Snowflakes in Heat

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


A group of narcissistic young expats attempt to make sense of the world, and,reluctantly themselves, as they navigate life in the stifling heat of Vietnam. They don't want to be there, they don't
really want to be anywhere, and like a Hunter S. Thompson tribute act, they slip easily into boozy bad habits.


Snowflakes in Heat

Saigon

Andy was the type of guy who by sheer force of personality could walk into a bar and become the highlight of everyone else's evening. Even in Saigon he stood out. He wasn't brash, he wasn't loud, yet without fail he was the centre of attention. He was sure of himself and he was sure of his beliefs, never far away from an important discussion. He loved to postulate, to conversate, to have the ears of those who would listen, and to present life as he saw it. It was his nature to be interested by everything that could be discussed; from the grand philosophies of the ancient Greeks, to the banal road directions of Vietnamese cabbies; he engaged every topic with infectious enthusiasm.

Andy was sat with myself and Tennessee in a typical Vietnamese garden cafe. They were all over Saigon, an escape from the heat and tenacity of the city. Artificial streams and over-greened canopy provided privacy, instantly transporting you to a more serene place. The iced coffee, hyper-sweetened with a layer of condensed milk, fuelled our chatter; though I've always been dubious of drinking coffee with friends. A conversation with caffeine is in many ways like a conversation over beer, but it is often lacking the vital component of truth that alcohol adeptly provides.

'The thing about the Vietnamese is that they just don't have logic,' Tennessee drawled. 'Things just don't make sense here man'.

'Dude that's nonsense and you know it'. Andy had been awoken from his quiet pondering, his eyes glistening- ready for the debate ahead.

'Man its fucking true'. Tennessee unleashed his deep belly laugh and his jowls shuddered as he did so. 'All you've got to do is look at the roads and you know it. It's mayham, there's no order or rules. And this menu...' he picked up the wooden menu that lay on the table, 'there's three of us and only one menu. Where's the sense in that? Illogical as shit man'.

'That's only because you're used to American throw-away culture-'

'You're from the States too man-'

Andy held up a hand to stop Tennessee from talking.

'You're used to a culture that expects excess. These guys are thinking- why do we need to give them more than one menu? They talk to each other, don't they? Why go to the trouble of making a bunch of menus when one will suffice? If you ask me, it's more logical than giving us three of the same thing'.

Tennessee released a long sigh- even his breathing carried a Southern twang.

'Yeah whatever man. But the roads. You can’t argue with that- they're fucked'.

'Not really. Look how well traffic moves, that's why it looks so chaotic. There's no stopping, ever, which is fucking impressive in a city of over 8 million people. Imagine somewhere like New York never having a traffic jam- it's unthinkable. Dude the Vietnamese have logic on lockdown, they've negotiated their unique conditions perfectly'.

'Yeah, and you wouldn't judge a fish by its ability to ride a bike'. This was my input. I wasn’t for the highbrow conversations that Andy was into, and frankly Tennessee’s entire existence made me feel a bit queasy. But I have the attention span of the aforementioned fish- do fish have attention spans?- so I’m mentally obliged to chime in with ‘clever’ comments in situations such as these. Just in case you’d forgotten how clever my comment was, I’ll repeat it.

‘Yeah, and you wouldn’t judge a fish by its ability to ride a bike’.

Andy rounded on me in an instant. 'Are you implying that Vietnamese folk are sub-human?'.

This was Andy's greatest flaw: his unpredictability. On another day, he would have welcomed my pointless input- the more opinions the better. He'd have fake-laughed, slapped me on the back, ordered a round of beers, and navigated the conversation to lighter territory. That was when Andy was at his best, a prime-mover in fun evenings and enlightening talk.

But not today. Today Andy was serious, and there is nothing worse in life. Unpredictability is fun and exciting, but not when it adversely affects the very nature of a person. Just as snow sticks or melts, seemingly at the whim of a snowflake, so too could Andy be terrific or horrific company. Tonight was the latter.

I made my excuses, leaving in search of Jim. I knew where he'd be; there were only so many places a failed writer could hide himself.

 

Perhaps describing Jim as a failed writer is a little kind. He had barely attempted to put pen to paper, yet he was already an embittered young man, determined to make the least of the world. Like the rest of us, he'd come to Vietnam at a loose end. The world is a cruel place to those without direction, and he didn't know what else he could do. It was the same for all of us- even Andy. We bemoaned our extensive opportunities, craving a time when your path was paved for you, and you didn't have the burden of possibility. And now here we were, a collection of ill-motivated alcoholics in training to teach the next generation. In typically eloquent style, Andy described us as the new breed of colonialists. Imperialism didn't die, it simply changed uniform. We, the disenfranchised and mal-encouraged, were its latest foot-soldiers. Cultural domination is the modern form of annexation, and we were willing participants in this heinous take-over.

I found Jim in the 3000 dong bar. With beer costing a mere ten pence-a-pop, 3000 dong was popular amongst poor and wealthy alike. Cheap beer doesn't see the clothes on your back, nor the bed in which you sleep- it is blind to the follies of class and society.

The pay-off- for there's always a catch- was the intensely sticky, un-cooled patio in which one consumed the homemade poison. Perched precariously on miniature plastic seats, you became the very image of your parents at early-school parent-teacher evenings. With knees tucked up to your chest, the only option was to drink until your body was numb to its unpleasant surroundings. Then the evening could truly begin.

Jim was approaching the required level of inebriation, as was evident from the four empty glasses lying in front of him. His face was contorted in anguished writers block- it was an expression he wore well.

He ignored me as I sat opposite him, my 6"4 frame struggling to cope with the absurd furniture. I ordered a couple of beers (both for my own consumption- it was an unnecessary risk to order one at a time) and stared at Jim. He stared back- though not directly at me, but through- blindly grabbing his beer and bringing it sloppily to his mouth.

'MOT...HAI...BA...YO!' The traditional Vietnamese precursor to the downing of drinks came screaming from behind me. I turned around to view the culprits- a group of young boys, quite clearly still in school. They coughed and spluttered, revelling in each other's pathetic attempts. Without hesitation, a skimpily-dressed waitress descended on their table, bringing with her another round of beers and marking it on their bill in the Vietnamese version of tally: a square, with a line through the middle to mark the fifth figure. The schoolchildren, caught off guard by her ethereal presence, quickly tried to regain composure. They were too late, she'd departed, and they started squabbling amongst one another.

'I wish they'd shut UP'. Jim had stirred from his half-cut stupor. Partly in spite, but predominantly lust, I paid Jim no attention, focusing instead on the pretty girl whose presence had precipitated the commotion. Jim saw what I saw. 'She has impeccable legs. But does a bar that sells beer for less than water really need to employ such tactics?'.

I swung around violently in my chair, nearly breaking the flimsy legs in the process, ready to defend my latest infatuation. 'She might be the best waitress in South-East Asia! The world, for all you know'. Jim smiled, happy to have ruffled my feathers with such little effort.

'She won't fuck you'.

'How do you know?'

'Because in this part of the world, girls fall very easily into two distinct categories. The first of which is the kind of girl who would fuck you. She has seen the internet and has become enamoured with Western culture. To her, you are the embodiment of that culture. You represent their hopes and dreams, you could even be their ticket out of here. By shagging you, they are living their false-reality of joining the Americanised society they see in the films.'

'But I'm not American', I interjected.

Jim scoffed. 'You are to them. Be completely honest with yourself, if we were back in England and a Vietnamese girl came up to you, would you know she was Vietnamese? Would you even care- or would you just think of her as Asian? Maybe more specific- South-East Asian. Whatever, that's the point, you see. You're a film star to them, and those are the girls you want to try it on with'.

'And her?' I pointed at the now apparently unobtainable waitress.

'She's the second type. She won't fuck you'.

This is what we had become. We'd been in 'Nam less than a few weeks, and already we were utterly abhorrent- misogynists in name and nature. Each and every one of us had become despicable human beings, capable of reducing women to little more than numbers in an instant. It was the ease with which this poisonous attitude infected us that scares me to this day. I am unable to speak for the others, but I knew this was not me; this was the environment in which I found myself. I cared for my fellow woman just as I cared for my fellow man. It would be a stretch to say that I was a feminist, but I respected women as much as anyone. Some of my best friends were women- though I realise this echoes the protestations of a closet racist claiming to have a number of black friends.

But Vietnam had affected me profoundly, and I saw women as little more than an objective in my personal game. It is only in hindsight that I realise how disgusting I was.

'Where are Andy and Tennessee?' Jim was very drunk. I knew this because his question was genuine, and unrelated to his own writing.

'Andy is in one of his moods. I left them arguing about the road systems here’. I looked about nervously, as my second beer approached empty.

'He's an interesting character, isn't he?' The question was rhetorical and correct. It was clear that Andy and Jim would never be true friends. Jim was too poetic, Andy too certain. They could get along and conduct civil conversation, but the spark of companionship was never present. I was the anthropomorphic glue that held them together, without which they would surely drift apart in the great sea of indifference.

My beer had been replaced without my knowledge. The waitress was evidently- necessarily-trained in the art of covert replenishment.

'Hey I wrote a poem. Well it's a pseudo-poem anyway. Trying my hand at this love nonsense that the world seems so...in love with. Want to read?'

Normally I couldn't care less about poetry. If you want to say something, then say it. Don't fanny around with rhyming and metaphors, especially if there's sex involved. But Jim's poems were unintentionally funny, and I enjoyed mocking his attempts to put soul onto paper.

