My skin stuck to his arm lying under my neck. Sweat formed from the contact, running down my neck and dripping onto the sheet. My lower leg was hooked over his. The skin that touched his burned, his veins close to the surface to try and cool down. My thigh hovered above the bed, the skin pimpled as it cooled in the air, counteracting the heat.
He snored lightly. The sound mixed with the rumble of the air conditioning unit, protruding into the room awkwardly through the window. It balanced precariously on the windowsill, the constant drone and hum threatened to loosen the rusted brackets holding it in place.
Humidity crept over me, clinging like a wet blanket. It sucked the air and with it, life out of me. Heat drooped my eyelids shut. I tried to fight against it. Tried to hold onto him. My hand on his chest slipped, slowly sliding down his ribs, sweat loosening my grip. My hand hit the bed and humidity and sleep closed in.
He stared straight at me. I wanted to look away. But his gaze held mine and there was no way to leave.
He raised the drink to his lips and took a sip, his eyes locked on mine. He put the drink back on the table and finally broke eye contact, cocking his head and sighing. It was only slight, a small wisp of breath exhaled, but the air changed. It carried the weight of his exhalation now. Relieving him of some of the burden, somehow. He looked at me again.
I stared back, waiting. Words built up behind my lips, wanting to escape. I clenched my teeth, locking them in. Be patient.
“What if… I told you I was an angel?”
The words floated in the air. He didn’t move. His eyes held mine. The words were painted across his face, in the wrinkles above his brow, as he sat silently waiting for me to respond.
“I’d believe you,” I said.
I breathed deeply, exhaling all control of the conversation. I wasn’t sure where we were going and it frightened me, just a little bit.
“It would make sense,” I said. “Everything that’s happened between us, it seems so random, but it’s not. Does that make sense?”
“I told someone the other day, that had my mum not been there when I met you, I’d swear you weren’t real. Maybe you’re a part of my imagination,” I said, nerves got the better of me, the words just poured out, my teeth unable to secure them in my mouth anymore. I wanted him to speak, but he didn’t.
We both took a sip of our drinks. The cold coke and Jack Daniels soothed my dry throat in the late afternoon Bangkok heat. The metallic grey and dirty green storm clouds that gathered on the edge of the city skyline, teased with the possibility of cool relief. Tuk tuk’s tore past and the banter of tourists and locals bartering over prices blurred into the sidewalk. Everything existed, but ceased to exist around us.
“I’m real,” he said, after a while.
“I know you are,” I wished the noise in my ears would go away. My head throbbed as I struggled with the words and sentences I wanted to try to say. “I’m sitting talking with you now. You have to be real. ”
He laughed, “Then why do you believe me? It’s a bit of a far out announcement for someone to make,” he said.
“There are just things you seem to know or understand about me, about us. There’s nothing random about you and me being here in this place right now,” I said. “Neither of us is supposed to be in Bangkok. We weren’t suppose to see each other again. It was two months ago today that we started travelling together and this is our third country we’ve met up in. There are just lots of really little seemingly unimportant details, that when you add them up or think about them, they seem a bit out of this world. I’m not sure of the pattern yet, because I’ve only just started paying attention to it, but it seems as though everything happens in some sort of order or number of times. It’s strange.”
“You’re different now,” he said. “I noticed it as soon as you arrived.”
“I feel different. I’ve learnt a lot since last time I saw you,” I said, glad for the change in conversation.
“Sorry I had to be a bastard to you at the end of Malaysia. If I wasn’t I knew you wouldn’t let go and you’d never have experienced the things you needed too.”
I bit my bottom lip, those last few days we’d spent together months ago, I’d left in tears. I hadn’t been ready to say good-bye. But my travels had taken me on journeys I didn’t think were possible, since then, only to put me here now with Jem. I could feel the change between us. He was open, warm and radiated love and life through every gesture, word and look.
“You were a bastard,” I said, with a smile, “I was so upset with you at the time. I realised somewhere in Africa why you did it though. So thanks.”
