Rod, standing beside the open window as he smoked, observed his friend bent over a book of short stories. It was an aid for learning a foreign language: one page had the text in its original Spanish, the other provided a German translation. Jan was not necessarily that methodical at applying himself to acquiring another language, but he was certainly determined. He possessed no capacity for sitting in a classroom or working on grammar drills; he learned by doing, crashing through inelegantly constructed but perfectly pronounced sentences, his German accent scarcely noticeable. He picked up the language in great swallows, by singing along to Spanish songs, spending his holidays in Spanish-speaking countries, using his Italian knowledge in order to cheat and fudge his way though having to sit down and deal with vocabulary, and he asked Rod countless questions, copying his accent in spite of his repeated attempts to warn him off from doing so.
"It's a different accent, and a much more difficult dialect than standard Spanish." His protests were in vain, for Jan would simply smile, maintaining that he had no interest in Spanish out of a textbook.
"I always want my languages to reflect how I learned them, and so I'm quite happy for my Spanish to be Chilean-inflected."
Rod lit another cigarette and Jan tossed his book aside, frustration clear in his face. Rod had noticed Jan's impatience with others on many occasions in the past couple of years since they had come to know one another; what was more apparent to him was the other man's impatience with himself. Jan's expectations and demands of himself were constantly too high, his mind three steps ahead of the rest of him, and yet he couldn't see how unreasonable he was being. Now was one of those moments. He could sit intently over a book for hours some days, other times he would become so exasperated at some perceived lack or inability to master something, or to be fast enough, that Rod could feel it physically coming off of him in waves.
Jan shook his head, and looking around seemed to notice Rod for the first time.
"Ach, I'm jealous of you somehow."
Rod said nothing and waited for him to continue.
"You didn't have to make an effort to learn German, you were at that age when kids just absorb a language without having to try."
Rod paused, inhaling on his cigarette before answering. "It wasn't easy to learn German."
Jan snorted, standing up, moving around the room, clearly attempting to rid himself of the energy coiled up in him. "I suppose if you spoke as little as you do now then I can see why it was hard for you to learn the language."
Rod remembered arriving in school, not understanding much at all of what was going on around him, but how he wanted to join in his classmates' games and jokes. His excitement would wreck any grasp he had of German, and he would make countless mistakes in his sheer desire to take part. These jumbled sentences and exclamations would elicit laughter from the other children. It was never nasty, yet it stopped Rod, silenced him. He understood that he was doing something wrong, that it wasn't correct, something which made them all break into uncontrollable giggles. It wasn't unfriendly but there was a certain glee in their cries of "No, that's not how you say it, dummy!"
"When I first arrived here I made so many mistakes speaking German, and of course, my classmates found that very funny. There was nothing malicious about it; children just love pointing out others' mistakes. I learned very quickly to stop, think about what I was going to say before I said it, to make sure I didn't mess up. I guess I never shook the habit. Anyhow, I might have plenty to say Jan, but it is fairly hard to get a word in edge-ways around you and Bela."
Jan laughed at this last sentence but Rod knew that what he had said previous to it had been taken on board by the other man. Rod could tell by the look in his eyes, how they were thoughtful and alert behind his apparent laughter. If he trusted himself just a bit more perhaps he would have dared to attempt to explain to Jan how since he understood most of what was implicit in Rod's words this then meant that streams of sentences were not as necessary for their way of communicating with one another. He was very aware that Jan just enjoyed talking and using words to challenge and provoke, to amuse and bewilder. His and Bela's ability to improvise song texts on stage was something Rod could only achieve musically. At home growing up, the emphasis had been placed more on musicianship; still, Rod was convinced that Jan's flair for, and sheer glee in language was not something you could teach yourself through practice.
This tour had brought them a change in the standard of their accommodation. Gone were the days of sleeping in a cramped bus or crashing on an acquaintance's floor. Their recent success was reflected in their being given their own hotel rooms, with what seemed to Rod to be unnecessary luxuries.
"I still can't get over the fact that I have a bathtub in my bathroom." A small one, he wanted to add, but a bathtub nonetheless. It seemed too much when contrasted with the days when managing to have a stand-up wash at a sink was accepted gratefully. But before he could say this, Bela had started laughing.
Ah. The old mistake had tripped him up. Bs and Ws had been so easy to mix up for him. It was such a long time since he had slipped up like that, not since childhood, or perhaps an especially drunk night. Badewanne, he said to himself. Badewanne, not Wadebanne. It reminded him of his mother and her accented German, her idioms translated directly into the language of her adopted homeland, and how Rod and his sister had found these newly-coined expressions even better than the original.
Whilst Bela was riffing on his Wadebanne mix-up, and whilst he smiled at his silliness and his commitment to fully exploiting a joke, Rod was aware that Jan was not joining in with Bela's wordplay, unlike how he would usually. Typically when they found something like this the two of them would goad each other on, unstoppable, peacocking with their phrases for one another. During these duels Rod would usually watch and laugh with them.
He shifted so as to meet Jan's gaze. He wished that he would just join in Bela's foolishness instead of watching him in such a manner. Bela soon tired of the joke, and moved on to something else; somehow Rod was certain Jan was not going to forget it so easily, and he did not know what that might mean.
