The Lotus Diary
By Daniel Emlyn-Jones
Tim liked getting drunk at high altitude. The thin air of the cabin drove surges of contentment into foaming rollers which he traversed like a sun-bleached surfie. He stopped a stewardess in the aisle and asked for another tinnie. She gave him an 'are you sure you should sir' look, but he was grinning like a baby having its tummy tickled, and she melted. His old mates in college would have given him the ribbing of his life if they'd known he was travelling to Singapore to see Adrian during the semester break. He snapped open the next can of joy and let the ice coldness fizz down his gullet. "Fucking drongos," he thought.
He'd met Adrian three weeks into the first semester 2003. For most students Orientation Week, or "O-week", where the beer flows like tap water to numb that first traumatic fall from the parental nest, was by then a distant memory. For Tim and his mates it had never really ended, and they'd spent Saturday night getting maggot as usual. They started in the college bar sculling VB stubbies. When it closed at eleven, like dissatisfied infants pulled prematurely from the breast, they staggered loudly across the moonlit eucalyptus-lined playing fields of campus into Canberra's civic centre, and to a grotty nightclub occupied by a few gauche men in sweat-frayed baseball caps eyeing a single weary pole dancer. Tim started on the bourbon, and drove reality to arm's length. When the nightclub closed at 3am, they homed to college using each other as crutches, and Tim passed out on his bed, only to be woken several hours later by his stomach gnawing for a lining of grease.
He lumbered down to breakfast, finally grabbing from his pigeon hole a letter he had been trying to ignore all week, piled his plate high with bacon, fried egg and baked beans dripping onto crunchy hash browns and fried bread, and slumped at one of the dining room tables. The no-frills handwriting on the envelope was his father's, and he guessed the contents as he ripped it open with a muttered "fuck". The gist of the letter was "you're a fuckin' wastrel and you're bringing shame on the family name"; if his father had been physically present he would have used those very words, but he didn't like to commit expletives to paper. Tim screwed the letter up into as small a ball as he could manage, screwing his face up at the same time, and then flicked it off the edge of the table. With his father thus exorcised, he began to wolf down his breakfast in urgent forkfuls.
"It's nice to see someone enjoying their food."
He looked up at an amused Chinese student across the table he'd somehow failed to notice when he sat down. The man was immaculately dressed in a white shirt and blue silk tie, and was delicately dissecting a hard-boiled egg with a knife and fork.
"Yeah. Nothing like a fry-up. Where ye going? To see the queen?" Tim's voice was a hangover croak, and egg yoke dribbled from the corner of his mouth as he grinned at the man's shirt, smooth as cake icing.
"Church," Adrian replied.
"Rather you than me mate," Tim chuckled as he harpooned a hash brown as if it were about to grow legs and run off his plate. The mention of "church" reminded him of trips to mass in Cookbury, his father a slab of besuited granite, his mother an impervious smile, and the choking miasma of incense. Though only a few weeks in the past, that world seemed to him like one of Jupiter's moons.
"The Kingdom of God has many mansions."
Tim glanced at Adrian's face expecting to be irritated by a look of condescension, but instead was surprised by an expression of genuine kindness. In the face of someone willing to cut him some slack, he felt like spilling his guts. "I don't think there's one for me," he admitted, his voice sounding more despondent than he intended.
Tim thought of all the reasons why not, and focussed on the most immediate. "I'm basically a piss artist, and I suck at college work." He thought miserably of his last scrawled essay on the politics of Robert Menzies. At the top in bright red felt tip, the tutor had written WTF? ('what the fuck?').
"So you're studying art?" Adrian asked.
"No, mate. 'Piss artist' means someone who drinks too much."
"So drinking too much is an art form?" A smile flickered at the corner of Adrian's mouth, and Tim couldn't work out if he was being serious or not.
"No, no, mate, it's an expression."
"Ah, an expression. I see." His face then broke into a grin. "But if it were an art form, you'd have won the Turner Prize?"
Tim laughed, wondering at the same time what the Turner Prize was.
