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I’m sitting behind my dad on the motorcycle at night, squeezing my eyes shut as we zoom through the dark and hoping, hoping, hoping. We’re approaching our little side road, our soi, and I’m willing the engine to accelerate, to not slow down and not swing right, in the direction of home and what was sure to be immediate bedtime. Yes! We keep going. When I’m chosen to go along on these evening jaunts, I never know where we’ll alight, which of my dad’s friends we’re going to visit, what movies will be playing on TV. Or even when we’ll arrive back home to settle in for the night. I don’t think my dad really knows, either.
We show up at a motorcyle shop, metal folding doors across its front pushed back enough for our Vietnamese friend to stand in the opening, chatting with my dad. Usually, I stand in the background tuning out the long conversation, looking around, studying the seat of the motorcycle. Tonight, we walk through the shop to living quarters upstairs, where family members are ranged on the floor around a color TV watching an American movie. And what a strange one it is. A repulsive little brown creature, with uncannily communicative big eyes, makes friends with a little boy. At the end, a space ship lands in the woods to pick up the creature. The dark, lonely wooded landscape and the swelling music add to the eeriness. Then the creature and the little boy hug in an emotional parting. A loud Eww! escapes me. My dad laughs.
My fervent wishing as a motorcycle passenger won out again, and we’re at the car repair shop of another friend of my dad’s. Happily, it’s past my bedtime. And instead of having to stand around during the extended conversation, I’m invited to go upstairs to an unfurnished room where the kids are sitting on a linoleum floor, watching TV under a glaring fluorescent light. One kid writes in a notebook, doing his homework. A Thai ghost movie is playing, one I’m sure I shouldn’t be watching. I wonder what it’s like to be allowed to watch whatever is on TV. Supernatural, hostile beings inhabit the screen, striking me viscerally. I don’t get the story, and I feel vulnerable to unexpected plot points.
I never know when my dad will let me drive, but this time back on the motorcycle, he puts me up front so I can take the handlebars. It’s a big vehicle to me, a lean orange Honda with waspish contours, meant for greater feats than were the gentle red scooters that made up most of the town’s traffic. I can’t believe that I actually drive this thing, although it initially required some startled barked orders from my dad to help me understand that pulling back on the handle was for acceleration, not the opposite. And I haven’t caught on to the confusing gear changes, either. But I still want to tell my friends that I can drive a motorcycle. They probably couldn’t say the same, even with caveats.
Despite my mental campaign waged in favor of once again roaring past our little road, I am directed to turn down the soi and rumble into the garage. My dad turns off the engine, and I reluctantly climb down and enter the side door into the red-tiled kitchen. My mom is there in her nightclothes in the partially lit room, greeting us and neither upset nor impressed about my long evening outing. She escorts me to bed, where my adventure ends. At least, until next time.Published in