They’re coming for me. I see their brutish arms and wrist and ankle shackles. Their determination is reflected in the wavy blackness of the river at dusk. I see them in the nervous one-legged mango vendor who forgets my change and turns away. I see them in the silver coin that suddenly appears at my naked feet, and when I stoop to pick it up it’s gone.
They bring on the night sweats and the uncontrollable shivering, and the relentlessly brooding fear of the knock on the mahogany door in the room I take for the night. Only by the night, it can be no other way.
The pictures that fill my head come in black and whites, and reds and blues, only in these colors. Black and white and red and blue, the widening and growing and luminescent entryways into the paranoia I can no longer deny. Brought on as I knew it would happen by the addictions that have come to define my soul, my mind, whatever small essence of humanness I may still possess.
I am with Laa, one of a chosen few who can be trusted. She is the one with the innocent and beguiling smile, save only for the mischievous crack at one corner of her mouth that slyly and insistently begs for me to put her to sleep.
Laa opens the doors to my daily needs. She guides me along well-trodden smoky trails, always knowing where I need to be, how much I need and when, knowing little of all those things that I do not want her to know.
She reassures me each night that everything will be okay for another night. She reminds me of the kinds of rooms we get, where the windows are blanketed with iron slabs and rusty rebars and tight circles of razor wire.
She makes my bed, she folds my pillows, she shaves my head, she trims my lean beard, she calms and satisfies my every lustful urge. She prepares the pipes, and together we enter the familiar tunnels and pinched alleys where calm rules, and rules are unknown. And then we sleep, as one. She lies naked beside me, and on top of me, to possess and warm and protect me. She sleeps, not knowing dreams. I sleep fitfully, as much as the drug and my sated lust and love of a special kind allow. It is always a sleep that is brief and intermittent, and in which I am locked in a cell. The cell is small, it is large, it is familiar, it is fetid and cold, it shrinks, and then I cannot see myself.
We are together as we must be, now in a hotel room of no distinction. Another name to be forgotten by noon, each hotel and each room different than the one we had the day before this day, and the day before that day. It was not like this in the beginning. Impermanence has become necessary, a ticket to another day of enfeebling freedom.
They’re coming, I whisper in her ear. She is motionless, and then confused. I fruitlessly try to explain, as I have before, but always without details and specifics. There can be none, details and specifics. That would be another layer of difficulties, too many of them. Too much vulnerability.
We have been here for hours this day, or longer. I am never quite sure of time. Never really knowing, never caring that much, my mind always stuck in some timeless space. How long have I known that I have only what I am of the moment? That I am no more than the moment.
I am moving only my eyes now, just enough to follow the black lizard with iridescent lime-green spots that is hugging the crease of the tan ceiling, the crease and the color and the ceiling that will soon disappear. The lizard, this friend of mine, long a friend of mine, skips along a cord that disappears into an overhead fan. From a blade that is yet to be put in motion she drops onto my hairless stomach and stares. She does not move, and I feel a hardness taking hold. She does this to me to tell me what others cannot say, cannot know with such clarity.
She is beside me now, her head on my shoulder, a leg straddling my groin and thighs. She is holding me tight and close with one lovely arm. We are in a two-story hotel. The hotel, that I dare not name, is less than a block from the river, in a country where to sleep with a native woman if a foreigner and not married to her is a crime against the state. It is, in a book I know well and continue to write, the most trivial of my crimes. It can disappear with the smallest of bribes.
You have engaged in another wrong.
I was unable to control myself.
It should not have been so hard to avoid.
I did not want to avoid it.
You never want to avoid such problems.
No man could with such temptations.
You have become a highway of excuses.
She allows it. Others make it possible, and irresistible.
She allows whatever you desire. You have no discipline.
I can no longer help myself.
You are ruled by your desires.
There is a knock on the door. I pretend not to hear it. It is only, after all, another dream. It a dream in which the drenching sweat is about to begin, as it always does. It will creep and then run like a broken river down my cheeks and bring fire to my lips. Then I will know that I am not dreaming.
I look at my watch in the tiny stream of light that shines through the coils of twisted razor wire. It is 3 a.m. It is the worst, the most frightening, time of the night.
I want to conclude that it is the help that has come to change the linens and clean the room, and remove the ashes, the stains of her blood from the sheets. Our madness, our excesses.
It cannot be the help. It is not a dream, I know. I know because of the feel of Laa’s delicate fingers stroking my cheek, my toes rubbing the thin sheet.
They have come for you, she squeaks, and then smacks her lips. She is so small, she is so proud. She ignores my erection.
I know they have come, I say.
Your wayward habits have caught up with you.
This is the wrong time to tell me.
It is the best time to tell you.
Go away. Leave me alone.
I am your friend.
You have become good at denying the truth.
Must you remind me?
Friends are corrections. It is you who told me this truth, do you not remember?
I open my eyes and stare at Laa. She is so beautiful and so perfect and so young, and so unlike me. Her bright and unblemished face is inches from mine, her long and black and unwieldy hair is in my mouth. It is silky and sweet, and I know it well. She is asleep. She breathes effortlessly, so happy in her innocence and devotion. She will be there when they have come for the last time.
What shall I do? I ask the lizard. My muse.
She is hiding behind my begging erection. Laa is asleep and she will soon wake, and then my little iridescent friend will be gone, for awhile. She will be gone until I need her again.