First and Fiftieth
Ten Million Years
The Last Saturday in May
First and Fiftieth
Ben and Joe's
A View from the Edge
God would be an atheist
A German tourist in her twenties in Nepal
The trek had been okay. It was cool waking up three thousand metres up a Himalaya, breathing the fresh air and seeing all that snow. But there’s a limit to how many mountains you want to climb and I’d had enough of freezing to death all night and sweating all day. Worst of all was being trapped with so many blöde foreigners. If Ulli hadn’t been there, I would have gone out of my mind.
The holiday was her idea. She said I needed cheering up after Bernd and I split and she moved to Cologne. I was afraid she wanted to bring Reinhard too, but he couldn’t get the time off, so it was just the two of us. A week in India sightseeing and two weeks trekking in Nepal. Everything would have been fine, except the flight from Delhi was cancelled and by the time we arrived in Kathmandu the German group had left. We ended up with all the rejects. None of them German and half over forty. A couple from Paris who kept bickering and an old English schoolteacher and her husband. She kept trying to make conversation, speaking very slowly, like we were retards or deaf or something.
No decent men at all, apart from two Americans. Both queer. A middle-aged Frenchman who thought he was God’s gift to women, but with the face of a goat and his stomach hanging over his belt. He was always last; I swear it was only to watch our backsides.
All the other men were attached. Most of the porters were dogs but one was young and not bad-looking. I’d read that men in Nepal used to perfume themselves with rosewater and I had this fantasy of me and him under a tree on a bed of flowers. Then Ulli ruined it by telling me he smelled and probably had all sorts of diseases.
That was the one thing that bugged me, the way Ulli would lecture me. We’d stop for a break and I’d want to look at the view - the mountains, the snow, the sky and clouds and the valleys - and she’d sit there with her bottle of water in one hand, pushing her hair back with the other and tell me what was wrong with my life. Worse than my mother.
I should stop letting men abuse me, she’d say, when she hadn’t a clue what went on between them and me. Maybe she had a point about Franz, but she went on as if I’d never left him. And Bernd was different. He never hit me. He had moods, but he never once lifted a hand against me. So what gave her the right to go on at me? The fact she was about to get married? It wasn’t as if Reinhard was God’s gift to women. He’s the manager of a bookstore, for God’s sake. He’s got thick glasses, he always looks as if he’s just wet his pants and he can’t tell you the time without a ten-minute history of how clocks and watches are made. Whatever their faults, give me Bernd, even Franz, any day.
Next story: Foucault's Nightmare
"Sometimes you sit, watch the trains, the sunset, the rain. Sometimes you talk. Tell your story if you've a mind to. Trouble is, memory changes things. Things you want to forget. Things you want to remember that never happened. Happens to everybody. Gets so, nobody's story's true. Not yours, not mine. But it's all we've got."
First and Fiftieth
(Spoiler alert: this commentary reveals most of the plot)
When I was in Pokhara briefly in the early nineties I met a boy in similar circumstances to the description here. During the course of a day he took me to the Tibetan Buddhist temple, Devi's Falls and the island on the lake described here.
It was during my period as a writer on the social causes and consequences of HIV, a time when I was having frequent conversations with young people about their sex lives. Familiar as I was with male sex tourism, it had not occurred to me that some women also seek sex abroad.
The narrator here is German, partly because the boy said he was frequently approached by German and Scandinavian women and partly because I wanted the stories in this collection to reflect characters from many different backgrounds. Ultimately, of course, her nationality is less important than her character and the narrative.
Since that time I have become much more aware of women as purchasers of sex, both inter- and intra-nationally. Many European and North American women pay for short-term or long-term male company in the Caribbean and Africa in addition to Asia - and some also do so in the cities where they live. (The old-fashioned word gigolo tells us this is not a new phenomenon.) My most recent experience was in a dive in the Thai city of Udon Thani. My (Thai) friend was disappointed when the young man he fancied was taken home by a (Thai) woman who had been quicker at beckoning him to her table...
Finally, I should apologise to the real Beatrix, whose name I used for the narrator here. It was laziness that made me do so - the character's personality, history and age are very different from that of my friend.
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by Martin Foreman