How to Have Jet Lag

by Carolyn Nash

How to Have Jet Lag

1. The first night you go to a restaurant on the other side of town. The streets smell like gasoline and smoke, and everyone stares at your white skin like it’s a cancer. You walk with your hands in your pockets. Even after dark, it’s so hot your chin sweats. The restaurant has rotating fans that exchange the fire heat of the kitchen with the slow, sloppy humidity outside. Your noodle soup costs $1.50 and tastes like wet beef jerky. Your mango juice costs $1.00 and tastes like mango. There’s a sheet of glass over the table and as you eat, you watch small bugs scurrying beneath it, chewing at the wood.

2. You wake up at three in the morning. Your heart flutters like a paper snowflake and you know you will not sleep anymore. You check the window twice to be sure the street lamp isn’t the sun. Eventually you go downstairs and sit in the front room of the hotel. The two boys from the front desk are sleeping on the floor. You pick past them quietly and steal a pack of cigarettes from behind the counter. You sit on the desk and smoke until the night starts to shift, as though someone is draining the air of its inky darkness. Your exhaled plumes become visible in the first light. One of the front desk boys wakes up and when you offer him a cigarette, he is so happy he smiles until breakfast.

3. At four in the afternoon, your legs feel swollen and water-logged. A cat nap, you tell yourself.

You shut off the alarm at six. You shut off the alarm at seven thirty. You shut off the alarm at eight and don’t reset it.

At three in the morning, you wake up.

4. The next evening you go across the street for a beer and there is a drunk American lounging in the middle of the bar. He turns up the television volume so that Seinfeld plays louder than the call to prayer. He speaks bad Spanish to a Spanish girl who doesn’t want to talk to him. Then he finds a thin Indonesian girl in a denim skirt. He throws his wallet on the floor and when he picks it up, he crawls on all fours until his head is between her legs. He looks up at her pussy and grins. Then he sits back in his chair and laughs.

You no longer want your beer, so you go back to the hotel. In the room, your phone rings. It’s the boy from the front desk. He asks you if you would like to go dancing with him. No, you say. He asks if you would like to practice your Indonesian. No, you say. Ten minutes later he knocks on your door. Would you like a massage? he asks. You ask him to go away. Maybe I can sleep with you tonight? he asks. You shut the door.

5. You lay in your bed without moving. It is three o’clock in the morning. Then it is one minutes later. Then it is another minutes later. You remember when that was how you thought about the drugs: one more day, and I’ll be one day clean. One more day, and I’ll be two days clean. You wait for the call to prayer and when it comes, you stand up. You pour buckets of cold water over yourself and scrub the sweating imperfections of your body. Then you go outside.

The streets are empty and wet; it must have rained all night. Instead of the fuel and the smoke, you taste earth, water, the raw potato smell of new air. A man peddles by with bottles of warm soy milk in his bicycle basket. His bare chestnut toes look leathery, like the skin of a racehorse. You hear the slim noise of his gears as he works he way up the road, his legs pumping and pulsing like a sewing machine.

He is wearing a hat and when he cycles past your dusty curb, he doesn’t even see you. You think of all the habits and rhythms that transpire each day, without you. The world feels solid, a body that is loyal to a measure of time fuller and richer than your clock can count. You go back to your room and sleep until breakfast.

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Filed under Issue 5: The Far East, Prose

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