The attic room in the student town of Ordrecht went for 365, 52 euros monthly, not including the safety-deposit, called borg in Dutch.
“Lucky boy, just too late. Because we have crisis in Holland, I had to rise the price up from € 265. Survival. One must survive a crisis,’’ the landlord, Mr Koen Leeuwens said while spreading out a drained waterbed covering most of the 1 sq. meter of the floor. He had painted the walls and the door without a keyhole all black. It looked like it had been the bathroom in some nightclub but with the urinals torn out.
“If you fill the waterbed you may only to fill it by half. Only under my supervision. This is because a full waterbed weighs a ton, and it can pressure the floor or cause a catastroof,” Leeuwens warned. Even if Leeuwens seemed like he would love a keyhole to look through, installing a lock was strictly forbidden. For I was not allowed to add anything to his Mondrian-designed house—official Patrimony of this Dutch province, and therefore of the European Union.
“I snip off all the Made in EU flags from my waterbeds I sell in my shop. I will not sell the people lies. What the fuck they make in EU, really?”
“I don’t know,” I said, a little embarrassed for not having done more homework before crossing the ocean on an Antillean scholarship.
Leeuwens was at war with the municipality—which was by no means the same as being at war with the Netherlands, or with the European Union, or mankind’s ripping rainbow of Mondrian color-schemes. To the contrary, “The Municipality-people, they let in all these homophoobes from Morocco, Sudan and wherever else into this town, and then they still tell me I can’t touch my old house? If it weren’t for me the mice would have ruined it on the inside. I can’t give up the good fight. I studied engineering plus Int. Design with a minor in Philosophy,’’ he declared, thrusting his arm at the framed diploma on the wall next to a cuckoo-clock that canted right at that moment.
“Fuck them,’’ he said, thumbing a beer-can open for me.
“Fuck them,’’ I echoed, lukewarm Heineken in my hand. “Death to the Municipality. And to the hoomophoobes” I added, to be politically correct.
Leeuwens often drank alone downstairs while listening to Latin music. He practiced Latino dances at a workshop. “This stiff Dutchman needs to become loose,’’ he’d say, playing records of Reguetón-boys shouting in bad Spanish about anal sex and weekends. He wiggled his butt in his swim-shorts and clapped his hands like a Flamenco dancer.
I did not listen to Reguetón back home—wherever home was, Aruba, or Colombia. I hated Reguetón. They played it everywhere. My pothead friend Dino from Bogotá said that the genre was invented by some collusion between the CIA and School of the Americas, giving money-rolls to boys with bad voices to talk ugly into tape recorders “They bombard us with Reguetón to counteract the revolutionary folk-songs, like those of Cecilia Todd, a Bolivarian comrade. No wonder they made it in studios on Puerto Rico, a colony of the USA.’’ His head came up to my chest, but his smoke reached my nostrils and his ideas embedded themselves in my mind. They wanted to destroy song itself, to rip apart the revolutionary wisdom contained in song. “It all makes sense now’’ I nodded, and quoted Comrade Todd, “singing contains its wisdom, its methods of understanding.’’ I heard her sweet toucan voice in my head.
Leeuwens checked the mirror while he danced. He unplugged the vintage phone as soon as it rang: this was his sacred time for practicing steps.
Leeuwens didn’t mind interrupting my attempts to study Law with new complaints, maybe about my fingerprints appearing on his porcelain figurines, or on his precious auction-bought trinkets of rattan-wood strawy furniture from Indonesia.
He owned expensive Grimm fairy tale characters: elves on ceramic toadstools, and I was almost as weary of touching those as I wearied of touching his Grecian boy sculptures.
The thought that they would somehow be harmed kept him awake on his king-size waterbed, like the notion that they came to life at night.
Once I walked in late as he sat eating mushy food in front of his microwave. He tapped the small Grecian boy’s genitals with a fork and it gave a hollow buzz “Like a Brussel sprout,” he remarked of the little scrotum, and looked at me as if I might concur. I could not see his eyes through his glasses.
He shoved his plate of microwave food in my direction.
“Nee, dank U.” I went upstairs, and he warned me not to smoke indoors.
Leeuwens feared pyromaniacs. His long-ago ex-husband, “a Swedish pyrophobe” (or did he say “pyrophone”?) had instilled that dread into him. He had fire-alarms installed in every corner of his house.
I wanted to put him at ease. But who was I kidding, I studied Law, not psychoanalysis: “To read Law,” my alibi for being in the Netherlands at the prestigious U of Ordrecht, an old European academy predating the Enlightenment fire-eater show.
This made me grateful. Grateful, to reinvest my money from the Dutch State in an inexpensive room—thank Goodness, or Queen Maxima’s royal heiny, for my having qualified for this stipend, simply because I was from the semi-autonomous regions of the Dutch Caribbean Antilles, rather than from the other side of the little moat that separated those islands from Venezuela and Colombia.
I was not truly from there, or anywhere: the son of a cancelled Colombian Rabbi who had moved his family to Aruba after a scandal.
