POUNAMU: Greenstone, a type of nephrite or jade found in the South Island of New Zealand. Because of its rarity it has been illegal to export it in its raw form since 1947. The reader may choose to place the story in a period after this date.

Our choice of country mirrors our character, maps our pleasures, almost as much as our taste in cities: consider Alexandria, an exhausted melange of the sugary and the grubby. It's streets filled with the crowd in Arab dress wearing garishly western shoes. Its tired Europeans swimming against the flow, trying hard to avoid giving grievance to the greater populace and their uncompromising traditions. New York, a hotch potch of jarring smells and colours, all jammed together in a claustrophobic box rimmed with sweat and crying all at once in a myriad of tongues. London: a bicameral city. Its palaces and grand houses, cathedrals and municipalities sharing the communal air of the dying slums, their diseases and fatalism. High art and low culture. I have been there, in all these places and more, lapping the dew from the best of their flowers. Paris, by preference, has been my longest landlord, though the night streets are for now filled with my kind and the pleasures that are my wont are spread too thin for satiety. France nevertheless is a bountiful friend, welcoming all who speak her language. Her Code Napoleon has saved me more than once from the gallows, from the cross, from the pyre. Alas I have, willingly enough, closed and bolted her door to me.

Now I have come back to the isle that birthed me, not out of nostalgia for that emotion does not last long in our kind, but out of simple prudence. The sheep here are ignorant of the wolf in the field. Their happy bleatings amuse my hunger. Here I can wait out the months until I am ready for us to go back into the golden mire of cities, of bodies. Together we sit by the low fire in the farm house and watch the moon rise over the peak of the mountain, the burns and rivers running silver in the lunar glare.

I found him almost a year ago, in a wintry London of all places (chancing the killing smog and the pickpockets and the less sophisticated of predators), making his living as a clerk in one of the smaller government departments. He had rented a basement hovel at the wrong end of Chelsea and was suffering miserably for the lack of suitable friendship. I on the other hand was freshly stuffed (like a partridge) from New York and heady with a postprandial rush, wandering the streets in search of misadventure. Serendipitously he caught my eye, returning to his underground lair and carefully unfastening the wrought iron gate with cold, numb fingers. A nervous gazelle on the look out for the king of beasts. In Genoa a Duke's advisor once told me I had a leonine profile, but fashions move like the wind and I currently had had to adopted a less flamboyant garb than usual. Still, he spotted at once my staring, with his strange look of wonder that lacks any querulous characteristics. We exchanged pleasantries. His accent placed him in one of the farther colonies and I amazed him by pinpointing his birthplace to the southern of the two islands (I have been in my lives all places, all times.) It was easy to befriend this gentle rarity, this soft-spoken fawn. He knew instantly, or at the very least suspected, what I wanted from him, where my desires lay, yet he was so far from comfort my attentions landed gratefully. I could have taken him there and then on the street corner under the dim lamp and he would have given himself to me without struggle. At that moment I fell in love with him, I who had wandered the centuries blissfully companionless.

He invited me in, guileless, and I accepted, following his light steps down the worn stone stair to the green door. The rooms were the antithesis of my suite at the hotel: small, unencumbered by trophies, anodyne. On the mantelpiece sat a small faded photograph of a girl not much older than he, in traditional dress. I picked it up. There was no inscription but it clearly had meaning for him. "Your girlfriend?"

His colour rose sharply. "Eldest sister." A half-embarrassed smile of thornless roses, Spanish gardens. He seemed for a moment to weigh up giving me a potted biography of his life but settled for offering me dry biscuits (declined), packet tea, then bottled beer (also declined). He did not drink wine. In due course I would have time enough to teach him the joys of the vintner's cellar. The photograph I replaced carefully, noting the absence of dust. Housetrained.

He had removed his hideous tie (a dark green tartan-like strip) and had loosened the top two buttons of his white shirt. A soft neck, but strong. From what I could see of his chest it was toned in the manner of one who practises callisthenics occasionally though not fanatically. He noticed my attention and now his Adam's apple was bobbing up and down like a ship at sea. Such a dear, dear child. He lit the fire with a long strip of newspaper. I retired to a distant armchair away from the flames. If he noticed he gave no sign. As the heat seeped into the room, expelling the dampness, his nervy iciness melted away. "Mind if I change?" and he unbuttoned his shirt completely. A curious gesture, I thought, in front of a stranger. The flickering light from the flames illuminated the contours of his torso, highlighting and enhancing every curled hair and valley of his stomach, the satin smoothness of his chest. In a few years his body would be at its prime. For now I was content to watch as he replaced the thick cotton with a shapeless woollen pullover of mixed heritage.


