Hi-tech-souped-up-state-of-the-art-top-of-the-range. It was a way of life for Adrian; always the biggest and the best, never a compromise. Take his video equipment for instance. Its myriad of manuals contains keywords like digital zoom, electronic viewfinder, infrared receiver, linear special effects, and remote editing. His hi-fi equipment is never a unit, always component-based and made up of hi-fly names like B&O, Marantz, and Wharfedale. Gray-import is a dirty term. These character traits of course, are wonderful for his job as an art dealer, but a drag for many of his friends. Always be reminded that you know too little, or that you make the wrong choices when purchasing long-term possessions, is unacceptable to most people; so Adrian’s circle of friends was small with a high rate of turnover. The ones that remain for any length of time are typical followers with Adrian the designated leader. I believe that of the current lot I’ve known him the longest; therefore I must be the most faithful follower of them all. And I do follow him. I drive the same make of car; I wear the same colour schemes, smoke the same brand and miss him sorely when I’m alone on my holidays somewhere in the Far East. I love the East. It lifts my spirits after a dreary year inland. Different scenes, different smells, different people, different voices, different languages, everything is different; just the way I like it. Too blasé’ for Adrian, of course, he prefers more exotic settings like the Himalayas, Peru, or the art centres of the world like Paris, Venice, Vienna, and Prague; the old world. I guess that is where we differ. I like the bright lights and he likes the pomp of antique grandeur. But then, he works under bright city lights all year, and me, I’m locked away in a tiny basement room with stacks of paper, an army of grey steel filing cabinets and a single fluorescent light. So I guess that’s why he needs the silence and I the noise.
That’s not the only instance where we differ. I like women. He likes men; boys really. At an average age of nineteen, most of them are only half his age. Not that he shows he’s forty to everyone. He carries it well; sometimes too well. Only a chosen few know his real age. Sometimes I think I might be the only one. But then again, perhaps some of his lovers have seen it as well. It shows when he is tired; tired and drunk; drunk and feeble; feeble and…and…average. When Adrian is forty, he is average. When he shows his age, you realize he’s just another human being, caught in the rat race, forever having to prove he is a glamour doll and a super-being; a pillar of greatness, a masterpiece, like so many of his sculptures and paintings. That’s why Adrian needs me; people like me. To act as a constant reminder that there are lesser beings in this world and that he is probably the closest thing to a god when he shares his glitzy life with the likes of me. Yes. Adrian is the epitome of gaudy glamour, a doll, a shiny bronze Adonis; a perfect sculpture; coveted by many, possessed by few. Those were the few of whom I was jealous.
I often wondered what it was that attracted Adrian to places like Prague and Paris. What on earth could be so alluring that would take him to such places three and sometimes four times a year? Alone in a bustling Far Eastern city, I often dreamt of Adrian waltzing across glimmering ballroom floors with hot-blooded Italian boys, their minds on his crotch instead of the dance. I wondered what he did with his afternoons, traipsing through art galleries or lounging in a gondola. I was so intrigued by the man that I even took up art classes to see what his glittering world was like, so to speak. But although I liked the distraction that the plaster-of-paris moulding classes offered, I was under no illusions as to the artistic value of my end products. I lacked the flair, the inspiration of a true artiste and will never be exhibited in Adrian’s gallery for as long as I live…or when I’m dead for that matter.
Thus it was not strange for me one year when I booked separate travel arrangements and separate lodgings, but ones which matched Adrian’s European itinerary to a T. I would follow him, not unlike a shadow, a glimmermann, watching his every move but never showing myself to him. His tour took us from JFK to Paris via London, then on to Venice and lastly Rome. Grand old cities I’ve never seen before. Bubbling with life on the surface with musty smells in the hotels and alleys; but always a steady, reassuring undercurrent of peacefulness; secure in their age, certain of who and what they were, never to be bothered or disturbed by the trivialities that happened on the surface. I was surprised at myself for liking Adrian’s world. I liked the peacefulness these old places exuded. It was different from my musty little office. Here, there were street sweepers who got rid of unwanted paper. Worlds apart; that’s what I realized Adrian and I were. Even here, in a closeness of which he was completely unaware, we were worlds apart. It caused me to feel uneasy and unhappy. It was not the young French boy in Paris who kissed Adrian full on the mouth in front of a crowd of strangers, it was not the tears in his eyes at the opera in Prague of which I understood not a single word, it was not the passion with which he shared his opinion of Michelangelo’s final works with an art director at the museum in Rome, none of that caused this feeling. It was the realization that the man I thought I knew better than anyone else, had a side to him that I knew nothing about. An alien. Non-Compadre’, that’s how I felt. I knew nothing about him and I understood even less. I felt small, unimportant, worthless. I could bury myself in adjectives as I stood on the Piazza del Gordio, barely fifty paces away from Adrian; completely and utterly aware of his every move…and he, equally unaware of my existence, there, or anywhere else for that matter. I felt jealous; jealous of the young buck with the blond fringe obscuring his eyes, laughing in Adrian’s face; jealous of the pigeons eating peanuts from his hands. I stared; I never realized it until then but there on the Piazza del Gordio, there I realized it for the first time. For the first time in my life, I knew exactly what I wanted. I turned away. I had seen enough and I was astounded at my realization.
