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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

In the Pink

"Everything cool in there?" B calls out behind the closed door.

I look around the shower room as I remove my briefs.

Towels, soap. Check.

"Nice towels," I say. "Like a home away from home."

"Well, you just never know when a dirty guest is going to drop by!"

"Yeah-wooh!" Gone numb between the extremes of the day's intense heat and the dry air of B's office, once in the shower the surprisingly cold water shocks my body awake. "Everything is way cool in here!"

"Glad you approve mister! You want hot water?"

"No, this is just fine." As I start to wash, I realise that along with her own office B must have modernised the adjoining small shower room, too. The water pressure is strong, and the cold water is really cold. "B!" I call out, reaching for the soap she thoughtfully put out for me.

"Yes?" Her voice comes faintly through the door. She must be across the other side of the room, I think, so I raise my voice a little above the sound of the spray.

"How come your water is so cold?" I scrub hard at the accumulation of sweat that's dried up to leave a sticky film all over my body.

There comes a familiar laugh, a little louder now. "We have the mains water stored in a purposefully built concrete container to keep it cold now."

I nod appreciatively as though she can see me. "Perfect for a heatwave like today."

"How much longer are you going to be?"

"Out in a minute. Let me wake up. You do realise we've been working six hours flat."

B and I had worked through the island's usual siesta break preparing Ms F's file to pass the time. It's been a long day.

"Well hurry up! Things are nearly ready in here."

"Okay. Owww-" The base of my neck suddenly gives out a short, sharp pang of pain, and I rhythmically move my shoulder blades, trying to quell the rebelling muscles. My body hasn't approved of B's air conditioning system, or the fact that I've been sitting still for so long. I had almost forgotten about office life, and realised I'd become too accustomed to the open air.

"What's up?"

"A knot in my neck."

"Well untie it and get a move on! Or do you want me to come in there and untie it for you?"

"No ma'am. You have the mitts of a gorilla. I'll be out directly."

Placing my hands on the tiled wall of the shower room, I arch my back and dip my head under the shower's nozzle, immersing my head under the cool onslaught of water one last time.

Five...

As we suffer from water shortages in Cyprus, unnecessarily staying under the shower is like committing a cardinal sin, especially in the summer, and conservation lies deep in the island's psyche.

Four...

So, however much I might want to succumb to the ice-cold water, five more seconds is all a good conscience will allow.

Three... Two...

And all good things come to an end, I think as I count, "One," and turn the tap clock-wise to cut off the water supply. I step out of the cubicle and wrap a towel around my waist, and throw another across my shoulders. I pick up my clothes and stuff them into my bag. Just as I go to open the door, it swings open.

"Ta-daaaa!" B stands there with a wide grin on her face, her arms outstretched to indicate the inner recesses of her office.

"Good timing B."

She waves a hand dismissively. "Oh, I know you don't preen in mirrors. You just grab and go. Well?" Her eyes demandingly search mine.

I step into the office. The windows are shuttered to block the dying light of a burnt out summer's day. A few well-placed beeswax candles are burning to bathe the room in peach-coloured lowlights, probably echoing the colour of the sky outside. The food is spread out neatly on the floor. Some music is playing from B's computer. Scents of food and flame mingle. "Wow," I say, genuinely impressed. "Good job B."

"Thank you, Mr Ali."

"Though I'm hardly dressed for the occasion."

"It's not like you to worry about that. You're always wearing almost nothing."

"I'm not that bad. Having one of your assistants step in to see me in a towel is hardly appropriate, though."

"There's that gentlemanly part of you coming out. It's okay, I let them go early to let you jump in the shower in peace."

I look shocked. "Is hard task master B, who keeps the poor girls in until eight in the evening, going soft? Tell me it's not true."

"Oh shush. They get paid for it, and being paralegals isn't meant to be a holiday mister." She walks over to her desk and grabs a bottle of what looks like red wine.

"Wine? I do feel spoilt. Is that red?"

"More than that. It's our red. I keep a bottle around for special occasions."

"B you are so well prepared!"

"It may just be Italian plonk, but it's our favourite, remember?"

I nod my head. There is a particular brand of table wine that B and I used to drink when we first met. It has no name or history to recommend it taste-wise, except the many days and sunsets it has shared with us since then.

"Bloody hell, look at you!" She reaches over and starts to pinch and prod at my naked waist.

