By Chris Chiam
I got a fork through customs. I could kill anyone now. I won’t, but it’s an idea.
The officers stared at the X-ray for quite some time. In the same way as their uniforms, their expressions matched. Both performed the same head-tilt, coupled with widened eyes, like a pair of bewildered dogs.
“Shit,” I immediately thought. “I left that stupid fork in my bag.”
It was a standard fork. Stainless steel, four prongs, a conservatively ornate bit at the bottom of the handle. I had nicked it from a coastal guest house on Vancouver Island. Unintentionally though, a detail I must make clear. Actually, I’m not sure why I need to adopt such a defensive stance with regards to my pilfering antics. I have stolen pettier things.
Back on campus, the cafeteria ladies would greet me every day with full smiles and empty anecdotes. I’d smile back, and indulge their need to be storytellers, the pouch of my hoodie loaded with liberated tea bags. Those little sacks of unsatisfying foliage were hardly worth stealing, so why would I pay?
And then there was that bloke’s toothpaste. He left it lying around, and I needed some for my further travels. The problem lies with him. I mean, you can’t leave stuff on a communal shelf and assume that everyone who walks past is an upstanding person. He did appear to be bizarrely traumatised by the whole ordeal though, presenting himself to us wearing the face of a whimpering child. Oh well (You can translate that to “Fuck him”). I realise that this crime occurred at the same guest house – a couple more thefts and you could’ve written an incredibly underwhelming detective story.
Anyway, I only decided to borrow the fork because I had forgotten to grab a free one at the salad buffet. Instead of facing the self-launched barrage of minor embarrassment that would have come with re-entering the supermarket, I settled for free cutlery rental, courtesy of my gracious host.
That man was a tad overly-gracious for my liking, or as a friend of mine remarked, “Generous to the point of egomania.” He was a post-modern monk, wearing a beanie that I like to think hid a laughable clearing in that forest of swirly grey hair.
The house itself was astounding, a worn, yellow structure, overlooking a humble bay that was painted in amber every sunset. Unfortunately the inside was less inspiring. The walls were splattered with well-intentioned but ultimately fluffy quotations about living a good life. Even in the bathroom. Even in the stalls in the bathroom. I do rate the moments I spend shitting as amongst the most blissful of my existence, but having figurative shit smeared across the wall beside me does not make the whole process smell any better.
Funnily enough, my host wasn’t even that well-versed in his own scripture. One morning he asked me which piece of limp graffiti was my favourite. I chose an Emerson quote about success. I shan’t cite it here, it reeks of positivity. Though I’m not a fan of Emerson, a section of that quote was particularly striking. He had no idea what I was talking about.
Ah, what an amusing being. There are some people who you know hold everything that they utter to be verbal gold. They look in the mirror and see a dazzling mentor, and if they listened to a recording they’d hear a symphonic lecture. Oh, he had plenty of his wisdom to share with me. I smiled and received it politely, though I had no use for such a worthless currency.
Another morning he was discussing the Fort McMurray wildfire. After mentioning the locals and the loss of their property, he added the phrase “You know, their attachments” in such a soft and preposterously condescending tone that I nearly choked on my breakfast. Clearly, I was unable to swallow his sanctimonious waffle alongside the batter that was already in my mouth. As if he didn’t have attachments. He would weep if his yellow temple was eaten up by ravenous flames.
Now, I did not intend to go on about him for so long, but it seems that hindsight either makes feelings die or intensify, with no middle option. Looking backward has made me realise how much I actually despise him. A fairy and his marshmallow philosophy – how was I not infuriated by him at the time? A different friend put forward a theory that this man first visited the island with a woman, a woman who later discarded him. Broken, he returned to the same place and established the guest house. He wakes at sunrise every day, and the soft glow of the sun reminds him of her radiant smile or some shit, and he sheds a single tear. A liquid wish for her return.
My friend never said that last bit, but I figured I’d contribute – it’s an intriguing story. Intriguing enough to make me wonder, if it were true, whether I should allow my hatred to be usurped by pity.
So, I ate the salad with the fork. A week or so later I’m at the airport.
“It’s a fork,” I told the two customs officers, in a tone that implied they were being stupid. “I know it’s not supposed to be there.”
They both stared at me with hostile eyes. And then sent the bag through.
Several hours pass, and I can’t sleep. I can never sleep on planes, there’s always too much going on, and it’s not exactly comfortable. I knew that this time would be no different, but foresight does not prevent me from feeling angry. In a way, I welcome it. I’ll take any excuse to legitimise the anger that I already have stockpiled.
Two mediocre movies and a bunch of M&Ms are consumed, the activity of sitting only disturbed by visits to the toilet. I spend more time in there than necessary, and assess myself in the mirror for much longer than is healthy. I look tired, but I feel oddly awake.
I return to the seat and plop myself down in it aggressively, assuming the body language of a grumpy toddler. The large gentleman beside me, whose elbow has crossed the armrest-marked border into my territory, is soundly asleep. I envy him. Perhaps not his physique though.
What should I do? I am sick of staring at this screen. I will not let myself be trapped by its glare, by its lacklustre offerings. But whether I look at the screen or not, I realise that I’m already trapped. I am confined to a grey and sterile dimension, one that floats about in the sky. It is impossible to distinguish the other passengers from their seats, the cabin crew from their trolleys. I begin to feel more than mild discomfort. I feel unwell. Everything of value is on the ground, and up here, there is nothing of worth.
