THE MEANING OF LIFE IS LOVE (naked unvarnished truth)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
A love story set in the nuclear apocalypse.

Submitted: August 22, 2016

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Submitted: August 22, 2016

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Pavel became acutely conscious of the blinding solar orb setting on the coastal city of Victoria when he noticed two intimidating guys coming his way. One of them was shouting, and Pavel felt as if the guy had pulled a rabbit out of the hat that was Pavel’s subconscious when the epithet “Faggot” was hurled at him, singling him out mercilessly. He felt a hand shove him. Pavel froze, shaken by a sense of his own inferiority.

“The fratricide is a suicide is a birth,” the guy said. “This is evolution.” He pulled out a knife.

Pavel and the guys were awakened from their trance by a man’s voice: “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?”

“Slaughtering sheep,” the guy with a knife replied. “So let me guess—you actually want to mate with that?” he pointed at Pavel. “Sorry, man, but I don’t think the human race stands a chance then.”

“Leave him alone.”

The guy lunged at him with the knife, and the man managed to deflect this move and then kicked the knife to the ground, whereupon the man swiftly grabbed hold of the knife, altering the balance of power. Pavel, seeing his chance to redeem his masculinity, punched the other guy in the nose. Pavel was shocked at the sight of blood, yet he felt an exhilirating elixir of vitality course through his veins.

The guys took off, venomous rage still spewing from their lips as they mumbled, “Fucking faggots . . .”

“I’m Nabil Saïd,” the man said while shaking Pavel’s hand, “and my favourite novel is Ben Barka Lane by Mahmoud Saeed.”

“My name is Pavel Smerdyakov, and my favourite novel is Blinding: The Left Wing by Mircea Cartarescu.”

“ . . . I think I’ve seen you at the bar before. Would you like to grab a drink with me? . . . Gay men ought to look out for one another . . . I’m Muslim and gay. Gay and Muslim men have at least one thing in common: the Islamophobes and homophobes think we’re both a bunch of woman-haters.”

The moment they stepped into the club, they were deluged by a loud, thumping beat — a chaos of sounds and pulsations. “I don’t know if we can talk in here,” Nabil shouted. “I guess we’re going to have to stay really close to each other.”

“I’ll have a Kokanee beer . . . Pavel?”

“Corona . . . I thought Muslims don’t drink alcohol?” Pavel said.

“ . . . I occasionally break the rules. You know, I used to be a devout Muslim . . . Later, I experimented with drugs . . .”

Pavel and Nabil both took a sip from their cold glasses of beer. “It made me question everything,” Nabil continued. “Even God . . . Yet I don’t think I ever lost my faith. There are verses in the Qur’an that confirm scientific discoveries. I’m proud that I can read it in Arabic.”

 “I remember reading some books like Sardar’s Reading the Qur’an that claim, among other things, that there are verses in the Qur’an that seem to sanctify man-to-man love.”

“Surahs 52:24 and 76:19 . . . Looking at me, would you have guessed that my father’s Moroccan and my mother’s Mexican?”

“I don’t know . . . My parents were from Romania. My father’s surname was Popescu. My maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Alexandrescu.”

“But your name is Russian, right?”

“Yeah, my mother was never married, and I was named after my maternal grandfather. He was originally from the Soviet Union and moved to Romania when he was eighteen . . . My biological father, Popescu, was thirty-two years older than my mother; she was his mistress. He even wanted her to have a dangerous abortion using quinine . . . I never knew him.”

“That’s sad . . . I’m sorry to hear that . . .”

The almost deafening music ceased and Pavel said, “Karaoke . . . I’m singing ‘This Is the Last Time’ by The National.”

“ . . . ‘I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know’ by Donny Hathaway . . . I’ve never sung it before . . .”

They got the chance to inhabit the intimate worlds captured by their favourite songs. There was a television in a corner of the bar, but it was set on mute and no one paid any attention to it. Pavel and Nabil were amused with each other’s performances.

After several people sang, the bar became a dance club again, and a more ambient and euphoric vibe permeated the room. Pavel and Nabil attempted to dance, staring at one another.

