It was getting harder and harder to breathe through the machines connected to my lungs. The pain in my chest, which I had barely been aware of when they brought me to the hospital, was now constant and no drug could turn it off. The cancer had spread, the doctors said. They didn’t seem too optimistic about my odds.
I suppose dying of cancer at ninety-five was not that bad. It could have been worse, like dying of cancer at twenty.
My only ray of light during my last days was a trainee nurse I fondly called, Sweet Jane. She visited me every night after her shift ended, and told me stories. She said she liked me because I reminded her of her late grandfather.
Sweet Jane was a great storyteller. She had an old dog scared of birds, and a kinky parrot that recited bawdy limericks. It was the first good laugh I had in ages when she told me how she got the parrot. It started with a bad blind date in a pirate themed bar in Seattle, a lot of whiskey, and a forgettable one night stand that ended up with a lonely wake up in a dirty bed, in a cheap hotel, with the parrot perched above her on the bed lamp, shitting in her hair and yelling “There once was a man from Bonaire / Who was doing his wife on the stair/ When the banister broke/ He doubled his stroke/ And finished her off in midair.” My Sweet Jane knew it was love at first sight.
One evening, after a particularly painful day, Sweet Jane asked me a very serious question, which I realized I haven’t even thought about. “Do you have any regrets, Mr. Carsson?”
I blinked a couple of times. What could I have said to her? That I regretted never getting married? Never having children? Giving my life and my soul to a corporation instead of chasing my dreams?
“Perhaps I do have one regret,” I said after a long pause. “Do you want me to tell you about the summer I met Cutie?”
“Cutie?” she giggled. “Sounds juicy. Do tell.”
I asked her to help me raise the bed so I could sit upright. It felt rather undignified to speak about him while laying like a vegetable. “I met Cutie seventy years ago while on a business trip to Dubai,” I began. My mind travelled back to another time, one filled with the lovely memory of two fluttering heartbeats.
I was twenty-five, and I was assigned to spend four weeks in Dubai, shadowing an expert on railway constructions in the desert who was about to retire in a couple of months. I have felt myself so lucky, I thought God had reached down from heaven to pet me on the head. I had a seven hour layover in Istanbul, and I was looking for a lounge in the airport with Wi-Fi connection where I could work on a PowerPoint presentation. I didn’t like any of the lounges very much, so I ended up moving back and forth between one end of the Atatürk Airport to the other. That until I spotted a tuft of black hair brushing past my left side and bolting for a coffee shop.
The first thing I noticed was how tiny he was. He was supple, barely reaching my shoulder and dragged a blue carry-on. When he moved, his mushroom haircut bounced, and part of his back hair stood up from sleeping in a weird position. He wore a white T-shirt with black sleeves, blue jeans, and had a pair of headphones around his neck. I caught myself admiring his butt. It stuck out rather nicely in those jeans. I had to shake my head twice to dispel the image. I mean, I had a girlfriend back home. What was I doing admiring a man’s ass? But I followed him to the coffee shop.
While waiting in the queue I noticed two things: he was Asian, and he was very cute. He ordered a coffee and a sandwich, and sat at the only empty table to enjoy them. I ordered the same, then I stood like an idiot in the middle of the coffee shop, thinking what to do next.
“Excuse me,” a tentative voice said, “this chair is free if you’d like to sit down.” I couldn’t believe my luck. The cutie was inviting me to seat with him. I must have gawked, because he hastily added, “Only if you want to.”
I kept my smile business-like trying not to grin and look like a pervert, and sat down. “Thank you,” I said. “It’s rather busy today, isn’t it?”
“It’s always busy in Atatürk,” he chuckled. “Ah, I see you also got an egg and tuna sandwich. I love this sandwich. Every time I pass through this airport I come to this coffee shop and buy one. Do you like it too?”
“Never had one,” I admitted. “It was… a spur of the moment kind of thing to pick this one.”
“Well, I hope you’ll love it.”
I noticed his accent and difficulty in pronouncing the “L” so I asked him where he was coming from.
“I am from Japan. Kyoto area,” he said after taking a sip of his coffee. “You?”
“Chicago,” I answered.
“Wow, the Big Apple,” he said.
“That’s New York,” I said, smiling. “Chicago is the Windy City.”
“Oh, I see. And what are you doing in Istanbul?”
