I suppose, on reflection, the vomit was a cry for help. There I was, slumped in some foot pedestrian’s offshoot, some blankly white-walled corridor, covered in uncooked hot pot. I made my way back to the MegaPlex.
They installed me, did Herman and his family (his rangy dad, his twinkly grandma, and the heretofore unintroduced Edgar, Herman’s younger brother) between the duvet and the body-length yoga mat intended to act as a mattress. From this vantage, I had a supremo view of the concrete embankment that filled the window. I could also, luckily, see the TV. I watched ‘Bridesmaids’, wincing in sympathy as Maya Rudolph shat, caught short, on a city road; and later, on waking from a fever dream crammed-to-bursting with cryogenic meat, I was apprehended by the goading spectacle of the New Year’s fireworks over Hong Kong. On the third day, probably, I started to panic. I demanded that grandma bring me the phone.
Herman’s grandma was herself a firecracker. Probably 100, she looked about 50, and was endlessly amused by her effusion of jokes, all of which she spoke in a lilting Mandarin and, I assume, had me as their inspiration. By now it had become apparent, though, as my body tried futilely to expunge the hot pot poison, that I was no longer only the butt of grandma’s jokes but the butt of my stomach’s, the butt of my butt’s. It was with some clammy impatience, therefore, that I snatched the phone from grandma’s hand.
“Hi Mum, Hi Dad – I need to come home. Or fly onto Europe and meet up with…” It’s here that I’m struck with the difficulty of giving my ex-girlfriend a name (which, admittedly, isn’t my only difficulty in writing about her). “Petunia,” I said, or rather settled with.
On hearing this, my parents were nonplussed. “But David, you can’t just up and take your dribbly arse to Dusseldorf or whatever snow-kissed ski lodge it is that Petunia’s uncle runs,” they said, or I’m recalling through my own retrospective frustration.
It was at this pivotal juncture that grandma, having taken leave, returned. Ever the helper, she bore on a platter what looked like a large dirt clot. She made some gestures toward her mouth before striding agelessly out the door. “I’ll call you back,” I said, and hung up.
The duvet pulled around my ears and homesick tears pooled in my eyes, I tried to size up what looked more and more like what I’d heard described in high school as a “grogan”. There it sat, turgid, unperturbed – to all appearances, I’d been given a turd. I picked up the knife and made my first incision.
It was an unpeeled sweet potato.
“Sweet mercy,” I muttered, and commenced a rocking which only the reckless cab drive to the doctor’s impeded, busy as I was being rocketed from side to side on the backseat, sans seatbelt. There was a screech of brakes and of driver’s instructions, and soon I was being spirited by Herman (holding my elbow? I want to imagine he was holding my elbow) down one of Hong Kong’s many luridly neon-lit strips and past all number of street food nasties: algae-tinted tanks filled with bottom-feeders, fun-fair stalls festooned with entrails. The medical centre itself was set between chicken’s feet and the balls of a sparrow.
It looked like the kind of place you’d visit to get diseases. Herman dragged me up to a little window where a sallow nurse threw clipped English at me. “And what is the nature of your stay?” she asked, and I was going to write that I drawled “Horrific”, but my dialogue has probably stretched enough credibility.
CAN YOU EVEN IMAGINE BEING ME RIGHT NOW??? DO YOU THINK I’LL EVER BE ABLE TO BOUNCE BACK? AND WHAT PART DOES PETUNIA PLAY IN ALL THIS? All will be revealed in Part Four.