I wait for the night to end. It’s going to be a long night, I know, I have spent thousands of nights like this, wide awake, in the dark which envelops you like gushing water covering the green field, so that at the end you aren’t sure you are awake or asleep, whether your eyes are open or shut, and it doesn’t matter.
I look at the watch. The radium dial gleams to tell me the time: 3:27 am. Another three hours before the breaking of the dawn. I smoother my hand over the bold, round frame and the steel strap of the timepiece; it still looks new. This is the only thing that has stayed with me for all these years, the only thing that steadfastly clings to me, as if its moving hands fuel my breathing.
I remember where I got the machine, on a roadside chowmein joint on the way to Honk Kong. The year was 1999. I had money to spare and I was in a very good mood. The deal had gone well, and I had decided to go sightseeing, like normal people do. David, my contact on the banks of the Mekong river, had suggested that I should take the highway and go all the way to Hong Kong. He even had arranged for a driver for me, Cheng, who knew just two words of English, sorry and thank you; but those were the important words anyway.
There, as I finished my lunch, this man came up to me, holding the watch on his hands like libation for gods. Given the surrounding countryside, he was quite well-dressed, in his orange corduroy jacket. He spoke decent English. His story was that he coming back from Hong Kong and has lost all his money. He had nothing left other than this timepiece, which his father-in-law had given him for the wedding. Right now, he needed the money so desperately; otherwise he’d never sell it. Then he came to the point, would I please buy it just for hundred dollars. Of course, he was a small-time thief. But, I liked the watch. It was a Rado. I gave him two hundred. I had money to spare.
(Part of a story I’ve been working on, tentatively tiled ‘Returning Home’.)