Letter from Macau / March 2017 (Issue 35)

Letter from Macau: War

by Hélder Beja, translated from the Portuguese by Ray Granlund


"Love is love—then what?! / Will we two carry on / imagining, imagining?" Of course we won't. We have obliterated love.


I keep reading António Lobo Antunes and picturing you through the eyes of someone gazing at old black and white portraits on the family mantle. Eyes that speak death and melancholy—my eyes, as confirmed yesterday in a self-portrait, which showed me the expression I had assumed I wore and which made me think: you're still young, you're on holiday in Thailand, you're sound of limb, in decent health, and yet there you are, gazing at old black and white portraits on the family mantle, drowned triumphantly in your own sadness in the sun.

It was six months ago—after yet another night I was rotten to you, as I so often was—that you left, slammed the door and never came back. And for six months, our bed has wept, ever empty, even when bodies, more or less anonymous, pass through it, even when I moan and they shiver, even when the dribblings of animal appetites remain on it like the crumbs of a meal too hard to swallow. Because you once filled it with your love for me—your love, for me, which I discarded with an indifference akin to that of the Chinese leaving new furniture out on the city streets for Ghost Month.

I keep reading Lobo Antunes and picturing you. I'm in Bangkok now, surrounded by swarms of tourists and the uglier side of the capitalist religion imposed on the lives of this people unprepared for the strains of progress. I picture you, my love, as I trace and retrace the map of our affection, unable to locate just where it began: the uprising, then war, the inevitable end. I picture you, and I suffocate in my longing for your nightly embrace. Your embrace, your arms, the only place I ever felt at home. I would close my eyes, slide my long, heavy body alongside yours, smaller, lighter, prettier and lay my head upon your breast. I'd breathe in, and all of those perfumes I can't describe would permeate me. I think before I fell in love with you I fell in love with your smell.

I'm on my sofa now, alone in a shimmering city I despise, listening to Tom Waits and Thom Yorke and all the other Toms we used to love together. I remember the day I gave you a box containing all the music in the world—it was just the complete Radiohead, but for you that is, in a sense, all the music there is in the world. Here I sit, picturing your girlish eyes as they were back then, in the past, your generous smile, your nervous hands, the albums coming one after the other, the soundtrack to a story that is no longer. "No one has ever done anything like that for me before." I was really good at doing things no one had ever done for you before. Or to you before. Good things and bad. Bad, bad things.

Tomorrow we'll be in our happy places no longer. I'll go on inhaling my solitude, far removed from everything, all that I want, all that I had, all that I was. I crave nothing more than to run out and find your house, though I've no idea where it is—no idea where it is …—and sit smoking at the cliff edge of your door, until I see you go out or come in or fall off, until you shout at me that you hate me, until I see that at least I still live for you, even if I live in your rage. Even if I live in your hate.

Tomorrow you will once again be the shadow of my days, the car that should have run me over, the rawboned banquet of all the cities we once were happy in—all the cities before Macau.

What would I say if you appeared before me right now? What would I do? You are my badge for cruelty, the wreck of my arrogance, the victim of my selfishness. Sometimes I listen to the songs of Bernardo Sassetti just to remember you more. I only wish you could know that.

 Hélder Beja is a writer, editor and reporter with years of experience in covering the Arts. With a degree in Communication from the University of Minho (Portugal), he worked in several Portuguese media (Público, i, Sábado) before moving to Macau in 2010. He's the co-founder of The Script Road - Macau Literary Festival and its current Programme Director. An author himself, Beja won the Macau Daily Times Short Story Award in 2012. His work as a filmmaker, Once Upon a Time in Ka Ho, has been selected for the Macau International Film and Video Festival and has also been shown in Shenzhen, Shanghai and Spain. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Macau CLOSER, an arts & lifestyle magazine, and a contributor to LER, Portugal's main literary magazine. Beja will be guest editing the "Writing Macau" Issue (March 2019) of Cha.
 Ray Granlund holds Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from Rice University and a Master of Arts in Cultural Policy, Relations and Diplomacy from Goldsmiths, University of London. A bilingual childhood in Texas, in-depth study of opera and art song and eight years as a cultural entrepreneur in Macau have contributed to a life-long love affair with languages. Ray has served as the Portuguese to English literary translator for The Script Road - Macau Literary Festival for the past four years. He now resides in London, working as a multilingual editor and musicologist serving the classical music recording industry. 
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