Chantal and I managed to get out of bed and put some clothes on and go out and find a place to have a late dinner. I confess I’m not much of a night owl, but it’s cool to be able to go out and know you’ll find people out and eating and drinking and having a good time, so different from the States where in most places everything’s closed and people are tucked away in bed by 10. What a bore.
Anyway, it was over dinner that I related the gorier details of the trip to Chantal, and she just listened, taking it all in, a bit like my aunt did when I told her my stories, trying to at least mimic a bit what I’d been up to. But with Chantal it was the truth, the whole truth, and like I said, she and my aunt are probably the only people in the entire world who kind of understand me, whether it’s the truth or some facsimile thereof.
Yeah, Sid sort of understands me, both of us being misfits and all, but he sees everything through his perspective. What’s in it, or not in it, for Sid. While Aunt Carol and Chantal see it more from my perspective. Sure, everyone sees things from their own perspective, in some way, but at least they make an effort to see things from mine, which is more than I can say about anyone else. Especially Sid.
So over filet and pommes frites and an amusing little Bordeaux I get through my initial fascination with Bangkok, the inflammatory food, the incident with the whiskey boys in the strip bar and how I was sure we were going to die, how much I had to pee, but held it, our trip in the sleeper to Chiang Mai, clackety-clack, clackety-clack, and all – Chantal wanted to know more about Chaing Mai, she’d heard stories about it from her clients, so I told her about the temples and tuk-tuks and the night market and our classic hotel with the swimming pool – and the visit with the drug lord out in the jungle and how it reminded me of something out of a Vietnam War movie.
When I get to the part about flying out of Thailand with the H in pretty little statuettes of elephants and birds and Bhuddas, and how Sid off-handedly told me drug smuggling carried the death penalty in Thailand, how I figured I’d be the one standing in front of the firing squad, that’s when Chantal stopped me. Before I could even get to the part about the pastries and coffees and Russian girls in Dubai, the meeting in the dark street by the canal in Amsterdam, and certainly before the three days I spent with my aunt and cousin near Johannesburg. She stopped me dead before any of that.
“Rosie, comprends-tu? Do you see Sid is using you so you’ll take the fall if something goes wrong? Et certainement, il y a beaucoup de choses, many things, that can go wrong, yes?”
“Of course I understand that, Chantal. Why do you think he takes me on these trips of his? To just be his amusement or a tour guide? Some tour guide, anyway. Of course I’m the fall girl. But that’s the deal. I’ve known that from the beginning.”
“And this doesn’t bother you? You are not just a pretty thing on his arm, but you are – what is the term you use? cannon fodder? I think that’s it – you are the cannon fodder for him. You are dispensable.”
“Of course I know that. That’s what I was telling you before I left. I’m his whore and I accept all his nice things and in return I give him what he wants. It’s not just the sex. I think that’s actually the least of it. I’m his decoy, his mule, his stand-in, and that’s worth a lot to him. He says because I’m underage they’ll go easy on me. Not how they’d be with him.”
Chantal pushes aside her plate, which is almost empty, except for a couple of abandoned frites and a scrap of steak fat. She was hungry, too. Good sex does that. She’s looking me straight in the eyes, and I don’t know that I can take it very long. It’s way more intense than the spice in a green curry. I get the feeling she thinks I’m crazy, and that’s a hard thing to accept from your lover. And there is no doubt now that Chantal and I are lovers. The worst part is she doesn’t say anything, just keeps those green eyes of hers trained on mine. What does she think I’m going to say? Yeah, I’m nuts? Or, no, I know exactly what I’m doing? Well, I don’t, so I can’t say that. It’s more true that I’m nuts, but I don’t want to admit that to my lover. I resist as long as I can. And finally I can’t take it any more and, at last, I say it, saving her the trouble.
“You think I’m nuts, don’t you? I’m just a stupid little girl who’ll do anything for her man so she can get the nice shoes and dresses and the Paris apartment and be put in some fancy French cooking school, don’t you?”
I’m really upset now, and I don’t know whether I’m more upset with Chantal, for forcing me to make this concession, or with Sid, for putting me exactly in the position I describe, or with myself, for allowing me to be used like this, by both of them. It’s really myself. I sense I’m practically shouting at Chantal across the table. At least it seems that way.
“I said nothing, chérie. You did. It doesn’t matter what I think. What is it you think? Es-tu folle? Are you crazy? Or is this what you think you should do? Qu’est-ce que tu penses?
This is precisely the kind of trap my aunt would set for me. And stupid me, stupid Rosie, I walk right into it, every fucking time. I just did it again. For such a smart girl, I sure can be dumb sometimes.
