‘Love is like a fire that constantly needs kindling to keep burning,’ my beloved would say. For the most part of my life – I’m eighty plus – I’ve collected kindling to feed our love. I’ve done so by taking on a variety of roles. Apart from husband, I’ve been a handyman, chef, patient listener, lover, masseur…
I’m thinking of these roles when I see you at the airport. You’re dressed in a brown check summer dress caressing your body like the hands of a lover. You’re the third in line at passport control and on your way out, to a life different from mine. What strikes me the most is the curve of your neck, and how it’s graced by your head, enveloped in luxuriant hair.
It’s tempting to go after you, but I’ve changed my mind. What would the world think of a man my age trailing a woman he doesn’t know? It wouldn’t befit my status or my age. No, I prefer to follow you at a distance. But then you suddenly turn around, possibly because you’ve felt my gaze. Your eyes are warning me off.
That scolding glance, the curve of your neck, your build, remind me of my beloved during our early years, as if you were cast in the same mould. She was well built, her legs firm and round, her ears adorned with pearls she inherited from her mother, the area around her ears the most beautiful I’ve ever seen in a human. Her gaze often confused me, especially when she came home – sometimes dressed in her office clothes, sometimes as a scantily dressed cleaning woman – at the very moment I burned for her. Her laughter was so infectious! What would it take for me to continue seeing her smile? Devote my entire life to her? I took up the challenge and seduced her with the patience of an ant, ignoring other chances that came my way until she began to melt. Our mornings together were the most beautiful: the sunlight on her body, her mount of Venus inviting me to put my head on it, her pert breasts, the shape of her buttocks offering me grip during my attempts to cross the river of her world.
Sometimes, her bones creaked when she received me, like a ship weighed down. But she always grew silent after a while.
You disappear into the crowd. Later, the taxi takes me to the Ambassador Hotel in Amsterdam. I’ve stayed there before, when I visited the Netherlands to promote the translation of my first book, about the future of genetics. This is where I was interviewed by journalists. And because I love regularity and the vibrant ambiance of the hotel, I really enjoy being a guest here.
I’ve visited this city, too. I would sometimes go for a walk down the narrow streets after sundown or a morning of presentations, occasionally coming across a court of almshouses seemingly plucked from the Middle Ages, a thrilling little bonus.
My fellow scientists and I often discuss the latest developments in genetics, such as cloning humans and the moral issues this brings. But I’ve been more of a supervisor than an active researcher in recent years.
It’s been a long journey, and I’d like to have a rest. The doorman – a young man who keeps avoiding my eyes, as do so many who meet me (due to both my name and age) – helps me with my luggage. Once in my room, though, I can’t find the rest I seek within the four walls of the hotel. I decide to go outside.
I see you in the lobby, sitting bolt upright in an armchair, facing me as if you have been practising this pose, ready to teach me a lesson. My heart leaps and I want to hurry right over. I want to talk to you, have a conversation with you, but your gaze appears hostile, lacking any sign of recognition.
No matter, my work is waiting for me, and I submerge myself in the world of science all day. Wouldn’t it be special, I’ve been wondering off late, if man could clone a beloved? But what would this mean with regard to the memories they’ve built together? Because events are never quite the same when repeated. Cloning, therefore, wouldn’t be the solution, I think.
I’m one of the first to have breakfast and notice you sitting on the other side of the restaurant. We eye each other for such a long time that some people in the breakfast room are beginning to notice, particularly the young couple seated next to you. Then I suddenly see an intense desire in your gaze. We don’t touch our breakfast. Instead, I get up and walk towards the lift, followed by you. You’re not smiling, your gaze is serious, overwhelming almost. I press a button, waiting for you to press the one to your own floor, but you don’t do anything at all.
You get off on the same floor and follow me to my room.
Once inside, you slowly walk towards me, to where I’m standing at the window. I can feel your warmth, even though you’re fully dressed. You undress me little by little: the white shirt I ironed myself, my trousers and underwear. And then I do the same for you, admiring how your body catches the sunlight, your stomach marked by the eternal lines of birth and old age.
‘How did it go this time, darling?’ you whisper. ‘Were we convincing enough?’
I stroke the curve of your neck. ‘Next time, we’ll play King and Queen.’