Hadley had arrived at the centre of the city of canals. Lights basking in the oily water bobbed up at him tilting in the ripples left by passing riverboats. Downriver he could see the tips of a necklace of cranes against the fading light. Dockyards. Sucking at the wooden jetties and between the crevices of slimy steps the water exuded a swampy warm smell that filled his nostrils. This ambiguous mingling of rank sweetness and heat had a smell of the past – his mother bending over her lines of tuberoses, their roots deep in mud. Their waxy petals filled the air with a seductive fragrance. And as she snipped their thin hard stems he played games with his bare feet in the fetid blackness – pushing in a foot and then withdrawing it, making the mud gurgle and gasp.
He rolled a cigarette and blew out smoke rings from between soft lips. The Turkish tobacco had a slight kick to it. Would he ever want to give up such a pleasure? Fragments of music drifted down to him and disappeared into the darkness of the canal. He followed it to its source. Sat down at a café table and watched two couples moving to a Norah Jones song played by a 3-piece band. He couldn’t say how, but its impulse sounded distinctly cool ‘continental’ and not American. He noticed the woman sitting alone at a nearby table. He ordered a beer and swallowed it greedily, glanced at the woman and decided she was on her own.
Dance with me? he asked her, wondering if she would understand. He stood in front of her table. As she looked into his eyes she linked her hands around the back of his neck, her body opening to his. Neither spoke. Their faces close, they breathed each other’s breath. He smelled in her perfume the insinuating warm depths of tuberoses and he felt a gush of sudden desire. The music’s rhythm was caught up in the red silk clinging to her swaying hips, and his palms merged with the exquisite skin of her bare arms. He longed to slide his fingertips up and around them, like a wine taster savours the melting sensations around the tongue. The silence thickened between them, almost humidified, then trembled into an electric intimacy. He squeezed her closer into his body. As the music stopped she stepped back, her eyes still fixed on his. She smiled her thanks, and then walked to a car waiting at the kerb. The moment of a sudden and intense familiarity had passed.
He ordered another beer and rolled a cigarette. Inhaling deeply he felt hot and restless. The water sucked deeply, insatiably he thought irritably, at the sides of the canal. And the sweat that had gathered on his belly slowly trickled down and drenched his groin.