My heart aches in ways indescribable;

The increase in palpitations immediately palpable;

I lust and I love, and I loathe you too;

You'd surely be so happy, if only you knew;

This is to the girl in the red dress. The matador to my bull.

I read it three times over to keep Jim in suspense. For a man so obnoxious, he was surprisingly delicate when it came to critiques of his writing. 'It's a bit...rapey', I finally uttered.

He swore at me, loud enough to alarm the table to our right, and yanked the paper back from my grasp. He cursed my philistine morals, shouting. 'You wouldn't understand imagery if it hit you in the face'.

I ignored him. 'So I spoke to Rob, and he's keen for Danang'. Rob was the final member of our motley crew, and undeniably the most well-adjusted. Fresh out of university, he'd set upon adventuring while he still had the appetite. A 'large lad' with an easy manner, he had that typical Aussie charm which threatened to grate, but never quite did. He'd brought his stunningly beautiful and colossally dim-witted girlfriend with him. Her name was Hannah, and in spite of her ignorance, she was a delightful ornament to have around. She was the main reason we tolerated Rob's optimism, and a further victim of our degeneracy.

'Well at least there'll be beaches for Hannah to indulge in', Jim mused.

'Although this does mean we'll have to implement the three-syllable rule to keep her engaged'.

Jim smiled at this, the closest he ever came to laughing.

'MOT...HAI...BA...YO!' The rhythm of the 3000 dong continued endlessly. It was a group of scruffily dressed business owners that were providing the percussion at present.

We were heading to Danang in search of jobs, but in truth we were escaping the chaos of Saigon. The dizzying dance of death to cross the street had sent our nerves to a worse place, and the incessant heat and noise had drained us all. We craved the open space, the relative calm, the sandy beaches, the cooler air, the opportunities, the peace, that Danang was sure to bring us. Sitting in central Vietnam, the third biggest city in this burgeoning country was to be our new home.

'So how many of us does that make...' Jim counted on his fingers. Ever the writer, never the mathematician. 'Six of us, right?'.

'Wrong.'

'Wrong?'

'Tennessee isn't coming.'

'Thank Christ for that. Why not?'

'He reckons Saigon is the place to be. Reckons it's going to be the economic capital of Asia soon enough. Also reckons we're pussies for running away from the heat'.

'He's a most unsavoury chap isn't he?' Another character judgment, another rhetorical question. Though in fairness, a completely just one. Tennessee was a poor excuse for a person: his unkempt hair was in need of a wash, he smacked loudly on cheap chewing gum to avoid cleaning his teeth, he swore loudly and often, he belittled at every opportunity, and his face was crying out for a hearty smack. He was categorically 'unsavoury', and ultimately the reason I cannot remember his name. Like so many unpleasant characters throughout history that failed to make the jump to infamous, his name has become unimportant in the passage of time. I’m not even sure he was from Tennessee.

We passed the rest of the night in relative tedium, as the beer numbed our conversation, twisting us into shallow imitations of ourselves. Jim spilled beer onto his notes on two separate occasions, and I suspected it was more contrived than he let on. He needed an excuse- it was the type of man he was. He enjoyed misery, just as misery seemed to enjoy him, and he looked for excuses at every opportunity. The world itself was to blame for his misfortunes. The weather. The time. New technology. Gravity.

 

The weeks passed quickly- the days shortened by our heavy drinking. In just over a month, we had become teachers, armed with a $1000 certificate as proof. The 3000 dong bar had never had punters as loyal- a result of sticky evenings and teacher-training-induced anxiety.

I am sure that my first public school class will be an enduring, recurring, crippling nightmare for the rest of my days. The sheer pain in my chest as I entered the under-equipped classroom, fifty pairs of eyes trained on my every movement. The schoolchildren, like any group of students anywhere in the world, were a mix of personalities that combined to strike fear into my ill-prepared self. The student that stands out most was the extroverted, soon-to-be homosexual boy that had placed himself strategically in my eye-line. He jumped with excitement at every opportunity to be the centre of my attention, overcoming his poor English with a bottomless pit of enthusiasm. When the lesson ended, he asked if he could add me on Facebook. I gave him the details of an old enemy and absconded as quickly as my jellied-legs would allow.

But there were only so many conversations you could have about unwanted under-age advances, and our evenings started to become stale. We scraped the barrel of social interaction, and at the bottom we found drinking games. An appalling use of time and alcohol, card games became our new language. And though most of these games were tiresome, there was one which always promoted vigorous involvement. 

Never Have I Ever.

This was a game which involved weeding out the weird and wonderful in its participants. Going around the circle, each player would say something that they had never done. Anyone in the circle who had done said thing would have to drink, and thus intoxicated merriment would ensue. This was a game that started with bad intentions and went drastically downhill- nought to sixty-nine in no time at all.

Karen from Oman was the undisputed queen of Never Have I Ever, because...well, ever had she ever. From the mundane to the sexually explicit, the legal to the treasonous, Karen had unashamedly done everything. As it started to become clear that she had outdone us all, the aim of the game shifted. We started trying to come up with things that Karen hadn't done, and more often than not we failed.

Karen was a peculiar girl. Having been raised in Oman until the age of eight, she liked to think she had been witness to an ultra-conservative society. When she moved back to her parents' native Scotland, liberal freedom had been intoxicating. From this point she had become a hippie, a freedom-seeker, a fun-haver, all in apparent preparation for the nightly game of Never Have I ever at the 3000 dong bar.

There was something about Karen that drew the eye, though an objective observer would hesitate to call her beautiful. Don't get me wrong, I'm no looker either, but I want to emphasise just how strong her personality was. She was the female equivalent of Andy-in possession of a quiet charisma that permeated the soul. This was the reason I stayed out so late on my last night in Saigon.

As everyone else retired to their hotels, uttering warnings of being too hungover on a day of travel, I remained in my novelty seat, talking nonsense with Karen from Oman.

'Have you ever been outside Europe?', she asked me in her distinctively mongrel accent.

'Yeah, Vietnam.'

'No but before this', she giggled. It was a queer laugh, somewhere between angelic and Billy Connelly.

I pretended to think for a moment, as I looked at her greasy hair. It was multi-coloured, a product of some homemade dye she had decided to trial. The combination of colours and grease made it look like a puddle on the side of the road; the kind that petrol had been spilled into and created a rainbow of dirt.

'No. I've been to Southern Italy though- and on a clear day I could see Africa'.

She giggled again. 'That doesn't count. Because Europe is so sheltered, that's what I hate about it. There's no danger, you know. Which is boring, because without danger there can be no safety. How can you have a comfort zone if there is no discomfort- does that make any sense?'

'Yeah, maybe, I guess. But I dunno, I like Europe. It's old'.

'Well so is everywhere, dummy. It's not like one bit of the world is older than the other. But I get what you mean- like the architecture and stuff is older, pretty to look at. But so what? What can you really do with nice looking buildings?'

'You can look at them...nicely'.

She didn't giggle. She must not have heard me. In fact, she wasn't even listening at all; her attention had been procured by an elderly local, who had taken a great interest in Karen from Oman. He was staring at her and repeating some unknown phrase over and over.

'Can you fucking not?' Karen said sternly. The man didn't flinch, only increasing his intensity as he continued his bizarre chanting.

'What is this guy’s problem?', she asked me.

'Ignore him, he's just some loon', I shrugged, immediately knowing this was the wrong thing to say.

'Ignore him? That's easy for you to say- how many times have you had guys staring at you chanting weird voodoo shit?'

'How many times have you had guys staring at you chanting weird voodoo shit?'

'Don't be coy with me Teddy'

'No I-'

'Excuse me sir, can you please stop looking at me?!' She was shouting at the man now, who continued to stare straight at her. The staff at the bar had noticed proceedings and were whispering to each other frantically. One of them ran to the back, as Karen persisted with shouting at the nu-tjob.

'Are you deranged? Do you need help in some way? It's not normal what you are doing, not here and not anywhere!'

Karen was really flying off the handle. I suspected she was drunk, though I knew better than to suggest such a thing. The nutj-ob in question was someone I had seen around the place, and though he'd never acted quite so odd, he had always carried a subtly menacing air about him. He was small, even by Vietnamese standards, with eccentrically combed hair to match his wacky dress sense: flip-flops and socks.

The bar staff were showing clear concern by now, and out from the back marched the owner (someone we had shared a drink with on more than one occasion). He walked purposefully over to us, placing a hand on crazies' shoulder. This seemed to momentarily placate him, as the owner turned to Karen.

'Thank you, and sorry for ask. You must pay bill now'.

One of the other staff members brought our bill over.

'But it's only two am', I protested. 'We usually stay here for at least another hour'.

'I'm sorry, but you must-'

'What the fuck is he saying?' Karen demanded, setting the strange man into another spasm of incoherent ranting.

The bar owner was sweating like a pig. 'I'm sorry,' he apologised again. 'You must pay now.'

'Karen lets just pay, come on. It's not an issue'. I didn't fancy a late-night skirmish, not on the eve of my escape.

'Well I don't have any money,' Karen petulantly announced. And before I could offer, she continued 'and neither does my friend. We'll have to go to the ATM'.

The bar owner, whose English was less than stellar, recognised 'ATM' and nodded. We made our way out from the bar, as the owner and a member of staff followed us. Without warning, Karen grabbed my arm and sprinted down an alleyway. We dived through an open door and out the back of the mercifully empty house.

'What are you doing?' I cried, barely able to comprehend what was happening. 'You're going to get us killed!'

She didn't respond, but continued to drag me through back alleys until she felt it safe to slow down. Then she turned on me.

'You know what your problem is Teddy?'

