E owned a duplex flat over by the Giza pyramids. The huge roof terrace overlooked the Sphinx and two of the pyramids and most of the windows in the flat also shared that view. We sat once, just before his disappearance, watching the light show beam coloured rays onto the historic structures.
He was troubled by the view; saying it made him feel claustrophobic and he felt that the presence of these ancient emblems were possibly a curse that he could never escape.
Before we had first kissed, in an elevator purposefully stuck between floors, I was attracted only to his mind and found his physical being completely out of my radar. However the kiss had to happen – he willed it and I felt it necessary – in order to see if an alchemy of attraction could occur. It did.
He had told me in our beginning acquaintance about 6 months earlier that he was still legally married but that his wife had left him 14months before and lived in Syria with their small child. New to the Arab system of relationships I applied a Western paradigm which led me to think that enough time had passed to safely say she would not return and that he was therefore a single man.
We began an affair. Rather a passionate one. Of mind and body, also hopes. He resembled a Mafia type – large, middle aged, chauvinistic, wearing suits most of the time and driving a car whilst holding his cigarette out of the window. He liked cakes and coffee and would take me around the city to many of the Belle Epoch cafes, his Gemini self always conversing and interested in ideas. He suggested I take the flat, whilst he would live elsewhere – the system of 'reputation' needing to be upheld it being Egypt and us being unmarried. I moved my one suitcase into the 5 bedroom apartment and spent my days reading or dreaming on the roof and my nights a mix of carnal visits and then sleeping alone. E gave me use of his gofer who was instructed to get me anything I needed and a cleaning maid. He was specific that I should not go out myself unless with him or on a cleared through him visit somewhere.
Then on Valentine's Day, amidst the red satin sheets and candlelight, he told me that the two families of his and his wife's had met and that it had been agreed that his wife should come back. Which she had. He said he would see me the next day and we could talk. I left Cairo after one week of his disappearance – knowing full well what it all meant and did not speak, see or receive a message from him again for over one year.
By the time we did communicate again I had had other lovers and stories and the pain and confusion I had felt about the non-end-end had diminished. I told him I was coming back to Cairo to set up an arts residency and was looking for suitable venues; he suggested I took the duplex, for free, and that he would be a silent partner – funding the start up and only drawing an element of profit if and when it was made. I felt so pleased that he and I were managing to salvage something worthwhile out of our relationship and genuinely happy that he was ensconced with his wife and child.
Two days after my return he picked me up from a friend's to take me over to the flat. After driving for about twenty minutes he announced that he and his wife were now divorced and that she had returned again to Syria and he asked to marry me. I was more than surprised. I had seen our relationship now as nothing more than a business partnership and a revived friendship and more to the point I had no feelings for him anymore and certainly no physical attraction. Nevertheless on hearing the proposal I felt I should give it some thought, so I asked for two weeks to answer – and stipulated that in that two weeks I wanted us to be only friends and not speak of the proposal again in that time.
E could not let the situation rest. He kept looking and asking for proof of my affection or any sign of hope that my answer would be favourable. I made the mistake of holding his hand one day, a gesture that I sincerely felt to do but had naively downplayed its signal. After two weeks I gave him my answer – No. From that point on over the next few weeks he became increasingly angry to the point of bullying me and also trying to corral me into the flat. He also presented me with a contract he had cooked up, which gave him more rights in the business partnership, and demanded I signed it. I saw that I had to leave and to leave quietly, and so one late morning, whilst the gofer was on an errand and the cleaning lady wasn't yet there, a friend came to pick me up and we exited with my bags and drove to the oasis sanctuary of Fayoum.
E sent me many nasty messages and I blocked him from every aspect of my life. The trip to Fayoum began a whole new tale.. one that I shall tell another time..
I went into Justine bar, on rue Oberkampf, as a homage to the Marquis de Sade's book of the same name. The night was already seductive, for how can Paris not be, even the grey street was sparkling in the light rain.
K was sat at the bar drinking a beer, I ordered a margarita, he smiled. We talked a little, drank some more, then moved to the dance floor and totally grooved to some great tunes. At some point within the dancing and laughing he kissed me and it was sublime – like one of those storybook moments where everything stops.
It was only then that I actually truly looked at him – and I liked his verve.
I left him, the bar, the night and went back to my hotel – but I also left my phone number – and he called next day whilst I was at Versailles. I was overwhelmed by the narrative of decadence and changing fortunes, by a nation and its collective anger and it was not lost on me that K being a 2nd generation Algerian had faced the country's will in his own near ancestry and even though he was a Parisian with a camel hair coat and designer clothes the French never let him feel included in their circle of love.
We met in a bar somewhere behind the Marais, we drank mojitos, we kissed a lot, we did this for several nights.
