The days of electronica are here. The pulsating basslines, like an endless morse code I do not understand. And the pills, which I stay away from. I stand at the front door tearing ticket stubs, and I remember the days at the opera house in Istanbul, the Kazakhi aria singing an azzura blue and the orchestra a Russian frenzy. They looked like they would keep playing until their noses would bleed.
“Toros, you’re Turkish aren’t you?” South London with a tan and vodka on her breath. I know how this is going to turn out. I take her ticket stub and feel her confidence flicker. I breathe and it is futile to smile. She will take what she wants from me.
“No, I’m Chinese. My mother is Chinese.” I laze my eyes upon her face. Lips bright Persian saffron, an Asian silk dress that is short, like all the others, even in the frigid London cold. Batik orange, butterflies, bees. Her saffron lips have a certain pout when she speaks English, like she grew up in a French boarding school.
“And your father?” Saffron persists.
“That’s a little personal, don’t you think?” I say and smile, amused at the irony. “He’s Turkish, I believe.”
She responds with tinkling laughter, like bells, wind chimes, piccolos. “You believe? You don’t know your father? So, where were you born?”
“Mountain of Toros,” I reply, waiting for her gasp of amazement.
“Wow,” she gasps in amazement. “Fascinating. You are so sexy.”
She sidles up next to me while the line keeps flowing, an endless line of hands and ticket stubs. Weathered hands, manicured hands, pianists, sailors, strippers, adulterers, liars, oil sheikhs, hookers, poets, musicians, painters, teachers. They were all here, united by their morse code, their search for meaning in life. Perhaps it is a pounding pulsation for help. Saffron puts her hand on my shoulder. “So do you speak Chinese? What do you speak?”
“I speak Chinese and Turkish.” I am sombre these days.
“And English!” She giggles, as her friends walk into the club and nod, approving, winking.
“Right, and English.” I am tired of the coy jokes and games, and I am sick of coquettish beauty. But I allow her to stand next to me, smoldering in her curiosity. I can smell her sweat, and her desire. Purple.
“Do you have a girlfriend, Tor? Can I call you Tor?”
“No I don’t have a girlfriend.”
“Wow, ok Tor, then it must be my lucky day. Actually, I’ve been watching you.”
“I know.” And I can almost hear her heart screeching. She pushes her body against me. She knows I am weak. I pray that I have the heart to say no.
When the night is over I count the bills Scott has handed me, my nightly pay. The club patrons have trickled out, girls stumbling over their stilettos, shrieking in a haze of smoke and brash Scandinavian laughter. I’d seen them in there, they were trained dancers, showing off their pirouettes and bold jazz.
Mother had taught me some ballet, and contemporary. Ballet is the Queen’s English she said, and contemporary is like the American accent, a freedom ride and Civil War, breaking out of the rigid structure of military school and atonement for their humanitarian transgressions.
Some Lebanese boys are trailing after the dancers, offering a ride in their brightly leased cars. No brawls today, quiet easy night. Saffron is next to me again. She smells like ginger and honeydew and leather.
“Hermes,” I say. And her mouth drops open.
“Yes. Kelly. I absolutely adore it. How did you know?” She looks baffled. As if it were impossible for a doorman like me to decipher the sophisticated elements of her uppercrust symbols.
“My mother got it as a gift. She’s in love with it, but she doesn’t use it all the time. It gets better with age, like a steak.”
“Like a steak?” She is torn apart with laughter. “That’s a first! I was leaning towards ‘fine wine’ or something of that sort. But yes, it does age very well in the bottle, Tor. Your mother has good taste.”
I shove the bills into the pocket of my pants. A package had showed up at the door one dusty morning in Istanbul, and Mama carefully took the bottle out of its box.
“Is it from Baba?” I awaited eagerly, there was hope if Baba was still showing affection towards her.
“Go get some milk, my love,” she merely replied. I could not read her at times like this. Mother stupored for weeks over her poetry in a labored trance: Rose quartz melts in the storm, liquid, children’s dreams evaporating, bottled, stolen harvest, frozen, rock solid, hands of aged leather, ginger ice, honey encased in a drop of dew, fossilized crystal, shattering like an hourglass, music is only math, math is only time.
“Would you like to come over for a… nightcap?” Saffron nests her hand in the middle of my chest, her palm warm and insistent. Her friends had left a long time ago, each with their new partners to their respective beds. English girls are getting bolder, or perhaps it is just the night shrouding their flaws, lending them courage, turning them into predators instead of prey.