“Just passing by,” I waved my hand, trying to sound casual about it. “I’m departing for Dubai in…” I looked at my watch, “six hours. You?”
“I had a vacation with my boyfriend. Now I’m going back to London. I study there.”
“So that’s why your English is so good,” I said, avoiding the part that he had a boyfriend. I didn’t know exactly why, but it bothered me. Not that he was gay, but that he had a boyfriend. I frowned inwardly at myself.
“My plane leaves in five hours. Would you like to spend the time together? It might pass faster.”
I almost spilled my coffee on my fancy business clothes. “Sure,” I said, stifling the beginning of a dumb smile.
We finished our sandwich and our coffees talking about the Turkish coup d’état attempt from 2016. Cutie knew all about Turkey, he had visited it six times. The beaches from the Mediterranean coast were among his favorites.
“What’s your favorite beach?” he asked, eyes filled with genuine curiosity.
I had to think a little. “I don’t know… maybe Seychelles?”
He jumped and slammed his palms on the table, making our coffees totter. “Get out! You’ve been to Seychelles? Lucky bastard,” he said, startling me.
I shrugged. “That’s were my parents liked to spend their holidays.”
He returned to his chair. “When was the last time you’ve been there?”
I grimaced, counting the years. “Maybe ten years ago? When I was fifteen, I think.”
“So you’re twenty five now?” He smiled.
“I guess. What about you?” I had no idea why, but I was damn curious.
“I’m twenty-one, I’m still a student. I hope I’ll earn enough money someday to go to Seychelles myself.”
Maybe I can take you, I was about to say. I stopped myself in time and took a large gulp of coffee. I hoped the cup hid the blush creeping up my cheeks. I cleared my throat. “I hope you will,” I said.
“Your trip to Dubai, is it business or pleasure?” His finger played on the rim of the coffee cup, distracting me.
“Business. Work. Very boring. Nothing much to say.” It wasn’t boring, I could have talked about it, but those damn sexy fingers…
“Someone’s tense,” Cutie said coyly. His eyes suddenly widened and he grinned. “I have just the thing for you. Come with me.” He took my wrist and pulled me out of the chair. “You’ll love it. It’s just what you need.”
According to Cutie what I needed was as session of Tui Na massage. Unbelievably, he not only knew such a place in the airport, but he knew the masseurs by name. Before I could do anything, he had paid for two massages, and we were firmly pushed behind a curtain by a kindly Turkish man in his late fifties.
“If you never had Tui Na massage before,” I said to Sweet Jane, “you’re missing out.”
I never knew bones could crack so loudly. I never realized my neck could be so stiff. I yelped every time my masseur rearranged a bone or aligned my spine. Cutie made fun of me throughout the entire fifteen minutes of the ordeal.
“Ah, I just love a man’s strong hand on my body,” he moaned while the masseur worked on his shoulders. I hid my face in the massage table embarrassed. Something, somewhere in my groin had twitched and was getting up, and I had to force myself to think about the dead presidents of the United States to put it back to sleep.
When the massage was over, Cutie shoved me in an electronically operated aqua-massage table. He then lounged like a cat in the one next to me and turned both on. The thing with these tables was that they were facing the boarding lounges. An Indian family of seven stared at me while I jiggled away.
“This is the best!” Cutie laughed while stretching out on the table. His T-shirt was pushed up, and I got a view of his navel and his lean porcelain waist. I swallowed my saliva. Dead puppies, dead puppies, was my mantra.
“Hey, did you ever have baklava?” he asked, raising half his body on his arms.
“I… I don’t think so,” I said.
“Ha!” He swung his feet on the floor and hoisted me by my arm off the aqua-massage table. “What about the massage?” I asked. There were still five minutes to go.
“Never mind that,” he said dragging his carry-on with one hand and me with the other. “We’re having baklava now!”
We ended up in the airport’s Old Bazaar where a box of baklava and two boxes of mixed Turkish delight were shoved into my arms. “You are going to adore this,” he said excited. He bumped into me while moving around the Bazaar and one time I felt his palm brush mine, making my heart flutter. We grabbed some water as well, and after he paid for everything – he wouldn’t accept any money – we found a quiet place surrounded by tall windows where we could see the planes lifting off.
We shoved our face with baklava and Turkish delight, and laughed about the faces of the people staring at us while we were on the aqua-massage table. Before we knew it, two hours had passed and it had gotten dark outside. Cutie pointed at the sky. “Have a look at that full moon,” he said. “Isn’t it gorgeous?”