Now I had come to the Netherlands, to misread Law, to mint my Dutch Kingdom State scholarship bonus-cheque. Like hitting a home run—the way boys on Aruba hit a home run, using their fist for a bat, striking the tennis ball like a small false sun and they sprint along the bases drawn in chalk, sliding and scraping their bare legs against the burning asphalt, heroic and yet completely adapted, surrendered to the only diamond they would ever draw with chalk on the school ground grey and faded as palm-trunk.
Luckily the broom closet I was renting for € 365,52 had a big window.
From the ledge I could smell the coming, freezing winter Aruban islanders had warned of in fearing tones. Its mists settled around the little toadstools, oaks and tulips of autumn after the rainy Dutch summer that never was. The clouds are always confused over the Netherlands, like blind men whom nobody will help cross the street since it’s not sighted-people’s responsibility anyways. Dutch August farts gusts of dark autumn winds, with some bright summery hours, like the coke that’s in a pure state when it makes its exit-Exodus from Aruba on a freight to Rotterdam, where it gets weakened, cut with detergent soaps and other crap that fools European nostrils.
One day in August, I could see the neighbor’s daughter sunning herself, the small twin swan-tails of breasts, naked, as she sat in the lawn-chair in bikini bottom, texting telegrams to her friends and smoking mentholated cancers. (Her smoke, like a cool grey cat she sent climbing up to my balcony ledge, purring and crying, looking with bright dun-blue eyes).
In dreams at night I fucked her, the Van der Oomkens girl, Elske, and we smoked mint cigarettes.
Though these begin at school, no straight male ever unlearns having lust-dreams about a schoolgirl–an ancient dream-lust as old as school itself. The ancient Sumerians spanked... (I remember my elder Abba Eliezer’s telling us over the dinner table in detail how he was corporally punished in his youth, when his mother found him playing with children on a holy Sabbath... He did not dare strike me with his withered hands, despite the rumours about his daughter, my half-sister who preceded me and left the world too early, and the first wife, she who I did not dare ask about. All the other children I knew got whooped by their parents-- the father’s belt, or the mother’s broomstick to the back, or on skulls presumed thick by an angry Aruban mother. I felt like I was missing out on preparation for life because of the lack of commonplace physical abuse, though Abba cited old Rabbis on the preparations for life. Holland was a stunning other world, the streets swarmed with smiling youths who had little notion of death, of knives or of faith and, much more obviously, had never been spanked.
Elske seemed fond of ashing her cigarette on her parents’ ceramics in the garden. She wore round sunglasses, so I did not know if she had noticed me noticing as she reclined. Honestly, she seemed more interested in her laptop and her soft drink spiked with God-knows-what in a cup on her plastic-laminated skirt. She seemed fond of undressing too.
Ali, a foreign student who talked to me at the Law faculty, had told me all about “the Double Dutch,” once before we went out to the clubs as he spritzed cologne on his long thin neck, and combed his long pipe-curl locks like some Bollywood princess in the mirror, his button shirt shiny. “They, the Dutch girls use a condom and the pill. Optimum securitisation.”
“Sounds like your thesis topic” I said, and Ali winked in the florescent-lit mirror. The Dutch sure liked security. Half their nightclubs didn’t let us in even if Ali tried to menace the bouncers by telling them we were future lawyers.
“Triple-Dutch,” I surmised.
Next day I spoke to the neighbor girl on the corner as she climbed off her bicycle. I introduced myself and invited her to go for a walk, asking if she could show me anything new in the neighbourhood. To tell the truth, it was a most ugly and boring neighbourhood, an imitation of American suburbia from the imperial TV.
She brought her bike, rolling it along close to her, like a pony, her fingers wearing different coloured nail-polishes tracing close to the toot-horn turned me on a little.
“They sell fruit here’’ she said as we stopped before a Surinamese shop.
“Once,” she started half-whispering like telling a ghost story, “My mom was shocked because someone at her work got a gift of these tamarinds from a colleague from Surinam, and someone joked that they look like the condoms that Antilleans fill up with cocaine to smuggle on the airplane they take to Holland. Awful... Does that shock you? I'm sorry”
(A cyclist with a funny helmet passed, he stared at us two through his goggles)
My shock at her mother’s office fruit story was softened by my instant daydream of feeding Elske the sweet tamarinds on a silk bed, punishing her for being spoiled.
I bought a tiny box of tamarinds.
We sat on a bench.
“Where I’m from, kids pick them from trees. They’re tasty’’ I offered her one, holding it up.
“They look like penises’’ she said and puffed her menthol cig. I laughed also, a little shocked, not knowing why.
“You blush,’’ she said, with the look of someone who just saw something they until then thought didn’t exist. She held her fingers to my cheek and withdrew as if something scalded.
I cracked the hard tamarind peel in my palm, playing the exotic connoisseur of Caribbean wild nuts though I had mostly grown up in port-cities. I offered her the hairy sticky seed. She took out her flavoured chewing gum and held the tamarind in her mouth.
“Mmm, bitter, I give it a 6. It sucks…I’m kidding. 7 and half” she paused a moment, sucking, the tamarind pushing a protuberance in her soft round face.
