Cheers for the reviews.
I tend to use resort to using wikipedia, google, youtube and pestering expats for info. I live in fear of getting something seriously wrong, lol.
On the afternoon of the next Saturday, after I'd informed everyone at work I'd be leaving the second my shift was over, Samir called and told my his uncle was dying and wouldn't make it through the night. He and his family would be at his uncle's bedside until he passed.
'What hospital is he in?' I asked.
I paused. It was nearby. 'Do you want me to come around?'
'No, no it's probably better if you don't.'
'I'm sorry.' I apologised.
'I'm sorry, too, Iska,' he apologised.
'No worries. I hope your uncle isn't in pain or anything.'
Samir sounded strained. 'No, but my father's upset. I don't know what to do.'
'You'll figure it out.' It was weak, but it was the truth. This was the kind of thing you couldn't give advice about.
'I hope so.'
I felt bad for Sam and his family, but I also felt a bit disappointed. I limped through the remainder of my shift and drove home, rather dejected.
I considered having an early night, but my father started laying into me about having a night off to go drinking, and how I should have been at work earning money, or applying for med school. Things got worse when Joseph, the youngest of my brothers and the only kid beside myself still living at home, jabbed me in the ribs.
Joseph said 'You should go back to Uni. Do another degree.'
'I don't have the time.'
'Yeah, you do. All you do is watch movies and wank and work as a fucking nurse. You got plenty of time to study.'
Joseph, who had a dual law and commerce degree and a swish job in government, knew it all. He always had. He'd always known it all, and he'd always let us all know it.
I picked up a piece of baklava and chewed it, refusing to answer.
'No wonder you're overweight,' Joseph commented. 'You're always eating.'
That was it. I'd heard more than enough. I stuffed the baklava in my mouth and went outside on the pretence of having a cigarette. And I did smoke, too, but I mainly went outside to call Mus'ad. Mus'ad answered – very surpringly – happily. Yes, he wanted to see me. His mother-in-law was over and she was pestering him. Yes, he would come and pick me up. He had a car now, an old Corolla, but it ran and it had air-con, so what did age matter?
Joseph rolled his eyes so hard they almost fell out of his head when I said I was going out. I wanted to stick my tongue out at him, the way I'd done when we were kids. Seriously, for an overachieving, good-looking, thin guy, he has no social life whatsoever. It's like people can tell what a wanker he is from a mile away.
I showered and dressed and preened and the second Mus'ad's Toyota pulled up, I raced outside before either my parents or Joseph could comment.
'Hi,' I mumbled, shutting the door and strapping myself in. 'How are you?'
Mus'ad released the park brake and accelerated. 'Good.'
'So where are we going?'
He frowned. 'I don't know.'
'Have you had dinner?'
'Um, yes,' I replied, thinking of all the crap I'd eaten already today. 'Do you want to go and grab a coffee?'
He nodded. 'Yes. That would be good.'
It was at the coffee shop, over a latte (mine) and a long black (Mus'ad's) that we were approached by three men. The first was a slick, gorgeous guy in a bright orange shirt with hair that looked like it took a lot of time to style. I've never understood how anyone can make orange look good, but this guy did. It set off his skin and eyes perfectly. The second was a tall Indian guy in a t-shirt, jeans and runners. He was neat and tidy, and he had a great, genuine smile, but he was nowhere near as good looking as his two companions. The third in the trio was the only white guy, short and fair and blue-eyed. Together, they walked up to us as we sat outside at a table. Each was carrying a plastic bag, and the Indian man had a back pack.
Mus'ad seemed to know the first man, and greeted him with a slight, respectful nod. I just sat and sipped my latte and waited to find out what was going on.
'Who is this?' Mus'ad's friend inquired, gesturing to me.
'This is Iska,' Mus'ad explained. 'He's a friend of mine.' Mus'ad turned to me. ' Iska, this is Mohammed. We pray at the same mosque. '
At the words 'Mohammed' and 'mosque' several patrons turned aound very indiscreetly and stared at us.
'Don't stare, folks,' the Indian man murmured so that only the five of us could hear. 'They left the bombs at home.'
We snickered,with the exception of Mus'ad who looked mortified.
'So what do you have in your bags?' I inquired, amused.
'Piss.' The Indian replied. 'Vodka. Tequila. Ouzo. Rum. Raki. Midori.'
'Beer,' the white man added.
'And Baileys,' Mohammed finished. 'And Coke. For mixers.'
'Ah,' I said.
The three of them stared at us for a few seconds. Mus'ad blushed under their gaze. He was uncomfortable. This usually meant that he was about to make a nasty comment to me, and I expected tonight would not be an exception. Seriously, I thought to myself, Samir actually had a point about the low quality of my sexual partners.
'I'm Ramyar, but the way,' the Indian said. He had a clear Aussie accent. 'This is Marc. We were all heading off to a mate's house. What were you guys up to?'
Mus'ad shrugged helplessly. 'Nothing. I just know him.'
'We were just having coffee,' I clarified.
