It had been months now since May Linh and Lily came to live with old Mr. Me, after agreeing to a contract that stated that they’d live in the nude around me and be fondled here or there. In the house by the beach, in this southeastern Asian country, the three of us had found a nice way to live together, bound not only by money but by some kind of dear affection and deep understanding.
In the garden, with hard work, May Linh and Lily had gained a lot of land over the jungle. Getting up early, I saw how Lily would get her tool belt and May Ling her gardening gear and they’d get to work.
May Linh was gardening, vegetables and flowers, and most of the flowers we had now in the house came from the garden, same with the vegetables. Under their apron, they were both nude, save for the gloves and rubber boots and those hats – conical for May Linh, Chicago Bulls cap for Lily – that thrilled me so much somehow. Lily was building things and again I wished I could have been a painter.
Looking at them from the porch, having coffee, I often could see a painting by Gauguin or, on a dark day, imagine what Caravaggio would have done with what I was looking at. I often felt that I was IN the painting and this was real. Christ! They were beautiful, at least to my eyes, and, in a few minutes, I’d be going for a long swim out at sea and they’d be waiting for me to come back before diving for shellfish.
In fact, I realized later what Lily had started to build. First she built a chicken coop, a rather big one. And, sure enough, they started to bring animals in there, chickens at first and, soon, we were having our own eggs. They later brought some little birds, kind of quails I presume, and we would eat those as they reproduced quickly in the vast cage Lily had built for them.
Then one day they brought a piglet, a dark one like I had seen many in this part of the world. And this one was set free, almost, to rummage through the jungle. I told them, when I saw it, that they couldn’t count on me to slaughter it. They laughed. “Of course not” May Linh said. They would do the killing then. I even worried they’d bring a buffalo or a cow or something but no, no buffalo.
But this piglet was soon like a pet, it would even swim! Even if I wasn’t the one to kill it I didn’t know after a while if I’d have the heart to eat it. Then again I was eating the quails and chicken with no second thoughts so I figured that I’d eat the piglet if its time ever comes. Anyway we didn’t eat a lot of meat, just lots of greens from the garden and lots of shellfish, and eggs, with either rice or noodles that were now being delivered with the beer, the wine and laundry. We were now living in almost total autarky, needing nothing from anyone, hardly seeing anyone else, simply happy with each other’s presence.
Maybe that’s why, as part of the balance, every three weeks or so, May Linh and Lily needed to get away for 6, 7 or 8 days; thus they could have a social life I guess. Their absence would also get me out of the house, if only to go shoot the breeze with Carter at the resort and, sometimes, with some tourists that were not complete morons. I even met some French tourists at the Lemon Tree!
I remember when I told Carter about the animals but he already knew. Fact is, but like usual I was the last one to understand it, May Linh and Lily had become through time good friends with Carter’s wife. I guess sharing the life of a white occidental foreigner in a little village created ties among the three of them. I had no idea what May Linh and Lily had told Carter’s wife, I didn’t even know her name, but the fact is that Carter never brought the subject of what they were doing at my home anymore.
But, I remember, that one day, he had something to say about the animals.
“Yeah,” he said, “it is only logical that they brought animals to your place.”
I thought he was talking about the value of farming, of bio food or stuff like that. But that’s not what he had in mind.
“Heard about Genesis?” he asked.
“The band?” I asked.
“No, the bible” he said.
We were playing backgammon and I was winning most of the games with my dices named May Linh and Lily. I suddenly understood why I was winning all the time, I could name both of my dices and that helped because it gave the dices a soul, players will confirm that. But Carter could name only one of his dices, so he had only half the spirited help that I had. Anyway, what was his point?
“The bible?” I asked. “You know I don’t care much for religion, any religion.”
“I know” he said, “but you heard about the genesis in the bible?”
“Yes of course but vaguely,” I said, “why?”
