Maps: Leaving the Mekong

On turbulence.

No flight was ever turbulent,

Except for that one time when I came home not immediately realizing that I had ridden on seven different wheeled-vehicles for more than 24 hours. One had wheels but was better off flying, so it flew, took its steel wings higher than the weather.

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Unlike the rest, this really happened, and I want you to understand how I felt exhaustion laughing at my face and how the man beside me in the Phnom Penh to Saigon bus chewed his food louder than the movie on the television screen, and he was wearing a long-sleeved white shirt, nicely pressed, and he couldn’t wait to come back home. This was the difference between him and me.

But I didn’t give up on him easily, I said it’s okay, it’s okay, I forgive you, your mouth is as important as your eyes and making me hear what goes on in there doesn’t make you weak. It’s my fault. I’m sorry and I hope you get home safe. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.

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I got off the bus not immediately grasping I just crossed borders. I have arrived in Saigon. Again, a new country, I thought. Maybe the air will be different. It wasn’t.

You’ll be surprised at how fast I walked. You’ll admire me for making it on time though I had to half-sleep on chairs at midnight. Someone woke me up when the plane was about to leave. I was very tired.

Where are we going? I asked her. Home, she said.

Okay, okay.

The wheeled vehicle flew, flew so high I started to take flight myself; I started wishing people could get paid by how fast their hearts beat and at how well they handle love. I asked questions about why people do what they do. I questioned my ability to breathe. Then I fell asleep, perhaps putting my head on the right shoulder blade of the stranger sitting beside me—a young man whose face I didn’t get to pay attention to. I could speak to him in my native tongue now, mahirap pala, I’ll tell him. Hindi ko rin alam bakit itinuloy ko pa. Instead I clutched the earphones in my hand, but forgot to play anything. I couldn’t listen to anything. I was very hungry.

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How many hours has it been since I left Siem Reap, at midnight, then arriving in Phnom Penh in the morning and then making my way to Saigon in the afternoon, arriving late in the evening, exhausted, hungry, but didn’t need any food? How long had I been floating on the Mekong? I ate a piece of bread and drank some Coke at the stop at one province stop just to fit in—everyone was eating and I wondered, how is it possible that they’re hungry? I needed to count the hours but where were my fingers? How many days until January? Is anything happening on January? What time is it?

I went home, the perfect world’s orders notwithstanding.

No flight was ever turbulent.

None was turbulent enough.

 

About the Author

Bong Sta. Maria

Bong Sta. Maria’s travel trifecta is composed of food, coffee, and books. Her favorite place on earth is Nepal, and she finds it weird talking about herself in the third person.