“Turn the music down!” some guy shouted. He pointed to the TV and turned the volume up.

Everyone could hear the reporter’s words: “. . . Russia has inflicted a nuclear strike against Romania. It has not yet been determined whether this attack was unintentional or malicious . . .

“Of course it was intentional!” the guy yelled.

Nabil grabbed Pavel’s arm and said, “I think we should get out of here.” Pavel followed Nabil to his car. They were overwhelmed by the feeling that the world could end any minute. Nabil and Pavel wanted to get the chance to see more of the Lower Mainland, so they decided to take the ferry to Vancouver. They were both awed by the majestic view of the ocean, the horizon, and the mountains in the distance. They stood on the deck, breathed in the salty ocean air, and revelled in each other’s company.

 

….

 

“Life is very lonely without friends,” Nabil said as he turned on the car radio.

“ . . . Some have conjectured that Chechen ISIS members managed to get their hands on a Russian nuclear weapon, thereby delivering a strike against Moscow. Russia may have assumed that this strike originated from NATO, leading inexorably to the Russians’ fatally irrevocable and indelible decision to attack NATO-member Romania . . .

Pavel turned the radio off. They decided to go to the Twilight Drive-In movie theatre in Langley. Mulholland Drive was playing, and when they arrived, the movie had just started. Pavel took out a capsule he had in a ziplock bag.

 “This must be the second time I’ve seen you do that since I’ve met you. Why do you keep taking those capsules?”

“I take them to assuage my rage, melancholy, anxiety, ennui . . . I have a pill for every eventuality.”

“What about love? Do you have a pill for that? . . . Pavel, I’m in love with you, man. Could you try to go at least one day without taking them?”

“Okay . . .” Pavel sat back and relaxed.

Nabil tried to make sense of the film — a web of seemingly illogical events and random chain reactions brought to life by the timeless elements of dialogue, music, and aesthetics. Nabil found it difficult to focus, at times looking outside the car and wondering why everyone seemed so calm after the first nuclear strike since Nagasaki.

He was surprised when he realized he was also calm.

A sudden chill ran up his spine. He thought he saw something move near the car.

“Pavel, we’ve got to go.”

“Come on, I want to see the end.”

Nabil started the car.

Imagining he saw a zombie, Pavel decided he must be hallucinating. They sped away into the pitch black night.

“I’m sorry we couldn’t finish watching the movie.”

“ . . . Can you teach me how to fight?”

“ . . . Yes . . .”

They drove through the moonless night like disembodied spirits on a paradise-bound journey. They found a dark, quiet country road, and Nabil kept driving while Pavel slept. It was almost dawn when Nabil parked the car at an isolated area by a river. He closed his eyes, and like Pavel, he allowed himself to drift into an ineffably primordial, deep sleep.

When he woke up, the first thing he saw was Pavel eating from a bag of walnuts. “That’s brain food,” Nabil remarked. “They’re shaped like little brains.”

“You said you’d teach me how to fight.”

“Give me some brain food first.”

After a couple of minutes, Nabil proceeded to teach Pavel the standard stance and the hook punch. Nabil concluded his lesson with some wrestling moves like the blast double and the double-wrist tie-up. They ended up wrestling on the river bank, immersing themselves in a masculine contest of strength and intimacy.

They stopped and looked into each other’s eyes. “Tu es mon copain,” Nabil said in French.

 “What’s that mean?”

Nabil laughed, his face brightening in youthful mirth. “You’re my boyfriend.” He kissed Pavel gently on the lips. Everything that separated them fell away. Their bodies joined together and floated in an ocean of bliss. The love they shared was deepened by a bond that could never be broken.

 

…..

 

 “No one’s ever made me feel this happy,” Nabil said when they were back in the car. “You know, human males are not the only ones who engage in frottage or belly-rubbing. Bonobo chimpanzees do. Gray whales do. The majority of gay sex in animals is non-penetrative.”

“I remember reading about that in Biological Exuberance . . .”

Nabil turned on the radio, hoping to hear some music; instead he was barraged with harsh, dissonant voices conveying more real bad news: the horrors caused by the Russian nuclear strike against Romania and the carnage being inflicted in a colossal war between ISIS, Russia and NATO. Pavel turned it off; he desperately searched through his backpack for a capsule and seemed overjoyed to find one.

