The rest of my Asian adventures, and my return home
“Penang Penang, Oh Penang”
This time I don’t even bother talking to people. Making new friends. I don’t need to. Even before I set foot into the Guesthouse I’m stopped in my train of thoughts by Jay. “Piri, you’re back again??” Jay who’d been scooting just then and saw me having dinner at this restaurant.
I chose the tandoori set. I don’t know why. All along in my mind, I’d been dead-set on returning to the restaurant from which I’d departed. Then choosing their scrumptious-looking tikka set. Instead I let the cheesy Indian man in the shop opposite convince me to try his. It was like I couldn’t be bothered any more. Now I gotta wait till God knows when before I can try it. If it’s still there.
Damn I’m gonna miss their food!
Thoughts flowed as I ordered, sat and ate. I’d been reading a lot. On the plane. Beforehand. Determined to finish this book. I had word vomit. ‘Everyone taking too long. Slowing me down. Pissing me off. Boarding the plane. Crawling through at snail pace. I JUST WANT MY FUKIN SEAT! “Row 20D” my ticket reads. 16, 17, 18, 19, 20… Suddenly it loomed out in front of me. Popping out of nowhere, and I’m sinking down into it. Only to move again for the strange Chinese man who’s trying to talk to me, I think…
I stared at JJ. Took another swig of the ginger beer. Poured more into the icy cup, enjoying the way the ice caused the liquid to fizz and foam. ‘No way. He couldn’t be 59! He’s older than my mum! Cool, so I’m hanging out with gramps…’
“And how old are you?” I turned to his friend. For a Malay he had a good face. A good body. I liked his shirt. Hated the 80s jeans that followed and ended in awful crocs. Immediately I knew he was in love with me. Wouldn’t stop staring at me. Oh WHATTT??? No…
“How old do you think I am?” We played this game for a while. I began to like Penang. The humour. The laid-back ways. Somehow, this crazy city had a welcome feel to it. And now, catching up on the roadside with locals, I was part of it. Then without realising it I had arranged to the boys in an hour. To eat and hang out at… ahh. Todd? Let’s call him Teddy. Teddy’s restaurant.
‘Shoot!! What the fuk are you doing P??’ So I was gonna trust my life in the hands of locals I barely knew, in a place I didn’t know, just because I didn’t like the alternative of staying ‘home’ by myself. Was I CRAZYYY?? Maybe not.
Sometimes, you just gotta take a risk. Sometimes, you just gotta throw caution to the wind. Sometimes, you gotta just be. You gotta just trust. And sometimes, it just might really really work!
In, out. A quick shower. A quick preparation for tomorrow. I said ‘hi’ to a couple of people. Even the guy at reception’s new. Where’s Paul? The big woman’s there, but she ignores me. Inhabitants seem to be getting older, but as I leave I see the young ones gather. Who cares? Maybe they’re only 20…? Anyway, they look like brats. ‘I’m walking alone at night.’ Stick my headphones in. ‘Remember Yosha. Remember those before you…’
They’re already there. Thank God! Never had a reason to fear. First it’s me and Teddy on the bike, then JJ’s to follow us soon after. What the…? Hmmm. I smile suspiciously. ‘He’s trying to set us up.’ I’d brought the leftover vodka. Smelt the bottle. Yup, that was the stuff!! At least it wouldn’t be going to waste. I’d found it in storage, along with everything else. Even my laundry was there, neatly folded and bagged with my suitcase. That Paul was a champ.
I straddle myself neatly behind Teddy on the bike, feeling the fear for the first time as he asks, “Have you ever ridden a motorbike before?” God, I’m gonna die!! Eventually we work my helmet on; it now feels a little safer.
Teddy drives safely, compared to the other maniacs. He talks his best Malay-English. Wants me to stay. Teach him. I say they should all come. Aus beckons. Start a business.
