The dinner was just wrapping up at the Circle.
Their table had been set at the end of the veranda, between two columns, and the awnings had been drawn back so that the fresh touch of the night could enter. underneath the electric chandeliers, the glinting of crystal made a rainbow, and wrapping around the settings of orchids and hibiscus at the center of the table. Punkah fans flapped lazily overhead, brushing the air arounds the guests: it was almost cool, and even if one could see that the dining room was full of chattering and merry people through the open doors, out here on the corner of the terrasse, there was a charming impression of semi-solitude and the feeling of distance from the rest of the world.
By now, the main course was over. The Annamite serving boys came out discretely, carrying rattan baskets full of Asiatic fruits unkown in Europe: mottled bananas like leopards, red mangos that burned like the setting sun, translucent silvery litchis, snow white honeyed mangousteens, and blood-red persimmons: the Japanese loved to laugh about the French word for it, kaki.
They had eaten almost silently, since none of the three were very talkative. but now, the win was starting to loosen up their tongues, and Fierce recounted his voyage. His companions listened to him and watched, with the curiosity that you have about people who come from far away, and have been away for a long time.
He spoke with short sentences, and often paused, deep in thought. Daydreamining seemed to be his normal pastime. he was very young - just 25 or 26 years old - but, he appeared more serious and bitter than most old people. But he still had beautiful black eyes, finely sculpted figures, and long fine hair, matte underneath the light, pearly white neat, tall and elegant, with long hands, a high forehead, long muscled limbs, everything that was needed for a man to not have the slightest hatred for life. And yet Fierce had a deep seated hatred instilled into his bones. He was a unique companion, full of contradictions - he could appear serious, frivolous, a complainer, gloomy, opinionated, sad, lazy, resolute, and flexible, all at once - but always sincere, since if there was one thing which his mouth never deigned to say, it was a life. His two friends pardoned him for his questionable humor, more often black than grey, because despite his oddities, Fierce was a well adjusted man. Logic lived easily in his neat mind, and swept aside anything that wasn't brutally necessary: prejudices and social conventions were kept to a bare minimum, and the coldest logic could operate unimpeded, implacably reaching whatever its final conclusion was.
"There you go," he concluded his story." We've gone from freezing Japon to the burning summer heat here. Thirty centigrade of difference. I know of women who would die from this adventure."
"What women?" asked Mévil.
"Those loving and abandoned ones, who are crying away about our stolen embraces - what a pity."
"You had a Japanese girl in Nagasaki?"
"I had all the mousmés in Maruyama. Maruyama, if you didn't know, is the Yoshivara of Nagasaki. It's a very proper and prim neighborhood, as all things Japanese are, and there are lots of very prettily arrayed young girls who smile at passersbys from behind their bamboo grills. You can look look at them, and you can even touch them. Looking doesn't cost anything, and touching hardly anything at all. The whole deal is cheap, refreshing, and almost pleasant.
"Japan has hardly changed," observed Mévil.
"No, it has massively," said Fierce. Their customs, their clothing, even their nature - its changed to match Western mores. But the race has hardly been touched, and the Japanese still think the same. Their thoughts still play out in the same manner, and the new ideas that they've poured in still have the same form as yesteryear. The Japanese say that their prostitution isn't at all like European prostitution, and to be fair they don't have the same appearance. Their women have, and they'll still have for a long time yet to come, a modesty which stems from their race, and they logically refuse to hide behind closed shutters something which to them has always seemed lawful and honorable."
"Certainly," agreed Torral.
"So I arranged my life " without any enthusiasm, of course - according to what was available in the country, but even so, when we had to go, suddenly, wrenchingly, like we always have to do so, it had been a real blow and I was almost sad."
"Too nervous," said Mévil.
"Too young, added Torral.
"Yes," allowed Fierce. "It's a problem that I have. I don't like to say goodbye, and being torn away is a pain that I just can't get rid of, that bugs me. Bah! Now here we are in Saigon, so let's live in Saigon, not Japan!"
"There's no Yoshivara here," said Mévil. "You'll have to get a mistress, it's the only good entertainment during the siesta hours. If you have the time, Saigon will throw up a choice to your liking, but since you're a tourist here, who just comes and goes, the world is an overcrowded brothel where you might not find what matches your taste. There's still the professional girls. The white women are too expensive, and too old too. I don't recommend them. But we do have a nice bunch of sweet Annamites, mixed race girls, and Japanese, and even Chinese - all young and sweet, if not pretty."
"I'll take an Annamite," said Fierce. "I've discovered that you shouldn't abuse export goods. I'll take an Annamite girl, or maybe a few. I'm sure that we'll talk again about it, and then I can ask you two your advice."
"Not mine," said Torral. "The woman question is outside of my field of specialiality..."
"Ahh, you jest! You live down there right, in that nice neighborhood, x street....?"
"Nemesis Street. I'm not afraid of saying the name, even here in this chic place. Rue Nemesis, which used to be called Number Thirty Street, called a symbol. Yes, and however, I renounced Satan! Salvation has taken me!"
Fierce, stunned, locked eyes on him. Mévil laughed quietly, his eyes sly, as he laughed with women, recounting naughty tales. Tourral, clearly, explained.
"I subtracted the love coefficient in my equation of life, because it is always getting in the way of calculation's harmony. The terms which it multiplies are always too many and my life is in chaos afterwards. And really, what a headache, even for the most civilized man in the world, to remove love and to try to keep the woman! The most simple thing to do is to take them both out so you don't have to bother with either."That's what I've done."
"You're taking drugs instead?"
"No, I don't drug myself, I determine."
"My dear sir," said Mévil softly, "it is rude to demand the points when the is aren't ambiguous. Surely, you're aware that we are in Sodom."
Fierce, without raising his eyebrows, chose a cigar, lit it, and puffed out the smoke indifferently to rise in a spiral. The repugnant vice of Saigon didn't mean anything to him.
"It's a way to do things," he said. "But I can't dine on that sort of fare at every meal. But as a bonus to add to my life, by fortune, that works."
"We eat together, here."
"Not me," murmured Mévil." I've tried: Torral's mathematical theory is very clear - women just complicate life, complicate my life, but I can't do it - I can't do without women.
Torral rose from the table.
"You two," he said, "haven't yet reached the highest point of decadence. You're both civilized, but not enough, less than me for sure! Bah! It's already beautiful, the men that you are...."
They left the restaurant.