“My parents are Greens. They find Mr Leeuwens intolerant. Mr Leeuwens is always listening to shows against the Islam in Holland, and against the multiculturals and he talks a lot about it to my parents. He also wrote us hysterical letters about his ideas and sent them to my dad. My dad calls him Martin Leeuwens, like Martin Luther” she half-whispered, giggling. “And Mom,” she added, smiling defiantly “had his letters recycled!”
I thought of Leeuwens, practicing his steps at night to the shrieking voices and the computerized din of reguetón.
“Maybe he secretly loves them. The multiculturals. He’s a closet worshipper.” He can no longer be a closet anything else. “That’s why he rented me a room without a lock and key. I dreamt he opened the door and stood there in his shorts looking at me with a little tear in his eye.”
She laughed and asked if I smoke joints. “You're funny. I'd like to light up a joint with you” she said it with affection like she was asking me out to the dance.
(Ali’s testimony echoed in my head, “Double Dutch” he said, winking as he dolled himself up putting oil in his curls, I wondered if he had lied to women that he was Italian.)
“No, no! I can't smoke marijuana. It makes me crazy.’’ (When I got high, I began to think in flashes of smoky Judgment and Godspeech, and Molech the blood-drunk idol from the Bible and the Philistines burning incense and children before the idols that Father Rabbi Abba had spoken of. He had spoken of the cruelty of Molech and I knew the jeremiad was his way of condemning the loss of my half-sister.)
“Hash, not weed. Smoke hash” Elske prescribed. “If weed makes you paranoid, they say, switch it up to hash’’
“I’ll talk to the boys in there, they must know about hash’’ I pointed at the next shop showcase, a salon where young Moroccans puffed waterpipes. The curling, cracking hoses of the waterpipes had bright colours, in the absence of any bubble-gum machines or carousel in this dull neighbourhood. Mist made pure and white again after leaving its sin in their lungs, billowed above their heads, scaled the ceiling. I liked the music. Standing there, it felt like we were ogling an aquarium with moray eels; dangerous and exotic fish locked up on display.
I insisted on walking her home. We passed a strange cathedral, which looked plain compared to cathedrals I knew from back home.
“Is this even Catholic”’ I asked.
“I don't know. I sang in the choir here. When I was young and nobody in my family believes in God’’ she added.
“Do you have a beautiful voice?’’
“But you must!’’ I jumped before her, like a puppy suddenly her age. “I’m from an island where people are in love with their own singing voices when they sing off-key after a lot of rum. And if anyone would say 'mrs. so and so sings false' why, that person's life is ruined forever after! If they do that, then they have to leave the island. Can't live there anymore.”
“But you must have a beautiful voice. A pot-smoking little angel. Sing me something”
“I haven’t sung for years’’ she said stiffly, embarrassed. “I don’t like that music anymore. I like techno and rap now that I’m an adult’’ she began blabbing about Dutch hip hop by boys from Rotterdam and Almere, more Reguettón to dance to in celebration of open-minded deafness.
“My parents said Antilleans sit around drinking and playing dominoes all day and the women do all the work and everything. It's on TV documentaries also” she said.
“Sounds ideal. Why did I leave then?”
I thought of all the construction workers I had overheard speaking Papiamento in my first weeks in the Netherlands.
Back in her parents’ garden we sat together on the inflatable raft in the trim grass. It softly farted out its air. We sucked on tamarinds. She tried to show me her music collection, letting me listen to space-trash through her headphone but I returned it and placed it round her neck, keeping my hands there a little, near her bosom, then caressed her arms, drew in kissed her open mouth, neck— Her fingers combed my silly attempts at growing a beard. She breathed louder than the space-trash from the headphone, laughing with eyes closed.
“You’re shaking” she said, sounding surprised her hand on my trembling side. I couldn’t harness the tremor. I could tell it had not happened to her before with boys.
“It’s the Dutch climate” I lied “I’m not yet acclimatised. Used to tropics”
“Cute” she said, “let’s get you acclimatised” she put tongue on mine and sat on my lap. Kissing her open-eyed—which I had heard one should not do because it means mistrust or other ill fortune-- my hand on her hockey-girl knee, and clearly in Dutch heaven, I looked up, but saw her mother observing us from the window as her daughter bit my thumb. Moeder Inecke Van der Oomske let a vaguely amused smirk trickle across her face which otherwise resembled a woodblock, under the short weird geometric hairstyle and oddball designer eyeglasses as she groomed her Feng Shui plants and her exotic spices that probably made her Ayur-Vedic culinary attempts no less horrible.
Elske’s mum needed her deserved break from all that concentrated Feng Shui like a martial art, only to see this. A coyote licking her daughter, and the girl liking it: what did that say about Elske?