I had a look at him and I agreed. “Were did you say you and your boyfriend went for vacation?” I asked stuffing myself with the last piece of baklava. It was so sweet it made my head ring.
“Cambodia,” he said, beaming at me with a shining smile that blew me away. “We went to visit the Angkor Wat temple.”
“And where is he now? Your boyfriend, I mean.”
Cutie lowered his head and a shadow fell over his pretty eyes. “He is with his family,” he mumbled. “I’m… just a shag on the side, so to say.”
My mouth dropped and my blood began to boil. Seeing it was hurting him to talk about it, I let it go, but not before adding, “You deserve better.” I should have kept my damn mouth shut.
“What about you? Any significant other waiting for you back in Chicago?”
“I have a girlfriend, but we didn’t depart of the best of terms.”
“Why is that?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
I sighed. Where should I start from, I wondered. “She doesn’t like me travelling so much. She said she wants me more to herself, and my job is hindering that.”
Cutie laughed. “Well, I understand what she means. You’re very sexy, and I couldn’t hold my hands away from you if I was her.”
My heart froze. I opened my mouth but nothing came out. My cheeks began to burn like coals. At the sight of my red face Cutie almost fell off the chair with laughter. “Don’t worry, I’m not gonna jump you.” I swear to God I heard him mutter, “Not here, anyway.” After an awkward silence, I laughed out loud as well. I must have been drunk on sugar.
“You were right,” I told him, holding my belly. “This was way more fun than waiting by myself for boarding time. You still have ninety minutes to go, right? Would you like to have dinner? My treat this time, and you can’t refuse.”
We had sea food pasta and white wine, and after, we finished a large cup of ice-cream together like two little lovebirds. If this had been a date, it would have been the perfect date. I was relaxed, I laughed and forgot all about my stupid PowerPoint presentation. When his boarding to London approached, I didn’t want to let him go.
“I need to pass by the men’s room really quick,” he said. “Would you mind looking after my carry-on?”
“I’m coming too. I should free up some space for the apple juice on the plane,” I chuckled.
The bathroom was just as I liked it, sparkling and not very crowded. There was only one other man cleaning his hands in the sink. We went for the stalls instead of the urinals. Somehow I felt strange peeing in front of Cutie.
When we got out to wash our hands, we were alone in the bathroom.
“I had a really nice time,” he said. “Thank you.”
“Yeah, we should combine schedules and plan for another layover soon,” I grinned at him. “I loved spending time with you.”
There was something in his eyes that made me take a step backwards toward the wall. Or maybe there was something in my eyes reflected in his that made me do it.
“Listen…” I began, wanting to get his name and cell phone. I didn’t get the chance. Cutie sprang from his place and pushed me to the wall. He pinned me with his arms so I couldn’t escape.
“You know…” he whispered, moving his face up my neck, close enough to feel his warm breath on my skin, but far enough from touching it, “I’ve watched you pass by my lounge four times today before I saw you in the coffee shop. I thought you were so hot in your tailored suit.” He moved his head higher, our lips almost touching, then moved to the other side of my neck. “Mmm, you smell so good. Tom Ford?”
“Yes,” I whispered dumbly, forgetting how to breathe.
“I thought so. It smells … woody,” he grinned. I yelped as he shamelessly cupped my growing erection.
“What are you doing?” I hissed. I wanted to protest, but my trembling voice resembled nothing close to it.
“My, my, look at the straight boy, rising in my hand,” he teased.
He smelled like summer flowers and his warmth seeped into my skin, making me shiver. Something was breaking in me and I was holding by a thin thread of sanity. The anticipation of someone walking in the men’s room, mixed with the danger of doing this in a Muslim country, and my own shocking desire welling up like a tornado made me go crazy. A desire that had built, and built, and built like a force of nature, and was about to destroy me.
I wanted to push him down and force him to bare everything to me. I wanted to have him like I never wanted anyone or anything in my life. I wanted to… I wanted to cherish him and love him and make him mine and tell him he didn’t need to be a shag on the side for some married man. So when he lightly licked my lips, the thread broke and the tornado went loose.