One of Tim's mates, Rob, plonked a plate of grease on the table next to him, looking at Adrian as if he were the tax man come to investigate his slippery-fingered, beer-bellied rogue of a father.
"Good night, last night, Timmo," he croaked.
"Yeah. Good one, mate," Tim croaked back.
Prompted by Rob's stare, Adrian looked at his watch, downed his coffee and then got up to leave for church. Tim decided he liked the cheeky Chinese man. International students had a reputation for being standoffish and cliquey, but this guy was anything but.
"Maybe see you at the Principal's lodge for coffee?" Adrian asked Tim before leaving.
"Yeah, OK," said Tim, surprised by the eagerness of his own reply.
A look of bafflement grew on Rob's face as Adrian left. "You're not going to that fucking nerd's tea party with that chink are you Timmo?"
"Why the fuck?"
"Get up to speed mate. Chinese girls…"
Rob's face relaxed into a lewd leer. "You fucking crafty bastard."
Rob tucked into his breakfast, giving Tim, between shovels of fried food and gulps of coffee, an exaggerated account of how he had nearly managed to seduce the pole dancer at the club the night before. Tim felt a growing surge of misery. He speared a fried egg and watched the rills of yoke bleed into the congealing mess of his plate.
Coffee was held every Sunday morning in the Principal's lodge. Although ostensibly all students in college were invited, it usually attracted those who were more studious and accepting of authority, which included a large contingent of international and postgraduate students. The genial expression on Principal Rev Dr Bruce Camford's face drained as Tim walked through his door. Tim had put on a clean shirt and trousers for the occasion, but this didn't outweigh the fact that since O-week he had been the subject of a string of complaints over nocturnal noise, had misused a fire extinguisher while drunk, and had been the creator of an indelible vomit stain on the stair carpet of the third floor of block B. Wondering if he would be asked to leave, he carefully melted into the penumbra of the Principal's displeasure, and to a table laden with coffee and scones and large bowls filled with jam and cream. He spotted Adrian reclining on a Stansfield sofa next to an aboriginal sculpture, and once he'd amply prepared some scones, he made his way carefully over the dangerously pristine carpet with his plate and coffee cup, and carefully lowered his large frame onto the seat next to him. Mozart played quietly in the background, and the murmur of conversation resembled a gently babbling brook, a stark contrast to the raucousness of college bar of an evening.
"Still hungry I see," said Adrian, grinning at the four scones piled with jam and cream.
"Guess so," answered Tim slightly defensively, his voice subdued and his enunciation clarified by the rarefied atmosphere, which reminded him of one of his mother's parish dos, where he had to mind his P's and Q's.
"Your friend didn't seem to like the idea of you coming here for coffee. I'm a 'chink' am I?" Adrian was still grinning, but his eyes flickered with indignation "I've got very good hearing," he added at Tim's start of surprise.
Tim tried to laugh. "Ah, you don't want to listen to Rob. He's just a dick head."
"But he's your friend?"
Tim paused, trying to reconcile these two apparent contradictions. "Yeah – well he's alright. Deep down…..very deep down…"
"You don't sound convinced. Perhaps what you mean is, you respect him as a fellow piss artist?" Adrian grinned.
Tim laughed uneasily, realising that Adrian had pretty much hit the nail on the head.
Silence fell and Tim squirmed awkwardly in his seat with a squeak of upholstery. His girth had increased since he had last worn his posh trousers and shirt, and they dug uncomfortably into his flesh. The principal was talking animatedly to a circle of admiring students on the other side of the room. Years of study and work in Oxford, and an iron will for betterment, had transformed his Wagga Wagga accent into a kind of posh English which he flaunted like an expensive but rather gaudy piece of jewellery. Tim caught the odd snippet: "Oxford", "Balliol", "Invited me for sherry!", "Quite outstanding!" With his broad country accent Tim felt like a right country bumpkin. Adrian, stretching his lithe body on the sofa with a contented sigh, didn't seem to share this discomfort.
