Abjection is above all ambiguity
Ambiguity is an alcove
Our Alcove is cosy
Joanna’s head stayed fixed in position, eyes on the graffiti outside the blue door that allegedly led to the hostel she’d just booked back in the car, half an hour earlier.
Abjection is above all ambiguity
Ambiguity is an alcove
The words seemed familiar somehow, philosophy that Yute Long had told her once, or perhaps the Gum Yong translator at Uni, or a book at the library
scrawled out on Lisboan infrastructure, regular structure, pastel façade
in English over Portuguese
next to an amateur spray of a giant dick shooting up like a rocket into an upside down blood pool.
There was a noise to her left, a local woman shouting at her friend, pinching her jacket as evidence.
Joanna waited for them to pass, then put a hand out and pressed the hostel buzzer.
The hostel owner was playing a football game on a huge projection screen when she walked in, and two men who she could hear whispering German were parked on the couch at the side.
‘Take over,’ the hostel owner said, handing the control to the German with frizzy hair, then got up and strolled over to the table that had to be the check-in desk.
Didn’t look much like it.
No leaflets or guides to local tourist sites.
Just a carboard cut-out pic of Faye Valentine, leaning over the CB cockpit controls.
‘Chinese? Korean?’ the hostel owner asked, taking her passport and writing her details down in a shabby-looking notebook.
She pointed at the passport cover.
‘Ah, Hong Kong…quite close. You coming in from Porto? Or flying in?’
Joanna looked at the two Germans in the relaxation area, one of them playing the football game, the other holding an anime doll she didn’t recognise level with his face, interrogating it.
Then turned right and looked at the kitchen.
White walls, white cupboards.
Blank and bright.
‘Okay, all done. Room is first floor up the stairs, shared bathroom in the middle, if you need anything, just come down, I’ll be here until eleven.’
She took the key from the table and her passport from his hand, avoiding the attempt to brush against her fingers
turned her back
noticed the life-size cut-out of another anime girl, white hair, white dressing gown, against the far wall, flanked by the usual leaflets and guides
and headed back out towards the stairs.
In her room, there were three other bunks, all empty.
Probably wouldn’t stay that way for the two days she’d booked, but if someone else did come, other men, then she could just check out and find somewhere smaller, quieter.
An alcove safe and filtered.
Clean part of the metro.
Keep her guarded, ossified until her flight left.
Hearing a shout outside in the corridor, she moved to the door and gripped the handle. There was no additional lock, so she put her weight against the frame, whispering in Cantonese for them to keep moving, shut up, go back to Spain, vanish.
The sound faded and the hum of Lisboan nature returned through the open window.
She moved back to the bunk she’d dropped her bag on and fished out the Gum Yong book. Studied the cover. Sat down on the edge of the pillow and flicked to her last read page. Read the same thing she’d read in Almodóvar Chicken. Closed the book, put it back in the bag, looked at her phone.
There was a new e-mail from Ming.
The flat renovation was going well, and the birds nest seemed to be permanent. Dad still wouldn’t agree to shift the builders to his flat, touch a few things up, said he’d do it himself if it was really necessary.
Which it never would be.
Are you definitely coming back? In three days? It’s not a joke, is it?
Joanna stared at the outline of the phone screen.
Pictured her family home.
The black and white photos of her grandparents, the man a cheating scumbag, the woman dead at fifty.
The smile on his face, the pallid blankness of hers.
Abjection is the complete lack of ambiguity.
She blinked, started typing out a reply.
‘In two days, I fly, in three days, I’ll be back. Not a joke. Don’t know where I’m gonna…’
She stopped, looking towards the open window.
A mosquito had just flown in, not even hiding itself, just drifting nonchalantly over to her bunk.
Wasn’t it too cold for them?
She looked down at her phone, turning it off and on, checking the date.
Nodded unconvincingly, confused.
Pinched at her cardigan.
Put the phone down and moved to the window.
Outside was the a narrow street, quite busy, most people coming in and out of the mini-supermarket at the top of the hill.
Skimming round the edges of the other.
Unable to give time to the idea that the friend next to them would either die before them or after them, leaving a void that had to be outmaneuvered at all costs, otherwise
She positioned herself at the side of the window frame and stared down.
Focused on the louder types.
