Chapter one pdf
Arriving in Mexico
I only go and get my cursed gut rot the day I'm flying to Mexico, don't I. There’s a plane ride ahead, and a week sharing a hostel dorm. Enclosed air spaces—eek! I can’t even let one out in a public place when I’m in this state. Well, not a place I’m staying in, at least—one I’m passing through, perhaps. No, certainly: there’s a slightly sadistic relish in that, is there not? I'm toxic when it's like this, really. There’s some bad bacteria in my gut that seem to multiply every few weeks like an algal bloom. Had it for years. I’ll be fine, then all of a sudden, boosh: I’m the personification of the Bog of Eternal Stench. Girls, form a queue.
There's this pinch-eyed ‘ARMY’-cap-wearing guy behind me in the check-in queue. On his luggage trolley sits a rifle case (presumably with death-dealing object inside), two big plastic boxes secured with gaffer tape (ammo?), and a copy of Military Surplus magazine, which he keeps picking up, leafing through, and putting down again. I presume he’s American, and visited Canada with the sole purpose of shooting some of its magnificent wildlife. What a pea-brained idiot, I think. A guy that gets off on shooting things. What a dick. Probably creams his pants every time he gets a moose in his cross-hairs (perhaps only one box contained ammo, and the other, fresh underwear). His squinty eyes are too close together—always the sign of a dimwit. Or an inbred. George-Bush-junior type eyes. Perhaps I should hang back a little and launch an air strike of my own at him, from the silos of my gut. But before I get the chance, I’m waved to a counter.
I manage to check in with no problems, despite my thinking something might go wrong, like… well, I’ve no idea what. My booking not being in their system? I’ve turned up on the wrong day? My work visa will be annulled if I leave the country? (It wouldn’t; I already checked.) I cringe when I notice that with age, I’m getting more like my mother—that is, negative and anxious for no good reason.
I’d cut sugar out of my diet a few months earlier, in an attempt to alleviate the gut issue. Processed sugar, at least. It was obviously feeding the problem (all organic life eats sugar in one form or another). The pain of denying myself sugary things (could one live without carrot cake?) finally became less than the pain of allowing myself (the ensuing gut rot). I’ve no idea what provoked the colon critters this time, however. I still drink alcohol, and that contains plenty of sugar. Did I drink much last night? Can't remember. Probably did, then.
Whatever it was, the critters had been feasting, and I’m dealing with the aftermath of their merrymaking. Every now and then they throw a party like this, and I’m left cleaning up the mess and airing the house. And when they’re not stinking me out, they seem to be zapping my energy, like tiny vampires. Tired or stinky… not much to offer a girl. But it’s not like that all the time. I do have a tendency to wallow in self-pity and find all sorts of excuses for being single. Perhaps being the occasional ‘smelly pants’ (something an ex affectionately called me from time to time) is just another one.
My flight’s at 5:45am, so I'm pretty tired, having woken up much earlier than that. I lie down on the chairs in the departure lounge by my gate, but both the worry of falling asleep and missing my flight, and the need to fart unfettered, soon have me up on my feet again. I wander around the terminal like a zombie—smelling a bit like the rotting flesh of one, no doubt—and then head to the toilet. There I sit in a somnolent daze for a good thirty minutes, massaging my gut and entreating it to settle, or at least allow me to expel whatever gremlin is in there. But nothing much happens, apart from almost falling asleep on the loo.
In sheer numbers, the mammalian colon harbours one of the densest microbial communities found on Earth. Really, we’re all super organisms: 10% human, 90% microbes! The first person plural should be adopted by all of us. This colonisation of bacteria, good and bad, can weigh up to three pounds in a person. Amazing. Thank you, Google, for that fine fact. Or was it a TED talk? Or Wiki? (Where else does one go for insight these days, if not those three digital orifices of wisdom?)
Anyway, in the fight between good and bad in my gut, the bad is clearly winning. George, forget building a set for the next Stars Wars movie: just stick a camera up my rectum and click Record. Putting thoughts of royalties aside, however, I’d love to know how to cleanse my temple of these sinners. Believe me, I’ve tried a few things. Cutting out wheat. Various herbs. Colonics (they actually made it worse). Nothing seems to work—not for long, at least. The best temporary fix I’ve found is drinking bentonite clay with Psyillium husks. ‘Highly fibrous and coagulating’, the packet says. Slimy and rank (to drink), I say. But it does make for very satisfying number twos. Avoiding sugar is just my latest strategy against the bad guys. They’re a stubborn bunch, though, and I’m not prepared to consume just cabbage leaves and bone broth for six months (or follow one of the equally extreme ‘remedies’ out there to cure gut candida, the existence of which is doubted by some doctors). Not yet, at least. Maybe when I meet the girl of my dreams and need to ‘clean up my act’. Who knows.
My seat on the plane is by the window. Not ideal—I like to be able to get out easily, and often, especially on tempestuous gut-spuming days like this. I buckle up and tell the lady next to me I may need to get out at some point. “What, now?" she asks. "No, later,” I say, to which she's probably like, yeah, obviously. What I really meant was, I may need to get out a few times if I am to save you from asphyxiation.
I put on my eye mask, squeeze in my ear plugs, and blow up my inflatable neck rest, enjoying the challenge of trying to stopper the thing blindfolded (I seem to like making things difficult for myself). I actually manage to sleep for a good part of the four-hour journey, and miraculously, my gut seems to behave itself. I do sneak out a few farticles in the latter part of the journey, apprehensively sniffing the air each time for incriminating evidence, but luckily can't smell anything. They’re innocuous; I’m spared embarrassment (or having to perform the dubious who-is-responsible-for-that-abomination: it’s-certainly-not-me looking about me face).
It could be that they spray a powerful deodoriser through the aircon. There’s definitely something they put in there that clears my sinuses nicely and puts me in a kind of daze. Or perhaps it’s just that air blows at such a gale from the air vents that any offending smell, even my olfactory coup d’états (as the French might say), farts striking like a coup de foudre, are rapidly quelled. I guess it’s either that or a coup de grâce for all passengers (I got caught in a ‘coup de’ whirlpool there. My apologies. Blame Merriam Webster dot com).
