Public Key (Lxxi)

Maybe you wanted details. I don’t have many. Just some scattered impressions, images here and there. Stumbling up a path. Finding a space between two rows of sorghum bushes. A rock pressing into my back. The dirt beneath my bare skin. Her head between my legs. Her struggling to unclasp her vest.

The sun was high overhead and I woke up staring at it. I had my cloak around my shoulders and underneath my bare back. I wasn’t wearing anything else. She was wearing pink socks covered almost all over in brown dirt. She was lying on her side, her mouth pressed close to the earth. The shade of the plants fell over all put a patch of her thigh. There her pale skin was starting to turn burn-pink under the sun.

I felt stiff and muddy-muscled. I felt like dirt and stale sweat. I didn’t feel hung over. I didn’t feel drunk. I didn’t feel like staying there any longer.

What could I have done? Wrapped her in my arms? I didn’t know her name. Woken her with a kiss? She looked like she could have slept through a bucket of ice water. Stayed and cooked her breakfast? Where, on the side of a mountain? I was far from home, we were far from anywhere. She was a foreigner. I was a fugitive. I needed to start on getting far away.

I couldn’t just leave her there, I realized. A naked girl in the middle of a field? I stood up and looked around, see if there was anywhere nearby. Not so much with that. But I saw something that made me feel safer, that made me know that she would be safe.

I saw people. People all over. In twos and threes and fours. Fully dressed, fully undressed, no less dressed than they had been the night before. Among the plants. Out in the field. Wrapped in quilts or their cloaks, under a tent, out on the grass near the stream. Holding each other. Holding themselves. Even holding an instrument, here and there. I guess I wasn’t the only one who did that.

I could even see my girl’s two friends, lying all over each other, no more than a hundred paces away. She would be safe. I could go.

I looked around. There was her clothing, there was mine. I’d even managed to hang onto my shirt. Somehow.

There was a rubber on the ground, then an empty wrapper, then another rubber. You know you drank too much when you wake up to a used condom, and it’s a relief.

I picked up her clothing, shook it off as best as I could. I lay her shirt over her legs where the sunlight was burning her. She didn’t stir at the touch. I put her pants down on the ground, then her vest, then her little panties.

I had a strange compunction to take her panties. I took that compunction to the side, kicked it in the balls, and left it on its knees in the dirt. Such is it, to be a dude.

I felt like a piece of dirt leaving her there. I would have felt the same had I stayed. Clearly I wasn’t much used to one-night stands. I looked down at her the morning after, I thought of her slurred smile the night before. Clearly she was.

The sorghum was just beginng to flower. I took out my knife and cut a half-dozen little stalks. I tied them together with a long leaf, then another. I left the bouquet on top of her clothing. It would have to do.

I started walking.

I followed the path along the mountain-side. It was easier that way, and there were fewer people to see my face by daylight. It moved back and forth in wide curves like the sine wave of soft music. At length it descended, and I was back by the side of the main road.

The air still smelled of fire and flesh. I didn’t see anyone else about. It was the same walk I had made my first day in Lesotho. This time, at least, I felt comfortable leaving the road. Not just because I didn’t want to be seen. Mostly because I wanted to stay in the shade, not to start to pink like the flesh of the girl’s thigh.

She was a pretty girl. Even in the morning, even drunk in her sleep. But she looked like a girl. Her body was thin but she looked somehow round. Not fat, not sallow, just soft. She looked like the kind of girl who did this a lot. To whom this was just another night partying. To whom I was just another guy – and that made her, to me, just another girl.

She looked like a kid. Like an American kid, I guess. What, a Western kid? A European kid? She looked like the kind of kids I knew back at home. The kind of kids who partied a lot. The kind of kids who hadn’t ever really done anything. I hadn’t much liked those kids even when I was one of them. It realized without surprise that I wasn’t one of them any more.

