Saturday, September 24, 2011

Meanwhile, Back in Asia

The shirtless men shoveling sand into cement mixers stop for beer lunch and to nap on park benches beneath trees. The woman in the flat bad noodle truck fans herself and sighs.
A taxi driver leans into a beaded seat and straightens his collection of hanging charms and gods from strings around the rear-view mirror. A passenger enters, a woman in a floral patterned polyester dress carrying a green eared poodle in a paper bag. She points ahead and the driver pulls into heavy traffic only to sit at a red light.
The garbage crew turns the corner by the department store and heads down the alley. Mozart is playing from speakers off the back of their yellow truck. The weather-beaten face of a woman in bamboo hat and surgical mask blends into the trash as she hops down to pick up a bulging sack. Her eyes beam.
The boys in mohawks with the American eagles stitched in silver studs on the backs of their jeans trade cigarettes and preen, tossing their butts in a fountain. They are drinking yellow tea from plastic cups in plastic bags through plastic straws. Not a girl in sight. They laugh and hold hands.
Out of the elevator comes the 15 year-old in black equestrian riding cap, trotting off to his stabled pony, frothing over the smooth and sultry lyrics of a new Backstreet Boys’ CD his mother has bought him. The office girl in ruffled mini-skirt eyes the digital display on her Android. She’s taking a golf lesson to raise her social status and now must study a slow-motion recording of her swing.
Passing by is an old men on a pedal bike, trodding slowly down the road holding up traffic. Unabashed, staring ahead, he coughs up a red wad of betel nut that splashes to the cement road like a boxer spitting up a lip full of blood.
Boys and girls in uniform stand waiting for the bus. School insignias blaze across their breasts, bags of books tossed on the dusty sidewalk melt in the heat. They chat, punch each other in the arms, speak English when one of them leaves, “Bye-Bye.”
A gaggle of men stand in the doorway of a café lifting their belts and staring at nothing. They are headed across the street to play chess but block the entrance for anyone trying to enter. A young mother pushing a stroller waits to get by. No one moves. No one budges to help. Freon from the air-conditioner flies out the gaping hole and no one says a word, the woman stands, staring blankly at her shoes, waiting for the men to move aside. Across the park a heavily made up woman beneath a parasol stops to gawk at a white skinned foreigner. She is carrying a ten year old boy and wiping chocolate syrup from his fat cheeks with a bib she wets with her tongue. Their eyes follow every movement of the foreigner, who is dancing in the grass surrounded by three little bouncing barefoot toes. There is no movement, no blinking, just fixation, stunned awe.
A father leans against the hard bark of a tree and laughs. “This will be the last time we fly,” he grins. “I’m getting too tired.” His three daughters plead. “Okay. Okay.” But then suddenly he rises, takes the strings of the kite and bolts into a sprint across the green park grass. Laughter. Jubilant and warm, so sweet it surrounds him. As the kite rises higher and higher into the sky the father feels peace. He has returned to the end of the world, and for now there’s no place like home.

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