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Fear, or the lack there of

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Fear, they say, the people who appear in books, the people who author life, they, say, should speed one up, say, dilate the pupils, hasten the synapses, quicken the pace at which the heart squeezes the blood like a fist around a throat, or a fist around the pole of a revolutionary flag, a fist thrust upward, the direction of blood after it is deflated of oxygen, its second trip around the body.

Fear, they, say, if done right, ought to catapult a country into a full-fledged war, pink and brown and sand-colored fists thrusting the sky as if to beat the blue pulp out of it, pulverize it to red dust, the ground that was made to sleep at its feet like a dog without a name, sleeping on the doormat on the other, wetter side of the door.  Then ground and sky would have the same genitalia, the same initials: D.S. Dirty Sky. And where is the mystery in that? Where exactly would the unknown be if I’ve already seen yours and you’ve already seen mine?

I wondered this, nonchalantly, too nonchalantly, in the tiny room with the old yellow sheet thrown on the lumpy lofty bed on the fifth floor of a dirty apartment in Guanzhou, the new town, with the old smell of Garlic and methane flowing through the pipes of neighboring apartments.

I remember Beijing in these smells. When Drew and I moved from the college area to Downtown, the place where grown ups played. We liked this apartment because we had Chinese neighbors who would try to converse with us in the elevator, whose plastic garbage bag smells and after lunch breath smells we would get accustomed to. We liked that we could turn something so old and minty green into a kitchen. That we could scrape the grease layers from the stove and wipe the dust from the exposed pipes and hang our own useful things like towels and gloves and pictures from the newly whiter walls, and cook up our own garlicky, oniony, sugary, cofeeish, honeyfied smells that deafened the memories of past tenants into a dog’s whimper on the other, wetter side of the door.  

Life was slow then. We woke up wandering. Wandering up from our beds with the thin skin of sleep still stretched on our eyelids like a tent moistened by morning fog. Wandering to the bathroom to empty the remnants of sleep from our bladders. Wandering through the emptiness of the living room wondering where to place ourselves so that when the other person emerged from their bedroom they wouldn’t enter on the wrong side and set each other on an offbeat, wrong feet wrong shoes. The morning is tender. The night is more clearly defined.

I told the man in Guanzhou in a clear, tired voice, that I didn’t want to sleep with him.

I had arrived here by bus an hour before the sun went back to its velvet draped room to brood, and rode my bike, weighed down by luggage like an eleven year old girl with new breasts, for 4 hours looking for the cheap inns, the ones I was accustomed to paying 10 kwai a person for. I had been forewarned that Guanzhou was almost as big as Beijing so the likelihood of finding a cheap hotel might be slim, but thought I would emulate my friends’ unstinting, fist-thrusting, persistence, to find a bargain.  Hong Kong and a new visa has already started the slow torturous job of gnawing my bank account to green digital threads that translate to 0 balance in an ATM’s brittle ears.

It was speed that brought me here. 

Speed without the fear. Velocity. Torque. A roll roll roll. A swirl swirl girly whirl. A swivel and a curl that sent me tumbling down the sharp hill on the small country road that mirrored the interstate to Guanzhou. We had climbed, slowly, painfully, 16km up up up to reach the last fingertips of climax, before the road would begin its wobbly downward tumble into the flat, hillless southern end of Guandong province, its spiral into Guanzhou. We didn’t anticipate (who could?) the sudden slide into ecstasy.

I knew I was about to fall the minute my front handle bars began to rumble like a belly ache deep below me, a muscle spasm that I couldn’t reach, couldn’t control. My bike was detaching itself from my body because I hadn’t pressed the breaks soon enough after starting downward, hadn’t given it any warning. I knew I was about to fall and was trying to calculate where exactly to fling my body and where to place my limbs to achieve the least amount of impact.

I flew. Sideways vision. Sky curving. Silver and black pebbled.  Horizontal road. Blackness. Zip. Whiteness. Zip. I am on a porch being cleaned by Jim. I am cold. We go inside a place where there is a pile of women and children arranged across from me like a pyramid, a portrait hanging on a wall with eyes that follow moving bodies.  I am watching them watching me wash my wounds with tears. I lift my shirt and Jim says, “Ohhh.” There is pain. I weep. There are talks of raspberries and boiled water. I want some. Boiled water inside my cold, shivering body. 

