Don and Dean’s Summer Delight

It must have been sometime in the afternoon, although it’s hard to say. There was definitely a sunbeam crossing the barrier of apartment buildings, reflecting from the old lady’s window across the patio to land triangularly shaped on the wall – right above the pillow-case bit that was visible out of the corner of the blue-ish linens. The bed was covered with a citric green blanket, and next to it was the bookshelf and the armchair – basically the only furniture in the room – apart, perhaps, from the leather futon across the room (although that wouldn’t really qualify as furniture). The heat – at least they thought it was the heat – was sucking all of the moisture out of the air.

Dean wasn’t paying much attention to Don’s guitar stroking, but his attentive look suggested otherwise. With his thumb, he persistently rubbed his pinky’s nails with a movement along the white line that separates it from the skin. He was barefoot and shirtless. As if suddenly aware of a leg cramp that had been building up and grew into numbness, Dean rose to his feet, only to take a step to the side and blend into the armchair cushion. “It’s hot in here”, he said without addressing Don, not necessarily at least. There’s was the audible sound of the clock they had found downstairs, by the entrance door, just a few days ago. Normally, you’d have to concentrate on the tic-tac in order to distinguish it in the midst of sirens and school bells. Despite facing the back of the building, Don’s apartment was not free from these daily reminders of whatever life or death was going on out there. That Saturday, however, there were no impediments to the battery-run clock. It ran wild.

In a non-responsive answer to a non-question, Don looked up at the ceiling to what could’ve been imaginary clouds of heat floating motionless and heavy above their heads. The gaze made him aware of the texture of his own hair resting on his shoulders and the heat, the dry heat it generated where it encountered his neck. “I should shave sometime this week”, he thought to himself, more as an excuse than as a goal, conscious of his own affection for facial hair – anyone’s facial hair, especially his own. The guitar pick felt different – heavier – between his fingers. The moisture between skin and plastic was a layer, a tangible layer of matter. “Shabop shalom”, Don let out with gentle picking movements that made the strings resonate and break the clock’s determined and unstoppable march. “But marching towards what?”, both of them might’ve thought at about the same time, suspicious of each other’s synchrony, but one can never be sure. The clock did not stop at their hesitation.

It seemed to Don that only now did Dean switch positions – from the bed to the flowered themed cushioned armchair – but somehow the feeling was misleading, he felt. “What?”, he asked Dean, who understood where he was coming from and what he was aiming at. It didn’t bring either of them to the realization – one they had both shared in their intimate so many times before, yet never spoken of it – of the silent and gentle choreography they performed. And had they been aware of this unrealized epiphany of theirs, it would’ve pleased them to recognize such coherence between thought and action, intention and gesture, for rationally acknowledging the feat defeated its purpose by all means. They were successful in their ignorance.

“Another one?”, was Dean’s reply to the texturally aware Don. The question – not so much in search of approval as much as an awakening to his own desires – might have been a statement. “Another one.” It was too late now, for the words had already come out of his lips with an inescapable question mark. Paralyzed on the cushioned armchair, Dean knew that even so it wouldn’t have corresponded to his deep inner yearnings. Silence had done it; followed – shortly, perhaps – by the breaking of immobility that most faithfully revealed his wishes. He saw the movement he was about to perform; first in his head. Time moved thus.

“I can’t feel my hands”, Dean heard Don whisper, unsurprised and unconcerned, while playing the part he had been rehearsing in meditation. Staring at the pick in his hand – small, pizza-shaped, fading blue – he tried to remember the random information found on Wikipedia about the guy who first started commercializing CDs. The music had stopped flowing from his hands to the strings and from it, to fill the room, crowded by clouds of humid smoke. Again the clock was ticking. Dean too had heard it, he looked over at Don. “We’re out.” The words made Don look away from the guitar pick to the sunbeam – now fractured in cubic forms – and smile.

