm less than sure about that.
Hiro GOOGLE Translates:
"We can talk a bit more. You seem very interesting and nice."
I still hesitate, but am unsure why I am doing so. I find myself worrying about whether he is just thinking of sex, and then wonder why I am doing so. I like the guy, and he seems to like me, and its not as if I'd been any sort of prude when put in situations rife with such similar possibility before. So what am I worried about?
Maybe it's because I am beginning to like this unassuming and genial but somehow intense guy, and I don't want to get into a position where I am going to really miss him once we take our leave of each other in Sydney. I almost say no reflexively, before Hiro catches my look and types some more:
I have no idea how he's managed to get the capital 'C' in Cute by typing in Japanese, but this suddenly makes things better.
Is it wrong to feel something close to affirmation when someone thinks you're cute? Is it shallow? It's not that I don't get such praise, but generally that happens only after I take off my clothes, not before, so this is a novel feeling for me.
"I think you have a good body. You also like Undercover. You are Undercover Man…haha," he types. Then he brings up a picture of an underwear model. I laugh and type in a smiley face.
So, ok, maybe he really just wants sex, like most guys I meet. Well, so what? Is that so wrong? Am I being overly fastidious? What exactly do I myself want? It all suddenly seems confusing to me, sitting here, vaguely jet lagged, with this almost stranger in an unfamiliar airport.
I think to myself that Hiro seems like a nice guy, and doesn't appear dangerous. So after another split second weighing of the relevant variables in my mind, I GOOGLE Translate:
"Ok, that sounds like fun." And then, just to be clear, I add: "You can take one bed and I take the other."
I immediately regret it after I type this. Damn…
4 July, 5 pm,
In the cramped confines of a much smaller plane than the LAN Chile flight, I mull over the previous night. After he'd taken his meds, we'd chatted for a couple of hours in the room, before turning in, each in his own bed.
I'd found out a lot about Hiro the previous night, and I wished we could have talked more. 'Talked' as in using our own voices, not GOOGLE Translating, because I'd decided that he had a nice voice. My own voice sounds weird when I hear it recorded and played back to me, as if someone else is talking. People tell me its normal to find your own voice recording odd, but I don't like the idea that I don't sound like myself to other people.
In the end, Hiro had been true to his word, and had attempted no hanky panky. I was happy that he had kept his promise, because he grew in my eyes. But I have to admit I also felt a secret disappointment.
Having GOOGLE Translated each other's recent travel experiences, Hiro's itinerary seemed rushed to me, with him gallivanting across half of South America on some sort of trippy hippy air-road-train safari, from Brazil to Bolivia and Peru, before diverting to Argentina and then to Chile, all within a month.
He'd had taken a surprisingly big range of photographs, in many colours, moods and tones. I had to admit that despite Hiro's rushed itinerary, he'd managed to capture something 'real' about each place. I looked at my own photographs later that night, after Hiro had gone to bed. They'd seemed quite imaginative when I took them. But somehow, next to Hiro's febrile, vital compositions, my pictures looked dull and flat. I'd felt unaccountably deflated, at this 'failure' of mine.
I thought that maybe I shouldn't show him mine, because maybe he might laugh, maybe on the inside, if not in my face. But he said he liked them and wished that there were more of me inside them because the scenery would have been improved. I don't know if he really meant it, but it was really sweet of him to say that.
I also now know that from our next stop, Melbourne, Hiro is going onto a direct flight to Japan, where he would be visiting his grandparents in their small town outside Tokyo. His parents would meet him there. I guess that explains his rush-rush itinerary. Family matters.
I look at Hiro, in the seat just across the aisle and feel a twinge of regret at not having asked if he had wanted to sit next to me instead. I can still chat with him, after a fashion, but without GOOGLE Translate, it's just so slow.
By coincidence, he is intently watching a recent movie that I have secretly become smitten with, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. It's based on a book. The protagonist's name is 'Charlie', and he is a deeply damaged, but guileless teen. He has the sweetest of hearts and he made me cry. No one knows this of course, and they wouldn't expect it, because I am not like him at all. But deep down, I wish I were.
And watching Hiro's reaction surreptitiously, and then sharing with him my own feelings after it has become clear that he will not think me overly mawkish, it is clear that the movie's plangent poignancy is not lost on him either.