It had been such a long time since he had dreamt about the refugee hostel. Not a nightmare, just a dream, yet the intensity of it had woken him up in the middle of the night, and he had been unable to fall back asleep again, so he instead sat up, smoking and flicking through the TV channels for a while, watching nothing before turning it off. It was so quiet in the hotel room. Mentally he leafed through the few scattered memories he had of his childhood in Valparaiso, merely a series of images, moments, frozen still, snapshots rather than moving scenes with speaking actors. He could not say for certain what those memories evoked in him; it was not as straightforward as indifference or nostalgia. He wondered if he would continue to sporadically dream of that refugee hostel for the rest of his life.
Playing a concert for over two hours after a sleepless night was not a great recipe, and after the show was done Rod decided to forego the usual revelries and instead retreated to his hotel room. Soon, there was a knock on his door; he opened it, revealing Jan.
"Bela is sorry not to have his usual partner in crime."
Rod shrugged in response to this. They both knew Bela would easily find others to party with.
They moved into the room, Rod closing the door behind Jan. He took up his usual position at the window, smoking, and Jan leaned against the bedside table.
"You didn't sleep last night?"
"Shit, do I look that bad?" Rod huffed out.
"No, you don't. But you do seem tired."
Rod quirked his mouth up into a small smile at this.
"You know," Jan continued. "with Bela, everything is up on top. He wears his heart on his sleeve, he just can't seem to hide it. We argue a hell of a lot, but we know what's going on with one another, mostly."
"Are you saying I should be more like Bela?"
"Oh, fuck no. If there were two Belas in the bad that would be the end of us. I think it's very important that you are exactly as you are, you keep us two in balance."
"Is that all I'm here for, only to keep you two functioning within the band?"
"Uh, Jesus, Rod." Jan looked at him sharply. "You're really reading implications into my words right now that aren't there."
"Sorry. That was a bit much. It's like you said the other day, I'm not very good at talking."
"I never said that. I said, you didn't talk very much. Those are two very different things." Jan came closer to him. "If you do want to talk, we can. Now, or whenever."
Rod avoided his eyes. How could he explain that he did and yet he didn't? How could he attempt to marshal mere words now in a bid to explain what he had felt then, as a child, with a limited vocabulary? He settled on shaking his head.
"Well, we can do other things beside talk." The other man said lowly. Before he could react, Jan's fingers had fisted themselves into his hair, tilting his face up towards him, and they were kissing. Jan was surprisingly strong, and his lean frame crushed Rod to the wall. His knee-jerk reaction had been to break off the kiss but he found he didn't really want to do that. He would be lying if he said he hadn't wondered idly about Jan; however, he also wondered if physical intimacy would bring him closer to him. Perhaps Jan was currently thinking the same thing about him. His kisses were deep, intense, and Rod struggled to be equal to them. He knew he wouldn't be able to direct their touches, and so he gave himself over to what was happening. Jan walked him backwards until he hit the bed and they both inelegantly fell onto it. Jan swiftly freed him of his clothes whilst Rod sought to do likewise, with the other man eventually helping him, impatient. Jan's limbs were so long, the shape of his body seemed incongruous aligned with Rod's. Rod could more easily picture Bela's sharp little frame atop Jan, the image worked far better than what was currently taking place. These thoughts pulled him away from the moment, and he wondered if that was what this was about for Jan. Often he'd imagined what their relationship had been, what it was now, and what the hell situation he had unwittingly stumbled into when he became the third member of this group. Now he considered for what purpose he was perhaps being used.
His wrists were grasped by Jan and pressed down into the mattress. "I apparently have to work harder to get your attention."
Rod understood what this was supposed to be; a physical act, hard, a liberation, a distraction. He sought to work his way back into the moment, focusing on Jan's mouth, his skin, and soon he found himself more than responsive to his touch. It eventually became what it had been intended to be. Their bodies were slick with sweat, hair stuck to their foreheads, breath hothouse warm against one another, their bodies rocking together, Jan gripping Rod's shoulders so as to drive into him better, Rod's legs wrapped around Jan's lower back, granting him deeper access, urging him on until they both came. Jan was so loud, his breath hissing through his teeth, his groans devoid of sense, as if he was unaware of the sounds he was making. The noises he made as he came shocked Rod, high-pitched helpless cries, initially short and hitching before lengthening as he rode out his orgasm. Rod's came then as well, he closed his eyes, sighing deeply as it broke over him.
For a few moments they lay together, Jan collapsed across his chest, his blonde hair pressed into Rod's nose and cheek. He held his arms loosely around Jan, suspecting that the other man would not react so well to anything perceived as more restrictive. Rod wondered if he could now attempt to talk to Jan about the unsettled state he had found himself in recently. Before he could get any further than ordering his thoughts, Jan had slipped from his arms, padding over to the window and opening it, allowing cool air to disperse the heady after-scent of the room. Rod had always enjoyed the strong smell which remained in a closed space after sex, finding it very arousing. He shivered as the breeze hit his skin and the outside sounds of traffic reached his ears. Jan came back to the bed, turned on his side, and was soon asleep. Rod remained awake, and after some time had passed he sat up and looked down at Jan, who was undisturbed by his restlessness. There was suddenly noise in the hotel corridor, footsteps, loud words, doors opening and closing. He could make out Bela's voice among them, but could not tell what the individual words were. It became louder as Bela came nearer to their door, and then after he passed by it slowly faded into nothing.