I only remove the eye mask and ear plugs as we're making our final descent, when we're asked to put our seat-backs in their upright position. That’s always a bit like being asked to tidy up by the teacher at the end of a particularly fun lesson at infant school. I'm amazed how suddenly my gut can change. Had I been at home, I knew—from how it had started that morning and from the specific grade of pungency—that I'd have it for days, having to cut all social ties, lock myself away in my apartment, and watch the wallpaper slowly sour in colour. How could it suddenly stop like that? If it was psychological, it was truly bizarre. I’m just grateful my gut was being kind on this occasion.
Flying into a paradise helps take my mind off it. It’s so pretty down below. Turquoise ocean caressing a meandering coastline of broiled oranges, golds, and browns, then picturesque hills, and… mountains! For some reason, I hadn’t expected to see any in this part of Mexico. I thought it would be all flat and desert-like. But there they are, brazen and majestic, now taking up much of the view in my little cabin window.
I notice an immigration form tucked into the seat pocket in front of me, put there whilst I was snoozing. I ask to borrow a pen from the lady next to me, and we chat a little as I fill it out—not as diligently as if I had been flying into the USA or Canada, mind. They take ‘security’ a little too seriously for my liking there (due to fabricated threats aimed at keeping the masses in a perpetual state of fear? So some shadowy elite can manipulate them, start wars, and pass laws they wouldn’t normally get away with passing? Surely I’m not suggesting this. Anyway, I expected the immigration card wouldn’t receive much more than a fleeting glance in Mexico.)
My seatmate and her husband had been coming to Cabo for “over twenty years”, usually staying for a month at a time. They had a condo there, “Two, in fact”—how forgetful of her: they’d just bought a bigger one.
“My husband even has a Huvur,” she tells me.
"Oh, really,” I say enthusiastically, clueless as to what a Huvur is. Surely she can’t be talking about some snazzy vacuum cleaner? I allow the cogs to turn a few times, but, still drawing a blank, ask for clarification (well, you’d rather I ask than pretend, right?).
“It's a dune buggy,” she informs me. A brand of. Ah, the good life some people have, I think, looking back at the Mexican version of Palm Beach below us, plush homes gradually getting bigger, as if I’m clicking ‘zoom’ on GoogleEarth on my iPad’esque cabin window. A whole month!
We’re the first plane to land that morning. Immigration check is indeed casual and swift (“Buenos Dias” + smile + stamp). Once I’ve collected my luggage—an old green khaki rucksack that had belonged to my Grandfather—I come to a security point, flanked by two armed men, where a sign and a nod prompts me to press an unmarked red button. I wait for a trap door to open, or green gunk to pour on my head, or to have a machine gun pointed at me, but nothing happens. I’m simply told to carry on. Noticing a luggage X-ray machine, I realise it’s a kind of lottery—either they let you through, or you get your bags scanned and even searched. Who would be stupid enough to bring drugs into Mexico? Surely the profit is in getting them out of the country?
I proceed through a sluggish set of automatic doors and find several taxi drivers waiting (plus a host of timeshare sales counters the airline staff had kindly advised we avoid at all costs). The drivers eye me as I approach, but none of them asks if I need a ride. I do notice them asking the chap just behind me, though. Maybe it’s my rucksack (it has seen better days) as opposed to the smart silver suitcase purring at his heal. My sandals versus his black leather shoes? Who knows. Maybe I have the air of a seasoned traveller who isn’t about to get hustled on a cab fare. Or maybe I just had an air, green and putrid. The curse of gut rot.
Hola Mexico! Can you imagine how nice it is to step into warmth and sunshine after leaving a dark and -20°C cold Calgary (the most desolate place on Earth)? Yes, I’d ended up moving there after all. Telling myself writing would get me through it. And writing I was, every morning getting up at the crack of dawn.
My destination is the town of Cabo San Lucas, and I know I’ll find a bus to get me there from a bus terminal near the airport. I’ll be staying in Cabo one night, and returning to the airport the following day to meet three fellow kitesurfers I’d connected with online. We’d arranged to share a taxi van to the kiting resort two hours north.
I spot a Mexican lady wearing a white ‘Enterprise’ car rental shirt, and ask her if she knows where the bus terminal is. She’s standing, one hand on a suitcase, next to a guy who’d obviously arrived on the same flight as I. She points vaguely behind and to the right of her.
“Puedo caminar allá (can I walk there)?” I ask. Her expression and the slight rocking motion of her head says “so so” (“mas o menos” in Spanish). I assume Mexicans aren’t dissimilar to their North American counterparts in that they like to drive everywhere, and probably aren’t aware we Brits like to walk places almost as much as we like to queue. I bounce my rucksack up onto my back, tighten the shoulder straps, and am just about to get going when she says, “un momento,” and then in English: “I’ll get you a lift.”
“Gratis (for free)?” I ask. I'm not about to get hustled here.
“Solo propina (just a tip),” she says. I realise, however, I don't even have money for a tip; just a wad of $100 dollar bills I picked up from a currency-exchange kiosk in Canada. I tell her this, though not knowing the word for 'bill' or 'note', I draw that part in the air between us with one finger.
She waves dismissively, says, “No problem,” and wanders off. I start chatting with the guy. I assume he’s Canadian by his accent, but discover’s he’s originally from near Manchester. He’s been in Calgary for 18 years, working for TransCanada (oil pipelines). Lots of people work in oil and gas in Calgary. North of Alberta is tar-sands,-let’s-destroy-the-planet central. Another reason I hated the place.
I, of course, comment on the weather (we’re British: it’s tradition), specifically on how nice it is after freezing Calgary. He agrees, but says some Mexicans wear jumpers and think it cold at this time of year, to which I raise an incredulous eyebrow or two. It seems perfect to me. I can’t imagine anyone thinking it cold. (I hadn’t experienced a night there yet, though; the thick winter coat that I’d dismissively stuffed to the bottom of my bag at Calgary Airport could certainly be making a reappearance.)
The lady arrives back with a Mexican guy, who gestures to me to follow him. He’s also wearing an Enterprise T-shirt. I’m quick to tell him I have no money, but he just shrugs. He probably thinks I'm the one hustling, providing an excuse for what will turn out to be only a small tip. He opens the back of his van and indicates I should put my bag in. Now what? Is he going to drive off with my bags and leave me here?
