Amir is a young boy, that’s how anyone would describe him. There is a freshness in his face, this boy clearly shaves daily. His job must require him to appear this clean; whatever he does for work, it’s clearly something rigid and predictable. And he looks like he’s never been beat, like he’s never really touched or been properly touched by anyone. He calls me after midnight on a weekday and I jokingly ask if he has a curfew. He takes out a ball of crumpled newspaper, to reveal a mess of weed and hollowed out cigarettes.
He starts to build a joint, but his fingers are long and soft, they move slowly and precisely. He’s talking to me but doesn’t seem to need me to participate in the conversation and after he’s done, we take a few puffs each and undress. He kisses me genuinely, his hands cupping my head, he is being tender and delicate, but I think he wants me to be hard and purposeful, so when I fuck him I tug his hair, and watch his toes curl as he bites the bottom of his lip and tries to enjoy it. I know he’s hurting but he refuses to show it, thinks this is the role he’s meant to play, that he’s meant to be fucked and appreciate it. His body speaks a language that needs no translating, I can feel how he’s tense everywhere.
After a few minutes I pull out and insist we just kiss and jack off, he says nothing but his body suddenly wilts in relief. We both finish and I go to towel myself off in his bathroom. When I come out, he’s back on the weed and I tell him the first hour is almost up, about seven minutes to go. He gestures for me to sit down, then asks if I’ve heard about the kids. What kids? I say. The kids who have been killing themselves, he says. He says gay kids in the US have been killing themselves because they’ve been bullied, and now 17 of them are dead. He looks defeated when he says this, I think about how sincere this boy is, and how silly it is for him to care about things like this. Boys who kill themselves choose to do it, I want to say, but there are still a few minutes, and instead I tell him that the world isn’t fair for anyone. He nods, looks up to me, applying a paper knot to another joint, and says, “I wish I could do something.” I kiss him on the mouth, and go. It’s not my duty to assure young boys like Amir that things will get better, because they don’t.
This guy reminds me of my late dad, not because they would have shared the same age, but because they’re both sort of clueless about really simple things. Isyak, when I arrive, is pondering nervously over a bunch of medicine bottles on his living room table. I jokingly ask if he has HIV, and he says no. “I’m getting old, and I just bought all this rubbish so I can live a little longer.” I want to ask him what’s the point of that but I don’t. I guess when you’re in your fifties you might as well soldier through? Take pills? That cost hundreds and probably contain some shit that will fuck you up, mess with your natural life expectancy ? The fucking government is poisoning all of us, one way or another we’re all being murdered slowly.
He says the new vitamins he’s bought are too big to swallow, and that he’s been prescribed all kinds of supplements he’s not sure are necessary. I explain to him that supplements are important, that he needs to take them for a full month before he can tell if they’re doing good things for his system, and he looks convinced. He picks up a couple of bottles and prepares two handfuls of pills, then suggests I take one pile and we do them together. I decline; he nods and starts swallowing the pills one at a time, with a glass of water.
Isyak wants us to take a shower first, in there he scrubs me, lingering at my nipples, grabbing my balls a bit too hard so I squirm, licking the hollow of my ears. His hands are familiar with other bodies; he dries me with a large towel and takes me to his bed. He asks me to stand, while he clears it. It is immaculate, with pillows of different sizes and a lush comforter that my body later sinks into. He puts me in his mouth, and I look to see the top of his head, it is bald and pathetic. Isyak is no doubt one of those older men who linger in Frangi, always there alone. And if you leave your friends to go to the bar, he’ll be there ready with some stupid line like, “You look like you shouldn’t be so sober.”
They’ll buy you a drink and they’re usually your easiest client. You don’t have to try as hard, I smile and laugh and say how big and strong everything is, and they give the best blowjobs. Isyak’s mouth is warm and wet with new saliva, his ugly head is bobbing up and down like a toy, and I wonder how a man like him – at that age – can wake up in the morning and resist the urge to kill himself. He asks me to turn around, and his tongue still in my ass, his hand reaches out to a nearby drawer for a tiny bottle of lube and a condom, then he’s inside me, grunting loudly, like a hunter who has found his bounty. I pretend to be a carcass, easy and drunk with gratitude. He later pays me a huge tip and as I’m putting on my shoes, I remind him to take his supplements. “One month,” I tell him.
Haris and I share a bed, in our apartment in Cheras and sometimes we shower together. I see him all the time. He’s a fixture in the scenery, never leaving the frame, sometimes lingering in the periphery where the lines are blurred in technicolor, but I don’t know much about him at all. He lets me hug him at night, and sometimes I feel myself getting hard, but I try to be conscious about the fact that it’s Haris who I’m next to. And this feeling becomes something that is sharp and hurtful, the fact that I can be this physically close to a person, that he can be so naked and available to me, but still be so slippery.
Haris is quiet but he laughs a lot, he always finds a way to humor himself. I think it’s disarming how he’s always this unaffected, that I’ve never seen him cry, that I feel like I need to break him. Haris and I do the same thing, and I sense the same detachment in myself. That he would treat me the way he does a client, like his body is a commodity, to be rented or shared, his spiritual nucleus locked in some unseeable place, is the most lonely feeling I’ve ever felt.
