“You can borrow my towel if you need to,” a man called out.
“Won’t you need yours?” I said.
“I don’t mind not drying myself off completely. It’s hot out,” the man said. R snorted and let his head fall in the flat space between my breasts. It was the only spot where a dribble of the water from the garden hose strung up behind me, by way of a shower, could wet his hair. “Thanks man, that’s really generous of you, but there is really no need,” said R.
“I’ll leave it on the back of your door anyway,” the man called out. “Just in case.” We both shook with silent laughter. “What a creep!” I whispered. Five minutes before I'd been loudly complaining that R had forgotten our only towel. Again. I’d lost my flip flops and was showering barefoot, trying to ignore the state of the tiles. R washed me with the loofa we bought as a treat at the Woolies in Windhoek, and the day’s dirt fell away from me easily, in rivers.
“Perhaps we should do this one at a time,” I said. “You’re barely getting wet at all.”
“It’s ok, we’ll take turns,” he said.
“That’s what I mean, me first, then you,” I said.
“No, we’ll take turns under the hose, mi amor, I can wait,” he said. “Don’t tell me you want to shower on your own now?”
“No. I couldn’t possibly shower alone, darling,” I said, with theatre.
“Good. Good,” he said. “Now turn around.” He was a foot shorter than me, on any day of the week. “Mi gringa, mi vida, Mi amor, Mi grinnggaaaaaa” he sang as he worked. When it was clear he was just dragging it out, I said, “enough,” and held his wrists up over his head, cornering him. Water ran over our lips and into our mouths as we kissed. Our tongues were tasteless. Feeling him grow hard, I let go of his wrists and announced, “your turn.” I reached for the wafer of soap and began to wash him.
“How will I ever shower without you?” he said, cupping my face.
“You’re not done yet,” I said. I lifted his left arm first, and scrubbed around his armpit hair. Cappuccino-coloured suds gathered at our feet.
“Other arm,” I said, and kept scrubbing. “At least we have a towel if we want.”
“I think that guy got a real kick out of announcing that we’re sharing the shower,” said R. I was shaking by now, and the hose was only spurting water intermittently over our heads. “Let’s get out,” he said.
“Shake or towel?” I said.
“Shake,” he said. “Sometimes it’s nice to make a point of having standards.”
“Certainly your Highness,” I said, and curtsied. “Blerghhhh,” he motorboated my breasts after we shook dry and said, “for good luck.”
We went to step up our tent. It would’ve made sense to shower after we’d done it, but we weren’t afraid to take the small luxuries when they presented themselves. We had a keen sense of what was worth it.
Before we’d left Cape Town, we’d invested in a portable speaker.
“What about the Foo-Fighters R?” I said.
“The Stones?” he countered.
“Only if it’s Sympathy for the Devil,” I said.
“How did I know you were going to say that?” he said.
“I’ll throw this tent into the river if you don't play something I can sing along to,” I said.
“You’re hard work Miss,” he said.
“You’re buying the first beer,” I said.
“And you’re buying the second.”
We’d liked this campsite from the moment we’d walked in. But we often overestimated, depending on how dirty and hungry we were. A space to build the tent cost $5 per night, which we’d initially scoffed at, until we did the conversion and realised it was only 50R. The problem was, our Zim visas had cost us $30 each, and R was running low on cash. I had more than enough, and had started shouting him at every opportunity, without thinking about how we’d handle it from here on up. I had plans to go to Cairo, and then, who knows. R had been calling his mother more than usual lately. All I gleaned from their long, emotional, Spanish conversations was that he’d been asking her for money. As far as I knew he had $50 USD left, which probably wouldn’t even get him back to Cape Town, if he had to split.
After I clicked the tent poles in, and R started feeding them through the eyelets, I pumped up the air mattress. When I finished I lay down on its punctured velvet casing, and waited for him.
Now beside me, he ran his small hand from my face, down my chest, and rubbed my tummy in small circles around my belly button.
“Hungry?” he said.
“Yes,” I replied, kissing him hard on the mouth. His eyes lit up when I pulled away. He is two years younger than me. Sometimes I imagine that I show him things. Sometimes he tells me I do. It fits each of our fantasies that I am the teacher, he is the student.