One night we went walking as Paris slept, treading through those perfect streets as if on the way to a miracle, enchanted by our very selves. When we arrived at the Seine it was on fire – we had charged it with our heat and we delighted in its flames. And by that river we read each other's body, allowing each and every line to exist. It was a true ecstasy and he created it with his versed hands upon my refrain and with our last kiss that night, as I turned to look upon the city's bejewelled dark mirror, I saw a white minotaur running – glorious, free and revelling.
I met him at the end of a crazy night at some club near the sea front of the Cornish town of Penzance. Believe me, the people in that place know how to party. I know, I lived there for 12 years.
It was a cold January night, I had put on my black fake fur and gone up to the bar to say goodbye to someone, as I turned it was as if I had fallen right into his aura, the whole room ceased to exist and there was only he and I locked in each other's gaze. He said, 'Who are you? You're like a French film star.' I laughed and said 'Who are you?' He told me his name and I asked where he was from. 'Belgium?' I replied, 'I've never met any contemporary Belgians before.' He laughed and said the word 'Contemporary..?' and I laughed too at my own choice of word. He told me he had to photograph me. I said OK but that I had to be going and we could set it up another time, he said 'No way! I only just met you! You can't leave me now.' So, we went out on the frosted street and headed to an after club party.
The party was insane but we stayed talking and with every word I felt star struck and he too, it was as if we were twin souls that until that night had been thwarted in meeting. I was so overwhelmed that I decided to leave. He wrote his number on a piece of paper. I left.
The next evening I looked for his number and couldn't find it, I searched the pockets of my coat and its inner lining, my purse, even my boots. The number had gone.
In a small town like Penzance everyone knows everyone, but Wim wasn't staying in Penzance – he was staying in the wilds of The Lizard peninsula and noone knew him in our town. It was as if he didn't exist at all.
For three days I searched the small alley ways behind where the party had taken place, looking in the sprouting grasses, under small stones. I had already searched the rooms in the house that the party had been in. I walked up and down Market Jew St in the dead of night, wishing with each breath that the wind would blow that paper towards my hands. But each night I would return home without fortune.
On the 4th day I meditated on his whereabouts and decided to send a letter to a farm on The Lizard that I felt might know of him. I enclosed my number for them to pass on.
On the 7th day he called.
We were in a swirl; of words and feelings; of hopes and desire. He said he needed to see me, to be with me, and that he wanted to bring his camera so he could capture me into a monochrome forever. I decided to have a party in his honour and I called it The Red Party. I invited my closest friends of which there were many; maybe 20 people; and I put rose petals upon the floors and filled the party with red wine and pomegranate vodka cocktails, pink champagne, tequila sunrises, red grapes and apples, wild red rice and rich tomato and red pepper sauces, nachos and red skin nuts. I wore my red velvet dress and I waited for his arrival – alive and on fire. The party was amazing, like a soft acid trip but the hours went by and he wasn't there, I felt my heart constricting like a bird in fright, I couldn't hear any words that were not his nor see anything but the door which each time it opened did not deliver him. Finally at about 1.30am he arrived and we were held again in an immovable gaze, so much that the two of us did not go towards each other for what felt like minutes. Then suddenly he broke the look by saying my name and he moved towards me with such intent, taking me into his very being. After this I didn't move from his side, nor he from mine. We stayed until long after dawn had broken; dancing with each other; laughing; kissing. We walked in our resplendent party clothes down to the sea, through the early morning sub tropical gardens hand in hand. We took our shoes off at the water and kissed with our feet in the waves. We went back to my home and stayed together in bed for that day until the next.
But he had to leave. He need to travel back to Gent and would be there for some months working on a magazine shoot. He said he couldn't see me the last day he was in Cornwall for his heart couldn't take the goodbye.
He wrote me letters. Long, long letters; 4 pages, 8 pages, 10 pages. He sent me music and parts of poems or narratives. He said he needed to see me. I told him I would be going to Paris and he begged me to come to Gent after. I said yes.
The full moon shone down onto the Parisian streets and told me things I did not want to hear. It said he was no longer who I thought, it said he had gone. I told myself that this was my fear. Paris loved me and I loved it back, fiercely and with excitement. The days there passed in a constant inspiration of poetry and poets, writers and artists, food and music and art and those defyingly beautiful streets and buildings, those beautiful people. It was with a reluctance that I left but I told myself to put my fear aside and to move towards this man who seemed like my fate.
I met him as arranged by the fountain outside Gent train station. I was sat upon the low circular stone wall surrounding the water, facing it. He came up behind me and put his hands upon my eyes, I turned and he put a flower into my hands and kissed me – but his lips felt cold. I went to kiss him again but he moved his face and said that we must go. I felt a weight pressing in on my heart.
We got into his classic small van, like that of a 1940s baker, and trundled towards his home – which at that time was a huge old Leyland truck fitted out with a wooden galley kitchen, double bed and small sitting area, parked up on a big green field next to various stone outhouses which he was using as his studio and dark room spaces.