The memory is foggy here, I can’t remember exactly how I did it, but I remember there was no other thing I would have done at the moment. I must have grabbed him by his shirt and turned him around – none too gently – changing our positions, hoisting his body up the wall to peer into his soft brown eyes. Then, like a ravenous beast I fell down upon him and kissed him. He was taken by surprise at first, but he shortly opened his mouth taking me in, our lips and tongue intertwining in a myriad of pleasure.
We kissed long and deep, neither of us wanting to let go. Ever. I could feel his heart thumping in his chest as hard as mine. At that moment I was so torn apart by the emotions I was having for this man that I was ready to throw away everything to the winds, my career, my relationship back home, the trip to Dubai, and just follow him back to London.
His lips tasted sweet from the baklava, and his tongue was pure honey to me. His skin was white and soft and his brown eyes were beautiful. He was prettier than any of the stuck up girls I’ve dated. I wondered if Mother would like him.
That was the moment my mental clarity returned. I wondered if Mother, the most strict and homophobic person I’ve met, would like him? I was ready to throw away everything I’ve worked for to be with a… with a man? To just forget the years of college torture studying to become a construction engineer? Was I going crazy? My parents would kill me. Or even worse, cut me away from the multi-million dollar inheritance. I had such twisted priorities at that time.
Life is defined by our choices. I have no doubt about it. That very moment opened the path to a future cursed with loneliness.
I was relieved no one had entered the bathroom to catch us kissing. That would have been embarrassing. Who knew what might have happened. Bracing myself, I broke away the best kiss I ever had.
“Flight TA102 to London, ready for boarding at gate A12,” the stewardess announced through the speakers.
Flustered and a little disheveled, Cutie stared at me wide eyed. His fingers trembled over his lips and his erection formed a tent in his jeans.
“I… I,” he stuttered.
“I’m so sorry,” I hissed, taking a step back, giving him some space.
“Don’t be sorry,” he said, his bright smile returning. He moved closer, but I took another step back.
“That … was a mistake,” I said looking at the floor.
“What?” he gasped. “No.”
“I’m sorry. That was a mistake,” I shamefully repeated.
“Last call for Flight TA102 to London,” the stewardess said through the speaker.
Cutie frowned, then clicked his tongue. Tch! “I have to go,” he said grabbing the holder of his carry-on, and storming out the men’s room.
I should have ran after him. I should have begged him to give me his mobile, or his email, or his address. Anything so I could contact him again. Or at least I should have asked him his name or told him mine. But I didn’t. What a bloody coward.
I never saw him again. Like the rat that I was I stayed in the men’s room until I heard the speaker announce the closing of the gates for the flight to London.
I glanced at Sweet Jane and saw tears in her eyes. “Sweetheart, don’t cry for the foolishness of an old man,” I said in a raspy voice.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Carsson. These stories always make me emotional,” she said wiping away the tears with her hands. “Did you try to look for him?”
“No… It was like finding a needle in the haystack. I had no name, I didn’t know which university he was studying at, and I only knew he was from Kyoto. It would have been an impossible task.”
“Did you miss him?”
“He came into my life like a hurricane, tore me apart, and left. I missed him every day of my life. If God is just, maybe he’s waiting for me on the other side, eh?” I faintly smiled.
“Or maybe you’ll be waiting for him,” she said softly.
Sweet Jane left later than she usually did that night. We talked about my failed attempts at romance with both women and men, about the loneliness in my life in the past thirty years and about the future. She promise she’ll invite me for Christmas dinner if the doctors allowed. Christmas was due in two months. I thanked her and smiled, knowing better, but keeping it to myself. She kissed my forehead and left.
I stared out the window and looked at the moon, trying to push away the pain in my chest. If it was from heartache or cancer, I couldn’t tell. Close to midnight, the night nurse came to check up on me.
“Can I get you something, sir?” she asked.
“Can I have an egg and tuna sandwich, please?”
The full moon was the last thing I remember. It was gorgeous just as it had been that night in Istanbul. It reminded me of his smile.
With a sigh, I grabbed my chest. Wherever Cutie might have been in the last seventy years, it didn’t matter. He was with me now, in my heart, and I was not afraid of death anymore.
“Sayonara, Cutie,” I whispered my last words.
The next morning, when my Sweet Jane came to see me, she found an untouched sandwich on my nightstand, a pile of bloody bed sheets in a basket, and an empty blue mattress.
©All Rights Reserved Xia Xia Lake