How I Decided
It’s a Sunday afternoon. I’m home in Milan rolling in bed after my Saturday night shift. I receive a message: it’s my best friend Tommy, who lives in Australia. He’s texting me and Ivan, who lives in Berlin.
15:36 – Asia on the 6th of January?
I answer instinctively. Yes, I wish.
Same, says Ivan.
A few weeks later, I’m still thinking about it. I find myself actually trying to figure out a way to do it.
Another Sunday, another cigarette in bed, another message from Tommy.
14:21 – I got the tickets. I’ll be in Bangkok on the 6th at 8pm. Meet you there?
I check my bank account twice, then again. I answer back.
16:37 – Sorry. I’ll be little late, I land at 8:20.
16:42 – Are you serious?
After I send Tommy a screenshot as proof of my seriousness, we both wait. We wait two days. Still nothing from Ivan. We talk about him in a private conversation: he’s a bastard, he’s heartless, he’s a traitor. These are the words we use.
Then, it’s a Wednesday. I’m preparing to start my shift. I get out of the shower and check the time on my phone. There’s a message.
15:36 – Sorry guys for the late reply, I’ve been busy with work lately, barely have had the time to book my flight to Bangkok. 8:40pm sound good?
In the following weeks, I work as usual. I don’t tell anyone about the trip: not my parents; not my friends; not my girlfriend, not my bos. No one suspects anything. It’s like an escape, I guess.
When I tell them that I’m going away and I’m not sure when I’ll come back, it’s just a few days before I’m supposed to leave. Everyone is upset, but with a different intensity. If I had to go from hating me to being happy for me I would write the aforementioned list in this order: my girlfriend, my boss, my parents, my friends.
They take me to the airport with a case of beer that finishes before we arrive at the departures terminal. We knock back whiskeys at the airport bar. We cry, and I go. I lose my ticket on the way to the gate. Someone finds it on the floor and gives it back to me.
I arrive in Bangkok and spot Tommy in the passport and visa control queue. He’s just 30 people ahead of me. We smile; we move our arms around. After the controls, we hug. I notice he has the same shirt as I do have in my backpack. Ivan’s flight is 30 minutes delayed. Security approaches us.
“Are you Turkish?”
“No, we are Italians,” I say.
They check our passports, then go away. Slowly, from the escalator, Ivan’s head arises. A few moments later, we step into the suffocatingly humid South-East Asian air.
Three months later, I’m sitting on a beach shack’s little bench having roasted fish with Tommy on Gili Air, the smallest of the Lombok’s three Gili islands in Indonesia. Ivan is back in Berlin. We are meeting Tommy’s friends at the fish market later in the day. It’s my 30th birthday.
By now, everything is less captivating, but still charming about Asian markets. The heat of the small BBQs, the smells, the colours, the sweat, the smiles. By now, I’m starting to lose that sense of wonder, but it’s being replaced by a deep curiosity instead.
I hate the travel rhetoric and all the traveller business that stands behind it. I’m worried about sounding corny whenever I say or write anything about my trip to my friends. They are generally interested and keep asking me when I’ll be back. I don’t know, I say, but the money is running low.
Tommy’s friends are nice people; we share some seafood and beers at the table, then a storm suddenly kicks in. The rain is violent. We have more beers while every tourist starts retreating quickly in their hotels rooms.
Some locals sit down at the table with us. They are young and they can’t speak any English. We communicate with gestures. A friend of ours starts an arm-wrestling competition. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, all the times we laugh. I have to pee; rain is still pouring down. I spot a bar on the corner across the road. I go there with Tommy and they ask us to buy something to use the bathroom. We buy shots.
Back at the market, there are more beers on the table. Someone ask me about my plans. I say I don’t know, and I offer him to take my place in the next arm wrestle battle. The Indonesian guy is a big one, tall and large. Our friend is half the size, but surprisingly wins. We all laugh at the big guy and he laughs too, then there’s silence for few seconds. I enjoy the silence after we laugh. Everyone’s still smiling, looking at each other with a strange complicity. The Indonesians are all wearing Europeans football team T-shirts.
The storm never stops, and the market is flooding. We are the only ones left. We don’t care about the brownish water that is submerging our feet. We keep drinking beers and going to the toilet in small groups, now that we know the trick.
I don’t know what time it is and I don’t care, but when the rain diminishes a little, the guys start cleaning up and packing their market stalls. In the toilet of the bar, someone approaches me with some mushrooms in his hands. I eat them, and we leave and go out to a club. It’s packed. I dance with some Brazilian girls then I sit on a bench to smoke a cigarette. A guy give me some ecstasy; he puts it gently on my tongue.
I dance more with a guy from Poland, when he touches my thigh I smile and apologise kindly and go out for another cigarette. An Indonesian guy with a strange hat is playing guitar; we talk and I tell him that is my birthday. One of his friends stands up and kisses me on the mouth. I kiss her back and she sits down again. Her red curly hair is beautiful. She smiles at me, I smile back.
Someone passes me a joint; I thank him and take few drags. I bow and go back inside, looking around for Tommy. When I don’t find him, I reach my pocket for another cigarette and my packet is empty. I ask the bartender where can I buy more, and he says down the road.
I go outside again; the Indonesian guys and the Irish girl are not there anymore. I walk in the direction that the bartender suggested to me. It’s a long walk, but now the weather is fine, no clouds are up in the sky and the moon is bright and beautiful. Finally, I find the shop and buy some cigarettes, then light one up outside and stop to stare at the moon for a while.
I wonder where the others are, I wonder if I’m being selfish at enjoying this “being far” feeling. I feel guilt towards all the people I left behind in Italy.
When I return to the club and see my friends standing on a balcony, they seem shocked to see me. Tommy comes to me and tells me they’ve been looking for me. He hugs me and we go to the beach. On our way in the dark, he stumbles into a rock; he’s barefoot. We laugh at his swearing and then we stare at the moon together as we pee side by side.
“Why don’t you come to Australia with me if you don’t want to go back home?” he asks.
“How do you know?” I say in reply.
He smiles. I smile.
“Yeah, maybe I will.”
Riccardo now lives in Melbourne. Cover via Katarzyna Urbanek