Moment Thirty-Two (Service)

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Akin to street vendors, the men aligned. They were stacked rather, according to their spatial nearness.  The whole thing resembled the universe before the Big Bang. Some of them had to elbow their way out of the crowd. Each of the users had chosen their best picture, for sure, and each of those pictures recreated a moment stolen out of their lives. An instant of happiness perhaps? Some of them were faceless, a glimpse of red underwear here, a patch of brownish skin over there, next to the guy who chose to show the picture of a sunset over Central Park instead of his face. And yet, a sense of security exuded from each of those instances displayed on the screen of his phone, the kind of security he craved for and hoped to have attained on that same dating app.

Sunday mornings were always like that: smell of unwashed sheets and sweat, the radiators hissing as if about to start moving, hellish creatures, the desperate sense that showering was necessary and that it was the only day of the week when he could have cake. Then the hand moving downwards, sliding in between his legs to caress morning erections. Just one look at those pictures was enough to unleash waves and waves of fantasies and pleasure. He wouldn’t touch the skin, no, he would merely rub his erection through his boxers and then smell his fingers when he stopped to prolong the sensation. There was some sort of pleasure to be taken out of it, in detecting that smell of urine on his fingers, one that mixed with the smell of tobacco stubbornly refusing to be washed away.

Then he would fall asleep again only to be awakened by the expectancy of that final relief. The cycle would be repeated a couple of times. There had been a time, a very long time before that, when he still believed in some sort of divine retribution and refused to masturbate on Sunday mornings when supposedly the Sunday mass would be happening. He would wait until the afternoon to do it. Those were the times when he had a laundry basket in the bathroom next to the washing machine. Those were the times when he used to clean the house on Saturday afternoon in preparation for the holiness of the next day. Those were indeed the times when he had a nightstand and a bedside lamp. He no longer did that. His dirty underwear was simply hidden from view in a plastic grocery bag under the bed. It wasn’t really a bed, it was merely a mattress placed over a metallic structure, one that resembled a beach chaise longue. The nightstand was a cardboard box that had originally housed a desk lamp. He was aware of the dust settling on his books, which were stacked not on shelves but on a make-believe fireplace, but could not find the energy or the will to do it.

Then the innocent glare of the phone.

The page refreshed automatically to reveal the newcomers, people who had logged on or created new profiles in the meantime. And there he was, the man with the beard and the round glasses staring at him from a selfie taken on what appeared to be a leather sofa. He had seen him before, but never had the courage to write to him. Because why would he be interested anyway? Nobody had ever been interested in him, except maybe for those who had no other choice and imagined themselves next to him. Never contact those who have the better looks. Contact the underdogs, those whose sense of security was often undermined by the way they looked and the way they subsequently saw themselves. He considered himself one of them, living on the outskirts of those dating apps, in the shadow of perfect abs, beautiful eyes and symmetrical faces that had just the right amount of facial hair to give them structure.

At times rage would come and turn him into a renegade. In those moments he promised it to himself not to go there anymore.

But then the man with the beard and the round glasses moved upwards, closer, and a message landed in his inbox. The man with the beard demanded to know how he was doing. Courteously, he replied that he had just woken up but he was still sleeping on his feet. That was a lie. He wasn’t on his feet; the coffee had not been brewed yet. The self-loathing that came with breakfast had not yet been served. But it was already late and so he thought he should just throw in the idea that he wasn’t one of those lazy guys who slept till noon because they had nothing better to do.

‘I woke up a long time ago,’ the man with the beard replied, ‘but still in bed lazy, under the covers, where it’s warm and cozy and nobody can see me.’ And then that ambiguous laugh. Hehe. ‘Go back to bed!’

He said it was okay. The man with the beard smiled. That man was no fun, he thought.

‘I noticed you before,’ he wrote to the man with the beard, ‘and thought you were very nice, but I never had the courage to write to you.’

‘That is very sweet of you,’ the reply came seconds after, ‘I am just an ordinary guy. I noticed you too.’

Liar.

‘I like ordinary guys,’ he told the man with the beard, ‘and I just love the fact that you are so much taller than me.’ The man with the beard and the round glasses was also older, more than ten years older, and had an air of rough maturity about him. He liked that. He was tired of all those little boys who didn’t even know how to have sex. Not that he was a master of sex, but still, a man has to have his dignity.

After they exchanged pictures and told each other how handsome they were, there came the silly question. The question wasn’t silly in itself. He had been expecting it. After all, the man’s intentions were specified in his profile. The man with the beard was looking for “clean and respectful guys, professional, no drama, quiet”, and considered himself average, more of a top, if it came to that. He was also “relationship oriented” and, more than anything, urged his fellow hunters to be polite and engage in conversation only if they were interested in having one. Honesty was also appreciated. “Cuddling?”, said the name of his profile.

‘I apologize if it’s premature’, the man with the beard said.

‘Sure, why not’, he told the man with the beard and the round glasses. He needed to get out of bed, had to get out and do something. He wanted to appear adventurous. He wanted to seem disillusioned and raw.

‘I do sleep in boxers’, the man said, ‘but I will change in pajamas. Where do you live?’

In outer space he wanted to say because where he lived was just that, a room in which he slept, a place where he simply found himself, a hiding place. He told the man an approximate address.

‘You want to come over? Or want me to come to you?’

He told the man with the beard that he had roommates, even though they were long gone to work that morning. He wanted the man to imagine these faceless roommates that wouldn’t appreciate a stranger coming into their home to cuddle with the other stranger.

‘That’s fine’, the man with the beard replied, ‘you come here then.’

The sudden materiality of the situation made him cringe. The man was serious but there was still time to back down and offer some sort of excuse. Maybe he should go back to sleep. Maybe some other day.

‘I don’t know whether I want to come out of bed right now.’

‘I know’, the tall man replied, ‘it’s a tough call.’

The man’s location popped up on the screen. It wasn’t far, but the idea of having to get up, taking a shower, and going out was simply too unappealing. He was also afraid. He had always been afraid of them. Feared their gaze and silent judgments, imagined them hating him, scorning his awkwardness. That is why excuses always had to be invented.

‘It’s alright’, the man said probably noting his hesitance, ‘maybe some other time.’ And he appreciated that. Everything sounded better when it was out there somewhere, about to happen, lost between the folds of a future tense. Beautiful things might happen in the meantime. A beautiful relationship maybe, the man of his dreams might be just around the corner.

‘Don’t sound so sad,’ he told the man with the beard, ‘it breaks my heart.’

‘I understand,’ the man replied, ‘you are all cozy in your bed, me too, and just want to sneak in and cuddle, feel the warmth of the body and relax…’

And suddenly the warmth was so real he could smell it, feel the rigidness of the body breathing next to him.

‘Isn’t that the most amazing feeling in the world?’

There was a long pause. He closed the app and returned to his erection, thinking of the warmth that the man with the beard had planted in his mind. He imagined the roughness of the man’s beard on his face and the red sores it would leave behind. He felt the numbness of the sores that would form around his mouth, that mute reminder, imagined his grunts.

Minutes later the reply came. ‘I feel it now in my mind’, the message said, ‘holding you tight.’

‘It’s like when you hear somebody else’s breath so close to you it becomes a mantra and you wish your breathing could be in sync with it.’

The tall man with the beard and the glasses agreed, it was just like that. ‘Or if you are on top of my chest, hearing my heart beat, your leg slightly over my leg, your arm over my shoulder.’

He told the man with the beard and the glasses that he needed to take a shower first and the man thought it was cool. Then, under the shower he thought of everything that had been said, and he thought he was so weak, so fucking weak.

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