28 Jul Clae Sea
OAT’S EYES CARRY THE UNIVERSE
“Are you sure?”
No, no Chuck wasn’t.
Even though he lit one hundred joints in one hundred Bangkok alleyways. Sometimes, Chuck couldn’t believe his luck.
They fixed their eyes into the dark void of the alley. Only rats and roaches in the shadows. Some garbage. All the lights were off. All the windows were closed. The children were sleeping.
The way Rajiv swivelled his head, Chuck guessed they shared the same pang of paranoia in their guts. Chuck took the onus and filled his lungs until the substance tickled its deepest crevices, then blew an expressive ‘o’ which floated arrogantly in the thick, black night.
Chuck’s consciousness crackled like pop rock candies after a few hurried puffs. He felt normal again, and able to feign indifference to the dark voids of an alley off Ekkamai. Apocalyptically bare compared to its thronging day life, the road glared under the street lights like still water.
“Did you know Bangkok is sinking?” said Rajiv. “Like, a foot a year, I think.”
Chuck wrestled in his mind for something to say, but instead took another haul from the joint before passing it to Rajiv. Anyways, that was the crux of Chuck’s interactions with Rajiv. They’ve been hanging out for six months, but still, Chuck didn’t know much about him.
Only that he came to Bangkok to “Get away.” Apparently Rajiv was one of the biggest trance DJs in Goa, but one of his closest friends stole his wife and he couldn’t bare to live in the same town anymore.
Rajiv puffed short clouds that moved through the humid smog lethargically, like snails.
Chuck hadn’t revealed himself to Rajiv as well. When conversations of what he was doing in this town popped up, he would be a writer, or a part-time model, or a film maker, or applying for his Master’s degree. Rajiv has heard Chuck’s story morph in many which shapes; Chuck was aware because the questions stopped being asked.
Chuck excused himself to piss, cordially, and aimed his stream at a roach. It successfully duked and dodged out of the way, and seemingly tried to exact its revenge on him, causing his DNA to dribble down his inner pant leg. His inner thigh started to itch already, but his denims were black anyway and Rajiv hadn’t noticed.
His DNA danced on the concrete as if it were oil and water.
The two opted to take motorcycle taxis. Chuck’s intent was to ride separately from Rajiv, because Indians always get stopped by the cops and where they were going, they had a lot of checkpoints. Sure enough, five minutes into the ride, two cops on motorcycle rode parallel to them. Their glare was enough for Rajiv’s motorcycle driver to slow. The cop in the back’s knuckles were white as he gripped his baton.
Chuck thought his motorcycle was going to stop, but he whizzed into a small side street with a cutting right that almost shot Chuck off. It took two more quick turns through an alleyway for the driver to deduce that they had successfully evaded the cops.
“Why’d you do that?”
“You seemed in danger.”
Chuck was in danger, but he didn’t know how much. He knew that his presence had been illegal for two-hundred days. The som tum that made him shit his pants last week was illegal, the sounds of his footsteps reverberating into the empty streets, the exhalation of his breath.
Rajiv had all of his papers in line. Nothing came out of the stop, so they met at a dingy, red-lit after hour’s club to drink some more.
Chuck could never keep his eyes open in the red room. Smoke occupied its every corner. Rajiv and Chuck were separated from each other by the swarm of drunks growing in numbers. Rajiv seemed content with watching throwback Madonna music videos paying on loop beside a wall of VHS tapes.
Chuck was paralysed, unable to move his feet. As he eyed the door, he found himself chest to chest with a drunk girl speaking Spanish into the crowd whose voice boxes rang in synchronicity, creating a perverted, unremitting white noise.
The numbers grew. And grew.
Chuck found himself pressed against the bar’s cracked cement wall, and her head on his chest. The girl looked up, finally, and prodded Chuck’s abdominals as if she were inspecting livestock she might buy.
“The hard part is over,” Chuck said. His voice disintegrated in the white noise.
“Did you know Bangkok is sinking?”
Chuck was relieved to see her drooping black irises, the kind of eyes that he had seen many times before. He knew if he was passive enough from here, she would forego his gracelessness. He knew he had already been chosen.
