Instead, I stare out a glassless window at swaying coconut palms while the first rain of the monsoon gathers in rivers on the street below. An old man, the color and texture of prunes, pulls his worn sarong up around his hips and wades where we both know a sidewalk ought to be.
“It’s coming down good,” says Richard, grinning at the monsoon outside.
“Yep,” I agree, glancing at him. “It’s a bitch out there. So why are you smiling?”
“It’s just my nature,” he says, grimness passing briefly across his eyes. “With so much ugliness, a person has to find joy where he can.”
“You think that guy finds joy in the rain?” I ask, gesturing toward the lone wader, now halfway down the block.
“I would say,” Richard speculates, “that an old man like that finds joy in a cup of tea and a dry bed at the end of the day. He probably lost a day’s pay because of this weather—which is what, a dollar? And I find joy in the fact that I wasn’t born in this God-forsaken place where I might well have ended up like him. I’m here by choice—and so are you.”
I sigh. Richard Hendrix—don’t call him Dick—manages to be whimsical, optimistic, profound, and cynical, all at the same time. His constant smile barely masks a deep bitterness at life. And though I’ve known him nearly a year, he has given me few clues about its source.
Richard and I are about as close as two heterosexual men can be. We share a small flat in Dehiwela, on the outskirts of Colombo, the capitol of Sri Lanka. Technically, the capitol was moved a few years ago to Sri Jayawardenapura where the parliament meets, but for practical purposes Colombo remains the capitol city. It houses the government bureaucracy, military and police headquarters, the President’s palace, the central bank, and the nation’s three shopping malls.
Richard and I are the only two Americans in our neighborhood. We eat together, socialize together, chase women together, and occasionally drink together. To make matters worse, we work together, too. It’s almost like marriage, but without the sex. According to Richard, that’s not a divergent characteristic, though he denies that his failed marriage is the source of his bitterness.