Back on the bunk, 10:45pm Lisboan time, she watched animal rescue videos on her phone
about twenty-five, thirty of them
watched until she drifted out
the other side of a bottomless pit with the Red Flower Heroes, losing sight of them, finding a corpse, the charred remains of the Snowy Fox Gum Yong book
then drifted back in, to the same dorm room with three empty beds, heaven-like Sun, chaotic duvet and
clicked on the next animal vid
this one koala-focused.
In the shared bathroom, she stared at her reflection, self-buffering, waiting for it to become something she recognised, remembered.
The hair was similar, but the face…
Weirdly, annoyingly, the hostel kitchen got all the sun in the late hours of the morning, so much so that Joanna had to turn her back to the window as she ate the crepe made by the woman whose job it was to make crepes for everyone.
Lydia, her name was.
Gregarious in limited English, maker of tasty crepes, a good prop to use to dodge the Chinese-American guy trying to start a conversation with her.
First in Mandarin, then in English, then, for some reason, in Korean.
Your mission is ho mo liu, she thought, pulling out her phone and opening a new e-mail from her sister. More pics of the bird nest with baby birds in it. More questions.
I forgot to ask, how’s Yute Long? Still planning on opening his guitar shop?
She clicked back, checking her last reply. Realised she hadn’t finished typing it.
‘You checked out Belem yet? It’s pretty cool, lots of scenery, green stuff…’
Her eyes went to her crepe, catching the little finger of the Chinese-American at the edge of the frame.
It was completely uncreased
like an android’s
smooth and polished and
She got up and returned her plate to the gregarious Lydia, then continued out into the check-in area, ignoring the broken Mandarin nonsense from the hostel owner, who was on the couch, playing the football game again.
Out was the target.
Sat obedient where she’d left it the night before, the car had enough fuel to take her back
dump her at the airport
at the beach
into the depths of the Atlantic where all the forfeited parts were
the otherness, the cosy abject
ready to wrap around her limbs and brain and
The sun may have been fierce, but the curtains blocked out most of it, and if she continued focusing on the Lisboa vlogs, the animal videos, the analysis of Cheung Yuen Ting films, the hard vampire porn then it could be wiped out completely
at least until tomorrow.
Dinner was a sandwich from the supermarket and a bag of local crisps which tasted like a field of paprika dropped in one single bag.
Soon she could have Tam Jai again, Yum cha, dah bin lo
with her family
in a place she knew like the back of
Eyes stuck on the screen as a black vampire fucked a white aristocrat, telling her this was undead dick she was getting
mouth muttering idiot in Cantonese,
fingers vaguely touching herself
whole body barely moving an inch as the door lock activated and an Indian couple pushed their wheeled suitcases in.
Luckily, it was quite dark, and they didn’t notice her until the lights were switched on, and by then she’d taken her fingers away and was up off the bunk, heading towards the door.
There was a hi, nice to meet you, as forced as it gets, then the door was shut and she was safe again.
Outside was un-tempting and the relaxation area wasn’t much better, with the hostel owner playing the computer on loop while the two German guys sat on the side couch and watched.
Saying later to a shouted invitation to join, Joanna parked herself in the kitchen and looked at her phone
the flight time on her ticket
another e-mail from her sister, far too long,
one from her mum.
Ying, are you looking for a job yet? Better to think up an excuse for the two year gap you’ve taken ahead of time, that’s the first question they’ll
One drink led to another drink led to a glass of ice-less vodka and pretty soon she was playing like a drugged up Crowley stan on the football video game, FIFA road to something, and the hostel owner was telling her and the two Germans about a bar he was going to when he got off work, a small, local place that had no tourists and hopefully the girl he liked would be there
to which one of the Germans said, ‘your girlfriend?’
And he said, ‘no, different one. Upgrade.’
And Joanna laughed out loud, accepting a lit cigarette from the other German, telling them all that what the hostel guy just said reminded her of a man she knew back home
an insurance agent who had four girlfriends
plus a wife
who would go to a fortune teller every week so he could know how to rank them, who to dump, who to pursue, who to have breakfast with, what colour rock to put in his pocket and carry round with him all day for protected luck
and when she was done, she apologised
saying fortune tellers probably weren’t as popular in Portugal
people wouldn’t trust spilt joss sticks
and the hostel owner shook his head, replying either genuine or deadpan, ‘no, we have GOD.’
