On the second day after he arrived, Caravaggio swallowed a handful of pebbles.
“It’s the food, Yorick,” he said. “It’s indigestible any other way.”
“Stones seem a tad extreme,” I said. “Or, maybe it’s just unusual. But let’s keep it to ourselves.”
We were sitting together at English Bay. He, near weeping. Me, with my arm round his shoulder, trying to comfort him.
Caravaggio was the name that he’d chosen for himself, after Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, the Baroque, Renaissance artist.
I’d reserved a computer for him at the Joe Fortes Library, the day before. There, he’d scanned what he could of the web in the fifteen minutes allotted, and in the process, somehow managed to shut down the Vancouver Public Library’s citywide servers. But before he did, he’d seen the Italian painter’s work, and immediately adopted his name.
The artist’s work, he said, best exemplified the human species’ kinship with the irrational and imperceptible, even better than the surrealists. I thought he lacked enough Earthly experience and knowledge of art theory to say so, but I’m generally not looked to for insight.
“The colours,” he said, hands trembling. “They bring me close to violence.”
I didn’t see the colours, myself. Not many, that is. Mostly just dimly illuminated Caucasoid patriarchs against black backgrounds, depicting a fair-skinned male governed allegorical narrative that rested on the reverence for, and the worship of, deeply flawed human characters, each now occupying an idea named Heaven for a fantasy called forever.
I told him this, and he said, “Precisely!”
But now we sat together on the beach. There were planets in his eyes—I saw them there—nebulae and vast black hushes.
I had panhandled all morning on Denman Street, and had bought us sushi with the proceeds.
“You eat it like this,” I said. “This is wasabi and this is soy sauce. These are chopsticks.”
“Home is too far away, now,” he said, analysing his California Roll. “Returning is impossible. I don’t know how I let it get away so easily. Miscalculations, poorly made decisions, bad assumptions. There were no maps beyond a certain point. Only the nose of my spacecraft to follow.”
“That’s how we lose our way on this planet, too,” I said. “And none of us has even been beyond the moon. You mix the soy sauce and wasabi together like this.”
“I may fade because of the grief. We do that where I come from; it’s the only thing that can kill us. Those who love you watch as you slowly vanish.”
So that’s what was happening. I swore I could see through him already.
“Don’t things ever just pass for you, and get better?” I said.
“Things never pass.”
He was very good with chopsticks, and enjoyed his sushi. That night we slept in the park because we were broke. By morning, he was fading fast, and was nearly gone by noon, but I could still hear his voice. We spoke for a while, and I threw rocks at crows. Then there was a long silence. Finally, I heard him say—
“Thanks for the sushi, Yorick.” And then he walked into the bay.