There is only one thing to do at this moment, and I drain my glass of Bordeaux and pour another for both of us. I’m visibly shaken, and for all my attempts to hide it, feeble as they are, Chantal can see it. I’m no more concealed than I was lying naked on her bed when she came into her room now hours ago.
“You’re like a fucking fox, Chantal. You see everything I do, everything I think. I hate it.”
“Because you can’t hide from me?”
“Yeah, because I can’t hide from you. Because I can’t think or do or say anything, you don’t see through it. And I hate it.”
“Do you hate me for it? It is how I am, chérie. You knew that before you were ever at my door that night after the Perforation Mexicans.”
She’s right, of course. Again. And I hate that about her, too. Chantal is never wrong. Never. Never never never.
“No, of course I don’t hate you. I don’t think I could ever do that. But you make me crazy, always being right, always seeing things two steps before I see them. I’m the one who’s always supposed to be right, not you.”
She reaches across the table and takes my hand in hers.
“Chère Rosie, I admire your pride. I do. But it is foolish pride. The pride of a girl who has made it as far as she has in her life, but still the journey is barely begun. Do you think I’m right because I am full of pride, like you? Non. It is from being humble. You don’t know the whole story, but I have much to be humble about. Maybe one day you will know. Just as now I know, just a little perhaps, but I do know what it is like to be you, to be where you are.”
I don’t know what to say to her. She knows what it’s like to be where I am? To be me? I don’t think anyone could. Chantal? Humbled? That is equally hard for me to believe. I’m in one of those rare moments, speechless, and I can’t even take a sip of wine. All I can do is hold her gaze and hope she’ll explain all this to me, because I sure can’t. It would be easy enough for me to escape her look by succumbing to tears or being my usual belligerent self. I force myself to do neither. I see both as cop-outs, and this doesn’t seem the moment to cop out. So I hang in there, toughing it out as best I can, waiting to see who’s going to blink first, me or Chantal.
It’s the freaking waiter who breaks the tension.
“Mademoiselles, voulez-vous un dessert? Nous avons beaucoup de choses vraiment délicieux à choisir.”
And Chantal follows his lead.
“Chérie, I crave something sweet. Will you join me?”
How can I say no to such a blatant proposition?
It’s on the walk back to her apartment that Chantal stops and pulls me around to face her.
“Chérie, can you admit that I have learned some things in my life? At least that?”
“Yes, of course. I know you have, Chantal.”
“My sweet little bird, my dear Rosie, please know that I think Sid is not good for you. You know that already. It’s not because I don’t like Sid. I don’t really care. He’s no different, no better, no worse, than dozens of other men I have as clients. That’s not the issue. It’s you. I know you, and I know you can do better. Beaucoup mieux. Can you at least think maybe I know that much, I’ve learned that much in my life?”
“I can accept that, Chantal. And I don’t doubt for a nanosecond that you know more than me. But it’s more than that. Can’t you see? If I leave Sid, he’ll follow me, he’ll find me, and who knows what he’ll do. To me, to you, to everyone I care about. Can’t you see that?”
“It’s like I told you, chérie. You are his prisoner. But the prisoner will not find her freedom until she takes the keys and frees herself. The jailer will not do it, until perhaps it suits him. And who knows when that day will come. If it ever will. Or how it will, maybe even worse.”
It’s infuriating to me, but damn, Chantal is right again. Maybe she can’t see it in the street lights, probably she can, but I’m glaring at her. Hating, not her, but her words. That she is right, again. Just as Sid so often is, as he was that morning in Bangkok as I sobbed crocodile tears into my pillow.
“Look, Chantal. I hear you. I really do. I’ll tell you what I told my aunt. She doesn’t know about Sid, of course, but she’s worried about me and my future. So I’ll tell you what I told her, which is, I’ll think about it. I am, I am thinking about it. And I will think about it, seriously, and decide what to do. It’s the most honest thing I told her, the most honest thing I’ve said in weeks, and it’s the most honest thing I can tell you. I can’t tell you more than that right now. I can’t, Chantal. But that’s the honest truth. Please, can you accept it?”
“I can, ma chérie. I can. And I trust that you will. Let’s go home now. We have the night ahead of us.”
And we did, and we made the most of the night, Chantal and I did, and we didn’t talk about Sid or my future or any of the rest of it, not another word, we just enjoyed one another and did what two lovers do, the rest of the night. And that was the best thing either of us could do. And that’s the truth. The whole truth. And nothing but the truth. I swear.