The smile of anubis, p.6
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       The Smile of Anubis, p.6

           Alexandra Serbay
 
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wrong, decided to add its mark to the gloomy picture of recent days: instead of marvelous tender dawns that had been brightening up every morning since he had moved to a high-rise four-story building, for the last three weeks the bright red ball would roll on the grey canvas of the sky professing morning to become yellow in the day time and to fall over the horizon as a red stone in the evening.

  Closed windows were a small help either from brain-rattling sounds, or from all-pervasive dust. The dust was everywhere: stripes in the doorways, layers on window frames and a curved grid, invisible-until-you-walked-on-it layer on the floor, and a colorless powder on the cobwebs woven by industrious spiders in hard-to-reach places. He thought that a couple more dust specs and it would cover all his world.

  He was too lazy to wash the room every day and rarer thorough cleaning was never enough. After one day he could draw pictures with his fingers on the table and he had to change his pants every time he sat on the balcony chair. In fact, it was not a balcony, but a wide, open corridor leading to the apartments from the stairs. The separate personal balconies were a luxury here and were to be found only in the hotels designed for Europeans or elite condos.

  Turning away from the dusty thoughts, Frank looked into the mirror. He looked at himself from one side, and then from the other, eyeing his heavy body with displeasure, made a face when he saw a new wrinkle at his not-at-all-a-young face, and, having thrown a deliberately youthful shirt over his shoulders, left the house.

  The evening was near. He felt fresh during the twilight of the couple of hours before the sun set, especially if he managed to get an hour or two nap after a late lunch. There were very few customers lately, much less that he could have imagined in the most pessimistic scenarios, so most days there was nothing to prevent him from napping. It was difficult to admit that if the situation continued, he would have to leave this hospitable-inhospitable country of the red dust and move to one of slightly more developed regions, where an experienced - very experienced - veterinarian would not be left without work. Pension, which he earned after thirty years of service in the zoos of America, was categorically not enough for a decent living.

  It was too early to go to “the Zone” and, having reached the river, Frank slowed his pace and moved towards Pubstreet. He loved the embankment of Siem Reap: large trees created a shady alley on both banks of the river carrying not only its turbid waters, but the same name as the city as well; cozy small shops along the road, a neat pavement and a French quarter plodding side by side with it would carry him away to another era when Cambodia was a part of French Indochina. Walking here, he would imagine the exotic splendor of that time. He would shake his head, looking around at the ruins that surrounded him now and would regret the greatness a white man lost and the ensuing decline of the whole world.

  Undoubtedly, nowadays you could find big and small islets of prosperity in any country: luxury hotels, rich palaces, high buildings tickling the blue belly of the sky, expensive cars, well-groomed women sparkling with artificial teeth and natural diamonds – but all of these were personal shards of what once was a national heritage. In modern society, however, many people did not possess a personal identity, not to speak of a national one.

  Frank sighed heavily and once again asked himself: why not move to Sihanoukville? Fresher air, better climate, a sea that softened any sorrows and took away depressing thoughts – the atmosphere there was much more suitable for an aging gentleman. He smiled crookedly, waved his hand, as if scaring away melancholy, and turned right to face the center of the night life – to the street with pubs, restaurants and tiny stores with strange clothes and expensive souvenirs that were planted at every step.

  This evening he was looking for hoarse conversations, friendly pats on the shoulders, a tart beer and a delicious meal, so he headed to the Laundry Bar. Cozy atmosphere and good live music attracted a lot of people there, and after eight or nine in the evening it was impossible to have a conversation inside, but now it was too early and the bar was almost empty, except for the sofas in the furthest corner, where three of his old acquaintances were lounging.

  “Frank, my friend!” Benoit rose to meet him. Frank had twofold feelings toward this wiry Frenchman: on the one hand, his openness and friendliness, that at first seemed fake but proved to be sincere, was buying his affection; on the other hand, something would make Frank sarcastic and prickly to his friend whenever he could. It was probably envy. Benoit was handsome and looked much younger than most of his peers, including Frank. Moreover, the French guy was not stupid and managed to earn himself a small fortune, which he was spending now to his pleasure without having to think about work of any kind.