We spend the next 2 days in a small town in the mountains where I am under diligent supervision, Jim and Drew taking turns redoing my bandages. I hobble up the stairs of our inn slowly, feeling all the inches and millimeters where skin moves over muscle, rediscovering through pain all the points where my body is connected. I touch my face, and for the first time realize that it did not go unscathed. There is hardened flesh smeared from my lips to my cheek, which is fatter now. There is a bandage on my cheekbone. I feel colder.

Drew says I walk like a gangster. It hurts to laugh. All the boys curl up around my cracked body seeping into gauze like moist cold, like winters in Tropical countries where the cold creeps into your coat, like The Bahamas, which is still warm enough to wear flip flops and tank tops now. They watch movies with me as my body begins its healing process. They send me ahead on a bus to Guanzhou, our destination, the place of a friends’ wedding we’re invited to attend, scared for me to ride again.

 The bus rides at 4 times the speed of a bike (80 km an hour), giving me know time to admire the river slicing through the sandy mountain cliffs.

But I am not scared. No fear to deliver me from the slow, achy movements above my bike. I am chary and unsteady, my bike and I getting to know each other again after the obliterating crash that split us apart. I ride slowly, aware of what accidents can do to bodies, darting between the wheels of buses and the curbs of sidewalks, slicing through the electrified, carbon emitted city heat that pisses on my legs like a dog tired of sleeping on the other, wetter side of a door.

I am slow, getting slower, more exhausted. So that when the man flags me down on the fourth hour of my hotel search, I think that he is just trying to practice his English and that he is just excited to meet a foreigner, like the people in the countryside who fawn over us, treating us like royalty because we are new. I stop my bike, unnew, dented, wreckage weighed down by bags, my body, unnew, dented, wreckage seeping into sagging bandages.

Fear quickens you.  Exhaustion slows you down.

He says that I can stay at his place tonight. I am amazed at my luck and ask him if I can pay. He says it’s ok. I’m exhausted and it is 9:30pm. He rolls my bike along, lifts it up to the fifth floor of his smoke-webbed apartment that has smells of Beijing in it, opens the door to his room, puts my bags down on the floor and puts his arms around my waist, one of them on the raspberry gash in my side. I flinch and tell him that I do not want to sleep with him and that I have an American boyfriend who is 198cm tall (In case of any misunderstanding, Peter is NOT my boyfriend). He says that he has many girlfriends and that he likes foreign girls. He lays his hand on my wound again. I show him the dressing and he tries to touch the skin around it. I pick up Drew’s phone (which I have with me for safety) and threaten to call my 198cm boyfriend who is on his way to Guanzhou. He relents, and I roll my things back down the stairs nonchalantly, too nonchalantly, suddenly no longer feeling the pain in the wound on my waist.

I descend into the hot night city air that hovers like a ghost in an alleyway, like the sour, hot breath of a man on heat. I am not scared. Nothing in me quickens or thrusts fists. I am not even angry. The city is like other cities – busied into fluorescent haze like a techno music video, silhouetted bodies popping and locking against blazing advertisements and moving subway trains.

I consider sleeping at a net bar and breathing in cigarette smoke as i dosed in front of a computer screen for 8 hours. I consider going to a 24-hour McDonald’s where i can block the flourescent light out with my sleeping mask and use my laptop bag as a pillow. There is a park across the street and I am tempted to go sleep in it. Anything seems a better alternative to what I just experienced.

I go for one last ride around the block and find a hotel for 100 kwai. I weigh this against the park option and decide it’s worth it to have a clean, private place in which to change my bandages.

I stay inside the hotel for the whole next day feeling empty and cold. Feeling slow and limp.  My thoughts are blurred by the blue underwater haze of too much sleep. The only thing reminding me that I am alive is the pain reawakened in the naked flesh in my side that glimmers like a diamond medallion in the sunlight beaming down from the one window of my hotel room.

2 Responses to “Fear, or the lack there of”

  1. netzy Says:

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    Hi Nakia, I can see and feel your fall. so glad that you are doing much better now. Good friends take care of their friends - proud to hear that the boys took good care of you. Happy trails as you continue on your journery. Jim’s mom

  2. Aldo Lewy Says:

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    A round of applause for your blog post.Much thanks again.

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