I was in Jakarta for Chinese New Year.
It was February 2018. It’s funny
to say that it was colder than expected
because I still had to keep the air con on
at night and because of that and the fact
we weren’t talking then I sat up and looked
through old messages on my phone trying
to work out if there was some pattern there.
It was all about what to eat what to pick up
what to watch. The next day at the museum –
Gedung Gajah – among the empty cases
I stopped at two clay figures the caption
referred to as a married couple from
South Sulawesi. ‘A kind of toy played
by girls.’ Look at that, I said, but my
grandma was in her wheelchair downstairs
and you were in America. Both figures had
little round nipples. One hugged its knees while
the other sat cross-legged, their mouths
small and angry. They looked like children
forced to eat their soup. They made me think of
when Nietzsche saw a horse being flogged and threw
his arms around the horse’s neck, sobbing
and sobbing until a neighbour took him home.
He lay in bed for two days before uttering
his final words: Mother, I am stupid.
Those two married children were talking to me.
Stupid, you’re so stupid, they said. What the fuck
are you looking at? A week later, I was in the queue
at the Peckhamplex. For three years, we’d lived
behind Rye Lane. For three years not
unhappy, very happy. Now there was
a sourdough bakery where the barbershop
had been. There were more roadworks, more
people. It was darker earlier than in
Jakarta. I was in south London and you
were in a studio in the woods in America.
That was all I knew and
filling in the blanks
only brought up blank
the roads and more blank
snow on branches
drooping by your
window after long
days at work and on
night walks when
the snow reflecting off
your torch was the
colour of your thoughts
The wind flogged my dry cheeks as I thought
what to eat what to pick up what to watch.
I pictured my grandma’s worn mask which
in three months would be burnt and scattered on
the Java Sea. Look at that, I said, but
there was no one next to me. That night
when we went upstairs to talk, I don’t know
why or how – since you were in a studio
in the woods in America – I asked:
Who is he? You turned away. The bed was
damp. Oh we haven’t been seeing each other long.
You offered me a cigarette, though you’d
never smoked. Is that a good idea?
But already I was on your lap, sobbing
and sobbing at my own stupidity.
Photograph © MB