Bulbs of Glass

The train accelerates. We are in the middle of nowhere. He imagines walking between Hong Kong and Guangzhou. He listens to Sensuous, an album by Cornelius, on repeat. He cannot remember the last time he read a magazine. He thinks of all the superficial relationships he has with objects and people. He looks out of the window and sees some kids fishing at a pond. Prawns, he whispers, or frogs.

He checks into a hotel. He swims in the pool. Twenty, thirty laps. He loses count. He can never return to Hong Kong. It is not the first time he has had to disappear. His single suitcase contains nothing but a few shirts, socks, underwear, an extra pair of trousers, a chunk of cash, and a second passport. His iPhone is found by a teenage boy back in Hong Kong, who pockets it. He begins to read a book he bought at the train station.

The novel (or as the author states, a novella) begins on an abrupt note, someone is running, with someone else chasing, it’s difficult to follow, novels these days are written with aspirations to become action movies, but suddenly, the two stop, they pant on sidewalks on opposite sides of the street, and attempt to talk but they can’t because they can’t stop panting, slaves to their exhaustion and fears. He hears, Waltz No. 2 by Shostakovich, in his head, on repeat.

The waitress brings him a plate piled with beans, rice, and chicken. It smells delicious, he says. She looks at him, and asks if he would like some water. Yes, thank you, that would be great, he replies. She comes back with a bottle of water, and a clear green pink tumbler, and asks if he will be staying long at the hotel. No, just for a day, he replies, pouring himself a glass of water. She asks if he needs anything else. Have you worked here for long, he asks. Just two months, she replies, I like it here, it’s better than not having a job, I guess. Huh, makes sense, he says, mixing up his beans, rice and chicken. He continues to read. She walks back to the kitchen.

The two men in the novella are brothers. The older one has just killed someone. His mind is racing. The victim was a policeman, which, of course, complicates everything. We learn that the brothers are small time crooks. Con-men who stage a small but precise scam to cheat people out of a couple of thousand dollars through a service that presumably transforms the ashes of a dead relative into an artificial diamond. The diamonds are, of course, plain bulbs of glass.

It is 6:58 pm. He must have dozed off while reading. Outside, the light begins to fade. Not that you get much sun in this part of the world. He looks out and remembers how much he likes this time of the day. This is the last day of our acquaintance, he sings, uh oh oh, I will meet you later in somebody’s office, uh oh oh, I’ll talk but you won’t listen to me, no oh, I know what your answer will be.

He heads to the bar in the hotel lobby. You’re still here, says the same waitress, now the bartender. Yes, and I see that you’re still here too, he replies, and now as the bartender. Well, a girl’s gotta eat, right, she says, I’m pulling a double shift, I need the money. A double whisky, please, thank you, he asks. Sure, coming right up, she says, and, there’s a full moon out tonight. Little did they know, he was born on the night of a full moon.

He flips open a hotel brochure and reads out loud, The Westin Pazhou Hotel opened in 2011. There are 325 guest rooms across 42 floors. The main purpose of the hotel is to accommodate guests who are participating in fairs at the Guangzhou International Exhibition Center, which is conveniently located right next door. A woman across the bar looks up, and goes back to her iPad.

It is 2:24 a.m. The man and the waitress walk out of the hotel and into the carpark. He takes out his old passport, and tears it up. He sets the papers on fire with matches from the hotel bar. The two watch his old passport burn, slowly, the stench of plastic in the air. She never saw him again.

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