“You are so…”
I took off his T-shirt and its outline remained on his body. A sun-tan. I began straddling him, until he threw me sideways, on my back, so that he was on top of me. “Touche!” I said. Our skins touched and we sweated in big drops that dripped from one body onto the other, from one crevice into another. Dust spread and coagulated like war paint on the parts of us that were the sweatiest.
“Now, you be patient,” he said. I flipped him over with authority. He looked smaller under me, framed beneath my outstretched palms. He closed his eyes. To concentrate. Or think of bad things. Painful things. That’s what my first boyfriend had told me back in high school. When he didn’t want to come he’d think of being kicked in the balls to keep his orgasm at bay. Seeing R struggle turned me on so much that I came quick and loud, either hand clawing at the top of his rib cage. He rolled his eyes and followed suit. We cuddled a while, enjoying the happy filth of our lot. I thought I could hear waterfalls. Poking my head out of the tent, I realised it was just the sprinkler. We laughed, and R wiped the sweat off the bridge of my nose.
“Wanna check out the bar?” I said.
“Yeah,” he said. “And, shall I boil water for noodles? We have one more packet left. And some peas, I think, even a couple of eggs.”
“Do we have to have noodles again?” I said,
“Gringa, there isn’t anything else,” he said.
“I saw they do wood fired pizzas here when we came in,” I said.
“But, they're $8 each,” he said.
“My shout. C’mon, how long has it been since we had a pizza?!”
“You get a pizza. I’ll make noodles and save half for your breakfast tomorrow,” he said.
“I’m not eating a pizza in front of you! Come on. It’s nothing. I’ll get you a pizza,” I said.
“I don’t need it. We don’t need it. It’s $8 that would get me a little further along the way with you” he said.
“In Australia pizzas are like $20 anyway,” I said. “It’s a bargain.”
“Well, we’re in Zimbabwe, and the pizza is $8. But it doesn’t matter because I have no money either way.” he said.
I didn’t get pizza. We made noodles, and I bought the beers on my own, so he wouldn’t see how much they were costing. R was chatting with some guys over a game of pool, and had saved us some crates close to the communal TV. Argentina was playing a match in the World Cup tonight. R was short-tempered. During the last few games, he’d done a host of things to prove his love for his homeland. He’d lost a bet and drank five tequila shots in five minutes. I’d rescued him from a ‘discussion’ with a giant German, and he’d punched a wall so hard his knuckles bled. I loved watching his hot-blooded fits. They stirred up something untamed in me. I pretended to reprimand him, but in secret I riled him up. I am at home with anger.
“Gringa, come and play pool with us,” he called out. I was cradling an empty beer.
“Just a sec, I’ll get us some more drinks,” I said.
“OK, Gringa, can you get one for Erwin as well. He’s Argentinian,” he said. The boy at the pool table waved, and smiled the same squinty smile as R. They were, by now, arm in arm, and I nodded toward them in agreement. We hadn’t met any other Argentinians so far.
I brought three bottles of the local brew over to the pool table. It was tatty with use. R was good at pool, and sometimes he won friends or money from his successful games. They were raving in Spanish when I handed over the drinks. We said ‘salut’. Erwin was also wearing his Argentina jersey. There was something sweet about their blind pride.
“Erwin, this is my girlfriend Clare,” R said.
“His friend Clare,” I said. I kissed Erwin on both cheeks. “I didn’t think this was,” Then I trailed off. This wasn’t the time. It’s always so easy to realise it afterwards.
“Hello Clare,” Erwin said. “You’re beautiful. Where you from?”
“Australia,” I said.
“Where do Australians meet Argentinians? Where do I find your sister?” Erwin said.
“In Cape Town. At a hostel bar, trying to fish free drinks from the idiot barman. Who was hopelessly in love with this Australiana, before she’d even told me her name,” R said. He looked at me and continued to Erwin “From the moment I saw her, I knew she would break my heart. But, something told me it would be worth it. I thought I might be able to convince her.”
“We Argentinians are passionate people,” said Erwin. R looked at me, and waited to be saved.
A little buzzed from the beer, I stared at him in silence too long. The beard he grew, because I loved them. His long, glossy black hair, shaved curiously on one side. “I like your hair,” was the first thing I said to him. The fresh nose ring, that I insisted on, to make him look less like a puppy dog. “It will totally suit you,” I said, as the woman pricked his nostril without ceremony, and he winced in pain. It was the first time I considered how he might afford to live, when he had to go back to Cape Town.