[Destiny] Chapter 17: A Book You Can’t Read

~~~

On the surface that generics perceived, Copenhagen had surprisingly few cabinets, but sometimes cabinets had the habit of blindsiding you with cosmological paws, and that’s what happened in a bookshop off Prinsessegade where Sila was reading a 60’s French comic that seemed ostensibly to be about a sex demon sailing on a cruise of the damned, but was really about mid-century French petit-bourgeoise acting like pieces of criminal shit.

‘Have you read this before?’ he asked Joanna, who was hovering nearby, a German book hanging loose in hand.

‘No.’

Sila showed her the cover to make sure, but she shook her head and said, ‘the name’s weird, and I don’t speak French, but, actually, that naked woman next to the boat funnel does look a little like a comic I saw in Ljubljana once.’

‘A French comic?’

‘I think it was the day before I met you, a few days before you came out of the cabinet in my room.’

‘Jezus…’

‘Don’t know where you were before that. You haven’t told me yet.’

‘I thought we’d moved past this.’

‘Maybe you don’t remember. Maybe your brain isn’t very strong. What do you mean? I am moving past it, I’m moving forward, here, in Denmark.’

‘I’m buying this comic.’

‘You’re the one who won’t move past anything.’

‘… … … …’

Sila took the comic to the counter, but there was no one serving so he poked his head into the back room and that’s when he saw the cabinet, all green, standing completely alone in the corner.

‘Hello?’

He didn’t bother trying a second time as the cabinet was green,  a sure sign of potentialism, and besides that there was a suspicion in his head that told him, the guy’s not serving you cos he’s in that green cabinet, and he’s in there cos this is it, this is the professor you’ve been looking for, Sila. Now, get over there and stab before he beams away to Kyushu or Neptune, move, stab that thing, go, go, go.

Obeying what meta-physicists may have called GOD, Sila jogged over, pulling his knife out as he went, put one hand on the door to steady himself then stabbed through the crack in the middle of the two doors just as the owner of the shop pulled open the door of the toilet.

‘What are you doing?’

‘Nothing.’

‘That’s my cabinet.’

‘Yes, I know.’

‘You can’t open it. Please, get away.’

After pulling the knife out, Sila said sorry, paid for the book, ignored Joanna, walked outside to the nearest bench, sat down, pulled out his notepad, crossed off Copenhagen and added a small note: ‘green cabinets a trick, don’t stab.’

Two minutes later, Joanna came out and sat down next to him, a bag the shape of the German book she’d been reading tucked under her arm.

‘I didn’t know you spoke German?’ Sila asked, looking at the bag.

‘I don’t.’

‘Martial arts fiction?’

‘No, it’s German.’

‘The one you were looking at?’

‘Ja.’

‘I don’t get it. You bought a book you can’t read?’

‘… … … … … … …’

‘Huh?’

‘It’s for a friend.’

‘Does she speak German?’

‘He.’

Sila followed a duck floating by in the harbour, giving her a ten second window to add more.

‘Does he speak German?’ he asked again, when she refused to take it.

‘Some.’

‘Where is he now?’

‘Not here.’

‘In China?’

‘No.’

‘The Moon?’

‘No.’

He breathed out long, half a second away from calling her a fucking wretch. ‘Where then?’

‘Somewhere. Nowhere.’

‘Okay, this is getting tedious now.’

‘… … … … … …’

‘If you’re not gonna answer properly, I’ll just look at that duck.’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Don’t know what?’

‘I don’t know where he is.’

‘Why not?’

‘He didn’t say.’ She looked down at the water, left and right, then stood up and walked to the railings, peering over the side. ‘Which duck?’

~~~

The hostel was a party hostel, which was never good for a thirty-one-year old with a quiet voice, but that’s what he’d booked cos it was near all the cabinets he’d found online and it wouldn’t be that bad as long as he got a 2 bed dorm and woke up early for breakfast, but

it was hard to get up early when your mission involved staying up late, to four in the morning most nights, just so no one would be around when you broke into the places with the cabinets and

secondly

there were no 2 bed dorms

only 8 bed dorms or

16 bed dorms cos

this was a party hostel, not a couple’s retreat.

‘What do you think they’re doing here?’ Joanna asked, lying on her bunk with one earphone in.

‘Who?’

‘Those guys.’

Sila looked up from his computer, the screen full of stills from The Pillow Book, not cabinets, and nodded at the Italian guy lying on the bunk opposite. There was another one above, but he was asleep.

‘The hostel staff said there’s a lot of them here looking for work…’ she continued, ‘but what work can you get if you don’t speak Danish?’