My pulse now out-galloped Elske’s—worry about the schoolgirl being reprimanded by her parents, now she’d been caught, entangled in a man’s embrace! But maybe I was forgetting who these people were, in this different culture. Northern, Modern people: civilized and rational about such matters, I heard they bought condoms for their teenagers. Hard to imagine. I had an old withered copy of Crónica of a Death Foretold by Marquez, where the Vicario Brothers come and do a hit-job on Santiago Nasar for having brought dishonour upon them by their sister. I read it because it was slim, I was too lazy and ADHD to read A Century of Soledad.
Though surely everything in this land was permitted, it seemed wiser to avoid Elske for the next few days.
Perhaps I had indeed disrespected her, with my thoughts, with my seeking hands. An idea dawned on me: send her a poem. I had to. Dino back home was always successful with conjuring poetic cheesiness to impress women, and he was older than me, though very short. For teenagers it definitely seemed normal as a way of communicating.
I struck out the first verses of “Für Elske’’ on my PC; the verses came out childish. Something with eyes the colours of brilliant fish. Then I worried she might interpret the fish as religious symbolism I did not intend.
Maybe it was the PC interfering: poems must be overheard from lunar winds or written by hand with the torn leg of a blackbird, its talons dipped in ink. I cursed at the PC and Leeuwens’ gin-voice came from below through the waterbed-cracked floor like I was inside a diabolical clock. Maybe he had spyware in his “Spiritual Waterbed’’. Cursing silently at Leeuwens, I rebooted the damn PC.
I wrote: “I would eat herrings un-salted with you
hold your hand in mine for a day.
I propose a Law,
to the Dutch government, in The Hague
making it illegal, of criminal ways,
to eat fat oily herrings with Elske,
and hold your hand in mine for a day,
just so we could then do this and
break the law anyway.”
I crossed it out, spat on it for it’s being mediocre and wrote a new one
“I would bring flowers,
but the flowers of my land do not grow
in these chilled yards.
I would bring birds to your door,
but then you’d think me a cat of a man,
and that’s not how I want to caress you
and to be caressed by you.’’
I had to make corrections to the Dutch, then re-read it and saw it was mierda, no good. (I wouldn’t include my fantasy with the tamarinds.)
I chucked it, cursing myself for not having read enough poetry to write good poetry, only some poems and many songs, (excluding Reguettón – for songs are only that if sung).
Poetic Plan B: since I could not write a convincing verse for Elske, I would plagiarize a songtext. It was rumoured that some students had developed ways of plagiarising that the software would not detect. I learned at the Ordrecht Faculty of Law I learned that the word “Plagiarism” in Latin once meant the theft of a child, which seemed like a warning against Poetic Plan B, and in that lecture I couldn’t help but be reminded of my father leaving Montevideo for Colombia, and the kidnapping of his daughter Nora. Deicide: ignore the omens, they don’t come from Dios, rip the song text.
It added to the severity of what many students and assistant profs kept doing seamlessly. (I heard the trembling voice my father, Rabbi Abba Eliezer Bidas who spoke of the kidnappings in his own country of the silver river, before the Colombian Caribbean community had brought him over from Montevideo to guide them, his tales of home, made the places where he had raised us in the Caribbean sound clement by comparison.)
I remembered the song I had heard a band back home plagiarize—though it addressed a dark-haired, dark-eyed woman,
“Tus ojos café, morena’’ “Your coffee eyes, dark-haired one,’’ I’d have to change that to fit Elske of course. A part of the song
“tu mirar que me encadena, haciéndome jurar amor eterno /
“That song that shackled me in the fire of your stare, /
to make me declare my eternal love the night we embraced…’’
It would not work like that, but I modified it instead of throwing into the bin— maybe I should have.
Surely she had Instagram. I found Elske Van der Oomske under her alias @VeganJunkie on Insta and sent her my poem in a message. <Click> Leeuwens’ cognac-voice mispronounced my name loud through the floorboards as I crouched over the phone, typing over with both thumbs, my translation of adapted, stolen love-verses for a teenage Dutchwoman, cursing all the while at the autocorrect function, backspacing. Doubt that she received it kept me awake.
The moon shone something unusual that night. Its pistachio-green weird glow made the dogs woof harder, and could trigger the 17 million fire-alarms of Holland, and rotate the throats of the wisdom-owls decorating the Coats of Arms above every door to every princely Frat-house full of Aryan assholes with bright futures, and could snap the heels of pretentious human watchers of men’s fates—the social workers, the ecologists, managers and manager-esses, the Human Reservoir supervisors with their long hooked poles tampering with fate’s tapestries that are woven on obsolete machinery —
The green fire of that moon, from a poem my mother had recited by my bedside, from Lorca’s Blood Weddings, had a glow powerful enough to delete entire rainclouds full of the rain and the humidity that aborts passions in all the youths of Holland...
I plopped down on the waterbed that refused to fit my contour, half-filled by Leeuwens who liked to save on water, gas and electricity. I stared at where the moonlight duelled against the blue light of the PC, my hands in my pants and Elske on my lips until 2 AM.
I checked Instagram again but could not prove the message had been sent, no √ mark—so I took the hand-written page and folded a blank paper into an origami envelope with ‘Für Elske’ scrawled carefully on it. I went out to leave it under the Van der Oomskens’ doormat. For some reason taking Mr Leeuwens’ trash out on my way. Sublunar light fragmented differently off the garbage-bag’s black.