'There's only one?'

'You're a people pleaser.'

'That doesn't sound like a problem to me.'

'It is, because it means you never disagree with anyone. You don't have opinions, you just let everyone think what they want to think.' She looked genuinely angry, as we stopped outside a late-night shop.

'Fair point.'

She sighed heavily and walked in to the shop. Not sure quite what was happening, I remained outside, giving her time to cool off. She returned with a six pack and passed one to me. We began wandering.

'It's okay to disagree with people. That's what makes us interesting, unique from one another. If you just nod your head all the time, people will get bored of you'. She sounded sadder than I'd ever heard her.

'Is that why you did a runner?'

'I did a runner cause that guy was a creep. Yeah, I could have let it go- but where would that have got me? He'd have gotten away with it, and this is a small victory. Sometimes that's all you get, small victories.'

We spent several hours walking the streets that night, chatting about this and that and them. Karen would say something grandiose, I would say something silly, and we'd move on to the next topic. By the end of our conversation I was utterly infatuated with her.

Our legs grew tired long before our minds, so I offered to accompany her back to her hotel. The entrance shutters were closed once we got there, a not too uncommon practice amongst the small-scale hotels in Saigon. They were not used to late-night scoundrels like ourselves, and there was always the awkward ritual of waking up the night guard to let you in.

 As he slowly rose from his make-shift camp bed, Karen and I stood in silence. I wasn't sure where to look, I was a nervous ball of energy. She turned to me, and my heart rate topped 200.

'Thanks for walking me home, although it does kind of fly in the face of my feminist principles'. She then kissed me on the cheek and went into her hotel. The night guard made a grunting noise, asking if I was to follow. I shook my head disconsolately, and headed off in search of a hooker.

Two minutes later I received a text from Karen, with orders to pick up a few more beers and return to her hotel.

 

It was with a certain degree of sadness that we departed from Saigon that next afternoon. I couldn't even drink off my hangover, so scared I was of returning to the scene of last night’s crime. I said goodbye to Karen from Oman, and headed to the airport with Andy, Rob, Hannah, and Jim. We had adapted admirably to our strange surroundings, aliens to a culture in which we had been assimilated. Our sanity thanked that 3000 dong bar for providing it's essential sustenance, though our livers cursed those heady nights.

 

 

 

Danang

The flight was short and easy, conspicuous only in its lack of incident. Our baggage was fine, the legroom adequate, and the air attendants were friendly. We arrived in Danang airport late in the evening, as the sun had already withdrawn from its daily duties and the moon had slovenly started its shift.

The cool and crisp, and most importantly, fresh, air that we stepped out into that night remains one of my most vivid memories. My body still twitches at the shock of leaving a building and not instantly being engulfed in my own sweat. A gentle breeze tugged at the hem of my ill-judged shorts, and we stood there for several minutes in fascination at this glorious feeling. Danang was impossibly different from where we had just come from, completely at odds with the suffocation of Saigon. Rob refused to believe that we were in the same country; I was inclined to agree with him.

We woke up the following morning with sharp pain between our eyes and strange bruising across our bodies. In our excitement at seeing the sea and sand, we'd thrown our bags in a cheap room and hit the bars.

'I can't believe we can actually enjoy a beer outside here. Look, I'm wearing a fucking jacket!' Jim's enthusiasm was the only uncomfortable thing that night, and though my memory took a beating, I'm sure it was the happiest I have ever been.

Our job hunt would have to wait. Our heads were sore, and besides, we needed to get our bearings.

'Can't look for jobs on an empty stomach'. Rob was right, and our stomachs were most certainly empty after our involuntary detoxes that morning. A long breakfast became a boozy one, and we decided that our best bet would be to get bikes. Not push bikes- this wasn't Amsterdam. Scooters. Mopeds. To all intents and purposes, bikes with a motor- motorbikes. To skid around on a scooter was the first step towards genuine integration into Vietnamese society, and we were ready. Well most of us were.

'I'm not getting on one of those death machines', Jim whined. 'That's how people die, you always hear about it on the news. My mother warned me of this'.

'Shut up, they look fun! Look at those two, they're having a sick time of it'. I pointed to Rob, who looked every bit like James Dean on tour, as he swung up and down the street with Hannah holding lovingly to his back. He looked so cool, and I remember being intoxicated with the idea of being a motorcyclist. Even if I was only rocking 50cc.

Eventually, after much protest, Jim agreed to the idea, but refused to be the driver of his own death. 'Should I die in a dreary ball of flames, I want to be able to blame someone else'. This meant that while Andy had the terrific freedom of shooting around on his own, and Rob had a beautiful girl holding his waistline, I had a pathetic writer, too cowardly to cause his own injuries.

After a few near misses, and a confusing attempt at traversing a round-a-bout, we felt we had the scooter-riding business on lockdown. Not that my pitiful passenger agreed, as he continued to carve love handles of an altogether platonic nature into my sides.

We spent the remaining daylight screeching up and down the coastal road. A blurry vision of ecstasy, palm trees and seabirds as our backdrop, we were capable of anything. As the sun threatened to dip below the horizon (when was the last time we had seen the horizon!) we headed for a giant statue that overlooked Danang atop a cliff. The imposing Lady Buddha towered sixty metres above us, a shimmering white over the blue sea. As the devout lay prone about us, honouring their impressive idol, we sat on the cliff edge, observing the setting of the sun in content silence. The Vietnamese language, usually so unpleasant on the ears to the uninitiated, became subtler somehow. Serenity fell upon us, a blanket shielding us from the tumultuous month past. 

Hannah broke the silence with a predictably nonsensical comment.

'What's the point in building a statue facing the sunset'? We ignored her, as you'd ignore a wasp at a picnic, hoping futilely that it will go away. It doesn't; she didn't. She repeated the question. We looked to Rob, hoping that for once he'd pull his weight and deal with this shit. It was because of him that she was here, ruining our wonderful calmness, so it was only fair that he cooperates. But Rob, the sly dog, had earphones in, and sitting with his arms around her, was existing in the very best of both worlds. Andy took one for the team.

'It's not for the statues sake, but what it represents. The people here, all around us, it's for them. The Lady Buddha is for them'. Andy was the best equipped to deal with Hannah's bullshit; though it was unclear whether this was out of patience, kindness, or an unending desire to impart knowledge.

'Yeah but, like, the worshippers face the statue. So they don't get to see the sunset do they? They should build the statue facing away from the nice view so that the people can enjoy it'.

'Their attention is on the Lady Buddha. They are not distracted by the view'.

'But if they had built the statue right they could look at both at the same time-' A collective sigh signalled the end of Hannah's nonsense. We returned to silence, now discontented.

We finished the night eating seafood with a great man. His name was Alex- or at least that's the name he gave us. It was common for Vietnamese people who had learnt English at school to use a 'more English' name. The extent to which some people go to put others at ease amazes me, and Alex was one such individual. He owned a quaint seafood restaurant, that at one point in time overlooked the undulating South China Sea. An infestation of overseas developers had thrown Alex and his eatery into relative obscurity. Fortunate for us, because Andy had demanded we 'eat off the beaten track, away from all the tourist shit', and we had stumbled upon Alex's nameless restaurant.

The place was a morbid aquarium. Enveloping the restaurant in a macabre hug were bubbling containers of sea creatures. Crabs, lobsters, big fish, small fish, snails, oysters, muscles, shells, round shells, square shells, flat fish, fat fish. It was a dizzying pick and mix for the senses, that left us all transfixed in wonder. Apart from Hannah, who felt sick.

Alex brought out a crate of beers- 'on the house'- and handed them out as he started to tell his story. He spoke English very well, though with a heavy Vietnamese inflection.

'These are a snails that are a picked today. My family- they have a always picked snails, like this'. Alex theatrically mimed the process of plucking snails from the home.

'We get the snails and we sell to the market, but we don't get a good price. So my mother, she a the clever one, not my father as he thinks, she say- why don't we open a restaurant? And we do, and we a very popular with people who know seafood. But we don't catch the other a fish, we only catch a snails. The rest we buy from market'. We didn't have the heart to tell him that lobsters and crabs and snails and muscles and oysters were not fish.

 'We were the best a seafood restaurant in the whole of a Vietnam. But then they build these hotels all around us, and people stop coming. They don't like the tourists, they say tourists are loud and annoying- but they don't know the tourists like you!' He thrust his beer skywards, spilling half the contents and consuming the other. We involuntarily did the same, his enthusiasm infectious.

Alex continued his story, becoming increasingly candid as the beers went to work. 'My Grandfather, he was a killed in the war. He hated violence, and would not fight anyone- not even a fly! But the Americans, when they were here in Danang, it was a dangerous time! He was killed when he was walking at night- they never catch who did it. My dad says he was funniest man in whole of Vietnam- and he taught my dad how to pick snails!' Alex once again mimed the motion of picking snails; he was clearly proud of his technique.

'My mum, like I say, she's a very intelligent. But she's also- how you say...she wants what she wants?'

'Stubborn?' Andy suggested.

'Yes, stubborn. Very good, she was stubborn, and she made me a promise not to like politics. She says to enjoy the smaller things in life- like snails!- and let the big egos worry about the big problems'.

As he told his story, we gorged ourselves on his food. The welfare of these poor creatures was questionable, but the taste was undeniable: the lobster buttery, the fish soup scrumptious, the snails...salty. But lovely, and the company only made the meal sweeter.

Alex had a young daughter, who lived with her mother outside the city. To hear him tell it, they were the most beautiful girls in the whole of Vietnam- 'even more a beautiful than Beyoncé'. And we did not doubt it, for the love in his dark brown eyes served as the ultimate giveaway.

