Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Gladiators


You know,” D says, leaning against the wall, “you’d be perfect for a Roman slave market.”

The young man he calls X looks up from his book and smiles uncertainly. “What do you mean?”

“Just look at you.” D waves a hand. “Those cannonball shoulders of yours, those bulging biceps, that washboard stomach. I can imagine you, naked and oiled on the auctioneer’s block. Those Romans would’ve salivated over you. I can see the bidding reaching record levels.”

X shrugs. “Not exactly something I’d find flattering, I think.”

D laughs. “That’s just the start. Then the buyer would have you trained as, let’s see, a gladiator. Train you to become a perfect killing machine, give you a sword and shield, and put you in armour with one of those helmets with holes to see through. And then you’d be in the arena, Romans cheering, blood on the sand. Ave Caesar, morituri te salutant, you know, though I think they never actually said that. When I think of how that would be, the crowds baying for the kill and you winning the victor’s laurels, well, it seems the perfect setting.“

“The perfect setting for what, precisely?’

“Huh, I don’t know. Scaling the heights of glory, maybe? All those maidens swooning at your feet. The world would be your oyster, as long as you kept winning.”

X shuts hid book and puts it down on the table. “What set this off, exactly?”

D sighs and pushes himself away from the wall. “I don’t know. Just, maybe, thinking this is too good to last. You’re young, you’re handsome, you’re bright and personable. You have a future. Whereas I’m a washed-up old man past his prime and getting wrinkled and flabby.”

“Oh come on,” X says. “You’re not old, or past your prime. And I love you.”

D nods and sits on the edge of the bed. “I know. At least I tell myself I know. But I look at myself in the mirror, and I know what I’ve lost.” He laughs suddenly. “At least you’re still with me, despite everything. That’s something.”

“Did you really think I wouldn’t be?” X sits down next to D and puts his arm around his shoulder. “What’s bothering you, really? Is it something I did?”

“No, no. Why should it be? But I do feel I’m keeping you from finding someone else, someone more your age and interests. I mean, I can’t really be very interesting to you, if you really get down to it. I don’t know anything about what young people like these days. You and I don’t watch the same movies or share a taste in music. We don’t even,” he adds, pointing at the book, which has a bloodstained dagger on the cover, “read the same books.”

“There’s more to love than just that, isn’t there?” X says. “Why don’t you ask what I see in you?”

D chuckles suddenly. “Maybe I’m afraid you’re going to say a father figure.”

“Father figure? No. You know what my dad said when he found out I was gay?”

D turns to look at X, who keeps his eyes fixed on the floor. “No. What did he say? I didn’t want to ask, really. It’s usually a pretty personal thing, isn’t it?”

“Well, yes. I didn’t actually want to tell him. But I was in my first serious relationship then – and the guy made it a condition to stick with me, that I come out officially.” X swallows, his prominent larynx bobbing. “I wasn’t really sure then, you know? I thought I was still experimenting, and I wanted to be sure. But it was either come out, or break with him. So I came out.”

“Um. And what did dad say?” D has seen pictures of X’s father in the newspapers, giving speeches and inaugurating projects. “Forget it. I can guess what he said.”

“Yeah, it was like what you’d think. For a week I didn’t go home. Slept in friends’ houses and so on. One night I slept on a bench in the park.” X looks intensely unhappy. “My mother gave in after that, but I had to keep out of my dad’s way, fade into the background. By the time I moved out for good, it was a relief for all of us.”

“And what about the guy? The one you were in a relationship with? Didn’t he ask you to move in with him or something?”

“Oh yeah. Him. The moment he found out I’d actually burned my bridges, as it were, he began backpedalling as fast as he could. I think the whole thing was only a power trip for him, to show what he could make me do.” X sighs. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t really be saying all this, right? I mean he’s not here to defend himself.”

“Does it matter? If you talk about it you get it out of your system.” D gets up and fetches two tall glasses of chilled orange juice from the kitchen; he does not permit alcohol in the house, hasn’t drunk any for many years. “And you haven’t been back home since, of course.”

X wipes the outside of the glass with his handkerchief, blotting away the condensation. “Of course. And after that I went through a phase when I pretty much slept with anyone who came along. I think they have some kind of psychological term for that kind of behaviour, but I don’t know it.”

“Yes, I can see that you were fighting your own identity battle.” D sips at his juice. “Did you win it?”

“Who knows? I don’t think I’m bi, if that’s what you’re getting at. But does it matter? I’m not looking elsewhere, nor do I have any desire to. And I don’t look to you as a father figure. It was the happiest day of my life when I met you, simply because you were so different from all of them.”

“Really? Thanks. I mean that seriously.”

“There’s something I’d like to ask too.” X pauses. “Was it difficult for you in the beginning?”

D shrugs. “It depends on what you call difficult. I didn’t have problems with my parents but I think they knew already. Besides, they were the self-conscious liberal type; they’d hide their actual feelings even from themselves to fit into their liberal ethic. You know the type of person I’m talking about?

“The real problem began with the AIDS thing. Suddenly you didn’t know who had it, or if you’d got it and didn’t know. I knew people who had it, and I’d slept with a couple of them, too. For a while I was too scared to go for a test. And of course there were all those people saying gay people deserved it because of their unnatural lifestyles. I suppose they didn’t want to know it happened to heteros too.”

“So that was your own battle? You faced it alone.”

“Yes.” D laughs shortly. “I used to lie awake at night in the dark, looking up at the ceiling, trying to face the possibility that I had it. It was like facing my fear in the arena, with my life in the balance; quite like a gladiator, actually. If you lost, you died. I only went in for the test when people I knew began actually dying from it. Not just falling sick, you understand; literally dying. Finally, oddly enough, it was a female friend who forced me to go in for it. She went with me to the clinic and took the test herself, as well. Just so, you know, nobody would think I was gay.”

“Um, well.” The glasses are empty, and X takes them away to the kitchen. When he returns after rinsing them, D is leafing through the book with the dagger on the cover. “That’s really rather trash, you know,” he says.

D looks up, grinning. “Yes, that’s what I was thinking. And maybe I should read a little trash once in a while. So what are you doing this evening? Going out?”

“No. I think I’d rather stay with you.” X shakes his head. “Too much trash outside.”

“Don’t I know it,” D says, putting down the book, “When you look back at it, we did win our gladiatorial fights so far, didn’t we? You and I, both. We’ve won each fight so far.”

“And each fight could be the last, so we’ve got to keep winning? Is that what you mean?”

“Something like that, kiddo. We can’t afford defeats, not a single one. Ever. You’re learning fast.”

“I love you,” X says. “You know that, don’t you?”

“I know,” D says, and believes it. “I know.”



Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

1 comment:

  1. Oh wow.. a story on homosexuals.
    I really want to meet and know gay people, but I have never met any. At-least not anyone who is openly gay.

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