He talks softly. He’s a sweet man. We take a min-tour of the city. Pass a cemetery. Photos. Then reach the destination. I’m scared of the bends. Scared when he detours. I’m gonna get raped.) Then at one point I learn how to lean into the corners. Lean WITH him. Now just lean, and trust. Lean, and trust. See? At that point, suddenly, it becomes fun. I looked up at the night sky, to see the evening birds flitter about in their purposes. Lightening the blackness with their white. I saw them. Felt close. Felt breeze. Closed my eyes and realised it felt… nice. Oh so nice. No better feeling in the world than this peacefulness, this simplicity of life. To have no worries. No cares. To let the wind take them. To love this city called Penang.
He asked if I had a special boyfriend.
“Sort of.” I thought of Raf. How do I get out of this? But Raf hadn’t even replied to me. Raf, even he too, was forgetting about me. He, Teddy, told me the sad story of his girlfriend. I felt sad, but here I go again, ‘No P, don’t you start feeling sorry for him!’ Every time, I fell into this trap. Stand strong!
We were quiet now. Listening to the night air. I smacked my lips together. One, two. Tasted something sweet. His stomach heaved up and down, every now and then, as he sighed. Our helmets kept knocking into each other. It was quite funny.
How could I possibly eat more??!! I did. I disgusted myself. I was a human pig. Then I wondered where all this fat was from. The food was good. I got introduced to the kitchen. We shared vodka, food and stories. Now THIS was truly travelling. Living the life of the locals. For some time it was just JJ and me. Sharing about love and life. The story of HIS ex. Teddy had disappeared.
When they kicked us out we scooted to the waterfront. It was beautiful there. All these parts of the city I’d never seen. Here the night stretched on forever. No time; no days. But I couldn’t live in this surrealism forever. Soon responsibility hit and I had to go. Teary goodbyes. Some Malay phrases. I had to go. And I was off.
I was scared to wake someone up again, but this time the small Chinese boy heard my door-knocking and came to my assistance. “Goodbye Teddy.” He was already sad. Tomorrow I would catch the bus to the airport. Forget this crazy idea of scooting there. What, with my luggage and all??
“I’m already missing you…” He was a good man. He would cook good food for me. Take care of me. And most of all, never lay a hand on me. Character, 100%. But I Was not ready, I don’t think. Saya sayam means ‘I love…’
Back to the internet. I thought I was late, but this time I’m early. ‘Ding dong’ and two elder men enter. Greeting me. When I finally sleep two beds are still empty. Yup so this girl up here hooked up with this guy down there. Sigh. I’m still nervous. My stomach bouncing up and down. I’m still nervous. About Kota Kinabalu. With no idea what to expect.
“Yesterday”- En Route to Kota Kinabalu
Yesterday I had so many thoughts. The words streaming through my mind like word vomit. Too lazy to record them in the journal. I should have captured them as they came. Noted them as fast as my hands could follow. But I didn’t. I let them… I ALLOWED them, to slip away.
I finally finished that book. Of all things. Finally. It inspired my thoughts to flow, yet I still hated it. All the way to the last page. Forced myself to get through it. Chomp and chew through the dull material. Good style. Very bad plot.
Kota Kinabalu is my last challenge. I faced it with butterflies in my stomach. Trying to be excited, but seeing only one thing ahead. Feeling only one thing. Fear. Feeling alone again. Moving on again. Here I am, launching out again.
I walk away from the creepy man to end up right next to the smoker. Perfect!! Why??? “The bus will be coming soon.” How soon is soon?? Bloody hell!! Just paid 17RM for a meal that’s probably going to give me diarrhoea. Finding myself totally devoid of energy. Just tired. Sooo tired. Of moving on. Of upping and going. Of flying.
It’s too much flying in too little time. Yesterday I was in Bangkok AND Penang. Today Penang and Kota.
On the plane, looking out the window as we left. Even as we landed. Trying to assess what my vibe was for this place. What I felt. Searched deep inside. Focused hard. Looked out. And realised that was just it. I felt, nothing.
Nothing depicts just that. I suppose, the unexpected. An exciting way to look at it.
“Hey Hey it’s K.K.”
“Can I please have some chilli?”
“Some chilli. Freshly-cut chilli.”