'While you are a here, you must go to Hoi An. It is not far, and everyone who is a tourist goes there. It is beautiful, and lots of drinking!' Once more he raised his glass; once more we followed suit.

Alex was a kind man, an optimistic man, a determined man, and to quote Rob- 'an absolute bloody legend'. Such a shame the food had the effect it did- fishy dreams and even fishier bowel movements preventing further time in this great man's company. The time for fun had stopped, for we were running low on money and in need of paid employment quickly.

The job hunt lasted less than half a day. We split up, with myself and Jim forming one team, and hit half a dozen language centres. The blank stares grated, the rejections near as damn killed us, and we decided to give up. Time and again we were told that demand for learning had been sated- a struggling economy lending preference to vocation ahead of education. For all it's clean air and open spaces, Danang lacked the activity of Saigon. Lounging on the beach doesn't pay the bills, and it was becoming obvious that our paths led back from whence we came.

Like a mannequin in a shop window, Danang was nice to look at, but soulless upon closer inspection. The suffering in Saigon was palpable, but at least it was unique. You could be blindfolded and taken on a 24-hour plane journey, placed in a random Saigon street, and instantly know where you stood. Somewhere along the line Danang had been robbed of its essence, replaced with a sea of generic holiday resorts and misdirected passion. Even Alex, wonderful, lovely Alex, contributed to this. He saw us as tourists first, and commodities second. Saigon was too busy, it had no time to look at us and see cash cows. Sure, visit Danang, for it's beautiful and the people are friendly enough. But it wasn't what we were looking for- where was the adventure? The danger?

Hoi An

Hoi An is an exotic town, dissected by a beautiful canal, and a mere forty-five minute ride from Danang. Thirty-five at Rob's speed. An old port town that had been flooded by tourists, Hoi An called to our hedonistic tendencies. Accompanied by a strong recommendation from our main man Alex, we felt obliged to spend our last night in Central Vietnam revelling in its mystery.

With a flight booked for the following evening, we descended on Hoi An with tremendous excitement. For all that was to come that night, the journey there remains one of my most cherished memories. The roads were empty, and as we tore our way southwards, sun setting behind us, the sea to our left, we felt like kings. Nay- rebels. We were back in 1950s America, eating up the distance as we owned the road. Even Jim was starting to enjoy himself, and feeling braver by the second, pumped music through a pair of fake Bose speakers. As driver, I only heard every other line, as the wind whistled loudly in my ears. But the feeling of utter euphoria rang true through all of us. And I said, what about, Breakfast at Tiffany's. This struck me as an odd driving song choice, but who was I to question it?

I overtook Andy, hunching forward in my seat as I did so. He overtook me back, smirking gleefully and ignoring the road ahead. Then he dropped back to listen to the music, his front wheel almost scraping my rear. Say it ain't sooooo. Andy and Jim sang over the top of the music, evidently on some kind of 90s kick. It occurred to me how strange it was that people born in the 90s always claimed to have a great affinity with the decade. Because at most they turned ten in that decade- hardly an age at which you undergo huge transformation as a person. At best they were five when Toy Story came out, most weren't even born, so why bother heralding it as the story of your childhood. I wanna sleep with common people. Some damn good songs mind. 

We spotted Rob and Hannah up ahead, stopped on the side of the road. The hare was lost. 'Hey, where's the...' WOOSH. We sped straight past them; he'd catch us up. And if he didn't, who cared? We were explorers, mavericks, adventurers- finally, and an issue as mundane as directional efficiency wasn't going to slow us down.

Because everybody hates a tourist, especially one who thinks it's all such a laugh. We raced into Hoi An, and spent half an hour flying around the tight streets getting lost. It was great, and I don't think any of us wanted to find the hostel. We eventually stumbled upon it, dumped our bags in the fifteen-person dorm, and headed out into the night.

Sights and sounds occupied the atmosphere. Far less aggressive than Saigon, but equally as distracting, Hoi An tugged at our senses from every direction imaginable. The perfectly still canal that cut through the town was lined with a hundred different food stalls, each one specialising in a different powerful smell. Glistening Chinese lanterns populated both water and sky, as we became lost in an army of backpackers gazing skywards. Hours slipped by with our heads in the sky, but as the clock edged towards an indecent hour, the beauty started to dissipate. Shimmering lights and delicate beauty were replaced by some of the most despicable creatures in existence: club reps.

The problem with backpacker popularity is the encroachment of cheap drink deals, and bars with all the cultural sensitivity of a racist grandparent. Springing shamelessly, out of nowhere were disgusting bars, purpose-built to take the money of those who dare enjoy Hoi An's charm. It is with great embarrassment that I admit we entered one such establishment- craftily titled Mr Beans Bar.  Our throats were thirsty, and the prospect of bargain bucket mixers was far too tempting.

'I can't believe they let them build these bars here', Andy complained, in between sips of his White Russian. 'Look at how fucking majestic this place is, and they build this steaming pile of corporate bullshit. I thought Vietnam was communist...why the hell are we sat in a bar named after Mr fucking Bean. This is so infuriating...I thought I'd left all this crap behind in the States'.

We sat in contemplative silence for a while, thinking on what Andy said. It occurred to me that I didn't actually know anything about Andy. I knew what his opinion was on pretty much everything there was to have an opinion about, but nothing of his past. Never one to pry, I kept schtum. Rob wasn't so considered.

'What did you do before coming here?'

Andy sighed heavily. 'It's of little interest- it really isn't. A classic tale, I guess, of rejecting capitalism- at least in its unethical form. I worked for an insurance company- the American dream, right? I wasn't one of the main assholes, I want to make that clear. I wasn't directly ripping people off, but the air stank of chauvinism, you know what I mean? A real macho environment- these people delighted in leeching off the less fortunate.'

'And then shit hit the fan, the crash happened, and you think it will all change but it doesn't. If anything it made it worse because they had gotton away with it in the biggest possible way. Day in, day out, the same toxic work. I was hidden away in accounting, but I was complicit in my own way. I had to get out of that system, because it fucks with you'.

Andy sighed again. We all sighed- sick to the stomach at where we found ourselves. Waiters dressed as Western characters' serving knock-off cocktails- this wasn't Vietnam; this was every un-charming place that we had tried to leave behind. We had to get out.

We got on the bikes, bought a crate of beer, and made for the beach. Jim reluctantly hopped on the back of the now dour Andy, as I returned to the hostel to fetch the speakers. A night of reflection, contemplation, and 90s music lay ahead. Mates, music and sandy arse-cracks- the archetypal depression cure.

I walked back into our room, and there was someone on my bed.

'Excuse me, I think you're in my place there buddy'. Classic me. 'I think'- I knew, of course I did, but I was too polite to sound certain.

'Shit, sorry mate!' He stood up, exposing his ridiculous dress sense. He was wearing those absurd frilly trousers that dominated the gap-year fashion scene. His hair was in a top-knot, and I very much doubted it was for any reason other than to join the masses of 'individuals' with similar hair styles.

'My name's Ben. Or Benni', he said, extending his hand outwards. I tentatively shook it. 'I only just got here- you know what's good? What you up to tonight?'

'Me and a few mates are heading to the beach- gonna have a chilled one I reckon'.

'Ah sweet dude, mind if I join?'

Brilliant, now I had to make up an excuse to avoid burdening ourselves with this would-be annoyance. He was probably harmless enough, but he was obviously not one of us. He was a traveller, the kind of person to boast about the cheap deals he found at Mr Beans Bar. No doubt funded by Mummy and Daddy, a job awaited him on Canary Wharf once he'd finished finding himself. He told people he met- especially girls- that all he wanted to do in life was wander the earth. But that was just a ploy to fuck them, and it only worked on others as shallow as he was. He claimed to be low on money, but what he meant was he was low on cash. The money in his bank would take a few days to transfer, and until then he'd have to make do slumming it with the rest of us. He'll buy himself an attractive wife when he's older, exchanging his image for her fake breasts. He'll show her off on Instagram, all the while cheating on her at the country club. It will only be when he's too old to do anything about it that he'll realise just how futile his existence has been, and he'll live out the rest of his appalling days in deep, deep regret. Then, and only then, would I consider a conversation with him, because at least I'd be able to laugh at him.

'I have some shrooms which might be fun?'

All was forgiven. We ate the mushrooms in the hostel bar, washing away the vile taste with cheap shots of vodka.

'You ever done these before?' I was nervous, I'd never done drugs; not proper drugs anyway. I'd had espresso. And ecstasy. But not crack, and rarely love.

'Not these specifically. I did a shroom shake in Thailand though, which was trippy as balls. I ended up falling asleep in a beached boat- woke up as the tide came in and it started shifting'.

'Sounds scary'.

'Nah it was funny. You do drugs?'

I thought for a moment before answering. 'Not all that often. I mean, I went to uni. I did my bit. But saying you do drugs kind of implies you're doing it on the regular, don't you think?'

'Yeah I feel you man. Drugs are great though. Like not in an addict way, but you know, they're a fun multiplier. They can enhance a night from good to fucking great. I remember there was this one time I'd done the ABCs- you know about that right? Drug classifications- A, B,C. Weed, for example, is B. Can you believe that- B? I mean, what does weed do except make you nice and sleepy. So to get your C you gotta do ketamine, which isn't nearly as bad as it sounds. A is obviously ecstasy. Anyway, I'd done my ABCs, and I fucking passed out opposite the police station man, like what the fuck!'