Her fingers found Chuck’s lips. Pink fat lips she handled roughly, heedlessly, and grabbed a handful of Chuck’s hair. Her eyes were black and her face glared red. Her mouth a black abyss exhaling hot, sour breath. Her teeth found Chuck’s bottom lip. Blood filled his mouth and dripped down his chin.
“Are you man enough to fuck me?” she asked as she guided Chuck’s hand under her black skirt. He could feel the eyes amongst them.
Chuck followed the girl to the door slowly. He tried signal to Rajiv that he was going, but Rajiv had evaded eye contact so he just left.
Chuck was not to speak in the cab, nor were they to exchange names. She knew a one-hour motel where they had to walk around back. Rows of rooms attached to the parking lot with tarps shielding its entrance.
She undressed Chuck immediately, indifferently. He watched her bounce up and down from the top mirror. Her moans were dream moans, the type Chuck wished his lovers would reveal, staccato cries which he couldn’t tell were pleasure or pain. She pressed her forehead to his and widened her eyes, which weren’t so tough anymore. Her body quivered and at that moment Chuck felt an emotion which could be identified with love for this stranger, and the way she flared her nostrils and sucked on her lower lip after they both ‘finished.’
As Chuck showered, he washed his penis in prideful strokes, then washed it again out of nervousness as they hadn’t used protection. The water was cold, and he began to shrink.
The only remains of the Spanish girl were creases in the bed when he walked back into the room. Mirrors were everywhere. He couldn’t avoid his reflection.
Swift bangs on the door prompted Chuck to wrestle his pants back on. He hoped to see the Spanish girl, instead it was a skinny Thai kid with dilated pupils. Time’s up.
A pick up with flashing red lights passed by Chuck. He stayed poised and looked up the road for a taxi. He would make a point to go to the Immigration Center and fix everything tomorrow.
One week passed. Chuck and Rajiv were in the red room. His tongue searched for remnants of the wound on his lip. His eyes darted. He was distracted but he was aware enough to know his behaviour wasn’t out of the ordinary. He relaxed, and grabbed two beers from the bar, one for Rajiv. By the time Chuck came back, he couldn’t find Rajiv—he had probably left. Chuck drank two beers as fast as he could.
Outside, the beers had caught up with him. The spinning disorientation, the black sky and the bright signs were so familiar to him he didn’t know if he was drunk or just tipsy. Then a CRACK! under his foot startled him. It was a toad who flopped its way on its backside. Its mouth opened as if trying to speak. Its hands and feet wavering like a flag in a lazy wind. All was white on its backside except for a split in its belly, where its guts, still pulsating, spurted out from Chuck’s weight. Chuck tried to walk away, but turned back. The toad still hung to its last thread of life. Chuck raised his foot and stomped. A surge of sickness from the pit of his stomach forced itself out.
Chuck made a point to go to the Immigration Center and fix everything tomorrow.
“Where’s your visa? Where’s the stamp?”
“This one? From last year? Can’t be right.”
“Oh.. that’s your visa. How did this happen?”
“I don’t want to do this.”
“I hate doing this, do you think I like doing this?”
Metal clacks rung behind Chuck. Two bracelets squeezed his wrists from behind. A young, wiry officer escorted him through white walled hallways illuminated with fluorescent lights. Chuck noticed different shades of light from the officer’s sunken cheeks as if they were a cave at different points of the day.
“You’re going to jail. Real jail. Let that sink in.”
“We can leave now.”
“You just need to get to Cambodia. We can be there before midnight.”
“This problem can disappear. It will cost you either way.”
“What’s the matter? No cash?”
“You like boys? There’s other things you could do.”
In the back of a squad car, Chuck was shackled up with a young man with puffy cheeks. Tears rolled down them like a vehicle struggling up a hill. He spoke under his breath in a stream as constant as his tears. His language was aggressive—Chuck assumed it was one of the Chinese ones—but from the slouch of his back, he could tell the boy was pleading. When the cops started the car, he tensed and pleaded with more bravado, but no one understood each other.
The holding cell was located in the corner of an enclave, where light couldn’t enter. Under the fluorescent lights, the cell seemed as though it were its own floating entity, and the universe outside did not exist. Even so, Chuck tried to find a sight of an officer, or any sort of object through the little squares metal squares welded to solid metal bars, but he saw nothing and nobody. He found an unoccupied spot in the bare room and pressed his back against it.