Tim wanted to start a conversation, but he didn't know how. He suddenly felt furious at Rob for being such a drongo and offending the man. Finally silence became more awkward than any attempt at conversation, and he asked Adrian where he was from. His accent reminded him of a Welsh aunt who had once visited Cookbury, and he wondered if Adrian was a Chinese Welshman. When he suggested it to him, Adrian laughed; it turned out he was Singaporean. As a kid playing globe roulette, Tim's grubby finger had once selected Singapore as a place to visit in some distant future. He'd peered in at the tiny diamond shaped island, barely distinguishable from the Malaysian mainland, and almost scuffed into non-existence by generations of other grubby-fingered children. Despite spending most of the last few weeks drunk or hung-over, as an International Relations student he knew that, despite its size, Singapore had in the last few decades become a formidable economic super-power: the "Tiger of Asia". "Phoenix of Asia" would perhaps be more appropriate, and one man was largely responsible for its rise from the ashes of the Second World War. As with many of his fellow countrymen, Adrian's respect for Lee Kwan Yew was without bounds. As Tim listened to him extolling the man, his mind, despite its recent soaking in alcohol, began to assemble various pieces of information, and for the first time in his college career, formed a counter argument. He started hesitantly, and then as he realised that the words were coming out of his mouth in the right order, he became more vehement. He argued that although Singapore is technically a democracy, many report that opposition constituencies are disadvantaged by the ruling People's Action Party. Adrian maintained that pure democracy is only applicable in certain cultural situations, but Tim insisted that it is a universally important value. After about five minutes, he came to the pleasant realisation that he was holding his own.
"You argue well," Adrian grinned.
Tim looked into Adrian's eyes, bright and clear as a midi of Coopers. He turned away, and watched as a plate full of scones held by a nearby student tilted at ever more acute angles with the floor. The student, engrossed in a conversation with the principal's wife, was oblivious to the approaching disaster. Tim watched transfixed as a scone finally slipped off the plate and fell to the carpet, obeying sod's law and landing cream side down with a soft splat.
Tim joined his mates after lunch in the TV room for the traditional hangover Sunday afternoon in front of the Aussie Rules. He found Rob, Hamish, and Ben sprawled over the furniture like young lions basking in the midday sun.
"Timmo!" Hamish smiled and handed Tim a chilled stubbie bottle ready capped in a polystyrene holder. "Hair of the dog mate."
Tim slumped into a chair and took a swig. Feeling nauseous after everything he'd eaten that morning, he realised that he didn't want it, and for the first time since O-week, he felt like saying so. They'd have called him a "wuss", but the possibility seemed to be bothering him less than usual; since coffee with Adrian, it was as if he were viewing them all through the wrong end of a telescope.
"So tell us about the girls, mate?" Rob asked Tim. He turned to Hamish and Ben. "Timmo here went undercover at Camford's faggot fest to try and get him some Chinky pussy." They all guffawed.
Tim looked at Rob slumped in his seat, his mouth open in a big stupid drunken smirk, and suddenly felt like smacking him.
"Nah, no luck mate," he replied.
"Shit, so who d'you talk to, that Chink boyfriend of yours?"
Tim's clenched fist met with Rob's face. Blood gushed from his nose, down his chin and onto his T-shirt.
"You fucking psycho!!!" he screamed, holding up hands dripping with blood as Tim threw his stubbie bottle onto the floor and strode from the TV room.
Adrian returned to his room after lunch with the aim of doing some work on his PhD thesis. He was in the middle of constructing a semantic explication of the Singlish particle 'lah', but his mind kept drifting to a day eight years before when his younger brother, with an adventurous spirit not yet tamed by experience, climbed down into a storm drain in Singapore, despite Adrian's warnings, and then couldn't get out. In heavy rain the deep concrete channels are filled with torrents of water, and as Adrian hurried to call his father and uncle to bring rope and a ladder, he glanced up at the overcast sky, waiting for the cool drips which herald the usual afternoon downpour. There was something about Tim that reminded him of his brother that day, looking up wretchedly from the rat-ridden hole.
Adrian eventually gave up on 'lah', and lay on his bed, listening to the cackling of parakeets through the open window. He realised that he wanted to see Tim again. He knew where his room was – their conversation had gone through the holy trinity of "what's your name", "what are you studying", and "where's your room" – but on parting after coffee, they hadn't made any plans to meet up.
