I’ll never live abroad, he said.
Twenty-two years old and passing through baggage checks at Heathrow as quickly as I’d accepted the job. The chess pieces wrapped in boxer shorts suddenly feel ridiculous. One half space-saving-piece-protecting-masterstroke, one half inconvenient-lunatic-blunder. I am on my way to Chongqing, China. The city’s name almost sounds racist. Teaching in China: not a dream, but a harsh reality. It was the only job offer out of twenty that I had received. I’ll come back and try in a year, I thought. The dreams of the child, of being a prince; the dreams of the schoolboy, of being a footballer; the dreams of the teenager, of being a sports therapist, an officer in the army, a writer; the dreams of the student, of being an editor. All these dreams swept aside for reality. The reality of the graduate; under-qualified teacher in China.
Suddenly I’m through security and the departure lounge with its bars, restaurants, shops and that warm, perfumy smell of the duty-free is like a huge womb. I feel an odd lift as if suddenly anything is possible. As if I have somehow become invincible. I’m alone and unknown. I don’t even have a phone. I make my way to the pub. Not a real pub but an imitation of a pub. I buy a beer and sit down next to an attractive woman a few years older than myself. I’m thinking of Fight Club, of single use friends. I wonder if she’ll be my Tyler Durden. We chat, swap stories. We even laugh. She has a boyfriend. She’s going to see him. I get a little drunk. It’s what adults do. She doesn’t drink. She doesn’t ask me to punch her.
The flight is long, quiet. Nobody is sitting either side of me. No single use friend. I have a few more drinks but I can’t sleep. I can’t watch any more films. I get into thinking, wondering. What if there’s nobody waiting for me at the other side? I’ve got no phone. What if this is all a scam? Perhaps there is someone waiting and aren’t who they say they are. My nose starts to bleed.
By the time I get off the plane my mind is a toxic medley of lack of sleep, alcohol and too much thinking, but at least I’m sober. I’m greeted cheerfully by the man that hired me, an Egyptian, and slightly less cheerfully by another guy who flew in on the same day as me, a fellow Brit. He landed 4 hours earlier. Two women who don’t seem to contribute much are also there and my toxin riddled brain can’t help but process lust. They are both Chinese, not ugly. My false invincibility still holds and my unshaven face, alcoholic sweat and slight beer belly are faded from my consciousness. At least I brushed my teeth.
We’ve been in the hospital for over an hour doing our medical checks; the last thing is to pee in a cup. I’ve drank a dozen cups of water but I can’t give up my urine. I’ve even done a shit in the mean time but still my bladder refuses to give up my liquid secrets. Everyone’s getting bored waiting for me, the boy who can’t pee. To save time I steal someone else’s pee. I hope they aren’t diseased. Outside, I have the longest pee of my life.
Not enough money.
I need to to put a deposit on an apartment. Can barely afford utensils. I haven’t had a phone this modest since I was twelve. It can call and it can text and the battery lasts a week. The company gives me an advance, the man who hired me lends me more. It barely registers how close I am to total destitution. Everywhere I go, Chinese men offer me cigarettes. It doesn’t take long for me to start taking them. Everybody spits on the street a lot.
I try spitting, too.
Read the next chapter of my story: Haunted Away From Home
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