17 June 2013

Let us touch you

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The KLIA television station in the budget terminal plays a series of commercials about the greatness of the country and the airport on loop. One cheery song and dance routine includes the phrase, Let us touch you with ironic images of men greeting women and putting their hands across their chests. Quaint, polite, and foreign, but I hate this every time I see it: Shake the woman's hand: she doesn't have cooties. The video goes on and on with slogans that clean up Malaysian English into something more international, but are self-congratulatory: Malaysia is great, how nice the people are, how well run and safe everything is. Slouched down in a plastic chair at five in the morning, waiting, I'm less patient than I normally would be: something, please something make sense.

The family returned and suitcases exploded with things from Japan. Naomi and Mei — and Mia now too—  are full of stories and chatting, all the things they did and saw. Within hours I am mopping up pee and soy milk again, listening to criticism of my cooking and what I bought: only hours before the house was empty and clean and quiet. Mei sits closely to me on the sofa and finally someone says what I've been waiting and waiting to hear: that she missed me and cried once, when she was brushing her teeth, because I wasn't there.

Everything I write and experience is so predictable, so stereotypical. Every man with small three kids and a wife feels the same way: 80% of us. Just say what you're supposed to, then shut the hell up. If there is any truth, it's this: people say things that they're supposed to say, and your response should be the preferred response. 'It must be great to have everyone back' and the truth is not what people want to hear. Narratives of marriage and paternity are set and they are simple ones, uncomplicated ones. Say yes, that's all. Don't think too much about it. Say the right thing out of cowardice.

The women are all tired, particularly their mother, and then awake at the wrong times. I ended up kicked out of the bed in the middle of the night, as usual. I woke to sounds — not the azan, not the alarm clock, not the silence — showered, and hugged and kissed everyone goodbye, like the last month hadn't happened.

The multiverse simmers and bubbles. I don't know enough about the theory to make it anything but a sloppy metaphor for my own experience. In a Murakami novel, one can shuttle between two universes, but here, in this universe, the bus still comes at 5:15 and I must make it home in time for a dinner I don't think I should eat — I've eaten enough for the next three months. There are, after all, consequences to the choices that we make.

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