“How about it? My car’s just down the road. I can take you back in the morning.” Independent girl. Screaming without making a sound, she’s not needy, she can take care of herself, she doesn’t need a husband, marriage is overrated.
“I’m fine, thanks. I have my own bike.” I am polite, cordial and kind.
Her face falls, like she took a long big bite into chocolate and found it tasting like rejection. Like brine. Like she has never tasted it before. Like she has tasted it too many times. Like me. I cannot bear it, so I open my mouth to say something comforting, to backtrack, and I taste a drop of rain, sweet, burnt, polluted London rain. I take my jacket off the tall stool next to me and drape it around her.
“It’s raining,” I pull her in closer. “I’ll take you home.”
We walk briskly. She grabs me tight as we walk. She is lonely, we all are. The rain falls harder hitting our hair, shoulders. I give her my helmet. She gets on behind me and wraps her arms around my stomach, whispering directions in my ear. Her chin is digging into my shoulder. There is a doorman and chandeliers and a glass elevator up to the fifth floor.
She unlocks the door with an antique key, one click.
“It’s my daddy’s. He’s in Bali, so we have the place all to ourselves.” She walks in and throws my jacket on an armchair. Playful. Smiles.
“Is that where you got this dress?” I ask.
She is stumped again. “Why yes, how did you know?”
Mother had a dress like that, from the days she met up secretly with Baba in Bali, in Bangkok, in Perth, she told me. Low grade silk, airy and light for summer moths.
A woman appears standing outside one of the bedrooms, in a bathrobe, long tinted hair, coppery highlights.
“Who’s that, Kate?” Sharp, wary, disapproving.
“A friend. What’s it to you?” Kate walks right past the woman, not even looking at her, then turns around and kisses me full and hard on the mouth, her feet on tiptoes even though her stiletto heels are still on. The woman flinches slightly and shakes her head.
“Young lady,” she puts up a finger. And Kate’s tongue starts snaking onto mine, searching, dramatic. With her lips still on me, she starts taking off her dress, unzipping it at the back, it slides to the ground. The woman groans and goes back into her room, shutting the door fast against its latch, displeased, unsettled.
Kate calls out through the wall, “I’m not a young lady, I’m only four years younger than you.”
And she leads me by hand to her room. “She’s not my mother, that bitch. She’s my daddy’s new wife. Stepmum, I guess. She’s horrible.”
“Where’s your mum?” I ask, sitting on her bed. Her room smells like Kate, Kelly, and cigarette smoke. It looks like the inside of a garage sale, knick knacks and mismatched furniture pieces. Two Samsonite luggage bags half opened and spilling over with clothes.
She puts things away, clears the room a little, unashamed in her bare breasts and knickers like it was the most natural state, like I am not a stranger she just met, her Mykonos tan, pictures of her sailing in Melbourne, Greece, China, frames on a wardrobe dresser, loose souvenirs on a mahogany study table, nothing nailed up, nothing permanent. I pick up and examine remnants of her travels, goldflakes in a glass vial from Las Vegas, a Tanzanian wooden giraffe, batik coasters, a Japanese fortune you were supposed to tie up on a tree if it was bad. I guess hers had been good.
“I didn’t decorate this room. I never decorate anything. What’s the point? I’m never at one place long enough anyway. Would you like a drink?” She pauses, hands on her hips, breasts pert and full. She leaves and returns with two gin tonics.
“Daddy only has Bombay Sapphire. If you don’t mind. My name’s Kate, by the way.”
“Yes I know,” I acknowledge as she puts our drinks away on the bedside counter and climbs up onto me. Straddles me like a lioness and unbuckles my belt. She pulls my pants off first, then unbuttons my shirt.
“The friendliest thing two people could ever do with each other,” she says as she puts a condom on me, they always have condoms.
“I think it’s the most intimate act two people could ever do.” I offer.
“What a romantic. Sensitive too.” She rides me like a horse. “And so handsome, Tor.” Honeydew sweat drips onto me, beading brine, saffron staining my neck, burnt rain in her hair, face on my chest, trying to grasp some sort of momentary journey together, imploding into a stolen harvest, a world we do not trust yet have to belong to.
© Alicia Khoo,
Saffron, from working novel Tesaduf
Los Angeles, 2007