Savage Air- Alessandro Negrette

… that was only the beginning of the  things I discovered in Mexico City. Bolaño, through his book The Savage Detectives, is opening corridors of memory I haven’t travelled in nearly a decade- like the café I am now recalling on the corner of Londres and Florencia called Media Luna. Over the course of a year I sat for hours at a time working on a story or writing a letter. I would stare out the window at the people walking by, stare at the shoe shine or the old lady in the Cohiba hut selling cigarettes next to him. It was a raucous intersection, traffic honking, people running for their lives to cross the street, newspaper hawkers, dirt-streaked Indios pleading with palms pitifully raised. Yet every once in a while a strange hush would settle over the corner. I’d notice the flowers and sunlight dripping color everywhere. I could hear water falling from the baskets and see droplets sparking off the sidewalk in glints of light. In the quietude beauty was everywhere. On those rare occasions the shoe shine stood up from his stool and the old woman emerged from her cart, they stretched and faced the sun, and then they listened for a moment. Expressions of tranquility smoothed the lines of their faces. Then all of a sudden a jerk on a Kawasaki would go screaming by on his back tire, the honking would crescendo, and the ranchera and thrash music would battle for whatever space remained on a swirl of polluted airwaves. Swindled again, the shoe shine and the old Cohiba woman teased each other about the city’s cruel pranks, and then they returned to their street-corner lives.

At times I looked up from my journal and saw a young prostitute staring at me as he worked the corner outside the café. I was embarrassed, not because others might see that I was the object of his attention, but because his beauty was unhinging. I wanted to stare at him and admire him but did not want him or anyone else see me do it. Once I caught his eye he began showing up more often, and not just on the corner. I would see him walking around town or crossing the street behind me. I thought it curious that lives as disparate as ours could still find patterns that overlapped.

When he was propositioned I would stop writing and watch the negotiations. Sometimes as he walked off with a john or sped away in a car he waved flirtatiously back to me. Then one day I was writing intently and he suddenly appeared at my side. He said he wanted to talk, that his English was very good. I was startled. He had entered my world without invitation, coolly thwarting the invisible barrier I assumed existed between us, and yet I somehow managed to hide my nervousness and acted just as casual as he. I put down my pen and pushed the chair out from the other side of the table with my foot and motioned for him to sit. Instead, he pulled the chair around next to me and dropped into it provocatively.

He was more stunning up close, the ideal of gay love who could have stepped from the pages of Phaedrus, Calamus or Mann’s Venice. But that is how I see him now, with distance and through eyes more aged, not how I saw him then. I was young too, of course, but not nearly as young as he; he still had the downy aura of adolescence about him. We were sitting uncomfortably close which made me realize the fearlessness that a wall of glass can inspire, and the insecurity revealed when suddenly it is gone. As he asked me all sorts of questions I wondered how a boy already corrupted by so many hands could retain the beauty of un-fondled youth. He looked perhaps seventeen, and was nearly perfect. His porcelain skin was flawed only by a tear shaped chip at the arc of one cheek. The mark saved him from being too precious, it is what captivated me and drew me further in.

He was by no means the wife-beater and white denim jeans hustler. He wore dark tailored slacks and meticulously shined shoes. On that day he was wearing a thin grey cashmere sweater that casually stretched over his chest and revealed, through its loose knitting, not only his sculpted torso, but the soft slightly swollen almond shaped pillows that described his nipples.  As we talked I had to resist looking at them, when I relented I felt the blood stir between my legs. He told me he was a model and had been in some advertisement around town– perhaps I recognized him? He asked, striking an affected pose. He was trying to get to New York or Paris or even Milan and was looking for a break. The standard story, I guessed, but the package he offered was convincing, and, I concede, I desired to believe.

His features were more European than not, and in the absence of atavistic cues I had to continually remind myself where in the world I was. I also had to remind myself who he was. As the backdrop of the street corner fell away he became anyone. The way he sat in his chair he could have been a prince. We talked about small things, nothing that would normally pin my attention, but the way he looked at me, his gaze, bent my moral obligations as if they were made of cheap plastic. My eyes floated along the libidinous drowse of his lids and hung between his flan colored lips. But I anchored myself to reality with a few tirelessly repeated words: this beautiful boy is a whore.

The next time he came into the café his behavior was alarming. He was aggressive and threw himself down without asking, and then he refused to speak to me. After I gave up on his problems and returned to writing he grew more annoyed. He slammed his open hand down on the page to get my attention. Once he had it, he begged me to fuck him. He would do anything, he said, he just wanted to feel me inside him, and he would do it for free. He stood all morning on the corner, he said, imagining my passion swelling inside his mouth. I told him to stop. I told him he could not speak like that. I was with someone, I said, and being with him would never ever happen.