Why are you even thinking that, Dom? He’s doing you a favour.
And he is, albeit holding out for a tip. I’m a tad paranoid, that’s all. I can’t blame that on my mother. It’s that Six thing. According to the Enneagram-literate ex-housemate, one of my biggest fears is people are out to get me. That, or I’ve smoked too much pot.
He closes the boot, points at the airport terminal, and says something in Spanish. Ah great, now he wants me to go and get some cash. Not happening, mate. I’ll be in there getting cash and you’ll drive off. I just stand there, by what I assume is the passenger door, waiting for him to get in his side and drive. “Lado, lado,” he says, pointing again. Forget it, man, I told you: I have no money. “No, no,” I say, mirroring whatever he’d just said.
Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten some basic Spanish, or am just having trouble understanding his accent. ‘Lado’ is a word I know: it means ‘side’. I am on the wrong one. “Other side,” he finally says in English, probably thinking: who is this stupid gringo?
“Ohhh!” I say, breaking a rueful smile, thinking: what a plonker I am. I’ve forgotten most countries don’t drive on the same side as in the UK. Just like I’ve forgotten people are generally nice and not out to get me.
I chat to him a little in broken Spanish, mostly to make him aware I’m English and not American (and therefore not technically a ‘gringo’, a word many associate, incorrectly, with ‘foreigner’), as if it might lessen the chance of him kidnapping me and leaving me to die in a ditch someplace. We only drive for a couple of minutes before stopping at an intersection. A chicken bus is drawing to a halt at the curb that very moment. “Ese bus (that bus)?” I ask. “Si”, he says, nodding and pointing, in case this dimwitted white man doesn’t get it. He hasn't smiled yet, and again shrugs when I again apologise for not having any change to tip him.
I thank him instead with my best sincere-but-goofy smile as I hop out, and that finally cracks one from him. I quickly get my bags out the back—quick with the irrational anxiety he might just drive off, and so might the bus. A young guy is hanging out the open bus door by one arm, waving at me with the other to hurry up. Oh shit, I’ve no money, I remember, fumbling through my wallet as I approach. Luckily, I spy a $20 note. No idea where that came from. “Solo tengo $20”, I tell him (I only have $20).
“No problem” he says, “just get on.” Stop dithering, gringo. I hand him the money as I do so. Great… now watch me get screwed over on the exchange rate.
I find a seat halfway down the bus. The other seven passengers on the bus are Mexican, and are all looking at me. Ticket guy is standing by the driver counting through my change once, then again. Perhaps he’s deciding by what degree to rip me off. He eventually makes his way back to me and hands me a few notes.
I’m instantly zen about whether he's short-changed me or not. It’s not like I could check anyway; I’d forgotten to look up what the exchange rate was. If he has scammed me, well, I hope the money goes to good use. Perhaps he has a disabled sister or something. I’m sure he hasn’t conned me, though. I recall a mantra I’ve scribbled on various note-sticks and stuck to my bedroom wall over the years as reminders: assume positive intent. Yeah, I’m totally zen, totally chilled, enjoying the ride, till twenty minutes later when I find myself showing a young Mexican couple seated behind me the change I was given, and asking if it looks correct. It’s just that, well, as more “gringos” get on the bus, it’s obvious the ticket guy doesn’t like them (us). Just something in his attitude. It can’t be pinned on adolescent obnoxiousness, because he’s definitely warmer to the locals. I got a little suspicious, I guess. Plus, he smirked at me strangely a few times, like: ha, sucker—I just screwed you! And when I tried to get his attention to check where to get off, he just stretched that smirk wider, shook his head, and continued chatting to the driver. I wonder what “arse” is in Spanish.
In these parts of the world, one is always faced with the dilemma of not wanting to be ripped off (especially by a teenager) and not wanting to be a tight arse when everything is so cheap. According to the young couple, the change looks about right, and I go back to gazing out the window, observing the new passengers getting on every few minutes, and absorbing the much-needed warmth.
Two white guys get on the bus. They look American (by how they’re dressed) and gay (you can just tell sometimes, can’t you). The fact that one of them looks at me with a twinkle in his eye (the fairy twinkle) and for slightly too long; and that the other has the limp-wrist thing going on as he gesticulates, confirms it. Anyway, twinkle-eyes gets out what resembles a giant golf ball and starts pumping away at it with his fist. It's one of those forearm-muscle-builder things. Or a stress ball.
He doesn’t look stressed. Though you never know what’s going on inside, do you. People can appear ‘normal’ one minute and be jumping off a bridge the next. Or pumping rounds into a kindergarten. “Oh, he seemed such a nice chap. Though he did like to keep himself to himself,” says the neighbour on the evening news, about the homicidal paedophile* just arrested on her street. We’ve all heard it. (*Why is that word not on my spell check? I think whoever coded this word processor I’m using should be investigated. They’re obviously guilty).
Anyway, I think it quite the contrast to what I’ve just spied outside my window: a grubby-looking man picking up bits of plastic from the highway. One man seeks a few scraps to sell to survive, skin dark with dirt and destitution; the other seeks to tone his forearms, skin dark from plenty of sunny vacations, no doubt. The Patio Furniture shop we pass a moment later also grates, as I imagine all the posh holiday pads in Cabo (perhaps these guys have a pink one?) and the squalid out-of-sight dwellings (where the litter-picker lives, hunting rats for his family to eat, with spears fashioned from old clothes hangers [my imagination does sometimes tend to get a little carried away. Perhaps this entire trip to Mexico I’ve embarked upon and am describing is made up, who knows? Certainly if any parts put me in a bad light, those are made up]).
I’m reminded of the children’s Spanish book a Mexican friend gave me the day I left the UK for Canada (oh that dark, dark day). It’s about a little girl who lived in a slum in Mexico City with her father, and how they scavenged garbage dumps for things to sell. I intend to get through a few pages of it during my holiday. I’m finding learning Spanish to be a painfully slow process. A few pages is a realistic expectation.
