Toulouse by Carlo Rey Lacsamana
She was still undressed when she reached for her handbag on the floor at the foot of the bed. In the dimness of the hostel room lit by a single lampshade I glimpsed her pale skin moving like a shadow. An hour or two had passed after we made love and I was filled with desire for her again. The paleness of her skin resembled the sunlight filtered through the glass door and curtain; one felt its warm softness just by looking at it – soft as a cat’s fur. She sat at the side of the bed in the glare of the cheap lampshade and pulled out from her bag a pen and a bundle of postcards. Her nipples were red cherries in the half darkness.
Do you want me to turn the light on? I said as I slowly pulled myself from sleep.
Don’t bother, the lampshade is enough, she said in a whisper, in an English inflected with a heavy French accent.
She tied her long curly walnut-colored hair into an onion roll. There were strands of hair at the nape of her neck that were left untied. Noticing those strands I was led to a forgotten tenderness. I couldn’t go back to sleep.
For three weeks she had been traveling around Andalusia. Seville, Cordoba, Jaen, Granada, and Malaga was her last stop. She arrived three days ago at the hostel where I was staying. When I saw her in the lobby among other traveler guests she looked as if she just came back from a grape harvest; she was wearing one of those straw hats local vendors sell to tourists. She had a tired, sunburnt face. What struck me most when I first saw her was her rich walnut-colored hair that reached the shoulders. It reminded me of chocolates and autumn.
She began to inspect the postcards one by one. They were several. In the morning she must go to the post office before her flight in the afternoon for Toulouse, her home.
You should see the red-bricked buildings in Toulouse, she said during our first conversation.
Toulouse, also known as The Pink City.
Are the buildings really made of pink bricks? I asked in sincere ignorance.
She thought for a while.
They look reddish to me.
We both laughed.
That’s when I learned that each city has its color. Malaga to me is green because of the tropical plants I remember vividly in the park on La Almeda in the city center and its calm sea which is strikingly green in the midday sun. Manila, my old home, the color between joy and pain, is orange.
This postcard will go to Vivienne, she lives in Paris. From the balcony of her apartment you can see Notre Dame. It’s always nice to drink coffee up there.
The postcard was a picture of the view over the city of Granada from the top of the Alhambra. At the back of the postcard she wrote: “V. the Moors were genius, this castle is tall as your apartment, miss you.”—and signed her name M.
She didn’t choose a postcard at random. Beneath the yellow light of the tiny lampshade she scrutinized each postcard with attentiveness and great care as if what she was holding between her hands was a face. Something of the image in the postcard corresponded to its recipient. If you were lucky enough to receive a postcard from her you would smile because it touched something in you.
How two travelers unknown to each other end up on the same bed is hard to explain. I do not remember any hint of explicit flirtation between us during our first meeting. Judging by the way she met the glance of the opposite sex she was averse to it. There was something in her gestures, countenance, and manner of speaking which exuded a sense of self-assuredness that was snobbish at times and dissuaded any possible male sexual approach. Perhaps an inadvertent desire was ignited between us through the course of our intermittent conversations. We disagreed on certain things. I did not trust photography as an art form as she did. Sometimes she was pitiless in her observation. Liberté, égalité, fraternité –we in France pay lip service to these shit, she once said in dignified sarcasm. What bound us together was a kind of idealism that often accompanies youthful revolt. In the short span of three days I foresaw that a part of our shared destiny was to mock power and authority despite the risks involved in it. Our future lives, I believed, somehow were predicated on that vision. For three days we talked so much about everything enough to fill the silences of our lifetime.
On the bed she let go of her self-assuredness. When our bodies touched a searching tenderness engulfed the two of us. Arms and legs tangled, consuming kisses, long erections, miraculous dampness. We traveled to where desire led us—to places where the discovery of pleasure was constantly new, and each time we stumbled upon an unexpected coming we kept its promise in the longing of each other’s skin, like a postcard.
Longing is a frontier that can never be crossed. Its distance is always present and elsewhere. Writing this now I realize that the name Toulouse pronounced slowly, syllable by syllable, sounds like “to lose.” To lose is every traveler’s destination. We never saw each other again.
We spent the wee hours of that morning of her last day in Malaga, still undressed, looking at the postcards. We observed them one by one, telling stories from what we saw in every image that passed back and forth from our hands.
See this one here?
It was a picture of the Paseo del Parque in Malaga.
It reminds me of an afternoon in Livorno, she said.