I had been driving all day, since early this morning, from the capital city of this Southeastern Asian country back to my house by the beach. The past week, I had interviewed four Asian women – all looking fine now that I thought of them – applying for a job I was offering, that is living naked around old Mr. Me in my house by the beach for a good salary. May Linh was the best prospect so far. Now I was on my way home.
I knew, because Mrs. Wan had told me, that tomorrow Monday was a holiday here so, upon arrival in the village before my house, about a few miles away, I stopped at the supermarket and bought beer, water, and bits of food, including a frozen pizza, in case of. Thinking of it, I also got few bottles of white wine. Then I went to pick up my laundry at the cleaner. I stopped by the market and bought flowers and fruits and some foodstuff to snack on while drinking beer, including sweets I recognized because May Linh had ordered them two days ago.
I got home and was unloading the stuff – cases of beer and packs of water – when, all of a sudden, I thought how much of an idiot I was because, holiday or not, all of those guys would have been open tomorrow anyway. And I usually ask them to deliver, and they do. What was I thinking? What’s wrong with me? Anyway I was unloading the car when I heard the phone ringing. I had my hands full and it was dark already and I wasn’t going to run.
There was a message. “Mr. You. This is May Linh. I’ll arrive Tuesday with the 3:45 pm train from the capital.” My heart jumped, hard. I listened to the message again, my heart going boom boom boom, and again, to make sure I understood the time of arrival correctly.
Then I opened up every windows in the house which had been closed for a week. Although the sun had returned today, the storm had left a dank smell of humidity and terror. I finished emptying the car. I put some music on just to show this house was inhabited again. Then I got rid of all the flowers that had died in my absence. I had to wash every vase in the house. Then I put all new flowers in water, trying to remember what the florist downtown had explained to me.
I could finally open a beer and settle by the porch. I was so glad to be back, to look out at the ocean. I could see afar the lights of fishing boats and I could imagine those guys speaking in whatever language they speak and working hard and seeing the lights of the coast, of home.
I knew then it was only a matter of time before guys like me would come a bit farther at sea with much bigger boats and level the field and those poor local fucks will have no more fish to fish and will be done with. To survive they will move in filthy neighborhoods in big cities with hope to find work and make a living and, at the end, out of despair, they’ll send their best daughters to pimps. There I was on my terrace, drinking beer, smoking, in what I thought was the bumhole of the planet and yet I couldn’t escape the world.
The next day, Monday, I woke up early somehow; early being around 9 am. The sun was up and the whole place was silent. I got up, took a leak and a beer shit, put on my shorts and went to the kitchen. I started coffee and, while waiting, went out to the porch. I saw the ocean, my beach, my buoys and platforms out. So I went down, took down my shorts and went to swim. This was the first time really that I went to swim since I moved in.
I always liked swimming; it’s hard at first but once you get into a rhythm, you can swim forever. And, your head in the water, impervious to anything and everything, you can stop thinking, at last. But I hadn’t swam in a long time and I was happy just to reach the 100 meters mark. I turned around and the beach seemed so far away. My eyes flat above the water, like that of a crocodile, I could see my house, the jungle and the coast, like I’d never seen it before.
I got onto the platform and it wasn’t stable and I immediately got seasick and heaved some sour beer into the ocean. Then I got my footing and finally enjoyed the sun. It was nice, very nice.
I was swimming back when it occurred to me that my throwing up may attract sharks. Could that be? I know sharks can smell blood, so they certainly could smell beer, and why not, consider it a treat. It’s not as if I could escape a shark attack. I decided I should relax. So I did and got back into my rhythm and reached shore unscathed. When I walked out of the water, I felt like Tarzan, I felt strong and cleansed.
I had my breakfast of coffee and muffins – yes muffins, thanks to the resort’s tourists. Then I smoked a cigarette on my porch, thought about May Linh’s message. I had 24 hours before me, then she’d be here. I couldn’t believe it.
I later that day went to the village. There was a festival and I decided that I’d might as well check it out since I was here. I had taken the motorbike because I guessed there would be no place for parking today. Of course all businesses were opened and the place was teaming with locals and tourists for the festival.
In the evening, I started drinking and was soon wondering if this festival was made up only for the tourists or if it still meant something for the locals. For example, the locals had made wonderful flowers’ floats that came all in a procession. I could tell each float was from a different inspiration. On each one was perched a young woman and she would throw flowers to the people attending the defile. But the tourists would send their kids to ask for flowers and those kids were going “me, me, me” and the tourists, all excited, were going “me, me, me” and they insisted so much the woman on the float would end up distributing her flowers to them.
I thought that defeated the purpose. I supposed she, the young woman up there, was supposed to throw her flowers and you were supposed to catch them. So, up there from her wonderful float, she could pick and choose whom to throw her flowers to and that was the fun of it. In other times, I bet you that there were boys out there vying for those flowers. And fathers watching who was catching what. In white people country, at a wedding, the bride throws her bouquet for the unmarried girls to catch; she doesn’t hand it to some brat.
Anyway, seeing for the first time in the village so many white people with their good conscience – ‘ain’t this a good vacation for the kids?’ – bothered me. I wondered when the tourist season would end, or if it ended at all. From where I was drinking, up the hill a bit, I could look out at sea. I could see, far away, some lights and I knew some poor souls were hard working and thinking of their people at the festival.
One thing I liked though. At the end, every one gathered down at the harbor and the tourists stepped back because the locals were now honoring their own deities and doing much shenanigans. As if they understood any of it, the tourists were going “hum, hum”. Anyway, I saw the villagers send a float to the sea. There were flowers and candles and the float somehow went away to sea, with the tide I guess. Then the thing caught on fire and shined brightly for a few seconds and disappeared.
I thought that was a good way to go. I wish I could go in such fashion.
Driving back home on the motorbike, I relished the darkness of the forest. I was glad this day was over. Tomorrow May Linh was coming and she had agreed to my contract and I still couldn’t believe it and I thought I must have done something nice in a former life. So I looked up in the sky and, in the dark, I could see constellations of shining stars. Constellations…
Time to think of it and I almost drove off the road. “Fuck,” I thought, once back on tracks. I could imagine myself with a broken leg in there, eaten by ants. And no one to pick up May Linh tomorrow.
Indeed, I could hear now the infernal ruckus of billions bugs laughing at me. And I started to laugh at myself too, driving my blue motorbike, feeling like Tarzan.
Now keeping my eyes on the road though.