فصل 03

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فصل 03

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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Mr Mouthwash

I bought Luis another drink. ‘Tell me about Alec Cartwright,’ I said.

Luis looked at me, and suddenly his expression was very Cuban. There was a sort of measuring look on his face, and I could almost see his mind thinking, ‘What’s in this for me? How can I turn this situation to my advantage?’ Then he asked me casually. ‘What is it that you want to know?’

‘Everything there is to know,’ I replied, equally casual.

Luis pulled an expressive face. ‘Alec Cartwright is fat and his clothes are too small,’ he said, his voice full of disgust. ‘His big white belly hangs over his trousers, and his neck is purple and tired like the neck of a turkey. The man is ugly. Ugly.’ He almost spat the word at me across the table. ‘But worst of all,’ he went on, ‘are his eyes. Alec Cartwright has small, suspicious eyes, and he never looks into your face when he speaks to you.’ He paused then, I think to give his last words emphasis. ‘I would not trust a man like that if he and I were the only two men left alive on this planet.’

I hadn’t been impressed when Diane had first shown me that photograph, I have to admit, but the picture Luis was painting was even more unappealing. It was certainly difficult to imagine that this was the same man who had made love to Diane outdoors on their honeymoon. In fact, the very idea made me shiver.

I’d put the photograph Diane had lent me inside my Rough Guide to Cuba to keep it safe. Now I took it out and showed it to Luis. ‘Is this the same man?’ I asked him.

He took the photograph from me and immediately nodded. ‘Yes,’ he said, his face screwed up with disgust, ‘that’s him. He is older than that, and uglier. But it’s him.’

He returned the photograph to me and I replaced it inside my book, thoughtfully. Maybe Alec Cartwright had changed considerably with age. Maybe it’s just something that’s inevitable, something that happens to everybody. Even you. Maybe if you lived to the age of fifty your muscles wouldn’t be firm any longer. Perhaps you’d be fat too. And bald. But as it is, none of that is going to happen. You’ll die a handsome man. I’m doing you a favour, really.

Anyway, back in that Havana bar, Luis was continuing with his story about Alec Cartwright. It was around eleven o’clock in the evening by then, and the room was full of chat and cigar smoke. But somehow, although we were surrounded by people, I was only really aware of Luis. It was almost the same as the effect you had on me when we first met at that party.

‘However, despite all these things,’ Luis was saying, ‘I wasn’t surprised when Alec managed to get a Cuban girlfriend. The man wears dull clothes, it is true. He does not look like a rich man and he lives here in these streets instead of in an expensive tourist hotel. But he travels around the city in taxis and he sits in bars drinking cocktails. No, I was not surprised about his girlfriend. But I am surprised when you sit here and you tell me that he has a wife in England who is concerned about him.’ Luis shook his head in disbelief. ‘The man is an animal with the habits of an animal,’ he said. ‘Every day he rises at five in the morning. Every day at five in the morning he uses his bathroom, and you understand the pipes in these houses are very old. When somebody uses the water, the pipes they knock and bang about like builders on a building site. My work is mostly at night, and for this reason I normally go to bed one hour before Alec Cartwright gets up. And as soon as I go to sleep, those pipes they wake me up again. And after I’m awake, I lie in bed and I have to listen to him in his bathroom. Every day he uses a mouthwash. And every day I lie there and I have to listen to that mouthwash bubbling around in his throat. How is it possible for someone to make so much noise with a mouthwash, can you tell me that? I tell you it is the sound of the devil!’

Luis’s voice was very loud by now, and I became aware that people were looking in our direction. All other conversations in the bar had stopped. And Luis hadn’t finished yet.

‘Every day I wish for Alec Cartwright to move away. To pack his tight, dusty clothes into his suitcase with his mouthwash and disappear!’

At that, Luis picked up his glass and drank the rest of his rum in one swallow, his handsome face looking dangerous. I wondered what work took him away regularly at night. And I wondered too what he would do to anyone who really annoyed him when just the thought of Alec Cartwright’s mouthwash could make him look so fierce.

Then the next moment, he was smiling at me and the tension was lifting from his face. ‘You know, Carla,’ he said, ‘these old Havana buildings, they are full of insects. We Cubans learn to ignore them most of the time. They are familiar to us, you understand, a part of our environment and our day-to-day lives. But some insects they are too unpleasant to ignore. Alec Cartwright is such an insect. The worst type of ugly, stinging insect. And if you say to me that you want to persuade him it is a good idea to return to England to the arms of your friend, then I will do anything in my power to assist you. In fact, it would be my very great pleasure.’

And that’s how I ended up staying in Luis’s apartment as his guest. And no, I don’t suppose I would have accepted his invitation if he hadn’t been a young, attractive man. But he was attractive. Very attractive. And charming. Interesting too. We sat together on his sofa and talked about everything. England, Cuba, politics, art… I even told him about you. (I think he placed you in the same category as Alec Cartwright: an insect - ha, ha!) And yes, we kissed. Of course. As I said, Luis was a very attractive and charming man. But then, before things could go any further, there was a loud noise from next door.

‘Alec Cartwright!’ Luis announced crossly, moving away from me slightly. ‘He has returned and now he makes preparations for bed.’

‘Is that really the pipes making all that noise?’ I asked, and Luis nodded.

‘Yes, indeed, that is the pipes. But you are fortunate. He does not use the mouthwash at night.’

Soon after that, Luis changed into black trousers and a black shirt and left for work, telling me to make myself at home in his apartment. Alone, I looked around properly for the first time. There was nothing expensive in the apartment, but it definitely had style. Unfortunately however, nothing could disguise the smell of the damp coming from the walls, and later, when I climbed into his bed, the sheets felt chilly.