He rolled his eyes like serving customers was the bane of his existence. ‘Then don’t open up a restaurant, you arsehole!’ It was challenge enough to eat here. Anywhere. It was times like these I wish I had … just someone! A partner. A friend. Someone to make me look much less vulnerable. Already I looked so alien. Being a foreigner was bad enough. But being black AND foreign… I knew how it looked like to me. I feared to even imagine how it looked like to them.
I’d been so hungry, yet walking past all those places with the thousand staring eyes that followed my every move was too much to bear. Then my hunger seemed to fly away. Until finally I found myself on a dark, unlit road where kids played in garbage. Calling out eerily to me in high-pitched voices, “Hello!” I still hadn’t found the Curry House.
That’s why I read this book here, covering my face. Blocking out their strange stares. Blocking them out of my mind, and taking myself out of here. Away, also, from the strange owner who liked to sit and stare at his clients as they ate. Who sat and stared at ME.
I took myself back to the mountains, where I was earlier today. Majestic Kinabalu. Her beauty enshrouded by the dense clouds. Dark peaks poking just above, like dark chocolate flakes on a gateau.
I remembered the good day I had had. Let the feeling dwell, above everything. Thought of me giving a speech to inspire other young, black women: “YES, it’s challenging. YES, sometimes it’s very lonely and difficult! YES, it’s not always easy. But the fact is, I DID it. I’m here, aren’t I?? I DID IT and I learnt so much. And I grew. And I discovered. I DID IT, and I’m here. And I’m so glad I did!” I don’t have to always have a good time just because they expect me to. This was MY challenge. And, by golly it’s done!
Brought myself back to these thoughts. Exploring the gardens, which really were NOT gardens (“Sorry, nothing’s in bloom right now!”). Missing the Orang-utans, Proboscis monkeys and Rafflesia flower (which also wasn’t in bloom!!). Getting ripped off at tourist stalls. Trying to figure out whether “it”, our guide, was truly a ‘he’ or a ‘she’. Making friends with the Russian and Turkish. The refreshment after the climb to the canopy. Treetop walk. Too easy but too humid. It clung to our skin like a cloud, making the moisture run in streams over our bodies. The walk where I believe my life flashed before my eyes. Six of us, balancing on an awkward suspended bridge whose floorboards creaked beneath our step. Which bounced and bumped and swayed with every stride. Up, down, left, right. Swallowing. Reaching deep for my bravery. Focusing hard on not looking down. Thinking how it would just take that one person to step on the bridge at its pressure point, then...
When it was all over it rained. I looked up at the clouds disbelievingly. To think just one moment ago we dripped with sweat and longed for the cold pool. It thundered and poured, as if they sky itself couldn’t take the heat any more. Had to do something to relieve it. A welcome relief.
They were all still asleep when I left. The “kids” as I liked to think of ‘em. The Swedish kids. I knew I shoulda had dinner with the Russian. But that’s ok. I’m on a detox here. Everything happens for a reason. Perhaps I would’ve been tempted to drink. To spend too much money. Besides I seriously need to write. To use the net. And now that the thoughts are flowing, there’s no better time. Just need to finalise with the Chinese girl for the islands tomorrow…
So what shall this entry be called? ‘Beautiful Borneo’? ‘Savage/Surreal Sabah’? I don’t know. I can’t… feel. Until it’s all over. But, give and take. I always had a weird feeling about this place. Borneo will always be… just plain weird to me.
It really was a time to chillax and detox. Be a day animal. So that’s worked out. I’ve slept a lot too. To do something different. Get out of the cities. Into the nature. And it really HAS been that. Today was beautiful.
a) The Morning
“Hello.” I forced a smile towards the tall but timid receptionist at the desk. He looked up. Bewildered. Replied me. I strode in. Maybe I should move up to that seat? Closer to the butter? I moved to sit opposite the weird Chinese girl who now and then mumbled to herself. They were all staring. It was a movie of silences. Amusing at best. Even the British hippy who was always on the phone stared. I was sick of this staring game. It drove me to eat my toast moodily. Could I just have one morning… enjoy one meal AT LEAST without being stared at??!! I would really appreciate that.
