I met her for the first time in 2046. I hadn’t planned to, of course. You don’t plan such a thing.
2046 is not a time. To be honest, it’s not a place either. It’s more like a cloud of possibilities — anything can happen anytime there and people visit it exactly for that reason -the thrill, the sheer unpredictability.
She wore a yellow dress. The hem hung above her knees, above a pair of shapely legs and what seemed like a dragon tattoo curling upwards from an ankle to the knee. She staggered towards me on a pair of studded grey stilettos. She could be one of those, I thought. I was seized by a dread.
In 2046, if you saw such a woman, you could safely assume to be dead by dawn. They came out of the mist like sirens from old sailor’s stories and prowled the back-alleys looking for humans to feed on. They left the glistening carcasses on the pavement for the morning van. Why are they dangerous? Because people cannot help themselves. People who go to 2046 have nowhere else to turn to. They revel in the beautiful lies, pulled like a moth to the flame.
Rilke explained it much better. He wrote,
For beauty is nothing but
the beginning of terror, that we are still able to bear,
and we revere it so, because it calmly disdains
to destroy us. Every Angel is terror.
Do you see what beauty is? It is terror.
I was in a bad shape. I had been floating like a wraith above a city full of living dead. I kept watch under the midnight neon light signboards. Standing amongst the highway cars blazing away in poly-chromatic streaks of red and yellow, I lost the last sense of myself. I wept at the edge of bridges -contemplating deep watery graves; and on railway platforms, waiting for trains to come by -only to turn away at the threshold each time, denying the abyss the chance to claim my soul.
She smiled through her brightly painted lips. Her teeth gleamed. She didn’t say anything. I knew she couldn’t.
No one speaks in 2046. They just can’t. No one knows why. Yet you understand everything, without a word being said. We leave the tongues and the ears at the doors of 2046, along with the rumors and slander and stories and, ah yes, hope.
There is a story behind the name, of course. The heartbroken sociopath who made this place was a sucker for Kar Wai Wong movies. He built it for himself, but when he died, the real estate hyenas appropriated the place. Someone found a copy of the movie in his collection, and they christened the place 2046 -strictly as a joke.
She stumbled. I steadied her up with an arm around her back. I was unsure, scared. She took off her shoes. Then she took hold of my hand and led me into a bar. I had never seen that place though I had been to 2046 many times.
She led me through the door into a dark corridor. I saw her silhouette disappear through a narrow slit. I followed. We emerged in a dimly lit room. Low tables sat surrounded by aesthetically repugnant chairs. She placed herself on one and pointed another to me. I took a seat.
There aren’t many people who go to 2046. You take a shuttle from the Xinjiekou, and if the weather is favorable and the odds of a storm are just about right, you land at 2046. Don’t ask me how it works. I’m a grease-monkey, not a sailor.
But I know that if you mess up the digits, you end up at a much more whimsical, and much less stable place -a place entirely without a name because no one can define it in a consistent manner. That’s why a slave labor like me cannot go by herself.
If you were more fortunate, you ended up in Beijing, right in the middle of Youth Revolution of 1989. You would see the lazy advance of green iron tanks down the Tiananmen Square. That’s how they kept the revolution running, you know.
Many are fool enough to try reaching 2046 by themselves. They end up getting funneled down to Tiananmen in 1989 -in that bloodshed where scared little boys carry away the dead-bodies on bicycles, and the tank-man is still standing with his grocery bags, facing the menacing column of tanks with an incomprehensible, almost stupid courage.
I saw her lips twitch. Odd.
I saw something move, something reptilian -in her mouth. She had a tongue. She was talking!
Water, she told the waiter. The waiter came back with a glass. She took out a pill from her wallet. Ready? She asked me. She smiled and dropped the pill into the glass. Drink up, she said.
The waiter looked at me. I knew -he wasn’t living either. They were both the living dead.
Her eyes glowed red as the waiter lit a cigarette for her. She blew smoke into my face. I gagged. Something wriggled in my mouth.
No. This wouldn’t go well at all. Something was growing out of my throat. It was thick and fleshy, and forceful. I coughed. Suddenly I could taste my saliva.
Scotch, she said. The waiter brought back two glasses, two cubes floating in a dark liquid in each. The ice jingled. It was thick, it was unlike anything I had ever known. The liquid stayed on my tongue for a long time. It burned a little, and it was sticky. But most significantly, it lingered. Like the memory of a night spent in a woman’s arms. A woman like her.
Another? She asked me. The waiter brought the bottle over. I gulped down once. Twice. I lifted the glass for the third time, holding it against the smoky lights, looking into it, trying to uncover its secrets. She laughed.