Their looks met half way. Not their hands. The tic-tac suggested not so, but time stopped and sped up simultaneously. It caught up to itself. They knew not how long afterwards their lids – all four of them – responded to both of their brains and, in vertical closing and opening, blinked. The pick was nowhere to be seen, although the guitar had been carefully placed by the armchair. The heat had dissipated into the breeze; windows open all the way. There was no tic-tac to be heard. The streets spoke and so did some neighbors, partying downstairs – a record playing piano jazz filled the bathroom with its resonance. But Don and Dean were not there to hear it. It was already Sunday. It was still summer, and with the evening, they had left the room and the smoke. Out there and in here, time was the same.

Otto

Predictability. It’s the greatest asset an individual may have. I can’t stress enough how much I appreciate predictability. It leads to punctuality. To boring. I like punctuality. It makes me feel safe. Although I appreciate a surprise once in while, I prefer playing with routine. And it’s only within a strict and rather boring routine that we’re able to recognize and appreciate a surprising event. And thus I’m back to predictability. It is the key to everything.

The Man and the Lady are predictable. I live with them. I’m thrilled about our rituals. At 6am, I wake up and start scratching the bedroom door. It’s not really shut, so I throw my weight over it and the handle clicks. They’re not yet awake, but that’s about to end. I jump on the bed, on her side. She sleeps next to the wooden box with all the small nice smelling candles and that pile of books. He’s next to the window, on the other side of their gigantic bed, and I’m less thrilled to crawl over him since he doesn’t grace my arrival with the same respect it deserves and because he’s to blame for everything that’s been happening between her and me. She usually makes me feel like the king I am. Or prince, I should say, since I’m still 1. She normally smiles and runs her fingers around my ears before doing the same to him, which I don’t appreciate at all, and whispering “It’s ok, I’ll go, you sleep on”. Yeah, you sleep on, we don’t need you. Today, however, this doesn’t happen. No royal treatment, no smiles and definitely no cuddling.

I can take a hint, ya know. I race to the kitchen and wait for her by the bowl, where she pours my favorite breakfast treats, the only ones I ever eat. Today, shockingly, she serves me that nasty pale looking grub that Oliver next door gets from the macrobiotic woman that feeds him. I should’ve seen it coming… The pouring lingers, each beige flake bouncing against the bowl, in slow and torturing motion. I’m disgusted. It’s true that I like it when she watches me do whatever it is I’m doing, especially eating. It’s in my animal nature to be needy. But now I don’t mind that she leaves me alone for a minute to go brush her teeth and get changed. I’m busy drooling over the bowl – not eating its contents – and bringing the grub to waste. I won’t eat it and no one else should. Before she gets back, I trot across the living room to pee on the plant next to the TV set and proudly state my point. This has been known to work in the past and for park buddies as well.

I’m ignored for most of the day. He walks around the house in PJs, scribbling notes and sometimes talking to himself, while she’s gone. I enjoy this moment of solitude and chase birds in the yard, roll on the grass to scratch my back, bark at strangers walking by our front door and nap on the couch while no one’s there to see. The afternoon goes by in a flash as is normally the case and she punctually slides the key in the keyhole early in the evening, bringing peace to my inner sense of time. She’s back. We take our evening walk before sitting down to watch TV shows together, me on the floor, leaning my chin against her knees and thighs. During commercial breaks, she gets up and I either linger on or chew on a shoelace I’ve hidden under the couch. When the TV is clicked off, she goes back to the bedroom, closing the door on me, and just before I’m shut out from their evening, I get a glance of the Man, in bed, still scribbling, welcoming her in his arms. It’s more than I can bare.

The tyranny of the Man lasts too long now. Why does he get all the warmth and affection these days? I am the loyal one, every single day licking her toes when she comes dripping out of the shower. I’m the one pushing my nose into her hands when she’s lost in thoughts or chasing my own tail when I sense she’s bored. Why am I to blame? He’s the fat one. I’m as slim as race dog, although I’m more of a tramp, myself. Of course he’s the one stealing cake from the fridge, not me. How would I even open the fridge door? I know I’m ingenious and clever, I’m flattered by the compliment in form of reprimand that the Lady has been giving me in daily doses, but I must refuse authorship for the midnight snack-attacks. Believe me, I know it’s him. I sleep closer to the kitchen, I see him come by at night and I also see the reflection of the fridge light on his prescription glasses. This twilight ritual always repeats itself at the same time, every night, when the clock bell rings, striking some dead hour no one’s supposed to acknowledge. A dead hour the Lady ignores in her sleep and which I would normally do too if it weren’t for the fat one or an occasional ambulance siren storming up the road, blasting through the walls and stirring herding instincts in my gut. It feels like I’m being called by my clan, back to the wild. It’s ephemeral, though, and I go back to my normal domestic self. I truly don’t know what takes over me… it must be something very primitive.