That night I watched Adrian from the darkness. The room was dimly lit, the sheets were satin. The boy with the blond hair glistened with sweat; wet with Adrian’s efforts. Their act of passion was beautiful, achingly beautiful. I hardly breathed, too scared to add to the motion of the sheer curtains, gently blowing in the breeze of the full-moon-evening. I watched and waited until they fell asleep, exhausted from their arduous and ardent lovemaking. Then I waited some more; but the city beneath me did not come to rest, so eventually, I slowly rose from my precarious perch and forced myself in the direction of my humble lodgings down a side alley from this grand old palace where Adrian and his young lover slept, wholly unaware of the heaviness of my heart and the dark thoughts I was fighting in my mind. The next day I took a flight back home, leaving Adrian to his own devices for another week of peaceful, careless bliss.
It was three weeks later when a haggard and drunk Adrian fell through my plywood front door with the plastic eye-spy firmly embedded in his left eyebrow. He was a mess. His hair was tangled and his grey Armani was soiled beyond redemption. He had dark circles around his eyes; at least around the one that was not covered in blood. Blood was splattered on his white shirt and I noticed he had lost his bow-tie somewhere between here and wherever he had come from. I picked him up and carried him to the bathroom, trying hard not to get blood from his eyebrow on the hardwood floor. I undressed him and bathed him, shocked at the change in his body since I last saw him naked in that passion-filled room in Rome. Gad! The Pope would have been proud of him that night! I soaped him and sponged him down. Then I toweled him and cared for his eye. I gave him a shot of espresso, shaking reality into focus in front of his eyes. He responded with tears. Tears and a confession. The words that flowed from his mouth that night caused my heart to shrink. Permanently. I could feel the iciness of his words clamping around my heart and squeezing it two sizes smaller. The dread that lurks in the dark and jumps on men like him at the most unexpected moment had struck at my friend and caught him in the act. It reached out to him in a wicked moment of passion and left him with a mortal wound. A wound that leaves no scar but certain death. I listened and I cried silently for the certain loss of the one thing I coveted in life; Adrian.
The next night I went outside and started to build a wall. It would be a beautiful wall by the time I was finished, a wall with curves, and highs, and lows. One on which I would pour out all my inadequate artistic flares. I would build it for him; a monument to Adrian. Every night I toiled until dawn, when I laid down my tools and went back inside to care for him. I would sleep when he slept and care for him when he was awake and I would toil at night until at last, it was done. Adrian’s wall was done. Complete. I packed away my tools together with my artistic flair, went inside and opened all the curtains. I washed and scrubbed, vacuumed and fumigated until at last I was sure that all traces of Adrian’s disease was gone. Gone from my house and gone from my life. The sun broke through the morning gloom and I put the drain cleaner back in the cupboard under the sink where it belonged, welcoming the friendly sun back into my clean home. I fell asleep, exhausted from the previous night’s efforts and woke late that afternoon in time for a solitary sun-downer. I poured a Martini; two olives, just the way Adrian would’ve liked it. Then I walked out onto my porch and sat down on my trusty old deckchair. Same chair, the same place for the last twenty years. And there it was. Adrian’s wall. Bright white in the fading sunlight, the dwindling rays playing along the curves and reflecting from the bits of coloured glass embedded in it at places. The main artistic feature of this wall was its humanness. Limbs, torsos, and faces protruding from it in a life-like fashion. Some ambling, some bending, some making love, some just staring out across my gay garden; each of them portraying Adrian in some activity of his life; his glitzy life. These were intermingled with inanimate scenes of romantic places; the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, a hotel window overlooking a Piazza in Rome. And right in the centre of all of this, there he was. There was Adrian in striking realistic profile; serene and peaceful as he always was after returning from a holiday abroad. Chin stuck out, hair combed backward and a broad smile on his face. I could not have portrayed him better myself if I’d tried.