Living the Dream by Conor O’Reilly

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Photo by Laura Kiselevach

 

‘Living the Dream’ by Conor O’Reilly

 

Somewhere in the middle of Walking Street, between the custom made leather jewellery and the linen shirts with traditional tribal patterns to be exact, the ones beside the fruit stall and not the fried noodles, Alex looked up at a blank paint peeled wall. “What the fuck am I doing here?” he asked out loud. Nobody answered.

It all started as a coming of age adventure. He booked his round the world ticket through a travel agent, bought a rucksack and all kinds of other things he would never use but still would weigh him down, arranged for visas, checked out some Lonely Planets from the local library, perused the internet for tips and tricks, quit his job, made sure his bank account had never been fuller, said goodbye to his friends and family to the tune of beer swelled tears, then set off to the mythical east, Asia.

Alex sought spiritually. He sought renewal. He sought himself. He was looking for a way out of the normality his future presented to him. These are his words, well paraphrased they are, from his diary which he kept scribbled in a leather bound notebook that he’d bought in Marks and Spencer with the intention of charting his journey around the world.

In India he discovered Yoga and the Buddha. He trekked into the foothills of the Himalayas and volunteered building houses in a shanty town in Hyderabad. He sweated on trains and spent a week shitting nothing but tepid water in Pondicherry before he eventually made it to the day his departure flight took him to Bangkok.

He quickly hopped over to Cambodia where he spent a week in Sihanoukville trying to convince an art non-profit that he was artistic, showing them photography from India and rainy cow trodden Irish fields. In the end he agreed to relent and spent the last four days getting drunk and stoned with the charity’s volunteers in a beach bar. Every night he tried to have sex with a different volunteer. Every night he gave up trying and found himself a prostitute for three euro instead.

In the morning after the fourth night he sat on the beach smoking a joint mixed with a generous sprinkle of opium. He watched polluted water of the bay wash up against the sand. He saw the children pretending to sell paintings to tourists then offering them drugs instead. He thought about India and Ireland and his future. He finished the joint, stumbled back to his beach hut, packed his bag and took the first bus to Siem Reap and resumed his journey of self-discovery.

On arrival he dropped his bag in a guest house and went straight out to tour the famous Angkor Wat. He realised he forgot his camera and returned promptly to his guest house to realise that he had not only forgotten his camera in Sihanoukville, but also his iPad, several hundred euro in cash, the underwear he had been drying after washing it in the sink, and The Quiet American which he was about two thirds through finishing. To celebrate he bought a litre of rice whiskey and bottle cap full of opium and locked himself in his room for the afternoon.

The next day he emerged washed and shaved, his bag packed and his room scoured for even the tiniest fleck of dust that belonged to him, and headed straight for the airport.

Back in Bangkok he found a hotel off the Khao San Road where he slept for a whole day. He then went out and scoured the bars for stories and tips of where to go next. Most suggested Pat Pong to see a ping pong show, and after that word had it that Van Vieng in Laos was where travellers were to be found.

After a night in Pat Pong he woke up in his room with no memory of how he had returned safely to the nondescript hotel in another alley on a street he’d only walked down twice. Loud knocking at the door had woken him. When he asked who it was he was told if he wanted to stay another night he would have to pay now. It was 8am.

After a breakfast of fried noodles from a push cart next to his hotel, he was sitting on a bench drinking cold water and feeling sorry for himself. A travel agent came out to talk to him and convinced him to take a flight to Vientiane that night where a mini bus would collect him and take him directly to Vang Vien. There was only one place left. It was too good a deal to resist.

Before he left he realised he hadn’t spoken to his parents in two weeks, so he found an internet café and wrote a long email full of the wonders of the Asia, it’s history, the people he’d met, and how affordable everything was here. He left out much of the finer details about his diet of rice whiskey, opium, and prostitutes, and the fact that he’d lost his Christmas present.

Vang Vien wasn’t much different than Sihanoukville in that he spent much of the time drunk and stoned. Except instead of a beach he was floating down a river sitting in an old truck tyre tube and hanging out with other drunk and stoned worldly travellers. He felt better about himself and forgot about Cambodia. He started to relax and strike up conversations with people. He heard stories that excited him. He heard of places to go. When he woke up in the morning he tried to remember to locate them on the map. He had sex with the same girl from Denmark two nights in a row. It was good sex. He couldn’t remember if he wore a condom.

At this stage Alex was beginning to appreciate his luck. He checked his map and plotted a route. He would move north to Luang Prabang, then take the slow boat to the Thai border and from there go to Chiang Mai, then head south to the beaches and islands where he expected to chill out in a beach hut and maybe do some writing. No more opium, no more prostitutes, and no more planes, he promised himself.

In Luang Prabang he got sucked in. He was staying next to a Swiss guy called Frederik and every evening they’d sit outside and drink Beer Lao and smoke joints. They would talk together about their journeys, count the geckos on the wall, and try to convince each other to go in the same direction as they were each headed. At night he would carouse the night market, a silent bazaar of stalls lining the street where people would crouch down and discuss prices in the low light provided by the few dangling bulbs that lit the area. After ten days in Luang Prabang he realised that it was time to move on.

When his plane landed in Chiang Mai he stepped out into the air and looked around. There were all sorts about. Young backpackers, old couples, old and young couples, single old men with younger Thai women, and voices and languages and accents which left him lost. It was loud, and it had that awful airport feel of arriving at the wrong place.

The woman at the taxi stand snapped at him when he didn’t know where he was staying. He didn’t. Town was where he stayed. Always town. Eventually he got dropped off at the Night Bazaar and found a room. That was three days ago.

