The smile of anubis, p.7
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       The Smile of Anubis, p.7

           Alexandra Serbay
 
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we deserve in return. Money? Ugh. What else are you ready to offer? What can a young lad offer to a girl? Protection, care, loyalty, love? What, apart from satisfying your lust and raising your own status due to the pretty girlfriend you wanted to get? And what were you willing to give her in return?” Dumbfounded Thimeo became even more serious, if that was even possible. Frank nodded to himself. “Equal exchange, I believe.”

  “Let’s switch to Benoit.” The Frenchman nodded as if approving Frank's words. “As I said, I agree that people forgot how to give and think only about how to satisfy their wants as soon as possible. At the same time, who is to blame for the fact that modern men do not appreciate a woman, do not see her inner beauty, do not know how to court her and be there for her? Women, of course! Mothers, who are raising future men to be momma’s boys, choking them with their concern, raking up all the problems of their romps and dissolving every single cloud over the heads of their sweet over-grown children with their hands; girls, who go to any extent just to be liked by boys, allowing rudeness, sometimes even beatings, giving their bodies and love for money and a drop of attention.” Benoit wanted to protest, but Frank stopped his friend with his hand and continued.

  “And you, John-Jack, are right as well. From a protection of women’s rights feminism has turned into a farce. Women shout that we need to see personalities in them and at the same time make a sport out of striptease, walk half-naked on the streets, shake their bottoms considering this dancing, spend millions on their appearances and outfits – they do everything so that we could not see past silicone boobs and see their souls with all their weaknesses and inner beauty. But why does this happen? Because we, ourselves, run in fear shall we meet something more than just a pretty face, because otherwise we would have to grow and change, instead of remaining carefree children. We continue to play dolls using women and ignoring those who do not follow our rules.

  Life is much easier than we think, but much more complicated than we would like it to be. Everything is interconnected, gentlemen, everything is interconnected.”

  They argued heatedly after that speech, soon switching from beer to stronger drinks before going together to a popular disco - the Zone One, where they tried to take a poll among dancers, party girls and professional priestesses of love. As a result, this evening, like many others, ended for Frank in a motel room, where a local girl, in exchange for some money, allowed him to stop feeling old and useless for a time. For a very short time.

  He reached home by grabbing the motor-taxi that had luckily turned up at this hour – walking along the dark streets was as reckless as bringing home a prostitute or an accidental acquaintance. Walking up to his floor, he did not hurry to the apartment, but sat down on a wooden carved bench, which stood in the corner of a small terrace, formed by a corridor that was a joint balcony for tenants at the same time. Having pulled a crumpled pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, Frank settled back and lit one. He was waiting.

  From the place he was sitting he could see the small neighboring courtyard where the old wooden house stood. On stilts, as it should be. The wood from which it was made had turned black with age. The red-gold house of spirits, which stood near an open window of one of the rooms was a bright spot against the grayness of the pre-dawn hour.

  Something jangled and, opening his eyes, Frank realized that he had almost fallen asleep. Only a filter and a handful of sprawling ash on the floor near his foot were left from the cigarette he had been holding in his hand. The man startled and looked down, to where there was a water pump in the yard. Near it, with the first rays of sun, as always, appeared She, and neither the pitiful semblance of a faded dawn, nor the melancholy music that started playing again could muffle her beauty.

  Long black hair lifted up, showing her swarthy hands and soft, sloping shoulders. Her short figure was wrapped in a simple red and yellow sarong, fashioned like a dress. A pretty face shone with a smile – it was literally emanating femininity, gentleness and kindness.

  He didn’t know her name, how old she was, whether she was married or living with her parents. Sometimes he had nothing in mind but to meet her. But he couldn’t. He did not dare even to think of offering her his beaten, wretched, cynical, indecent love. And he was afraid, feared to his bone that if he knew her better, this miracle would go away, like all the other tales and wonders in his life did.

