The man traveled six thousand miles to sketch and had gone ten years now without a drink. A down on his luck farang, said those who saw him every day by Ao Nid pier with his sketchbook and pencils. I met him at the tail end of my holiday at a cafe by the pier. Perhaps I looked lonely– I often do when I’m writing– because the ginger haired man sitting at the table next to me cleared his throat and asked where I was headed, gesturing to the backpack that lay across my feet like a well-fed soi dog.
He had been sketching men in yoga poses, some with beards, others thin as a monk. If you looked closely, you recognised the wide eyes, curious and wary. They were the eyes of someone who’s been kicked in the balls and told to stay the fuck down but got up anyway. The drawings were all of him.
Two red bulls, a can of Coke and a cup of coffee later, his hands didn’t shake when he lit his roll-up cigarette. He chain-smoked and I listened: He went to art school and painted, and because he was talented he withered under the glare of a bright future. He pulled out photographs of his paintings folded between the pages of a leather journal. There’s one of a bearded man with a hammerhead’s snout perched on his head. Another was of a man with a porbeagle shark this time, cradling a ginger cormorant in his arms. I didn’t ask him what it meant but it must be about a man blissfully unaware of danger. Or someone who’s embraced it. My favourite was a giant monk standing in the moat encircling Angkor Wat dragging a skiff with a giraffe sat inside it. But it’s been a while since he painted. He was nonchalant when he said this, like it was a subject he had long since tired of. I felt a violent helplessness at what might be permanently lost. I wanted to slap him.
After two months on the island, he was expected back in London. He wasn’t keen on returning to an existence that looked as if it had been squeezed out of a French press. That was pretty much what I did to my life in London, he said, I shoved that plunger down and all that’s left is only what’s necessary: work, my plants, friends I meet for movies and coffee. Sometimes I restore vintage bikes.
If we had a second morning we might have filled in the blanks. But it was the sort of conversation where we glossed over details like names, addresses, work, and instead outlined our stories with black felt tip pens until they hung over us like mosquito nets, catching flies, cockroaches, all forms of insects that bite, leave red welts, and because we were on an island and swam in the sea everyday, the bites didn’t heal as quickly.
I asked, what will you do then? He shrugged but I could see that while there was uncertainty, he was not adrift. First, I will get a tattoo in Bangkok, he said. In London, perhaps I will buy a boat and live in it.
Then he added: maybe I will start painting again.
This week’s one-word prompt is “addiction.”