“If one of these tattoo-covered hobo men graze against me again,” Alec mutters into the phone, “I swear to God, I will lose my shit.”
“You don’t believe in God,” I make awkward eye contact with the elderly man down the hall wearing the tiniest floral-patterned robe as he takes his trash out, “and you have a Spongebob tattoo on your bicep. And it isn’t even the weirdest one,” I add.
“Yes, but mine don’t look dirty.”
Sadly, I know exactly what he means.
“I mean, what sort of respectable tattoo place doubles as a pizza parlour?”
“They make damn good pizza,” I remind him, “but this is why I’m in charge of collection, and you provide the alcoholic beverages.”
“I definitely won’t be taking your job anytime soon, that’s for damn sure,” he sighs, “but I was here anyway because of Dance. Look, just let yourself in. The spare key is under the ‘Welcome!’ mat.”
I glance at the black mat which had “FUCK OFF!” printed in huge white block letters.
Alec’s apartment is immaculate like always. Mercy, his housekeeper, would stand for nothing less. When I first came over, I almost didn’t want to sit down; I was afraid I would sweat on something.
Unlike most of the first-years or any years for that matter, Alec has a two-bedroom apartment all to himself. His hippie parents had turned their aero-yoga routines into very successful classes which turned into a yoga resort and then twenty and now, they had a chain, branching into a possible overseas expansion. Their lifestyle, not company, was run by Max, their eldest son who ate a steak every second day and had an eye for business. All his parents did was yoga. And each other.
Sex was a big part of their belief. In fact, their routines were largely centred around spirituality and sexuality.
“After all, Olive,” his mother explained around their dinner table one evening, “how can you trust someone to suspend you into the air if they cannot sustain your orgasm.”
“Mom!” Alec groaned.
Max sunk into his chair, his new girlfriend turning the colour of the untouched beetroot on her plate.
She ignored her sons, “Remember, Olive, do not be afraid to explore your sexuality,” she smiled, “Be who you must be, and that can mean anything with anyone.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Harper,” I nodded, confused but too afraid to ask what she meant.
“Please,” her hazel eyes glowed unlike anyone else’s, “call me Surya.”
Surya was a golden Hindu warrior who arrived on a chariot pulled by seven white horses, Alec later explained to me. His mother had picked the name herself. With her golden locks of long blonde hair and marble-white skin, I thought the title quite fitting. She lit up any room she soared into, quite like the Sun. Alec’s father called himself Indra, the Hindu king of heaven and protector and provider of rain. He swore that if he meditated upon it long enough, he could induce a thunder shower, believing his piercing blue eyes were the keepers of rain.
Alec swore he would never invite anyone to their country resort ever again. I quite enjoyed the weekend though, and after Ayesha’s incident the previous year, Surya and Indra were overjoyed at my presence. His mother was in state at the dark energy Ayesha possessed. They had terrible weather the whole weekend with his father engulfed in a gloom over the blocking of everyone’s chakras. Ayesha then proceeded to spend the night with Max and thus was banned from any of their family’s resorts worldwide. Max still called her every time he came into the city.
When Alex told his parents he was asexual, they didn’t understand it. They believed that humans were sexual animals; one of the few that actually enjoyed it. They emphasized the need to feed one’s insatiable sexual appetite as often as possible. They still didn’t understand his desire to be left alone, but they both admitted his chakras seemed to prefer it. So, they gave him a furnished apartment instead.
“Put on some music,” Alex says through the phone, “and start on the Pina Coladas, I’ll be there in twenty.”
I vividly remember spotting the book as I looked for the remote to Alec’s sound system. It was, as often great discoveries are, an accident. It lay amongst the others on the glass-top coffee table, except it was different. It’s deep violet velvet cover tickled my fingertips when I touched it. As Charles Aznavour’s musky voice floated through the apartment, I curled up with the velvet book, entranced by its glossy pages.
That was the first time I saw Hannah’s work. It was and still is impossible to describe because that is what art is: a vision you cannot put into words. That is why it is art; it moves you in ways you cannot explain; you can only feel. Her work personified art. She described music and poetry and culture and language all in a series of still images. And yet, it seemed to be the very opposite. There was nothing still about it. It was very much alive, using the mind and body of the viewer as its host.
“Where are the Pina Coladas?” Alec towers over me, two boxes of grease-stained cardboard in his hands.
I hadn’t even heard him come in.
“Oh,” I say.
“Oh?” he stares at me, “I stand in a queue of oily pizza men for twenty minutes, and I get, “Oh”?”
“I was just-” I point at the velvet book, a little lost for words which isn’t like me, “Who’s work is this?”
He drops the boxes on the table, already over his dramatic outburst over alcohol.
“Hannah,” he says.
“Hannah,” I repeat softly, “I met her the other night. Very briefly,” I add, remembering Ayesha storming towards us, and dragging me out of the event before I could even say goodbye.
My eyes drink in the crimson, violet and blues of the sunset captured on a glossy page.
Alec is already in the kitchen, settling for a glass of Sauvignon Blanc instead, “She’s cool. She’s been in New Zealand for the last few months. Sort of on a gap year, but she’s back now for God only knows how long.”
“Her photography is amazing.”
He hands me a glass filled to the rim, “Hannah is probably one of the best photographers of our generation.”
I put the book down to take the wine, just in case I accidentally spill some on her work.
“We’ll have a party now that she’s back,” Alec says, “You’ll love her.”