Snakes

By Chris Chiam

I sat in the terminal, enveloped by a particularly grey and irritating smog. You might think that is a ruthless and impolite way to describe people, but if you spend an extended period of time in a characterless environment, then the tedium will contaminate those contained within it.

My eyes had been on a mission to locate points of interest for nearly two hours. A futile mission. The repetitive sting of boredom hurt more each minute, and I thought about displaying my discomfort with a frown. Then I realised there was no need – my resting expression is a frown.

I hate having nothing to look at. The inevitable result is an involuntary look into myself, a passtime that I’m not a fan of. I have always found it unsettling staring into a pristine bathroom mirror. Everything is far too clear and sharp; too real. To me, self-examination is a similar experience.

Fortunately, this visit to the bathroom of introspection was denied by the arrival of two young men, who plopped themselves down in the seats opposite.

The first was fairly small. I approved of his dress sense. A black hoodie, black trousers, and a pair of worn but still appropriately black Adidas trainers. If you aren’t impressed by such things, well, one need only to examine his face, which was a cocktail of smug contentment and permanent amusement. It was as if he knew that his life was going alright, and that in comparison everyone else’s existence was confined to hilarity. I couldn’t be offended, for I am not oblivious to the comedic nature of my own life.

Outfit-wise, the second man was much more of a spectacle. There was a reason that the mass of grey had not claimed him. Imagine a black shirt, and the meaningless phrase “Summer time vibes” (or something to that effect, I forget the specific wording) emblazoned on that garment multiple times in vibrant lettering. Now I assume you understand. He sported a welcoming grin, flanked by a dark and reasonably well-groomed beard, which was so persistent that it bordered on unsettling. Noticeably, at least one limb was constantly in motion. A leg, an arm, or indeed both – their movements were dictated by an intense and unknown drum beat.

In light of this description, you might be puzzled at why I found these upstanding gentlemen to be of any interest whatsoever. Certainly, in the same way as the other people here, I considered them to be aesthetic pollution, but of a different and more entertaining kind. For instance, the way they interacted was reminiscent of children. Like two siblings, they continually prodded and antagonised each other, only to silently make up and resume conniving immediately after. I watched as their faces flitted between irritation and appreciation, with no expression ever assuming dominance.

From what I tuned into over my music, it seemed that they were both English. However, they had a habit of lapsing into caricature-ish Australian accents. I initially found this frustrating, but after witnessing a ten minute exchange of wild eyes and multiple “cunts”, I warmed to these characters. As I share a similar sense of humour, I figured that if I were close to these men then I would certainly be a participant in their antics.

Something somewhere must have deigned this lapse in my intolerance as an actual willingness to participate. The first man suddenly addressed me. Damon Albarn’s words were louder, so I removed my headphones. Note that I really dislike such conversational ambushes, so I sunk into an arctic and defensive mood.

“Alright mate?” he said, leaning forward in his seat, which was the colour of rotten eggs.

I strained a smile, complimented by an upwards nod.

“Where are you going?”

“Montreal,” I replied.

“Ah that’s bless,” he said, as if it were a remarkable event. “We are too. Have you been there before?”

“Yeah, last year.”

His brown hair dared to trespass onto a forbidden area of forehead, so he pushed it back.

“It’s my third time there,” he said casually. “Do you like it?”

“Yeah, it’s a cool city.”

“It’s sick isn’t it?” he said, his response driven by boyish enthusiasm. “What do you plan on doing there?”

“I don’t have a plan. Just improvise I guess.”

Clearly expecting a lengthier answer, he had begun to gnaw on the back of his thumb. At this point the second man, who had been politely listening whilst providing a knee-slapping soundtrack, joined us.

“I’ve never been,” he said, in the jovial tone that you would expect from the being contained within such a ridiculous shirt. “I’m really looking forward to spending my time there.”

I had no ammunition to reply with. Nor any real inclination. Now that the shirt had begun to emit words, I found it all the less inoffensive.

“Why are you visiting?” he continued.

“I’ve no particular reason. I liked it last time, so I figured I’d like it again is all.”

“So you’re just travelling around then?”

“Yeah.”

“Cool, cool,” he said, trying his best to massage out the awkwardness that I had introduced. I could tell that he wanted me to ask after their reasons and all that. Are you surprised that I had no inclination to do that either?

At this point, the first man decided to re-enter the fray. Aligning my abyssal gaze with his face, I noticed that he hadn’t shaved in a while, his cheeks and chin littered with little blonde weeds. This detail annoyed me slightly.

“Do you like to drink?” he inquired, his voice nearly dipping into the faux-Aussie accent.

“Yeah, of course,” I stated. Of course I fucking do.

He then proceeded to recommend me a bunch of bars to visit. I didn’t really listen, for his advice was unnecessary. It’s easy enough to find that temporary haven in any city.