Three men in unbuttoned Hawaiian print blouses and unzipped bell-bottom jeans sat across from Chuck. Their stomaches bare, they stretched out their bodies on the tile floor. They emanated the distinct redolence of Indian men, who seemed more at ease than the blue-eyed collegiate with his eyes glued to the void. A skinny brown kid, who couldn’t be more than 25 walked listlessly, with pants sagging, revealing a bouquet of pubic hair, muttering a language Chuck had not heard before.
Oat sat in the corner of the cell, cross-legged, speaking to a cellmate as if they were old acquaintances. How Oat’s eyes gleamed as he explained something to a stout, brown-skinned man with a thin moustache. The man reared his dimples at every accentuation of Oat’s speech. After, it seemed, they agreed to have alone time, Oat sat cross legged, his skinny body slouched at the spine, wrinkled his flat chest like the abdominal of a butterfly, and opened a thin book and scanned it with diligence. Above Oat were perfect circles. Chuck counted 104 perfect o’s before its perfection waned until the last one was just a sloppy, straight line.
The door clicked. Chuck scanned the room and found the three Indians and the blue-eyed kid’s eyes were purged in the hope of that clicking door.
“Hi, all!” said an old bearded man without a shirt, swim trunks and no shoes, and chose a spot beside Chuck with an eery cheeriness as the door slammed behind him.
The old man noticed Oat’s stock of cigarettes underneath his blanket. “Say, friend,” he started. “Would you mind lending a sorry smoker a few pins?”
“How many brother?”
“Three. Three is the sacred number. Three for a long night.”
“Here, twenty a piece.”
“Well, you see, my good man, I’ve gotten into a bit of trouble and I don’t really want to go into detail but now I’ve been stripped of my belongings, but once I get out I’ll come by and give you back that 60 for sure.”
“It’s okay, my treat.”
When the old man lit up, Chuck’s eyelids beckoned closed, and drifted off to sleep with his hands clutching his pockets. Chuck welcomed the old man’s cigarette as it masked the different brands of flatulence that welled into the space.
Chuck awoke a dreamless sleep, disturbed by the old man’s whooping cough. Still, the old man smoked with determination, blowing smooth streams of smoke up to the fluorescent lights where it dispersed into its thick cloud family. The old man hacked fiercely, but Chuck learned to sleep with it. When Chuck drifted back from sleep, the old man was still at it. He was in fetal position, blowing brown spit on the white tiled floor.
clang clang clang
Chuck thought he was awake, but the clang coerced him into consciousness.
As the door opened, Oat took a broom and swept the eating area clean. He prompted the jailed to lift their feet, and miraculously, the all did. Even the unruly kid whose cock was half out at that point.
Metal trays slid on the floor. A hard-boiled egg, a block of rice and stir-fried vegetables that smelled fermented.
Following the trays, the wiry officer ushered a skinny jail hand with a wheelchair into the cell and picked up the old man. The old man got up slowly, coughing, clutching his chest. As he rolled out, gave Oat a quick wink and proceeded to hack with violent rigour.
“You’re out too,” the officer grabbed the American kid by the shirt and pulled him out into the abyss.
The three Indian men’s listless expressions morphed, as soi dogs would when someone got too close, and threw foreign words out in frantic befuddlement.
The kid walked to the toilet in the corner, bared his teeth, fell to his knees and gave a blood-curdling yell before scooping toilet water into his mouth, gagging, resilient.
The Indian men stood up, took off their shirts and huddled in the middle of the cell. They breathed out as if preparing for something mentally, and in synchronicity, CRUNCH! CRUNCH! CRUNCH! Their heads smashed against each other once, twice, three times, so rapidly, Chuck couldn’t count. Dull thuds of their skulls grew heavier with each CRUNCH! CRUNCH! CRUNCH! After ten good thuds, the three lurched to the cell bars and howled, but no one could see their bloody faces, so they lurched back to their spots and assumed the position they were in before.
Blood dotted the cell walls, and for some reason, it looked like Indian red.
Chuck’s eyes heavy as anvils did not want to sleep but.
