Neil Coppen

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The Luckiest Man Alive

December9


He did not flinch in bidding Paris his hometown adieu: far too petite, too pretentious to contain his irrepressibly itchy feet. At twenty –two he had just completed his degree at an architectural school (a school whose reputation resided more on the bevy of beautiful international students it attracted than the actual qualification it offered). It had been three frenetic years: waking up with pounding head, missed lectures and one very busy bed.

Ironically it was Cecile, a fellow Parisian: aloof, detached and perhaps the most beautiful of them all who remained consistent in her disinterest. God knows, how from the day of their introduction he persisted. A tenacity, that in the weeks leading up to graduation, with the ensuing parties, (the simultaneous dropping of one’s guard and underwear) naming him the conqueror and Cecile the seemingly insuperable –the conquered.

Not surprisingly her frigid demeanour proved to be a facade, a fortress erected to fend off the advances of such opportunists. In their few months spent together he found her to be dangerously affecting. The cause for a foreign and almost terrifying feeling to creep up on him. However in this instance love, where it should have invigorated felt more like a slow setting concrete poured into this adventurers eager boots. So it was, that not even Cecile (the celestial—he had called her) with her diaphanous skin and near perfect breasts, no not even she could convince him to stay. “Au revoir Mamma, Pappa, goodbye sweet Cecile.” he cried, leaving them- all three- inconsolable at the departure gate. Vanishing out into the big wide world and never once looking back.

A life eater he titled himself. A globe-not trotter –for that is far too tame a stride– rather leaper, blundering intrepidly into the unknown. His quest not just for the continents but for their tribes of women. His noble and over-riding goal: to unite the nations under a single sleeping bag. True to his motto, his French Ce la vie, the one that simply stated: life is for living, the loins for giving.

And so if gobbling life meant a little over indulgence, a spot of indigestion here and there- so be it. Consummate in exploiting his many attributes: rugged charm, handsomeness, and when courtship might require it- trademark French indifference. Almost fluent in several languages, he had devoted himself to mastering one in particular, that spoken with the eyes. Furtive glances: expectant, hungry, hopeful and playful. Looks, which despite their degrees of suggestion offered invitations of an unequivocal kind. With these he lured each fluttering heart to his net, his hammock, bunk or bed and if they happened to linger too long, talk in a collective future tense, he would flee, promptly resume his life as itinerant rouge. It was not that he prided himself in leaving a universal trail of dejected hearts, just that he had grown accustomed to a self-absorbed ethos of the solo traveller: a constitution that never included notions of compromise and commitment. He recognized this as weakness, preferred not to dwell on it, and for most of his twenty years abroad, filling his eyes with impossible wonder, never really had to.

To finance his travels he took odd jobs in translation, everything from Spanish bibles to Swedish porn films. His athleticism and bilingualism allowing him to eventually find employment out in the world´s wildernesses as an adventure guide. Here he received qualifications in deep sea diving, mountain biking, high altitude mountain climbing and river rafting. His job generally involving lugging disinterested (and often decrepit) Europeans about on rather tame adventure excursions.

However after viewing his client’s family photos (which most of them carried in wallets) he’d invite them to send their ´just out of high school´ daughters to take a private tour. So endearing and trustworthy had he proven that they mostly agreed and from such generosity, one might say, he profited in more ways than one.

The girls were generally rich, naive and ravishingly beautiful. More crucially they arrived with a return air ticket. As for the ones that lacked the necessary aesthetics (those whose photographs proved to have been deceptive indications). Well, provided the evening camp fires were burning at a low smoulder (and he was drunk enough) he’d slip into their sleeping bags, warmth, not to mention the end of trip tip, the over-riding necessity at such frigid Andean altitudes.

Of course interspersed amongst his many sexual conquests were the untouched utopias of the world: the ample ruins, lost civilizations, the breathtaking vistas, underwater wonderlands. The luckiest man alive (he would be forgiven for thinking) A life eater, one who has well and truly chewed it up and spat it out. Never sated, still hungry for more.

By the time he had reached forty he had taken a six month contract with a Chilean adventure company, guiding the three- day jeep tour from San Pedro De Attacama across the Bolivian Salt Plateaus. It was while making a return trip to Chile (the first time he had undertaken such a trip alone) that his jeep had unexpectedly spluttered to a halt. With no radio or cell phone reception he was forced to sit it out and flag down the next passing vehicle.

 Surely time like this a blessing, time away from the incessant gabble of tourists. A moment of solitude amidst such a wonder should be savoured not willed away. The first rains of summer had fallen and now the pans 12,000 km circumference held a thin veil of water. At once a featureless salt desert transformed into vast reflective mirror. Earth merging with sky and rendering the horizon non-existent.

Now that he thinks of it, the arrival of forty has come as something of a shock, as has the sight of his reflection in the water. The first indication of grey hairs, fuzz on his ears similar to his fathers. Years of beer soaked abandon accumulated in a well cultivated paunch. On the seventh hour, the perspective (or lack of) begins to confound him. The heat beating down from above and burning up from below. He feels the niggle of emptiness, an increase of thirst. Left with only memory, topsy- turvy reflection to turn to, he tries to recall the past twenty years, searching for an internal island, a raft or refuge of some sort to cling to.

Places, faces (never names) fly through his cluttered head. Ears lobes, hairlines, ankles, belly rings, breasts and Brazilian waxes. Pieces sewn haphazardly together, merging now into an obscure and monstrous whole. A Spanish girl, name unknown (underage),buckets of sangria, cupids catalyst. Su or Lu or Wu the elastic band from Japan (or was it Malaysia?). That doe eyed Israeli girl, The Moroccan switch board operator, Russian dive instructor, Swiss anthropologist, retired Venezuelan beauty queen, spoilt trust fund Californian, Dutch. Italian, Romanian Air Hostesses. The Polish Ambassadors wife, a just engaged Argentinean and recently widowed South African. So it went on and on and on. Useless and empty the lot of them. Then at last, Cecile amidst the crowd, Cecile the celestial, the diaphanous. A burning mirage. At last a memory (albeit distant) to outlast the tug of testicles, the ephemeral ecstasies common to the multitude of others. He wonders where she might be in the world, wonders whose side she sleeps beside, the names of her children.

 Repent, the life eater must and does, wishing now he could vomit it all out- all those hastily torn, badly chewed chunks. Out here, where reflection stirs reflection, where salt meets salt. Doubled over the beat out bonnet of a Toyota Jeep- the luckiest man alive, wailing like a new born baby, confesses to being the saddest fucker to have ever crawled the face of the salty earth.

 

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