A lorry passes, and two heads pop out the top of the back. Two guys hitching a ride? More likely two workers: not enough space to sit in the front cabin with their colleagues. Either way, it wouldn't be allowed in Canada. It's nice to be back in a place where rules are different, and can be bent, broken, or non-existent. In Calgary, I’m still getting used to not Jaywalking, obediently crossing the road only when when the little illuminated man tells me to, even when there's no traffic coming. Well, I'm glad to be back in wilder lands, amongst a little more chaos. I breathe it in with a smile, along with the warmth of the sun beating through the window.
Clear skies and 24-odd degrees: delicious. In my opinion, the climate is just perfect. I’ve mentioned that, haven’t I. Perfect, perfect, perfect. When the bus starts to empty, I notice a couple of passengers cross the aisle to sit on the shady side of the bus. I stay exactly where I am. I imagine myself as one of those leg-lifting lizards, basking on a hot rock. No need to move. Just keep doing the little Michael Flatley leg dance I start the moment the image comes to mind—no one will notice. It also helps unstick a sweaty ballsack from my inside leg.
I’m purring my pleasure. However, when I actually pay attention to the sound I’m making, I realise it’s less feline and more low-rumbling-gargle: something from Jurassic Park, perhaps. I’m a mouthwash-swilling giant cat-lizard, with scales and fur and… and I’m going delirious with heatstroke. I retrieve a bottle of water from my backpack, realising I haven’t drunk a drop since the flight. Half an hour later, when I’m sweating a little too much for testicular and general comfort, and a convenient space opens up next to a rather pretty girl opposite me (though after Calgary, almost every girl is ‘pretty’), I consider moving.
After several minutes of anxious deliberation, I finally pluck up the courage, get up, and ask if she wouldn’t mind me sitting next to her, all under the pretence of getting out of the sun, of course. During the little conversation I initiate, I ask her if she thinks it’s cold. “No, not cold”, she says, “but winter”. Thought so; I knew the guy at the airport was speaking nonsense.
Someone wolf whistles from the back of the bus, and we draw to a rickety halt. Isn't that great: the locals don't press a button to indicate they’d like to get off, they wolf whistle. I turn round to see it's actually a gringo couple stepping off the bus (actual gringos, I’m sure). Arseholes. Wolf-whistling is no longer cool—it's rude and arrogant.
Now she starts asking me questions, beginning, no less, with “Casado?” (married?), and then “Hijos?” (children?), to which I laugh (if you knew me, you might too). I want to reply, “None that I know of,” but didn’t know the exact translation for that. So instead I say, “Would you like some?”
No, I’m joking. I don’t say that.
I only know we’ve arrived at my stop in downtown Cabo San Lucas because the girl taps me on the arm and says, “Now you stop.” That, or she wasn’t impressed with my small talk. The ticket guy certainly wasn't going to tell me when to get off. I grab my rucksack and bid her “adios,” tipping my imaginary sombrero as I do so. She smiles and waves. Perhaps she saw the hat (hopefully not the scales or fur).
Another ‘pretty’ girl I’d noticed getting on the bus earlier, who’d been sitting at the front, had also got off. Like a cunning fox in heat, I trot along the pavement to catch her up (of course foxes trot, there’s a dance named after it). I don’t initiate contact by sniffing her behind (or is it only dogs that do that?), though I might like to, but instead ask her if she knows where my hotel is, showing her the scrap of paper on which I had written the address. She doesn’t know, and she isn’t so fantastic Mrs Fox up close.
The next person I ask is a random guy walking towards me. He doesn’t know either. I’m not worried; it’s merely ‘running the numbers’, as working in sales teaches you (see, sales isn’t so bad, Dom). Someone will know, just as someone will always buy. I spot an Enterprise Rent-A-Car office, and assume they’ll at least have a map of the city for me to look at. They do, and the lady is very helpful (Enterprise is serving me rather well so far, wouldn’t you agree?)––apparently, my hotel is five blocks and a right turn away. My whereabouts established, it’s time for some breakfast. I venture into the first restaurant I pass.
The music playing is jolly and traditional, and I spot Huevos Rancheros on the menu, which I know I like (eggs, beans, avocado, tortillas: yum). I’m offered a seat and am promptly poured some black coffee I didn't order, but drink anyway. The food’s good and quickly eaten. I’m eager to find my hotel and start exploring—I’ve only a day and a night here to cause mischief. It’s a Saturday, so I assume there will be some nightlife. There’s probably something happening every night in a touristy place like Cabo. I pay my bill, noticing the coffee on there, heave my rucksack onto my back with caffeine-infused gusto, and sprinkle a few coins on the table as a tip (for once not wrestling with that ever-recurring traveller’s conundrum of how much to tip).
A block from where I presume my hotel to be, I pass a restaurant—or rather, I pass a pretty girl who happens to be sitting opposite someone in what materialises to be a restaurant. It’s her friend who gives me a smile as I pass, though. So what do I do? Why, I stop, of course. I’m on holiday, travelling alone, looking for companionship. No one knows me here. Why wouldn’t I? That, and I have a sack-load of regrets relating to this type of thing. I’m determined not to add any more weight to it. So, I backtrack a pace or two, and, like a bee drawn to a colourful bloom, hovering on the vortex of it’s thrashing wings, I swivel on the balls of my feet to face them—to face it: the fear, the unknown, the tantalising nectar of flowering possibility—and buzz, “Hello.”
What fear? Why the regrets? I guess I should pause here and tell you. Or at least try to.
It begins with a fleeting glance, a moment’s eye contact, a smile from a stranger. It always seems to happen so fast. I’m awe struck, but flustered. Bound by fear, and hating it. How do I look? What do others think? I walk on. Self-conscious. Looking back. Walking on. To hell with what others think, I think, turning around, but too late. Too late for what? What did I imagine was there in the first place? Well, perhaps if you’re a dreamer, you’ll understand. If not, humour me.
An invitation from the Universe, that’s what. A Spaghetti Junction where a whole host of possibilities intersect. Shared possibilities. Connection. Laughter. Adventure. Love? Yes, even love. Primarily love. Just a fantasy of love, of course. Two travelling souls arrived at a moment from far, far apart. Two specks swirling in a great dust cloud, momentarily passing. If only they’d reached out and caught each other by the hands, they might have spun about for a while, together.
