Image © Alicia Khoo
I arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport and do exactly as Aziz has told me to do. Take the metro to Gambetta, and an apartment will be waiting for me. I buy the little blue book with all the arrondissements of Paris on it. I get lost for three hours at Châtelet, but finally find my way. He registers me at a private French school which I hate, at Notre Dame des Champs. It is nothing like LaGuardia, here I am surrounded by ambassadors’ children, navy brats, and casino tycoons’ sons. I set up my bank account and put my euros in it. I find a way to get the French government to give me paychecks too, nothing like being under 25 and unemployed.
At school, Dion and I share classes together. It’s not his real name, and nobody ever gets to see his ID. I’ve seen it but I don’t say anything. Later I will find out that everyone knows he is royalty except for me. Everyone he knows in Paris calls him D. I overlook him for two years. One day he declares that he wishes he could swap his life with the homeless guy living under the bridge, throws his Rolex into the Seine, and we’ve been together ever since. I tell D what happened in New York, and show him my mother’s notepad. He says his dad knew my mom. He will send word out to find out who my father is. I know he always finds what he wants. He says I must have my father’s hair, but my mother’s eyes. I hate my eyes.
Let everyday be filled with joy, he believes. With him, I am in Mesopotamia, putting on masks and terrorizing people. The Prince and the Orphan. He gives me permission to be, without judgment. We stuff free Mairie de Paris condoms under doors and mailboxes. Every day is Mardi Gras and we are the inimitable livers. We feast as prayers of celebration. Goat cheese, wheels of brie, grapes, dried mangoes, roasted pistachios. Tome de Savoie. We stay at Verve Clicquot in Reims for weeks. He hates Paris. When I want a dress he hands me his wallet.
I don’t think there is a single speakeasy and club in Paris we haven’t been to—Queen, Crystal Lounge, Madame Butterfly. I think when the music gets loud enough I actually might stop thinking, this constant hell in my little head.
At one of the high profiled speakeasies that actually has a name, Boeuf de Ballroom in the 1st, we pile on jugs of Cosmo is Dead and The Godmother Was Here. Hom, whom I can only describe as an impeccably dressed Chinese dandy, always sends drinks our way, whisky and absinthe as a joke, he says we’ll see the Green Dragon.
He’s a friend of Aziz’s. His accent is what I call the seizieme accent. Nouveau riche. He owns 80% of the Tabac stores in Belleville and says he’s the reason the Jews and Afrikaans are angry at the Chinese. Belleville used to be mainly Jewish. I say we’re all immigrants, that the history of mankind has been a migration of peoples, and that the Chinese are now the new Jews. D tells me I am too serious for nights like this but one night I insist on discussing the problem of Mainland Chinese prostitutes in Paris with Hom, if he knew who was trafficking these women. He never ever answers my questions but merely smiles, kisses me on the forehead and says he agrees with Aziz, that I’m just like my mother, always trying to change the world, the little socialist, they call me.
I want to scream, laugh, then punch someone. If I am constantly compared with my mother, how will she ever die for me? Do I live in her or does she still live in me? The last thing I want to be is to be like her.
Some nights Aziz joins us for a cigar or two, but he never touches a glass. He says it’s not for religious reasons but that it’s bad for business. Aziz owns private currency exchange booths that are tied to gold. I love him for the man he is, what him and my mother had I will never know, but I know she saved his life once and now he’s saving mine.
D’s father wants him to be just like him, like father like son, in politics, but he wants to quit school, become a chef and own his own restaurant in New York. He hardly goes to classes anymore, since getting the job at Le Bastringue. Before this he was in California, an apprentice at the French Laundry, but when the scandal erupted all over the international papers, his family pulled him out and planted him in the banlieues of Paris, before he moved into one of the apartments they owned.
D mocks them constantly in a high voice, laying on a thick Bahasa Indonesian accent. Don’t you understand the magnitude of what has happened? You have to go to Paris now! Sekarang sekarang!
There had been a car accident in Manhattan, and one of the heiresses of an Asian conglomerate had been reported killed. Mom said that was just media bullshit, anyone connected knew it had been a suicide. Her godfather who has Chinese grocery stores in Flushing confirmed it. Why the heiress had killed herself will always be a mystery to me, she had everything, but maybe at the end of the day, she really had nothing. She was D’s ex-girlfriend, reason enough for his family to freak out with public relations and damage control. Maybe she’s like me, hell in a belljar. Maybe she wanted to be a diving butterfly, and the only way she could do it was to jump off that building in Midtown.
© Alicia Khoo
The Inimitable Livers