Friday, 8 August 2014

One Reader

He, glasses absently slipping,

Leans back to the wall.

Feet up

Blue heeled white socks crossed

In homage to the ancient art of





Inviting intimacy,

He creates an oasis in the

Café sea of sliding screens,

Of individualism and

electronic separation.

Perhaps he was reading something like this;

 Smoke swirled lazily into each corner of the third floor room. I watched the Chinese official light up again, the glow from the end of his cigarette contrasted against the blue white snow outside. Cold crept along the floor, along the desk and hunkered down among the creases of the crumpled bedding where I sat, waiting.

A steady stream of Chinese and Georgian language interwove ice-cold breath and as I watched the interpreter, a chunky young woman layered in woollen jumpers, jacket and scarf switch languages effortlessly, I felt the atmosphere thicken as final details of the tour to were thrashed out.

Watching them move and weave through the complex negotiations, I noticed how  he sat, this man of mine, lent forward, nervously twirled his mobile and constantly checked his watch. It made me uneasy. I recognised the signs and knew he was moving up a gear. I wanted to remain anonymous. Steam from our clothes rose and joined the condensation on the window. It was dangerous.

The drive to the isolated Railroad Company high above Tbilisi had also been full of unspoken tension and danger and then, as now, I felt side lined, hurried, manipulated and suspended in a void of half-truths and shadowy half-finished conversations. During that drive his façade had begun to slip.  The dark smudges under his eyes framed a ruthless determination within him that I had only glimpsed briefly before now and as the spiteful criticisms thundered at me I gave up trying to reason with him. When I said anything he did not want to hear he deliberately drove recklessly so as to frighten me. It worked. My throat was paper dry and it took every ounce of strength to contain a rising sense of panic.


This new game, the one being played out in this freezing cold, smoke filled seedy bedroom made me feel sick. The snarling smiles sent my way by this little Chinese man and the smirks from him as well as the side ways glances of the interpreter soon made it clear that business was not all they were talking about. I felt cold and humiliated. I didn’t know the real reason why we were here, why I was here, other than I was in Georgia to be with him and being with him meant doing what ever he wanted to do

He looked nervous. I sensed things were not going well. He made to stand up and suddenly there was a flurry of activity. The Chinese official waved him back down furiously and picked the phone up on the desk opposite the bed. Urgent scribbling on paper already filled with doodles soon filled up with numbers. My lover shook his head each time and the official spoke quicker and quicker to the anonymous voice at the other end of the line. Finally, there was a glance, just one, at me, then past me, and then a half smile. The game was on.

We left. Confused I waited for the right moment before I asked him what had happened. Smiling through a tight lips, he said that tomorrow they would return and sign an agreement that he would be paid $7000 for  his choir  to go on an all expenses trip to China where they would perform only two 15 minute concerts. ‘That’s great,’ I said, ‘more money for our apartment in Tbilisi.’ He had bought an apartment in a new high rise at the bottom of the plateau area of the city some years and had proudly showed to me 2 years before.  It was to be our marital home. The apartment was unfinished and as far as I could tell no new work had been done on it in those 2 years despite him saying it would be ready in plenty of time. ‘It’s the corruption’ he had said.

His hollow laughter filled the car. ‘Noooo,’ he sneered, ‘I will have $7000 from this deal and I will use it for another project.’ Uneasily I looked at his profile; he had turned the traditional folk music up and was conducting with his right hand. ‘How?’ I asked. ‘I am keeping all this money.’ I sat still and silent. I did not want to question him any more. The bleak white landscape stared back at me and all I could think about was getting home before he realised I was beginning to hate him. I needed to fall in, to pretend, to mirror his false smiles and to do what he said.

We spent the rest of the afternoon driving around Tbilisi, he on his phone and meeting various people who handed over their passports. The sky was brooding and threatening more snow and icy fingers of cold scratched their way into the car. I sat, miserable, neglected and waiting whilst he did his deals. One foot was always on the kerb, his shoulders were always hunched forward and his were hands always thrust deep into his pockets. Each time he looked at me I smiled, nodded encouragement and died a little more inside.

The next day we went back to the smoke filled room where the stocky interpreter and the small Chinese man were waiting. This time the bed was made but there were empty coffee cups on the windowsill that sat, like trapped cats, under the dripping glass. Used tissues lay scattered on the floor.

They both  signed some official documents. We all shook hands and with sly smiles and dead eyes, the deal was sealed. The choir were due to leave the following Friday so visas needed to be applied for, and quickly.

The ride into the capital in the company BMW cream leathered interior imbued with cigarette smoke was unpleasant. I sat in the back feeling sick with hunger and realisation. He played with the sound system. Uninvited he assumed possession of the CD player and changed tracks frequently, much to the irritation of the driver. The Chinese embassy were expecting us and we all three by-passed the security checks and sat at a wooden table in a front room to fill in forms.

He forged a signature for each document.

It was clear this was normal for him and as I sat in silent anger I felt enormous outrage build up inside me. I thought of the hours and hours I had spent getting his choir legitimate visas to the UK. Clearly he was motivated by lies and greed and I was merely a stepping stone to his success. His name was the most important thing to him, he always said he wanted people to know him as someone who had bought Georgian Folk Music back to the Georgian people. His name stuck in my throat and I wanted no part of it.

Once the forms were filled in, the photocopies taken and the official stamps given the Chinese man drove us, he victorious, me angry and resentful, to a bank in the city. Parking outside the low squat building he told me to stay in the car as he went inside. $7000 went into his personal account.

Time without his oppressive controlling presence allowed the layers of deception to unravel themselves.  The Chinese thought they were getting the choir. They were not. They were getting five dancers and him. They were getting backing tracks, falsehoods, deceptions and shadowy smiles. Illusion, collusion and manipulation hovered around me and mingled with my own fear. As I breathed them in I felt my eyes prick with tears.

I stayed silent for a long time. When we were alone together driving around Tbilisi, and he finally noticed me, there was a row. I was making him tired, he said. I did not understand how these things worked, he claimed.  He had done all the work, he had negotiated the deal, he shouted. Who would know if these dancers were part of his choir or not? The Chinese were pigs anyway. This was Georgia and he could do what he liked. The bitterness in his voice and waves of anger pinned me to my seat. I was terrified as I watched the final layer of deceit fall from his face. Ugly and brutal his features twisted and his knuckles whitened as his hands gripped the wheel of the car.

Who was this man?

Where was the noble, passionate man of integrity I thought I knew who believed in doing what was right? Where was the man I loved?

Glancing sideways what I saw froze my heart. His profile was like stone, cold, closed and emotionless.

I was an awful long way from home.

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