Chuck awoke a dreamless sleep to the kid vomiting wildly into the toilet. Three Indian men were smoking cigarettes, as did Oat, who was pouring water over the Nepali kid’s head.
Chuck’s eyes wandered to Oat’s corner where the ‘o’s have been fixed in perfect, straight lines. Chuck counted them: 333.
“Maybe everything will change,” said Oat.
Metal trays slid under the bars this time, but no one touched them. Chuck passed cigarettes around to the three Indians, whose faces were caked with dried blood, and the kid, slouched in the corner, naked.
“What are those o’s?” Chuck said, speaking for the first time. His voice felt too weak to travel to the other side of the bar.
But Oat tuned in and offered Chuck a cigarette. Chuck moved for the first time in how many days, he wasn’t sure, to Oat’s corner, and strangely his stomach fluttered.
“Making my new home nice,” said Oat. “Remembering the wonderful days.”
Oat lit the cigarette for Chuck.
“You don’t look like you belong here,” said Oat.
“Do you know who can help me?”
“You don’t need to worry. You are the lucky one.”
“It is just space.”
Oat’s irises speckled like the milky way. Chuck wasn’t sure what was happening to him, but his lips started moving and sentences traveled into Oat’s eager ear drums as he spoke the truth of his life. The truth sounded foreign to Chuck. He felt like he was making it all up, but it came from his memory, so it must’ve been the truth. Chuck’s truth seemed so trivial to Oat’s, who unleashed his story as well. Oat was from Burma trying to make a buck selling roti, “with the banana.” The police ordered from him before turning around and asking if he could speak Thai. Oat said he just smiled and followed them to the car. That was 333 days ago, and he is glad to be in the cell instead of being packed in the back of the black police truck unable to move, unable to see. He had been in that truck four times already, and told Chuck that if anyone had to pee, they had to just go in their pants. The first time he was in the cell, a white guy had left a book after hurrying out. There was one quote underlined. “Man is mind, with a body.” He would try to figure out what that meant in the dark of the car, the second, third and fourth time, and 333 days in the cell.
“There was no more waiting after that,” Oat said.
Chuck leaned back and sucked as much cigarette smoke in as his lungs could hold. He held in the smoke until his lungs tickled, and as he blew out, he was waiting for the stream of vapour to show itself, but it just joined the rest of the atmosphere.
The wiry police officer popped opened the door and eyed Chuck.
“Come,” said the officer.
“What do I have to do? said Chuck.
“Come now or I’ll throw you in with the Nigerians,” said the officer.
Oat’s eyes beckoned Chuck to go, so he stepped out of the cell and into the abyss. His knees buckled like a new-born calf. As Chuck walked away, he knew he would never see Oat again. From the corner of Chuck’s eye, he would swear on his life Oat started levitating three feet in the air. The Indians with their bloody faces pressed their smashed heads into the squares and howled.
Clouds of smoke hugging the cell’s fluorescent lights followed Chuck. He tried to inhale all of it, but his lungs couldn’t handle it. Violent hacks cleansed his lungs of the cell’s smoke.
Chuck followed the officer outside. The sun struck them unapologetically. But they would not be going anywhere soon, because the road swam in murky liquid moving south. Cars floated down the road like tumbling logs. They honked a million honks, with their exhausts still billowing, but there was something strange about the owner’s bodies. The sun was too bright for Chuck to tell, but their bodies seemed to bend unnaturally. One, as far as Chuck could tell, had his head hanging out of the passenger seat. Another’s arm seemed to drape over a Porsche’s steering wheel.
The officer turned to Chuck, confused. His cheeks drooped, oozed.
The back of the wiry officer’s neck began to perspire, and beads of sweat wet his tight, military green uniform, down his back, the crevice of his ass, his hamstring, and into his boot. Soon he was swimming in his sweat, and his uniform, and his perspiration so abundant liquid gushed out of his black boots and streamed into the road. Chuck felt the flesh of his hands crackling, pop pop pop. Control was not an option anymore. He accepted the mess he had made and let his body melt in the sun. Muscles in his leg weakened and he collapsed. He saw himself melting, but he felt no pain. His eyes followed the stream of his body cascade off the bare road into the river.