High Rise

I was first aware of the tap, tap, gentle tap, tap, then the freezing cold air, so cold it felt as if my skin was on fire. I was shivering uncontrollably, aware that my nose and jaw were in a bad way, maybe broken; my right leg I couldn’t feel. My ribs halted further movement with precise agony, and only then did I open my eyes fully to see him. Above me crouched an old monk in a brilliant white robe, eyes peering tenderly into my own, calm caring eyes, pleased I was at least alive. He said something softly, a whisper, and tried to help me to my feet. It was still dark, the temperature sub-zero by at least five degrees, though the singing of birds and the rattlings of early morning industry suggested the coming of a new dawn. I stood sharply with one frozen hand against the wall but swung round turbulently, knuckles scraping down the concrete. There were lights not far, tower blocks, grass, lights beneath and above, cars, night vision. The monk began soft-spoken prayer, alms on the ground, palms together before his nose. As I staggered forward shakily I felt the almost masochistic joy of grazes open to the wind, bruises settling into clotted pain, fractures fracturing out. I knew I had been in a fight, and I had survived. The monk stood, tried to stop me, signalled some kind of ‘no, no’, but he was only making matters worse, I ignored his pleas and edged towards the light, closer and closer, the feeling of shitting yourself before making the toilet but with life itself at stake, when shitting yourself seems trivial, banal, effortlessly surmountable.

I came round, covered head to toe in heavy hide-like blankets, lying in what seemed like the inside of a large improvised cupboard . I lay on a mattress and beside me, on the makeshift wall, light shone out from behind a torn paper lampshade. Besides the nuts and bolts holding this contraption together, there was nothing else, no window, just a small plywood door, tall enough only for children or animals. Indeed, the whole enclosure was barely three-feet tall, and the door was shut. My first mental note was that if I had been taken prisoner the door would go no problem. And then the second and third and the next era of forever was of agonising pain, from broken tooth to torn ear, a slashed dead leg decorated with glass shrapnel, and three, four cracked ribs. No part of my body was without injury, the savage slanty-eyed cunts had done me for dead. I needed medical attention, or maybe it was just attention. Sometimes in life, just sometimes, when you need attention, perhaps of the kind only a girl can provide, when luck throws you one last set of dice … The door unlocked and she looked anything but a captor, the obvious immediate her plump Down Syndrome and midnight blue pyjamas emblazoned with yellow crescent moons and the same stars of the night before. She held a transparent plastic tub brim full of steaming water and a small pink sponge. I guessed her around twenty. She crouched down and in and smiled with able-bodied, flirtatious sincerity. I could only muffle hello in the cracked voice of a reptile before she was sitting over me and dabbing at the wounds on my face, the lightning pain exacerbated by her fumbling touch. I winced and clenched and rolled and she withdrew momentarily but resumed as soon as I’d settled, trying to just drift, drift beyond pain, beyond everything known. My clothes were ragged and bloodied and she removed them gently as congealed blood ripped at the skin. I asked where I was and she giggled a teenage blush and continued to dab and rub like it was her very own purpose in life. She unbuttoned and slid down my jeans, the disinterested nurse, and again I let out a teeth-clenched howl as the material unfastened itself from a wound and glass on my thigh. My thoughts rolled back to the night before. Who were they, who indeed was she to them? In this state I almost didn’t want to think about knowing, but … fuck… I’d go to the Astor as soon as I was mobile. My handicapped nurse seemed content with her work and smiled softly again before pulling the brown animal skin over me and crawling through the lowered makeshift doorway. I rolled over again, opening my mouth and breathing hard inwards, towards the agony of my ribs, simultaneously sensatizing the open nerve on my broken front tooth. I tried to see if anyone else was around, but it seemed as if it was just the girl in pyjamas, now transfixed to the over-audible squabble of a small TV positioned on a plastic garden chair in the middle of the room, seemingly placed there for my viewing pleasure. Strangely, I didn’t find this situation bizarre. I didn’t find it bizarre that I had no recollection of arriving there, and I didn’t find it bizarre that I had a mute carer with Down Syndrome, sitting silently through the wall of a wooden sleeping capsule. Continuous pain will do this to you, make you accept things, make you numb. After ten minutes or so, though, I had to get up and move, no matter what pain or additional damage would be felt. The noise from the TV was infuriating, and the strange wooden cupboard room had gone from hospitable and life saving to coffin-like and claustrophobic. I gritted my teeth and pulled myself to a sitting position before launching myself forward and out onto a blue, thin-carpeted floor. The girl turned from the TV wide-eyed and pale-skinned, scrunching her eyebrows upwards in surprise, holding both her gaze and a real white rabbit. I pulled the most harassed and dishonest of smiles and got myself to my feet with the help of the wall. It was I who was the disabled one at that point, she lived in floral-dreamt bliss in comparison. I looked around and could see the design now: the back wall of the room had been partitioned into three compartments, all of plywood facade, one long cabin upper, and two dwelling spots below, one of which I had just freed myself from. There was a brown wall-length faux mahogany cabinet behind the girl’s slept-in head of black hair, the wood dotted with ancient photos, plastic trinkets and not a lot else. Beside it sat a blue gas canister and a silver cooking wok, a bag of fresh, green-leaved vegetables sitting within. The wired-glass pane in the white-panelled door magnified the shiver of winter which lay behind it and I shuddered to think I was in no state to brace the cold again, I needed hospital treatment, I thought, again. Instead, though, I pulled a crumpled 50 Kuai note from my pocket and lay it on the TV, before mouthing thank-you and hobbling to the door. I decided there and then not to feel the pain anymore, I felt it was a conscious decision not to feel the pain, for if I felt the pain I was feeling at that moment there would be little choice but to give up, collapse. My mind cast swirls of C., and even then I thought of her hunched over a sofa, her eyes clenched and mouth haloed as she was fucked hard from behind by some new guy and his more suitable shoes for the terrain; and Bangkok my home, and the life I’d been given and the life I had chosen, the opportunities gone, the state I’d become, the seeming impossibility of repair and a future of content but I shut them out, closed the door and walked the wounded soldier walk, with absolute focus on the road ahead. The playing children stopped and stared rosy-cheeked and innocent, as sly-looking men smoked cigarettes beneath 40 storeys of bland Shanghai brick, and I could see the road, and the club and the wall, all so grim and untruthful in the light. As I approached the road almost immediately a cab stopped, wound down his window and shouted at me but I couldn’t remember the name of the hotel, I didn’t have a card so I just said ‘hospital, hospital, look, look’ and he wound back up the window and drove away. Minutes later another cab stopped and drove off, English-speaking drivers like panning for happiness in the rivers of the damned. I lit a ragged cigarette with charred freezing hands and it immediately made me wretch, the residual fumes of tequila returning with deathly woe. I stopped, salivated, opening and closing my mouth goldfish-like, tears streaming down as I held tight to a black railing. And again, it didn’t seem strange, or lucky, when a thin, fashionably-dressed Chinese woman in her early forties approached me and asked in textbook British English if I was alright and if she could be of any help. I laughed, naturally and loud because it was funny, my smile and laughter were as real as the shining jewels hanging from her neck. And it was  through laughter that I finally submitted: ‘No, I’m not alright.’

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