Everything is new. I wander around this ancient temple. Vines creep over worn stone. The tourist book described it as an ancient treasure in the heart of the jungle. What a joke. This place is as old as the string around my wrist. As much of a treasure. Nothing has weight any more. It is untethered and new. These sort of thoughts used to make me smile. I flex the corners of my mouth but they form into a stiff grimace. I feel sick to my stomach out here.
How many days did it take to get here? Sixteen hours on that bus, two nights in that rotten hut, the wizened goats and children. How far back does the tally stretch? I am losing count.
A man stands watching me, ostensibly selling disgusting looking corn snacks. The heat is too much to bear. He doesn’t even try to capture my custom. I must be the only foreigner for miles around unaccosted with pleas to buy or barter, to haggle or smile.
So here I am in front of, on top of, this ruined temple. This sign of the past. This money making emblem of history. A Chinese whisper passed through countless generations. Dilapidated, worn down. Diluted. Now, the story makers are young foreigners drafted in with promises of new experiences and very little money. They write screeds of half informed drivel for travelogues, travel blogs, guides and apps, ebooks and reference volumes, a growing corpus of backpacking hints and tips, trivia, minutiae and inannity.
They tumble, like me, from one locale to the next gawping at half-covered snatches of the past that the locals were only too happy to bury even deeper until they discovered the profit to be made.
I would kick a stone, give it a good solid kick, to show my total disregard for this sterile promontory, but there are no stones around, just shrubby grass, knotted and diseased looking. How long has this pile of rubble been on the earth? How many months have I been adrift now? I look over at the corn snack seller, challenging him, urging him to do his job. Sleepily he regards me, as if he were a dog that has just fucked.
I need to get out of this place, pick up a girl in the city. I could get two. The prices out here are so reasonable. Two, peachy cunts and a gram of coke for the price of a good meal, but that won’t solve anything will it. I thought I promised I wasn’t going to fool myself anymore. I thought I was out here to find myself. God, really? I suck a thick cigarette to feel the bite in my lungs.
And what if I found myself? What then? If I came across myself, in a darkened bar, amongst a crowd, would I recognize myself? Straight away? Would there be some instant connection? I picture a lank, contaminated figure standing on the periphery of a group. A gawdy hostel bar, filled with promiscuous teenagers. I make eye contact with this figure and recoil. There is a dark, bitter look in the eyes, a thin cynicism, that makes my head spin. I feel my tongue flap but I say nothing.
The two of us merely look at each other. Sharing this knowledge. Whatever this knowledge is. That we are alive? That we are alike? This dark well, this narrow plank above an abyss, those shifty glances at the seventeen year old arses, the blank combat. We do not need to smile because we have passed the point where smiles can make a difference.
We merely look at each other, quietly as the rest of the room tilts around us and the crowd empty an endless mound of uppers, downers, shooters, vasodilators, psychoactive agents, coke, k, and other untold nasties into their gaping throats. We follow suit, searching for an oblivion, washed down by oceans of alcohol until there is no land left and everything is washed away.
The traditions are the last thing to crumble under the tidal pull of this wave. They are the hardest kernel, for they are that part that lies outside us. I look again at the temple, the rocks that represent a story so hard to dissolve. This past, this shared history, the human journey from the slime to the highest peaks is the last thread we hold on to.
It is with this that we use to paint over the obvious truths, obliterating the harshities of life in in a layer of crude acrylic colour. We persuade ourselves that our birth, our parents birth, all their efforts and sweat, somehow accrete, make us more substantial, more persistent than the insects that hover around shit.
None of this is ancient. We are products of our time. That is all we can say. Disposable products manufactured by a thoroughly predictable production line. We purl a trail of gunk pushed forward by the land but that is not history. We exchange these stories like golden coins, eagerly rushing to share our culture when there is no such thing.
And what of my other self? The one regarding me in that imagined bar? Is there a bottom we can hit? I long for rock bottom, a solid granite base to catch my spiralling discontent but there is nowhere left to land. There is only the falling, and however you try to accommodate yourself to it, it makes your stomach sick. I reach out a hand.
The five fingers match up with the five towers of the ancient temple, ‘an ancient treasure hidden in the heart of the jungle’. Up above, five stars form a pointed house. It is dark now. This five pointed house expands to cover the entire sky. My eyes are weary but the heat, the heat never stops. Spots of light flicker above me shining from corners of the universe, far away.
My other-self examines me critically. I am no longer certain if his glance is well meaning or not but I am resigned to it. I think about leaving, leaving it all. My other-self is quiet. There is no judgement between us but no confirmation either. An uneasy balance. We hold that stare. We look deep into each other’s eyes. What if I did find myself, well, what then?
by Lochlan Bloom