In the days following I didn’t see Ricky at all. He was away Ramirez told me, on business. So I didn’t work per say. Instead I got acquainted with the trappings of my new abode. Like the kitchen in all its glorious antiquity with ‘60s modernist chairs and tables and cupboards with printed labels on them denoting the different sections for the girls: for Leya and Suzi and Abril, Felicita and Paola. The kitchen was the nucleus epicentre of Lola’s, where the girls would meet and talk about everything from politics to chlamydia. It was unnerving being there, with all that female energy. The girls would laugh when I came in and unloaded my shopping from the local supermarket – Mexican produce I would carry in those same 7/11 bags from San Antonio. They would all laugh except Paolo, who would smile.
I spent my days sweeping cigarette butts from the club, changing trashcan bags in the girls’ rooms – emptying them of the tied and used condoms, sanitary towels and tissue. In the evenings I would sit at the bar in the club and watch drunken gringos lose hand after hand at blackjack. Or win big and watch Leya and Suzi race to plant that first whisper in the high-roller’s ear, sowing the seeds of a profitable night. On Mondays the club would close and the girls would play poker and drink whiskey and smoke cigarettes and talk about what they were gonna do once they made enough money whoring. Lola would watch from a booth in the corner in darkness. On quiet nights we’d close early and pound tequila and sing glorious songs of revolution and Me’hico until Ramirez declared enough and we all called it a night. On the busy ones I’d sit up in bed and listen to the intoxicating call and response of midnight birds chirping, and the sound of boot heels coming and going from their bedrooms. It was all so perfect there in that dimly lit brothel in Mexico City. I thought I could stay forever.
At 4am one morning after a particularly busy Saturday, I heard a knock on my bedroom door. I asked who it was. It was Paola. I composed myself as quickly as I could and opened up. She was crying.
“I didn’t wake you did I?” She asked.
“No, of course not.”
She sat down on my bed and I sat next to her awkward, unsure whether to offer an arm or a tissue or glass of water. But she just put her head on my shoulder and sedately continued to cry so softly. I rested my head on hers.
I awoke in the morning with Paola gone and no evidence of her ever being there beyond an estranged purple sock lost at the bottom of my bed. I placed the artefact sacred in the drawer of my nightstand table and lit up a cigarette.
I spent the rest of my morning arranging my clothes and smoking cigarettes, and staring out into the street from my window. The Mexico City morning was grey and ghostly, haunted and sullen and overcast. In the street, a man in an ill-fitting black suit was walking his dog, letting it piss on the front of a convenience store. Spectres of people skulked around only half sober laughing so loudly and pissing so much. Hobos lay alone in doorways.
I thought about the Nurse in San Antonio and I started to miss her.
At midday there was another knock at my door. It was Ramirez. He told me to get dressed and that Ricky was coming and that I’d better be fucking ready when he got there. So I did.
Fifteen minutes later I heard a commotion downstairs in the club. It was Ricky barking at Lola about breakfast. Something about his eggs.
By the time I’d got a fresh suit on and got down the stairs Ricky was gone. I walked over to the booth in the corner of the club where Ramirez sat alone. He didn’t speak at first, just stared at me through squinted eyes and blew smoke all around slow and film noir.
“Where’d Ricky go?” I asked.
He didn’t immediately respond, took his time with his cigarette carefully ashing it into a triangular brown crystal ashtray on the table. “He don’t wanna see you today.” He said finally.
Ramirez carefully eyed me as he’d always carefully eyed me since the first day we met. A stare that reverberated disdain and distrust all at the same time. In the slightest arch of that deadly squint even the faultiest body-linguist could perceive his severe hatred of me. And I didn’t know why.
“So” I said, “what should I do today then?”
“Clean the fucking toilet.” He said and threw his cigarette down into the ashtray and walked off into the back.
So I did.
After completing all my custodian duties for the day and with no sign of Ricky yet, I decided to head out for a walk in the city. I’d been at Lola’s for little over a month by now and I’d still barely left the place.
The street Lola’s was situated on (the name of which I’ve omitted for legal reasons) was in the formidable Red Light District on the moral vestiges of Mexico City. It was a place where lived and thrived what the city mayor would call a certain element. It was a sewer economy of misery and mistrust and wretchedly broken souls. But then and there on that grey ashen morning of fog and mist the street was life-electric spastic with colour and drunken exuberance. I walked past bar after bar, some still open, others permanently closed, but with the patrons parked outside nonetheless. Gringos in business suits garbled incomprehensible about nothing and locals garbled more cogent about something, only slightly though. Intoxicated wretches sang songs in the spirit and cheer of carollers, calling out for pesos, beer, and cheap love. Dogs sniffed around drains and lovers did things in alleyways and I just walked along with my hands in my pockets, chipper and contented in my new surroundings.