The butter tasted weird. Almost like UHT milk. I think everything here is made of UHT milk.
Outside a young Chinese boy walked up and down with his head bowed. Out of regret? Shame? I had no clue. Soon after another man passed. That German guy was weird. They were all weird, I realised.
Borneo just attracts weird people, like me.
I had more to say, but, this was MY day. And I would make the most of it! Why did I feel a tinge of sadness to say that…?
b) The Islands
She’s actually got a bit of an idea going on there. Sitting outside. With the fresh air. The music. I was about to join. Then I got scared. Why? Well I’m here now, and it’s fresher than ever. At least I’m out of the room…
Out on the road, finally. It’s hot and sticky again. Not fully myself I breathe in the air that feels fresh, but hangs thick with fumes and smog. I get a little lost, but find my way. On through the jetty. On to the ferry. On to the islands.
At first I almost fall getting onto the little speedboat, but a creepy, old an American man helps me on the rest of the way. We’re off at a frightening speed. No time to do anything. Not even to take a proper seat. The scenery’s beautiful, but for the first few moments I concentrate on not dying. Finally I relax and it’s amazing. I look up and see the birds. The land. The water. Speeding past. I lift my face to the speeding air. It’s perfect. The wind takes away the sick and for a moment I’m caught in revelry. As I look up I realise I’m captivated. I just feel. So. Free. Alone. Which IS the essence of my freedom. And it was. So. Perfect. NOW this was the beginning, of my day.
c) Swimming Lessons
Not Mamukan. Now Suyung. A little detour away, the boat driver assures me. For the millionth time I show my ticket, which is beginning to tear from wet and handling. But now we’ve arrived. He reckons. To anchor here and swim from the boat. ‘Are you kidding??!!’ No, he’s serious. Ok… My fear of the deep. A fear I must overcome. Memories of swallowing water the last time I snorkelled.
The others are in the water. Two quick movements later. I follow suit. Put on my mask. Try to practice breathing. Swallow water and straight away- panic!! My life rushes before me and that tight, awesome fear of death. That I WILL drown. Grips me. Overtakes every part of me. Immediately I reach for what I can grab. “Can I go back on the boat?!” I remember screaming. Everyone watching me. Yes, Piri makes a fool of herself again.
“Don’t panic.” Now I try in the shallows. Not, first, without the assistance of a life jacket. Glad that I’m now standing. Put the mask on. Breaths, like this: ‘In, out. In, out.’ Focus on it. ‘Don’t panic.’ Then I try. And it works!!
I can snorkel! I’ve learnt, and overcome bad memories. I see fish. Shells. Starfish. Jelly bugs sting me everywhere. The corals are dying so it’s not so great. I just wonder when we can get to Mamukan.
d) Mamukan. Old Friends.
We make it to shore, then Mamukan looms ahead. Here, I’m free to explore by myself. I see many fish near the jetty. It’s a big island. Beautiful, now that the sun streams down to make the water blue and clear. Where to set camp? Swim. Snorkel a bit. Have a walk. Rest. Write. Not read.
First to the toilet. The Chinese girl from the backpackers!! What the fuk?? So we meet again. Her name’s Emma, and now maybe plans have changed. Sapi at 2pm? Ok, let’s see.
I wait with her crazy mother who speaks no English. Fantastic. I wish she would forget the whole talking thing and just use actions. I’ve learnt no Chinese. I remembered what had upset me. I’d lost one earring. Again! But, shit happens I guess!
When Emma returns I get bread. Look for fish. ‘Swim to the jetty’. THEN, it begins. ‘There are so many’. A wonderland explodes before my eyes. Schools of tiny, silver ones. Stripy grey and yellow. Now and then a rainbow trout who shines in beauty. Amazing beyond expression. Some smaller, darker ones. When I’m tired I pull myself up on the jetty’s wood, but careful not to let my feet rest on the barnacles that cling to the base. Scared of the damage they might do.
Sapi comes with the inevitable rain. It pelts us like bullets as we power along in the speedboat. The ride is rough and wet. But soon everything is wet. When we reach I see the wild pigs and lizards. What a crazy jungle land. Amusing to see the pigs rummage through the bins for food. It’s so disgusting, but you can’t help to stare.
