A perpetually hung-over, misanthropic nymphomaniac wakes up in a rubber plantation and tries to retrace her steps on how she ended up. She recounts her misadventures with demons, lovers and colonial history—taking her all the way from Edo Japan to modern-day London. As she starts to loose all sense of linear time conflating past with present, she uncovers a crime both she and her history have forgotten.
There’s no glamour in what I do, just traces of ecstasy.
All those effervescent highs and sinking lows steeped in the underpasses, the bars that lead to the underworld: the city of dis and Tartarus. Bouncers the size of Cerberus. Where the river Styx flowed into shot glasses, nectar seeping from the slice of lemon perched on the rim. Vigorous rimming in the bathroom stall, for all you’d know. There must have been something in his pheromones.
Breathe into me; resuscitate me. Then, take my breath away.
For more on ecstasy: refer to St. Teresa and her seraph. I visited her shrine in sweltering Roman summer, tucked away in Santa Maria della Vittoria. She was pristine and profane, heavy-lidded languid body enveloped in a cascading marble gown. Mouth rounded into an o for orgasm. The smirking cherub boy poised with a golden arrow, which had just exited and excited her body, granted through her prayer and mediation. A middle-aged Italian woman got down on her knees and prayed next to me. I was inclined to join her.
In that church in that Rome, I turned to face the adjacent alter. It was dedicated to another lesser-known saint (the eponymous Vittoria), who had been martyred in the Coliseum during the reign of Domitian. She lied in a glass case, ringlets of faux blond hair, and a waxy complexion, adored in lapis silk. All the more unsettling when you see the green chips of rotten teeth peeking out from the stretched attempts to cover it.
Like this grotesque, most people are best appreciated from a comfortable distance, come too close and you’ll be burnt, try to put them out and the smog will suffocate you. A more fatal outcome than appreciating a good Impressionist, which draws you in before everything loses focus you realise its just daubs of impasto.
That was how I painted men. I still remember the way he would hum all the way to the art rooms, murmuring Mad World interspersed with Viva La Vida; a morsel of mock contempt lodged in his throat, for what he had gotten himself into. All I heard were melodies melded seamlessly in velvet, a fall of pinpricks punctuating the white noise of your back. I would have dressed the wounds with my own. First, perfect slit parting your lips; poised like a bow after release. The arrow had found its prey, entrails drawn out, recalling St. Teresa:
“Veni Creator Spiritus.”
Her brand of ecstasy was not made for me. I’m a heathen. So you will be my Narcissus (or his reflection), with ink running across your landscape. The camera caught darkness brimming at the valley between collar bones: a flood stirring loam in the delta of your ribs, streams trickling up those arms, frozen still, though the flesh buds peaches, apricots and cinnabar, and the light lying languid on your chest, tussling the shadows to possess you. The camera also captured my lust.
“quod petis, est nusquam; quad amas, avertere, perdes.”
“What you seek is nowhere, when you turn away you will take him with you”
All I have is this intangible ramble, these indelible emotions. I, infatuated. You, my yearning. The alphabet has failed me, so now I must resort to symbols. Tonight, I watch the eight on the clock roll over to its side and produce infinity.
I didn’t know it then, but one touch never feels different from the next. It’s unflattering how forgettable bodies are.
The problem with art is that it lingers on something or someone longer than it should. It fixates on one aspect: a hand, a torso, or a glance. Then everything else fades with memory. You either preserve the ruins or with the distance of time, seek a discourse with the past where you are the only one talking.
I’ve kept all of this simmering under the surface for a while now. Always worried it would bubble up, it has an odour that announces a presence, then, lingers indefinitely. Bottling it up with all its chords allowed me confine it to selective memory, each would play an all too familiar note, a hammer to the keys of scent receptors. When they play all at once, it sounds like Schoenburg. Clunky keys stepping over one another—an exposé of melancholy and thwarted desire.
This story isn’t about him and he’s not coming back. He’s no Messiah—you won’t see him answer at eternity’s door.
The Javanese have their own King Arthur: Ratu Adil. But he was more resourceful and better remembered. Periodic reincarnation helps bolster a reputation. To this day, they still ask, “Is Ratu Adil here yet? He said he’d come again, when the cosmic wheel turned and got jammed into chaos.”
The Just King was last seen in this world nine centuries ago, in the form of Jayabaya. After uniting his fractured kingdom, the annals only reveal his reign was benevolent. All I can do is fill in the gaps of the court of Kediri: a collection of outdoor pavilions with pointed roofs that curve like the horns of an ox. A love for dangling gold. Woven mallets bouncing off the brass gamelan, each touch of the mallet—voluptuous, dispersing in the round, encompassing everything: raindrops, a rushing stream, elevated and gliding on the wind.
He renounced all this and retreated into a cave, leaving the chimes of gamelan. There, in silence, occupied by meditations and visions, he caught a glimpse of doomsday:
“when iron wagons could drive without horses…ships could sail through the sky”
Forget the Revelation’s promise of the apocalypse, melodramas like “The Harrowing of Hell” and “The Four Horsemen”. According to Jayabaya’s prophecy, it had begun long ago with the invention of the automobile and airplane. Others had tried to return to this cave, to be enlightened, most notably, the first two presidents of the Indonesian Republic: Sukarno and Suharto. I know for certain that the spirit of Jayabaya didn’t transpire into Suharto, because the year I was born, 1998, was the year he fell and the tanks came rolling in.
Jayabaya’s reputation as an oracle was impeccable. Allegedly, he spoke of a future, now past:
“The Javanese would be ruled by whites for three centuries and by yellow dwarfs for the life span of a maize plant prior to the return of the Ratu Adil…”
Perhaps, even after all these years, he’s still tussling between moksha and rebirth. But which came first, the prophecy or the circumstance?
A circumstance arose at five o’clock in the morning. My eyes flickered open and dropped down to my right hand. A fuzz ball had curled around it, its coarse tongue lapping my naked palm. I let it remain for a while, but soon it started to claw into my flesh and nibble away at my fingers. I hissed and shook the damn thing off. It relented, plopped down on all fours, and then disappeared behind a rubber tree.
My gaze strayed to the dark, blotched bark slashed with caramel wounds. Milk white sap dripped down from the gashes, into the tiny bucket strung crudely around it. I propped myself up. The sky glowed cobalt, encased by the twining silhouettes of branches. Rubber trees were lined in pedantic rows that stretched on into infinity.
And like St. Teresa and Jayabaya, I all could do was meditate.