He had arrived in Amsterdam from the Arabian West…of Asia, ergo still the East. Never having felt as though he belonged in his Jordanian town of origin. Somewhere within his Eastern body he had a Western spirit. His desire to sleep with men and women (though mainly the former) certainly seemed to indicate as much. The only person he could ever vaguely confess this to was his younger sister, who herself absconded to London shortly after Zaid’s own departure. She didn’t seem offended or surprised by the information, as something in the moistness of Zaid’s eyes had long ago told her that he was likely too sensitive to be completely straight. She felt for him. She, too, was distinctly aware of having been born in the wrong place. She was willing to accept the wrong time, but as soon as she could, she knew she needed to run into the night (silently) screaming and disappear. In exchange for Zaid’s secret, she told him this one.
He then further confided his own plan to leave for Amsterdam as soon as he had what amounted to five thousand euros saved. She figured with his menial job, he would never manage to get out. She at least had the benefit of a female body to put to good prostitutable use on the internet (Zaid wondered if maybe she would have fared better in Amsterdam than he ultimately did). Yet he surprised her by managing to implement his escape plan before her. For Zaid was determined. Amsterdam was his promised land, the place he reckoned was debauched enough to handle what was raging inside of him. The lust to fuck on a Frank Booth (and maybe Anne Frank) level. And yes, he had managed to sneak watch Blue Velvet on more than several occasions. But it wasn’t lounge singer pussy he wanted so much as Dutch dick. Maybe it was the intuition that when prostitution is legal in a place, men aren’t as intrigued by women, or maybe it was his assessment of the Dutch as being innately subversive beneath all that stoicism that lured him.
He didn’t want to overanalyze it too much. He had spent too much of his life overanalyzing. Was he insane? Was he wrong for going against the religion of his culture? Was he a fool to believe that he could live a life he actually enjoyed? He didn’t want to ask any more questions about the why and how. He desired simply to get to Amsterdam and begin the existence he surmised he was always meant for. As his sister would, Zaid fled from Jordan wordlessly. To arrive in Amsterdam by morning. The Schiphol Airport felt alive with a tangible vibrancy, as though the other visitors had also been waiting their entire lives for this moment. Looking back, he would come to understand that his impression was merely a projection. That he had deluded himself into dream-coating the scenario with his blithe naïveté about how Europeans actually viewed his “kind.”
It was something he was quickly forced to pick up on as he searched tirelessly for both an apartment and a job, unable to get one without the other, in yet another classic instance of life’s cruel sense of irony. He was beginning to think, after three months spent alternating between the various overpriced hostels of the city, that he ought to have saved up more–as his much diminished savings were imperiled. This didn’t stop him from frequenting the various coffeeshops in his days whiled away into a blank nothingness of a far more palpable kind than those spent in Jordan. And he knew it all must be getting quite dire if he was starting to compare his current experience to the one in Jordan. An oppressive place, to be sure, but one of an entirely different form of stifling. At least the stifling was out in the open instead of hidden within the illusions of progressiveness that paraded themselves in the red-lit windows of the canals.
No, he was starting to resent Amsterdam even more than the place from whence he came. He was getting to the point where even the prospect of sex with other men didn’t seem like reason enough to stay and endure this humiliation. And, he had to admit, a large chunk of his original five grand had gone to spending too much time (hence, money) at Church Bar. He relished its overt theme of Christianity, adding a double layer of sin to the crimes he was committing against the religion he was born into.
It was waking up one morning on a bench in Vondelpark that Zaid had to acknowledge something had gone horribly awry in his plan at an unknown point along the line of his short stay in Amsterdam. He had become a homeless pariah that even the gays didn’t want to touch long enough to take him back to their Dutch castle.
He laughed to himself as he took in the quiet surroundings of those early park hours before the denizens of the city made their way to feign sunbathing in a fundamentally gray climate or riding their precious goddamn bikes like maniacs down the pathways. An errant duck that had gone astray from the lake waddled over and pecked at the crumbs of a leftover hot dog bun near Zaid’s weathered black sneaker. Zaid could obviously relate. He’d probably be pecking at them himself if he had a beak. He bent over to hang his head in his hand, catching sight of a half full bottle of Heineken in a brown paper bag beneath the bench. He reached for it eagerly, ignoring the nearby sign that cautioned of a fine for drinking alcohol in the public spaces of the city. When had even the Western world become so conservative? It was then and there he apprehended just how much he had been conned by its false promise of openness and acceptance. Sitting there, drinking from someone with more money’s discarded bounty.