episode 02 | It was a bluff

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The Nirvana Lounge crowns the highest and most luxurious commercial condominium, in the heart of Vice City's compact yet boisterous financial district. Banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions occupy several floors of the building, as well as offices of lawyers, IT teams and some luxury brands. Taking the elevators is all that is needed for these privileged professionals to start celebrating profits and bonuses. For some, the Lounge is a pleasant stop on their way to the helicopters that land atop. 

I had thought having it exclusively for myself and my guest was a splendid idea. I was guessing he would be impressed and even intimidated with the absolutely chic and expensive decor. In shades of black, white and grey — I have chosen to wear these colors myself, so that I am somewhat camouflaged — pieces of contemporary design furniture and antiques have been chosen and placed to stand out each, yet make a group statement of affluent elegance. Exactly like their sophisticated clientele would. But as settled, there are no other customers, and the single bartender, who shall wait on my guest and me.

It is a vast room with high windows opening onto three different sides of the city that, seen from the heights, looks deceivingly orderly. There are no walls nor glass partitions dividing the areas. Instead, precious sculptures and vases top black marble pedestals, dotting the ambient like landmarks in a calcined garden where only art would have survived. Rather minimal. Perhaps too, since its emptiness turns out creepy and I am becoming agitated.

Or is it the handsome barman that is making me self-conscious? I can't help but check him out every time I glance over to the entrance door. Obviously, Gabriel is in town because, like hundreds or maybe thousands of young men that arrive here every year, he wants to be an actor. They have all got the looks, the physique, but meager talents might turn them into models instead. Or even a rent boy like Angelo, depending on what their skills and aspirations are, I suppose.

Here I am, already slowly sinking into reminiscing about Angelo, my ex-boyfriend, and the ten years I have spent in this wreck of a city, eagerly waiting for my past to arrive. 

He is so late — but I don't care. I am a survivor, and I am used at holding off my anxiety attacks.

My first solo exhibition in an internationally acclaimed museum is opening tomorrow night. My detractors like to stress the fact that Dan Charmand, the almighty director of Vice's Contemporary Art Museum, is my personal friend. That should be the only reason why I was offered this opportunity, states the jealous bunch. I am Dan's boy, they say, or even Dan's toy. But as my artistic mentor, he truly seems to think my work has matured enough. And since I should be getting invitations for the Bienalle of Venice and the Documenta in Kassel soon, he intends to be the first one to have shown my paintings properly — in a dark room, where he thinks they belong. 

It's a major occasion and a great privilege to have this opportunity. And I'm hoping to be a new man by tomorrow night. Less saddened, less tormented. 

Overnight. Starting this afternoon.

This afternoon should be a milestone of forgetfulness — or forgiveness. 

And suddenly, there he is! I thought I had braced myself for this moment, a preparation that had lasted twenty years.

But I haven't. My hands are shaking. I have begun to sweat.

 ******

He has never been a tall man. Neither short. 'Average' is how Catherine would have nailed him. His intellect, his tastes, his opinions — they were all average, according to my mother.

I was thirteen years old the last time I saw him. He had been one head taller than me. Two decades later, it is the opposite. He looks so small.

My father.

"Ciao Carlo, buon giorno." Trembling, the hand I hold out for him is cold. He doesn't seem to notice, or care, in our brief handshake. I stretch out my arm, and so does he. We keep the distance, each in his own trench. "Io sono Laurent." In a moment, I decide formality will be my shield.

"Of course you are!" He speaks French with a heavy, joyous Italian accent that tastes to breezy summer days spent at delicious meals and long conversations. Days that have never happened. "And you still speak Italian!"

"Just a few words I recall from my childhood..." Uncertain how to proceed, I pause. What was my strategy, again? "Would you have recognized me, Carlo?" To my dismay, my voice trembles each time I pronounce his name. Ultimately, I sound just like the teenager he has abandoned.

"After me, you're the best looking man in this restaurant. You had to be my son!" Carlo smiles, in a lighthearted mood, seemingly unaware of my nervousness. 

"The restaurant is empty, Carlo."

"It was a joke... Won't you laugh?" Annoyed, Carlo seems to focus his eyes on me for the first time. "Apart from that, you're on the local newspapers, son. Big pictures. They seem to love your face more than your paintings."

"Is that a criticism to my works, Carlo?" My voice again trembles, this time from indignation. "Or is it another bad joke?"

"It's a compliment, son. Have you grown up to be just like your mother... beautiful and elegant, but too serious? No sense of humour at all? Or are you trying to start an argument? Because if you invited me for that, I might as well leave right now."

"I'm sorry. I apologize." I take another deep breath. And one, two steps back, towards the chair where I had been seated. "I'm glad you have arrived, Carlo."

"And I apologize for being late." He pauses, as if choosing his next words. "I'm happy to be here, Laurent."

I know it was a bluff. He is wearing a brown suit of Italian cut, smaller at the waist so that his shoulders seem larger. A lavender colored shirt worn without a tie enhances his naturally tanned complexion. Discreet like my father always was, he still stands out as the only splash of color against the monotone background. Unlike the rags I have seen him wear throughout my childhood in the tropics, and the late hippie casual garb from my teenage years in rural France, his costume looks shiny new and expensive. Elegant and formal like I have never seen him before, my father has clearly dressed for the occasion, denoting our reunion is important for him, too. 

Even his glasses look brand new. Later I would learn he had picked them on the way to the Lounge, and having gotten lost inside the mall was the very simple reason behind his being late. My guess is that Carlo has bought everything new for our reunion, and for my vernissage. He wouldn't have flown all the way from Italy to simply turn his back on me after a few seconds, and return to his hermitage in the mountains. 

You are twenty years late, I think, and I'm certainly not letting you leave, not again, not tonight! — but I won't say it.


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