Do I stink?
I realise that’s quite an opening gambit, maybe the most abrupt I’ve heard since I was approached by a moped riding tour guide at a cafe in Hue, Vietnam. He sauntered up to my breakfast table with a roll-up hanging out of his mouth and said this:
-My name is Bill. I worked with American GIs during the war. I saw some things. Some nights I can’t sleep.
Why, good morning to you too, sir. Take a knee, soldier! Help yourself to a pastry. Try to avoid the madeleines, though. They might trigger an unpleasant flashback.
I haven’t got any sense of smell, so the question of odour is frequently a concern of mine. I chuck all my clothes in the backpack, they get jumbled together, and then I don’t know what’s clean and what’s dirty anymore. So in selecting an evening’s ensemble I tend to do a quick eeny-meeny-miney-mo prostration before a pile of apparel, spray whatever wins through with half a can of Lynx and head out.
I was in a hostel common area in San Francisco once and I had the unsettling notion that people were gravitating away from me as though I were a suspect device. It’s not nice when people do that, is it, Amber? I put my head down, trying in vain to catch even the faintest whiff of my own man musk. When I looked up again my friend Fabio had entered the room and was watching me. Unfortunately, I still had the neck of my t-shirt across the bridge of my nose.
-What the fuck are you doing? he asked.
Do I...smell bad? I asked.
He leaned in close and sniffed.
-Nothing too problematic, he shrugged.
We had arrived in San Francisco a few hours before, both completely unaware that we were just in time for the start of Gay Pride week. Our first stroll through the city was to be an eye-opener. The best part of Gay Pride is actually the day before the parade – they have this big trade fair in some park. All the companies are anxious to appear gay friendly and court the pink dollar, so each has a stall handing out promotional goods. Fabio and I came away with two big carrier bags full each – boxer shorts, t-shirts, Frisbees, condoms, hair gel, moisturiser, key rings, pens...and an apple. As a staunch Catholic from Brazil, he was somewhat perturbed by some of the sights he saw during Pride. But as a tight backpacker, he wasn’t going to turn down any freebies.
He gave me his apple though, lest it was impregnated with homosexuality. On the way back to the hostel we stopped in a local bar for a sundowner. Three American girls seated in one of the pub’s booths were inspecting us with mild interest until they looked down at our bags and started laughing amongst themselves. The motif on the outside of the bags was an advert for “Elbow Grease Personal Lubricant”.
That was about the end of my time with my companheiro Fabio, he flew home in disgrace from there, back to Rio to confess his sinful associations to the giant dashboard Jesus atop Corcovado Mountain. When I saw him off at the airport he handed me his new Bible, a Portugese-English dictionary. Inside he’d inscribed a message in his inimitable style of diction:
-To my big friend Dan...
We’d first met as roommates in Las Vegas and then travelled all the way through California together. In true samurai tradition, we became each other’s retainers. In the first instance, he saved my life by performing an intervention when some wanker from Essex slipped an LSD blotter into my Mountain Dew. Later, naked and under its’ influence, I attempted to jump into the hostel’s swimming pool from the balcony of our dorm room at 4am in the morning. It can happen in Vegas. We were only on the second floor, but when I looked at the projected trajectory angle the next day, I realised Fabios’ instincts had been correct.
I located the kid from Essex the next day, in the very same pool, where I greeted him warmly by the scalp. You wouldn’t imagine that someone from Canvey Island would panic so much about a little water in their lungs.
-He cried with a lady face, Fabio later observed. Then we were close.
Further down the line in Los Angeles, he fell sick with a strong fever and I repaid the debt by nursing him back to health. Meaning I brought him the odd bowl of soup and took him to the doctors, I didn’t mop his fevered brow and sing him lullabies.
I haven’t spoken to Fabio for over a year now, but I know we’re still close. Someday soon I’ll make it over to South America, and when I get to Rio de Janeiro I’ll receive the hero’s welcome his family promised me for looking after their boy when he took ill. Then we’ll pick up exactly where we left off. Some people you meet on the road fall by the wayside, but some people never leave you; even when they’re somewhere else.
And some people just stink.