Breathless, Tim climbed the stairs to the postgraduate floor, the smells of stale beer and body odour steadily fading to the fragrances of incense and moth balls as he reached the high corridor. Adrian sprang up from his bed as Tim's disembodied head appeared around his door, laughing to himself at the speed with which wish had become reality. He signalled for Tim to sit on the edge of his bed, and Tim slumped down like Atlas on a tea break.
"What's the matter?" Adrian asked. Tim's face was as white as porridge.
He told Adrian what he had done, examining his nail-bitten fingers as they writhed and trembled in his lap. Without warning he was ambushed by the urge to cry, something he hadn't done since he was about ten, and something his father despised more than cheap wine and Anglicanism: "Crying is for women, madmen and poofs. The real man controls his emotions". Tim tried but failed to comply with his father's wishes, and putting his face into his hands, he sobbed.
Adrian put his hand on his heaving shoulder. "He deserved it."
Tim nodded through his tears. "The problem is, a tutor saw it happen, and Dr Camford wants to see me tomorrow morning. He'll chuck me out of college for sure. He's chucked people out for less."
Adrian handed him a box of tissues encased in an ornate oriental golden cover, and Tim took eight. "There is an old Chinese saying," Adrian said softly as Tim loudly blew his nose. "Shed no tears until the undertaker appears."
Early the next morning, after a sleepless night, Tim knocked on Camford's polished eucalyptus-wood door inscribed with his name in gold lettering.
"Come," Camford intoned portentously from within.
"Oh it's you," he snapped from behind a large mahogany desk as Tim slunk in.
"Sit there." He pointed with his fountain pen to an uncomfortable looking wooden chair in the middle of the room. There was a comfy looking leather three piece suite on the other side, but that was for cosy chats with well-behaved students.
As Tim nervously sat down, Camford sighed and removed a pair of half-moon spectacles from his nose. "So, here we are yet again, Mr Price. You've spent just three weeks in my college, and so far you have contributed towards a string of complaints over noise, vandalised a fire extinguisher whilst drunk, ruined a very nice carpet, and now assaulted a fellow student. To use a colloquialism,'what is your problem'?"
Tim had decided on honesty, and stuttered a short explanation: "I'm very sorry sir. It was very stupid, but Rob called Adrian a chink and I just snapped."
At the mention of Adrian's name, Camford shifted slightly in his seat, and the lines of weariness smoothed from his face.
"Ah yes, Adrian. A very talented linguist. I did my PhD under the same professor as he many years ago. Anastasia Stepanova, a most eminent woman and one time Lucasian Professor of linguistics at Oxford."
Camford was lost in reverie, smiling at the thought of his association with such greatness. Tim watched as inevitably the shadow of annoyance returned.
"But the point is, young man, you can't just go around hitting people you feel insulted by. If we all behaved like that, the world would be full of black eyes, and debate in our esteemed parliament would be reduced to one drawn out brawl. I would in ordinary circumstances have no hesitation in removing you from college and making you persona non grata, but fortunately for you, the scholar whose name you sought to defend has especially requested that I be lenient in your case. He seems to think that you have academic potential, but have been keeping the wrong company."
Camford replaced his spectacles.
"You may not have noticed, young man, but it is now three weeks into your first semester. May I suggest that you stop adding to my considerable work load with ill-judged fatuity, and apply yourself to your academic studies. You will not receive the same clemency again." He pointed his fountain pen in the direction of the door, which signaled Tim's dismissal.
On leaving Camford's suite, Tim had to stop himself from crying with relief, and then made straight for the dining hall to find Adrian (and get some breakfast). As he neared the hall entrance, Rob was just coming out. He sported a large double black eye, and on seeing Tim he involuntarily shrank away, and then reddened with embarrassment at his own reaction. Tim felt a welling of guilt, and since there was no way for them to avoid passing each other, he decided to take the opportunity to apologise.
"Look, sorry mate," he offered.
Rob walked past him without saying a word, his face resembling a beetroot that had overdone the mascara. It was when he was a few paces behind (and out of punching distance), that he turned back. "Fuckin poof" he spat before heading off.