Luckily the Italian guy had missed enough of her lines to not understand he was being talked about, if he even understood English at all, and two minutes later the other guy had woken up and four minutes after that the two of them were out of the dorm and doing whatever it was they did outside to find work.

‘I’m bored,’ Joanna said, after a long period of silence.

‘Read a book.’

‘I’m bored of this room.’

‘The German one you bought, maybe.’

‘There’s a history museum not too far from here. We can go there. Learn about the Vikings.’

‘Can’t. I’m still looking.’

‘For how long?’

‘As long as it takes.’

‘How long will it take?’

‘I don’t do deadlines.’

‘… … … … … … …’

‘I’m not stopping you. Go, if you want.’

Joanna rolled back onto the central part of her bunk and put the second earphone back in. She tried listening to some old Tat Ming Pair songs but stopped after one and a half and took both earphones out. She rolled back to the side of the bunk and looked down at Sila’s angry face, or what looked like an angry face. He’d said it was his normal expression, but to her, it looked angry, as if he was being forced to watch a TVB variety show on loop

or an ATV drama

or worse, a Bosco Wong movie

though technically he wouldn’t hate any of those cos he didn’t know Cantonese and it was tough to hate anything with subtitles, it just wasn’t the same. Look at Wong Kar Wai, most HK people didn’t get it, mo liu shit about holes in trees and never-ending train rides, but then she’d watched one on Irish TV one time, with the sound off, and

it was still shit

really, there was no story, no plot,

but the dialogue didn’t grate as much when it was written down in foreign words.

‘Maybe I already asked this, I can’t remember…but how do you search for all these cabinets?’

‘You did ask. Twice.’

‘Did I?’

‘You were on that stuff…the grey verdic…’

‘When?’

Sila typed something, rotating his phone with his other hand. ‘You want me to count the times?’

‘I don’t take it so much.’

‘Sure.’

‘And you took some, too. Three times. That’s almost the same as me.’

‘Different situation. I wasn’t feeling well.’

‘You wanna take some now?’

‘And it’s nowhere near the same as you. Three times in how long? Four weeks? You take it three times in one day.’

‘… … … … … … …’ she muttered, looking over at the Italian’s empty bunk.

‘Okay, maybe not three, more like once a day…once every two days if I’m being kind. That’s still a lot more than I’ve ever done it. And…you were taking it before I even met you, so…yeah, your total could be huge…you could’ve done it ten times a day for all I know.’

‘I didn’t.’

‘If you say so.’

‘I give you my word that I didn’t.’

‘The word of the nut who tried to kill me.’

She pushed her face further past the edge of the bunk railing, offering complete nonchalance to a guy who wasn’t even looking up from his computer. ‘I’m not a nut.’

‘Close enough.’

‘I didn’t kill anyone.’

‘Close enough.’

‘… … … … … … … … … … … … … … …’

‘Don’t understand.’

‘You twist words to pity yourself. All the time.’

‘That’s what you said?’

‘But I’m not interested in character flaws. The most important thing is you killed the Krsnik. Or wounded it.’

‘What a defence…’ he said, typing again.

‘The only way to be sure would be to go back, see if it’s still there.’

‘Jezus, give it a rest for one fucking minute, please.’

‘There’s only so far north you can go.’

‘I’m not going back there.’

‘Only so many countries…’

‘Ever.’

She held out her palm over the railings and ran her finger along what she thought was her life line. ‘It could be fate. Where else would your cabinet demon be but the place you were born? I mean, wasn’t that where you saw him?’

‘It wasn’t a him.’

‘Where you saw it.’

‘It’s not fate. Or not fate that it’s there. It doesn’t have to be there. Besides, I’ve checked it all…the whole city. No professors in Ljubljana.’

‘Have you?’

‘I’m done talking about this.’

‘You checked the whole city?’

Sila went back to the screen and resumed his TVB variety show face. Not being able to see that he had done this, Joanna waited for a reply to her question. When nothing came, she tried something else.

‘You didn’t answer me about the vasic?’

‘No.’

‘You don’t wanna try some?’

More typing noise.

‘It’ll help the time to pass…’

‘I said no.’

‘…faster.’

‘Completely not interested.’

‘Okay. Slow it is then.’

She turned and stared at the ceiling for a while, listening to the sound of him typing, following the various cracks in the paint, one of which reminded her of the Shing Mun river and the bench near the Banyan bridge where she’d met Yute Long at 2am in the middle of winter and…

they’d argued about something…

why do humans swing towards a figurehead leader, why not groups instead and

it was so small, so stupid, but she’d been angry for days and depressed cos they were different, at their core, they were different and she couldn’t love that side of him cos it was fucking stupid, his thoughts were so fucking naïve and stupid, and it made her angry, so angry that she’d…

More typing noise from down below.