It isn't a long flight, and as the plane cruises towards Melbourne, I slowly find myself wishing the flight was longer, so that I could somehow have just a bit more time with Hiro before we go our separate ways.
4 July, 9 pm,
I stand with Hiro, together with a small but irate crowd surrounding the beleaguered Qantas representative. With most of the passengers from Santiago having reached their final destination, barely a dozen passengers remain who are flying on from Melbourne. The grueling flight and the departure of most of their fellow sufferers from Santiago has demoralized the remaining bedraggled stragglers and leached out what's left of their patience.
They are practically screaming at the Qantas representative when he tells them there is to be yet another delay, a night in Melbourne before they can embark for whatever final destinations they had booked.
Hiro looks calm, if somewhat drawn, and he seems happy to stand beside me, his hand absently brushing against my arm.
I however, am secretly elated at the possibility of spending more time with him exploring the linguistic portal of wonders that is GOOGLE Translate.
I muscle my way through the small throng and ask which hotel Hiro and I are staying at, and for how long. It turns out that we are to be staying the same hotel. Hiro is due to leave the hotel the next morning at 8am, and myself at 11am.
We sit quietly at the cafe, chatting through GOOGLE Translate while waiting for the shuttle bus to arrive. It's hard to explain, but after we had both ascertained we liked Perks Of Being A Wallflower, there was afterwards a strange calm between us, as if something has somehow been settled, a principle agreed or common understanding established, and only the routine manifestation of it needing to be followed through. As the bus takes its time to arrive, we quietly type in random musings into GOOGLE Translate.
4 July, 11.45pm,
I have just showered and lie on my bed, in my briefs. The lights are off, and I lie there awake, listening for Hiro. After some strangely desultory conversation, where Hiro seems distracted and preoccupied, he goes to brush his teeth and take a couple more aspirin, before quietly going to his own bed. I take a couple of Panadol myself. It's been a long day.
'What is he doing?' I keep expecting Hiro to come by my bed, but he seems quite asleep on his bed, facing away towards the window. Lights from the outside traffic are being reflected on the walls, shadows moving and elongating across the ceiling as the night traffic of cars and trucks speeds by. As I lie there, I wonder if I'd misread him all this time. After the last couple of days, and especially the last half a day, I think that Hiro does like me. I am absolutely sure that he is physically attracted to me. 'Isn't everyone?' I muse to myself, with only with the smallest smidgen of self-doubt.
But nothing happens, and after another half hour or so, I am feeling just tired, fed up, and so horny. So I masturbate myself off, right there on top of my bed, my exertions making the bed squeak, shudder and thud. I'm past caring if Hiro wakes up and sees me, or what he thinks. Coupled with my pent-up frustrations at the flight delays, I suddenly feel bitter at having been apparently 'misled' and thwarted by Hiro. I am very violent with myself, practically hissing through clenched teeth and jaws at the end and I fall asleep afterwards without even bothering to throw the wads of sodden tissue paper into the toilet bowl and flush them away. Fuck him.
But later, in the dead of the night, when traffic has stilled and no more shadows scuttle across the room walls, I feel a tap on my chest and I wake from a shallow half sleep to a disorientated start. Hiro is over me, hand on my chest, and I shift, trying to make sense of what is happening, and why it was happening now. Suddenly remembering his earlier rebuff and upset at this playing of games, I push him away. I grab his arms and tighten my grip, and he stiffens, but just as I am about to apply real strength, he leans in, and says "Sorry...sorry. Please?"
I look at Hiro, and in his face I see an expression I'm not sure I've ever quite seen before in anyone, a kind of distressed, pleading want, almost feral. It lasts but a second, before a more familiar hungriness takes hold, leaving but a trace of the former emotions. I hold back, trying to make sense of my own feelings as Hiro comes closer, his face an evolving palimpsest of need. I feel offended at his presumption, livid at my own want, and I shake my head and turn away. But he has already put his head on my arm.
There is hesitation and resignation, and I feel myself, with a sigh and a slow relenting, let Hiro lie there. We are silent and unmoving.
And then, I finally decide. With abrupt sureness, but a kindness and generosity suddenly in my heart that surprises me, I move in on Hiro and on that cold antipodean night, far away from friends and family, the two of us, strangers in a strange land, do that ancient, familiar act.