'You're more than welcome to tag along,' Mohammed said, his eyes burning into Mus'ad's. 'Bring Iska.'
'My mother-in-law is over,' Mus'ad muttered.
Mohammed rolled his eyes. 'You've already escaped her. You might as well come with us. It beats paying four dollars a coffee for the next five hours.'
Mus'ad hesitated. 'Okay,' he said. 'Are you driving? I have my car.'
'I have a better one,' Mohammed said dismissively. 'We'll go past your house. Your family will see that you're only going for a quiet night out with some guys, and you'll be sweet.'
From the way Mohammed spoke, I got the distinct impression he was offeing Mus'ad an 'out'; as though he knew the guy needed an excuse. I wondered if Mohammed 'knew' about Mus'ad. I mean, I wasn't stupid. Anyone would have been able to tell – from a mile off – that Marc was a fag. I didn't know about Mohammed and Ramyar, but Marc was one hundred per cent queer and I haven't met too many south-east Asians who were friendly with Arabs, so it was likely a case of 'gay birds of a feather flock together'.
We drove to Mus'ad's house, and Mohammed and Mus'ad got out and went in for a bit. Ramyar, Marc and I sat in Mohammed's Skyline and waited.
'Are you banging him?' Ramyar inquired, gesturing towads Mus'ad's townhouse.
'Ummm,' I hesitated. Mus'ad had been giving me some seriously sneery looks and he'd made a few comments on the way here that made me embarrassed to admit that he and I had any sort of regular arrangement.
Ramyar nodded. He dived into one of the bags and removed a six pack of boutique beer. He wiggled three loose, and gave one to Marc and one to me, keeping the third for himself.
'It's kind of casual,' I added. 'Mus'ad's...'
'Closeted?' Marc suggested.
'Yes.' I said gratefully, glad that I didn't have to say 'a dickhead'. 'I mean, I don't go screaming it from the rooftops, but I don't lie to myself.'
'Who screams about it?' Ramyar said, as though he felt men who were openly gay were perhaps a different species. He twisted the cap off his beer and took a swig. 'So, Iska. Where do you come from?'
'Australia. My parents are Lebanese, though. My brothers all got decent, Australian, names, but they went more traditional with me.'
'It's a nice name,' he shrugged. 'It suits you.'
Mus'ad and Mohammed returned and got in the car. Mohammed rubbed his hands together.
'All taken care of,' he told us. 'I promised we'd bring Mus'ad back in one piece.'
Ramyar and Marc laughed. Mus'ad grinned, strapped himself in. He looked a lot happier than he had a few minutes ago. I guess Mohammed 'got' him, understood him and his culture, a lot more than I ever would. My family had assimilated a lot more into Austalia. They did some things 'their' way and some things the 'Australian' way, and us kids had always been allowed to find our own balance in a lot of ways.
There wasn't a lot of conversation on the journey. Mohammed played his music loud, and the only words out of his mouth were directed at other drivers. He had a seriously bad case of road rage.
We drove to a street in the outer suburbs on Brisbane's southside. Calamvale or Calamwood or something like that; one of those areas with quite a few cookie-cutter houses. There were quite a few cars parked on the street, so we had to park a bit down the road from the house we were going to, and walk up.
My companions evidently knew exactly where they were going. Ramyar in paticular seemed to know the hosts very well, because he went around to the side gate and let us all in.
Maybe a dozen men were sitting around drinking and smoking and talking. At our arrival, several turned around.
'Hey, this is Austalia,' Ramyar said loudly. 'Speak English.'
Several guys threw paper napkins at him. Ramyar laughed. I glanced at Mohammed and Marc and noticed that they, too, were smiling. Even Mus'ad was...well, not displeased and not smarmy, which was a relief.
'Take these inside,' Mohammed said to me, handing me his plastic bag filled with bottles. 'It's through that door.'
I glanced around uncertainly.
'I'll show you,' Marc offered, as he divested Ramyar of his bags. 'Everyone's friendly. Just don't go wandering into bedrooms. One of the guys who lives here has two kids.'
'Oh, I wouldn't go into anyone's room,' I assurred him, following him inside. 'Are the kids around?'
'Brett, are the kids around?' Marc asked a man who was standing in the kitchen, packing the dishwasher.
Brett looked up. 'No, they're both out. Why?'
'Iska wanted to know,' Marc explained, heading towards Brett, who appeaed to be the only person inside.
Marc and I put the bottles on the bench and Marc took a seat the breakfast bar. I sat next to him. Brett was in the galley part of the kitchen, directly in front of us, and Marc and I watched as he put powder in the dishwasher and turned the power on.
'You're not missing very much,' Brett said dryly. 'Will is probably drunk and Ben is probably being obnoxious.'
'How old are they?'
'Will's twenty-one and Ben's fourteen, nearly fifteen.' He must have caught the look of suprise on my face. 'They're foster kids,' he explained. 'Although more than a few people assume they're mine, generally when they're being a pain in the arse.'