'You seem to fall asleep a lot.' Benni was a bit of a lunatic. Maybe I'd misjudged him; he was clearly bank-rolled by his parents, but perhaps he was a fuck-up. And I'd rather deal with a fuck-up than a success story.

'Sleep is for the wicked'. I wasn't sure what that meant, but I assumed it was clever. Benni had a habit of asking a question as a means to talk about himself. I wasn't going to hold that against him though- that's just the way most people are. Our own lives are of intense interest to ourselves, and it's rare that someone else's matches that. Self-interest is natural, it's the degree to which you can hide it that defines your social ability. I laughed.

'How long do these take to kick in?' I asked innocently.

Benni chuckled, 'Shouldn't be too much longer I don't think. You can never tell though- it's different with every sample'.

'We should head soon then- before it kicks in. I don't fancy trying to find the others knee-deep in a trip'. We both broke into laughter at the thought of driving the bike while seeing shapes, and it was at this point that I knew I felt it.

Benni tried to say something in reply but could only muster a few spluttered words. 'I....you...should...drive'. He either meant that he should drive or that I should drive- either way it was hilarious.

'Fucking...how long...do these...giggles...do these giggles...last?' I barely got my sentence out as my eyes leaked profusely into the corners of my mouth. My sides were as close to splitting as I had ever known, abdominal muscles receiving a workout like never before. Everything was funny: the decor, the way Benni was sitting, my breathing. I could have been listening to a Holocaust victim describing his ordeal in horrific detail, and I am sure I'd have been doubled over in ecstatic agony.

We stood up, holding each other for support, and made our way outside. We looked for my bike in the blurry sea of parked scooters outside the hostel.

'You have a spare helmet?'

'No'. We laughed.

The drive was difficult. It was as though it was raining, but the water was coming from inside. My eyes were a blurry windshield, and no matter how often Benni put his hands in front of my face, the view was never un-obscured. We drove slowly, suspicious of our amusing surroundings, with absolutely no hope of finding the others. I hadn't even brought the speakers with me.

The roads were mercifully quiet- unsurprising given the late hour. Every time I laughed the bike swerved left; every time Benni giggled it swerved right. With each spasm of laughter, our lives were thrown into genuine danger. Not that any of that mattered, because we were having fun, and if that doesn't take precedent in life I'm not sure what does.

'Yo lets pull over. You're driving like a dickhead'. Benni was serious, and for once we didn't laugh. Was that a sign of progress? Regardless, Benni was right. I was in no condition to be driving, but where were two happening young man- who were evidently under the influence of fairly powerful psychedelics- supposed to go? I couldn't bear the thought of returning to that pale imitation of a Western Strip. An Asian Ibiza, complete with the same set of knob-rots that had infected the Balearic Island.

I swerved down the next backstreet I came to- mostly on purpose- and spotted an antiquated pool hall.

'You reckon they serve beer?' I asked Benni. He shrugged, or nodded, or convulsed, it was hard to tell. I took it as an affirmative and got off the bike. In what was to prove a motor-function high-point that evening, I managed to remove the keys from the ignition on the third attempt. We entered the pool hall.

It would be prudent at this point to mention that the Vietnamese play a version of pool that is different to the common version in the UK, US, or indeed any other Western culture. Their version of the game doesn't involve sinking balls into pockets, nor does it use the fifteen balls that we are accustomed to. Instead, just three balls are used: yellow, red, and white. I don't suppose the exact colours matter, but the important thing to take from this is that there are three distinct balls. You take turns to hit your ball- whichever that may be- and try to hit both of the other balls in a single shot. It is a game that involves a masterful grip of angles, spin, and long-term vision. The most striking aspect of this version is that the table is completely hole-less, and to the untrained eye, pointless.

Benni's eyes were particularly untrained, having never before frequented a Vietnamese pool hall. It was for this reason that my new friend started to- for want of a less Americanized word- freak out. Having headed to the least conspicuous table in the corner of the room as I bought the beers, Benni had noticed this unusual quirk of Vietnamese pool culture.

'There's no fucking pockets. Man are you seeing this- there's no pockets? This has to be the most vivid trip of a generation dude, like seriously what the fuck. I'm done, I'm done'. Teetering on the edge of sanity myself, I didn't trust my words. I simply shook my head and pointed to the one Western-style table in the place. In the centre of the god-damn room.

We both looked on in horror, and for a moment I was sure Benni was a goner. Then he shrugged, swigged, smiled, and started setting up the table as though nothing was wrong. I was clearly dealing with a pro.

It started promisingly, as we sailed through our first few games with consummate ease. The shrooms appeared to be acting as some kind of relaxant, and my game had never felt better. But just as a car racing along the edge of a cliff might enjoy spectacular views for a time, it was inevitable that we would drop off into the strange murky world of mushroom pool. The room started slowly tilting, like the minute hand on a clock slowly making its hour-long commute. It became increasingly difficult to make it to the table, let alone play a skilful shot.

Thankfully the pool hall was almost empty. Two men were playing on the table three across from us- presumably jobless regulars- and the owner was sat smoking, stroking his cat behind the counter. Eventually they gave up on their own interests, choosing to watch the improvised show that myself and Benni were offering. Time and again we stumbled to the table, attempted to hit the ball, and raced back to our seats. After an hour of this, and once the walls started vibrating, we called it quits on the game and slinked out of there.

We stumbled outside, dazzled by the array of flashing colours and wavy objects that appeared in our peripherals. Always just out of focus, we flicked our heads from side to side, trying to get a good luck at our colourful tormentors. The bike wasn't an option- I doubt we'd have even been able to find the seat- so we shuffled off into the night. Benni was wearing my helmet. 

Time became an alien concept as we aimlessly wandered the cosy streets of Hoi An. After what seemed like an eternity, we stumbled upon a strange and vibrant party. It was taking place in an old warehouse, populated by the scum of Mr Beans Bar, and other such dives. We'd found hell- debauchery on a whole new plateau, and we were powerless to escape it. Without a word between us, we knew that we were going in, and that it wouldn't be pleasant.

It was worse than I could have imagined. Grimy and grotty, but also glistening. Was that real? There was a karaoke/dance-off hybrid thing taking place on a rudimentary stage- formed from crates and boxes and sleeping people. The walls looked wet and multi-coloured- textured in innumerable ways. I decided to focus on the things that I knew were real, the people, which only made me feel sadder. 

The repulsive crowd were tongue-deep in one another, transfixed in their own misery. No-one wanted to be there- how could they? But like us, they had no choice; we were all present just to make up the numbers, desperately hoping for an excuse to leave. That was the sick irony- we were probably all from that same hostel. We were all in that same room, sharing sleeping sounds with one another, and we all wanted out. That's why they were here, looking for an out. That's why they were attached to each others' faces- they wanted somewhere else to sleep. But we were all bunk buddies already.

Benni returned from the bar with two glasses of wine.

'You weren't feeling the beer then?' I grabbed a glass and necked it.

'I tried...but the music, and the people...and I dunno, this is all a bit much, isn't it? I'm finding this all a bit...confusing. A bit much. Can we chill outside? What do you think- can we go outside for a bit?'

I could see that Benni had passed over the other side, and that for him this was no longer a trip to the seaside. This was a journey of necessity now, because he had to see it through or be stuck forever. I wasn't going to let that happen to my new friend, I was going to save him. We headed outside.

We sat atop a large green bin in the smoking area, bumming fags off those who mistook us for good conversation. Outside wasn't much better than in, although at least it was calmer out here. We were in a cesspit, infiltrated by vomit and misplaced eroticism. Our faculties were no longer our allies, and our sense were punishing us for the stimulation we had subjected them to. The colours and euphoria had been replaced by absolute fatigue- and yet our minds were too wired to contemplate sleep. We watched as delinquents left the club, arms around each other in short-lived comradery. When there was no-one left, we watched the street cleaners, and eventually, once the night was done and the morning under way, we made our way back to the hostel. We snaked along the waterway, avoiding the searching eyes of the early morning tourists. Despite my fragile state, I made a promise to myself to never become one of those sun-rise scoundrels.

I made it back to the hostel just in time to leave; I packed my bags, checked out, and made my way outside. My bike was a lost cause- Hoi An had it now- so Jim and I hopped on the back of Andy's bike. Fatigue and the need to sleep had truly taken precedent, and if it weren't for Andy's miraculous balance, I'd have hit the tarmac and perished before I woke. As it was, I made it back to Danang, and we boarded the long bus to Saigon. We were a pathetic group indeed- the others had grown so 'worried' about my whereabouts that they'd been forced to drink themselves silly and were suffering the consequences that morning.

The twenty-eight hour coach ride resembled a nightmare, and if it weren’t for the Valium then boredom would have killed us all. We popped our pills as we departed, leaving Andy in charge of prescribing us a regular dosage. He didn’t believe in sleeping aids and had decided that he was going to use the time productively by reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Rob, Jim and Hannah dropped off straight away. I struggled- perhaps the five shots of espresso I’d downed just prior to getting on the coach were a mistake. I looked over at the serene trio, jealous of the ease with which their empty minds had drifted off into sleepy bliss. Drastic measures were needed. I grabbed Jim’s journal.

I flipped through the pages, looking for a short story. It didn’t need to be long, anything touching the two-page mark would surely knock me out. I found a cheeky little number entitled ‘Stationary Love’ and set about putting myself to sleep.

Stationary Love

Amongst the cluttered desk of the novelist dwelled a society not too dissimilar to our own. The inhabitants- unaware of their limited existence- lived as you and I and others around the world do. They shared hopes, dreams, and emotions. They loved.