Not surprisingly, I couldn’t get to sleep straight away. The pillows held the smell of Luis’s aftershave. It was a nice smell: sexy, like Luis. But somehow it made me think about you. About your smell. The bare skin of your shoulder beneath my cheek as you held me in your arms after love-making. The smooth, soft place behind your ears. The warm hollow of your throat.

Gemma has a theory about smell. She thinks it’s the basis of what makes you fall in love with somebody. That if someone doesn’t smell right for you, then you’ll never fall in love with them. She’s probably right.

Anyway, lying in Luis’s bed surrounded by Luis’s smell, I thought about you and I felt more sad and alone than I had for weeks. But I refused to allow myself to cry. Since the split I’d cried enough tears for a lifetime. Enough tears to know that crying changes nothing. You and your special smell were gone from me forever, and I just had to accept that and deal with it. Which was precisely why I was here in Havana - to deal with it. Or rather to practise dealing with it. Because by the time I’d found ways to get revenge for Diane and then Gemma and Cathy I would be an expert. And then I would be ready to take my revenge on you.

After that alarming noise from the pipes, there were no more sounds from Alec Cartwright’s apartment, and I finally drifted off to sleep. I didn’t even wake up properly when Luis came back from work. But when the pipes started up again I found myself lying in Luis’s arms, with his face pressed into my hair and his chest against my back, and when Luis swore in Spanish, I could feel the movement of his lips. I shivered, and Luis pulled me closer to him, wrapping his arms around me from behind. It felt comforting somehow, and despite the sound of the pipes, I found myself slipping into a light sleep.

But I woke up again immediately when Alec Cartwright started to use his mouthwash, and it wasn’t only because Luis gave a groan of despair. It really was a ridiculously loud noise for an activity taking place on the other side of the wall. A detailed sort of noise, somehow. Certainly it was possible to imagine the liquid of the mouthwash moving around every one of Alec Cartwright’s yellow teeth. (I didn’t know then that his teeth were yellow of course, but it seemed inevitable, considering the lack of care he appeared to take with the rest of his body.) Luis sat upright in bed, swearing loudly in Spanish. Then he threw a book at the wall. It landed face down on the floor, and I noticed it was my Rough Guide to Cuba. Alec Cartwright’s photograph came to rest on the carpet next to Luis’s black leather shoes, and the face in the photograph seemed to stare back at us stubbornly. ‘I’ll use my mouthwash when I want to and for as long as I want to!’ it seemed to say.

‘Are the walls in these buildings thin?’ I asked Luis when at last the sounds from next door had stopped, and he ran an annoyed hand through his black hair, swinging his long legs out of the bed.

‘No,’ he said, ‘they are not thin. But all the buildings in Havana are full of cracks and holes. Perhaps the sound travels through these holes. Or through the pipes. I don’t know. It is just another mystery of this city. I will make us some coffee.’ He put on a black dressing gown and went into the kitchen, and soon the delicious smell of strong Coffee reached my nostrils.

According to my watch, it was only five thirty in the morning, but I doubted whether I would get back to sleep again. There was too much to think about. Luis, for example. What had he been doing for half the night?

‘Here,’ he said, handing me a steaming mug of coffee, and as he leant across the bed to give it to me, his dressing gown fell open, revealing a long scar down the length of his chest. He saw me looking at it.

‘I used to be a bad boy,’ he told me.

‘Aren’t you a bad boy anymore?’ I asked.

He drank some of his coffee. ‘No, not anymore,’ he said, and smiled. ‘Well, not often, anyway.’

Bad boy or not, I knew I had nothing to fear from Luis. In fact, I felt very safe as I sat in bed drinking coffee with him. Safe and protected. ‘So, what has your friend told you about her husband?’ Luis asked.

‘He’s a doctor,’ I told him. ‘He’s a doctor and he’s here to do a piece of research into why your medical services are so good when your country is so…’ I broke off, realising just in time that what I’d been about to say was hardly tactful. But Luis supplied the missing word from my sentence anyway.

‘Poor,’ he said. ‘It’s OK; you can say it. I will not be offended. Cuba is poor.’

I was embarrassed. ‘Yes, well, apparently he was only supposed to be here for six months, but his contract was extended.’

‘Perhaps the doctor is taking his time with his research,’ Luis suggested.

‘You mean on purpose?’

He nodded. ‘Of course. Gina is a very beautiful girl.’ He gestured with his hands to draw the outline of a woman in the air.

‘Gina? That’s his girlfriend?’

‘Yes. She is twenty-three years old. A nurse at the hospital. She had a Cuban boyfriend until Mr Mouthwash arrived.’

‘Mr Mouthwash! That’s funny!’ I started to laugh, and when Luis laughed too, I found myself thinking what a nice laugh he had. Deep and dark. Extremely sexy. Yours was always a bit boyish for my taste really. A silly schoolboy laugh. Though I loved it of course, because it was yours, a part of you. But it didn’t make my knees go weak. You only had to look into my eyes to make me melt, but I can’t remember your laugh ever making me tremble with desire.

Luis’s laugh came from deep inside his chest, and somehow I found myself reaching out to stroke that chest as it moved, my fingers drawing a line down the length of his scar and across his muscles. And suddenly he wasn’t laughing any more, and when I looked up into his face, he was looking down at me seriously. Then he bent to kiss me, and desire swept through my body like a tide. And I doubt whether either of us would have heard if Alec Cartwright had decided to use his mouthwash again.

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