By Teresa Lamai
In my non-Teresa Lamai life, I work in a refugee agency and write mainstream fiction. People I meet sometimes ask me why I don’t write novels based on the fascinating stories I must hear every day from clients. I still haven’t figured out how to respond. There’s not really a polite way of saying, “Because that would be exploitative and creepy?”
And yet I can’t afford to be too much of a prig about it. In one of my first stories I did just that—sort of.
“Idyll” is the first real story I wrote, based on a house I shared whilst working in Zagreb in the ‘90s. On a tiny budget, I rented a room in a shared house on the edge of town, near the cemetery, with a broken gate, impossibly thick rosebushes, and an overturned rowboat in the lawn. The drunken landlord appeared from time to time but lived, mysteriously, elsewhere. The occupants were drifters like me, some anarchist students, and some Bosnian refugees in transit to other places.
On my first morning, jet-lagged, I made my way into the kitchen and explained I hadn’t had a chance to go shopping—could I have just a piece of bread? One of the students—who wasn’t named Goran—said, “This is Balkans, and I am anarchist. Please never ask for bread, just take it.”
The room I occupied had traces of bird-seed on the windowsill, and an amaryllis blossom only half-faded, and no other traces of who might have lived there before me.
There were shared meals in the evening, and morning cups of tea out in the sunlight, around the peeling rowboat. As the summer went on, the occupants of the house moved away till there was only a handful of us left.
I don’t remember when we all started lying in the grass of a morning, but once we started we couldn’t stop. I would come home from work to find everyone still lying in the unmown lawn, staring up into the dappled heat as if drugged, and I would lie down to join them. For hours I would listen to their breathing and watch the sunlight through my lashes, feeling time slow and pool around us. I knew that I would always be there.
No, I wasn’t involved with anyone in the house, and I wasn’t in love with any of them. If there were lovers among the residents there, they kept it to themselves.
My only purpose in inventing Fatima and writing her story was to get back to that hot grass, where you felt you could live forever.
I’m glad that “Idyll” is included in Coming Together Presents Teresa Lamai. As you’ve seen, all of the proceeds will go to Amnesty International. As a gift to the first commenter, I have an anthology called Just Watch Me, edited by Violet Blue, in which I have a story called “In Snow.”
“Fatima, just take it. You don't have to ask.”
There was fresh sweet bread on the table and for the first time in months I felt hunger sharply. My new housemate Goran got angry when I asked for some. I was still learning that Goran prides himself on not owning anything, not wanting anything. I didn’t notice Amel smirking in the corner until he was suddenly standing next to me. He twisted off one end of the bread and said, “Come see the garden.”
Goran and Amel are the only Croatians living in this tiny house by the cemetery in Zagreb. They came to the city for the University, but their families can’t afford the new tuition. So instead they load trucks and work in Peace and Anarchy, a youth center built in an abandoned gasworks. The rest of us are from Bosnia. I should say we’re refugees from Bosnia, here in Zagreb in a strictly provisional sense, on our way to Pakistan or Germany or the US.
As the only girl, I have my own room. Slavica, an older woman my mother had known, was living in the front room with her father and her baby son when I arrived. They’ve since been relocated to Austria. There will most likely be more refugees to take their place but for now it’s just the three of us. Amel and Goran live in the larger upstairs bedroom, and I in the smaller bedroom.
Just seven months ago, it became clear I had to leave Bosnia. My parents were gone soon after the sniping started, and my brothers got German visas for their families. Sarajevo is like a dream now. I can’t always separate the reality of what happened from the rumors that consumed us like a collective psychosis.
I may eventually join my brothers in Germany. I may get a visa for the US. I may stay forever here with Amel and Goran.
The sun here is stronger, more Mediterranean. Even in the early morning it’s like an ancient power in a limpid, fragrant sky. The first mass is ending at the cathedral across the street and the shaded cemetery is already flickering with plastic memorial candles. The courtyards of the blue painted Romani tenements next door are filling with children. I’m washing the sheets in our yard. The garden is a late summer mess of palm trees, kiwi vines, and wild roses. There’s no sense in grooming anything since no one stays here long.
Goran comes out, fat pastry in one hand, guitar in the other. His long curls are wet, snaking down his bare back. He puts the guitar on the ground and sits next to me to help. Amel has been out here all morning, simply because, like a sly shadow, he is never far from me. Goran laughs at himself as he wrings one corner of a sheet. His fuzzy thigh presses into my skirt. Warmth on my shoulders and soft pulls at my skull tell me Amel is behind me now.
He’s braiding grass into my hair, as he likes to do when we’re outside.
We sit quietly for a long, long time. Every time the breeze stops, I can almost hear our hearts beating.
I’m in love with Goran because he’s generosity and sweetness without limits. He carries his large, masculine frame with a sense of wonder and discomfort, as if he just grew into it. His wide shoulders make the house seem small. He towers over me. I think he is intent on keeping his round blue eyes clear of unkind thoughts, as if he believes innocence will protect him like enchanted armor. He fed me constantly when I first arrived here, cutting me slices of bread and cheese and asking if I preferred coffee or chocolate milk or maybe green tea until I burst into exasperated laughter and started smacking him. Our first kiss was a week later, when he came home with a bag of birdseed for me to feed the sparrows outside my bedroom window. As if he expected me to be here forever. I couldn’t stand it. I grasped round cheeks between my palms, drinking in his unsettled gaze for a few moments before touching my lips to his. His startled moans made me wet.
