Prose: Ron Singer
Speak to I
“何時にそれがあるか私に言うことができるか (Nanji nisoregaaruka watashi ni iu kotogadekiruka?)” she politely asked. (“Can you please tell me what time it is?”)
“четверть A.S. за одним (etverti A.S. za odnim),” I replied. (“One-fifteen p.m.”)
But there was no “she,” and the “I” was not really “I” (or “me”). Neither existed: the lovely Japanese tourist who had asked the time, or the middle-aged man who looked to her like a native New Yorker, but was actually an agent of the KGB (actual current acronym: FSB, or, in English, FSS). The imaginary spy’s cover was Cultural Attache’ to the Soviet embassy. His rudimentary, but decent Japanese was, of course, an asset.
This conversation between me and I had its own cover. Nowadays, most people swarm up and down the sidewalks muttering or shouting into I-phones, blackberries, whatevers. If my knowledge here sounds spotty, it is because these new-fangled gizmos interest me only to the extent that they allow me to get on with my own –-my only– business, which is auto-conversation. All I need to qualify for honorary membership in the chattering classes is a white ear plug in each ear. No more brows furrowed in sympathy or mouths gaping in astonishment. And no more fear of uniformed figures rushing down the block toward me bearing strait-jackets or butterfly nets. Needless to say, the ear plugs also enhance the audibility of auto-conversation.
“何時にそれがあるか私に言うことができるか? (Nanji nisoregaaruka watashi ni iu kotogadekiruka?)” she asked again.
“четверть A.S. за одним, (etverti A.S. za odnim),” I replied again.
“гостеприимсво re (gostepriimsvo re).” (“Don’t mention it.”)
“But speak English, please,” she requested. “I know you are not a Russian. When I visit New York, I prefer to practice my English. So stop playing a fool!”
That gave us (me and I) pause. Should we continue this conversation, which was threatening to get out of hand? We considered.
“But why?” you or I ask, “would one talk exclusively to one’s self?”
There are a myriad of reasons, many stemming from a central theme: the migration of pain. For example, a few years ago, shortly before my own (e)migration, I attended a bookstore event for a newly published non-fiction work on Africa. After the obligatory excerpt had been proffered, the q&a began, and it quickly reached full throttle.
“Now that the Cold War is over,” someone asked (said), “why should I care about Africa?” The questioner, paunchy, goateed, and middle-aged, looked as if he were proud of some special accomplishment. He punctuated his rhetorical question by tapping a fingernail against the cover of his newly purchased copy of the book.
Replied the author, lightning quick: “The unoriginal thoughts I have on this” [you know-nothing asshole!] “revolve around African poverty as an incubator for dread diseases that pass across oceans, as a generator of massive flows of illegal immigrants, and so on.” He sipped from his water glass. The questioner did not stick around at the end to have his book signed.
I decided. “‘Speak English’? By all means. Shall we lose that Russian spy, then, and go have a cup of coffee together?”
“Yes, that’s much better,” she or I said. And she took my arm (“she” –since I cannot take my own arm, at least not in the way she took it, by pushing her hand from back to front between it and my torso.) We entered a coffee bar, ordered, sat down at a small round corner table, and were soon chatting away amiably. One thing led to another –whispers, glances, laughter, touches, kisses– and we found ourselves in her hotel room, naked, amidst a twist of sex-soaked sheets.
All too soon, I found myself back out on the sidewalk. Once again, people were muttering or shouting into their devices. With my white buttons in place, I moved on.
“Something,” said me, “was not quite right about that conversation.”
I agree,” said I.
“Shall we try again?”
“何時にそれがあるか私に言うことができるか? (Nanji nisoregaaruka watashi ni iu kotogadekiruka?)”
“четверть A.S. за одним. (etverti A.S. za odnim).”
“гостеприимсво re. (gostepriimsvo re).”