La Serenissima I loved too, with the adoration of a lover dragged by force from the nuptial bedchamber. It was an impromptu remark that caused my departure. For centuries the Venetians had been casting their sewerage into the lagoon for it to be swept back along the Grand Canal by the sirocco's waves. I had railed against this for decades, sending my representatives to the Maggior Consiglio entreating the grand counsellors to act in however small a way. They had ignored me. Finally on the evening before the marine wedding when the Doge in his gilded barque casts his troth into the deep marrying the state to the sea, I could stand the smell no longer and had my manservant take a letter to the palace saying how fortuitous it was that the Duke was both blind and without smell, so he did not have to sense how repugnant was his bride. Dandolo himself may have been toothless, locked forever into the tiny domain of the palace and basilica; his supporters were not. I escaped moments before my servant's head came crashing through the study window.

All this – and more which must remain unspoken – came back to me we sat in the gloom of my box at Covent Garden, watching a less than enthusiastic performance of Verdi's I Due Foscari. My young friend, not yet companion, stared wide-eyed at the stage like a spaniel. Ehrfurcht, I believe the Germans call it. Reverence for that which we cannot understand. Though I did him a discredit. He was intelligent enough to pass the Civil Service exam with merit if not distinction. Such items as my kind deems symbols of intelligence are merely culturally acquired knowledge. It is not a sign of a great intellect to know that the Dandolo of my acquaintance was sightless through cataracts and not the old fool of Venetian legend who led them all hollow-eyed and blindfolded into the fourth Crusade.

He wore an ill-fitting dinner jacket, bought at his own expense from a stall near Seven Dials. The leather shoes and bowtie I had provided via an old friend in Jermyn Street who was keen enough to brave visiting me at the hotel in an evening bearing a tradesman's portmanteau of wares. A few notes slipped into the bellboy's clammy fingers stifled the more outlandish of rumours. For hours we had practised tying the dead snake, as he put it. He had initially complained (perhaps that was too harsh a word for his shyness) about the lack of mirrors until I pointedly explained that to knot such a tie required a sensitivity of the fingers to the cloth and not an understanding of spatial geometry. He had laughed at my pomposity.

He laughs at me often. It is a musical sound, a brief aria. There is no malice in it, his laughter, only honesty. We are close now, he and I, and I permit him to speak to me as brutally as he wishes (for he is so far from brutality I am safe in my game). He continues to develop, under my tutelage, my sheltering wing. I took him once to a soiree at the British Museum where they unveiled their most recent acquisions to a room of specially invited guests: a hall of carvings: wood, bone and nephrite, shipped this month from his native land. This had touched him dearly, as I knew it would.


One year at Coronation Park I was set upon by a midget hiding behind the legs of George V brandishing a camel-bone stiletto from Damascus. In the ways of ragamuffins everywhere he tried to extort a few measly rupees out of me, spitting away in broken English, all the while jabbing at the air in front of me with the point of his knife. It suffices to say I remained unpunctured by the event: he did not. Another weapon joined my collection.

Of my times in India, and Delhi in particular, weapon collection was by far the more pleasurable pastime. Alas I found the subcontinent meats too rich for my stomach and spent most of the season retching uncontrollably in the shadows of the scrubland. Coronation Park was my vomitorium of choice. Here, surrounded by acacia trees, I could register my objections to English colonialism in the most visceral way, splattering the stone satraps with my protests.

I would not go back to Mother India, no matter how the moonlight becomes her. Foremost she is a country of people: a million devotees slotted into their allotted places giving her worship. Yet devoid of the endless shouting of the day her gardens and markets become almost serene after dark. Many a long night I spend in the Shalimar Gardens discussing the finer points of Mughal poetry with a young Abimanyu splayed out on the benches of the pavilion, listening to the cries of white peafowl as they pranced the land. It was distracting for a while, until he saw the point of my advances, so to speak, and I had to put him down.

