There’s something I have been repressing for, oh, roughly three years now. It’s a trip I took, and no leisurely idle in the outlying countryside, no quick jaunt down the coast. It was, in fact, an epic in a lot of senses, and given its proportions, psycho-spiritual heft, its insistence that it not be left alone, it’s strange that only now can I even conceive of attempting to put it into writing.
So imagine, if you will, yours truly at 24 (fresh-faced, pink-cheeked; unspeakably young) and bolt upright in my chair on a juddering Malaysian Airlines flight to Hong Kong. What was I thinking? Thoughts consistent with complete incomprehension at the nature of my trip and my intentions behind it. What had I been drinking? Initially nothing, but on arrival at Kuala Lumpur I discovered what, exactly, a rest lounge is: a tricked-out grotto or bistro lined like a manicurist’s with deep-seat armchairs, a procession of Sizzler-like, sneeze-guarded food bays, and, at its end, a gold-plated beer tap, in whose sheen might have been foreseen the nature of the trip to follow. I took a few pulls on its pump, let me tell you, and soon I was ensconced in a plush recliner and a neatly accumulating beer-buzz.
And then, for the remainder of the seven hours, I contorted and corkscrewed in that plush recliner while the booze sat immovably inside my gut, made foundations, set up shop. A bakery had started business; my legs would no doubt soon fly apart and I’d deliver, with a ding!, a fresh loaf there. What’s worse was that my neighbours, Malaysian families mostly, were dissipating, making off for their flights, and I soon felt – with all those brass fixtures, the decorous drapes, their maroon festoons – like I had just wrapped up a late-night bender and was loitering, now, in a hotel foyer. By the time I found myself boarding my flight, my head was carrying too much weight. My head was overhead baggage.
What followed was a shorter flight to Hong Kong, marked by a meal of tin-foiled fish whose spices wreaked havoc with my booze fugue. I believe my seat was the only one lit up, my head the only one bolt upright among the slumbering forms of my fellow passengers.
Herman, an old friend from high school, was waiting intently at the cavernous airport, and before I’d had time to acclimatize at all I had been spirited away, my luggage in tow, to a precarious double-decker bus. Here, while the scrubby, rocky scenery through the window gave intermittent way to sweeping sea vistas, Herman struggled to enliven in me any of the bright conviviality I’d given him back home. And wasn’t I convivial. We’d properly struck up our friendship after high school, and over the year before he left for Hong Kong we had laughed and sort of basked in the effusive, Edenic decency each of us never failed to bring out in the other. I was just so fucking nice with Herman. But now, because of my restless rest lounge stay, my ill-advised beers, and those claustrophobic stretches of airborne insomnia, I was finding it impossible to muster more than a pointed and unfair irritability whose target was going to be Herman.
As the bus sped across the sun-bleached expanse of a unrelenting suspension bridge, I cast my eyes out over the yawning bay below and took in, as best as I could manage in my dolorous state, the monolithic cranes or scaffolding or stations that rose, like a robot uprising, on stanchions that sat in the sea. This sight, let me tell you, was doing nothing for my inchoate sense of displacement. Herman was talking about something or other, but from where I sat – wedged right up against him – it came across as nothing but the gnashing of teeth. My beers were now a stone or a rocky outcrop, some immovable nexus in my solar plexus, and on entering the chaos of the city proper it began to palpate like some shitty, unbidden heart transplant. BUT THIS WAS NOTHING COMPARED TO WHAT HAPPENED TO ME NEXT…
Would you like to find out what happened to me next? Maybe not, but I will write it regardless.