But that courage is lacking, and the invitation twists and buckles on the wind. I feel it as a death. A haunting forever-now-unknown. My aloneness in the vastness of time and space becomes profound and suffocating. The invitation, shredded, settles in my hands as fragments, torn paper. It sits there for days, weeks even, tormenting me and yet cradled, strangely cherished. Till a fresh breeze comes to carry the pieces away and I cling and clasp no more. And wonder what all the fuss was about. No, that’s not true. I merely hope next time will be different. But there is an achingly undefined stretch of time ahead before that next ‘chance’. And she is still there. The girl I passed and said nothing to. In some chamber of the mind where all the other apparitions linger. They surface now and then, to haunt me. When I’m thinking of my cowardice and paucity, and how I so want to find my home before I die. And when I die, not be alone.
I am ashamed of my fear. I implore myself to act next time. I plead for spontaneity. I hope. I curse. I am miserable. You are too hard on yourself, a voice says, but it is merely an echo of a whisper. Dear boy, you are human. To be so means making mistakes, indulging ignorance, and being afraid. Barely a whisper. There is little compassion for my ‘failure’. Just the pain and loss only a fantasist can feel at such an insignificant thing.
Can you see him? The small boy, stopped somewhere, looking back, lost?
I begin by asking the two girls if they happen to know where my hotel is. I’m pretty confident I know its location already, thanks to Archangel Enterprise, but you have to start with something, don’t you. Sometimes when I’m feeling bold, or perhaps just curious to see how they’ll respond, I tell the girl she is beautiful, or her eyes are, or her smile (whatever it was I first noticed, unless it was her behind, of course), inferring that I stopped for no other reason than that. Well, it’s true! That, and the fantasy of our life together I saw—an idyll scene of country home and family and laughter, that her smile sparked in some hidden but active corner of my mind.
I know no greater honesty than to tell her of her beauty. Is that tragic? I’m playful with it. There is no method like some men may adopt—like the kind that read ‘The Game’. If the girl responds with delight and humble relish, we continue conversing. If they tut and scorn me with their heels, I’ve lost nothing. Because I’m not swaggering up to them with any intent to impress, and because they see it’s not a game—it’s real for me—they tend to respond well. They aren’t threatened, but touched: “You made my day,” I’ve heard professed numerous times (“Do you do this often?” much less so, thankfully—a much less satisfactory response, though one for which I developed a preferred retort: “more than I used to, but less than I’d like to”).
It might also be the fact that most men, according to the girls I’ve spoken to about it, do tend to puff themselves up and act like arrogant baboons when asking for their number. Asking for it like they’re doing the girl a favour or it’s all inevitable. Assertiveness is one thing; arrogance, another.
It’s never inevitable with me. It’s an exhilarating, terrifying, delicate, alive affair. And, when I do find the bottle to do it, the results are quite remarkable, even if I do say so myself. You can meet some nameless angelette in the carriage of a crowded London tube train, and a few hours later be on rather more intimate terms. And all you did to trigger the affair was comment on the Pret® sandwich she was eating! I smile as I’m playfully groped by memories of such encounters: the shades of hair through my fingers, the pheromone-fragrant sweat that clung to skin, the harmony of voices, and the swirl of hazels, blues, greens, and browns with their dark desirous centre: revealing only so much, or nothing at all. An intoxicating tapestry of scents, sights and sounds. A lubricious cache of sensual mental souvenirs. (Probably a few mocking looks in their too. And disappointment. but let’s ignore those.)
The one that smiled at me sounds French in the way she speaks English, but both of them are Mexican. I give her the most attention, because her English is better and it’s her friend I fancy (trust me, it makes sense… gosh, perhaps I use techniques after all). She invites me to join them for lunch. They’ve already ordered, but their food is yet to arrive. I decline the offer because I’ve just eaten, and was only looking for my hotel, right?
But what's the rush? Why don't I sit down and relax? Why am I so rational when I don’t need to be, and irrational when logic would serve me so much better? I languish in anticipation of such encounters, and here I am trying to flee already. Perhaps I’m nervous. Or presenting an image—subconsciously trying to ‘look good’ and worried I might slip up in my performance if I hang around too long. I do suggest we meet later, however (“Yes, let’s,” the friend says), but I’m vague in the plan (“The beach, perhaps?”).
“Sure,” she says, and asks me if I have Facebook. I ask the chef for a scrap of paper on which to scribble down my email. I also note the name of my hotel and ‘7pm’. “We could all meet there,” I say, quickly adding, “and go for a drink somewhere,” so she doesn’t get the wrong idea (which, of course, would be the ravishingly right idea). That would do as a plan, wouldn’t it?—7pm, hotel…? I’m trying to think, but not getting very far. The restaurant is a stage, and I’m more worried about forgetting my lines. So much for being real and not playing games. Well, that moment has passed. That’s only ever in the first second or two. Did I not mention that? After that, face to face interactions are usually a lie (oh come on, they are; we pull faces we don’t mean to, we disguise ourselves. Persona means mask). But writing. Aquí está mi salvación! Writing remotely, from a distance, is a truth. There I can vomit all my honesty.
I tell them I need to get going and find my hotel.
Do you? Right now?
I’m playing it cool, I guess.
“See you later, then,” I say.
And I’m gone.
Deadly to missing opportunities, or squandering them.
I’m offered several massages as I walk the next block to my hotel, not all legit, I suspect. I’ve no intention of getting one, but ask the price out of interest. “$20. More for special massage,” I’m told by a large lady, chewing gum in one of the doorways, roll of belly peeking at me from in between pink tracksuit bottoms and low-cut black shirt. Told you so. I politely decline all offers.
The hotel is small and charming, filled with young trees, creepers, flowers, and the sound of trickling water. There’s maybe ten rooms in all, set about a central courtyard. A lady sitting there gets up when she sees me, carefully putting her laptop down and taking off her sunglasses. She introduces herself and asks if I have a reservation.
“I do. Are you the owner?” I ask.
“I am,” she says. She has short blond hair, a rather pointy nose, and sharp blue eyes. She’s wearing blue jeans and a loose, white, long-sleeved shirt. I guess her age as around 45. After having me fill in the necessary forms—which I do with perfunctory flare, i.e. leaving several omissions and a Mickey Mouse signature—she shows me to my room. It’s right by the water feature. I imagine it will be rather nice falling to sleep to the sound of that. She asks if I have any further questions. I don’t.
