Image © Isabelle Barciulli
D never asks to have sex with me, he says whenever I am comfortable and ready, besides, that’s not what he cares about. He gives me cold beer when I have a fever, his own remedy, since wine purified people’s stomachs and beer built civilizations.
His best friend Phoenix says D is buying my love; the only thing he is good at is being rich. Phoenix is into boxing. We call him Fin. He lives in the 19th, and the only reason Dion is friends with Fin is because they smoke up together. Mary-Jane, hash, speed, you name it. They smoked opium together in Chiang Mai. They say they smoked so much that even the mosquitoes got a buzz from their blood.
D leaves for two weeks, his father is running for election in Medan, and I find Fin’s fingers and mine entwined under tables, sneaking kisses at D’s apartment. We have his keys. When another girl sits on his lap at Crystal Lounge, I down too much whisky, run away and throw up along the Champs-Elysees. That’s when we realize we are in love. I tell Adam, D’s godbrother. He looks petrified and says we must have a death wish.
I am frightened. D gets back from a horrible car accident in Jakarta and his penis is in stitches. He comes back with gifts from the edges of the earth. How can I tell him at a time like this? So I drag it for a while, spending time at both apartments, feeling like the worst scum on earth, getting tattoos so for a brief moment, the physical pain dulls all the rest of my existence, the closest I can get to peace.
Fin will not forgive me for the betrayal.
After I leave D for Fin, we go into hiding. I quit school and move into his new apartment. We are both now on unemployment, and I am in mortal fear for him.
This makes it all the more wildly romantic. I am madly in love. We kiss everywhere, knowing we can be seen by anyone at anytime. We take the metro to dinner and get off at République. He takes me to a little bistro Rue du Temple where there are No. 13 Claire oysters, I get half a dozen with le pain tradition because that is all he can afford. After, we kick cans on the streets of Colonel Fabien and the headlights dilate our eyes into pins of needles. Back at his apartment, Fin makes me come like no other. Most nights, when he isn’t boxing and I’m not bartending, we make love six times a night with snow falling outside the windows. He calls me his franoishe and he is my pied noir. Blackfoot. He is like one-eighth blackfoot, French Algerian, he is proud of it.
We watch Full Metal Jacket, South Park, the American and talk about the Vietnam War, the Holocaust, Halliburton and George Clooney who falls in love with a prostitute. We watch Monica Bellucci in How Much Do You Love Me? It is probably the cleverest movie I have ever seen. “Mais je suis une pute!” I walk around the apartment spontaneously proclaiming that I am a prostitute for days.
His friend Vivian works at a bar in Menilmontant, and we are there every night. It’s always some sort of transaction outside the bar and Vivian comes back and makes us strong drinks. He says his loyalties are torn between Dion and Fin. He says D will never hurt me, but Fin should go to Spain for a while. Fin sputters when he hears this, he has that way of jerking his head like a rooster when he gets mad or when he’s trying to describe something. “Putain. Why the fuck should I go to Spain? Just because of this? He can’t do anything to me in my fucking district.”
I grip his hand tighter. He takes a breath, calms down and stares at Viv.
“I’m Parisian,” Fin continues, “And who does he think he is? Does he know who I am? Putain.”
I can see the lines around Viv’s eyes these days. I don’t know anyone who loves Fin more than a brother. He always shoves Fin truth on a stick, not cotton candy. “No, you idiot. Do you know who he is? That’s the problem with you. You think you understand the world but you don’t understand grace when it hits you in the fucking balls.” Viv pours us more whisky. “The fact that you are still standing here, you donkey, and talking shit, means you have no idea how much the gods have been shining on you.”
It’s the perfect ending to a bad night when we get home. Fin gets drunk and asks me for hours, in various ways, if D is any better than him. I tell him it’s not a competition, it’s different, it’s him I love and not D. Eventually he passes out on the pullout couch we use as a bed and all is forgotten the next afternoon.
D calls me all the time, he is still paying my phone bills and now he wants to pay for my tuition fees, if I want to go back to school. He wants me back; I can have anything I want. I quote a Chinese proverb—when love comes, no one can stop it, when it leaves, no one can make it stay.
No one steals their best friend’s girl, he spits over the phone, it’s dishonorable. He’s in pain, he will take me back and forget it all happened. I tell him to stop paying off my bills and I take the metro with all the pearls, diamonds, and dresses to leave at his doorstep.
My breasts swell and my nipples turn dark. I can’t stop sleeping. I turn Fin’s bedroom into my lair, like a black spider, where I eat bread, cheese and saucisson and sleep. Every day at 4pm he leaves for training, and every night at 9pm he rarely comes home. He says he is bartending but I know he is avoiding me. When he is home he smokes hash and fiddles with music. I tell him dubstep gives me a headache but he plays it all the more and tells me it’s an acquired taste, and it’s intelligent. I piss him off further by playing Muse. He calls it American pop crap; merde.
Adam comes by Fin’s apartment and tells me to go see D. I am annoyed. He lives in Odeon, a hour away on the metro, but Adam says he will drive me there. So we go and I find D and the boys smoking crystal meth. It’s a full house, I can barely breathe, it’s like an opium den or one of the underground casinos Aziz used to take me. They make way for me as I pass.
I kiss him on both cheeks and sit next to him on the carpet. The brown textile has the prerequisite burn holes, red wine stains and espresso spots. His head jerks up and he stares at me, all I can see is the white of his eyes and crystallized irises. He twiddles with the jet lighter, moves the test tube around. His tight curly black hair has grown rampant and crept down his neck .
“Feliciations,” he murmurs, “Does he know?”
“Yes,” I wonder what crystal meth feels like. “He doesn’t want it.”
D blows out smoke. “Mais oui. I wouldn’t have expected less.”
“I’m sorry,” I say.
“Why are you apologizing V?” He keeps his gaze on the test tube., moving the flame under the bulb. “It’s not your fault you are the worst judge of character. Aziz always said you never felt you were worthy of love. Donc, what are you going to do now?”
“I don’t know.”
He puts down the apparatus and looks at his feet. “You know, if the kid had been mine, I would never run away.”
Adam drives me home. I can’t stop crying. I have an appointment at the family planning center the next day. He says he will take me. The nurse says it’s a girl. Her fingers are now the size of rainbow sprinkles.
I take a week to figure out my options, I call Justine, Aunt Joan, Eva, but shame makes me hang up. Aziz wires more money into my account, like clockwork. Dion is concerned and asks me to move back into his apartment while he is away in London and Fin is nowhere to be found. I hear he’s on vacation in Spain. I will never know.
At the clinic, my feet in stirrups, I whisper to her all the things I have wanted for her, to experience the world, to be loved, to be comforted, to live on a vineyard in Provence, a thatched villa in Seminyak, dancing at a Full Moon party in Koh Phang Gan. I ask her to come back.
“Come back again, promise me you will come back again to me.”
I name her Alethia, ancient Greek for truth, after a tattoo I have on my wrist.
And with that, I return her to the stars.
© Alicia Khoo
The Inimitable Livers
(Dedicated to every woman who has gone down this path before…and women who are facing it right now: you don’t have to be alone, you don’t have to fear, you could actually raise this child. You could choose life, life in full. There is no shame. Ask, seek and help will come your way. Love, AK)