“Lastly: kill all your darlings (the sexual especially). Make it unbearable.” – William Faulkner
Immediately, he took lead. Lightly clasping fingertips, we headed to the counter. A man about forty-five or so stood behind it. He examined the place with a pen behind his ear and a thoughtful finger on his lips, bouncing his baldhead to the beat of the music.
“Clay!” he shouted in a strong accent. I couldn’t tell of which descent. “How are you man?”
“Not too shabby, and yourself sir?”
“I’m good, I’m good. Nice to see you round’ here again.”
“Always my pleasure.”
The man looked at me invitingly and shot Clay a knowing look, accompanied with a smile.
“So, what can I help you loves with tonight?”
“I think we’re going all-fruit tonight, sir.”
I glanced at the menu behind him. It was lit in neon colours and had only four flavour options. It was just like him to choose the most expensive on the menu.
“Ah, the special. Sit anywhere you like.”
Clay slid over a clean fifty and winked at the man. “Come with me, darling.”
After a walk down the aisle and a short flight of stairs, we reached a sole table that mimicked a balcony. It was significantly darker than the rest of the space, yet the lights still swam over his face from time to time. It was absolutely stunning, the way his face was washed in pink – then white – and then pink again. Dreamy, in a sense.
Our seat looked over the entire space – all the separate tables down below. My eyes hopped table to table as the two of us sat, overlooking the space. In one seat was an older couple – the woman mysterious, the man grungy. He’d lean back in his chair and watch her smoke seductively. And the next table over was a completely different scene. It was a group of high school boys, no older than me, in their snapback hats and varsity jackets, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. Not even looking for pretty girls because they were so involved in their conversations. So present with each other. And as my eyes jumped, group-to-group, the sound of film rolling entered my mind and I began to see everything as a set of scenes. All our separate movies playing in the same room. Our various companies and struggles coming into one space in which we are now united. Tonight, we are all here as one, with our darlings. So what do we do? We kill them. “So,” I smiled.
“So?!” he laughed. “How long has it even been, May? I’ve missed you.” He tightened his grip on my hands.
“I miss you too.” I said, somewhat distantly. I was too occupied by the tapestries behind him. I traced their ornate patterns as he spoke, watching them weave in and out of each other, letting my mind wander. It was all a power game with him. Once I’m out of his control, he cares.
“This place is beautiful,” I whispered, looking up at the ceiling with my hands gripped.
“You always loved buildings, didn’t you?”
“Enlighten me. I want to see what you’re seeing.”
I was ready to explain until I spotted a figure from the corner of my eye. The man from the counter was heading to our seat with an extremely tall golden hookah, decorated in fruits of all colours and vibrancies. The first word that came to mind was ‘lavish’ and I knew it’d arise when associated with Clay. The boy loved money and didn’t understand it.
“Thank you, sir,” Clay patted his back.
The man nodded. “You two enjoy yourselves now.”
I gave him a polite smile and fiddled with the mouthpiece between my fingertips, finally handing it over to him for the first hit. It’d be better if he smoked while hearing this.
“Alright, continue what you were saying.”
“Okay, well, think of everything at once. Take it all in: the music, the smell, the taste – everything. They all compliment each other. Everything is in unison in this space. Now let’s break it down. Let’s only look at the music. Rap. It’s loud enough to liven up the place, but quiet enough that I’m not shouting right now. Perfect for conversation. Everyone around us can’t hear what I’m saying. Only you can. Now let’s think about the fact that it’s rap in the first place. To be honest, from outside, I was a little turned off by it. But now that I’m inside, I get it. It’s poetry. Rap is poetry and right now, we’re listening to stories in music-form while speaking of our own stories. Man as the storytelling animal. That’s all we do if you think about it. We tell stories.”
He sat there quietly, just examining me as I spoke. He always made me so damn nervous.
“Go on. Tell me more. I love your voice.”
I froze for a bit, just watching the smoke escape his mouth, thick and milky.
“No,” I replied. “Now you tell me. You know the owner so you must come here a lot. What do you like about it?”
He looked down, clearly in deep thought, and smiled, the golden mouthpiece still in between his teeth. “The light.”
“What about it?”
“I love… that it’s dark.”
I felt the word when he said it. Dark. I could barely see him when the lights moved and the smoke rose. He chose the dimmest spot in the space.
“You like the dark?”
“I do. I don’t know it… it’s dark enough for mystery. It’s dark enough to feel like we’re in a whole other world. That’s why I love coming here.”
I remained silent, simply absorbing his sentences. I remember thinking it was absolutely beautiful, what he said. It stuck in my mind for months. Perhaps I was using the space to figure him out – to understand him. Because I never could, and I never completely will.
But in that moment, sitting there with him, I truly understood beauty. I saw the space as beautiful, I saw him as beautiful. Even the strangers below us occupied my mind. And it’s mind-blowing, because man is evil. Man is ugly. Man is messy, harmful – doomed. Yet it wasn’t until then that I saw the glory in it all. I was unable to see people as ‘beautiful’ until I saw them in a beautiful space, in beautiful context.
And it was glorious.
He hands me the pipe. It’s been a while since I’ve smoked the stuff, but just the smell of it brings me back. I set the mouthpiece to my lips, gently pulling in the air. He’s watching me carefully now. The water ripples and bubbles, swishing together. I inhale strong, tasting the flavour on my tongue, letting the music rip through my ears. It reminds me of African daisies and blood milk and I am in love. I watch the coal flicker, sparks flying. Dusty ashes pile up on our table now. Finally, I let the smoke out, opening my mouth wide as it exits – thick and full. When the smoke clears, he is still staring intently. There is a long pause of silence. I squint my eyes and look at him.
“In our… year or so, of absence… have you thought about me?” I ask.
“All the time. I always think of calling you but I usually stop myself.”
“Because… absence is good. Absence is necessary. It makes you appreciate one another
more. Look at us now. Right now. This night is special because it’s rare.”
“It has been a good night,” I admit.
His lips break out into a smile.
“I’ll always remember you, May. I’ll think about you and all of this.”
Our hands enclose and I can feel his fingers locking together with mine.
I stare back at him, knowing that this will soon be a memory, like all the others. That he will be gone – absent from my life for another year or so. I remember it making me sad just thinking about it, knowing that he’d only be there now, across from me at that table. That this moment would only exist for a night.
But I wasn’t bitter about it. I never had been. Because in the midst of it all, I knew what the night had meant to me, what it did for me, and what it was creating for my character as it played out. It was this place that he brought me to that is stuck in my mind. Every time I recall it I think of all the things I’ve learned here – youth, beauty, patience, time and art – and ultimately, the importance of space. All the things I love and value now. But right there, in that moment, I was so present. So present with the people, the sounds, the touch, the taste and look of it all. I was invested in the dialogue – conversations of my own and those overheard. I breathed connections here. Through the wonder of people, I found love. And in the words of Raymond Carver:
“I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.”
Read part 1.