Sorry I keep thinking of you as Abdul, I mean Aron of course’’ Leeuwens called. ‘Kan gebeuren, We all make mistakes,’’ he added. “Arooon you have a visit. A beyooteefull young visit. You make her wait, bad boy. She waits for you at the door.’’
I came down. He slowly let me slip through, between his Shell armour and the door, something aggressive twisted in his arm against me, then he went upstairs.
(Koen Leewens seldom removed his Shell t-shirt—he said the company had hired him because of his Philosophy degree to work in the Middle East. I had been surprised Shell was eager to hire philosophers. Shell very enthusiastically hired philo grads from Leiden University, “Proud Home of the first Mercator Sapiens, Van Baerle, and Home of the Second Mercator Sapiens, Jacobus Capitein’’ as some engravings read in that City of Enlightenment. Koen's Philosophy minor had featured Islamology 101 and Positivism, the yellow badge of the conch was not Venus’, I was surer every time I saw the yellow ugly shell with holes in it, his comfort shirt when not at work selling waterbeds. He had groped my soft prick in my jeans when he had me try out one of his waterbeds. “You see, there’s even an air-layer between your center-of-gravity and the surface, I have years in the industry! Now lie on your back’’ he said. I thought him funny and did not say anything. He smelled of the river Heineken. “I believe you’’ I breathed as he, rubbing his hand, demonstrated the spacious pockets of air that formed between my perineum and the mattress. “The aqua-bed adapts to the contour of your body. I’m thinking of branding, maybe Spiritual Waterbeds will be my how my store is called when I open a new bigger one in Ordrecht.’’ Leeuwens was a maverick of Small Business Management, brainstorming at night over beer and bong. At the end of the demo he added this was a free demo because we were neighbours. Love thy neighbour. What would Eli had thought of that Midrashic interpretation?
I answered the door with an unread Law-book under my arm. The girl stood there, looking like a Nordic queen Isolde from Icelandic sagas, blonde hair glowing around her perfect face, playground-slide grey twilight of Dutch sky matched her eyes.
Though her house stood near, it looked like she had trod through a rainy, lightening-lit field. She was beautiful.
Her eyes met mine, broke off, stared at her rain boots with rubber stars on them. I neared, now for the first time with hesitation. I saw, or thought I saw how I made her feel guilt about something—sensations that would never have caused her guilt, without my influence, my shame or guilt.
*Maybe it wasn’t guilt, maybe it was shame—on the Dutch TV talk-shows about “the multi-cultural problematics’’, experts discussed differences between Shame and Guilt & Never the Twain Shall Meet, I once understood the difference intuitively until the media debates got me thinking about it.
“Hello Aroon’’ she said. ‘’How are you?’’
‘’How are you” I said, not wanting to answer with lies.
“I asked you first’’
“Ok.’’ I shrugged
‘’You sure? You look tired Aroon. Tomorrow night there’s something I thought you might like’’
“I don’t want to go to those nightclubs, no Soap-Zone
or Storm Nightclub’’ I interrupted, scowling.
“What? I wasn’t talking about no nightclub’’ the color of her gray changed, more transparent, her face flustered. “I wanted to ask if you want to-’’
Hammering and drilling noises came down, as Leeuwens belted out what appeared to be the songs of a mad fool.
“Leeuwens is fighting the Municipality.’’ I explained. “If you like we can take a walk in the forest’’
“Well...the forest’s not the place to talk either—’’
“Look I don’t need silly explanations you and your friends devise only to make fools of men. To take men for fools, the way you and your friends do in the ether, between your PCs, like you discuss the silly tales you tell your parents, the lies you tell them’’
“Make fools? Make fools? Alright, I want you to help me come up with a lie to fool my parents. I don’t know what to tell my mom about the letter, I thought it was really super-nice but they, my mom especially is.’’
But I was no longer listening. “I understand you hated my poem. It’s no good and I am a guest in this country, I should have abided by the rules as a good guest would. So I am sorry to have insulted your family. But I am not going to make it worse by helping you lie to your mother and father. Let me think about it. Good afternoon.” I shut the door in the face of my Isolde, waited standing there until she was gone, then walked to the old Apeldoornse forest of Ordrecht. It stood next to the weathered ruins of a local Dutch concentration camp, no longer in use. I sat there and pissed on my Law-book. Another form of reading. Like an old lion’s teeth, the camp’s foundations had been sawed down by Time. I thought of my old father, the Rabbi, his accusations of how I had gone to the study Pagan laws, that never preserved us, instead of Jewish Law. What was Abba’s problem? Here I stood surrounded by perfection: on all sides of the ruins there ran straight, metric-planned lagoons with shivering ducks and swans that flocked here in Summer to legally marry or arrange their permits. The old Rabbi was a homophobe, that’s what. I should tell him I had moved in with an old queer waterbed-merchant who hated foreigners more than Papa mistrusted everyone not Jewish, everyone Jewish, everyone not Ashkenazi and my mother.
