We are still on Saturday, and as the seaweeders cut leaves, and Wen and Qin Qin slog through their decoding work, Clete just lazes about, trying to sleep out his sentence.
In today's installment, we switch back to his point of view in a personal journal entry, mostly centered on activities in the evening. If you wondered who would crack first in a test of wills between Qi and Clete, was there EVER any doubt on the part of our clueless, socially inept professor who has the capacity to absorb punishment and brush it off?
Thanks for reading, and a happy 3rd day of Christmas to you all!
And so the story continues ...
Personal Journal entry – recalling
U.S. Time: Saturday, August 18, 2012
Island Time: Dragon, Month 7, Day 2, XingQi 6
Project Time: Week 8, Day 7
Saturday marked the start of the second full day of my incarceration. The seeds were sorted (my power sieve made short work of that task), the coconuts were as bald and as smooth as billiard balls, and a nice bundle of coconut fiber was dried and ready for spinning to rope. I looked around for minor repairs I could make on the Hall of Justice, but it was remarkably well maintained. I mean, really, for the comings and goings of animals and vermin, Qi and Fei may have been better served just living in a car port. They had no need of walls. Why even bother? This household harbored no modesty in the sense that I understand it, and clothing was purely optional. If Lum was a girl as crunchy as granola, Qi was rock candy.
I had suggested to Qi that she take me with her in the morning, but she declined. “Whatever you do, stay in perimeter!” she ordered. I never thought I’d find myself volunteering for slave-boy duty to fan her while she worked, but I think I knew that I would be bored hanging around with nothing to do. But that is what I literally did. The hammocks were in shade so I just crawled in and lay about daydreaming. For all of Qi delusions about maintaining a karma-free property, I had to admit there were no blood-sucking flying insects about. I suspect it had more to do with what plants were cultivated, efficient drainage, the relative size of the predator community, and the variability of the wind more than anything else. Still, her yard delivered what many tropical resort commercials promise but fail to deliver, long naps under trees, unmolested by pests.
Of course, my bar had been lowered on the standard of pest molestation. Having big centipedes hang on you would creep most people out. I didn’t have to avoid accidentally crushing them. They just moved about all over me instinctively knowing how to dodge death by crushing.
And then there were the pangolins—the weird little, foot-long anteaters, looking like they are dressed in chain mail suits at a Renaissance fair, made from toenails. The little critters would come out of the trees onto me, lapping the salt off my face with their worm-like tongues. They had taken a liking as well as licking to me. I was not sure what was worse, my continued profuse sweating, or their constant ministrations. They are but mere bush meat to some of the oil-field work crews I’ve been out with in southeast Asia. They only supply you a few mouthfuls when cooked—I always just stuck to my nutrition bars and MREs when those “dragon rats” were on the menu.
As midday passed and we approached Western quitting time, I realized I had only to hold out another 24 hours and I’d be free to return to work. My sentence would officially end at sundown the next day.
Wen came over again with dinner cooked by Feng. I was disappointed that Feng again did not join us. Today’s repast was something very different. She had prepared hard, crunchy-crispy crackers that you would then top with seaweed and some kind of nut-and-bean-based protein paste. They were quite tasty.
“My cousin is quite the creative one to come up with such a dish,” said Qi.
“Mother also makes a shellfish paste for these that is quite tangy,” said Wen.
“Tell her they are excellent for me,” I said.
“I especially like her shrimp paste morsels,” said Faye.
“When have you had those?” asked Qi.
Qi’s tone was nonchalant, but the conversation came to a dead halt.
“I don’t remember exactly,” said Faye after a long pause.
“Maybe, the 15th day of this month?”
“That’s funny. You guys don’t look Jewish,” I said, hoping to lighten the mood. The joke only caused puzzled looks. Qi then glared at me.
Faye continued. “I am not a strict vegetarian like you Mother.”
