I sat before his lumbering hulk over dinner.
I watched him smile his familiar smile framed by his trimmed Indian beard. The bags under his eyes were deeper than when I last saw him seven years ago, but his eyes still twinkled with mischief. He was big, and used to be overweight, but has been working out recently.
He tells me that he has a poster of Eric Bana in his room, and hopes to look like him one day. His hair is slicked back just like The Incredible Hulk star.
His large frame hides a soft heart, a fragile heart that has been mishandled by clumsy girls of late.
The No. 1 Parent's Dating Agency
He would turn 31 in two years. That was his parent's ultimatum for him. If you don't find a girl by then, we will very well find one for you.
His younger brother was begging to marry his girlfriend of eight years but they said No, your older brother must get married first.
He tells me about Europe. He was going there to see a potential girl that his parents thought would be nice for him. He had an adolescent crush on her in his teen years, and they had been communicating via e-mail leading up to his visit. His younger brother was graduating as well, so it was going to be six weeks well spent.
When in Amsterdam, do as the tourists do
He started off with a week in Amsterdam.
He walked by the canals daily, avoiding the many cyclists, and was tempted to walk into a 'coffee shop' and have those wonderful marijuana-laden brownies, but feared for its unknown effects on his health. He was by himself in Amsterdam, and it would be awhile before they would find his drug-laced body.
Amsterdam was famous for one other thing, of course - the prostitutes who stood along the glass windows. Half-naked live mannequins for your viewing pleasure, sir.
There were all sorts of women you could choose from - tall, short, chubby, skinny, blonde, brunette, blue-eyed, brown-eyed, young, old, Asian, European, African - for a Malaysian Indian boy this was overwhelming - watching your pornography finally come to life. It was like he was a child let loose in a hormone-crazed Teenager's Candy Store.
There were no friends or family around for him to feel self-conscious or self-conscience with. He walked past the masses of women seductively calling out to him, and pretended to ignore their siren calls while secretly checking them out of the corner of his eye.
He made several rounds around the alleyways, his steps getting slower and more deliberate as he gathered enough courage to even look at the women.
Man, were they ugly.
He had toyed with the idea of losing his virginity in Amsterdam long before even setting foot in Amsterdam. Here he was in the Sex Capital of the world, and he was damned well going to have sex, even if it meant that he had to pay for it. Because no girl in her right mind would want to sleep with me for free, he laughs. A self-deprecating joke repeated often enough has now become his personal mantra.
My First Time
He finally walked into an establishment where the women were definitely of a different class. They were all beautiful with inviting bodies, and their clientele was telling - men decked out in corporate suits and ties, looking for a quickie before heading home to their wives or to work.
He could not take his eyes off the line of women, each standing outside their own mysterious room, beckoning to him in their accented English.
He faltered, initially. He walked out hurriedly from the place. All his conventional upbringing went against his lust for his first ever experience of a woman. I mean, what would your mother say if she knew, huh? he chided himself.
But then the Other Voice spoke.
You've thought about this since even before the trip, man!
This may be your only chance ever of being with a woman - you're never coming back to Amsterdam!
Who's to say that you would even make it out of Europe alive? Your plane could crash, and you would die a virgin. You want to die a virgin?!
Screw that. He was in Amsterdam, and he would find himself a hooker.
He steeled himself, but still felt nervous as his sweaty palms pushed past the doors once more, his stomach churning with excitement and anxiety.
His eyes darted around the women holding out the forbidden fruit to him at 50 Euro a pop.
Pop. What a funny way of saying ejaculation.
He finally settled on a tanned, curvaceous brunette. She led him into her room with a little laugh, and introduced herself as Anna from Portugal.
Anna from Portugal. He wasn't sure what to do, but he felt like he needed to exchange pleasantries with Anna from Portugal. With a little rehearsed laugh, she led him into the room lit by electric candles and eased him onto the bed. He fumbled with his clothes in his eagerness and noticed how coolly she undressed herself. He hoped his inexperience wouldn't be obvious to Anna from Portugal, but even if she noticed, she didn't show it.
He slipped her the fifty while she slipped him a condom.
His mind was attempting to sort out the assault on his senses, torn between stage fright, intense pleasure, the intoxicating smell of her perfume and the warmth of her body against his.
Soon they were going at it fully but then Pop! and suddenly it was over as quickly as it started.
He apologised to her as he slipped his clothes back on. She shook her head slowly, and her thick Portuguese lips smiled an It's OK.
You're not the first, she thought.
You're my first, he regretted.
50 Euro, 5 minutes = 10 Euro per minute. What a waste of money!, he cursed in his practical Malaysian head. He was conjuring up thoughts on how to make his next visit last longer. More bang for his buck, so to speak.
He walked out quickly, not catching the eyes of the other prostitutes as he made a beeline for his hotel room. He was slightly disappointed at how it abruptly it had ended, but also elated that he had finally Done It.
It had taken twenty eight years, but he was finally a Man, although he didn't feel any different, to be honest.
He never visited another prostitute on his entire trip.
Lost. In Translation.
Austria was beautiful. He spent two weeks there by himself - Vienna was the total overseas experience - the place was clean, cultured and the people were generally very nice. He wandered around as a lone traveller, pointing to maps when language failed him, and developing a crick in his neck from looking up all day at centuries-old churches.
He spent a few days in the picturesque Salzburg before trying out the amazing beers in Munich which an American traveller had mentioned to him in passing.
He loved hearing the English language from the congregation of tourists with him. He would often eavesdrop into conversations, and savoured understanding when so often words on the signposts and those leaving the lips of the locals meant nothing to him at all.
Europe quickly became a routine - every day he would take in the breathtaking sights around. And every night he would return, remove his shoes in the quiet of his hotel room, and wish that Anna from Portugal was there to hear about what he had seen that day.
Paris Je t'aime
His next destination was Paris. He plopped his luggage in his hostel room, and proceeded to circle on his map the places he was going to visit here.
It was while waiting in one of the many eternal queues to the tourist attractions that he noticed for the first time how out of place he was here in Paris.
Here he was - one stupid, lonely little Indian boy in the City of Love amidst a queue filled with couples. Some were smiling and sharing kisses frequently while others stood around looking bored. One or two were obviously exasperated and arguing whether or not the wait was worth it.
He felt like he did once more in high school - that stark loneliness and subtle rejection as the kid that everyone picked last to join their team in their basketball games. A pariah.
It was somewhere in the middle of the gardens surrounded by the trimmed hedges when he was surprised by his angry tears.
I want someone to hold hands with!Why the hell doesn't anyone speak any English around this Godforsaken place? I'm sick to death of being alone! Where is my girl, huh?! WHERE IS MY GIRL?! I'M NEVER GOING TO FIND MY GIRL!! I want to be in love too!! It is true! The only women who will sleep with me are the ones I have to pay! Or the one my parents choose out for me! I AM a loser!!
Wave after wave of these thoughts washed over him, and soon he began to cry in earnest. His whole gigantic frame shuddered as he wiped the tears from his eyes, and he tried to choke back the sobs. Fuck this, he thought, as he ignored the curious stares of onlookers, and he allowed himself a good cry there in the middle of the gardens somewhere in the City of Love.