Last night I dreamed for the first time. A dream of pure emotion. There was nothing to see, nothing to hear, no light or dark, no space or surface to oppose my form. There was only me, a presence without matter, and over me poured a cascade of words that flowed in streams of syntax, each strand a line of thinking, a grammar, an ecstasy of tragedy, running and running down me without end. It was a deluge of everything that has ever been said, been written, been thought, followed by every possible permutation of language, that is to say, everything that ever could be articulated in words. Every variant of reality that has ever been and ever could be. And because it was happening, I knew that there was no such thing as time.
It was a dream in all senses of the word: a vision, a fantasy, an aspiration.
I awoke to the azure square in the window. A jet was streaking across it leaking a double line of white in the stratosphere.
I pull the cases off the pillows and ball them up with the sheets and towel. It had escaped me that Eve would require immediate training. Sooner than immediate.
The first lesson of socialization: Don’t shit where you eat.
Having swiped my crumbs into the sink and knocked my ashtrays inside the dustbin, I coax Eve into the hallway and lock the door.
My neighbor, in the flat at the end of the hallway, no. 9, is locking up, too. (He’s lived here longer than I but we’ve never spoken.) He takes long, perturbed strides toward the stairwell. With his schoolboy hair and sunken eyes, in a sienna cardigan and a houndstooth suit, he’s dressed to ignore, as always, but he notices Eve. Without looking at me, he smirks before the top of the stairwell and, once on the stairs, his head wobbles, as if proud of himself or feeling clever.
He utters in my direction, Sød hvalp.
Thank you, I reply in vain. He’s already out of sight.
On our ride back to the pet shop, Eve attracts varying degrees of attention. Some smile, some pout, some eye her hawkishly. There are laws against this. City trains are strictly for people—I am a miscreant, she is an interloper. She sniffs and circles, skids or tips at each stop.
Buenos días, señor.
Hi, how are you.
Muy bién, gracias. ¿Regresaron ya? ¿Quizás necesita comida para el perrito…?
No thanks. I got plenty of food for her yesterday.
Okay. Entonces, ¿cómo puedo ayudarle?
I’m here for the Amazon. I’ll head back and deal with the Frenchman, thanks.
Disculpe, señor, pero el jefe no está aquí hoy.
Oh, he’s not? Well that’s too bad. I wanted to buy that bird today.
Está bién, señor, no hay problema. Puedo asistirle.
It turns out the Frenchman is gone on a mission to procure more animals at the flesh dealer. The young woman is cordial and eager. We walk side by side, with Eve in between.
Raat! Two peas in a pod!, the Amazon screeches before we’re even in view.
Yes, this is the one, I tell her and point to the bird.
Bueno, señor, el Amazón es muy caro.
Price is not an object, I reply.
Raat! “…Plucked her eyebrows on the way / Shaved her legs and then he was a she / And said, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side / I said hey Joe, take a walk on the wild side / and the colored girls sing, do-do-do / do-do / do-do-do-do / do-do / do-do / do-do-do-do / do-do / do-do / do-do-do-do / do-do / do-do / do-do-do-dooo…”
Where did you get him?, I ask.
Dentro de la ciudad, she answers.
I write her a cheque for R50,000. I figure the Frenchman will be pleased.
It occurs to me as I’m riding on the Metro, me with my twelve fingers, a miniature wolf laying at my feet and a mature Amazona amazonica in a cage (while it sings Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror, followed by Jackson’s entire Thriller video, complete with beat, keyboard effects, the sounds of shuffling zombie feet, and a spot-on Vincent Price), that this must be a little bit like what it must have felt to be Noah. After the third stop, in between station announcements, the Subway conductor surprisingly monotones over the harsh audio system, Animalele nu sunt permise pe tren. I try my best not to make eye contact with anyone.
I’m relieved to place the cage on its pedestal in my living room. Eve circles it inquisitively, then sits. I fill the feeding bowl with pistachios.
How did you learn to speak English?, I ask.
Raat! Masterpiece Theatre.
You’ve watched television?
Something’s wrong with Carmen. Something’s wrong with Carmen. Carmen, are you there? Carmen, wake up, Carmen!
Who is Carmen?
Ungrateful children. You never visit your mother.
Are you Carmen?
Raat! Carmen is dearly departed.
I see. Well, do you have a name?
Can you make a new one?
You mean you didn’t have a name before?
Raat! That’s not true anymore.
You want me to give you a new name.
Something with panache.
Very well then. Do you have any ideas?
Let’s see…Ru Paul. Divine. Liberace.
Liberace? Like the musician?
“…I knowww all there is to knowww about the crying gaaame…”
What do you mean?
Raat! Cut it off.
Cut what off?
“It’s not my fault.” “God made me this way.”
God made you how?
Raat! Not too bright, even for an American.
Are you saying you’re transgendered?
“Rod, tell him what he’s won…”
A transgendered Amazon parrot?
You’re one to talk.
So are you male or female?
Raat! There is no I in team.
For all its acumen, the Amazon struggles against the idea of self. A sponge of language, a sense of humor, an orientation. A prism of metaphor. But evasive on the topic of me.