I don’t know about an adult, but I wasn’t one of them. Was I glad? I don’t know. To them, such a gathering was just a fun night. To me it was something I could barely fit in my brain and couldn’t fit into words. Part of me felt like a country boy being visited by kids from the fast flash of the city. But then I pictured her, snoring into the dirt, and all I could do was smile.

I pictured all those beautiful Basotho girls, their lithe bodies, their smooth skin, their shining eyes, their easy laughs. I decided that was the image I wanted to keep in my mind. Yeah, basically forever. My God.

But what did that mean for me? Try to find a local girl to date? That was a snobbish thing to say. I mean, it was. Wasn’t it?

The idea of dating a college sophomore kinda made me cringe. Well, most girls in the Lesotho highlands wouldn’t be dating by the time they were 20. They’d be married. Better-than-even they’d already have a kid. At least out here HIV wasn’t as big a problem. In the less-isolated parts of the country, four out of ten people were infected. Less than half of them were getting regular treatment. What do you expect from a country with one doctor for every twenth thousand people?

If I met a girl in Lesotho, could it be an equitable relationship? Maybe. If I committed to remaining there. You know. Forever. Which is something to which I had not committed, something which I wouldn’t even let myself think about. Because by and large I wouldn’t really be dating the girl. I’d be marrying her. I didn’t want to marry an American girl if she had a PhD and a steady job. Let alone a girl who lived-

-like I was living?

Yeah, well. Any way you cut it I was a schmuck. For thinking I was better than anyone else, for trying to pretend otherwise. Either I could be kind-hearted snob, and abstain, or a horny egalitarian sonofabitch. In the latter case, at least I’d have a girl. In the former case, at least I wouldn’t.

Yeah, I was in a great mood. Maybe I was a little more hung over than I thought. I’d been walking for two hours already. I would have curled up in the shade and gone to sleep if I hadn’t been so damn well-rested.

I followed the river to the bridge at Sekong. I saw a car coming, and stayed away until it had passed. I crossed the bridge and then cut left across the rocky hills and rising crops. By this time I knew the land like I knew the bridge of my guitar. I didn’t even have to ford a river to get home.

Oakley’s jeep was in the driveway. I found him in the main lodge. He was bright-eyed and well-dressed and basically I wanted to punch him in the face. He smiled an I-told-you-so smile. I flipped him a catch-you-later bird and went down to my hut.

I ripped off my clothing and left it on the floor. I put on a pair of pants for the walk to the shower. I lathered myself all over like a big fluffy bubble beast and then I scrubbed myelf raw. When I turned off the water and took a deep breath, I felt absolutely wonderful.

Alright, now I missed the girl.

I got dressed and went up to the main lodge, dragging a sheet full of clothing behind me. I put on a load and then found Oakley for a cup of tea. He made it for us both. We sat. We drank. We didn’t say a word to each other. We didn’t need to.

I had more energy than I would have thought possible. I worked until dark on the gazebo, bringing it to the edge of completion. It would still need a few coats of varnish, but that was easy enough to do. I took a step back from it. In the failing light, it didn’t look half bad.

I went back to my hut and pulled together a little dinner. I didn’t feel like cooking. I had a few handfuls of pecans and two sweet-smelling tangerines. Then I grabbed my guitar and brought it over to the gazebo, sat on the bench I’d made, and began to play.

I played for hours, well into the night. I played softly, I played easily, I played like I had played the night before. I played thinking about girls. The feel of those I’d been with. The look of those that I hadn’t. And I played.

It was getting late at night and I was getting very tired. I knew that I would sleep well that night. I might have kept playing, I don’t know. I moved from Emin to Amin, thinking about a vest that wouldn’t open and bare chests without a care. Then I heard a soft awful twang, and felt a hollow space beneath my fingers.

I’d broken a string. The D string, to be precise. It wasn’t surprising. The other basses were more copper than silver, and the trebles more white than clear. It was bound to happen. It was just one of those things.

Then I realized that I didn’t have any more strings.



~ by davekov on 4 March 2011.

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