It took Maya a few moments to register her surroundings when she opened her eyes. Pieces of memory from the night before slowly fell into fuzzy place. She had been drunk. Very drunk. She was at the gallery opening with Erik and he started hitting on the scandalous redhead with the whistle between her legs. This, of course, upset Maya, and she made a little more than a scene about it, which culminated with her storming out of the gallery while calling for a cab.
The driver was a swarthy man who called himself Malak. She had seen him around. All she needed to do was mention a single name to get Malak to smile a wide shockingly white-tooth grin. He told her to sit back and relax and he’d get her where she needed to go before she realized it. When she arrived, he told her not to bother with tip, just to get him a drink the next time they were out somewhere.
Where she was dropped off was quite different than the district where the gallery was. The stars were more visible and the lights of houses were further apart. A cool breeze stirred her dark hair as she approached the stone structure that was surrounded by red rock and looked to have stood for thousands of years. It was only when she started to knock on the massive wood door that she questioned her resolve. She was drunk and angry at Erik. As her knuckles rapped against the dark wood she found herself desperately wanting a cigarette, if not another drink.
“What are you doing here?” The voice was a cold whisper out of the darkness. Maya felt her breath catch in her throat. It was more out of fear, not unlike that of a child with a hand in the cookie jar, than any sense of anticipation.
Tyrus didn’t so much walk out of the shadows as he just materialized. His soft voice, which simultaneously carried a strange accent and an almost coldness belied his size. Maya often felt he was the type who would check other when filling out demographics on a government form, because the way he was put together seemed to defy description. The only word that seemed to fit him when she thought about it was otherworldly, and she’d gone as far as using that as a metaphor in a song she wrote, the whole time wondering if he caught the reference. He had long, dark, wavy hair, which ended near the small of his back and intense green eyes that were often remarked to be similar to the little girl in the iconic National Geographic photograph. His unblemished copper-colored skin almost seemed to blend in with the rocks around him. He didn’t smile, which was not surprising. His face rarely showed any expression, unless it was a sort of savage curiosity, as though he was scrutinizing his surroundings in a state of constant study.
A year before, they ended up in bed. It had been at her place after one of his rare nights out. Morgan and Natasha said once upon a time Tyrus had been out on the scene with more frequency, but those days had faded into the apocrypha of back in the day stories. Two days later, at a show, Maya was throwing things at him in front of Erik, screaming he didn’t understand something, which made so little sense to her. The fact Tyrus even feigned civility toward her afterward surprised her. Natasha advised Maya to be exceedingly grateful. When he was scorned, people simply ceased to exist to him; they could be in the same room, looking right at one another, and yet, Tyrus would look right through them.
“I…I had to see you,” Maya stammered. “Do you have a cigarette?”
“You know I don’t smoke.”
“I don’t drink at home unless I am expecting guests,” he said with a bit of an edge that got Maya to blush. “How did you get here?”
“Malak brought me,” she replied, knowing there was only a handful of people who knew where he lived.
“I see,” Tyrus mused, almost distractedly. “It would seem the two of us will have to have a conversation.”
“I could leave,” she offered.
“You could,” he agreed. “And where would you end up? An after party? Some late night coffee joint? Erik’s bed or Raphael’s parlor?”
Maya felt heat rising in her cheeks. She wished Raphael had been out. She’d have just hung closer to him once Erik started talking to the redhead. Unfortunately, Raphael was also entering a more reclusive lifestyle.
Back when Rafael first introduced her to Tyrus, she tried to invite him to Burning Man. She was going with Raphael and Morgan. He scoffed and told her in dismissive tones he had his own desert festival he was going to. That was the year he went to Mali, and spoke of seeing Tinariwen, Lo' Jo, Kwal, Blackfire and Robert Plant. Raphael told her then Tyrus was one who went his own way, and it was better to just ride the currents of his acquaintance than attempt to steer him one way or another.
“Although you might use the night sky as a lyrical device in one of your songs, I do not think you’d be interested in watching the stars with me,” Tyrus said, placing a tentative arm around her shoulder, it was then she realized she was a little chilled. “Come inside, I’ll brew us some tea. Do you like assam?”
“That would be lovely.”
As they walked inside, Maya was startled by two reptiles, both almost two feet long, running from the door. It was then she remembered how Erik, somewhat derisively, nicknamed Tryus Dolittle for his monitor lizards and tarantulas. Tyrus cooed after the lizards almost playfully.
“Cerberus! Tiamat! Now be good for our guest, Children,” he said over his shoulder. “Come now, I’ll fetch you both a treat.”
“Erik once wondered why you couldn’t have a kitten like a normal person,” Maya mused a little too loud.
“I did once, but it didn’t work out,” Tryus said, as he walked into his kitchen and opened the refrigerator.
“Really? What happened?”
“Tiamat got hungry,” Tyrus replied as he threw a few small pieces of raw meat to the two monitors, who stood upon their back legs for the morsels they were offered. For a brief moment, it almost looked like he smiled. “There you go. Such lovely children. Go on, now, find a warm place to curl up.”
Despite herself, Maya giggled at Tyrus’s remark. That nonchalant tone to his voice. The strange affection he showed to these reptiles that ran across his kitchen floor like eager puppies. Part of her wondered if, come sobriety, this would all be half as funny. Part of her wondered if in the moment if any of it mattered.
“What happened to your shirt?”
His inquiry caught her off-guard. Down the front of her shirt was stain. Whether it was vomit or a spilled drink, she could not recall. Even before she could try to answer, he was pulling off his sweater and handing it to her.
“Here, take that off and put this on. That is unsightly.”
Seeing Tyrus without his sweater, she was reminded of that one night they had together and the fact he was covered almost completely in tattoos, like some fabled Yakuza lord. A breath caught in her throat and he looked at her oddly, as though he didn’t understand her fascination. She stepped forward, placing a hand across his broad chest.
“Tyrus…that night…and everything…” she began.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said, pulling back, with an edge even colder than his usual vocal tones. “Go into the other room. I’ll have our tea ready directly.”
After that, her memories fell into shadow and fog. As she pulled herself up from the strange bed she found herself in, she realized she was still wearing the same black sweater that smelled of Tyrus, of a year ago. One of the lizards was watching her as she leaned forward. The name on the collar identified it as Cerberus. Her nostrils were flooded with the scent of coffee, fermented cabbage, and spices.
She stumbled into the kitchen to find Tyrus standing over the stove. He turned at the sound of her entrance. It was impossible to tell whether he happy or annoyed to see she was still there.
“I was hoping my racket woke you,” he said. “I’m making kimchi jjigae for you. Given last night, the spiciness shall be helpful.”