I dump my belongings on the double bed, have a quick shower, and head back to the restaurant to find the girls and suggest we head to the beach together. Why did I said 7pm? I think on the way. It was only midday: we had all afternoon. And I’m only here a day. What was I thinking?!
They aren’t there, of course.
“Las chicas?” I ask the chef. He points in the direction of the town centre, where the bus had dropped me earlier. I just missed them. Fuck…
I’m aware of where I’m walking—what each step now represents—but I head that way regardless. The feeling isn’t as pronounced or hideous as it can be, but it’s there alright. I tell myself I’ll spend just ten minutes looking for them, maybe fifteen, and then head to the beach—that’s where I would head anyway, had I not met them. That’s right: just imagine you hadn’t met them. It doesn’t work. I’m desperate to find them. Desperate because I know that if I don’t, the rest of the day will be a write-off. Ridiculous, I know (or, as must be obvious, don’t know).
I don’t see them. Not in the market. Or in Starbucks. Or on any of the streets I walk down or scour from afar; eyes skittish, darting about to increase my chances of spotting them. I feel drained by it already, but… just five minutes more. Ten perhaps. Maybe she’s emailed me, or added me on Facebook. I spot an internet cafe and wander in to check. No, I lie; I ask several people where an internet cafe is and hunt it down feverishly. Unfortunately, I discover my email and Facebook accounts are both locked—I’ve signed in from an ‘unfamiliar location’ and don’t have my mobile with me to receive the verification code. Damn it. What if she’s messaged me?! What if…
Stop, Dom. Stop! You’ve been here a thousand times, forget it. It’s not really about girls, remember? It’s something else, inside. You are the place you search for.
I am two hot girls?
Right now, as I pass the restaurant I had breakfast at earlier, I’m the antipathy of what new-agers call present. The feeling is one of unease. Intense unease. Let’s sprinkle some panic in there, too. It’s a panic that I can’t deal with my reality—ultimately, the reality of who I am and the choices I make. Life is short and opportunities rare, and I just wasted one. I’m seeing my aloneness against the backdrop of potential togetherness. The beach: better shared. Whatever my crazy mind can throw at me to make me feel shit, it does. Enough of experiencing things alone, Dom, I mutter to myself.
Nothing. They’ve vanished.
The afternoon stretches out before me. It’s no time at all, of course. But I feel wretched, and time feels like weathered asphalt I’m slipping on, gravel grinding on bare skin as I fall, over and over and over on “replay”.
They’re not in the little supermarket. Or any of the bars I pass. Nor in this souvenir shop I’m peeking my head into now. Of course they’re not in a souvenir shop, they’re Mexican.
I feel dizzy. I feel a fool.
The two girls build in my mind as no doubt much prettier than they are in reality. I fantasise about what I’ve missed out on. Two girls there for the weekend, looking for fun. I even imagine a threesome. That very afternoon. Ha! Yes, I’m crazy. But there is something in the fantasy—the sense of loss, the searching, the self-attack—that… serves me? That… wants me to recognise something? That protects me from feeling… ? God, what is it?! (Yes, I begin grovelling to a ‘higher power’ for an answer. It’s not the first time).
There is something there, happily feasting on my hopelessness. Something lurking in the shadows. Always a different circumstance, but the same wretchedness. What is it? I imagine that until I understand, it will only linger like a curse (or my own foul, gastrocolic expulsions). “SHOW YOURSELF, DAMN IT!” I feel like shouting. As if at the end of my tether after living in a house haunted by a particularly vindictive ghost. But I hold back. Perhaps, later, I’ll play mental ouija board. But for now, I’ll keep searching.
The marina is a few minutes’ walk from the centre of town, and somewhere past that is the beach. It takes a good five or ten minutes to pass all the yachts and gin palaces, the many hotels and restaurants flanking them, and reach some sand. It’s just a sandy path, mind, running alongside a wall. I assume the real deal is just up ahead, around the corner, and kick off my sandals.
As I bend to pick up them up, I hear a disturbing yelp. I look around to see if a stray dogs are following me, injured somehow. But no: it’s me. A hopeless, involuntary whimper sounding from quivering lips. I know it for the emotion I feel clattering about me like an aftershock. That, and the slight burn forming in my eyes. How have I found myself here, again? I think, rolling upright again, vertebrae by vertebrae, arms hanging like a crestfallen Neanderthal, sandals flip-flopping from each hand.
Eyes watering, I say a prayer. Not for world peace, or to end poverty. Or even for the dolphins to be spared from being butchered in that Japanese cove (I’d read it in the paper that week). No, I just pray to see the two girls again. So it ends; the nightmare mindscape that would otherwise taint everything for hours or days to come (oh, how I knew it). I even say the magic word: please. How pathetic I am: the judgment coats me like dog urine dripping down a freshly-marked lamppost.
Getting a grip of myself, I walk forward and turn the corner and, sure enough, there’s the sea. A beautiful bay, a mile or more long. There’s a few unsightly hotels along it, but it’s still very pretty.
I’ll walk the length of it. Or three-quarters, at least. See if I spot them. If I don’t, I commit to giving up on this sorry search.
The sand feels nice and the heat delicious, but my mind isn’t fully here to enjoy it; it’s frolicking with two impossibly-beautiful and fair maidens.
Ha! I find them, halfway along the beach. Or they find me, in that I almost walk right past before they wave me over. Not an overly enthusiastic gesture, I notice, or so I think through my well-worn insecurity-filter.
“Oh, hi,” I say, walking up to them like, isn’t this a casual coincidence. The first thing I notice is that they look different somehow. Younger. Not as attractive as I remember, or in the interim have built them up to be. But they are still gorgeous and on the beach in their bikinis. Bingo.
They ask if I want to join them and, after a moment of mock deliberation, I whip out my towel and flop on the sand beside them. My manner is a tad blasé, but inside, I’m bobbing about, whistling my relief like the jiggle-top nozzle on a pressure cooker.
