1 Juice

Of course, I think for a moment, he didn’t actually say that, I just heard that, I just imagined him saying that, I just made that up, because I think it would be interesting. Or would it?

I realise I need to press pause. But he looks at me with this frankness, still, with this openness. If only I could remember meeting me then, then it might make more sense for him to be saying he imagines himself meeting someone like me now. Or was it a joke? I don’t remember being much given to jokes. I don’t think I was humourless, though I was, undoubtedly, earnest.

I need to press pause, metaphorically, on these ‘proceedings’ (they’re not really going anywhere fast) and allow myself to remember what mattered. And what didn’t. Before I say anything more. But can I leave him just hanging there, right in front of me? I can’t. Can I just ignore what he’s said as if he hadn’t said it and I had just imagined him saying it? I could, but that might be rude, and rudeness is unacceptable, therefore I can’t. Can I ask him if he really meant that, if he actually knows who I am? Well, I can, but say he doesn’t know who I am, say it was just a throwaway remark, say it was just me being a little bit clever, a tiny tad ‘interesting’ all off my own bat, at the age of twenty, twenty-one, then how do I explain to him what I mean, without disturbing his own reality? Is his reality not already disturbed? Mine certainly is. But then I also realise I’m suddenly rather enjoying this.

Up until almost this precise moment I had been greatly disconcerted—not in a profoundly distressed or let alone panicked manner, just really, really unsure of what on earth was going on—but now, maybe jolted by his answer, I feel I’ve just come up for air. I can float in this sea of uncertainty now. Accept it for what it is, even not knowing what it is. That, it strikes me as suddenly obvious, will have to somehow become my new state of being, for quite some time.

I give him a smile that says, ‘I do understand,’ although clearly I don’t, and enquire just a nudge further: ‘I mean in life, what do you see yourself doing?’

His skin is incredibly smooth. I don’t recall touching my skin when it was that smooth, that soft. I don’t feel like touching it now, though I do wish I could hold him, just to make him feel safe. Then again, I rarely if ever did not feel safe at that age, and seeing that this is me not some stranger—although for all I know about or of him, he might as well be an alien—I just look at him, look at me. ‘You’re a writer,’ I say, not questioning, stating.

‘I am,’ he says, happy, it seems, that this is so evident; though: ‘how did you guess?’

Ah. That turns everything around once more. He doesn’t know who I am. How could he, in his life I don’t yet exist, other than perhaps in his imagination, but then I remember that at his age I was certain—not vaguely inclined to believe, but convinced—that I would never make it to forty, and here I am, pushing fifty.

I had said so, to my best friend, Peggy: she was appalled. ‘How can you say a thing like that!’ she’d exclaimed upon my assertion, aged nineteen or twenty, that I would not make it to forty. But I saw no reason to be scandalised: for me, when I was aged nineteen or twenty, the idea alone of ever being as ancient as forty was simply absurd. Surely everything—but everything!—worthwhile experiencing, doing, saying or, for that matter, writing, would have been experienced, done, said and most certainly written by then.

I have already outlived my target then by some ten years, and I know now of course that he can’t know who I am because not only doesn’t he know yet that I exist, he doesn’t even believe that I will ever exist. Not because he’s being obstreperous or deliberately controversial or simply obtuse, but because he genuinely can’t imagine it.

This is my chance, this is my opportunity for a pause: if I can make him think then I’ll get the time to think too. There must be, there must be a link between him and me.

‘I saw your notepad and pen,’ I say, playing the ‘I’m an observer kind of a person’ card.

He now for the second time does something that moves me: he shows me the pad. I take that, before I can think it through, as a signal of trust. And I read. As I read, I remember well having written those words. I have my pause button. I have a clasp on my heart. I have left the dimensions I was travelling through to get here. I can, at last, reconcile.

Or at least I can try…

*

i should point out

that i’m not real

the

juice

that courses through my body

is not

squeezed

by ordinary means

i want to know how things happen.

i want to know how it happens that you see somebody

not even meet them

see somebody

from a distance

enter a room, for example

and think

(you don’t

think, you go, though

just to yourself:)

‘yes

that’s him

that’s

the one’

(even though you know

it will turn out

that it isn’t)

how does this happen

it’s ludicrous

you don’t even know him:

it is

insane

i

undress him in my mind, imagine him

naked.

i don’t do this immediately

it’s not something i

jump to

like a conclusion

it’s something i resist for a moment

then for another

and for another

until enough moments have passed

an hour or so later, maybe two (sometimes

a whole day or more may pass before i feel it is

acceptable

before i feel ready) to imagine him

naked. i

touch

his body in my mind, his

chest, my

extended fingers spread, gently run

over the mound of his biceps:

delectable

my

other hand now cups around his waist, just above his

hip

and draws him a little closer, close enough that i can

when i lower my head

just a little

inhale

the scent of his

body

musk with a warm sweet sweat of

excitement

i

zonk out of it

just in time: i don’t want him

there yet

not yet, we have not even yet said

hello.