Why did she say super-nice? What is that supposed to mean? I asked the swans. Sounded like a platitude when talking to someone one takes for a dangerous fool on the verge of exploding.
Returning, I shut the door and its three code-locks that Leeuwens added “in case of the Moroccoon boys or Polish thieves in the neighbourhood’’ who were all ‘’kultur homo-haters.’’
Only now I was truly, more intricately confused about Elske. Maybe she thought I was no longer interested, or that it meant nothing to me. Of course, I had not called her or sent an email the day after.
“Donderdag.” Thursday in Dutch literally meant “Day of Thunder,’’ I had learned.
Like “Thursday’’ in English also meant “Thor’s Day’’ after the old Viking God. The police-lady with the blue eyes—those were rarer than I had expected in the Netherlands—had come to the doorstep from a thundercloud.
Donderdag, Thursday afternoon. Mr Leeuwens called me “Abdul’’ by mistake.
He apologized with a wave of the hand and went to read the newspaper.
I turned and heard the snap of his newspaper as he begun to criticize me from behind it, for not wanting to help him with remodelling the house.
“It is asocial. Not constructive of you.’’ he said. “I practically gave you the place for fucking free’’ he said, sipping a beer. “And your fingerprints are all over myself. I mean all over my house.’’
“365 euros is not for free’’
He opened another Heineken.
An e-mail came with a failing grade for a Law course. I remembered my father’s accusation you went there to study the pagan Law and bowed my head, envying all the young erudite Dutch people whose parents pressured them to go to art school.
That evening a policewoman stood at the door. Leeuwens and her spoke Dutch. She eyed me up and down as I stood in the hall. She warned us that a young woman, or her mother, felt threatened and that we must leave them alone. Her mother had found a disturbing message. I wondered if Mother had found the letter on the doorstep, or if she had shown her mother the identical poem on Insta. Maybe the double made scared her, I was supposed to be “chill.” Here, they don’t find passion attractive, all the young people use the password “chill”, the supreme value, to show you are chilled, and that your time runs scarce in perfect proportion to your worth.
I hoped that it was Elske’s mother who had ratted me out, but I was not sure. Though the cop-lady made me feel accused in my tailbone, my real fear was that Elske had reported me, and not only Inecke, her stupid mother-goose.
Leeuwens opened the door wider, as if to let in all of the cop and her shadow, as the two moved their mouths.
Leeuwens would not listen to my pleas for understanding. He shook his head
“Oops, sorry!’’ he lightly slapped his forehead. His nose flared raw-red from drinking “Now look. I am good friends with the Vander Oomskens. Since they separated and entered a Living Apart Together relationship, a LAT, they went through counselling and very expensive not covered by health insurance like it should be, but now they are more together’’ he said, interlacing his fingers, his body shaking with anger “Elske carries her mama’s maiden name, Dreuffel, I keep having to remind myself its Elske Dreuffel now. Last year I sold Mr Van Der Oomskens a waterbed so he could make a necessary step in the process. I helped them furnish their summer house in Limburg godverdomme! Hundreds of euros. They bought it in one go! So rare these days that everyone wants to pay in fucking installments…I was on the synchronized swimming team with her mother Inecke Sanne. And now you come and fuck up relations. Get out!’’
“Dutch tenants-Law gives an evicted person three full months after official notice, allowing a reasonable time-frame for moving’’ I said. His grimacing face jumped in different directions in the lamp’s half-light, his hip hop playing low. “It’s in our contract’’ I added.
“I never signed the contract.”
“Yes, you did,” I said, but could no longer remember. I felt like I was lying, that mix of tension, fear in the wet tailbone and courage propelling little lies past my teeth. I, a student of Law, abusing a state scholarship for Arubans despite not being a real Aruban, had not double-checked the paperwork to remember Leeuwens’ historic signing of the treaty of Ordrecht?
“This was a trial period. You will leave sooner. Don’t think it’s going to get too comfortable for you around here.’’ He said “around’’ in a way that sounded like he’d been watching flicks about mean streets.
In ensuing weeks, I scoured for an apartment on days I had no courses at Faculty. Philosophy of Law: Social Contract Theory 2 was that semester, so I could not play hooky. I craved Philosophy, Knowledge, as much or more than Love in this time, hysterical as that may sound.
Dutch student-housing seemed widely available through the internet. I made virtual appointments, but once they saw me walking down the road in my green coat, they must have concluded I looked neither studious nor Dutch and they called me to say the room was taken. Rooms vanished as I neared them, like little boxes in an Alice in Wonderland cartoon that fly off on stork legs in Nether-Netherlands.
Evenings I reported my progress to Leeuwens before removing my boots and Russian-style winter hat.
He was still playing Reguettón at night (boys saying their taunts, calling certain women “of bad birth’’ and talking about emotional games in the clubs, and anal). But Leeuwens was not practicing steps anymore. His hockey clubs— I had seen mostly women cycling along the highways with the field hockey-clubs tied to their backs—leaned against his ersatz marble Kourous Greek concubine boys of plaster.