My young friend knows he is safe from me as he lies on the floor, nosing my later journals. He has removed his socks and shoes and his feet lie bare on the Afghan rug. I have taken to sketching him in my rudimentary way: pen, paper and ink. No colours, no textures on a canvas. I draw his feet and legs – nothing more – and show him. He likes the way I have made the tendons stand out but feels my margin cartoons are more to his taste: grotesqueries of past friends, enemies, lovers. A less sophisticated art.

He rolls over on his back and yawns, stretching. His jersey is not quite long enough and rides up slightly exposing his navel. He makes no attempt to pull it down.

"You're tired," I say, after a while.

"Hard day at the office."

But I know it's not true. He yawns again and before I can stop myself I cry – "J'entend ton coeur." For, of course, I can.


He asked me the other night, after I had taken him to see Rebecca, if I knew the derivation of the word "posh", proceeding automatically into an apocryphal tale of port versus starboard and the name of a shipping company whose glory had now faded considerably. I tried to explain to him that port was itself a modern term for larboard but he looked so cross that I had tarnished his only pearl of wisdom I felt obliged to change the subject entirely.

He lies on the divan now, on his side, eyes crescented with sleep yet entirely unwilling to close them and remove me from sight all together. I fight an urge to babble meaninglessly, to cover his body, futilely, in a thick warming blanket. He doesn't want me to stop talking or he will fall headlong into slumber. I must try my best to postpone the moment:

He likes the idea of going to the States. No strange languages to learn, he thinks. I of course know otherwise. Of Creole I speak a smattering, being at one stage an habitué of Louisiana before the civil war forced me northwards. Another place of smells: swamps – mangroves and cypresses – and cookery. I was, of necessity, against slavery, for my kind requires the loyalty of generations, not chains. Such views were at first tolerated with bemusement as I languished in my small mansion at the southern edge of New Orleans. Ultimately, when Butler and his fleet began their inexorable approach my philosophy was taken for espionage and a raging mob doused my outhouses in oil.

I decamped by stages to Washington, happening there on the night the President was shot (amateurish attempt I thought at the time). As Lincoln lay dying in his penny-cent bed I was busy securing my arrival: re-greasing palms which I had been informed by associates were trustworthy in their avarice. I created my personal Manderlay in an old-style townhouse replete with its own Mrs Danvers: a creature of unbendable mettle, if I may be allowed a solitary pun, answering to the name of Miss Lillian Aradia: her only vice an enormous burgundy-coated mastiff she had named Belial out of a fondness for Milton. By day when I was otherwise indisposed the pair of them stalked the gardens and hallways terrorising any unfortunate pedlars who dared step foot on the premises. She had come to me by way of an ancient of my bloodline who bred such cockatrices for pleasure, pruning redundant traits and breeding the offspring to malefactors collected apparently at random from all corners of the globe. A hobby of sorts, I surmise.

At this point I pause in my tale. An eyelash has fallen on his cheek. As I reach out and capture it on a finger he takes my pale hand in his darker ones. "Make a wish" he whispers, and blows the black curve from my fingertip smiling unassumingly at my fascination. I bend down and kiss his forehead. His flesh is warm, the taste of anticoagulants bitter against my sensitised lips. I know what the doctor has told him: the medicines he keeps in his basement flat secreted away from my worry. He would do anything to keep me from the truth as he sees it though such mannerisms are pointless. I tell him I love him and his eyes mirror my affection.

It was in Washington, in my attic study overlooking the argent Potomac (speckled that summer with cherry blossom, rockrose, clematis, thrown in perhaps in memory of Abe) that I reinvented myself. Gone was the rugged heritage of a rural Scotland: I became instead the arch-colonial enemy of my birth: an Englishman of letters. It was not a difficult transition in practice though the remnants of my conscience were sorely twisted. I could not quite abandon my Christian name (oh yes, once I was, in another era) I shared with a few of the kings of Scotia. I arose that evening James Alexander Edmonds Mountroy of Wootton, a man of no small purse, having amassed a large correspondence and slighter smaller reputation in conversation with the Royal Society. The name opened more doors than mere cash itself allowed. Despite the turmoil of the civil war Capitol society continued to pretend life was unchanging therefore I entreated Miss Lillian to invite a few of the more progressive congressmen to an evening of Wagner's Twilight of the Gods, having earlier come upon a small band of opera worshippers at a nearby conservatory. It was not an unqualified success: Waltraute (a mezzo soprano of slight accomplishment) took exception during the interval to her stage-sister Brunhilde's voluble renunciation of the Thirteenth Amendment outlawing slavery and launched tonsils-first into a rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. By the time the serpent was crushed under heel the congressmen had divided along similar lines. Belial, thankfully, did not escape from the confinement of the cellar.