I yawned, and rubbed my hair. The two men stared at each other, evidently looking for an escape from the disquieting wrinkles of my forehead. Unfortunately, the conversation did resume.

“Do you smoke?” the first man asked.

The second man started a new track, this time hammering his right thigh with both hands, interspersed with a heavy foot tap.

“Not anymore,” I replied.

“How about the other stuff?”

I could have lied, and snubbed this exchange.

“Yeah,” I said, wishing that I could speak through a sigh. “I do.”

My reply reenergised the whole situation, as both men became more animated. I should have fucking lied.

“Well,” the first man said, “We’re heading to Montreal to sell. You could be our first customer mate, it’ll be bless.”

“Oh yeah?” Enthusiasm crept into my voice.

They both grinned. The second man ceased drumming, widened his deeply-set eyes, and said:

“You smoke. What about beyond that?”

Now is the time to lie, I thought. There’s no need to invite temptation. Despite this conviction – which I still hold to be legitimate and reflective of my better nature – some part of me must be a sadistic traitor. So once again, I relayed the truth.

“I partake.”

We met again in Montreal.

***

The cool air of the early morning soothed the mosquito bites on my neck. For the first time in a few days, I could remove them from the lengthy list of things that cause me discomfort. It has been over a week since I was bitten, but they have yet to be evicted. I should add that I’ve done nothing to treat them, as I assumed that they’d have pissed off by this point. I suppose this affliction serves as an adequate parody of how I conduct myself. I let problems take up residence without any real dispute, and occasionally tear at the surface, waiting for them to pass.

I was walking back to my hostel, alone. It was about 4am. As I passed through numerous street lamps, teases of snow were lit up by the amber glow. My feet ached considerably. It’s funny, dance is a deliriously joyous activity, and therefore so unlike me. Yet I danced for 3 hours straight.

The night had been spent with the drug dealing duo that I met in the airport. We’d exchanged numbers, and since I had already revealed the improvisational character of my stay, I could not really deny their invite out.

Early in the night, our interactions were identical to those in the terminal – a clash between enthusiasm and indifference. Gradually, after talk of our “adventures” out here, I softened up a bit, though I guess the booze had a starring role in that. Satisfied with the rise in our relationship’s temperature, they declared that I would join them in seeing some Quebecois DJ. He seems decent, they told me. So, we headed to the club, with a liquid entourage of vodka and Sprite. After several minutes of rhythmic swaying, the music managed to pierce through my prejudice, and I experienced something that resembled fun.

From my position in the centre of the floor, I assessed the crowd. This time they were not so much smog as they were pulsating walls of muck. I know that in such an environment touching others is unavoidable, but every time I brushed against an erratic “dancer”, or a couple eating each other, I could not help but feel slightly repulsed.

Looking to my companions, I saw that they had wormed their way to the front. They conformed to a cycle of dancing and drinking, their excitement manifesting itself through ever more frequent displays of that Aussie accent. It had become more convincing as the drinks flowed. Most importantly, I noticed that these men kept to themselves, imposing on no one. Subsequently I concluded that, as far as unsavoury characters go, they were a fairly respectable pair.

Then the shorter one pulled me aside. Perhaps by this point I should be using their names. I feel that it adds nothing, so I won’t. He produced a tiny baggy, alongside that smug grin. I didn’t say anything, though I’m pretty certain that I emulated his smile. Off to the toilets we went.

I only did a litt – ah, what does it matter. I still did it.

We danced till the place closed. My new “friends” opted to go elsewhere, but I wasn’t up for it, so we exchanged sweaty handshakes and overly affectionate hugs. As I crossed the street, I was chased by their frenzied cries, which simultaneously wished me well and labelled me a cunt. I waved, and started my solo journey back to my stuffy, zombie-infested residence.

From the neck down I was tired. Though the buzz had long since faded, I felt very much awake. The walk back was a series of skirmishes between bodily fatigue and my blazing thoughts.

I’ve told myself before that my Class A days were over. So, why did I give in? There were no homeless people around to hound me for money; that question hounded me for answers instead. For the entire duration of the walk, I occupied myself accordingly. The conclusion I arrived at was a child of coke-infused reasoning and the absurd clarity that comes with a sense of self-loathing.

Inside everyone is a vice-fuelled traitor, a snake who exists only to stage rebellions against our better judgement.

Arguably, if you’re aware of such things, then you are equipped to stop it. As I didn’t stop anything, then maybe you think that I am just weak – a universal critic who thinks far too much and enacts far too little.

But I say it’s not that easy. The snake has charisma. They are fun. So, some other part of you allows them to win, whilst another wails in defeat. A person is built out of traitors.

I continued to frown. Turns out I looked into that bathroom mirror after all.

I smile, weep a little, and then sleep a lot.