Haris, unlike the rest of us, has only one phone and it’s always ringing. Sometimes he answers it in a low voice, like a boy who has done something wrong, and is begging to be let go, and I hear him giggling with a laughter that is genuinely not his, the character he plays for the world and I. What does it say, about a man who has nothing to hide? Shouldn’t a man keep secrets, shouldn’t he save some part of himself to keep? When every part of him is on the table, ready to be taken, what’s left of him then? I don’t know how I’ve become so emotionally glued to this person, maybe it’s the appeal of someone with such a shapeless sense of possibility. If he could be anyone, he could be the man of my dreams. Imagine that.
Jin lives in a large studio apartment in central Bangsar, within walking distance to Bangsar Shopping Centre, where I’m bound to bump into a lot of my clients, although Jin says walking is too tiresome in this weather, and he hates malls anyways. When I enter his place, there’s saxophone music playing in the background. Miles Davis, he tells me. There’s a scent of lemon and chicken in the air. He says he had a dinner party with some friends over, the night before. “They’re bankers and they work late, all they eat is takeout, so they appreciate a home-cooked meal.”
There’s a film playing on the TV, which is muted, it’s black and white and has a man and woman who must be laughing about something funny. Jin is typical of men in their forties, he has laid more than a dozen clues to his character for me to pick up. He wants me to ask curious questions, about all these exotic things and smells. he wants to appear different, for me to think of him as something enlightened, a special and separate thing to the rest of us gays who think about drugs and cocks all day.
I complement his apartment and say he must earn a lot of money, to afford such beautiful things. He says he works in private equity, and immediately assumes I need an explanation, proceeding to describe his job in other technical terms he thinks impressive. I keep a doting look on my face, a permanent exclamation mark. Surprised and bewildered, like a child who has just been offered candy and keeps to good behavior until he gets it. He disrobes and saunters around the apartment in Calvin Klein undies, surveying the books kept on one wall, as if to say, I’m about to get naked but I want you to know I know what books are.
Jin calls me into his bedroom and there are books and magazines by the bed and on the floor, the mess looks so deliberate and hygienic in its precision. I start to take off my clothes and he swats my hands away, gently undoing my buttons, the zipper of my jeans, before he grabs my dick in his palm. Looking satisfied, he starts to take my clothes off more hurriedly. With one hand, slow but persuasive, he arranges me. Ass-up on a pillow, hands on my back. When he pushes into me, there’s the feel of something ripping. My head is filled with a blinding light for just one second, when it feels like it could explode into flames. Then he tugs and shoves and the pain is bearable, it becomes just a sensation.
My head is knocking against the bed frame, I moan loudly and arch my back, careful to give the appearance of someone who is consuming every delicious bit of his company and existence. When it’s over, he pulls out a towel to clean me, wiping the insides of my thighs, his saliva from my chest, attending to me the way a doctor would clean a sick man. I walk around his apartment and say I want a place just like his someday, that it would be the best thing to live a life like this. He smiles proudly, thinking he’s so much better than me, knowing my price is something he can easily afford, that the value of my body and time is equal to the few bills he pulls out of his wallet.
Daniel is eating thosai and I ask him since when does he eat shit like this, and he says he’s seeing a young Malay dude who’s a student and lives on a tight budget, plus it’s actually quite tasty. That’s the thing I love about Daniel, he’s flexible, the kind of person who’ll leave all the decision-making to you, and isn’t secretly bitter about it.
It’s the first time I’ve seen him in months, he’s a radiologist for a GH in Seremban, and he comes down once in a while to see his boyfriend. We see each other in the daytime, fucking on the same sheets he and the boyfriend shared the night before. We’ve always done this, and it’s never felt wrong to us. Anytime either of us is in a relationship – which comes and goes – Daniel and I are a constant, unperturbed by new commitments.
We have no obligations to each other, it is easy and undemanding, and I never wished it were more. I tell him it’s my birthday and he smiles, as if honored that I’d spend today with him. I’m 30 today, and when I try to recall where the last ten years went my brain replays a whole flurry of faces. My last boyfriend and the space I wanted, how suffocating it suddenly felt to share a bed with him, how I had no real reason to give him to leave, how it lead me back to Daniel. I wonder if I’ll ever be complete, or if I’ll ever have the opportunity to complete someone else. The people I’ve chosen to fill my life sometimes feel like they aren’t people at all, like an unfinished sketch, some detail about them waiting to be drawn in.
I go over to Daniel’s place, actually his boyfriend’s, and we fuck in the living room, on this grey carpet with cotton tentacles shooting out of it. His body is familiar in its hardness, its flaws. His butt is not as rounded as it should be, his nipples are flat and unappetizing, like crayon dots. But he kisses like a man who is your lover, and he fucks like a man who doesn’t have loving on his mind. It is considerate, but efficient.
I clean up and go, an hour before his boyfriend’s meant to come back. I have dinner alone and later drop by at a cupcake shop, I buy one and put a candle in, then I sing myself a birthday song in whispers, wishing I had a different life. When I get home, it is past midnight and Haris is sleeping in his room. I strip to my boxers and cuddle next to him, I hug him from behind and ruffle his hair. He stirs and moves closer to me. I kiss him on the back of his head, which smells freshly showered – like a schoolboy’s, young and new, waiting to grow up to be someone full of expectations and regret – and we fall asleep this way. Together, or alone, as we’ve always been.
Feature image by Mardiana Sani for ISSUE Magazine