But very soon I was frowning behind his corpse-white back.
If only I knew how to take charge of this myself, I thought. If I could be the real thing myself, I could bring him with me. . . .
I honestly don't know how any person could make as little of the living body as that man did. Even the best I could do hardly made him exclaim. But he seemed to be delighted with the two of us, afterwards. At least I thought he was. He invited me to have dinner with him the next night, and I accepted, though I didn't much want to struggle through hours of trying to make conversation. I was in a great humor when he saw me into a taxi. It had been human contact, hadn't it? I was a generous woman, wasn't I, if I was nothing else? I hummed as I hung my clothes in the wardrobe of my mock-Tudor guesthouse, under huge jacaranda trees that in the streetlights looked as if their swathes of blossom were black. My favorite thing: a hotel bedroom in a new place.
The phone rang. It was Alex to say that he needed Zimbabwe wildlife copy within forty-eight hours.
I suppose you think that elephants and giraffes just walk around downtown Harare like people do in London? I shouted sarcastically down the phone. I suppose you think they have a game park in this guesthouse where I have just arrived. Then I hung up.
When the phone rang again I picked up, ready to do a deal about the deadline. But it was the businessman.
How are you, my little Irish kitten? he said. I am thinking of you.
Oh, really? I said, embarrassed. Kitten. I was forty-nine.
Unfortunately, he said, I must go out of town.
One hour after I'd been with him! He hadn't even waited till the next day.
And that's what I learned from him - that my heart was still ridiculously alive. I was sincerely hurt. What had I done wrong? I actually swallowed back tears.
And then, he continued, I must go directly back to my office.
There was nothing between the man and me - nothing, not even liking. But because of the memory of some wholeness, or the hope of some regeneration, I would have dropped whatever I'd planned, just to go back to scratching around on his bed.
I cannot go on like this, I said to myself. Tears!
I went on to the east a few days later to do a quick piece about a hot springs resort in the Philippines. I went straight to the famous waterfall, and though the humid, grayish air smelled like weeds rotting in mud and there were boys everywhere along the paths between the flowering trees, begging, or offering themselves as guides, it was possible to see that this was a marvelous spot, with hummingbirds sipping from the green pools that trembled under each fall before silently overflowing and sliding down the smooth rock to the next terrace. It was going to be easy to put a positive spin on the place. I made notes and took photos of the birds for identification, and then I got a bus to Manila. It arrived in the sweltering heat and dust of the evening rush. My hotel was on the far side of a busy dual carriageway. I started across the road, and reached the road divider where there was a bit of a dust-covered low hedge. A small hand came out of the hedge. I bent down. Two dirty-faced girls of seven or eight had a box under the hedge with an infant sleeping in it.
Dollar! the girl said. Then she stood on the road divider with the traffic going past on both sides and lifted the skirt of her ragged frock and pushed her delicate pelvis in threadbare panties forward. I didn't know what she meant, and maybe she didn't, either.
What money I had in my pockets I gave her, and then, instead of checking in to the hotel I got a taxi to the airport, looking neither left nor right.
There are children living in the middle of the road, I said.
Yes, the driver said. The country people come to town and they live in the street.
Reprinted from My Dream of You by Nuala O'Faolain by permission of Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 Nuala O'Faolain. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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