I start to protest with a laugh, and push her fingers away. "Hey, just what in goodness are you doing? Looking for desk bruises from our dancing days?"

"It's been well over a year since we were at the beach together. I've just noticed how much weight you've lost! About 15 kg?"

"I don't know, I don't check my weight."

"My God your ribs are sticking out. Are you overdoing the exercises?"

"They are abs B."

She snorts. "Right, on a chicken maybe." She drags me to the feast she has prepared and sits me down. "Eat boy. You need fattening!"

"Why? You have some sort of slaughter in mind?"

The command rumbles from high. "Eat!"

No extra persuasion is necessary. I grab a fork and dive in. "Aren't you going to join me?"

B walks over to her computer. "I know how you eat even though you're so thin now. There's just about enough for you there."

I lick my lips. "I'll order some more. Come over here and keep me company Missy."

"I'm just going to log off from the Net, and grab a couple of glasses for the wine."

I swallow a piece of tender chicken. "Surfing for...?"

"Nothing in particular. I was reading about those idiots on that reality TV show in England. God are there no men left over there? I thought one of them was a hunk until he started wearing pink sunglasses and pink scarves and styling everyone's hair. And he's meant to be straight! Yeah right! I'd never see you in pink."

"That's because pink gives me a headache, it's my least favourite colour you know that. Don't be stereotypical. A man can do all that and still be a man."

"Why don't you do that, then?"

"Well, I don't do it for some silly notion of masculinity. It's just my taste. I can't help not liking pink or lacking an urge to dress up or do my hair. I just think other stuff is more important with all that's going in the world. Doesn't mean men shouldn't do that."

"Men are becoming emasculated. The thing I like about you is you're just laid back. Though sometimes you could try wearing something different than your army t-shirt."

"Hey, that's from my army days!" I prod the air with my fork. "And not laid back, just natural. Just don't stick me in that machismo nonsense that treats women like objects. That would offend me. But I have aesthetic tastes, too, y'know. I appreciate beauty."

"Appreciating beauty and being a beauty queen are two different things! And have you ever wondered why so many girls in Cyprus want to get in your pants? I mean you're no David Beckham."

"Thank goodness... What, just in Cyprus?" I try to joke. I want to change a subject that is embarrassing me, and B knows it.

"Oh shush and eat you," she pushes on. "Because you're a man who's not into himself. No earrings, no hairspray, no designer clothes, but you're also not a male pig."

"You speak as though you've never seen me eat."

"Oh be quiet. I'm being serious."

"Look, can we not argue, and just eat? Besides why on earth are you following Big Brother for?"

"It's your fault, well indirectly."

"What did I do?"

"Mark wrote something about it on your blog and now I'm hooked." Her voice turns thoughtful. "You know I've just remembered something I wanted to tell you. I was checking through your blog's archives the other day and discovered a post about a gay poet and love."

I know which post she means, as there is only one that fits the description. "Don't tell me a poet's sexual preference means he can't have insights into love that you can connect with."

"No. Your post made me realise the opposite. I guess love is love whichever way you swing it."

"Missed opportunities in love is a universal thing," I agree, reaching over to pick food from her untouched plate. When B doesn't reply, I look up to see her stand and give me a look that I can only half decipher.

B says suddenly, "It made me realise once again that as much as I know about you, there's so much I don't know, too." She makes a move for wine glasses stored in a cabinet next to her bookcase.

"But B, that's the fun of it." I munch on a bread stick lightly decorated with sesame seed, misappropriated from her plate. "We spend whole lifetimes getting to know other people, but we never really do. The fun is the process."

Now she gives me the look. "Well, I want to process right now!"

"What do you you have in mind? Something like ten questions?"

"Exactly like that. Truth or dare!"

"OK. Some ground rules though. They have to be interesting or else I won't answer and no smut."

B laughs, walking over with two wine glasses and the bottle. "You'll answer what I ask buddy, and the whole truth and nothing but!"

Trying to forestall the inevitable is like trying to forget an illicit pleasure. Neither has much strength of conviction. B sits beside me knowing the game has already begun, and motions to pour the wine.

Suddenly, from computer speakers, Amy Winehouse begins to whisperingly sing Love is a Losing Game in the background, and I start to wonder just exactly what it is I'm getting myself into.

Main Index | Part one | Part two | End of part three | Part four

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