We sleep afterwards, fitfully and entwined, but just before I fall asleep, I can't help asking him: "Why didn't you come to me earlier? What changed your mind?" Hiro lies next to me, his head close to mine on one side. He turns to the right of my face and whispers: "I don't know. Maybe everything." He sounds very tired, but his hand reaches out and holds mine as he falls asleep.
30 July, 4pm,
I sit at the second floor balcony of the Starbucks, nursing a hot mug of plain black coffee. It's a cool, languid afternoon and I am feeling content, chilling out with a couple of my buddies, Andrew and Jason. In our uniform of tank tops and flip-flops, we look like a trio of slightly corrupt facsimiles of each other.
Andrew and Jason are stuck on idle, chatting about other people, gym and clubbing, in that order. I fiddle with my iPad, trying to connect to my e-mail, which has been plagued with unreliable access for nearly a week. I have been feeling increasingly in desperate need of my e-mail for further contact with Hiro.
Suddenly, there is a connection. Almost frantic with happy surprise, I bang in my password and impatiently wait for my Inbox to fill up.
There, finally, after weeks of waiting, is an email from the address that Hiro gave me on that strangely formal morning when he'd left me in the Crowne Plaza Melbourne to catch his flight to Tokyo. I motion to my buddies and they move in to try to see the guy whom I've been fussing about to them the last couple of weeks.
I open the message.
It is in Japanese.
I can only stare blankly as I show the e-mail to my friends, who are also left scratching their heads.
Then suddenly, it becomes so obvious what Hiro wanted me to do. As Andrew and Jason look on, I smile as I launch GOOGLE Translate, cut and paste the email text that Hiro had sent me onto the left column, and press enter.
Dear Mr James,
We hope that this letter finds you well.
We are sorry to have to inform you that Hiroki, our youngest son, passed away peacefully on 27 July.
As he may have informed you, Hiroki had come back to Japan to be with his grandparents and us, in his last days. The cancer in his head could not be operated on and he had wanted to travel to see as much of the world as he could before the inevitable. Regrettably, he was given little time to do so.
Hiroki did not speak much of you, but he had requested that we write to you upon his death. He said he had fond memories of your travels together and that he was very happy, and honored, to have met you.
Hiroki was a good son, and a kind soul. But he did not have as many friends as we felt he deserved.
We are very grateful to you for having been with Hiroki on his last journey home.
You must have been a good friend to him.
With kindest regards,
5 Aug, 11pm,
The last few days have not been good.
When I opened the e-mail and read it, both Jason and Andrew fell silent. They looked at one another, and then at me. I'd just sat there, looking blank I suppose, as I read and re-read the e-mail.
It was just awful.
In the end, Jason had just quietly reached across and closed the laptop lid on me, and said that both Andrew and himself were sorry for their teasing and for what we'd all just read. They'd then accompanied me home.
That night, I'd been in my bedroom, and I'd been angry, really angry, at Hiro, for not having told me, and for having done all that stuff with me. How could he be so selfish and manipulative? "Was I just some sort of morbid last fuck?" I felt beyond used, angry with myself for having been so trusting. The signs had been staring me in the face the whole flight. Eight aspirin a day and god knows what other pills that I'd seen Hiro taking and I'd been naive enough to accept his explanations about neck aches? Really?
But then, I'd thought about it again later.
He had been dying.
What was he supposed to have told me? If he had, what would have happened? I had to admit that I'd probably have fled. I mean how many guys get cruised by dead men walking?
But I had liked him. There was that, and he hadn't been nasty or mean to me. On the contrary. I thought that he must have wanted to feel alive, for as long as possible, and to the extent that he chose me, well that said something good about me right?
Anyway, closure is coming.
As I sit here on my bed, I have Hiro's parents' e-mail open up before me again. Messenger is running in the background, and Andrew and Jason are onscreen to the side, virtual presences emanating solidarity from their dialogue windows as I try to compose a suitable reply to Hiro's parents. It was Jason's idea really – he's serious that way and had been adamant that I owed them a reply, regardless of what I felt towards Hiro and no matter how crushed I was inside.
I'd resisted, but Jason is right, and so here I am now, ending my note to Mr and Mrs Sano. It's not a very long note and Andrew thinks it's quite dignified and pithy.
