It’s four in the morning, the end of December
I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better
New York is cold, but I like where I’m living
There’s music on Clinton Street all through the evening.
I hear that you’re building your little house deep in the desert
You’re living for nothing now, I hope you’re keeping some kind of record.
I guess the truth will out. Now that we have both lost her and you hate me and I have not owned a wall mirror in many months. Many months since I stopped holding a shot glass in the air and clicking with the phantom of you when she was gone, at roadside bufunda in many towns this job takes me, on evenings when I did not know if I will be going to my motel room alone or with paid for company. It does not matter. Drinking from as close to the anarchic chaos of the bus parks and the taxi parks of these towns as I can get, sometimes on the balcony of my rooms. My second Johnny Walker bottle delivered with a certain smile from the serving girl who will tell me without my asking that her work shift is ending in a half an hour’s time and she pauses at door’s edge waiting for me to look over my shoulder.
Waiting until I have said the same line I had said in so many times in so many places to the faces of so many girls I cannot bother to remember their names but the names of the towns I had been with them in and I do not care anymore how it sounds, “Bring the speakers, bring yourself a plate and bring six packets.” Watch her leave giggling, protesting that she is not that sort of girl. Then between half past midnight and fifteen minutes to one, hear her hushed whispering at the door, waiting for my invite, “Come in! I’m in the shower.”
I did not know your weakness and I have since been in search of you since I knew. I did not think she could have meant that much to you. When you said, “Take everything you want but don’t take her from me,” yes, I had taken, promising not to take anymore. But nothing was the same without you a part of the work we had begun and you had abandoned. I know I should have stopped coming over the first Tuesday evening I came to see you guys in two years. But I was so shocked at how withered you looked that I had not been able to help myself but come over again because I had wanted to help you, I had thought. But you were never fooled; I was fooling myself to steel myself to deceive you. Or perhaps myself.
What happened happened. I wanted to give you half of everything we had earned since you had left but I could not find you anymore. She had told me what would happen with you if I took her away from you. Her exotic looks, her accent, the delicacy of all things her, I had laughed. “He’s a man!” I had told her. “You don’t know him,” she had said. You were right, I hated her. She ended up saying the same thing. I have her scar on my neck where her teeth missed an artery which is why I like to button up now and I have yours where no one else can look.
I listen to Leonard Cohen all the time. That would have made you laugh. Because oh how much I used to hate “that old stuff” I used to find wafting in your house Saturday mornings when you were cleaning and washing and I wanted us to go down to Kyadondo rugby ground “to catch one.”
My eyes might have looked like they were glazing over when you were raving about Famous Blue Rain Coat but I was listening. It is all I have of you left. The Leonard Cohen you gave me, “If you ever have to thank me for one thing, thank me for this.” We played In My Secret Life that first night, she insisted. At her sister’s house in Seeta on the road to Mukono because, “You came marching through the night,” she had joked. Telling me the life stories of all her sister’s neighbours. Certain she had me. Before she was crying and asking, “Why do you hate being loved? Why?”
We used to laugh and call you the Bird on the Wire. But when she was leaving she loved that song and hated In My Secret Life because, “You’re a creep like that guy.” Something you already knew. Your faith was the last thing I had. So I’m looking for you. I’m searching still, in these motel rooms, from town to town, In My Secret Life on, as a girl shuts the door to my room behind her at half past midnight, curtains bellowing in the night air, the door to the balcony open.
On Permanent Replay: In My Secret Life, Famous Blue Rain Coat by Leonard Cohen