He didn't speak much as we drove, he just smoked cigarettes and played music; jazz. We arrived at his place and as we got into the truck he said that he'd made me a vegetable tagine and he handed me a beer. He took a seat and gestured for me to sit down also, opposite him, slightly away. I felt like my death was coming and I wanted it to come quickly, without the agony of any charade or pain.
The next hours were horrendous and I cannot explain them in detail; only some parts. We drank the beer, he rolled a joint, he spent some time just looking at me, studying my face, putting his hands to his own face in displays of despair and finally he spoke, 'Why did you come?'. At these words my being sickened. I replied that he had asked me, that he had written many long letters in fact begging me to see him – at this he went to a draw and pulled out another long letter and told me to read it when I was far from him. I began to cry, silently. All I wished for was to be gone, to disappear, to not have to do what I was going to have to do which was to extract myself and deal with getting home to Cornwall from this rural location miles away in Europe and over the sea. He produced dinner and told me I should eat, that he had made this food especially for me. I said I couldn't eat. He became angry. I looked out of the window, across that green field that seemed so innocent and at ease, and I wondered how I could get back to the train station from this obscure place. Then suddenly he wailed, 'Oh! What have I done!' and he grabbed me passionately and begged me to forgive him, saying over and over, softly now, that he had been confused, that he loved me – Yes! That he needed me, that oh! He had upset me, no! And he kissed me until I returned the kiss, he held me until I returned the holding and he asked me over and over to forget everything from these last hours. But then in the midst of that he pulled away suddenly and again put his head in his hands now saying loudly that he was in love. I knew this was not with me. I told him to go to her. I said it softly, as someone that knows it is over. More time passed. The dark had fallen around us and within us. He lit some candles, he continued to smoke, we drank some more beer, he fell in and out of long monologues of his confusion then silence. Sometimes he said we could never be together. Other times he said we must leave immediately for some days in Amsterdam – that it was this place, these surroundings that were destroying him. He said if only I had been with him, stayed with him from the beginning, that everything he had done was because he was tortured without me. Other times he said he knew the love he had for the other girl was real and that what he thought he'd felt for me was all fake. He pleaded insanity. He said his father had been mad and now he too was unwell. Throughout it all I didn't speak. Then he exclaimed, 'I want a girlfriend that eats half a goat roasted on a fire, that eats cheese as the sun sets!' The absurdity gave me some strength and I said that I would leave that night and could he drive me to the train station. He didn't reply, just looked at me for some time, then he grabbed me towards him and began to cry, huge heaving sobs. And in the middle of the crying he put his mouth on mine and began to kiss me again and this time it felt real and I felt that within this mess we perhaps had finally reached a plateau of sincerity and we made love, slowly, beautifully.
But then when all the beauty was done, when we should be lying in each other's arms with tenderness, he struck the cold metal blade into my heart as he said, 'Now it is over. I will take you to the station first thing in the morning.'
I had to sleep that night in the truck, with him by my side but not by my side. And the night was freezing and I was cold in every single way, through my very core, through my very existence. And to stay sane I thought of the people that loved me, my friends, I thought of their smiles and their warmth. And finally the dawn came and we got up, without one word passing between us and he passed me a coffee, wordless, without looking at me. He ate. But I could not. And finally he just gestured to my bag and we went out to the van and he drove in the cold rain and when we reached the train station he took my bag from the back and handed it me and we did not say anything. And he got back into the van and drove away.
In that train station I cried and cried, endless tears, now with no witness – for it did not matter much to me what strangers saw. It took me 16 hours to get back to the shores of west Cornwall and to the arms of people that truly loved me.
I burnt all his letters and dissolved their ash.
Nothing more passed between us, not one word.
5 years later, it was a beautiful sunny June day in Penzance and I decided to wear the shoes with blue flowers on that I had worn the day I met him at that Gent fountain – and not worn since. I walked along the flower filled alley ways and went with a light step to the library. After looking through various books and music collections I used a computer to check my emails and there – in my hotmail inbox – was an email from him. He said that he was in Albania on a photo-journalistic travel and had spent several weeks in a hospital in a near death state. He did not specify why or how. But he said that on waking from a partial coma his only thought was me and that he had seen my face and my smile and it brought him back to life. This was all he said. I wrote back immediately asking him for details of his illness and about his condition now and expressing worry and concern but also saying that I only wished him well and that crazily only that morning I had worn the shoes with the blue flowers that I had worn when we had last met. He wrote back to say I was in his heart and hoped he would be forever in mine. I wrote back asking what Albania was like and that I only knew it from a childish fantastical way of TinTin's adventures in countries that seemed to be akin. He wrote back with one line 'Yes, I know who TinTin is, the author was Flemish. Goodbye.'
And that was that.