It may have been a long walk to the local bar with no tourists
with the different girl that the hostel owner wanted to fuck instead of his girlfriend
but Joanna didn’t feel it
didn’t feel much of anything, just a gliding sensation between frames of a film that she happened to be in at that particular moment
an alien documentary chancing onto her
skimming through shots of her form and surface smoking at a table, singing along to that familiar Portuguese song that warned We Are Not Spanish, asking the German guys if they’d been to Ljubljana, resting her head on one of their shoulders, offering a whole pack of cigarettes to a guy who reminded her of Patrice, who
in her drunken haze
was the spitting image of him, who offered her one of her own cigarettes back, who floated off as the hostel owner took her to one side, cautioned in a paternal tone not to give the immigrants too much as it would just encourage them to take more
her looking blank in response, then relaying the story to the Germans
both of them telling her they had a Senegalese friend back in Dusseldorf who was the friendliest guy they’d ever met, and his sister was beautiful
had actually dated one of them for a few months, drank like an Irish person, spoke Wolof during sex, and that led to fucked up, misremembered Wolof slang and apologies in German and regret that she wasn’t there right then and now and
until the taller German guy felt sick
went back to the hostel with his friend and left Joanna to sit next to the Patrice clone she’d given cigarettes too and
when she asked him what he thought of the bar
he got up and walked off
vanished into the night
what did he do that for, I was trying to have a genuine conversation, Patrice would’ve talked to me, give back all the cigarettes if you’re gonna do that, fucking sociopath
At some point, she got so dazed, so bored, so unaware of what forfeited existence she was drowning in that she sat down next to the hostel owner, and told the girl he was whispering to
presumably the different one he wanted to fuck
that he was a great guy who played road to FIFA really well and had no time for superstitious fortune teller types with purple rock advice technique things
all in English, all received like she was a coked-up Haitian witch doctor
then all smiles as she slouched back against the seat and nodded at another Portuguese guy sitting down next to her, who coughed seven, eight times before asking in ropey English if she was having an interesting time that night.
Turned out the hostel owner knew how to play guitar, which he pulled out on the stairs leading up to her room
singing something off-key in Portuguese
then strumming loosely
staring at her chest
saying the other girl was tedious, didn’t know how to fuck, went off with some weakling poet translator, too local, too much ego, no fun.
‘Still got your back-up doll,’ Joanna said, smoking her three-hundredth cigarette of the night.
‘I’m going to bed.’
He nodded, and started strumming again, which she knew wasn’t the end
cos he was a guy
it was four in the morning
no one else to fuck nearby
and as she walked up past him, saying goodnight from the drunk part of her brain, he did absolutely nothing
just kept playing his guitar
as if she were already wisp-like
something to wank over later
her and his anime cut-outs
possibly right there on the stairs, without any thought of disguise or
The room was dark.
Indian couple, asleep.
Dragging her duvet over to the window, she self-embalmed, rested her head against the window frame and watched the sun slowly rise
cos it also did sometimes
then switched to the early morning workers walking up the hill to the mini-supermarket
the Indian guys standing around, selling baking powder [according to the hostel owner]
the clubbers coming home, most with a friend or someone to fuck
if they had the sentience for it
One couple actually stopped by the hostel doorway below and started groping each other, then pushed the door open and
maybe made it back to their dorm
or just fucked on the stairs, next to the hostel owner wanking behind a plant
or collapsed in a heap, threw up and
next day, work, holiday, day after that, drink, club, hiking in the desert near Almodóvar Chicken, in the void, in the alcove, whichever was which, suffocating themselves in things, sex, drink, baking powder, the greener segments of this
Her head jerked left, hitting a loose nail dug poorly into the window frame.
‘Ho mo liu geh yum mo…’ she muttered, pulling out her phone, scrutinising yet another e-mail from her sister, her mum,
switching to her flight ticket
the creeping departure time, that same day, less than eleven hours
the rising sun outside
the pretty pastel buildings
the strangeness, the void
the potential of it
a pop-up ad, ambushing her phone screen
the plane icon
departure time, reminders, added benefits, warnings
the cancel flight button.
‘Music, rhythm, riga something,’ she mumbled, rubbing the nascent throb inside her head, half-looking down at the fresh patch of graffiti outside. ‘Without end, for no reason.’