  And yet, wherever he was caught by the night, every morning he was here, on this bench to, at least for a couple of minutes, emerge from the stuffiness of the familiar world and plunge into the ringing freshness of her purity, to become a little brighter himself and to be able to smile, facing the new gloomy day with challenge and hope in his face.

  2

  Emptiness. The emptiness was enveloping, lulling and persuading him not to open his eyes, but he stretched out his legs, heavily lifted his aching shoulders and unstuck his eyelids.

  Dreams left Frank completely about seven years ago. Now at night he was left alone with the hungry abyss that sneaked inside him, unnoticed after the divorce with Mary and leaving the States. He was almost sure he had stopped loving his wife before he signed the papers and was looking forward to ending their annoying cohabitation, but getting a divorce did not bring him the expected relief. That day confusion and emptiness rooted in his soul, the existence of which he always questioned.

  He would understand his own reaction if they had kids. But there were no children as well as love, and still the emptiness came. Real to an extent. He had been having a thought that if he was to make an x-ray of his chest, it would be spotless black from his neck down.

  Sometimes Frank wanted to become emptiness too because it, in its turn, could become anything else any second. But he remained being Frank, and emptiness didn’t seem to have any desire to become anything else as well.

  Bare feet slapping against the floor, he made his stumbling way to the kitchen, sheltered in the tiny corridor immediately at the entrance, put a kettle on the fire and only then went to wash his face. Delicious Mondulkiri with a chocolate smell was a pleasant surprise when he first stepped on the red ground of Cambodia. Coffee was brought here by the French. It was grown in the north, boiled in cute small kettles and drunk with condensed milk.

  Having drawn in the morning dose of sweet vivacity, he glanced at his watch and realized that it was far from morning. It was noon. There were no clients today, so Frank decided to read first and then, in order to relax, visit an exhibition dedicated to Angkor Wat, which was held in a small park, to the right of the embankment. Doubtful entertainment, of course, but it would be something fresh in an endless series of bars and discos. Siem Reap did not often indulge his guests with a choice.

  Picking up the book, he sat down in an armchair by the window, fidgeted to get comfortable and began to read. For the third month he had been thumbing Hemingway’s story “The Old Man and the Sea”. With a good book time flies imperceptibly, but some vague irritation prevented Frank from concentrating. He felt that he was that fisherman, and a huge fish were his dreams, which he was losing to the sea of life. And, knowing the end of the story, he subconsciously had been stopping himself from getting to the finale. It was his favorite book once.

  This time he read only a couple of pages. He marked the right place with another invitation to one of the numerous local weddings and, hastily dressed, left the house. He wanted to drop in at a café to have a snack on the way to the exhibition. The places with good cooks were not affordable for him to eat every day, so he tried to eat at home in the day time to save money for a tasty dinner. Frank’s evenings usually started with sunset and continued till sunrise, that’s why he preferred to have a thorough meal this time of day, so that he had enough strength for a long time. Today he was not in the mood to cook at all and it was still far from sunset.

  Having eaten a couple of fried eggs with toast in a small clean café, he slowly moved to the Royal Park.

  Frank thought he would see a small respectful audience consis
ting mostly of elderly barangs, as the white foreigners were called in Cambodia, strolling arm in arm with their Khmer wives. But it was obvious he was mistaken even before he reached the place. The small park was crowded with people: in addition to those he expected to see, there were multicultural youth, three groups of Korean tourists, the local beau monde and even a few European-looking families with children. “Must be crazy Russians,” he thought. It was a rare thing that someone else except them would bring kids to the Third World’s countries.

  He was moving from the edge to the center and was surprised to find Benoit, John-Jack and Thimeo halfway through the display. His friends were actively discussing something and drinking beer on the fountain’s brink. They were not at all looking at the stands with photos and did not notice him as well. Frank thought that they were too fresh, giving that he was the one that left first yesterday. He moved towards them to find out what they have been doing here, when suddenly he saw an elderly man and involuntarily froze.

  About ten years older than Frank was, a little bit stooped, he was dressed in cheap but neat clothes and dragging some absolutely ridiculous bag on wheels behind him,
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