He suspects my story to be taller in the tale than in life so I tell him I am considering finding the relevant journal to show him my caricature of the Valkyries red in tooth and claw. He says my memoirs seem to all be written using the same pen – I pretend to be offended but he knows me too well for the pretence to hold.

It is too late for him to take a cab back to his flat and I know he would be too tired to then light a proper fire. He stays the night again and I make a mental note to increase the tips I leave for the domestic staff.


My hallowed western isle; the farm house and its environs are a small prison, a tiny panopticon of shed, barn and house arranged in a high walled rectangle, each worn square of stone as familiar to me as my friend. I may have been born in this very spot though my family escaped before cognisance came upon me. It has always been with me, this place, built and rebuilt – in my dreams, my nightmares. I come here often as time and the years permit: a pilgrimage of kinds. As I move through the eras, marking the passage of kings and presidents with no more interest than a mortal gives a falling leaf, it gives me succour. I have brought him to it now and it will support him also.

Words no longer flow easily. We have gone beyond them into the language of breath, of look, of touch. London is five months behind us, lost to the sheep and the mountain and the silver streams than burn in the midnight glare of the moon. He loves the ruggedness of the landscape for it reminds him of home; nostalgia hoods his gaze; and he loves me the more for bringing him here.

By day he expends his energy chopping the wood for the fire, collecting eggs from the geese, cheese from the neighbouring steading. They fear me, the local people, even as they know I am no harm to them, and in their ignorant superstition leave gifts of food on the doorstep. It keeps his strength up, their offerings, and in his haleness is their safety. He has grown muscular with exercise: a brown gazelle in the gorse. But the shadow of his illness has fallen heavily upon us: by night he sleeps fitfully in my arms, his mistimed heartbeats an insistent dirge in my ears. I become too afraid to move and give discomfort, lying with him in the darkness, drinking in his smell, his warmth, the softness of his skin. I have abandoned all my senses to him.

His medication we left in the city – it is no use to him here – it promised at best an extra year or so of quietude: of armchairs and warm drinks. It toxified his body against my love, thinned his blood. I had hoped in my febrile imagination we would have had more time: I had wanted him as a companion, an equal; he was still young, not yet twenty and half my perceived age. Even in this enlightened century I knew the looks the desk clerk had given us in the lobby (I had dulled his stare the old way in the hour of our departure).

I watch him eating at the low table, cutting the cheddar into thick wedges for the bread with a flawless grace. His jersey is beginning to thread, a rip in his brown trousers needs mending. His blue-black hair unkempt, spiky. I wonder, with amusement, if his current appearance would be acceptable in his old office. He pauses momentarily in his repast to roll up a sleeve and permits me to run my fingers through the black straight hairs of his forearm. Despite the wood splinters and the thorns from the gorse bushes his skin remains unblemished, perfect. He smiles with white, perfect teeth. Outwardly he looks the epitome of healthiness: I could run with him for a thousand years over the plains and mountains of his land, learning the names of each lake, each antique god.

He clears the dishes away. There is a strange calm look in his eyes. I worry and ask him how he is feeling. He laughs in a low soothing voice, tells me he is feeling better than ever. I am not sure whether I believe him, not sure if I see a grey undertone to his colour, not sure if I see a weary roundness to his shoulders. Suddenly the world turns on a knife-edge: my senses coalesce and it takes all my strength to keep my instincts at bay. He dampens the fire so the flames will not make me keep my distance; removes his jersey with a purposeful solemnity, letting it drop on the flagstones by the hearth, turns and unbuttons his shirt the way he had done so those many nights ago. In the flickering candle light he is magnificent. I wonder dully just who is the predator and who the prey.

"Promise me afterwards we'll go home."

"Yes," I promise, with a faithfulness akin to pain.

Then he opens his arms to me, welcoming, yearning, and I fall upon him with a love like blood. Red tears fall on grey.


About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating, or opening a window or just walking dully along;