When the Man flicks on the kitchen light switch, I, in canine alertness, raise a stiff neck and shake a threatening black-spotted tail, playfully hitting it against the wooden floor. He shooshes me down and I acquiesce, awaiting his departure. He leaves crumbs behind, which I instinctively eat, unwillingly covering up his tracks. Over and over we repeat this ritual of ours. The following morning, there are never any traces to be found on the floor, thanks to your dumb narrator. What comes next anyone can foresee. My prints are all over the place. You don’t need forensics to figure that one out. Can you blame her? I can’t. I blame him.

I decide to react. I take pride in my half-Dalmatian intelligence and stamina. It takes all of the strength in me to look away from that yellow brick road where chunks of chocolate chip cookie dough pave the way from kitchen to bedroom, my own stairway to heaven. Don’t do it! Don’t do it! I shiver and moan, I feel excruciating pain, I drool while mechanically getting up, laying down, getting up, laying down, before finally rushing down the hall, desperately licking the floor in search for bits of crumbs, wagging my tail in every direction and filling myself with satisfaction, no guilt. I head back to my cushion by the counter, I circle around it once or twice before embracing absolute comfort, and go back to sleep. A satisfied sleep. Predictable; I am, that is.

6am. I jump up, walk around in a circle, silently walk to the bedroom and jump up on the bed. I sniff her hair, and she greets me with honest satisfaction. And him… well, he’s still asleep. We get up together and are happily heading towards the bowl when she freezes by the kitchen door. I’m still here, I’m still here, lets be happy!, I’m screaming in doggy stare. I follow her stare now and there it is. The fridge door is open. I duck and wait my punishment, unfair but certain punishment. Cake glaze is spread over the floor and the plate in which it once stood is empty. Ears down, tale still, I await severe reprimand, yet hear none. Instead, she leaves my side and walks back to the bedroom. She stops at the door and slightly pushes it door open, just enough to see him asleep. A mountain of flesh and hair, he sleeps heavily, breathing loudly. She looks at him, both sad and worried, not moving a muscle. When her right hand drops next to her hips, I already know my lines for the next act. I humbly walk up to her, lean against her leg, and await a friendly pat on my head. Surely enough, I get what I want. Predictably. Everything is in its right place.

Today will be a great day. It will be like any other day in Otto’s life.

Svannah, my roommate in LA, an inspiration to this tale...

Hitching a gang-ride in Benin

Alice Traoré, Maria Bitarello & Camille Barrat

Cars in Benin, Africa, are communal means of transportation. Motorcycles, we see thousands of those: taxis, delivery and pick up, three family members crowded in one of them, the whole lot. But not cars. There aren’t any in the streets, only in the fringes of town, improvised bus stations where car owners and ride seekers unite under a tree and await. There’s no departure time, no destination established, no precise number of passengers determined. So we wait. For more people, for the right people, headed in similar directions. Payment is like gambling. There’s always and understanding in the end, and no matter how much of a bargain you think you’ve come across, the house always wins. Finally, there are 12 of us. In one car. Four up front, five in the back and three in the trunk, including myself. I see kids, bags, chickens. On top of us, strapped around the hood, bags of crops, seeds and a couch. The wheels give in and we’re running inches above the ground. Nothing works on the control panel. All lights are off, no windows, doors barely shut, only a non-stop horn blows away for the four hours it takes us to drive 100km south, from Kétou to Cotonou, over a red dusty road. As we arrive at the economic capital, I look for a place to change into my outfit before heading into the airport, for what I was wearing in the car is now beyond public exposure. I look like I survived a mine explosion and have just walked out alive. Dressed in better attire, I board the airplane to leave.