“And don’t leave your fingerprints everywhere” he growled. “I had to clean those” he pointed his plastic fork at the statues.
More than one picked-apart microwave meal sat cooling at the table where he sat alone. I knew I was not to touch them somehow.
Leeuwens began to shout and locked me out if I came before nine at night.
It was November. Now the heating turned off when I showered if Leeuwens was home. I came back from an exam on Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan in Social Contract Theory 1.
“I promise to leave soon, I work every day seeking a new place’’
But he said nothing, and intolerance grew twisting in his face like mating spiders.
“Please turn the heating back on’’ I said.
“You can’t oblige me to anything. Are you saying I am obliged,’’ he asked in a singsong tone.
“While I’m here, oblige yourself not to be a petty little tyrant’’ I snarled, imagining an English Lord’s big wig shaking on my head as I waxed literary-grandiose with “tyrant’’
“Petty little tyrant’’ he imitated my voice, motioning with his mouth and his whole fat body under his nightie. ‘’You want to sound smart. You don’t even have a job. You suck my tax money through the State’’ he wiggled his flesh with hatred from forehead to toe.
“Do I? I pay you too much to live in a tiny room.’’
“Do I,” he mimicked and punched me in the face.
I could have hit him back, I could have killed him with one blow.
“You’re one of those whites from the Antillen are you? I saw a program about one like you. It was on last night on RTL7. A friend of yours, was he? An Antilliaan raped and murdered some girl. You have no respect for women's rights there. How could you send a young woman, poor Elskje, a threatening letter. Her parents were so tolerant when you exploited her in public”
“I didn’t send her a menacing letter. I wrote her a poem.” tear-salt rushed to my eyes and mixed, as if mating to make an elixir with the hate-dirtied blood in my mouth, the shame flaring up in me, yellow in my tendons. Shame’s color is yellow. How could Elsje report me?
“Stop with multi-culti bullshit will you. Nothing justifies harassment of a young woman wanting to be left alone, Elske’s the pride of her parents in the Montisorry School for the Gifted. Multi-culturalism does not justify harassment.”
What was this, a debating club? Flecks of my blood on his apron.
“Are the police lying? Her parents, everyone saw it but they didn't make a fuss, that's how naive we are, oh, it's just youth. Oh, it’s just his way” He was almost singing now, throwing his arms in exasperated flowing motions like a prima-donna soap opera tart. Was he imitating me, was this his way of giving a bit of drama-talc to his accusation? Leeuwens got to the point, as the Dutch like to say, ending his little dance of fury: “Get out, get the fuck out” he pronounced ''fuck'' with a funny Dutch accent, the word ''u'' something like how the French pronounce it.
I saw my face bleeding in the reflection in the plasma tv screen which he had just unwrapped from a box—it was off, luckily.
With my hand I flicked some blood from my mouth towards him, he stood back, afraid it might touch him; afraid. My steps crackled the bubble wrap pieces he had strewn.
“You are a homo-hater, a homophobist too, I am sure,” he growled.
“Why the fuck did I move in with you if I am homophobic” I reasoned. Never try to use Reason in a conflict with the Dutch if you are not Dutch, mother had warned me in the colony. All you can do to get their acceptance by making yourself as satisfactorily inferior to them as possible.
“Oh, it works like that, so you can tell it by looking at me, huh” he sounded hurt. I had never been able to tell Mijnheer Leeuwens was gay, he seemed a middle class lonely Dutch man, his remaining blonde hair was as stiff and hard as plucked-clean grape-stems, his nose red under the thick glasses that helped his big green cataract eyes which had read too many Jan Wolkers and Harry Müllisch national Dutch novels about liberation from Calvinist repression. He picked up his phone and dialled.
“You go too far” he further accused. “I call police now. You go now” he sounded hurt as I left.
Had he only chased me with a knife it would have given me more dignity.
I had landed not all dramatic, not with an Icarus plane-crash: more like faint half-thud of peach blossoming falling cruel-mediocre from a tree onto a piece of Styrafoam.
I walked outside, cursing. A policewoman pulled over in her car. Her patrol car was a small one, electric or maybe diesel. She was taller than me (On Aruba I had always been tall, always sent to back of the class for school photographs, but this was not the case in the Netherlands.) I handed her my passport—everyone was obliged to always carry identity. Her freckled brow, creased eyes raised at the document upon flipping it open.
I bet she had a name like Ineke, or Annekee. I hated her but hid this, kept it smuggled below in my intestines where I hoped she could not find it.
She interrogated me about the suffering I had caused Mr Leeuwens. I answered snarling in a foreign-accented Dutch, I was angry. She swiftly arrested me. I found myself almost angrily automatically rushing to cooperate with her putting the handcuffs on my wrists. They hurt more than metal handcuffs I imagined, but I had never worn old-fashioned metal.
I spent two days in the clean cell. It had plexiglass instead of iron baroque latticework, muzak played occasionally in the prison. I came to study Law in the Netherlands, and here I was, inside it. I deserved an A+
My cellmate asked for his cannabis.