I came up on a vacated laundrette derelict beyond the faded beige lavadoras. In the doorway of the phantom business lay a homeless man burrowed up in a sleeping bag of stained burgundy-brown. He had a sign as most homeless do, cardboard with black etchings in Spanish on front: (in Spanish) South of the Rio Grande, rivers flow not to the sea but to the sky, who in turn rains on places where destiny is manifest, and lonely.
I observed the words whose meanings were lost on me then and there in that temporal location. But they seemed to somehow sing out off the cardboard and into my eyes and around my brain for a bit. I sat down next to the homeless man bundled up in that doorway and as I did he didn’t move, not even a twitch. I watched the world from his perspective in full hobo-vision. I watched the world as he did: as a silent and ignored agent – as a sociologist with full anonymity in his findings, a critic of the ever oscillating ebb and flow of God’s hedonistic children.
I sat pondering tranquil with the hobo still unmoved when I heard a low and vibrating hum. A deep unshifting frequency kilohertz lower than human possibility. Just UMMMMMMM. It reverberated heavy all around me. The tone inexorable and unwavering, obstinate in its unrelenting fortitude. I paid it little notice for its vibrations were a comfort to me on that morning. But then it shifted – an octave higher and then ascended more and more and took flight into that of a melody as sweet as morning dew on ripened fresas. Swooping and diving beautiful, major then major, then minor, assonant then dissonant. A complex melody of virtuosic proportion. I soon recognised it as human hum resonating from the burgundy-brown sleeping bag of my doorway companion. I pulled the bag away from the hobos face, releasing him from obscurity. The humming man was dirty and bearded, his face stained and his hair dark. He paid me no attention and continued his music. The pitch of which began to ascend, higher and higher, falsetto and beyond until it passed again that of human capability. The ears of the stray dogs in area piqued, pricked up and they began to run around frantic until he descended back to audible and they were tame once again.
Finally he stopped his song and we sat silent.
“Give me a cigarette.” He said
I handed him one from my packet.
I lit his cigarette.
He sat hunched over and smoking. His hands were grubby and his long fingernails held a hue of tobacco stain and deposits of previous lunches. I asked him his name and he didn’t respond. I told him mine. “I’m Robert. Pleased to meet you.” I held out my hand for him to shake but he didn’t take it.
“I know you.” He said.
“Yes. And you know I know you. But you don’t know who I am.”
“No sir, I don’t.”
“Hmph.” He drew a long toke from his cigarette and blew the smoke out of his nose for what seemed like forever. “Did you read my sign?” He asked.
“Yeah I did.”
“I didn’t really understand it.”
“I didn’t expect you would. Where are you going, man? Are you lost?” He asked me.
“No. I’m comfortable where I am.”
“Fool’s response.” He said and flicked away the cigarette.
I observed him a moment. He had no provisions like the usual hobos do. Just his sleeping bag and sign.
“Is there somewhere I’m supposed to be?” I asked him.
“Well, yes. But only you and I know where that is.” He said and now staring deep into my eyes. “I’ve been in this doorway for ten thousand years but I am complete here. You are not.”
“I don’t believe in destiny. As if time were some linear series of events waiting for me to occupy their each scene.”
“And so you shouldn’t believe.” he said.
He grasped my suit sleeve and dug his long nails hard into my arm. “I know you.” He said again, his gaze still entrenched in mine, exploring the dimensions of my soul. “I know you.” His eyelids widened, his face harrowing and ghost-like. “I know you.” He repeated. His eyes grew and grew, and glazed over black and dark matter, huge and impossible and bug like. His tongue snaked from his mouth long and coiling out, growing and moving closer to my face. He started to speak though his mouth didn’t move, and his voice was an echo in my head, I think. He said words in succession, not succinct sentences but a list of words in a foreign tongue. Tocayotia (he gives it a name, he baptizes it) was the first; hueyiyaz (he is going to grow); then namictic (you got married); he dug his nails in harder and pierced the fabric of my jacket. mihcatzintli (dead person). And with the final word he let go and went back to his slouching in the corner of the doorway.
“What does it mean?” I asked him.
“Got a light?” he responded.