Tim watched as he loped off down the corridor, his gait lax like a hound (his tail would have been between his legs if he had one). He rounded the corner and disappeared into the main corridor, and Tim knew at that moment that they would never be mates again. His quickened breath eased and his taut fists slackened, as with a muttered expletive he turned and headed into the dining hall to bain maries brimming with breakfast, and busied himself with the business of food.
Plate heavy, he searched the dining hall for his friend, eventually spotting him sitting at a table next to the floor-to-ceiling window which ran along the entirety of one side of the hall. He waved, but Adrian was engrossed in a newspaper, his figure starkly silhouetted against the bright morning sun that sang through the panes and glimmered from the polished table tops. Tim edged his way past the clattering and jabbering of the other students, and slipped his laden plate onto his friend's table with a thud. Adrian looked up, and seeing Tim's broad grin, his face also broke into a smile, his eyes almost disappearing into little slits of delight.
"Still in the valley of the blessed then?" he quipped.
"I just told him the truth."
Tim fell into a chair next to Adrian, and while jabbing at his breakfast, told him about the meeting with Camford. He realised as he spoke why he liked conversations with Adrian so much. Discussions with his father were generally one way, and consisted of criticisms or orders; what he had to say was as irrelevant as the dross that littered his home town's main road and crunched now and then under wheel. His mother was equally uninterested in his words, and would sniff back tears into a whirlpool of guilt that he was dutifully expected to drown in. With his mates, conversations were usually dominated by Rob, and confined to jokes which Camford would have described as unspeakably vulgar. But with Adrian, Tim's words were like birds allowed to flutter and sing, and with this new freedom a part of him breathed for the very first time.
Rob attempted a reconciliation a week after the attack, coming up to Tim in the main corridor and asking him if he wanted to go for a beer later in the bar. He managed to completely avoid any eye contact, but it was gracious in its way. Tim refused. He was spending more and more of his free time with Adrian, and gaining some perspective on the first few weeks of his college life. To quote Camford, he was realising just how "ill-judged" his "fatuity" had been.
Adrian selected various delicacies from the Chinese supermarket in Civic, and offered them to Tim on his frequent visits to the postgraduate floor. Tim would munch on them as they relaxed together and chatted about this and that. Adrian's knowledge seemed limitless to Tim, and there was no question he didn't have some kind of answer to. Adrian had joined the university film club at the beginning of the semester, but hadn't yet gone to any screenings. Together they started attending the movies regularly. There was a world cinema series running, and as Tim encountered cultures and ways of thinking far beyond his own, he began to acquire the unsettling feeling that before meeting Adrian he had been living his life in a Dunny.
It was on their way back from seeing Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon that Adrian suggested to Tim that he visit Singapore during the semester break. Something in him leapt at the thought of showing Tim his home city; he had already secretly planned all the places they would visit, and all the local delicacies he would offer to his friend.
Tim had been privately hoping that Adrian would ask him. The man's company was something he had got used to, but was also something that he relied upon, and the thought of spending all four weeks of the semester break with his parents in Cookbury made him feel like crumpling into a tiny ball. The main problem was money. It would have to come from his father, but his father was not the sort of person to pay for holidays, especially for sons who had caused him embarrassment. The problem was solved when Tim found out that there was a meeting of Catholic youth in Singapore during the last two weeks of the semester break: his father would definitely cough up for that. If on arriving in Singapore Tim was moved by the Holy Spirit to deepen his Catholic faith in ways other than sitting through mass and attending prayer meetings, then who was he to resist?
The roar of the engine eased to a purr, and a voice chirped over the Tannoy: "We are starting our descent into Changi Airport. Please be advised that the penalty for trafficking drugs into Singapore is death. Thank-you." Tim had never heard the prospect of execution expressed so cheerfully. A philosophy PhD student in the postgrad. circle at college had once referred to Singapore as "Disney Land with the death penalty", and Tim wondered if in this context getting topped by the state was the ultimate adventure experience.