It’s pouring but I swim anyway. Yes, let me be crazy. It feels great. Finally I head back without an inch of dry clothing. I’ll try my luck with wearing the dress over my bathers. And see what happens.
Warm food and coffee. Shelter. Stuck with this crazy Chinese woman. Can’t I just eat my food in peace?? Stop talking!! You know I don’t understand you!! Only helped by two Malays who speak Mandarin. A short quiet walk when it clears up. Then Sapi’s full beauty, just as we leave.
The rain’s over for the day, so we don’t have to worry no more about that. A young Malay girl talks to me on our way back. The Malay men are crazier than usual today. The white men stare, then pretend not to.
We reached the jetty to find… my snorkelling friend. The first boat driver. Once again. Holding something. A shell? Oh my God!! No- my earring!! I couldn’t believe it!! What a perfect end. The circle complete. The day in full.
Ahead of me the two figures walked. Mother and daughter, sharing love and wisdom. Just like her eyes, which told wise things and tales of many years. And hid evidence of younger days.
They walked ahead as I took my time. Strolled leisurely through the jetty. Stopped to pause at cute, interesting shops. To wave and smile back at the men who called to me. And finally, as home approached, I could hear the sounds of “Killing me Softly” flowing through my thoughts. The words that emanated from my mouth and filled my surrounds. Regardless of who was around. The words that captured my soul and reminded me of Yosha. Our days in Langkawi, and before. Of how I longed to go back there. Once again to sing our songs before the ocean. Who would lap them up in its gentle tongue. And carry them back, across to the other side of the seas. Where our loves, and lives, awaited us.
f) The Rest of the KK Story.
That evening was when I “watched” Motorcycle Diaries, said goodbye to Mia and met Arish, a Swedish/Iranian character. Yes, ANOTHER Swede. Who aimed to climb the mountain in one day, with another OTHER Swede.
Hang on… apologies. This was the night before. After the Canopy Walk. The Islands day? I rested after that. Chatted to some newies. The Aussie with the crazy eyes, whom I’d originally thought was German. He had to have come from Melbourne. Uncanny. He did!
Ok in the end I head down. Bump into Arish along the way. Share stories. Music. Have ANOTHER dinner. Grrr, so mad at myself!! No drinks. Another sober night. Come in to Anne doing yoga. Anne, a very prim and proper one. A health freak.
Then it was pretty much bed and ‘bye. I’m sooo sore. Why?
I already described the morning. Up above, way above. Before ‘The Islands’. The Morning. Then that arduous struggle, down the steps again. Through the heat and humidity. The smog and the people. The questions and stares. After the failed attempt to find a beach. After all the hooting and calls. Finally to take refuge in the shopping centre. Air con!! Pushing through all that, dripping, puffing and panting… I finally reach the bus stop.
To meet another lone female traveller, with whom I could share similar thoughts and feelings. ‘Someone who knows how I feel’. Proud of myself as I step off. ‘Only 1 ringgit P’. You’re strong. You’re tough. And fuk them all. Because most of all, you CAN do it!
Manoeuvring my way through the airport. Once again, airborne. Once again, praying. Leaving with the same feeling I arrived with. Yes, I’d made friends. I’d met people. And was JUST beginning to settle in. Of course, needing more time. But still couldn’t shake the feeling. Still encapsulated under that umbrella. That KK was. Just. Weird.
“Singapore and Betta”
I didn’t realise how excited I was until I got there. I’d brought Martini for us. “Rosso”. Boy I needed to fukin drink!! I saw her straight away. Needn’t have feared anything, about her failing me. There she was. Tall, with those freckles and crazy curls.
It was as if we’d never parted. As if there’d never been that three year gap. She was as cool as always. As loving. As caring. As funny. As Italian. But I knew her, now, in a different way. Not just Karam’s friend. But now, MY friend. We had bubble tea with Martini. And talked and talked and talked. She too, like everyone else, has settled now with a boyfriend. Why doesn’t that surprise me?
