The Baggage Carousel by David Olner
Dan Roberts has a troubled past, anger management issues and a backpack named after an abducted heiress. A chance encounter with Amber, a free-spirited Australian girl, seems to give his solitary, nomadic life a new sense of direction. But when she doesn’t respond to his emails, the only direction he’s heading is down…
Why I Travel
It was Dumaguete, The Philippines. It was a Sunday morning and felt like it, hot and hardly worth bothering with. I was hanging out of my arse like a prolapse. Staring morbidly at a breakfast burrito in the outdoor seating area of a faux-Mexican cantina, poking it periodically with a fork in the hope it might deflate. Across the road, the snuffed-out neon signage of the “Why Not?” nightclub served as a dulled reminder of my most recent fall from grace. It takes a lot to get thrown out of a nightclub in the Philippines, but I had somehow managed it just a few hours earlier, for reasons I did not, or chose not to, recall.
The looped mariachi music scraping against my brain was punctuated by a beeping horn. I registered it dully at first, thinking the track was segueing into a mash-up. But when I looked up from my plate a Geordie bloke I vaguely remembered doing shots with the night before had pulled up on his scooter. He was wearing one of those striped blue and white t shirts that people always seem to wear when they ride scooters abroad. He looked entirely too healthy and well-adjusted to fit into my vista and I wanted to wave him off to one side, so I could better take a mental photograph of my latest, self-imposed hell.
“Howay, man,” he declared stereotypically. “I’m off to buy some pork. Landlady’s gonna make lechon. Wanna come?”
I looked at him, looked at the burrito and looked at the sign across the road.
“Why not?” I replied.
We got lost on the way, nearly hit some churchgoers who got to practice their genuflections early, only made it to the fabled pork district of the city when most of the carcasses had already been ravaged. Out of all the roadside stalls, the only thing left was a single pig’s head that smiled up at us beatifically, as though we had come to deliver it from the flies.
“This is the very best part of the pig for making lechon,” the stallholder insisted.
“How come it’s still here, then?” asked the Geordie.
The man shrugged and plucked a stray hair from the pig’s face, blew it from his finger and wished us away.
We paid for the head, like a lot of men do in the Philippines. Got lost again on the way back, ended up blocked in by a crowd of local blokes heading to the cockfight arena.
“Wanna go?” the Geordie, whose name I couldn’t and still can’t remember, asked.
“Why not?” I said.
We sat in the arena, pretending to savour warm, wet beers that made us dry heave, the men looking over at us and winking as they washed their cocks. Then we watched magnificent birds set against each other like gladiators in a manky coliseum, biting and scratching each other to near death to appease the bloodlust of these men. Between us, on the rough wooden bleachers, was a smiling pig’s face in a plastic bag. Throughout the slaughter I would set my hand upon it occasionally, to steady myself. As though I were a pensive Hamlet, regarding Yorick’s skull.
“How’s the head?” asked the Geordie.
“Fine,” I replied, not knowing if he was enquiring after the pig’s welfare or mine.
Whenever people ask me why I travel, this is the first thing I think of. But I don’t tell them about it. I think of something prettier. Angkor Wat at dawn, maybe, or that herd of elephants crossing the Luangwa river at sunset in Zambia. The young calf falling back, lost in the new joy of swinging its trunk in the shallow water, until an elder doubled back and hurried it along. That Sunday morning in the Philippines wasn’t the most edifying experience of my life. Looking back on it now, it was actually fairly horrendous. But it was about doing something different, something ludicrous, even. It was about inhabiting a particular moment in a particular place, a moment that couldn’t be replicated anywhere else. A moment you wouldn’t find if you stayed at home, binge-watching box-sets on Netflix and waiting for the Ocado driver to finally get out of his fucking van that’s been parked at the end of your driveway for ten minutes and is making your UPVC windows rattle to deliver the salted caramel lamb cutlets that Jan from work posted pictures of on Instagram and buying more and more things to better pad your beautiful cell. Saving all your money to upgrade that thousand-inch flat screen into a two thousand-inch curved screen and covertly praying they never invent a 360 screen. Money that could be much better spent pissed up a wall in a skanky nightclub in the Philippines, or on fly-blown pig’s heads or cockfights.
It was about saying, “Why not?”