Pencil loved. Pencil loved Paper- he loved her more than anything in the world. He wrote notes on her- love notes- every day, professing his undying devotion to her eternal happiness. They were beautiful poems too. Some rhymed, some didn’t, some were long, some were short.

Paper loved Pencil back, she loved his delicacy as he wrote in his beautiful cursive handwriting. She loved that he wasn’t afraid to show his emotions, to bare his soul quite literally onto her body.

But there was another who loved Paper, one who was not so delicate in showing it. Eraser. Eraser and Paper shared a past that few were aware of, a passionate romance that had refused to be sated. Eraser wasn’t as clever as Pencil and was deeply jealous of the beauty within the love notes. So Eraser showed his love in the only way he knew how. He erased the notes.

Each time Pencil wrote a note, Eraser rubbed it out. As the notes grew longer, Eraser became more determined to remove them. Paper was caught between the two, unable to choose because she loved them both in their own way.

Over time, Paper noticed that Pencil was getting shorter. The more he wrote, the shorter he became, seemingly oblivious to the perilous situation he was putting himself in. Eraser likewise was shrinking, exerting tremendous amounts of energy in a bid to cancel out Pencil. Paper- upset and showing signs of her own distress- remained dumbstruck, until eventually both Pencil and Eraser tired themselves out of existence. They had loved too strongly and too quickly.

Paper was beyond sadness. She despaired, blaming herself for the deaths of her two soulmates. She vowed never to love again, retreating to the corner of the desk, hiding herself beneath a stack of far sturdier, far more worthy papers. But love has a funny way of finding its victims, and so it came to pass that Pen, low on ink and discarded by the novelist, came to meet Paper.

They were both nervous at first. They were both castaways, exiles, determined to keep emotions locked within. But eventually Paper grew fond of Pen, and Pen grew fond of Paper. He slowly, carefully, began to write his first love note. But in a coincidence too cruel to believe, he ran out of ink, and started to scratch Paper. Paper tore, the stress of another doomed relationship too much to bear. She had been loved and hurt too many times before, and now she was broken. Pen was broken.

Life on the cluttered desk continued. Such is life.

 

As someone who took great pride in mocking Jim’s work- indeed his entire existence- I struggled to make sense of what I had just read. It was weird- even by his standards- but I couldn’t be sure if that was just the Valium at work. Aside from the dark undertones and perplexing overtones, I couldn’t decide what it all meant. They say everyone writes from the heart, so who was Jim?

‘Jim’, I sleepily whispered, nudging at the side of his head. ‘Jim’.

He stirred slightly, and grunted without opening his eyes.

‘Which one are you? Are you the pencil?’

‘What?’

‘In this stationary porno you’ve written, are you the pencil?’

‘No’, he murmured.

‘Well you can’t be the eraser, you’ve made him out to be some kind of beefy jock. Are you the pen? Do you consider yourself to be out of ink? Because that’s depressing’.

‘I’m the paper’.

I’m not even sure this conversation happened. It’s all a bit hallucinatory, and when I later asked Andy, he said he was too engrossed in his book to have noticed.

‘But Paper is a girl? Besides, I know fiction is all about suspending the imagination, but come on- you expect me to believe that you were some kind of player at the heart of a passionate love triangle?’

Jim was asleep again. And then I was. We woke up as we pulled into the Ho Chi Minh bus terminal.

 

 

 

Ho Chi Minh

Two months later, and the stifling heat had taken its toll. The Rob-Hannah axis were no more, a crying shame to no-one but St Valentine. Rob had finally cleared his ears and heard her appalling whining, telling her in no un-certain terms that they were to separat- immediately. She had returned home in a fit of self-righteous rage, determined to inflict her lunacy on those who would listen.

We who remained had rented a house, and given the economic plight of Vietnam, had become overnight rock stars. It was the closest any of us would come to living like genuine millionaires, in terms of both money and melancholic emptiness.

Our house was a shimmering complex of white rooms and utter opulence. There was an entrance hall; a cavernous space designed with the sole purpose of impressing visitors and storing spare vehicles. The kitchen would have been unnecessarily big for a Michelin-rated chef, the four-story staircase was as majestic as it was tiring. We had a rooftop terrace perfectly designed to sup whiskey as we watched the sun dip below the Saigon skyline. Both in front and behind the house lay an expanse of wild grassland, an Eden to creatures both weird and obscure. Our private driveway seriously threatened to become a road- such was its length and pomposity. Bathrooms outnumbered people at a ratio of 2:1, we had a room dedicated to a single piano that no-one knew how to play, we even had a fucking maid who appeared twice weekly bearing a different exotic fruit each time. We had become kings without responsibility, heads of state with no accountability, our lives represented the goal of every sane bachelor in the Western world.

Yet it would soon become clear that not a single one of us was happy.

 

Working as an English teacher in Vietnam grants both time and expendable income; a dangerous proposition to anyone with the propensity to addiction.

I worked the second least, achieving 4-hour work days with a huge amount of effort. Jim predictably worked as little as possible, floundering from job to job, lamenting his dull environment and yet doing nothing to change it. Andy and Rob fared slightly better, though in truth none of us were pushing ourselves. Such is the danger of comfort and ease.

We had returned to our world of misogyny, honing our womanising skills in a bid to stave off boredom. Like moths to a flame, we had become engaged in the damaging habit of seeking out and exploiting members of the opposite sex. We each had our own despicable method, determined to prove that we were the best at being the worst.

'You have to take them on dates, it's the least you can do. Treat them right- buy their drinks, pay their tickets, do the driving. You've got the money; hell, you’ve got more than they'll ever have. You’ve got the image too- that's what they want. They want your image, you see. That's what you're selling, it's no different from any other transaction. They want their friends to see them on a date with a white guy, splashing the cash, and in return...well they'll treat you right in the sack. That's the fairest way, utilitarianism for the dating world'. Andy was being typically magnanimous in his advice. 'Everyone's a winner'.

'Yeah everyone except your bank balance'. Rob operated differently; since his break up with Hannah his deviancy had outgrown us all. Rob had become a firm believer in frequent, soulless sex, viewing anything outside these gross parameters as wholly unnecessary. He boasted of his quick times both between and during his pathetic romps- an unusual approach to highlighting masculinity.

It was clear that Vietnam had disfigured him. His relationship had been exposed as a sham and his personality had been skewed out of shape. His best hope was that the damage wrought by this hostile place was not permanent.

Andy continued. 'And it isn't just about the sex-

Rob tried to interrupt at this point, but a wave of Andy's hand hushed him.

'...it's about the build-up just as much. It's that point in the evening where she brushes your hand. Where you catch her watching you while you eat. It's the moment at which you know it's going to end well; I honestly enjoy that feeling as much as anything in the bedroom'.

Rob simply shook his head, unable to express just how at odds his own views were with Andy's.

As we sat in the 5000 dong bar- a repulsive price-hike compared with the 3000 dong we had become accustomed to- Jim was feeding his own sexual addiction. He had become 'fascinated' by the world of dating apps, though in truth he mainly used it as a means of avoiding uninteresting conversation. They tessellated perfectly with his lazy disposition, affording him the ability to judge women from afar and sustain minimal personal contact. His success rate was low, but as he was keen to point out, so too were his effort levels. He never dated, he rarely left the house. His days were long, without purpose, and his mental state was suffering.

I was at the safer end of the insanity scale, reluctantly flying the flag for the middle ground. I had managed to find a balance between obsessive dating and oppressive love-making. I would like to stress that I was no less disgusting than my friends, just different.

Thrice I had nearly got myself into a relationship, only to discover something insignificant but annoying about my would-be partner. She shed too much hair in the shower. She breathed too loudly. She watched the Big Bang Theory. I viewed myself as some kind of celestial being, too perfect for those around me.

Indeed, I had become too shallow to notice the mundanity of our conversations- perhaps too grandiose a word for what our days entailed. We didn't even talk, just spoke. We monologued, in turn, detailing our latest sexual exploits to the rest of the group. If it wasn't your turn to speak, you simply nodded at the speakers' story- out of muscle-memory rather than genuine engagement.

It was currently Andy's turn so self-indulge us with a tale of selfish debauchery. Like the others, I wasn't listening. I was plotting my own soliloquy- the subject of which was a South African I'd brought home a couple of nights ago.

'Mind if I join you fellas?' A portly middle-aged man interrupted Andy, who found himself caught between annoyance and intrigue at this potential new pupil.

'Go ahead mate,' replied Jim, not even looking up from his phone.

'I couldn't help but overhear you fellas talking- sounds like you're doing Asia right. Let me buy you some beers. You drink right? Of course, you do, you're doing it right'. The insufferable wretch slapped Rob on the back as he said this, oblivious to the misery of the group he was joining.

He was a dirty looking man, immediately obvious to our eyes as the kind of creature you occasionally crossed paths with in Vietnam: a sex-pat. You saw them skulking around Bui Vien- Saigon's seediest and least culturally sensitive street- hunting their unwitting prey. Backpackers like ourselves flocked to Bui Vien for the cheap beer, dirty old men such as our new friend made pilgrimage for the short skirts.

'My name is Paul- from England. You probably knew that already, I'm cockney as they come- basically Danny Dyer aren't I?' Paul had a very annoying laugh, which he deployed every time he said something 'funny'. Which was often. 'So I'm told anyway. Where are you fellas from?'

'No-one says fellas', Rob said without expression. And he had a point- they don't. Clearly Paul had once heard a 'youth' say it, and decided that this was the keyword to interacting with those a third of his age. My mum did the same with 'cool', never quite grasping it was temperature unrelated.