  Always-frowning Thimeo, who was sitting behind Benoit, was born in France too, but according to his looks, his ancestors were obviously from the Far East and no one considered him French in their clique. They would sometimes call him Arab behind his back. Thimeo was twice younger than any of them. An unfortunate love story made him flee to the end of the world, where he had been drowning his grief with alcohol, distracting himself with amphetamines for six months now, hoping that weed smoke and countless easygoing local girls would blur the pain eventually. For all that, he managed to always remain extremely serious and looked as if he was not sitting in a bar with friends, but was preparing to address the United Nations General Assembly with an important report.

  The third one was John, or Jack, sometimes his testimony differed. A shady guy, he was claimed that he was an American, but his accent would periodically switch to British, Australian or some other unknown accent. It didn’t really bother anyone here. On the contrary, this fact added to John’s charms. Frank called him John-Jack so as not to be mistaken. John-Jack was a huge child and obviously has been fond of bodybuilding in his youth. However, he still worked on his body shape and never missed a chance to demonstrate it by wearing tight T-shirts. Molded muscles, skinny jeans and always-present t-shirts were a stark contrast to his not-at-all-young face that was distinctly chewed by life.

  “You are right on time,” Benoit said, smiling broadly. “These two spent two hours straight trying to prove to me that all women are venal, there is no love left in the world and the versatile singers continue to praise it as it is the most effective means of manipulating men and, by this, a popular merchandise.”

  “Don’t you agree?” Frank asked, sitting down and beckoning the waiter.

  “Of course not!” Benoit’s long fingers picked up a cigarette from a pack and sent it into a vise of even white teeth. “Each of us feels the need for love because it is a part of our nature. But it is an age of consumerism now and we have the same attitude to everything: we only think about getting what we want without giving anything in return. And it is not about women at all. It applies to everyone, regardless of gender.

  “And I say women are to blame for everything!” Thimeo pursed his lips in an offended manner, as if it was he, who was interrupted. “All of them, starting from school, choose guys with money. You need to have rich parents or work your ass off to entertain her, buy her jewelry and clothes, and pay for her salads which cost as much as an iPhone. And what do you get in return? Beautiful, but always displeased face, monotonous sex and constant scandals? And if you can’t give them what they want, you will be easily replaced with someone who can. Prostitution is much more honest. You get exactly what you pay for, no more, no less. And most importantly – no brain draining.”

  This speech was clearly rehearsed before. Frank thought that Thimeo had repeatedly convinced himself with these words. Benoit, whom Thimeo interrupted, only smiled condescendingly, showing without words what he thought about the young man’s tirade.

  “The boy is right.” John-Jack leaned back, throwing his strong hand on the back of the chair. Excessive tanning did not hide, but on the contrary, emphasized the wrinkles on his face, making his desperate attempts to look young even more ridiculous. “Look what is going on all over the world: feminism steps on the man’s dignity with it
s steel high heels. It is no longer about equal rights, but about inequality in women’s favor! It’s like a minority dictatorship, where any disagreement is perceived as discrimination and an attempt on the rights of its representative! You are not only no longer able to express your opinion, but even the care you show the so-called ‘weak’ gender can be regarded as an insult. And what remains for men who are constantly rejected?”

  All this Frank listened to half-heartedly, studying the menu. Finally, he decided to order his favorite French style meat and only then looked up. The trio was looking at him expectantly.

  “I agree with all of you.” Frank said, narrowing his eyes cunningly, and took a sip of beer brought by the prompt waiter.

  “How is that?” It was so nice to look at Benoit’s stretched-out face.

  “Yes-yes, with everyone and no one at the same time.” Frank made a theatrical pause to enjoy the effect, then continued. “Take Thimeo. You say, women are to blame for everything, they demand this, they demand that, they want money and a beautiful life. On the one hand, you are absolutely right, it is like this, but on the other hand, women give us what
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