I realise I haven’t asked their names, or given mine. The brunette is called Maria, and the blond, Liliana. My Spanish is clunky, and finding the correct words, let alone forming the right tense, is like pulling gristle from between my teeth. But they are patient. The one I like, Liliana, seems shy. She often looks like she's thinking deeply about something. Something sad. She assures me she isn’t. I pull off my top, not because I expect to impress her with my near-anorexic torso, but because after a Canadian winter, I want as much Vitamin-D recharge as I can get. I lube myself up with sunblock, and lie back, effervescing with relief. I made it. Thank you... God?
“Do you want to have a swim?” Maria asks me. I’d just applied my sunscreen, hi-end organic stuff, so decline the offer.
When I see her wading in, cerulean water climbing up her slender legs, lapping against her buttocks—and oh, what pert and shapely buttocks they are—then devouring her whole as she dives in, I begin to question my decision. She reappears moments later, sparkling in the sun. Dressed in ten thousand dripping jewels, she smiles wide and her teeth flash bright: she’s the ultimate advertisement. Place something, anything, in her hand (and oh, my mind is happy to make many a lewd suggestion), and it would swell: sorry, I mean ‘sell’ (blame my dyslexia).
I realise that’s why brands use such imagery, and imagine her standing there with a Coke. But that ruins the image, so I erase it. (Mexico has a bad relationship with fizzy pop, high-fructose corn syrup probably being the main reason they now have the worst obesity rates in the world).
Draping my towel to maintain my dignity, I change into my swim shorts and coolly stroll down to water. The sea temperature is perfect. The sun is perfect. It’s all, so… perfect! Now, at least, not half an hour earlier. Or when I was still in cow town Calgary. Thank you for letting me find them, thank you, I whisper to the heavens, as I splash my way towards mermaid Maria. However it ends up now, at least it will be real, and not some fantasy in my mind. Right?
I swim to where she’s hanging off a mooring line tied to a little orange bouy. After a minute or two of staccato conversation, and feeling sufficiently refreshed, I decide she’s definitely not the one to go for (I was keeping my options open, of course) and swim back to shore, back to the other young siren luxuriating in the golden glow of sun and sand.
She has a lovely flower tattoo on one shoulder. Just the outline of a flower. It’s funny: it reminds me of the night before, when a friend in Calgary had been showing me flower tattoos on her phone and telling me how much she wanted one just like it. I’d changed the Google-image-search to ‘worst tattoos ever’ which had provided a good half-an-hours’ amusement. Now, I’m tracing a real one before me with my finger, and would have asked to photograph it for my friend, had I brought my phone with me. But no, that’s back in Calgary. I’d feared it might get stolen. Or thought a break from it might be refreshing. Oh, how wrong one can be.
“Where are you from?” I ask, “Your parents, or your grandparents, I mean.” The roots, the blood lines. It’s something I like to ask, everyone being such an interesting mix these days.
“My grandma was Japanese,” she replies.
Aha! I knew it. I can see it slightly in her face; her eyes, especially. Something exotic. Not that Mexican isn’t already exotic enough. She's gorgeous. I think of a geisha, then how that’s a dangerous thing to do when on a beach in swim shorts, and pull the ghastliest woman I can think of into mental shot: Maggie Thatcher.
She touches her neck at some point and moans about an ache there. I’m no fool, and offer her a massage. We keep chatting while I get to work.
“I’m going to hitch back home on Monday,” she tells me.
“Where’s home?” I ask.
“Tijuana. Two days from here. Close to the border.” I find a knot, and work my thumb in hard. She squints her face a little.
“You don’t like it hard, then?” I ask with a grin, hidden.
“Medio,” she says, something flashing in her eyes, then fleeing.
“I miss my family,” she continues. “And I have a boyfriend there.”
—Oh… cue sad face: concealed, naturally.
“And do you miss him too?” I ask.
“Yeah, but only because the sex is great.”
Oh! She just said the word ‘sex!’ I think. (And doesn’t sound too attached to this boyfriend). Cue maybe-I’ve-a-chance-here-after-all happy face (also concealed—yeah, I’m as cool as a cucumber, me). Plus, most people cheat, don’t they? Though I prefer ‘honouring our evolutionary desire to procreate with multiple partners.’ Read Sex at Dawn if you don’t believe me.
And, what’s this now…? I feel her fingers stoking my free hand, the one I’m leaning on that isn’t massaging her neck and shoulders. It’s definitely happening; I look down to check. That's so nice. Please don’t stop. Soft and tender. Yes, maybe I’m ‘in’ here, after all. And this is a stranger, remember. It’s why I love stopping and speaking to random people. And so hate it when I let slip opportunities to do so. I’m never alone for long, see. It may only be fleeting, but I soon forget that.
I don’t try to kiss her. Not at first, at least. And not on the lips. I like to kid myself I’ve more class than that. But my lips do touch her cheek, her shoulder, once, then twice—light, laconic, fleeing the scene each time, only to return. Am I feigning disinterest? Teasing? Gosh, I am a player after all… No, no, it’s just art. Everything has a rhythm. Even seduction.
When I do attempt a light kiss on the lips, she turns away. I’m glad I try; I’d rather know sooner than later what this is, and where it might be going—or not going. So… she’s not as into me as she’s making out. Or the boyfriend is an issue, after all. Hmm. Why all this affection then? Perhaps stroking and petting was as much as she wants, which is fine. Whilst of course wanting more, I’m content—it’s lovely. I asked to see them again, and here they are. Best not get greedy, my mother would say (though not with regard to such circumstances. In fact, let me get the image of my mother swiftly out my head right now. Done). Perhaps she’s a cat in human form? A Siamese. Her skin is soft, creamy, almost porcelain, after all. Her eyes, oriental, almond-shaped. She’s not as talkative as a Siamese, mind.
Perhaps she’s just playing hard to get? I doubt it. Whatever it is, look at me, lying on butter sand by an ocean as blue as a gas flame, gently frying in the same pan as a beautiful 19-year-old, fingers interlacing and withdrawing as we sauté. I’m happy to enjoy whatever it is, however long it lasts. Honest. Six hours earlier, still in Calgary, godawful Calgary, the outside world had been bleak and cold; an hour earlier, my internal world hadn’t been so different. Now, both worlds are harmoniously wrapping me in warmth. Strangers drawing closer, tender and sweet. Respite from the swirling storm cloud. Hands joined a moment.