This announcement had the quality of a “coming out” admission. Qi almost seemed to tremble to me at those words. College professors and residence administrators get to see these “tender” family moments more than they would like. I suppose I should feel flattered. Faye evidently decided to bring up her major break with her mother’s ethical system in the presence of a rational adult (me) whom she expects to back her up—except that she forgot to tell me about it. As if I didn’t have enough things on my list for Qi to hate me for. Just as I was expecting Qi to explode, I thought maybe I should create a diversion.
“This cracker-and-paste cuisine reminds of a unique seasoning I was introduced to by a gas field crew I was with in Cameroon. They had this same kind of dish we were eating for lunch.”
“What was it?” asked Wen. Good girl! Smart girl! She was following my lead.
“How about I show you? I’m going to need an escort outside of perimeter, Princess?” I said, looking at Qi.
“Put all the crackers on a platter. And I’m going to need one of the pangolins.”
We gathered up the food, left the grounds of Justice, and I set my chosen pangolin buddy down on the ground to find us an ant colony. To his credit (I assume it was a guy), he not only found a lively hole teeming with residents, he restrained himself, staying karma-free, and did not eat a single one. Bill W. would have been proud of this guy.
I set the platter of crackers on next to the colony exit and ants began to crawl onto the morsels, getting themselves stuck in the paste. I picked one up.
“My crew called it God’s pepper,” I said, popping one into my mouth. “Wow, not bad. Just as pungent as I remember. Try it.” Wen and Faye both took crackers and ate them, ants and all.
“They ARE spicy,” said Wen.
“It’s food that bites back,” said Faye.
I turned to Qi. “I would offer you one, but,”
“Clete,” she said, pulling me aside, “what is your point with all of this?”
“I think you know. So, I’m going to eat one more, but I’ll donate the rest of my share to the ants. How’s that?”
“Do whatever you want Clete,” said Qi. “Look, they are swarming over here. Their young queens are ready to take flight.” We all went over to take a closer look. “That’s odd. One of the males has a silver leg.”
“Oh, that’s one of the fellows Dr. Wong equipped yesterday,” said Faye.
“Equipped?” said Qi.
“He was putting prosthetic limbs on all of our resident bugs.”
I took a close look. “Sure enough, that’s one of my guys there having sex with a queen. I guess Plato was right.”
“Don’t the males engage in combat to have the right to mate with the princess?” asked Wen.
“Unless I miss my guess, I think that’s a pile of dead bodies there. Wow, from Omega to Alpha in one day. Dude! You are one bad-ass! Fuck yeah!”
“What kind of limbs did you put on the bugs?” asked Qi.
“Titanium. It’s a very light metal, but sturdy.”
“You gave them weapons!”
“I thought they were more like canes and wheelchairs myself.”
“I CAN’T believe this! You are the devil. What have I invited into my house? This is all your fault isn’t it? Is it any wonder that my daughter has become corrupt? Girls, leave that food for the ants. I can’t stand any more of this. I have to go home and lie down and think.”
“Aw Auntie! Aren’t we going play cards again tonight?” asked Wen. “I would like to win back my $80 thousand. Don’t you want to get out of Sensei’s debt?”
“That’s enough of that young lady!”
After returning to Justice, Qi sent Wen and Fei with the cards off to play with any of the other girls they could talk into it.
“I am so upset at you. I need to be alone for a bit.”
“I was just trying to be helpful. I’m going to be punished aren’t I?”
“Just … get out of my sight.”
I went to the back of the cottage to await my next summons. I whistled and in an instant the pangolins were around me. While Qi’s back was turned, I grabbed a couple of handfuls of ants out of the swarm, squished them and brought them back with me. “OK kids,” I said to my little friends, “your favorite food. I’ll take all the karma lumps for you. Eat up and enjoy,” I said, crouching as I dropped the bounty of ants into a pile before them. I got up and turned around. Qi was right behind me.
“You had ants crawling all over your arms. You are so obvious. You think I’m an idiot.”
“No. But I do think you’re a religious fanatic..”
“Why do you keeping showing me such contempt? Why won’t you respect me?”