We went out. Ate McDonalds on the riverfront and drank Martini. Shared our memories and our past times in Uppsala. Relived some. Regretted some. Wished for some of the times back, to try again. We find a club. End up dancing crazy on stage. Leave… too early. Is ok. Everyone there too into themselves. A creepy guy takes our picture. A man-woman was singing for us.
Finally home. Crash to bed after a quick shower. In the morning she’s off. A short stay, but good. For us just to catch up. In this city, of all places. And get to know who we really were.
In the morning I’m kinda freaked out by the housemate’s brother, who remains at home. I hear him, but I can’t see him. It’s strange. Singaporeans either work or study. How could he stay at home?? Wow.
The condo’s real flash. The Asian bitch jumps when she sees me in the lift. Bitch! That’s when my anger really begins.
In Perth, after the initial mess to sort out. The initial settling in. Once that’s all over. I hope to keep the contact. Keep doing, and achieving more. Keep meeting people. And keep this small, old town, moving.
“WELCOME TO PERTH”
The signs were bad from the beginning. They pick on me about my passport. Suddenly I don’t look the same. What the fuk is this?? The security guards patrolling around, looking for trouble. Bored bullies with nothing better to do.
Ok, so I travel for a whole month with no problems, then suddenly get back “home”, and that’s when all the trouble starts! I’m seething with rage. Breathing to control my anger. A great anger that bubbles and boils from inside. But remains contained behind a calm face.
“You have an E-card. You can self-process. Just go through here.” Ok! That sounds great. On home soil. My life SHOULD be easier. Just need a yellow card. Done. Scan.
“A customs officer will see you today!” the screen shouts at me. ‘What?? Because my picture is black…?!!’
“Step this way please,” one officer says. Suddenly there are too many of them. Blue and white and black. Bulky and awkwardly fitting. They smile but from the corner of my eyes I see them all watching. I’m tired. I don’t need this bullshit. I just want to SLEEP!!
Now the customs officer is having a look. Peeping at me, the photo, me… 1, 2, 3, 4 times. Suspicion all around. Clinging heavily in the air like a blanket. ‘It’s fukin’ real!! It’s fukin’ me!! What the hell is your problem?’
“Hmm, I’ll have to speak to immigration.” He says this as he turns slowly. Immigration’s right behind. “Yes, just follow this man please.” Follow the man in a daze. Getting too tired to argue. Weary enough to play their stupid game. Just wanting to get this over quickly. My biggest defence- that this, their process, is all in vain. Surely it’s over after this second check. They’ll realise I’m just the same as everybody else. ‘I can’t believe this is happening’.
Hah! ‘The same as everybody else.’ The words sounding stupid and naïve, even as I write them.
I will NEVER be the same as everybody else. Sure, I’m travelling LIKE them. Australian passport. A one-month trip to Asia. Carrying no drugs or any other prohibited items. Except for the one, sorry fact that I’m black.
A black, single woman. Travelling on her own. The only one. With an afro weave. The odds aren’t in my favour. I fall right into the hands of paranoid and ignorant prejudice. I don’t stand a fukin’ chance. Watch all the other white passengers walk by. Too easy. Taken aside like a criminal. ‘Breathe, breathe. Contain that anger.’
This guy’s trying to make conversation now. Is he fukin’ serious? But I’m still playing along. Thinking how to make them pay. But I can never think in these situations.
Another lady comes along. She’s peering and analysing too. Finally she says it’s all right.
WHAT THE FUK WERE THEY LOOKING FOR??
Out of the gauntlet, smack-bang into another. No, it’s far from over. This skinny lady asks me a barrage of questions, then tells me to head over to the Baggage X-ray once I’ve got my luggage. ‘This bitch doesn’t know what she’s talking about’. The luggage is late, thanks to ‘Tiger’. I pace up and down. Frustrated. Tired. Feel their eyes watching me.
The baggage is here. I can go! No, not just yet. It wasn’t a joke. I’m summoned to the Baggage Check.
“I don’t understand. I said I have nothing to declare.”
