Did you hear from him again?
Carlos: He sent me a letter from Africa—it was on hotel stationary. Old fashioned letter head, cheap paper. It got wet somehow. So, I couldn’t read half of it. But, in the first line he asked my forgiveness. It seemed like he was saying goodbye. I remember thinking that I wouldn’t have been surprised if I heard that he’d jumped off the balcony. He told me he’d been mugged in the first week. He tried to joke about it, but I could tell he was scared. I thought, man, it must have brought that all back for him, Even though Suzanne did not think he had PTSD, I still think that something like that kind of violence affects you. It has to. I called Alex after I got the letter. I thought he might know something. But, he never called me back. I thought about telling the police-- they were not happy about him skipping town. But, then I thought, what good is that going to do. So, I just ran the letter under the faucet, let all the words run off like invisible ink.
Did he tell you why he left?
Bathilde. No. Not exactly. He just said he had no plan to go back. I knew he was from California and that he’d had a boyfriend there. Though he didn’t discuss it much, he never seemed like he was running away. But, one night, I guess we’d drunk a few beers, he told me why he went to Congo. No plan, no contacts. Just credit cards and a plane ticket to Kinhasa. So the golden boy shows up in this airport and it’s just a madhouse: people shouting, selling things, kids high on glue, people begging. At least he spoke French. He managed to get some money changed, got absolutely fleeced. I said, “My God, man, what were you expecting?” “An ATM,” he says. “Ha, ha, ha, he meant it, poor Sebastian.” But, he loved telling the story—because it was funny. Some people tell stories to show off, to be the center of attention. But, Sebastian told them because it made people happy.
When Bathilde picked me up, I was about to decamp back to normal life. It had seemed like such a good idea. Looking back, I suppose I was hypo-manic. In the two weeks before I'd left, I hardly slept, I hardly ate, I felt so buoyant, that I barely felt my feet touching the ground.You can't imagine how clear my thoughts were, crystalline. They fit together so purely, like atoms of water when it freezes. I’d see an ant dragging some huge leaf across the ground and start to cry with joy at such a feat. I marveled at my own powers. I entertained the idea that I had superhuman strength, clairvoyance. Landing in Paris, however, suddenly surrounded by a foreign tongue,, I immediately began to reconsider my decision. I’d never really traveled. Alex had taken me to London twice on business, but that was it. It wasn’t until I arrive in Kinshasa—it was the middle of the night and sweltering, that I suddenly realized that I must have been completely out of my mind. It was late, after dark, anyway, the plane had been delayed at Charles de Gaulle. The airport itself was a madhouse. Everyone spoke so fast, I could barely tell that it was French I asked someone for a taxi-stand and was pointed out the big plexi glass doors. I smiled a little too brightly and nodded too vigorously. Because I was already afraid. Though at the time, I could not indulge. I had nothing but my passport, a change of clothes, —a suit of white duck, and some cash. Outside, the waiting areas were lit by bare electric bulbs. It gave everything a greenish hue. And there were amazing bugs flying around them. Hideous. Like something out a science fiction movie. The people’s skin was very black like a night sky. Beautiful. A crowd of people had formed around me by that time. Everyone offering me something—a ride, a hotel, betel nut in banana leaves, women, watches, sight-seeing tours. I could barely move. At first I smiled politely, and shook my head “no” but they were grabbing at my shirt, my bag, my arm. I was getting more and more nervous. Suddenly, I felt a tug on my pant leg, and looked down. A man with elephantiasis was sitting there on a make-shift go-cart. It was really nothing more than a piece of wood on luggage wheels. Using his arms, he managed to propel himself around like that. His legs were useless. Big as ham hocks. The skin was peeling off the calves, deadened by the pressure of the fluid that resided there. His balls were the size of grapefruits, they toppled out of his red satin gym shorts and rested squashed between his monumental thighs. I must have gasped, because the crowd started to laugh, even the man on the board laughed. I felt a wave of relief wash over me. That laughing made the whole scene human again and my plan to save the world did not seem like such a ridiculous plan. So, I picked the first guy who’d offered me the taxi. The others were disappointed. They trailed after us, begging for money. Out in the parking lot, I saw a kid, he looked no older than ten, passed out on the sidewalk. He was filthy. His hair was matted with actual dirt, his clothes were rags. His skin seemed to be covered in a fine volcanic ash. He looked like a toppled statue. The man saw me looking, and clucked dismissively,
“Don’t worry about that mister, I know that one. He steals.”
“What is wrong with him I asked,” I wanted to stop, but I thought it would make me look vulnerable, so I didn’t. The boy was a glue-sniffer. Wherever I went in Africa, it was the same. Kids as young as six hung out a bus stops, train-stations, airports—all these places in between. I remember coming back through with Bathilde. She saw me observing a little gang of them. She told me they were all thieves, that I should never give them money because it would all end up their noses, but if I wanted to do something, I could buy a poulet roti from the cart. I was grateful for her advice. They devoured it in seconds, laughing and smiling. Then, sucked on the bones. For the first time, they looked like children. Bathilde must have known then, well, actually, she’ll say she knew when she first met me, that I would have died for love.