I'm walking down a narrow cobblestone street. Church to my left, church to my right. My jacket's pulled up tight against a cold breeze and my cap's on backwards.I'm engulfed by a group of Serbians. Or Slovenians. Or Italians. Hard to tell the difference much anymore. Just that they're not from here.
Too excited. Talking too loud. They look around and point too much. I look around with them. I notice, like them, the intricate detail of the design over a church entrance. Tiny cherubs and stone angels. I wonder for the umpteenth time who did it. What was he thinking? What was his wife like? What was his life like? Did he pack a lunch? What was going through his mind as he chiseled away? How did he see the world and where he thought his visions would lead him?
But the thought is too used, too dusty. It bores me. A girl walks by. All long legs and olive skin. The kind of beauty that is radiant and natural enough to make the cover of any glossy. You choose the title. I notice her. She doesn't notice me. She walks by indifferent and unreal. Like a commercial that doesn't want to sell.
I don't consider myself a novelty anymore, been here too long, just another gear in the tireless machine. And apparently neither do they. As she walks by I notice a small dark perfectly round mole on her jaw-line. Tiny. Beautiful. I stop to light a filtered cigarette but the breeze blows out the flame of my Bic lighter. Soft and cold. But strong enough to blow out my Bic.
I turn to back the breeze and cup my flame and try again to light my cigarette...
I'm laying in bed and she sits up, stretches and walks to the table. The room is small. Only the bed, the table, and not much else. So she has to bend and squeeze between the bed and the door and the moon shining through the window, big and fat and floating in the hot sky, catches her curves as she bends and squeezes and I could see a shimmer of sweat gleaming across blond hairs on her thighs.
Halfway up one thigh she has a small perfectly round mole. Tiny. Beautiful. She sits at the table and pulls out a filtered cigarette and carefully digs out the tobacco with a nail.
She shakes out some grass from the small plastic bag and together with the tobacco sprinkles it into a butterfly wing's paper. Her small dark nipples push against the edge of the table as she licks the paper and rolls a perfect roll. She's far less beautiful than the ones I've seen recently. Some have even called her ugly. And in the strictest definition she probably is.
But right now the moon is pouring in, lighting the starless night as if someone were shining a flashlight in a cave. And it's beautiful not like in the movies and it's beautiful not like in a book it's beautiful only the way real life could offer, on a plate, in your face, believe it or not. The shutters are open. I join her at the table and smoke a cigarette while she smokes hers.
She looks at me. Long eyelashes over green eyes. Sex was awkward and conscious and quick. But now we're both smoking and talking and as naked as the life around us: A bed, a table, a moon and not much else. The smoke lifts up in lazy, winding rings, out and into the night. I tell her about the novel I'm working on. She tells me about her journeys through Germany last year.
I tell her about Nashville and Havana. We talk about love and Argentina and movies and dreams. We talk as if we could go on forever. Later, in bed, in a moment of crystal silence, she tells me she'd follow me anywhere.
I'm sitting in a cafe and the band is loud and good so I'm trying hard to hear what she's saying. Her eyes mesmerize me big and brown and liquid so I try not to look at them directly. She tells me about her father. About the olive green uniform he puts on every morning. Straightening the collar. Fixing the fake plastic medals and the ribbons on the sleeve. The picture of Lenin over the stove. The frame with the Beard over the plastic-wrapped couch.
She tells me where she worked and what she did and how she's left it all now. How do they expect it to work when it failed where it started. Why are we the last ones left. Why can't we take a hint. She talks about losing her job her bike her money and her friends. But keeping her mind and how no one - no one - is gonna mess with that. I suddenly love that mind. I drink too much rum.
She tells me to stop. I keep drinking. Too good, too right. I smoke another cigarette. The saxophonist suddenly launches into his own little world. The drums stop. The bass stops. The singer stops. They sit down and join friends at a table. They drink rum and laugh. The saxophonist goes on and on, lost. And in no hurry to find his way back. Later we stroll down the Malecon. At high tide the surf punches against the seawall and crashes over the passing cars.
But now the sea is as quiet and still as a long plate of dark glass. With a wide blanket of moonlight across it, unrolling right up to the seawall. She strokes the seawall with a long, delicate hand. Taps it. You see this here, she says, this is the difference between your life and my life. Mine ends here. She makes me promise not to forget her. I do. And I don't. She pulls out a filtered cigarette and I try to light it but the sea-breeze blows out the flame.
I'm trying to light my cigarette but can't get a flame when one appears before my face. It's coming from a Zippo held by a hand belonging to one of the people around me, the outtatowners. Female. Dark eyes, slightly almond-shaped, and long straight black hair. I thank her and ask her where she's from. Sarajevo. I tell her I thought she was Slovenian. She says she thought I was Italian.
I could see her face, barely. There are lines that are foreign, beautiful, hidden in the shadows of the church. She walks away with her group and I'm standing in the narrow cobblestone street, smoking my cigarette. I'm thinking of turning around and heading back to the pub for one last beer. They'll be clouds of smoke and liquor and other things not good for me. But I'll feel better knowing I'm not the guy standing next to me at the bar, whoever that is tonight. I pull up my jacket and stomp out my cigarette.
I turn and head back to the pub, alone and surrounded by friends.
- Photo by Jeffree Benet