His innocence feels less contrived when I’m pressing into him. I’m teaching him that love is selfish. I grab his ass strongly enough to hurt, digging crescents into the flesh, sometimes leaving tiny scabs. I have never told him I love him but he knows from the way I kiss him, the way I run my tongue over his neck and the warm sweet mounds of his chest. The first time I gripped the base of his hardening cock and nipped at his scrotum, he gasped, “That’s good, that’s so good,” with genuine surprise in his voice. I know it’s unbearable for him to lie still when I’m teasing the silky head of his cock from its foreskin, using just my tongue. I tell him to lie still anyway because I want us both to be free from what he thinks he should do. I just want to torture him until he’s angry enough to fuck me without thinking, his hands tight on my pelvis, cock scorching through my cunt, both of us transported and beyond hurting.
I love Amel for his black silent eyes that seem to absorb everything he looks at. He is slight and dark, speaking rarely, disappearing into the night when it falls. Goran says Amel seems to always be ashamed. Amel follows me stealthily like a cat as I move through the house, settling in the kitchen when I cook or unexpectedly lying on the carpet beside me when I read. We’re not sure where he goes in the evenings.
Nearly every night, I wake up after midnight. The moon has shifted. The air is still. I never hear Amel come home, or open my door, or undress, or pull the covers off the bed. I’ve never seen him naked in the daylight. His voice is what wakes me first, followed by the smooth glide of his belly on mine. The smoky, sweet smell of his hair as it falls on my forehead. His hands are so painfully delicate on the back of my neck that I forget not to moan.
His skin starts to gleam, slippery with our sweat. He moves slowly as if he were underwater, and the breath is sucked out of me as he writhes, his full weight on mine. I’m fascinated by the slick heat of his body. I press one damp breast, then the other, into him, stretching my back to let the arcs of our stomachs kiss. He keeps his hips away from me until this moment. He knows I’ll be wet when he lowers his cock to slide against my aching lips, just splitting them to let the scent fill the room. This is when he finally kisses me. He lets me try to devour him with my mouth and my pussy, and he knows that he can do whatever he wants with me.
I move to lock my ankles behind him but he pulls me to the edge of the bed. Kneeling on the floor, he leans into my shaking thighs and laps with astonishing patience, from time to time sucking on the inner and outer labia until they burn under his breath. The heat in my chest suffocates me. When he starts to massage my clit with two fingers, I buck and he stops suddenly, moving up my body to kiss me with swollen lips that taste like seaweed and old red wine.
Amel plays this game over and over until just before dawn. When the first birds start singing, he slides himself into me slowly, as if he’s afraid he’ll be burnt. I’m not sure if I can take it when I first start to come, impaling myself desperately. I don’t care anymore about the obscene sounds I’m making; I feel this racing sweetness will kill me if I don’t let it out somehow. My cunt clenches tight, pulling on him until he stops, his spine twisting sideways as the come moves through him. He breaks into the exhausted, final thrusts as the sky becomes light.
I let him sleep. I get up because Goran and I always have our breakfast early in the garden. Goran is usually up already, wearing just his shorts, slouching in the moss-covered bench. He puts aside the guitar and holds out his arms to me. His chest is sun warmed.
Lately there has been no work for them, so they stay home with me all day. We read in the morning, sometimes go to the market to buy flowers or vegetables, and lie in the shady grass all afternoon. The lemon tree is starting to bear fruit. We are not sure how much longer we can go without paying rent.
The third notice came for me today. If I fail once again to report in a timely manner, I’m told, the offer of a US visa will be retracted. I can’t finish reading this right now; it’s time to make lunch. I drop the letter behind my bed and walk out to the patio.
Bio: Teresa Lamai was born in a car crash on Sandy Boulevard, Portland, Oregon, in 2003.
The woman in the passenger seat had been a dancer and a refugee activist, but a back injury from the crash left her laid up with far too much time on her hands. The world was turning just a little grey. Though she'd never written fiction before, somehow she found herself writing inappropriate stories, ones she couldn't possibly put her real name to. And so Teresa Lamai came to life.
Teresa Lamai’s erotic stories have appeared in anthologies ranging from Best Women’s Erotica to Zane’s Caramel Flava to Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica. Online, her stories have won awards at Clean Sheets. Reviewers have called her work "breathless," "searing," "miraculous," and "odd." She finds her inspiration in other art forms such as painting and dance. This anthology presents the best of her stories over the years--and some new ones besides.
Nowadays Teresa's real-life self still works in a refugee agency, and has begun writing novels and radio plays which have brought her a tiny bit of recognition and a huge amount of happiness. When she's not writing she reads novels, studies human rights law, takes on great quixotic projects in her garden, and bakes fantastic quantities of cinnamon rolls. Occasional dancing still occurs, especially when she learns that someone has enjoyed reading what she wrote.
She's chosen the charity Amnesty International, of which she's been a member since 1984, for its uncompromising defense of human rights around the world. We all of us have the right to live free of exploitation and oppression, so that we can get on with doing the marvelous things we were born to do.