Port and capital of Hainan Province, China. I walk the wet streets of the old quarter. My eye enters the city though the colour and movement of the ponchos, the helmets, the scooters. My tearful camera misses the handsome worker riding his black scooter swathed in a transparent rhubarb purple poncho covered in custard yello polo-discs.
As a young boy, he lived and played in the wide drives of sixties semi-detached new builds, and, he explored a town centre dominated by Victorian carpet factories and the blue brick cuts of the dying canals that quietly stalked the town. But by what seemed like some hand of cruel fate, not long after the confusion of his first proper crush, his family moved to the countryside.
At the end of that summer, at his first day of secondary school, he remembers the very spot, his sexuality came to him as some shocking epiphany, with no scope for doubt or dabbling. What followed was ten years of hiding in an alien landscape of woods, farmland and rivers.
But he became good at it, and with fewer people around, he stored his yearning in out of the way places; a cave, an abandoned bridge, certain trees.
Several years later, after he’d come out and raced to the city, gone down that path; he found himself attracted to cruising, but only in green places. It didn’t matter if it was a park, botanical garden or beauty spot; he would effortlessly blend in and seek what he sought, whilst gathering in those yearnings he’d stored like acorns all those years before.
During those eight years of being fenced-in, in North Wood, I dreamt of civilisation somehow reaching me and crushing the place. I was a greedy boy that wanted more than country lore and in-bred prejudice.
He stands naked in the shadowed mouth of the cave, exhausted from a sleepless night coiled with despair. He peers into woodland around him, then looks at the floor and mumbles,
‘It feels right. Is it right?’
His echo cowers and whimpers in the darkness behind him.
He glares now at the trees and shouts,
‘Is it right? Answer me!’
The cave-mouth now repeats his demand, the trees listen, the brook carries the message downstream.
He presses his fingertips into his lone initials, SY, that he carved into the sandstone as a boy. Now worn smooth by forty seasons. With the fingernail of his index finger he traces out the initials JL next to his. He bends down and picks up a twig and etches deeper.
Finished, he walks towards the rope hanging from the tree. Samuel takes hold and caresses the fibres that imitate the hairs on his lovers arms.
Gripping the rope hard with both hands, he backs up a few steps, then runs forward until he runs out of bank and swings out across the dark water. The leaves throw a dappled green cloak of light across his pale body. He reaches the height of his arc. He lets go. He falls until the brook wraps him in a splash of ligt. He emerges head first, his body rising from the water as he wades to the bank where he prostrates himself.
He feels Jed’s strength in the earth, smells him on the loam and presses his lips into the answer. But that is not enough, was never enough, and opening his jaw, he bites into the land.