I had a message from May Linh. The message said: “Mr. You, I’ll be arriving Sunday with the 3:45 pm train.” Sweet Jesus! I didn’t know old Mr. Me’s heart could still be jumping like that. I listened to it several time just to hear her voice. May Linh had transformed my life since day one I met with her, in the capital of this southeastern Asian country.
After agreeing to my peculiar contract, which stated she had to live in the nude with me, May Linh had moved in, a month ago, into my secluded house by the beach and we had learned to live together. But she was gone for a week, having taken all of her days off at once. And yes, I couldn’t wait to see her again, literally. So much for my plan to escape heartaches and headaches…
I got her message coming back from the village. Indeed I had to deal by myself with a bit of stuff around the house since May Linh wasn’t here. So I took the motorbike and made sure I had a refill of everything, beer mostly. Then it occurred to me that whenever these guys at the store would see me it was mostly to order beer. What in hell were they thinking of me? At least May Linh ordered water too, and the white wine that she likes. So I ordered water too, and the white wine that she likes.
Right off, just as I was about to leave the house, I was pissed off when I found out the bike wouldn’t start to begin with, that because I had forgotten to plug it in. So I had to wait for 45 mn and I thought that would have never happened if May Linh had been here. Anyway, I didn’t go to the market. I wasn’t going to buy fish and meat and vegetables I wouldn’t know how to cook it. Indeed, the one week May Linh was gone, I didn’t eat much, and only canned food that tasted good at first, at first. So I ordered beer, water and wine to be delivered to the house, bought flowers and went back home.
“Mr. You, I’ll be arriving Sunday with the 3:45 pm train.”
That led for me to existential questions. What was I, for example, going to do about the bed sheets? She had changed them few days before leaving. If I changed them now, like I did the first time just before she arrived, wouldn’t May Linh maybe think that I changed the sheets because I saw someone else while she was away? And would that matter? We hadn’t sworn to be faithful to each other’s in any way and the contract said nothing on that matter. So I could have seen someone while she was gone.
I know for sure that she knows for sure how cheap a whore, or a goat if that’s what’s to your liking, can be had in this southeastern Asian country riffed with poverty. So it was possible. And, indeed, she could worry: why bother with contracts and fairness when old Mr. Me, after all, could get any piece of ass he wanted at a cheap price? And at his own place. After all, May Linh was only an employee here. Then it would make sense that I change the sheets before her arrival. Obviously old Mr. Me hadn’t seen anyone while she was gone, other than Carter of course. But I still had to give serious thoughts about whether to change the bed sheets or not. It seemed important to me.
If I didn’t change them, she could think that I am an inconsiderate slob. I could try to explain that I kept the sheets for as long as I could just to keep traces of her scent. Well, really, there’s some truth to that because I’ve been sleeping these past days where she used to sleep, where she laid her head, in the middle of this big bed where she favored her left side, hoping always to find enough of her that the bed wouldn’t feel completely cold. And that’s why I could keep the sheets: I could explain.
So, as May Linh is coming back, should I change the sheets? At the end I figured I should. So I went again in the process of cleaning the house, checking with the cleaner – “Oh Mr. You, nice to see you again! Where is May Linh?” – and having the chance for once to lay the flowers in the way I thought appropriate, at least according to what that nice florist I had met in the capital, even before ever hearing of May Linh, had said.
Once I was done, including all cans of beer put away in the garbage and every ashtray emptied and washed, you couldn’t tell old Mr. Me had been lazing here for a week and I was kind of proud of myself. It made me think of my departed mother. I thought she would be proud on how I could keep my own house clean by myself. Indeed, there wasn’t in here any old picture of faraway times taking the dust. Memorabilia is the hardest thing to clean, the hardest thing to get rid of. Well now, there was no reminiscence of what was gone, other than May Linh’s altar. The house was clean, uncluttered, and seemed new again and pure again. And there were the ocean and the jungle and the beach and I was kind of happy to be living in such a place and kind of proud of how it looked now, everything in place and neat and so lost in the middle of nowhere.
“Animals never shit in their own place,” my mother used to tell me. Well, human beings have invented indoor toilets, and they now often shit real close to where they eat or cook, which is how it really goes in nature when you think about it.
But I got my mother’s point: where ever I lived, and especially where a woman also lived, and kids even more, my place wasn’t going to be a pig sty. That’s why I didn’t need a maid. I was born poor enough that I could clean my house myself, and probably do a better job than most, and I could wipe my own ass. So May Linh was going to come back to a clean place: I changed the sheets.
Another thing had to do with her garden. I went there again and I saw how, in just a week, with the hot and humid climate, the jungle was already taking over. It made me think that, once I’m dead, if someone doesn’t come after me to take care of this weird shotgun house, the jungle would just swallow it up in no time. I could see it in the garden. And I realized I was wearing tongs and remembered that May Linh had warned me about snakes so I got out of there and I figured she’d deal with the garden when she comes back. After all, she has her own rubber boots, I don’t. At least I could tell that this garden didn’t lack water and that’s all she had asked me to pay attention to.
I dusted her piano. So I looked at her music sheets. Chopin, Brahms, Mozart, Bach, Liszt… I was intimidated. And I put everything back the way it was. I played few keys on the piano but I’m no musician and that too intimidated me, the way it sounded in the house reminding me with irony that I’m a man with no artistic talent whatsoever.
I hesitated but I replaced the flowers on her altar though. I had noticed she only had white flowers there so I had gotten some Lilies of the valley for that purpose. Once that was done, I thought they looked good and in my heart I hoped she’d notice and I sent a silent thank-you-note to her father looking at me from the picture. I also changed the shrine’s candles and put new ones in there but I didn’t light them up. I figured she would, and that it was not for me, a miscreant, to light them up. I could set up new candles but I didn’t want to offend her.
Believe me, that Saturday night, when I had the house all nice and sharp, and I was having a beer and a French joint on my porch, I was kind of proud of myself to have had such a good idea, with aliens’ money, to come in this part of the planet and to be here now. I could look at the ocean, I could hear the infernal ruckus of the bugs owning the jungle, and I felt I could decipher the shapes of clouds passing in front of the new moon and I could see in the sky millions of stars and behind them the vastness of the universe.
And I thought ‘It ain’t over until the fat lady sings’ and I couldn’t hear no fat lady singing and I laughed aloud, somehow happy to be by myself in that instant. What I knew for sure was that tomorrow I was going to the train station to pick up May Linh. And I thought I’m old but I’m happy. In all sincerity, I didn’t know exactly what was happening and how the next days or weeks would play out but I felt something nice was going on and, for once, I was confident. At least I knew that this was it, I didn’t have to go anywhere anymore and I, at last, had found my home.
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