Gren was telling me how he hated speaking English. How it depressed him, how it made him feel angry and vengeful. He complained in a menacing way, threatening to punish me–meanwhile butchering the language of the country we were living in, a country neither of us belonged to. He had ruined eyes and wrinkled earlobes. I had a tie on, the only one I owned. I’d bought it for a job interview. He flicked it with his dirty fingertip saying, What is this? What is this? His face was too smooth, almost fetal. It shined. He looked like he might be starving. But I’d never seen anyone who was starving.
I said, How can you hate a language?
He shrugged and said a few words in a language I didn’t recognize. Then he grabbed my wrist and said, You have no idea what you are talking about. You have no idea. It’s impossible. You are American.
I said, What’s that supposed to mean?
You are American!
I hated when people told me where I was from.
I said, What do you know about Americans?
Americans are stupid. That’s what I know.
Am I stupid?
America is a rich country. You’re from a rich country, and I’m from nowhere. A terrible, horrible shit of a place.
I don’t have any money, I said. I’m broke! Do you have any money? Yes? Oh? Then you have more money than I do.
That doesn’t matter. You could have money. I can never have money. That’s the difference in a nutshell!
I grew up poor, I said.
Instantly I hated myself for revealing this. It was a form of bragging. And I was entering into a game I couldn’t win and wouldn’t want to.
I live under the bridge, he said.
I know. I see you down there every day.
It was true he lived under the bridge. We all knew he lived under the bridge, but nobody cared anymore. He’d been down there so long it seemed normal. On sunny days I saw him draping his t-shirts over a line he’d strung between two trees. He had a dog that looked like a cat. It lived under the bridge with him. Sometimes he stuffed it into his jacket and took it for a walk, its beastly head poking out under his chin.
I want to see where you live, I said.
We walked over to the bridge and went under it.
This isn’t so bad, I said.
And it wasn’t. It wasn’t as bad as I’d been expecting.
You’ve never lived under a bridge, he said.
No. Only for a day or two.
You can’t imagine it, he said.
I can imagine anything, I said.
The cars go back and forth all night. The fucking cars! Where are they going? You can hear them. They shake me awake. They haunt me. But not you. They don’t haunt you.
No, I said. I hear them from my bedroom window.
He told me I was from an imperialist country.
There is nothing I can do about that, I said.
You can do anything you want, but I can’t do anything.
I can’t do anything either. Not really. I’m trapped. I can barely fucking move. Everything I do turns out wrong!
You could kill someone.
I don’t want to kill anyone.
Your embassy would protect you.
Not if I killed someone.
My embassy is like a toilet in your embassy. My people sell their kidneys to your people so they can move to your country. Then you shit on them.
There is nothing I can do about any of that, I said.
If you needed my kidney, you’d get it. But would you give me your kidney?
Probably not, I said.
Hah! Nobody would give me a kidney. It’s so easy for you!
He invited me to sit on the sofa.
I said, This is the sofa that was in my apartment when I moved in.
There’s nothing wrong with it.
I didn’t say there was anything wrong with it.
For you it was trash.
Did you find it in front of my building?
It was here when I got here.
We sat on the sofa. It really was the sofa that had been in my apartment. My neighbor and I had hauled it down the stairs a year earlier and left it on the curb. Now here it was again.
There were tables and chairs, a shelf with an assortment of things on it – candles, scissors, a comb, a yellow toothbrush. Things.
An old trunk that looked like a treasure chest was shoved against the stone wall. What the hell was inside it?
And there were posters on the stone wall. Crazy posters that made no sense to me. Missing dogs. Mayoral candidates. Upcoming raves.
You want a beer? he said in English. You want a cold one?
He took two cans out of his backpack. They were still cold.
You don’t understand anything, he said.
Probably not. But I never said I did.
Even your disavowal smacks of arrogance.
I said, Isn’t there any way out of this for me?
You are only concerned with yourself. That’s what you were taught. You ran away from your country because you are selfish. You’re as selfish as a wild animal – a rat. I left my country because it was murder.
What were you taught?
I was taught hatred. You were taught selfishness.
Do you hate me?
Yes, I hate you, but not enough. I should hate you more.
I don’t hate you. Maybe I’m not selfish enough.
You are selfish enough, he said.
We each took a swig of beer. Then he said, If I killed you, your embassy would find me and nail me to the wall. If you killed me, nobody would find you. Nothing would happen.
I could sell your kidneys, I said.
That’s true, he said, laughing. You could.
I took my jackknife out and opened it.
How much does a kidney run these days? I said in English.
Run? What do you mean run?
How much does a kidney cost?
Kidneys are a luxury in my country, said Gren.
After a moment I said, Do you want me to kill you?
Yes, he said. I want you to kill me.
I don’t want to kill you.
He laughed and said, See? You see? You don’t know anything. You are American. You don’t understand the most basic of things.
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