She left the ceiling and glanced at the German book next to her. The gift that would never be given. Unless…

She pushed her head further off her bunk to try and get a glimpse of what he was looking at. Briefly, it seemed to be two blurred men, naked, in some dark antechamber, but then it was gone and there was a picture of a scruffy looking council estate, with a slide and swings on hard concrete.

‘Do kids play on that?’

Sila looked up, pretending to be a little surprised that she was leaning over so far.

‘Seems dangerous…’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Where is it?’

‘You’re really interested?’

She nodded, which from her position on the bunk looked like a sideways nod.

‘Okay.’ Sila sat up and scrolled down the screen. ‘According to this blog, there’s a kind of youth centre nearby, for minorities mostly.’

‘Chinese?’

‘Muslims, Africans, Eastern Europeans, some Danish. No Chinese mentioned.’

‘So you think there’s a cabinet inside?’

‘I do.’

‘They talk about a cabinet on there, on that site?’

‘Not exactly, but it ticks all the boxes. Dodgy area, hard to find, and there’s a workshop inside so…’ He stopped and noticed she was looking at his bare feet. ‘I can stop anytime.’

‘I’m listening.’

‘You’re looking at my feet.’

‘Listening to the sound of your voice bouncing back off your feet.’

‘You don’t care about any of this, do you?’

‘I told you, I’m listening.’ She switched from his feet to his chest. ‘Actually, I wanted to hear about your method for cabinet selection, but you never answered.’

‘I am answering…’

‘Seems roundabout…’

‘Roundabout?’ Sila looked at the screen and laughed. ‘Are you sure you’re not British Chinese?’

‘Am not.’

‘Australian Chinese? Canadian?’

‘I’m regular Chinese.’

‘How the hell do you know a word like roundabout then?’

‘Self-study. How the hell do you know it?’

‘I’m Half-British.’

She hesitated, moving from his chest to his neck. ‘You never told me that.’

‘Sure, apart from about thirteen separate times.’

‘You never told me when I was lucid.’

Sila laughed again, definitely not a performance cos his mouth was lopsided.

‘What?’

‘You still wanna know what my method is?’

‘I want to know why you laughed.’

‘I’ll assume you do. Forget about the laughing, it’s a Segway, doesn’t matter.’

‘Segway?’

‘Basically, my method is…in the shortest possible way…don’t look for cabinets. Don’t look for them directly. Look for old places, weird places. Castles, museums, famous houses that belonged to weird poets or Satanists or…just anything or anyone weird, anything connected to anything or anyone weird.’

‘That’s not very efficient.’

‘It isn’t about efficiency.’

‘It should be.’

‘It’s about intuition…psychology…what I know and what I can deduce…’

‘Deduce about what?’

Sila pulled himself up so his back was straight against the head board of his bunk. ‘It’s too complicated to explain.’

‘You haven’t tried.’

‘And I don’t have time for it. I need to focus, search more…’

‘… … … … … … … … … … …’

‘Ah, there it is, back to the Chinese channel. Doesn’t matter. I know you don’t really care. You’re just feigning interest so I’ll mellow and let you whisk me to Ljubljana.’

‘Whisk?’

‘There’s no need to deny it.’

‘I’m not. I’m telling you I don’t know what whisk means.’

‘What? You know roundabout but not whisk?’

‘I know the cooking term, but that doesn’t make any sense in your sentence.’

‘You don’t know any other usage?’

She paused, shifting the pillow closer to the edge of the bunk. ‘I’m not a dictionary.’

‘You could look it up?’

‘Too tired.’

‘Forget it then, I’m not explaining.’

‘Try.’

‘I’ve already told you before, but you were too spaced out to take it in. I’m not doing it again.’

‘… … … … … … … …’ she said, most of it muffled by the pillow.

‘Talking shit about me in Chinese isn’t gonna help much.’

‘I said you’re too stubborn to find anything.’

‘Great.’

‘One brain leads to one path, one path leads to a narrower path, a narrower path leads to a dead end…’

‘Who’s that, Confucius?’

‘…or a hundred metre drop.’

‘Chairman Mao?’

‘Who?’

Sila ignored her and went back to the computer. He made a note on his phone about how to get to the youth centre, the opening times, the location of the woodcraft workshop, and then got up, packed his rucksack and headed for the door.

Joanna asked him where he was going and got no answer.

‘To the playground?’

‘Enjoy Copenhagen.’

‘Are you going to the playground?’

‘Bye.’

When the door had closed behind him, she jumped off the bunk, took the vial of grey vasic out of her bag, the blade out of her pocket, sliced a vein-less part of her arm, waited a minute then muttered something in Chinese and trailed after him.

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