'Fuck me, this guy must be a bloody Aussie', Paul shouted, trying and failing to mimic Rob's accent. 'Everyone knows a convict never...'

I stopped listening, allowing my thoughts to return to the shortcomings of my parents. They'd failed to arm me with real-life vocabulary, choosing instead to teach me their own, deeply personal colloquialisms. This left me unequipped for normal conversation in my formative years, resulting in a string of embarrassing altercations. Everything from a television remote (guzzer) to the opening of a window (sneck) was a foreign language to me. Peers and teachers alike mocked my apparent illiteracy.

By far the worst thing my parents ever did was to instil a policy of perennial politeness.

Please.

Thank you.

You're welcome.

May I?

Sorry.

I couldn't help myself, and though much of it was passive aggression, it was still infuriating for me. 50% of my conversations involved thanking those who had thanked me, for any number of inconsequential tasks. The defining moment- my rock bottom, if you will- was when I caught myself internally apologising for stubbing my toe. Needless to say, I forgave myself.

I realise this won't sound like a huge issue, and you could probably argue that this wasn't the worst piece of parenting in the world, but it actually had a pretty sinister side-effect. You see, I became hyper-aware of the short-comings of those around me. If they so much as waited a second too long to say 'you're welcome', I flipped out- silently of course. I was becoming a paradoxically bitter, polite, seething, friendly young man. And consistently single, bizarrely.

Back to Paul, who had dominated the conversation since entering our poisoned circle, much to Andy's distress. He was trying to work his way into our group, our psyche, evidently eager to piggyback our youth and locate unsuspecting victims.

'This is great isn't it? Cheap beer, cheap girls- if you know what I mean?'. Paul nudged Rob with his elbow, displaying all the subtlety of peacock in heat. 'You fellas are fucking living it, aren't you? You legends'.

I effortlessly zoned out as quickly as I had been suckered in. As Paul rattled on about the shortcomings of our generation, I allowed my attention to drift to the busy street below. Having grown weary of dirty sex-pats and fresh-faced travellers, my eyes focused on those who sought to make a living in this debauched neck of the world.

Elderly men- standing no higher than a tall jockey- shuffled amongst the crowds, hawking their useless wares and trinkets to those who wouldn't listen. Invariably the men sold flimsy shades and vulgar hats. Invariably the men were dismissed without eye contact and a flick of the hand. Or worse- ignored. The culprits were always groups of young westerners, perched on absurdly small chairs, around amusingly miniature tables, smirking silently to each other as the men stood awkwardly, desperately trying make some money for their wretched families.

To the sales-men's enormous credit, they gave everyone a second and third chance. Lingering hopefully, they would smile, chat, always on deaf ears. Not once, in the entire time that my stony sullen gaze was upon them, did these men sell a single shitty item.

Those who flogged food fared better, benefiting from the insatiable hunger cheap beer often brings. Success was not universal, however, as some struggled to navigate the crowded streets. A woman, riding a bike-come-market stall with two children in tow, was attempting to sell what can only be described as alien fodder. Straight from the bottom of the Mariana Trench, these strange yet apparently edible sea creatures were two dimensional impressions of life, a translucent shape not too dissimilar to a squid.

Available for purchase and consumption by only the maddest souls, these 'things' were the source of many a point-and-laugh, but rarely a tangible transaction. The putrid smell, sickly yet unsweet, threatened to terminate my consciousness; but as I was teetering on the precipice, I was brought back to reality by a most unusual sound. Andy's voice was raised.

The personification of composure and reasoned debate, it was a rare spectacle indeed to witness Andy raising the decibels. In the brief moment between confusion and clarity- as though waking from a surreal dream- my brain worked frantically to ascertain what had caused Andy's fury.

'Andy mate, calm the fuck down would ya? He's just a piss head, not worth it'. Rob was trying to be the voice of reas-

'I ain't a fucking pisshead you kangaroo prick. You need to watch your mou-'

'No I won't calm down. This kind of thing gets to me- I mean it really gets to me. How can a drunk scumbag belittle those who swear by a more savoury lifestyle?' Andy was shouting, his face turning a dark crimson.

'Look- every generation shits on the next, I get that. It's always happened, because that's just how it is. You grew up in the sixties, you were accused of being a junkie. A whore, a fucking serial killer...' Andy didn't usually swear this much, as his forehead began to take on a whole new topographical dimension. Veins appeared here and there, a brilliant blue against their red background.

'Other eras were different...but the same. You always think youths are bad and debauched and all that, because they're hedonists. But now, now we get judged for being healthy and optimistic? How fucked up is that- for being conscientious citizens? What a joke- the snowflake generation? Why- because we don't selfishly destroy ourselves and the world around us?

No, you're an idiot. I'll wear that label as a badge of honour, because if I'm a snowflake you're a fucking locust. And your judgemental, bank-bumming, misery hoarding waste of a generation can do the world a solid by dying an early, quiet death'.

Rob, Jim and I watched on in stunned silence. Everyone else in the bar watched on in stunned silence. Even the ceaseless racket down on Bui Vien seemed to quieten a little. We looked at Paul, wondering how a man as vulgar as he might react.

'Typical snowflake over-reaction', he grinned.

And that was it. Andy's head detached from its perch and rolled off the balcony. It rolled onto the street below us and continued to roll through Saigon. It left the city, heading for some unknown destination; any destination but it's original resting place.

Andy lunged across the table at the grinning buffoon, spilling precious beer in the process. His hands, so underprepared for violence, attempted fist shapes, as he threw his limbs awkwardly at Pauls face. He took hold of Paul's neck, slamming him to the floor before any of us could react. He pressed his entire weight onto the wretch's collar bone, and you could hear it creaking as an old wooden floor might.

Rob reached him first, trying to haul him up by his arms. I yanked at his legs; Jim briefly looked up from his phone.

'You shouldn't do that Andy. Not unless you wish to spend the night in a Vietnamese prison', Jim contributed. 'The food would be unspeakable'.

We eventually pulled Andy up and off the battered Paul, who lay there wheezing as we made our escape. The owner of the bar pursued us like a mad man, cursing in his ugly language. We ran outside, but found our path blocked by the sea alien saleswoman. The barman grabbed my shoulder, only to shove a bill in my face. We paid with a huge tip, and he smiled. He directed us down a covert alley- away from the dangers of police and stinky seafood.

Our bikes were still on Bui Vien- a sad casualty of Andy's outburst. We couldn't retrieve them now, and they would surely be stolen by morning. We called a couple of grab-bikes, the Vietnamese equivalent of Uber, and headed home.

 

Andy didn't speak until the following evening. 'That got a bit out of hand'. Classy understatement from a man who had cheap Saigon beer trickling through his 48-hour beard.

'I'm just pissed off you managed to grow a beard in such a short space of time', I replied. There was little point in lingering on Andy's outburst. Something inside of him had exploded, or imploded, and though we never saw him in the same way again, it was time to forgive and forget.

'It means you're less evolved apparently', Rob suggested. 'We all came from monkeys right, and they're hairy. So the more hair you have, the closer you are to monkeys. If you have less hair, you've evolved more. I read that somewhere'.

Rob finished with an unsure tone, suddenly remembering who he was talking to. Indeed, we all instinctively turned to Andy, our teacher, our professor. But like a hungover cover teacher, unable to muster even false enthusiasm, Andy stared long into the distance. He headed to the toilet.

Was  that it- was Andy broken? Not by the sheer craziness of Saigon, not by the stresses of teaching, nor by the overwhelming burden of an unsure future. Rather, the strongest mind of our group had been vandalised by a lousy Englishman. Pseudo-philosophy had always been Andy's greatest pleasure, yet now he had stared it in the mouth and lost his nerve.

Andy had been strong, strong as an ox in his will and conviction. Endlessly ploughing the field of intellect in search of...what? Good conversation? An improved life? Whatever the reason, it had given Andy a purpose- and now he had lost it. And we had lost him.

I think we knew it was the beginning of the end then. Something had changed, intangible yet perfectly clear to us all. The Vietnamese pressure cooker had become too hot, too unbearable, and a vital switch in all of us had been activated.

Andy returned with a smile on his face. A grimace, in fact, which in other circumstances would have been an amusing post-toilet facial expression, but given the circumstances set alarm bells ringing in us all. He sat back down, and proceeded to tell us of his plans, seemingly made over the last twenty-four hours and confirmed in a scruffy bathroom.

He was going to India. He had a bit of money back home- a few thousand that he had earned in the rat-race before quitting. He'd been too disgusted at American capitalism to touch it, but needs must, he had decided. And his needs dictated distraction in India- spirituality was to be his salvation. If the world around him was to remain evil, then he would retire into his self. Perhaps at last he could be comfortable in his surroundings.

 

Jim was the next to go, though in truth he'd never really arrived. The best part of him had been left at home, whatever that amounted to, and what little energy he had brought with him was poured into cynicism. It struck me as strange that someone so indifferent to the world wanted to write about it, but then Jim was strange.

He was bound for Paris; a successful cousin required a house-sitter, and Jim, the pathetic wastrel, fit the bill perfectly.

I was surprisingly sad to see Jim leave. For all his pessimism, he'd been adequate company. His constant availability as a result of unemployment rendered him useful, and he could, on occasion, engage in interesting chatter. Indeed, it was Jim who had encouraged me to take up writing. He argued my sarcastic quips and not-so-subtle pontificating was perfectly suited to novelising. I told him to fuck off- writing is for nerds, queers, and depressive alcoholics. But at the very back of my mind, a slow burning fuse had been lit. And I have Jim to thank for that.