Now he was standing in the middle of the street, people everywhere, near to tears. “What the fuck”, he said, “what the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck”. A tear rolled over his cheeks and he wiped his eye. He felt his face squashing under the pressure from his state of anxiety and hopelessness. Another tear rolled. And then he just stood there yelping with tears racing from his eyes and over his cheeks. “What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck” he whimpered over and over.

People saw him and walked around him. He was young. Dressed lazily as if he existed only for tourist markets in South East Asia. His hair was long and unwashed and his beard was not one to be proud of. Alex’s type came ten a penny at tourist markets, except they usually didn’t cry. This one had obviously some serious problems worth avoiding.

He found an empty curb and sat there sobbing looking at everything. “What the fuck”, he said again. “Why am I here?” he asked again. He looked up but couldn’t see a single star. He looked down in between his legs and under his crotch at the gutter where a squashed cockroach lay looking up at him, its legs and tentacles spread-eagled, fossilised in the filth of the street. He lifted up his foot and put it down lightly over the insect’s corpse. Looking forward again he shook his head. Tears dropped to his knee caps.

“I shouldn’t be here. I should be home. Home is where we all should be. All these people will go home tonight but not me. I have nothing. No one. Here. Nothing. Who am I supposed to find here. I don’t belong here. Jesus fucking Christ. I don’t belong here. I should be back in Ireland. Building my future. Not some unreality. Some false existence. Some pretence. Pretending to be what? A nomad. Fucking nomads sell shit. They have family. I’m just a tourist. Just a tourist. I’m like that cockroach that roamed out from the dark. Crushed by his own adventure. I don’t belong here. These people only see my skin and my money. They’ll never see me as something other than this. I don’t belong here. I belong somewhere that people see me as something else. Not a ship in the night. Not a ship in the night. I don’t belong here. I don’t belong here. I’m a ship in the night. A sinking squashed cockroach of shit in the middle of the fucking night.” Still tears slowly wet his shorts and calves.

His eyes were still shining with tears and his chest and stomach hurt with an anxious grip. He felt like forcing himself to vomit. He stood up quickly and walked as quickly as possible, clutching himself like he was afraid to spill more of his self on to the street, this time his secrets, himself, not just his tears and dignity. At the large redbrick gate at the entrance to the market he hailed a tuk tuk back to his hotel.

After sitting on his unrumpled bed, staring through the hotel window out on to the street light lit city for that whole night, he stood up and shook his head slowly. The vice grip had lessened around his chest and but he was still near to tears.

He washed, shaved, and combed his hair. He took his rucksack downstairs and emptied its entire contents into a large food soiled rubbish skip in an alley full of brown wet streams of some sort of liquid. He walked back to his room, took his passport and a few other bits and pieces, his watch, wallet, loose change, and then left. He stopped and got his hair cut. He threw his t-shirt in the rubbish of the barbers and bought a clean plain white one from a 7-Eleven next door. By 11 o’clock he was at the airport and waiting for a flight to Bangkok.

Again Alex went straight to the Khao San Road. He walked the entire length of it and looked at everything. When he came to the far end he went to where he had bought the flight to Vientiane. Next door was a tailors and here he got fitted for a suit. Grey, single breasted, with a white shirt and black silk tie. He left and vanished into an internet café. When he came out an hour later he had two printed pieces of paper in his hand. He collected his suit and put it on in the tailors, then got in a taxi and went to the airport.

Twenty six hours and two transfers later he pulled over in another taxi in front of his childhood home. His parents’ home. A red-bricked detached suburban house on the outskirts of Dublin. A house with a garden, roses, trees, and memories. A house that held every piece of himself in each brick. He saw himself looking out the window at where he stood. He took a long slow blink, but it was still there.

He rolled the window down and felt the air with his cheeks. The ground was damp with November. He could smell the earth of the flowerbeds after the rain and the wind blew light and moist against him. He could see into the house where stained glass doors that led into the kitchen. He could make out the shapes of his parents, his mother clearing things after lunch, and his father coming back and forth like a train on a schedule. He didn’t need to hear anything, he knew what they said.

“Is this where you want to go”, the taxi driver asked him innocently.
“I wish I knew. I’m not sure I should be here”, Alex replied.
“Well I can take you somewhere else if you want”
“I’m sure you can, but there is nowhere else that I can go. Not anymore”, Alex said as he leaned forward and with a folded fifty euro note pointing from his outstretched arm.
“So be it” answered the taxi driver, as he reached back and took the note, counted his change and handed it back to a suntanned open hand.

It was a mirage almost. The high gable. The rose bushes. The permanently overcast sky and the almost never dry concrete footpath. He felt the chill of the air through the thin fabric of his shirt and shivered. Alex took a deep breath to stifle the nerves.

Suddenly the taxi driver honked his horn harshly and revved his engine. Alex snapped back to consciousness. He was standing in front of the taxi, blocking it from moving off. Alex nodded an apology and stepped off the road.

He fixed his jacket, and looked at the house one more time, but it was too late. The dream had ended for another to begin. The front door now stood wide open, and his mother and his father stood by each other staring out at their thin and bedraggled son. Their only son. Alex blinked long and hard again, but they still stood there as in a portrait, along with the damp concrete, and the overcast sky, and the rose bushes.

 

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Bio:

Conor O'Reilly
Conor O’Reilly is based in Dublin. He is a teacher, writer, internet addict, and family man. He has spent a long period of his life living in Asia which has influenced much of his writing. For more of his writing visit ifihadaminutetospare.com
 

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