Ma fihiex ħobż

On a train running from an accidental murder, of sorts (but then, aren’t all “accidents” but the product of a Freudian slip?), in the U.S., a wave rises up so high that it washes right over us. I am convinced the train will be pushed off the track and get taken along right with it. You remain unfazed. “This happens all the time in Malta,” you say. I’m not convinced, but considering the train remains unpenetrated by the water, I start to think maybe you’re right. It is an island after all, surely tides are bound to rise higher and higher as the planet comes to its inevitable end and the imminent Noah’s Ark redux we’ve all been waiting for occurs. Even so, there’s something off about your (and everyone else’s) nonplussedness. As though I’ve been enfolded into a new kind of simulation and I’m not yet aware of it. “That’s just Malta,” you assure again when I bring up my fears to you once we’ve safely exited the train and are now making our way through a cobblestoned marketplace in a square that has a tinge of something like coal, as though the Industrial Revolution has only just started here. 

You approach one bread seller in particular to buy some ftira and a sweet bread pudding that looks rather disgusting to me. It all costs you three euros and you smile serenely. “Goddamn, it’s good to be back,” you declare, as though finally realizing that all your time spent in America wasn’t just a waste of the proverbial sands in your hourglass, but also your money. Sometimes I blame myself for keeping you away from the island. Then I think maybe that’s why I had to murder Steven. And Petra. Better known as your boss and his wife. They simply weren’t giving you the credit you were due for all your hard work. Your extreme care and attention to detail for a profession that no one else would give half as much of a shit about. But you, you did. You treated being their personal chef like it was your true passion and life’s ambition. Of course, all along, I knew you were doing it for me. Thinking that I couldn’t possibly stand a life outside of the U.S., with all of its comforts and conveniences. Maybe you were right. I never pushed hard enough to find out if I was capable. I guess we’ll soon find out… but from the looks of this place, it doesn’t seem like I’m going to be able to hack it for very long. It’s… quaint, to say the least. And I’ve never done very well with “quaint,” unless we’re talking, like, Taos. You, however, were cursed to have fallen in love with me, and I know this will be your undoing if it means you’re forced to leave the island again, something you never really wanted to do in the first place yet found yourself extending and extending your vacation in L.A. after that day we met at the beach, each of us wandering alone and then suddenly with each other. 

I should’ve told you not to stay. Not to sacrifice your dreams of becoming a director for the sake of supporting both of us. I don’t really know how it happened, but one day there you were somehow being hired as a personal chef for rich people and the next we were moving into their guest house in Malibu as part of the payment terms you negotiated. Oh god, how I yearn for the brief period before we surrendered our souls to the DeLucas. They with their tech money and infernal nouveau riche tastes. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to go into Petra’s closet and rip up all of her clothes with a pair of gardening shears–because yes, you had finagled a “role” for me as well, as some kind of deadbeat groundskeeper. Of course I made it a point to always be caught lounging around by the pool reading something enviously pretentious like Nikolai Gogol so as to make Petra feel like the dumb bitch she knew she was. I could tell she was oddly jealous of me, and that she needed to do something about it. It was just a matter of what. Of how she could get at me. 

It didn’t take long for her to discover that all she needed to do was start attempting to seduce you in order to get back at me for my own decadent lifestyle that was piggybacking off hers. Little did she know, you were impervious to such seductions, and she started to take it out on your now suddenly “inferior” cooking, a word choice she wielded deliberately at her husband one evening when you had prepared them sushi, per their macrobiotic needs. She knew that you could overhear from the kitchen, that the house carried the echoes of gossip as though it was expressly designed by the architect to do just that. She also knew you would say nothing about it, that you would take the criticism silently at the risk of her poisoning the well of Steven’s opinion of you. 

The “subtle” digs at your cuisine continued like this for a number of weeks, and maybe it was getting to me more than it was to you because one day when I had bothered to start trimming some of the hedges that had become unignorably overgrown and Steven and Petra were returning from their couples yoga class in Santa Monica, I simply hacked right at both of their necks as they passed the now well-manicured bushes. Save for those nasty blood spatterings that would’ve made the Queen in Alice in Wonderland boom, “Who’s been painting my roses red?” Luckily, the queen of this castle was dead, and so was her empty-headed husband. The problem was, we were going to have to flee the country if we wanted to avoid being implicated. You were shockingly okay with it–not just the having to leave America part but also the part where I informed you of my double murder. “This is why I can’t be employed,” I offered. “I always fuck it up.” You said there was no time for excuses now as you made a call to a Maltese friend of yours with a private plane. You seemed, strangely enough, to be in constant orbit of wealthy people, which made me wonder why you had to work in such a plebeian’s position. 

At the same time, standing here, watching you devour this mound of cheap bread, it was easy to see that material things did not move you. Which is why the U.S. never moved you. It made me wonder how, then, I managed to be of appeal to you when it was so obvious that my American brainwashing was fairly irreversible. In fact, every fiber of my being at this moment was screaming, rebelling against the “simplicity” (read: rough-hewnness) of this godforsaken island that even the British decided to dispense with despite their overt love of colonial endeavors. Yet seeing you delight in the Maltese bread that appeared to have been the piece that was missing from you all these years–the very gasoline that ignited the fire in your loins–I could sense that I had a weighty decision to make. Stay here and hide out from my crime while suffering in an entirely different kind of prison or jump ship (a saying, ironically, that could only be carried out by literally jumping onto a ship). Being in a “country” (can one really call an island a country though? I still struggle with that notion) that was surely going to drive me crazy was enough to make me lean toward the latter option. Then again, how could I say America hadn’t done the same when taking into account I had killed two people there?

We walked through the square, taking in some more of the stalls that had been set up as you greeted old friends and acquaintances who treated you as though you never left. That your sudden appearance here was the most natural thing in the world, and a testament to the fact that no one, try as they might, can ever really “betray” the island by leaving–because they will always inevitably be obligated to return for some reason or another. Yet I knew this sort of rule didn’t apply to me. That I couldn’t betray a place I wasn’t from. And in the end, as I slipped away into the night on what could’ve been a refugee boat being steered back to Africa for all I knew, I whispered a phrase you had taught me that day into the air: ma fihiex ħobż. It procures no bread. As in, to stay on this island here with you would be a profitless endeavor, and I had to break us in half like that sourdough you were tearing earlier if either of us were ever going to be able to move on and get what we truly wanted out of our existence.

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