What are you looking for? She asked.
You, I said.
I did. The tongue had a purpose. It could move, click the palette of my mouth and make sound. I couldn’t hear of course, but I knew I was speaking. It seemed alien, but not entirely unknown.
Why me? She asked. I didn’t know her. Why her then?
I don’t know, I said. But having met you, I know. I was looking for you. She placed a hand on my cheek. Her eyebrows arched. She was expecting something. What?
I wanted to say something too. What?
She leaned back. Her eyes were closed. I leaned back myself. The room began to dissolve. The waiter fell away. There was the table, of course. There was she, sitting on the other side, her knee grazing against mine. Then the sensation fell away as well.
She dissipated into a yellow blur, spreading out against the blackness of the smoke which seeped in through the corner of my eyes. I turned my head up. The bulbs were huge circular incongruous blobs of illumination, not flickering any more. I knew what I wanted to say.
I looked for her. Her head was over mine. How? She stood over me. I turned. She was beside me as well. I looked ahead, she was looking back at me. I knew I was dreaming.
Or maybe I was dead already.
She was dressed in black. I reached for her but she floated away, further and further. The fabric of her dress grew longer, darker, dropping in huge folds around her, ensconcing her into the myth that I struggled to cleave her from. Suddenly things began to gather a sense of urgency.
I know what I want to ask you, I said.
She turned, still floating away, still smiling, as if she could answer it -as if she could answer anything that I or anyone in 2046, in the whole wide world, could ask her.
There was something stuck in my throat. I coughed. A tiny lizard dropped out. It was tailless. I put a finger in my mouth and drew out the tail.
Listen, I yelled out. Listen! Hey! She wasn’t there.
It was dark. She had taken the light with her. I couldn’t smell her there. That was it. I was dead already. Listen, I called out again.
I felt a hand on my knee. Someone was shaking it.
There were the lights above my head. I straightened up. She was leaning forward in her chair.Hey, she said. What did you want to ask?
Are you the meaning? I asked her. She looked into my eyes. Her eyes were narrowed. Her lips were pursed. I thought I could hear her, though my ears were still sealed.
She reached out and rubbed my ear. I felt the intense fiery sensation. She seemed aflame. Or was that the swell of my own desire? I wondered, as something rose in me with a searing intensity.
The sound of her blood coursing through her fingers in my ears -the intimacy of the moment jerked me out the stupor. I caught her wrist. It disappeared the very same moment and I realized I had caught nothing.
She was sitting back in her chair, looking at me with amusement.
Are you the meaning? I asked her.
No, she said. I heard her. Distinctly.
She was the voice. I knew it now. I suddenly realized, she was staring at me.
She placed a hand on my neck and pulled me close. Her lips engulfed mine. The fire that I had felt before, found a channel and gushed forth -making its way inside me. I realized I was sucking her in with an insatiable thirst. The more I had of her, I more I lusted for.
She was losing her form. So was I. I stole a glance once. She was flimsy already. I didn’t want to break the illusion. I shut my eyes and ran off inside my mind, where I was still embracing her with the undying ferocity of an unrequited love.
She held back for a moment, then she gave way. Her tongue latched itself to mine, and I tasted her, the texture of her tongue, her lips, the hot moisture of her breath. She had a hand on my ribs, and my arm was around her waist, pulling her closer.
I was acutely aware we were breaching the boundaries, one by one, when suddenly, I broke away from my skin, as did she, without the comfort of a warning.
We met halfway, fluid and restless, like the waves at a shore, frothing in the ecstasy of a union. And we merged. We were on the floor already, but we were in the air too. The world turned around us. I expanded and enveloped her. She crouched down, letting me. My thin, stretched out, undulating form swallowed her completely. Suddenly I felt whole. Suddenly I felt her inside me.
I opened my eyes. I was alone.
I was on the ground. The table had fallen over. The chairs were displaced. The waiter stood watching over me. She wasn’t there any more, not in the physical form.
I was dejected. She wasn’t what I wanted. I was looking for something else. I was looking for the meaning.
Her lips stretch into a smile inside me.
No one has the meaning, she said. Don’t you know anything?
The meaning is for the watcher, the reader, the listener and the masses to make. The child and the adult, the amateur and the expert, the orthodox and the liberal, the modern and the traditional -they have the meaning. The capitalists, the industrialists, the bankers and the senators -they own the meaning. All you have is the voice.
I raised a finger.
Scotch, I said. The waiter turned and left with his tray.
I noticed he had ears.