Changi Airport was the cleanest place Tim had ever seen, and his mother's front room took some beating. He walked over vigorously cleaned carpets through a concourse of polished marble, adorned with window boxes bursting with orchids. He descended a grand escalator through a forest of tree ferns to the immigration hall, and at the bottom a semicircle of women dressed in traditional Chinese costumes cried out in carefully rehearsed exuberant unison, "Welcome to Singapore sir!" Beyond a smiling passport official who welcomed him to Singapore again, this time with a bowl of glacier mints, a suited man with a clipboard asked him in detail how he had enjoyed his welcome to Singapore.
The baggage collection area was separated from the arrivals hall by a transparent partition, and searching the crowd of waiting figures on the other side, Tim quickly found Adrian. Tim had spent the first two weeks of the semester break in Cookbury with his parents, and his jaw muscles ached from the gritting of his teeth. He missed Adrian more than he had ever missed anyone before, and as he finally exited through customs and approached him, he wanted to embrace him, but seeing the crowds milling around, he grew self-conscious and didn't. He instead offered him his hand in an overly formal gesture which made him cringe as he was doing it.
Adrian had missed Tim too. During their separation he had written almost daily e-mails to his friend, filled with enquiries about what he had eaten, and a constant concern that he was hungry. He hadn't received any replies, and as their bus drove along the bougainvillea-lined highway away from the airport and towards Adrian's family's flat in Kranji, he chided Tim for not sending any e-mails back. Tim explained that Cookbury hadn't altered much since 1953, and the arrival of the television and the telephone was about as high-tech as it got. Connecting a couple of dozen people to the web by laying 50 kilometres of fibre-optic broadband cable was definitely not one of the state's priorities. Adrian thought of the long string of unopened e-mails in Tim's inbox and his ever more urgent enquiries about his state of nourishment, and half-blushed half-smiled at the thought of Tim wading through them all.
Adrian's parents spoke no English, and Tim spoke no Cantonese, so communication between them was restricted to polite smiles and nods. At the back of his mind Tim had been dreading the inevitable interrogation that members of his parent's generation generally gave to members of his generation, so this language barrier came as a pleasant surprise. He sat in the warm breeze of a fan on full blast, positioned solicitously by Adrian's father, and listened to a monologue from his mother. As she prepared dinner, she spat out machine-gun fast sentences at her son, finishing each one with a drawn out and downwardly wailing vowel. From Adrian's resigned look of annoyance, Tim recognised that he was being nagged, and assumed that the long wailing vowel carried the full weight of his mother's discontent.
Later that night as they lay next to one another in the twilight of Adrian's room, the ceiling swirling with faint lights from the ever flowing traffic below, Adrian told him that she had been asking him when he was going to get a girlfriend and marry, the overriding duty of an elder son in a Chinese family. The fact that his sister had married a rich mobile phone manufacturer and produced three strapping sons made absolutely no difference. Adrian was the name bearer, and bearer of the responsibility for reproduction. He used a range of excuses and reassurances to try and placate her, such as "I haven't met the right girl yet", and "these days people are marrying later".
"I've never had a girlfriend either," Tim said, as they both stared at the swirling shadows of the ceiling.
The next day they decided to visit Pulau Ubin, a small island off the North East coast of Singapore, and one of the last examples of rural kampung culture. They sat together on a bum boat as it chugged its way from the port on Changi beach to the small island about two kilometres to the east. Tim slurped on the straw of a takeaway Kopi C and squinted out over the water to the distant north of Singapore island, and a forest of apartment blocks glistening white like sugar lumps in the midday sun. He turned back to Adrian, and then turned away again, this time towards Ubin, and the tangle of mangrove trees lining its shores.
"You will like Ubin," said Adrian as the growl of the boat eased to a purr and it coasted towards a wooden jetty. Through the trees Tim could make out a street of ramshackle houses. After the concrete, cleanliness and interminable convenience of mainland Singapore, dilapidated verandas, corrugated iron roofs and dirt roads were a nice contrast. They walked from the jetty straight into the high street of the main town of the island, which still only consisted of about thirty or forty houses. There were several bars and restaurants, aimed at local visitors to the island as well as tourists.