Her friend, perhaps noticing our affections, left us a little while earlier to go sunbathe a little further up the beach. I’m conscious now she might be feeling left out, or resenting my meddlesome intrusion. I’m always thinking of what other people might be thinking. Sometimes it’s good: you’re conscientious, and that can be kind, but most of the time, it overrides your own needs or desires. It’s my mother again, telling me to “be good”, not to embarrass her, and “don’t be selfish” (and so on, and on, until my own voice became but a whisper against the crashing waves of expectation and you’re not worthy. Shame, used as a means of control: was that her strategy? But that’s all a story I remind myself. Besides, I’d banished her phantom voice under that glass in that restaurant in Calgary months earlier (Did she escape?!).
I attempt another kiss on the lips, and there’s another deflection. The mutual massaging and stroking continue.
If this does end abruptly, I think, maybe I’ll go and get a massage after all…
After about half an hour, Maria returns, and mutters something to her friend.
“She wants to dance and eat,” Liliana tells me, letting go my hand. She puts her book and bottle of suncream in her bag, and readies herself. Dance… now? It’s only 4pm. Apparently, there’s a party in some hotel.
It’s a leisurely walk back along the beach. We hold hands for most of it. Not all three of us—but wouldn’t that have been nice, and putting me on track to fulfil my earlier fantasy. Dream on, Dom.
We pass a crowded bar with dance music blaring. Perhaps this is Maria’s chance to swing her hips, but no: I look round and she’s talking to someone on her phone, kicking sand at the breaking waves.
“Her mother just called,” the Siamese informs me. A minute later, the brunette’s back and wanting a photo. The three of us huddle together whist she awkwardly tries to take a selfie with her outstretched hand. Still, better than one of those selfie-stick thingamajigs: frightful implements of unabashed narcissism. I’d have refused to pose. She snaps a shot, but wrinkles her face up at the result. I suggest we ask someone to take it for us.
A guy from Colorado is happy to oblige. I can see him ogling the girls as he hands back the camera. They do look rather splendid. Girls do, at that age, when everything is still so smooth and firm and there’s an air of innocence. But their minds rarely provide sustenance, not if you’re my age (which is 27. That’s when I stopped counting, at least). You’re soon bored, if you’re looking for anything deeper, that is. Which I am. Aren’t I? Coming up to seven years being single now. Not including a few spluttering several-month long engagements.
“Have you been travelling with them a while?” the lad from Colorado asks.
“I only met them this morning.”
“Really?” he says, with a how-on-earth-did-you-manage-that? expression.
I feel torn between wanting to sound meek and provide sound advice, and the desire to puff out my little chest and show off.
“Enjoying talking to strangers helps,” I say with a grin. That’s not too cryptic, is it? No, its the Gods’ honest truth. I find myself sliding through the sugar sand towards the blond and giving her a kiss on the cheek, like, Yeah, I’m the man—borrowing American swagger and confidence for a moment. She responds affectionately and puts her arms around me. I’m aware he’s watching, and it’s a fun moment of shallow showing off. Not something I normally indulge in, mind you. So let me enjoy it just this time. No guilt, please. For once, no guilt. Mother, shush... back in your glass.
As we walk back through the marina towards the town centre, it’s amazing to witness all the Mexican men there—usually touting fishing trips or restaurants, or selling drugs—looking at the girls, Maria in particular, and making comments: lewd ones, I expect. My Spanish doesn’t yet encompass comprehension and delivery of profanities. As a teenage student of languages, you often start there, don’t you; outside the classroom at least. But alas, I’m a teenager no more. Those days of unrequited desire and random erections are over, damn it.
Is this the attention pretty girls get all the time? I wonder. Must be. You don’t realise how much men prey on women like this, unless you walk with a pretty pair now and then—unless you’re a creep and prey like that yourself, of course. I wonder how with all the attention, women aren’t continually annoyed, or strutting round with massive egos. I guess they learn in time all women receive such attention, and maybe they’re not so special, after all.
It’s not only Mexican guys; tourists, too, sneak glimpses when their wives are looking the other way—or even when they’re not. Perhaps their wives aren’t the jealous type, or they have an unspoken agreement where looking only is allowed. Either way, I’m almost embarrassed to be a man. What crude, uncouth and disrespectful beasts we are. Well, they are. I’m a gentlemen, of course. English, don’t you know (and not the football hooligan variety).
But Maria seems be enjoying the attention, swinging her hips and ample bosoms a touch more than usual. To her credit, she even gives them a smile, a look-but-don’t-touch-boys smile. Good thing this isn’t India, I think. I read about the violence against women there just this week (same paper that had told me about the imminent dolphin slaughter). A smile like that could earn unwelcome attention.
“We’ll meet later, ok?” Liliana says when we reach the edge of the marina closest to town. They’re going to eat, and I’m clearly not invited. Maria keeps walking, I notice; she doesn’t bother to say goodbye. Probably did resent my presence, then. I’m dubious as to whether Liliana actually does want to meet later. It’s not just that she hadn’t wanted to kiss; it’s the general vibe she’s giving off. I smell her haughty, offish, Siamese scent. I smell it. Worse than week old cat litter.
“10pm, Fat Squids,” she suggests, pointing to one of the clubs just across the road. The one with the purple giant plastic squid on the roof, I assume. It’s she who draws me in to kiss goodbye, on the lips, no less, but sensing her insincerity, I give her my cheek instead, and laugh.
“Look, it’s really no problem,” I say. “Really; if that was it and you’d rather not meet later, let’s save both our time and…”—she cuts me short, insisting she wants to see me, which is mightily confusing.
Not bad for a first day somewhere, I think to myself, crossing the road. See, it's all there, just waiting for you to seize the moment. I was happy with our little interaction. If that was it, then so be it. At least I’m not in a funk any more. Doesn’t mean I’m not a little frustrated though, at parting company so soon (she hadn’t wanted to come back to my place for a ‘siesta’).
I haggle a good price for a 30-minute massage, then double it and ask for two girls. I’ve never had a four-handed massage before, but being on holiday, decide to treat myself.
The massage actually isn’t very good—I presume they’re trained in techniques other than massage, because I’ve had much better one-person massages before. I feel relaxed enough, however, to head back to my hotel and sleep for a few hours.
tags: Mexico, airtravel, love, delusion, chase, intimacy, massage