Is it the one in the suit I see you with all the time? He demanded. Suddenly I was vulnerable. His question tore through my illusions of anonymity. How did he know about Alex? In the chaos of 18 million I erroneously thought the little details of one’s life could swim or drown without recognition. I hate him! he insisted. I hate seeing you with him because I am in love with you!

The arousal his initial plea had inspired quickly chilled with his confession. Listen, I said carefully, you’re not in love with me, you can’t be, we’ve talked twice, we’ve waved to each other through a window and nothing more. Maybe you find me attractive, but I’m sure you could have a hundred guys. What he said next was shocking. You’re wrong, he insisted, I know more about you than you realize. Like what? I scoffed. Like you live on Biarritz and that your lover works at the Hotel Isabel and you walk him to work in the mornings. I also know you teach at the English school on Tuesdays and Thursdays at three o’clock. I see you meet the one I hate, the one I will no longer refer to as your lover because it causes such pain, and I watch you take lunch together, but you don’t see me. I’m in love with you. I will die if I can’t have you!

I shook my head in disbelief. I thought perhaps it was a joke, or like a coke dealer he was merely offering a taste of the merchandise. Or did he think I was his ticket out of the DF? I didn’t know. Beneath the histrionics there was a hint of sincerity. He told me he could tell the future and asked for my hand which I reluctantly gave. It was Mexico and having your palm read to prove something wasn’t so unusual. He pulled me closer to get a better look and told me to relax. Then, just as I was beginning to think the day the most improbable one of my life, he plunged my hand into his crotch. He was shamelessly hard. I felt his shaft bulging through his briefs and arcing toward his hip. It was a stunning example of masculinity. In a single touch I mapped its length- my fingers divined the tapered ridge of his swollen glans and the heat that radiated through his slacks. My own blood surged defiantly. I yanked my hand away. I told you, he said.

I was furious. I blamed myself. It was a trick, yes, but my withdrawal was not immediate. A second before I felt his full blown threat beneath my hand I recognized what was going to happen. I could have resisted. Then once it was too late for that I allowed my hand to remain on him long enough to register desire and then register guilt, long enough to want to be someone else, long enough to imagine getting sucked off in a greasy bathroom over a pissed-in toilet or fucking him cock filthy in some stinking motel. I wanted it and could have had it. In that second, or nanosecond, or moment of immeasurable time, every fantasy flashed through my imagination. But a fantasy it would forever remain. I stammered something nonsensical as I grabbed my things then stumbled out toward the Hotel Isabel. I needed tequila.

I waited a week or two before returning to the Media Luna. The threat of my own desire kept me away. When I returned he continued to flirt with me through the window, but sat with me only occasionally. Things changed, he said, it was too painful to talk with me, whenever he left me he wanted to kill himself. He said when he stood on the corner and stared at me he was dreaming that I was writing about him. After a time he stopped coming in altogether, though I would still see him turning tricks. But when he went off, instead of waving he would look at me with desperate eyes as if I were to blame.

He conspicuously followed Alex and I around Zona Rosa like a scorned lover; he dashed between cars and stalked us from the other side of the street with the red fury of jealousy. I told Alex about him. It became necessary when he kept bumping into us, or stumbling across our path, or passing us more than once on the same block on the same day. Alex thought it all very amusing.

The last time I saw him Alex and I were woken up in the middle of the night to dreadful screams. We were living in our new apartment on Avenue Reforma near a park that was popular with prostitutes. Shrieks and howls echoed between the buildings so we rushed to the window to witness a horrifying scene: two cops were beating a prostitute with clubs and throwing him against the side of their car. It was dark, there were few street lights and we were too high up to get a clear view who it was. The boy’s shirt was torn and nearly off as they struggled and beat him and his skin shone like cracked porcelain and I knew it had to be him. He was crying for help, repeating over and over that if they took him he would disappear forever; if they took him away they would kill him.

I opened the window and shouted down as loud as I could “Te miro! Te miro! Te estoy grabando! I am watching you! I am taping you!” They stopped beating him and threw his limp body into the back of the car and drove away. I never saw him again.

It makes me very sad to recall all of that now. I remember I couldn’t sleep and I often looked out the window and into the shadows of the park for him. Perhaps I even cried with Alex because there was nothing we could do. In Mexico City you can’t just call the police, that type of order doesn’t exist, not the way you and I think of it. They say things happen because they were meant to- in Chilangolandia it is destiny which determines one’s fate. I guess I had tucked the end of that story away in a place more difficult to reach, but Bolaño, through Lupe, the Media Luna Hotel, and his savage detectives, brought it back.