More Scenes From My Life Abroad

I
In Boots on the corner of Khao San Road, I’m looking at the shelf without seeing it when I hear this woman talking to the pharmacist. She’s struggling to find the right words

“How you say …leequid sheet

And I smile.


II
She had long, dark hair and these blue eyes. Her skin was excitingly white and in the jungle heat her cheeks would blush pink, the blood washing through then away, but sometimes it would hang, under her chin and about her throat. The first time I remember that we really talked was at the jungle party. Every day after, she looked better and better. Our clothing was filthy, our hair a mess. It didn’t matter. She just radiated more. I would barely see her during the day because I was with my monkeys and she was with her cat, but she was always coming round to our place in the evenings and it was good to see her, it was good as hell to see her.
One day, her ocelot had been bitten by a rattlesnake and she’d carried it back down from the jungle to the cafe, to the vets. The cats liked to dig out snakes and play with them. Usually they were too quick for the snakes. The snake had also gone to bite her, but this wasn’t what she was shaken up about. When I walked around the corner on my break and saw her stood away, alone, trembling, I asked the others what had happened. They told me.
I should have pulled her to me
“Are you all right!? Tell me! What is it?”
I didn’t.
I remained at the table, frozen.
We carried on as before but I didn’t stop wishing that I’d acted different.
Over the next few days I began to look forward to the white t-shirt party that was planned for Wednesday night. It would be our last night because Wednesday was our 14th day volunteering and I could enjoy myself without having to think about getting up in the morning. I thought that’s my chance to make it with her. With some booze in me I would be bolder.
Wednesday arrived and before heading to the party a large group of us went out for a meal at the gym. Everybody was in white and I made a joke about her white trousers which she didn’t find funny but it didn’t matter. We kept talking.
The night went. We walked back from the party with everybody else. We walked behind, slowly, talking, enjoying eachother. And every time the people ahead slowed to wait for us I would slow down more to keep them ahead, but they kept slowing down and I couldn’t slow down any more otherwise we would have been stopped.
Soon enough, we were at the path leading to Valle Grande. She was staying in the next flop. Her roommate had waited for her, so I said goodbye and went to bed and slept through the sadness.
The next day, we decided to stay another night so we could eat thanksgiving dinner with everybody and I was excited that I would have another chance. I didn’t see her in the day because she was working and we kept ourselves busy by walking the tourist trail and sleeping. We sat down to eat outside the café and I was sat next to these New Age hippy types that had just started.
After dinner, she and her roommate were washing up. The three of us, we walked over to say goodnight. She stepped away from the others a little and I did too so that we had some space.
She looked at me with blue eyes. Neither of us said much. I looked down and up and she was still looking at me. Her eyes had opened wider. She was beautiful. I felt as if I could have fallen over.
She stood there, waiting. Those eyes.
WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR. ACT!!!
I stood there, impotent
WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF?
The moment had passed and she knew it. I could see that she was disappointed.
GO HOME, LOSER
That night, I lay in bed, alone, hating myself. COWARD. I was. She wanted me. I had failed.
The agony of being frozen in the jungle.

 

I would only see her once more, the next day, before we left for good.

 


III
We left Franz Josef late in the morning and started south and the rain was really coming down. The road between Franz Josef and Wanaka coils like a snake through the rainforest and mountains, past rivers and lakes and over creeks that resemble the dendrites of the Amazon we saw in Bolivia. It’s a beautiful road.
By its side in places are these strange circular formations of wooden boxes. I first noticed them coming this way on the bus. I wanted a picture so I asked Boxhead to pull over at the next set of boxes we came across. He drove past them and turned around, then drove past them again. Eventually we got there. I ran out into the rain to get a picture.

We carried on but I thought I wanted to look inside them, so at the next set we stopped again. Cautiously I lifted the metal lid but there was nothing underneath. Just a sheet of carpet stuck to the top of the wooden drawer beneath it. The drawers themselves didn’t open. I ran back to the car.
So there we drove, under the rain, wondering what the mysterious boxes next to the road were all about.

P1020153

P1020157


IV
I woke up and there was sand in my bed. Not just a few grains but lots of sand mixed in with my hair and my bed sheets.
“Wha…?”
I lay there for a minute trying to get myself in order. I realised that I wasn’t really hungover, which was nice.
Jeff was already awake lying next to me (in a separate bed)
“Hello”
“Urmhpsjhbnf”
I couldn’t ask him what had happened because he hadn’t been out with us.
I swung my legs out of the bed and took inventory of my effects like I always do after drawing a blank following a heavy drunk. They were all there except for my watch. My watch was gone. I got up and walked to the bathroom, tracking sand all over the floor, and turned on the shower. I could remember fragments. I knew that we’d been to the same bar on Mushroom Mountain that I’d been to four years ago…

We were staying closer to Haad Rin then, close enough that we could walk to the beach if we wanted. I remember sitting in this bar on the mountain hoovering up vodka oranges off the table in front of me not really sure where they were coming from. I would pick one up and it’d be gone, then another, and another… I remember Mary going around and a thin old man who looked about a hundred. I figured he owned the place. The only other person of note was a young French guy thrashing about on the floor clawing and tearing at his skin as if there were bugs crawling all over him. Bad trip.

Then I remember crawling up the mountain on all fours looking for a WC (the funny thing is I noticed one in the bar on this occasion). Anyhow, I was slowly making my way up the mountain and there were these empty bars on both sides. I remember looking at them and they were ghost-bars, silent, quieter than quiet. But then as I continued on past, something in my peripheral vision would catch my eye and I would look again and the bar would be ALIVE! Flashes of bright light and sounds! I’d look away then back again and the bar would be empty and quiet once more. Walking back through the town as the sun came up, there were people just shuffling about like zombies, lost.

There are only two things I’m sure of in life, and one of them is that I don’t ever want to feel like I did the day after again, so I had planned to take it easy this time.
God damned whiskey buckets.

I walked out of the bathroom and the air conditioner was blowing cold. I dried off and got myself dressed (naturally), and then I walked next door to find out what had happened…

(The other thing I’m sure of in case you were wondering, is that The Wire is Mankind’s greatest achievement)


V
It was a cool night in Siem Reap. It had rained hard for most of the evening. Boxhead and I were the last ones left of our drunken party. We were at this table in this bar down this alley with some people I don’t remember, just a vague idea of faces. After a drink, Box and I left the bar to go to the 7-Eleven.
Outside the 7-Eleven there were kids. They followed us inside. Somehow, they got a hold of my flip-flops and wouldn’t give them back. Eventually I got them back in exchange for a t-shirt I’d won for drinking so much.
We sat in the back of a tuk-tuk where they continued to harass us. What they wanted I didn’t know, still don’t know. This kid swung. About ten years old. He punched me in the jaw. Then he did it again and went to do it again but this time I caught his wrist and looked at him and told him to stop, but holding his wrist, I noticed older boys materialise out of the shadows behind him.
I let go and the tuk-tuk finally fucking went.

And that’s where I’ll stop.

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