12 The Sultaness (Revisited)

She doesn’t leave me alone, this woman, plausibly because she’s so womanly. With a regrettable paucity of experience, I retain an abstract notion at best of what Woman is. Or Man, coming to think of it. In all likelihood and compared to most, I retain a largely abstract notion of what anyone is. Are we human? Or are we dancer.

I imagine her on a mountain of cushions, brushing her hair. A dwarf eunuch wafting air upon her with a Pergamon fan. As I enter the room – is it a hall, a tent, a boudoir? – she looks up at me with an aloofness that is both superior and benign. She doesn’t know who I am, and neither do I, although she has spoken to me already, in mysterious ways.

Woven into the pillows are the sorrows and tears of the virgins that were slaughtered in vain, and the hopes and aspirations of their betrothed princes, kept and murdered as slaves. I hear the din of the bazar and I smell its scents which are, as expected, exotic, and I hear the muezzin’s adhan. This call I heed, though I am not a believer, and leave her waiting, once more. She knows, and stifles a yawn, but inwardly she delights.

It occurs to me that it does not matter. It matters not why The Sultaness has taken up residence in my mind any more than it matters why I have come to Istanbul to encounter my thirty-years younger self. It matters not that I make no sense to myself at the moment and it matters not that looking at George here who is me at the age of about twenty, I can’t be in Kingston-upon-Thames at the same time, and it never ever mattered what I was going to go there for in the first place; or second, or third.

What matters is just that I don’t get these next fifty seconds wrong. If I don’t come up with a question that has at least some weight, some inquisitive purpose to it, he’ll not only think me lame but he’ll be bound to query my motives. And although I know and remember myself as someone who will for as long as possible give anyone the benefit of the doubt, I also know that once that bond of trust is broken it cannot be repaired, not easily; maybe never. I don’t want to let myself down.

And so asking him how he is doing, or where he is from, or what he makes of this city, or where he is headed next, or how he enjoys his mojito, none of these will do (although I am in fact interested to know how his Interrail trip ended up landing him here on the outside edge of Europe, and what might have happened to his friend, and which friend it was, since I clearly would know him; but that also holds me at bay: I should not enquire about our mutual friend, as that mutuality, once established, would very obviously demand some explanation). Nor do I want to ask him some random question, such as what is the meaning of life, or pretend that there is some information he has that I need, or anything utilitarian, like where is a good place to eat. (Besides, we are at a good place to eat already, and I know we are both creatures of habit, so unnecessarily asking for a different place to eat would make me sound either disingenuous or stupid.)

I wait until he has taken another sip from his cocktail—only now does it really occur to me that’s what we are doing: drinking cocktails—and ask him, ‘where do you imagine yourself in, say, 30 years from today.’

No sooner have I spoken these words than I realise just how absurd this is: thirty years from now I’ll be eighty and he will be fifty; what is he supposed to answer? Will thirty years from now be thirty years down his timeline, or mine? And won’t that depend on how the next fifty seconds, and then fifty minutes and maybe then fifty hours pan out?

I sense that my reality is about to implode, when he does something unexpected. Having been him, it shouldn’t come so unexpected to me; having been him I should have seen this coming – in a more normal situation perhaps even remembered – but he nevertheless catches me out and fairly floors me:

‘In a place like this,’ he says, laconic and calm, with his innocence and nascent wisdom and a curious sparkle in his eye, ‘talking to someone like you…’

10 Choices

He wanders over, languid, slow, and sits down at my table, at a right angle from me, with a tentative smile: it’s most familiar this, this almost smile, this nearly-a-smile-but-not-quite, with an almost glint in his eye, but also a question.

He is frank but not so frank as to be forward, his mind is open, just as mine was when I was him, but also naturally cautious. I don’t remember this scene, this encounter from my youth at all, which makes me think that maybe this is a complete stranger and I’m projecting onto him my own invention of a version of my youth; and, seeing that I’ve lost my grip on continuity and the concordance of time and space with no possible explanation for how it is that I’m in Istanbul, none of this would surprise me.

‘Hello…’ – he looks at me as if he registered something from his own future or his own past (though that, too, may well just be in my mind), but he doesn’t recognise me, I’m glad: it was brazen of me to ask him over; I could ruin everything. What, though, is ‘everything’?—‘…I’m George.’

I want to say: ‘I know,’ but that would be certain to confuse him.

‘Good to meet you George, my name is Sebastian.’

He gives me another frank look with an almost-smile that this time round might just tip over into a grin, a benign one, but it doesn’t; instead his face settles into a look that says: you interest me and that alone is worth something, go on then.

I’m in. I don’t know what I’m in, or in for, but I can tell from his unjaded eyes that he likes the curiosity of this situation. He likes curiosity, and he’s not scared. He never was scared, I think, as I watch him look up at Ahmed who returns with our mojitos. He likes Ahmed, he finds him attractive. Can you blame him. Ahmed thinks nothing of it and smiles at us both, in almost equal measure, though I sense a nod more towards me than my younger self George, but maybe I flatter myself thinking so, and also I know what I was like then, I was incapable of flirtation. Nowadays I just surrender.