"Let's have a beer," Adrian suggested, pronouncing beer with a passable parody of an Australian accent and a nervously cheeky grin. Tim was usually the one to introduce the subject of a drink into a day's proceedings, and Adrian rarely joined him. In fact, Tim realised at that moment that he had never seen him drink alcohol.
"There's a first time for everything," said Adrian when Tim asked him what he was doing. Tim needed little encouragement to join him, and the Hokkien man behind the bar gave them a big toothy smile as he fetched two large bottles of Tiger beer from the cooler. They sat together on the veranda, where they caught the occasional acrid waft of smoke from a nearby temple. Tim watched transfixed as Adrian took a first sip, watching his face and wondering what beer tasted like for the first time; he had been so young when he had had his first, the memory was buried beneath years of other firsts.
The sun was bright, the breeze hot and fragrant, and Tim gratefully welcomed the happy tug of alcohol. Adrian's mood was also changing, surveying his surroundings not with his usual half-amused acquiescence, but with a bright eyed look of empowerment. Tim chatted away about this and that: the numbers of white people who walked past the bar, the crazily bright colours the nearby temple was painted with, the fate of the Tiger beer brand, and wallowed in the now familiar delicious sensation that his words were being cherished by his friend, not because they were particularly interesting, but because they were from him. Zero tolerance to alcohol and an Asian metabolism ensured that the beer went quickly to Adrian's head, and his words were beginning to slur as they left the bar and headed for a notice board with a tourist map of the island. He suggested to Tim that they eat fried squid later at a restaurant over by the water-front, and Tim had the sudden presentiment that a different Tim would be eating fried squid, to the one presently gazing drunkenly at the map.
They decided to walk a jungle path in the direction of the island's south, where there was a boardwalk around the mangrove forests. The jungle had been cleared in places to provide wood and space for kampung houses, and as they made their way down the trail, Tim noticed some lotus blossom in a pond situated in one such clearing. Adrian explained, trying to keep a rein on his drunken voice, that because the pure white flowers grow out of mud, they are in Buddhism a symbol of purity and enlightenment. Some of the flowers were still in bud and just emerging from the water, some were unfurling their petals like the fingers of a fist, and some were fully opened to the sun; others already sported the curious seed pods. To Tim they looked so beautiful, the petals of the flowers as white as the icing sugar flowers his aunt Prue had made for his cousin's wedding cake the previous year, one of which he had devoured in a single crunch. The glistening water also looked so cool and refreshing, that he made one of those impulsive decisions that can only be made under the influence of alcohol: he decided to pick one of the flowers.
Having told Adrian, he excitedly shambled towards the pond. Adrian pursued him, drunkenly warning him against it, but before he could catch him up, Tim had waded into the water and was heading for the nearest flower. He realised as he sank in up to his knees, and the beautifully clear water swirled with sludge, that lotus didn't just grow out of mud, it grew out of deep mud. Undeterred, he reached out and caught hold of the stem of the flower and pulled. Rather than conveniently breaking off like a tulip, a rhizome and several leaves followed the blossom out of the mud. He lost his balance and fell backward with a loud splatter and a "Shit!". He managed to turn, coating himself still further in the mud, and then shakily standing, he slowly waded back to the pond's edge, determinedly holding onto his now mud splattered flower, followed by an increasingly large network of roots and leaves. He reached the edge, and with an extra hard tug succeeded in finally severing the flower from its root, and then lay down exhausted on the grass of the pondside.
"You're mad!" Adrian laughed as he knelt beside him.
Tim held up the broken mud-stained flower to his friend and grinned. Adrian took the blossom and then clasped Tim's hand. Tim turned away, but Adrian placed his hand on his cheek and made him turn back.
They looked into one another's eyes. Their lips met as if under the inevitable tug of gravity, and as their kiss deepened, Tim ran his muddy hands through Adrian's silken hair. Above them a pair of butterflies danced around the crown of a Chengal tree, and beyond in the bright clear sky an eagle soared, its great wings spread as if to embrace the entire earth.QLRS Vol. 12 No. 1 Jan 2013