Andrey Shamshurin, 130 TESS
The smart*ss in me wants to say oxygen, water, my cellphone, or maybe that I can’t live without witting prompts. But I can’t be sure that anybody can’t go without anything. As the great philosopher Jeff Goldblum once said, “Life finds a way.”
Here in Thailand, we are told that connection is key for a healthy and productive service. And everyone is always happy (not counting the pesky little things we can’t go without.) But let’s play pretend that life isn’t a thin layer of cake frosting. Let’s introduce some conflict, you know like in movies where the ending isn’t always cute, and the good guy gets a rusty machete stuck in the back of his neck. Ridiculous. I know.
Scenario 1: Let’s take your best friend you CAN’T GO without, that friend from America who you call every night. Let’s call him Enrique, a Puerta Rican with dark eyes and a permanent 5 o’clock shadow, a slightly chubby frame, and a stout nose he keeps pointed up while he drinks white ports and chuckles about dog memes. Enrique, our new friend, has been trying to get into your pants for the last 3 years, and this guy is playing the long game. He comforts you every time you call. When you fall into depression and gorge yourself on chicken and sticky rice, you send him selfies of your clearly twenty-pound larger body. He smiles and says you look thinner and beautiful, like always.
In his own way, Enrique loves you. Slowly, he nestles into your mind. When you talk, he reminds you of the time you walked the downtown streets together, the night when he kissed you, his awkward tongue slumped in your mouth like a limb cobra— but he doesn’t mention this, just the city and the lights, your high-pitched laugh when he tripped on the sidewalk, the way your hair swayed, street lights washing through your skin, flooding the sides of old shops and restaurants, customers stuck in perpetual talk through a red gleam of glass—and you think of how transparent everything seemed, how you just wanted to walk and keep walking, voices melding with far off techno music and the whistle of tires, the touch of Enrique’s arm, the slight smell of B.O when you nestled your head on his shoulder, car headlights carving a clear path forward, past the tall buildings, the dive bars, the couples holding hands— and all you can think about now is how you can’t go without Enrique, the lights, and the city you grew up in.
It could be Oklahoma. It could be Sacramento. It could be any blue collar city that, four years after you E.T, slowly sucks away the fire from your lungs, the city full of doe-eyed pedestrians with immaculate shoes passing the same streets, never stepping into a speck of dirt, the city with the amber-like lights coating the long roads leading to closed off corners where old women smoke cigarettes on damp lawn chairs, listen to the whistle of tires, and squint at the city for a gleam they can no longer see—and every time you hold Enrique’s hand and walk through the same streets, your little daughter tugging at his extra-large shirt, your voice is nothing but a cough, a tiny click against your husband’s skull that says, I could have stayed in Thailand.
But enough fun and games. Let’s look at another you.
Scenario 2. Every night you sit on the porch with your sick host father. You both smoke little roaches, roll up the tobacco, light the paper in measured clicks of the lighter. You can see smoke on the tip of your breath rising past the palm trees. When it clears behind the slack leaves, your mind drifts to your ex-fiancé. The last time you saw her on the apartment porch, you said words like “love” and “together” and “always,” and she said words like “wait” and “forever” and “don’t go.”
And now, you wonder if there is a man next to her when she sleeps. If he holds her the same way you did. If he gently pinches the lobe of her ear. If he is taller than you. And you wonder how you are not jealous, just curious why you are not jealous. How your mind wonders onto other girls. How your host father smiles every time you take a drag of a cigarette. How his lungs are probably slabs of charcoal. How it scares you how easy it is to let go. How the smoke drowns you. How the current always spits you out, and how you watch the slit of your host father’s cigarette until the little roach grows black, and gray ash collects on the tip. How you can’t go without her, but you are sitting and smoking and going on without, and tomorrow you will wake up, brush your teeth, and go on some more.
After your host father goes to bed, you listen to the gurgle in his cough and write a poem about your baby blanket. It’s very neat and has words like “strength” and “growth” and “community.” Soon, you roll another cigarette and wonder what things like blankets or cellphones or chap sticks have in common with your ex fiancé—who, right about now, could be holding a man’s sweaty hand, walking the slow downtown streets of some small city.
For those of you that are still reading (assuming this thing gets published), the point isn’t that being optimistic is bad or that prompts are evil (although only God can settle that issue). I will admit this: It feels nice to hear, “This is a hard experience, and I miss this little thing.” But I wonder why everything is always so sterile, as if happy and squeaky clean is a permanent state of paralysis where we list cute things we can’t go without.
I don’t have an answer for you. I only have an image I can’t get out of my head. (if you are here for a clear point, my most humble apologies).
Scenario 3: Every time you ride your bike to school, the mountains spawn out of nowhere, the green so bright you’re blinded after the sun warms your back and lights the palm and rubber trees, makes the leaves gleam, the swirls of green brighter and brighter rushing up to the peak, then slipping down and surging up again until they shatter into the gray sky above, and all you want to do is break, to stop this small moment. It is okay if you fall. It is okay if a car somehow smacks into your bike and sends a farang limp body hurling toward the side of the road, probably cracked and full of motorcycle tracks left by a 9-year-old. But it is okay.
All you have is sweetness, a prompt, a layer of frosting and no conflict. There is no conflict, no twist, no deeper motive or the trees being a metaphor for something. No long sentences that go on forever and become profound by default. The trees are just there. And for that moment, the mountains smoldering with shine, the creak of your bike chain in every push of a pedal, the rain-soaked air deep in your lungs—you are not sure you can go on without.
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