How to proceed? Am I going to tell George: look at me, I am what will become of you. That would be insane. And horrendously cruel, surely: what if he doesn’t want to look his self-to-be in they eye, at this particular juncture, right here and now and without warning or opportunity to think about it, what if he just wants to have a mojito with an oddly familiar seeming stranger twice his age, and maybe hear something about the world that nobody’s ever told him?

Nor, clearly, am I going to tell George my life story, the twenty-eight years or so that will constitute the distance between him and me. That would be simply unfair, and take forever.

So what am I going to tell him? Ask him? Want of him? For a brief but potentially panic-inducing moment it occurs to me that if we were to get on so well as to decide, maybe after a few cocktails or so, to go for a walk and then maybe dinner and then his hotel (seeing that I haven’t got one), I could end up quite conceivably in an intimate encounter with myself, in the most unorthodox way. That would be taking things way too far, I decide, and resolve to not let it come to this under any circumstances: this one mojito, that’s it. (What are our circumstances, I continue to wonder…) He raises his glass and offers me cheers. I let that thought go and return the compliment.

The mojito—much as the Bloody Mary had been—is near perfect with an appreciable kick to it, and I further resolve not to resolve anything more for the time-being and instead allow myself simply to be there in that moment and see what next might unfold…

8 The Leopard (and His Spots)

We’re into weird territory now, and I’m a little excited. My hold on reality—loose as it’s been (so as not to say non-existent) since early this morning—has just undergone one more lateral nudge. Whatever I’m clasping at now is clearly not what I’m used to. I can’t blame the Bloody Mary: it may have been perfect, but it was not nearly so strong as to give me hallucinations. Do Bloody Marys ever? Is seeing yourself as a youthful rendering in your current day environment a hallucination? Then again, is a somewhat trendy garden bar cafe restaurant in the currently fashionable part of Istanbul ‘my environment’? And what are they thinking of me in Kingston, Surrey, right now? Should I care?

I resolve, for the first time really today, to ‘deal’ with the situation. Right up until now, I have been essentially bewildered and in no small measure bemused by my overall predicament, but now it transpires there’s something I must do. This fills me with gloom quite as much as it stirs me. Ideally, I would do nothing. I would sit here and wait for it all—whatever ‘it’ is—to just go away. But conditions are no longer ideal. Whereas until a few minutes ago I was maybe disorientated but principally happy to just exist in a reality that didn’t quite make sense but that would probably, I surmised, explain itself to me in one way or another sooner or later, I am now deeply discomfited. And as the extraordinariness of my state begins to dawn on me, it also begins to impose itself on me with a meaning, a forceful declamation of purpose: it seems to be saying you are here precisely to confront your own younger self. And that is plainly absurd.

The angular waitress is nowhere to be seen and so I halfheartedly wave at a sweet looking colleague of hers who is and has been all smiles. He looks about twenty-seven-and-three-and-a-half-months and wears one discreet earring and a handsome tattoo that encircles his arm below a deliberately high-rolled shirt sleeve. He likes me, I think, but then at the moment I am quite likeable, and quite helpless, as I glance up at him and ask him what it was that the young man over there had eaten, offering him an innocent smile: before you interfere with your reality, check it.

He glances halfway over his shoulder and furrows his brow for an instant or two, and my heart sinks. There’s nobody there. I’m imagining him, I am losing control. Hah, losing control, I’ve lost it several hours ago, possibly several decades…

He slowly turns back to me and declares: ‘Kebab. Mixed kebab and salad. Are you still hungry?’ – ‘No,’ I reply, only now aware of how odd a question that must have seemed, ‘no, not at all, I was just wondering; it looked nice.’ This satisfies him and from his expectant look I deduce that he thinks I will want to order something anyway, maybe another coffee? I pause for a moment and then say, as if that was the most natural thing in the world: ‘do you think he would mind if I asked him a question?’

Ahmed—I later find out is his name—cocks his head a bit as if to say ‘are you serious?’ but instead, with a still growing smile says: ‘There is no harm in asking a question.’ I am relieved, but not sure that he’s right, necessarily. Would that not depend on the question?

I feel I have caught myself on the hop and I order, somewhat on a whim, a mojito this time round and—sensing my window of opportunity close and the boldness in my adrenalin-fuelled heart wane—ask Ahmed to ask young me (without referring to him as young me, for obvious reasons) if he would join me for one, as I would like to, there being no harm in asking a question, ask him a question.

Ahmed seems to enjoy this task, one he has never, I fancy, been given before, and brazenly marches up to young me and asks me if I would care to join the gentleman over there for a mojito. To my unending surprise I say yes. But then I have always been good for a new conversation, even back then, when I was, or believe to remember being, naturally disposed towards caution.

As I sit there watching myself saunter over to me, I sense an overpowering surge of affection and care. God, I think to myself, if only I knew…