“Well, in the bible, the genesis describes the beginning of the world. First there’s the light, then I think comes the water, then maybe the oxygen – I’m not a specialist myself either – then I think come the plants and then come the animals.”
And I got it. I had the sun, the sea, the jungle, in all it was only logical animals were to show up. But I thought they were already there. What of the bugs and snakes and shellfish?
“What came after the animals?” I asked.
“Humanity! Adam first – the son of earth literally – then Eve,” Carter said.
“Then what?” I asked.
“Then god rested the seventh day and that’s how we end up here today and why you’re now the proud owner of a small paradise,” he said laughing. “Without the animals, it wouldn’t have been complete.”
I had never seen it through that angle and didn’t like the idea too much. This was not paradise, it was something I had imagined then created on my own because I got lucky with the aliens and May Linh and Lily were women of their own mind and old Mr. Me too, and neither of us was some sort of god’s creature, and the beach was real and the ocean and the jungle were real and, in the vastness of the universe, there was no more need for god than there was for paradise or hell; there was just the ability to make the most of each day with what you are given when you wake up.
Yes May Linh had her altar but, for some reason, I was pretty sure the god(s) she prayed to was not some almighty vengeful asshole.
“Well,” I said answering Carter, “if I understand correctly, before god brought temptation to them, as far as I know, Adam and Eve were doing fine, no clothes, no morals, they were just blissful until some power that be fucked up their paradise.”
“Yeah I guess,” Carter said. “So, isn’t it paradise here?” He was smiling.
“Yeah I guess,” I said.
“Therefore the animals!”
“Therefore the animals,” I conceded.
And he won a game, finally.
“Wait,” he said. “My Belgium friends sent me a few bottles of a new beer that she likes, let’s try it now.”
“OK,” I said, never the last one for a cold beer.
“It’s call Waardamse Tripel – god they have those names in Belgium, and we laughed -, it’s a blonde triple brewed with only pilsner malt and three types of hops. It got a prize at the Bruges Beer Festival this year.”
It was a good beer indeed but he could give me only one.
I understood how he was doing with the beer. On his drinks’ menu, he had all the usual beers, including a bunch of beers on tap, including Foster of course since Carter was an Aussie. But he also had written “Special Beers – 100 coppers”. 100 coppers was an outrageous price for a beer so the tourist would always ask about it; how could any beer be that expensive in such a place?
But Carter was getting beer from friends from all over the world and, knowing where his clients were from, he could always bring out of his cave a few bottles or cans of beer that were just fit for those clients, I mean just for them, sometimes from their very hometown, it was eerie. And Carter would only have four or six bottles left – he never had a lot of those special brews – so, of course, his clients, under the charm of the coincidence, would drink all 4 or 6 of them, at full outrageous price.
Yes Carter would pay for transportation from where ever the brew was coming from but he was having a lot of fun and making a very good profit. Imagine you’re from Bruges, Belgium, and you go in vacation on the other side of the world and the bartender brings you 4 bottles, and 4 only, of the winner of the Bruges beer festival? That’s one incredible talent Carter had.
Anyway, paradise or not, time went by very fast really and, in a blink, May Linh, Lily and I had been living together for about two years now – a bit more than two years since this was the dry season again – and we felt strong and secure and relax and at peace in the balanced autarkic universe the three of us had created. Nothing could happen to us.
One evening, I got a call.
“Hi, this is Mrs. Wan.”
“Mrs. Wan? Hi, how are you?”
“Fine, fine. Mr. You, listen. Tomorrow, 3:45pm train, you’ve got to pick up …….. …”
“What did you say?” I asked. She had a thick accent. “Can you tell me that again?”
“Tomorrow, 3:45pm train, you got to pick up a girl, you’ll recognize her,” she articulated.
“I do what?” I said, flabbergasted.
“No charge, no charge,” she said and she hang up.
Previous episode: Adam on sacred grouds unearths the past with Lily
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Iconography: Pablo Picasso, Nude green leaves and bust (detail)