I send off the e-mail and Andrew and Jason say comforting things. Andrew even offers to sleep with me, saying it will help me get over Hiro. He is super hot and thinks that the lives of anyone who comes into any sort of contact with him are automatically immeasurably improved. I tell him I might take him on his word, and I get a sticking-out-tongue face in return. They both log off.
And so it ends.
Except that it doesn't.
As I'm about to switch off the computer, a Messenger dialogue screen opens up.
'Hi', I type, absently.
'It's me. Hiro.'
I recoil in shock, as if a scorpion had burst out of the screen, my eyes staring wide at the glowing dialogue box. The words had appeared, one letter after another. I realise there is no sender ID, nothing. It's just a blank white box, with the text. I look around, and I feel a kind of chill. 'Okayyy'…I think. This is a really bad joke.
'Hey Andrew, Jason', I type, 'Cut it out. 'Not funny at all.'
'James, it's me Hiro. I called you Undercover Man. Undercover Man James. Do you remember?'
I freeze. Because I'd not told either Andrew or James that. In fact, I hadn't told anybody at all. Practically forgotten it myself. I apply Occam's Razor and I think "Could it really be?"
Curiosity grows in my mind, as chill and fear fade. "Could it really be him?" I think to myself, half in a daze.
"Yes, it's me."
"But, you're dead."
"Yes, I am."
"This can't be!"
"It is…difficult to explain. Things are different here. In the beyond."
"Wait. You mean you're messengering me from Heaven?? You've got be kidding!" There is a short pause, and then, words march across the dialogue box, the letters appearing one by one, a coalescing regiment of meaning.
"It is not exactly heaven, not in the way that I think you mean. But for lack of certain necessary shared references, heaven is a plausible analog. But a more accurate term is the beyond. And yes, I am speaking with you from the beyond."
"How can this be happening? How can you just be chatting with me from this beyond or heaven place? Aren't there rules against that? I've never heard of any such thing so why should I believe you? You don't even speak like Hiro."
"You have five questions, but four points. I will deal with them, in order:
"So why are you talking to me now? Why didn't you tell me while you were alive? Were you using me? You hurt me bad you know? I really, really, did like you, by the time you left for Tokyo. I wanted to try for a relationship with you!"
"I did not tell you while I was with you because, at the beginning, I only wanted to sleep with you. I was dying, and you grew so very attractive to me physically that my need intensified more than initially anticipated. You were, *meat* to me and I felt entitled, due to my circumstances then. It was also initially assumed that no emotional repercussions would attach to you once we had parted ways. This was on the basis of your initially *glib* outlook and manner. But I misjudged you, and myself. You are at once less shallow and more compelling than I expected. Neither did I expect that you would start to *like* me. By that time, I felt unable to retrieve the situation and inform you of my illness. I feared what you would think of me. I am very sorry that I hurt you. My asking of my parents' to write to you was also a mistake. Their informing you of the truth of my sickness and death could not set you free, because it was the wrong key to the lies or omissions that had come before."
"What about our relationship now? Will I see ever you again? Or hear from you again?" I find that my eyes are starting to moisten, just a bit, and inexplicably, I hope Hiro can't see me, or maybe, I hope that he can.
"We already had a relationship, and we continue to be in the midst of it. But it must end very soon, for both our own good. You will not hear from me subsequent to this conversation, nor see me again, for the rest of your natural life. This is a good thing."
"What about when I die?"
"This is possible, even likely. But it will not be as you imagine it will be. Not better or worse, just…different.
"Wait!!!1" I type frantically, typos and all. "Do u know what my life will be like? What's the beyond like??"
"Ah. I cannot tell you any details about those things. For those, there are assuredly rules and laws, against which transgression is impossible. However, I can assure you that you will lead a good life, James. A kind life.
I blink at the last sentence, dumbly overwhelmed, and I am finding it difficult to type much more.
" But before that, you asked what the beyond is like."
"Yes Hiro?" I type, a farrago of emotions cascading through me. Expectancy, excitement, and love and yearning, but most painful of all, a looming sense of permanent, irrevocable loss, like some awful unnamable beast slouching towards the Jerusalem of my heart.
"Do you remember the movie we both liked? The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. What did Charlie say in the car, in the tunnel?"
"I…I can't remember, Hiro…"