Consequently I realise: anything goes. I need not adhere to the dictates of this airborne world. I can do whatever I want.
Let’s make use of that fork. After all, I could kill anyone. I still won’t, but…
I smile for the first time in ten hours. Hijacking the plane, that’s it. Such a project will keep me occupied, and it’ll be a challenge. First I need one of the cabin crew. Yes, that one. Her face is adorned with the same smile as the cafeteria ladies. Easy prey – those four prongs will acquaint themselves easily with her delicate throat. My leg is jittering.
I ease myself out of the seat, and casually extract the fork from the overhead. I sit. My hand is firmly coiled around the shard of metal, concealed within my hoodie-pouch. Soon it will be time to take my hostage, drag her to the cockpit, and force them to let me in. I’ll improvise from there; just get them to fly us around a bit. It’ll be a laugh. And I really need to laugh.
As this narrative approaches a radical turn, you might be asking why I am not paying much attention to the consequences of my intended actions. It is obvious that things won’t pan out well. Aren’t I worried about prison and all that?
Honestly, I have not given much thought to such things. At this moment, only one desire drives me. I do not want to go home.
Do not misunderstand me, home is a lovely place. My family was forged in the furnace of nicety, the household a happy one. But you don’t choose your home, your family. This is an obvious and seemingly unremarkable insight, but to me, it possesses great significance. It is because I had no choice in these matters that the happiness generated by them is something I have always felt disconnected from. Being the youngest of several kids, I feel like I was inserted into something long established, and that I have no role as a constituent of this collective joy.
Living abroad was different. I was in the process of making something for myself. Perhaps it was stupid to do so during such a transitory stint, but what I had was so beautifully independent from what awaits me at landing. The feeling that accompanied this act of construction was unlike anything I have ever experienced before. I will not forget how I smiled to myself when I accidentally referred to my town of temporary residence, rather than the quaint little nuke-town of a village where I grew up, as home. But it has been demolished now, the bulldozer pushing the rubble far from my reach, along with that smile.
I cannot go back to a world where I feel like a phantom, where my fingers pass through the things that are supposed to induce happiness. I refuse to go back. So I’ll do something impulsive, an act that’ll certainly take me elsewhere.
She’s about to pass, now is the time. Fuck home and fuck home, I’ll be visiting neither after pulling this shit. She’s about to pass. The fork is slippery from sweat. My leg is jittering.
Something drips from my nose. I check with my unarmed hand, running a finger around my nostril. It’s blood. Great. I have no tissues. She passes.
I leap up from my seat, which is actually quite hard to do when the person in front has so generously reclined theirs. Rushing to the toilet, it becomes apparent to me that a fair few passengers are awake. Their faces, illuminated by what I know to be sub-par cinema, suddenly appear quite distinct from the blue fabric behind them. Of course it’s occupied. I can only stand outside, conceal myself with one of the curtains, and catch blood with both hands.
The occupant does not come out for a while. They flush the toilet more than once, and with each muffled torrent I hear, the more I think I am being taunted. Eventually the door opens, and a man emerges. He looks right at me. I give him an upwards nod, moving my blood-stained hands away from my nose. The lower half of my face feels pasted with red.
Now begins my longest shift in the toilet. Grabbing a vast clump of low-quality loo roll, I press it to my nose and sit for a while. After a minute or so, the bleeding stops. I check my appearance in the mirror. I look tired, but also as if I’ve engaged in some very poorly timed oral sex. I laugh a lot.
When I’m done, I know that something has changed, that something has been exorcised. I turn on the tap, creating a little pond in my hands, which I send toward my face. I do this several times, as dried blood doesn’t wash off particularly easily. The last of the water slithers down to my chin, and I realise that I had been duped by the miserable idiot who all too frequently occupies both shoulders. A hijacking? Harassing a woman with a fork? With hindsight, feelings either die or intensify. Looking back at the person I was about twenty minutes ago, well, that twat is dead to me.
Unfortunately, I believe in resurrection. Right now, I still do not want to go home, but I will do my best to stomach it. Eventually however, he will come back, bringing maddening temptation along with him. Sticking his fingers down my throat, I will vomit up all unwanted aspects of my life, and resolve once again to do something stupid in order to avoid cleaning the mess. All I can hope for now, is more nosebleeds.
Suddenly aware that I’ve spent a great deal of time contained within this sweet-smelling box, I decide that it’s time to leave. I open the door. There is a disgruntled bloke standing opposite me, who must’ve been waiting for a while. Oh well (You know what to translate that to). On the way back to my seat, I glance at the woman whose throat would’ve been patterned with four tiny holes. She bares that caf lady grin. I don’t reciprocate. Returning my comical weapon to the overhead, I ease back into the seat, and close my eyes. My failure to sleep continues.
I still have the fork. I’m somewhat attached to it, and I use it whenever I can. If you ever have the pleasure of dining at my house, you might notice me pausing mid-meal, examining a single component of my cutlery. Reminiscing, that’s all. That fork is the only thing my fingers won’t pass through. In holding it, I long for the homecoming of a banished smile.
But my stomach is already unsettled.