“So where would you like to go now?” Nabil asked.

 “I’m hungry.”

“Me too.” They drove until they found a KFC and ordered their meals at the drive-thru. At first they ate in silence, relishing the satisfaction of another primal need.

“Have you ever experienced discrimination?” Pavel asked.

“ . . . A guy once told me, ‘You’re a good Muslim: you don’t poison the water supply.’ There were guys who yelled ‘D.P.’ at me as they drove by . . . After the Paris attacks, a guy even spat at my sister. People have told her things like, ‘Get the fuck out of this country, you invisible terrorist,’ and ‘shut your Muslim mouth.’”

“That’s terrible . . . A woman once told my mother, ‘I hate you! Go back to your fucking country!’ After the Boston bombing, another of my mother’s co-workers made a joke by saying that my mother’s from Chechnya. Even a junior high girl once spat at my mother . . . People sometimes asked me why I still have an accent if I’ve been in Canada since I was seven-months-old; they found the truth hard to believe. They asked me if I’m Russian, if I know Russian, if I have dual citizenship with Russia, if I’m a Canadian citizen, et cetera . . .”

Nabil clasped Pavel’s hand in his own, and the setting sun suffused their entwined hands with a magical glow. “Pavel . . . I love you.”

 

….

 

When Pavel went to the washroom at KFC, Nabil was possessed by the desire to find out more about what happened and turned the radio on. When Pavel returned, he could hear the radio and Nabil trying to hold back his tears.

“What’s wrong?” Pavel couldn’t bear to look Nabil in the eye.

Nabil drove as he narrated his understanding of current events: “Not long after Russia erroneously retaliated by nuking Romania, ISIS decided to ramp up its attack against Russia. They perceived Russia as an easier target than America, especially since Russia was distracted by its paranoia regarding NATO. ISIS got its hands on nuclear weapons. You know about ISIS, a Saudi- and Western-backed and -manufactured brand of pseudo-Islam. Over time, many disaffected and lost souls from all over the world joined its ranks. They were angered by American drone strikes that slaughtered civilians and children in Yemen and Pakistan, NATO and Russian airstrikes that killed civilians in Syria, et cetera. They managed to steal nuclear weapons from Russia’s vast arsenal. They nuked a couple of other Russian cities in addition to Moscow, and I guess their warning is that we’re next . . .”

“ . . . Russia has immolated itself in an inferno of its own making. It always bothered me to be perceived as being Russian. Now I’m just sorry that all of this had to happen . . . My mother’s ex-boyfriend, Sylvio, was a Jehovah’s Witness. In a dream, he once told me that the apocalypse is coming; it’s only a matter of time. Our world is just an infinitesimal grain of sand in a vast ocean of other worlds. Are we so narcissistic to believe that God will care if we destroy ourselves?”

When they got to Vancouver, they took the ferry back to Victoria. Nabil stopped driving when they reached an apartment building.

The landlady and Nabil exchanged heartfelt words, their sense of finality resounding like wailing church bells. Nabil took Pavel by the hand as they took the elevator to the seventh floor. Nabil guided Pavel to Room #704; they both felt the intoxicating elixir of divine Eros and elation flow through their bodies.

 

…..

 

Pavel gazed into the spiritual mirrors of Nabil’s eyes. “Nabil . . . I love you . . .”

“It’s a shame our lives have to end so soon . . . You should’ve gotten the chance to be happy.”

“I am happy . . . Do you know what I hate?”

 “What?”

“When I’m in a pub or hotel lobby and I think I hear a song I really like . . .”

 “What’s wrong with that?”

“I never get to hear the words . . . I never get to find out what the song is or who it’s by . . .”

“So that must be the all-encompassing theme of your life.”

“What?”

“Loss. Missing things. Never getting what you really want or need.”

“ . . . Nabil . . . Hold me close. Please don’t let go of me . . .”

The sky lit up with the blinding brilliance of a primeval blaze.

 


© Copyright 2017 Saul Przybyszewski. All rights reserved.