“Qi, I don’t know. Sorry, it’s not you. I have a lot of problems with authority. Frankly I’m surprised I’ve lived as long as I have. If it makes you feel any better, I have these problem with police and courts in other countries too. But they’re easily bribed. Your problem in dealing with me is, is that you have integrity and moral standards. If you ask me you are this Guardian of Justice job a bit too seriously. Lighten it up, you’ll live longer.”
My comments seemed to only exasperate her. She pointed to the bin of coconuts. “Explain how the coconut work has been completed so fast.”
“Automation. The seeds are sorted too, each into coarse, medium, and fine grades. I was hoping to surprise you.”
“Maybe I do need you follow me around fanning me.”
“A suggestion? Why don’t we just sit on the porch quietly, and you can do something like embroider, like I do with Lee. That works! I promise I’ll be still.”
“NO. I refuse to do anything that reminds you of Lee.”
“Why? We have our differences and we put on a show about arguing a lot, but you know what I really like about her … ?”
“I … do … not … want to talk about Lee.”
She grabbed me by the hand and took me to the porch. She motioned me into a chair and then sat in a stool with her back to me and then let loose all of floor-length hair. “For the rest of the night you will brush and detangle my hair. You will do it without causing me any pain. THAT will keep you busy and out of trouble.”
It was tedium, of course, but that was the point. The process reminded me that Rico used to have me do the same thing on Sunday nights, back when we were together. She would watch Japanese-language TV on UHF as I worked her hair by hand—her hair was extremely fine and it tangled very easily. I knew enough this time to keep my mouth shut about Rico.
“I just noticed. All of your lice are gone.”
“I told you I sent them away for now.”
“You won’t believe me, but I really want to be a trouble-free prisoner.”
“My advice is try to do nothing. I can accept that as proper behavior for the balance of your term. I have decided that you cannot learn anything new. There is no point in trying to rehabilitate you.”
“I think I can manage doing nothing.”
“If you do anything tomorrow, remove deadheads in the garden. That will be your job. Do no more than that.”
“Aye aye ma’am.”
I worked on in silence for a time. The light started to die on us, but it was a task that did really didn’t require sight.
“Water hurts me.” She said. Her tone was confessional.
“Fresh water. Unless it is falling from the sky, it irritates my skin. Gives me sores and rashes. That is why I do not bathe.”
“Water is a light acid. Carbolic acid. The longer it is exposed to oxygen, the more acidic it gets. You must be hyper sensitive.”
“I am. I wish I was not this way.”
“I am sorry. It must make life difficult for you.”
“You would probably like mineral salt baths.”
The lights went out and I retired to my hammock. Just as I was dozing, Qi climbed in and lay on top of me, resting her head on my chest.
“Qi. You got in the wrong hammock.”
“Mmm. Sh.” She started to snore.
I guess she was exhausted, remembering how hard they work on this island. I was an unnecessary and bothersome distraction on top of all of her day’s stresses. The ropes of the hammock creaked rhythmically as we swayed, both from the momentum she created and in the breeze.
I said, “I just had a memory. It was an image of sleeping with you in a hammock like this, but on a boat. Like in a past life.”
She murmured as if in a dream trance, “Oh Wong, shut up. You never were a good Buddhist. Always too worldly. Don’t even try.”
As we lay there, a warm storm came over us, continually dowsing us with rain. I shifted so that we were side-by-side, but covering her a bit. She was apparently accustomed to sleeping in the rain. However, the driving pulse of raindrops kept me awake.
When the call of nature came upon me as it inevitably did three times a night, I did not bother to rouse us out, as it seemed irrelevant to do so sleeping essentially in a rinse cycle with a woman who herself always smelled of sweat, stress hormones, pus, vaginal discharge, smegma, tonsil stones, tooth decay, shit, and urine. And if she had night sweats that night, who knew? I used my hands and my fundoshi to gently scrub her. She responded by shifting her posture as I pushed her, but never gaining full consciousness. When we arose the next morning, she was probably the cleanest she had been since I’d met her. She actually smelled pretty good to me.
© Copyright 2012 by Vincent Way, all rights reserved.
Next week: Clete breaks perimeter before his sentence is up and trouble is a-brewin' ...