Dat krijg je in de gewone bak, “you get that in the normal jail, not in detention, Mr Allaoui,” a policewoman said in a stern yet compassionate voice, lowering her magazine for a moment. Allaoui thanked her kindness and being blonde and pretty. He laughed from his scarred old belly that hung between his thighs in his shorts, over his genitals like a small shield, minerva of the glutton.
I had to thank the God of spectacle and of hysterics—who was that God? The greed and aggression of a landlord had opened the eyes in my skull to the ethnocracy of these surroundings.
“Where you from, brother?’’
Brother? From the same mother?
“Colombia’’ I said “Aruba also. It’s complicated’’
He seemed impressed and started telling me of the vast fields of hash in Morocco, as if trying to compete. He had questions about Colombia, Escobar and Che—who, I let him know, was Argentinean. He tried out some sentences in Spanish with me—“they still spoke some in Nador, my part of Morocco, from the days of the colonia. I am Berber, not Arab. We are fighting the Arabs still” he made a gesture like a sniper, squinting, holding an invisible rifle. “The Spanish? Gone. The French? They go too. They leave us their languages, some old bullets. We are the free men.’’
He tapped his worn triceps emblazoned with a tattoo of a rifle and letters in ancient script. He seemed strong, though his tattooed arms slender with age and his lifestyle. “It’s ok to be homeless if weather good. But if weather no good, better inside.”
Leeuwens had reported me on the phone, but did not file a written statement yet, the guard kindly informed me. Perhaps too busy counting the rent he extracted from me, putting the roll of bills like a little tampon into his jockeys… After 26 hours, and minutes of sleep in an anti-septic cell without a waterbed, seeing Mr Allaoui, at times open-mouthed and slumbering sweet (in my dream he was on top me, whispering as we talked politics) I woke up to hear from yet another woman that I could be placed the next day at a men’s shelter, if they had a freed spot for me.
Morning in the opvangcentrum –the word means “center that catches,'' like a silken web.
Social Democracy’s merciful spiderweb caught homeless men above the age of 21. Some of the men at my new transient home reminded me of Mr. Allaoui. A Belgian bumpkin, Paul, stood motionless, smoking shag cigarettes that yellowed his beard, belly over his leather belt, too impatient to sit while waiting for the coffee machine (I heard psychiatric meds lead to a craving for filter coffee.)
He said if he walked, the voices started; he stood still, they quieted—perhaps the long strings of their marionette Nutcracker jaws were all attached to his heels. He had tried to slash his heels. In my head I named him Achilles.
A Polish boy from Kattowice, also on meds, stared hatefully at me like he could tell I was some kind of Jew.
His shaven head formed a constellation of acne in the shape of an infinity 8-sign instead of a conscious tattoo. He cooked pierogi on cultural cuisine night. Cooking for us had earned him the right to hog the p.c. and play Discopol YouTube videos with images of the plane crash that killed the brothers Kaczynski, Russian dragon disguised as aluminium plane at the Polish Knight-Presidents. He said “KGB shot down the plane!”
‘’KGB?” I asked. Didn’t they disappear long ago when we were in diapers?’’
“No! Fuck you! KGB went underground!” he answered. He was a wielder, they said. Anger burns so bright and hot, it can turn sands into clear glass, and straighten blunt metals. Perhaps if I went back to my no longer home island the beaches would be of cold glass, with nowhere left to bury a murder weapon.
Tsafendas, Greek chef and “expat not migrant” as he liked to call himself, also lodged at the shelter and cooked on some nights. He wanted to practice Spanish with me and talk about football and TV shows about Pablo Escobar, and said he longed to read Marquez, when I told him where I was born. We invited me to his awful rolling tobacco and his hidden stash of raki. I couldn’t tell Tsafendas’ age: some years of his life held many solar planetary trainwrecks; his black beard wore a grey spot, like from the wing of a Deaths-head moth. He had argued with Kattowice about cooking.
Tsafendas’s mother was born near Mt Athos, a Greek holy mountain where women are banned from climbing, reserved for Orthodox monks.
“Can you imagine that? A mountain with a giant sign saying ‘Holy Mountain, No Girls Allowed!’’
He too had a Leeuwens in his expat life. “If you can read Dutch, maybe you can find the old newspaper article about me’’
He waited for me to ask more but I did not.
“Man, fuck Netherlands!’’ Tsafendas said. “Despite my own country in crisis, I came here to help the Dutch because of their sad cuisine. I love this shelter though, except the coffee.’’ He also liked one of the social workers, Ninke.
Looking at the door closing behind her he waxed “I do not trust the Danaids, even when they come bearing gifts. Our asshole finance minister said this but he was quoting an ancient Hellenic poet. Tell me my friend, why are the eyes that are most like water are also the most restrained, least likely to cry? As if weeping didn’t have dignity. Achilles wept. Plato thought Achilles, the warrior of the big balls, was disgusting for weeping at the news of his dead mother, can you imagine? Plato couldn’t have been Greek. Plato was Dutch, you wanna bet.”