Sunisa, whose hair was black two years ago, whose hair went orange with L’Oréal, then blonde on the third bottle of L’Oréal, whose skin was pale olive, whose skin went brown in the sun in Thailand, whose skin went browner in the crystal light of the blue ocean over the months since she extended her stay, whose skin went pale olive again in the pandemic, who smells like candy perfume and arginine from peanut butter, and salty excretions of samphire.
Sunisa who pointed to her lips when she met fellow travellers who asked where she was from. ‘Hear my voice. English,’ she said, talking slowly, exaggeratedly, like a phonetician.
‘But you look Thai.’
‘Yes, my mother’s Thai.’
‘So how come you don’t speak Thai? You never went back before?’
There’s that word again, back. There’s that imaginary space of the rooted traveller, always facing towards the wild and not inside it, who didn’t say “come”, but said “went”, as if they are speaking from the position of Europe, America, wherever they are from, and not here. The traveller gets bit.
Mosquitos don’t care about your passport, thinks Sunisa. Mosquitos cannot read skins or accents. They care about the taste of your blood.
The shores of black sand. The unacknowledged sadness of black sand. All the tourists want white sand. They want blue water. Like Trump, “I want the clearest crystal clear waters”, they say, swigging from a bottle of coconut water, throwing it over their shoulder like a soldier. “I came here to get back to nature”, they say, eyes on Sunisa’s lips, wild eyes unfurling wildernesses on wildernesses. They want now to breathe that salty candy smell, they want to know the taste of Sunisa and yet maintain the safety of their firm place of belonging. Their home, not yours, Sunisa.
Sunisa, a mosquito. Sunisa, who wants not to bite, who wants to be kind to them. We are all fellow travellers, even those who never left. Those who never left still remember what it was like to be scared as a little child, on the strange planet, with the strange parents, on a dark street for the first time, with a strong president, in the dark green fingers of the jungle, curling round, across the heart that beats like monsoon rain. Sunisa extends her brown hand towards the lost white man’s hand, moves it away from her breast, and just holds it, just a little too tightly, feels his pulse chase hers, and just looks at him, waiting for something to click within those crystal clear eyes. Their pulses slow in what feels like something soft and safe, but Sunisa won’t stay. She’s got too many miles to go before she sleeps with another heart so lost in a wilderness he can’t, or won’t, claim.
rowena joy newman is pursuing a Phd and trying to write short stories. This piece was inspired by a bad Tinder date. Her work is available online at Litro and Ink Sweat and Tears, and she also makes minizines available IRL. @reconditematter