“I hated doing it. I could see how much it hurt you. I’m glad you learnt something out of it though.” His eyes, one steel blue and the other half blue on top and the bottom half brown, stared at me again. A smile rested gently on his face. “Tell me what lessons you learnt?”
“Lots of stuff. The one that I put the most effort into was not drinking so much. I’m able to just a have a few now and only on odd occasions. It’s so nice to have my brain back.”
“I needed to have a functioning brain too. Africa was hard work. I loved it though. It put perspective back on my life. For the first time in a long time I was happy.”
“I knew you’d love Africa,” he said.
“I’m so keen to go back and travel and live there. It’s an amazing place. I love the way of life it’s so simple. I felt at peace while I was there.”
“It’s definitely different to anything else,” he said and ran his fingers over the prayer beads around his neck. He pulled them out from under his shirt and slid them around to find the threads hanging at the end. He stroked the frayed strands and stared thoughtfully down the street. Sweat rolled down his neck into the fabric of his shirt.
“I’m going to die soon,” Jem said.
The drink at my lips shook. I watched my hand, willing it to steady as I put the glass down.
“It’s the reason why I won’t get involved in a relationship with someone,” he said. His eyes bore into me, watching for my reaction.
A rush of shivers raced through me. My feet and fingers left full of pins and needles. I tried to keep my face from giving away all the emotions hurtling around inside me at that moment. I knew it was pointless, but I tried anyway, concentrating hard on keeping my face and eyes steady, stable.
“I know it’s going to be sometime soon. But I don’t know where or when. I can’t have a girlfriend or a family and do that to them,” he said. He was still staring intently across the table.
“How do you know?” I said, taking a risk to open my mouth and speak.
“It comes back to the whole being an angel thing. Every person that comes into my life does so for a reason. I know what’s going to happen to them before it does. So I try to help them or guide them through it,” he shifted in his seat and took a sip of the melting drink. “I know it sounds crazy,” he said.
“No, not crazy,” I said, his words struggled to sink in. “But I don’t want you to die. I hope you’re wrong on this one,” I said smiling at him, but feeling confused, sad, at the same time. I’d finally lost control of the conversation altogether.
“I’ve never told anyone, what I’ve just told you,” he said.
We sat together, staring across the table at each other. Words raced through my head, but I couldn’t bring my self to speak any of them anymore. They weren’t enough now. We were silent, but the hive of activity and noise on Soi Rambutree swirled around us. Tourist and locals were filling up the tables between the road and the Buddha statue and fairy light fence line. Shisha smoke wafted along in the balmy breeze that had moved in, dragging with it the steel clouds over the top of the buildings at an increasing pace. The chilled out lounge music was turned up a notch as the nightly backpacker mode kicked in.
It was too much. I wanted some space. I wanted all these tourists to go away and leave us alone in our own little world. I just wanted to be alone with Jem. I ran my fingers over the bands tied around my wrist. They were real and I needed to bring myself back to reality.
“I got you something,” I said. “I’d been looking for it since Malaysia. I finally found exactly what I was after the other day at Patong beach. It’s up in my room. I’ll just go get it,” finally I’d created an escape.
“I’ll come too. It’s hectically hot out here and there’s a storm coming.”
He finished off the drink and followed me inside the hostel.
Something shifted. I reached out beside me. He was still there. I ran my fingertips down his arm to feel the band tied around his wrist. It was black leather and had four strands braided into a fishtail pattern. A matching brown band was tied around the wrist of my hand, that gently touched his now.
He had shifted in his sleep. We were no longer touching. He’d rolled over on to his side, facing away from me.
The afternoon’s conversation still haunted me. Staring at his back, I willed him to roll over. To wrap his arms around me, to make me feel comfortable, even if I didn’t fully understand why I was scared.
Jem let out a loud snore, then his breathing quietened again. He didn’t move though.
I leaned close to him, the smell of sweat, shampoo and soap mingling together. I kissed him lightly between the shoulder blades, tasting the smell of him and pursing my lips together to lock it in. I put my clothes on and found my room key on top of the desk. Picking up my thongs and carrying them, so I wouldn’t make a noise, I gently opened the door. I watched Jem, lying there on the bed, and then the door closed softly with a click.