“Oh… we just try to check as many people as possible.” Sure you do. “Please place your baggage on the counter for examination…” Straight away she starts talking. The legal jargon first. Then: ‘How was your journey? Where did you go? Purpose? Did you have friends? How long? What’s your occupation? How do you do your hair?’ Hair questions??! Oh my God. The bane of my existence. Hair questions irritate me enough. How much more so from THIS bitch??
She talked too fast. A skinny and ugly thing with front teeth that stuck out like a rabbit. I was beginning to snap back replies. My eyes darting back and forth over my belongings. My belongings, now displayed publicly for all to see. Underwear, tampons, dirty laundry, money… Nothing was left untouched. She even opened my diary. At some point it was the humiliation that was getting too much. These weren’t my personal items any more. They were just objects for everyone, the men also, to look at. ‘Breathe, control that anger.’ ‘What are you looking for??’
“Ok, it’s fine. You can repack everything.”
Yeah bitch, I can repack everything. 45 minutes later after this bullshit started!! For what?? Are you satisfied now?? How I wish I’d said something.
I just left.
Downstairs the drama continued. I couldn’t find my family. C’mon!! I was already 50 minutes late. I’d just checked my mobile. Optus had eaten the rest of my credit. Payphone. Dragged all my things. No one was picking up. Freaking out. About to go upstairs to get credit when Bel rings back. “What?? We’re on our way!”
Phew. Sit down opposite a café. Resist the temptation. ‘No, I will NOT buy overpriced food!!’ Ignore the items that try to beckon me. Tempt me with their glossiness and colour.
This was a big sign, then. I didn’t belong in Perth. Even Perth itself didn’t accept me. Was already trying to keep me out. Kick me back. I’d gotten hot water for chamomile tea, and sat down with it. Sighed. My belly protruded, like a goitre.
“Welcome back. Welcome back to Perth.”
I’d been nervous. The story played in my head like a record. I wondered what I’d see. Bel and Dagz still skinny. And me still the whale of the family. I feared most my dad. The story… ‘It’s not YOUR family. It’s someone else’s family…’
But in the morning I saw him. Hugged him. Even the man looked different. This wasn’t the same man of those dark ages ago. No. It was like I’d stepped into a new era. That was the old Nigeria. This was the modern era. A new time, with a new and fresh start…
The living-room had changed. Large, black furniture complemented the cream carpet. There would be a Plasma screen soon, according to legend. ‘Wow’. I drew my breath in. And for the first time in eons we would have a dining table. This really WAS a new era. And a brand new start.
Sandy had called. I knew she would be the only one who cared. But somehow, I didn’t feel like talking to anyone. For some reason I didn’t want to see anyone. Just stay hidden. Hermitise in the family. And if I pushed myself, maybe the travellers. For to them I didn’t connect. I felt new. And truly, a new chapter in my life had begun to unravel.
Bel JUST MIGHT be getting her UK job! Wow! I gotta start making my moves too. It’s a sign… And Dagz’ been really sick. I’ve been worried. The knot in the intestine… Why?? This is not good!!
He’s got a violin now. Yup, when he says something he really does it. I want to see.
Forgot to mention about the Italian… Yeah, when I thought of the lady flicking her hair. Trying to show off she was blonde. It was disgusting. Much too blonde. Almost white. And going grey at the roots. Just like the Italian I met on my way to Bangkok. Pepe. This old man of maybe 65 with blonde bleach spikes atop dark undergrowth. Manager of Q-Bar on Koh Samoi island. The chances! I never saw him again.
The feeling I had when I first wrote back to Rap. I’d truly delayed because I, REALLY, didn’t know what to say. Stopped myself short after I wrote the first line. Pulled back and breathed. I knew what it was. “You’re afraid.” I was always afraid. Of the same thing. That sooner or later, they would just forget me. Nothing ever lasted. I never seemed worth remembering. And just like now. It seems. Even YOU, Rap. You, are forgetting me. I’m glad we did not sleep together.
Oh and the burns on my wrist. Tom’s cigarette. Forever to remind me of the mad mad times. Mad mad parties. Of Koh Chang.
* * *