Upon his departure, we agreed to meet in Paris in one month. That would give him ample time to get fired, leaving us the opportunity to 'road-trip' (another deplorably Americanised term) across Europe. It also gave me the chance to earn a few more dollars, and providing I didn't spend them on nasty lager, supply me with some spending money on this next adventure.

With just myself and Rob left, the final few weeks dragged with relative mundanity. He was hell-bent on catching a life-threatening venereal disease, and I was busy teaching pigeon English. However, this tedium was interrupted three days before my departure by, amongst other things, a young teenage girl, a middle-aged conman, and a chicken.

 

It was an unsunny afternoon in Saigon, and as I was planning my evening lesson, I felt the rumblings of hunger in my belly. A groaning sound, the kind that doesn't go away until sated. But as part of my new routine, I had decided to stop spending so much money on Western take-aways, and I was damned if I was going to eat any more noodle soup. A delicious smoothie was my only hope, a surprisingly large part of Vietnamese culture. Fortunately for me, five minutes from home was the best smoothie stall in the whole of Saigon, and therefore the world.

But the problem with Saigon in rainy season is that although the deluge arrives every year, it somehow takes the locals by complete surprise. As the first drops fall, chaos reigns supreme on the streets. Panic-stricken drivers tear along at unimaginable speeds, aquaplaning their bikes along the already precarious roads. This leaves inexperienced (sensible) drivers such as myself in a dangerous position- fodder for stupid and unreasonable accidents.

It wasn't my fault.

As with most accidents it was unintentional and sudden; one moment I was upright, the next I wasn't. It's fashionable to claim that events took place in slow-motion, that time stood still as I became hyper-sensitive to my surroundings. But this is false, because time does not in fact slow down. It disappears, or at least becomes irrelevant. At the snap of your fingers, everything has changed. It's like the end of a paragraph.

And the beginning of the next. A loud crunch, and then I was on the floor, grappling at my limbs to confirm their presence. I was overcome by relief- survivor's euphoria. I'd diced with death and rolled two sixes- or maybe two fives, bearing in mind my grazed knees. But then I heard the screaming- a shrill and deafening noise that sent a shiver down to my bruised toes.

She can't have been older than thirteen. That was my first selfish thought- surely she wasn't old enough to be driving. There had to be some kind of mistake, maybe she'd stolen the bike. I was off the hook, it had to be all her fault. I tried to think back to what happened, because I could have sworn she blind-sided me for no reason. I'd been driving straight at a steady pace, and this young rapscallion had hit me without reason.

That didn't stop the 'heroes' from moving in. As I was still excusing myself of all blame, half a dozen angry men descended on the scene, shouting and gesticulating in my direction. There was one who had taken a particular disliking to me, and in spite of his miniature stature appeared to be their ring leader. A short six inches from my chin, he spat as he spoke- or spoke as he spat- and pointed at the girl over and over and over and over.

She was still writhing in agony as best she could, struggling to release herself from under the bike. Eventually the heroes stopped shouting at me for a second to help her- but not shorty, who continued to seethe underneath me. They dragged her across the gravel over towards where I stood, ignoring her cries as they did so. One of them grabbed my bike, at which point I felt inclined to get involved. I put my hand on the brake, ensuring there could be no quick getaway.

Unperturbed, they lifted the girl onto my bike, then pointed at me and shouted some more.

'What?' I asked, my voice cracking in fear.

The angry dwarf grabbed my waist and forced me onto the bike.

It dawned on me. 'You want me to take her to the hospital? Yes- the hospital? But I don't know where that is? I...' Breathing became difficult. I started to feel light-headed, panting like an overweight bulldog. I was having a panic attack, the sort usually specific to teenage girls. I fell off the bike, causing it to fall over and once again trap the girls leg. Schadenfreude of the highest order.

At this point, I was sure I was going to die. If the heat and hormonal stress didn't kill me, this bunch of angry do-gooders would finish the job. I lay on the floor hyperventilating; the gravel felt nice on my face, much like pin art does on your hand. It's sharp yet strangely relaxing, and as I focused on that sensation I started to calm down.

I saw stumpy get in a taxi with the girl. I witnessed a much larger (fatter) man pick my bike up and put me on it. I became aware that I was now being driven somewhere on the back of my own bike, creaking under the weight of my impossibly obese captor. It was an out-of-body experience, with both peace and serenity severely lacking.

Suddenly we were racing through traffic at breakneck speed, my sweaty hands grappling the belly in front to keep me from the blurry floor below. My mind was a maelstrom of nightmarish thoughts- where was I being taken? What was this guy going to do to me? You heard the horror stories about naive tourists being kidnapped, and here I was willingly being driven to my probable demise.

'Excuse me?' I Leaned forward, hoping to reason with this psychopath. 'I'd quite like to get off now. You can keep the bike, though I don't think it's worth very much. It's only a rental, but if that's what you want you can keep it. Or money- would you like some money? I don't have very much but I'm sure we can come to some arrangement. Excuse me!'

He wasn't listening, and I doubt he could have understood me even if he was. We spoke different languages- both literally and otherwise. He was a gangster, I was just a boy disguised as someone older. There was nothing I could say or do at this stage save pray- pray to a God with whom I'd never shared a relationship with.

We lurched down a side street, then another, then another, maintaining our ridiculous speed at all times. The roads were increasingly narrow and quiet. Picture the literal manifestation of the road to hell, and this was it. A quiet, tepid, slow-burner of an end, without fanfare, without so much as a whimper.

We pulled to a stop outside the most ramshackle of abodes, where two intimidating men sat outside. I took a deep breath, savouring the oxygen as I did so. Oh air- I never appreciated air enough! We take it for granted, but it's lovely, so light and invisible, and all around us. Even in the smog-infested environment of Saigon it's wonderful, not as wonderful as the countryside, but still wonderful. I wasn't ready to stop breathing yet, I realised very suddenly, as Fatman reached inside his shirt. The two men saw their signal and headed over to our bike. Perhaps, in some last vestige of dignity, they would catch my body as I fell lifelessly from the bike. Like gangsters of old, they had a code, and even as they coolly dispatched white men, they had the decency to catch the corpse.

From under his shirt, Fatman pulled a chicken, and in an instant a mixture of relief and utter bewilderment washed over me.

The chicken was attached to a hook, which was attached to a vest, which was attached by sticky sweat to his pot belly. He yanked it from the hook and handed it to the men, who nodded, sneered at me, then receded into the distance as our bike sped away.

I had survived, by the skin of a chicken's beak, and now I truly had no idea what lay ahead of me. 

To save you the suspense, I'll let you know right away. I went to the hospital, arriving just as the girl from the accident was hobbling into the waiting room on crutches; she had broken an ankle and two toes. 

To save you the tedium, I sat in that squalid waiting room for two and a half hours, while those around me argued over how much to extort. I communicated via a colleague of mine, an assistant in the classroom who could speak both Vietnamese and English. 

To save me the embarrassment, I won't tell you how much I paid. I knew it was a con- that most of the money would not be spent on the unfortunate girl's medical bills. But I also wanted out, not just of the sterile hospital, but out of Vietnam altogether. It had done a number on me, messed with my head, and now I was leaving broke in each and every way aside from the physical, and that in itself was a miracle.  

 

 

 

 

 

Home 

They say that travel broadens the mind, but this is a vague term and one that I feel needs further explanation. Travel can broaden the mind, but often that simply means bending it out of shape. Travel- true travel- leads to questions where there should be answers. You may go on an adventure in the hope of finding yourself, but as far as I can tell, there are only two possible outcomes, and neither is particularly pleasant. 

The first is that by luck, crook and hook, you do find yourself; you discover who you really are- perhaps even who you're going to be. The reflection in the mirror becomes clearer, yet you despise who you see. So you change, return a different person, and onlookers mistake this as a positive because they think that your new experiences have moulded you into a more rounded individual. What they fail to grasp is that a fundamental change in who you are cannot be a good thing. You have become something else- be it consciously or otherwise- and this is incorrectly celebrated by those who have undergone the same heinous transformation.  

The second possible outcome is that you do not find your inner self, and this is just as destructive as the first scenario. You have spent time and money, crushed comfort zones into a distant memory, all in the name of soul searching. And deep down in that dark cavern where life is supposed to reside, you found nothingness. Can there be anything more heart-breaking than discovering nothing?  

But please don't mistake these opinions for nihilism. Vietnam was in fact, on reflection, the greatest experience of my life. It showed me who I was, who I could become, and what I meant to those around me. It was repulsive, but it illuminated the affection I have for familiarity.  

Home was no longer a place of boredom- something to be escaped and forgotten. I came to cherish what I had hated before, and envy those I had previously mocked. The obese cricketer, born, raised and soon-to-die in the same country village, was happy in his own excessive skin. The 9 till 5 admin worker who spent his spare time clicking dragons on the computer, was happy in his own acne-ridden skin. The hair salon owner, who spent her tiny profits on glamorous weekends away with the girls, was happy in her own artificial skin.  

Travel had taught me that happiness needn't be in some distant land, nor at the end of a pipe (be that recreational drug abuse or a pipe-dream, either is applicable). Happiness is just as likely to be found at home, with the people you love and the air you know. 

Naturally, within two months I was on the move again. Paris beckoned, wretched Jim likewise. The problem with staying still for too long is that you start to notice how unhappy you are. That's the thing with travellers- of the exuberant rather than caravan-dwelling sort- we're never happy. Just miserable actors starring in our own depressing play.

 

 


Submitted: March 14, 2018

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