My parents would never – ever – describe me as either drunk, obnoxious or a pain in the arse. Brett had no such qualms about describing his foster children in such terms, and Marc it seemed had no issues with the descriptions.
'We had a barbecue earlier,' Brett said. 'Would you like a sausage? There are plenty leftover.'
'I'd love one,' Marc replied.
'Me too.' I agreed. I'd been regretting not eating dinner and wasn't about to turn down an unexpected meal.
Brett gave us plates, cutlery, mustard and tomato sauce. Marc and I picked out our sausages and started to eat, periodically dipping our lukewarm meat into little piles of tomato sauce. I guess Marc was as hungry as I was, because neither of us said anything for a few minutes. Brett, congenially, picked up a sausage and chewed it slowly.
Someone came in through the front door and we all turned around and waited for the newcomer to come in. A tall, thin guy in jeans and a motorcycle jacket loped into the room, pushing auburn hair out of his face.
'This is Will,' Brett introduced. 'Will, you know Marc and this is...Aska?' he guessed.
'Iska,' I corrected him.
Will waved and smiled goofily. 'Hi guys.'
'Do you want a sausage?' Brett inquired. 'There's plenty left.'
'Um,' Will hesitated. 'Yeah.'
He took off his jacket and laid it out on the breakfast bar, and took a seat next to me. He was taller and thinner up close, and he smelt nice, but it was an odd scent, something I could only vaguely recall, but would never be able to name.
'How was your night?' Brett asked him.
Will took a bite of his sausage and chewed it quickly. 'Good. Wafiq rang when I was out. He said he'd be coming to Australia in a couple of months.'
'Is he going to be staying with us?' Brett asked.
'Um, maybe for a few days,' Will admitted. 'But I'll be on uni holidays, so we thought we might tour Australia. We'll get a hire car.'
'That'll be nice,' Marc commented. 'Where is Wafiq from?'
'Sharjah,' Will explained. He turned to me and added. 'I was living in Istanbul for a while and doing work for some guys in the Emirates.'
I was surprised. He seemed too young to have already lived overseas and made solid friendships. 'Why were you living in Turkey?'
'I followed a guy there,' he mumbled, blushing. 'It, um, it didn't work out. My fault.'
I was embarrassed by my question, and by his honesty. The poor kid probably didn't want to outline his relationship failues in front of his foster father.
'These things happen,' Marc said diplomatically. 'When I was twenty-five – and old enough to know better – I went to Sweden chasing a guy who would never in a million years date me.'
'I've been dumped so often I should be able to manage a good 'okay then' reply',' Brett added dryly. 'But no. I still sit there and think 'whyyyyyy'.'
I laughed. 'That's not so bad. I can't get a relationship off the ground. I'm really scared of gay men.'
The moment the words came out of my mouth, I felt immensely relieved. There it was. I'd said it – something completely honest – without freaking out.
My companions laughed. Marc and Brett laughed softly, but Will laughed hard enough to choke on his sausage. He clearly didn't understand how anyone could be intimidated by a man simply because he was homosexual. I kind of wanted to go back a few seconds and tell him why; tell him it was because I was scared of being rejected.
'Sorry,' Will apologised. 'I'm so sorry. It just sounded funny. Why are you scared of gay men? I'd be more scared of being straight. I would, like, live in terror and never date anyone.'
The conversation probably would have continued, except one of the men outside opened the sliding door and asked why we were all sitting inside. He told us to come out and join the party.
I wish I knew why, but for some reason Marc and Brett went outside and Will and I stayed in, eatingou sausages. It was only when it was just the two of us that I started to feel a bit uncomfortable. The only guy I knew – Mus'ad – was outside, and I didn't even have my car here to drive myself home in.
Will got up and walked to the fridge. 'Do you want a drink?'
'No, it's right. I didn't bring anything.'
'That doesn't matter,' he shrugged, retrieving two beers and passing me one. 'The guys aren't like that.'
I took the beer and twisted the cap off. 'I was having a coffee with a friend and he and I were invited here,' I explained unnecessarily.
Will shrugged again. 'It really doesn't matter. They have some weird way of organising who's paying for what. I can't figure it out. But if you're here, you're like, free to take whatever you want. Most of the guys are really nice.'
'So you don't know anyone?' Will confirmed.
He nodded. 'I hate times like that.'
I smiled faintly. He struck me as being a really nice guy. I gestured to his motorcycle boots and asked him what he rode.
'Oh, at the moment I don't have a bike, but Brett has the most beautiful new Ducatti,' he explained. 'He let me borrow it, but he was like 'don't, drink, don't crash, don't give anyone a ride'.'
'Aren't you scared of crashing?' I asked. Any desire to ride a motorcycle had been completely obliterated by my time in the hospital. I had no urge whatsoever to put myself at that kind of risk.
'No.' He replied flatly. 'I'm paranoid about lots of things, but I force myself to get over it. If I let fear run my life then I'd end up regretting passing by so many opportunities.'
He smiled and ran his hand along my arm seductively. 'You have a really nice smile.'