Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap Read Free Book Online

Book: Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap Read Free Book Online
Authors: Rattawut Lapcharoensap
dark alley, swirling to a stop by a Dumpster. I saw the quick shadows of roachesscattering in its wake. That’s what the alley smelled like—roaches: dank and humid like the back room where Ma put away our father’s belongings. Anek’s friend poured half the can into the plastic bag, the liquid thick and translucent, the bag sagging from the weight, while the others flicked their cigarettes into the sewer ditch along the side of the alley. The thinner gave off a sharp, strong odor, punched little pinpricks in my nostrils, and reminded me of days when Pa and Anek used to fumigate the house. Anek’s friend pulled out another plastic bag from his back pocket and put the first bag with the thinner inside of it.
    â€œOkay.” He held out the double bag with one hand, offering it to his friends, the way I’d seen butchers at the market holding dead chickens by the neck. I could hear the jukebox starting up again in the café, another old upcountry tune echoing softly down the alley. “Who’s first?”
    For a second, they all stood with their hands in their pockets. Then Anek reached out and took the bag with a quick, impatient gesture.
    â€œLet’s just get this over with,” he said. “I tell you guys, though, one hit and I’m done. I don’t like having my little brother around this shit.”
    I realized then what they were doing. I knew what huffers were, but I’d always imagined little kids and strung-out homeless guys in the Klong Toey slum with their heads buried in pots of rubber cement. I suddenly became very afraid—I wanted to grab the bag out of my brother’s hands—even as I longed to watch Anek do it, wanted, in fact, to do it myself, to show Anek and his friends my indifference.
    Anek brought the mouth of the bag to his chin. He took a big, deep breath, pulled his entire body back like it was a slingshot, then blew into the bag, inflating it like a balloon, the loose ends covering half his face, and it made a sound like a quick wind blowing through a sail. The bag grew larger and larger and I was afraid that it might burst, that the thinner would go flying everywhere. Anek looked at me the whole time he blew, his eyes growing wider and wider. He kept blowing and blowing and blowing, and I knew that my brother was blowing for a long time because one of the guys said, “Fucking inhale already, Anek,” but he kept on blowing and blowing and all that time he kept looking at me with those eyes about to pop out of his head. I don’t know what he was trying to tell me then, looking at me like that, but I remember noticing for the first time that he had our mother’s eyes. He finally inhaled, sucked his breath back into his chest, the plastic balloon collapsing in on itself, and then my brother was blinking hard, teetering, like a boxer stunned by a swift and surprising blow, and I knew that whatever it was he had smelled, whatever scent he had just inhaled, it was knocking him off his feet. He handed the bag to one of the other guys and said, “C’mon kid, let’s get out of here,” and I followed my brother out of the dark alley, back into the dimly lit street.
    Years later, I’d be in a different alley with friends of my own, and one of the guys, high off a can of spray paint, wouldabsentmindedly light a cigarette after taking a hit and his face would burst into a sheet of blue flames. He ran around the alley wild with panic, running into the sides of the buildings, stumbling and falling and getting back to his feet again, hands flying violently around his burning face as if trying to beat back a swarm of attacking insects. He never made a sound, just ran around that alley with his face on fire in silent terror, the flames catching in his hair and his clothes, looking like some giant ignited match in the shape of a man. For a second, we couldn’t quite comprehend what was happening—some of us laughed,

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