Content warning: This is a work of fiction. This piece of writing contains words and graphic references on drug usage, racial and/or gender violence that may upset readers.
The toilet paper isle stood bare metal at Coles Greenacre for a month straight. Another shopper, an Islander, bounced his shoulders and asked me, “What’s wrong with people ay?” Bags under his eyes puffed like a frog’s throat, mine too, because no one was getting any sleep. Heads fuzzy from our fades growing out to at least a number four. Then Mum called and said, “Trời ơi!” It was the same back home in Perth. Luckily, she hoards all year round, even before Covid, buying a carload whenever Sorbent’s on sale for three dollars fifty per pack of ten. She told me not to come back until Sydney had Covid under control, my own mother. Mark McGowan had already closed the border and WA came down to zero cases. Mates back home thought Sydney was too out of control, “stay over there with your Ruby Princess ya dirty cunt.”
It was around this time, early April, that I deactivated Instagram. I kept getting tagged in videos of Asians getting bashed and spat on in the street. There was a video of two Viet sisters in Marrickville getting a knife pulled on them. One got spit in the eyeball for “bringing corona ere.” Always spitting, the feral cunts. Don’t they know that’s how you spread Covid? For every video Desmond sent, he’d attach a question, “is this fkd or wut?” And then I’d spend the next few hours lying awake in bed with my eyes closed. Until one night, Dez sent me a photo of some kid in America who looked just like my little brother, small head with a big nose, except one of his eyes was swollen shut like a macadamia. I laid in bed til dawn and messaged back, “that is fucked”. He texted back instantly, “fk oath, wish one of these cunts would try me”.
Dez is Chinese-Viet whereas I’m Viet-Chinese. Both our families are from Rạch Giá, a Chinese heavy region next to the coast in South Vietnam. The difference is that he speaks Teochew at home and I speak Vietnamese. We met at EY where I was as an Analyst and he was in Audits. I left after a year. They work you like a dog and the only ones dumb enough to stay, like he is, will tell you, “it’s about the prestige of having big four on your CV.” Wake up to yourself. The real prestige is getting paid for the hours you put in. I’ve since moved on to Finance at Hungry Jack’s. Dez loves it, always calling me during the day trying to order a Whopper. “I’m in head office at Woollo you fuck.” “Don’t lie bro, I can hear the customers in the background.”
When the gyms opened back up in June, I was fat. Working from home meant I spent my entire week only walking between my room and the kitchen. Face rounded out and all my shirts hugged me. Dez lost all his muscle weight and I could see the bone in the back of his neck. He started taking some clumpy paper bag protein he got off wish.com. Our first sesh back, he’s spotting me on the bench press when his stomach suddenly rumbled. He walked off leaving the air chunky with a mustard taste and twenty minutes later he came back, lips dried up and flaking like he had walked through the desert. “Didchu just take a shit, cunt?” I asked. A sweat bead dripped off his billboard forehead, “Nah, had to take a phone call.” Between sets, we watched the endless scroll on his phone of grandmas, aunties and kids getting chased, yelled at, punched, kicked, slapped and spat on. “Go back to Wuhan.” “Bat eater.” “You are corona.”
CBD oil finally came in the mail at the end of June. It’s supposed to be the good part of weed. I ordered it late March and was checking the UPS tracker twenty times a day. Getting rid of Facebook meant I was checking for updates anywhere else I could get it. I didn’t know that CBD knocks you out the first time you take it. 750mg in the 15ml bottle. Instructions tell you to start off with 10mg so I squeezed four drops under my tongue. It tasted like lawn dirt with pesticide, how I imagined bong water would be. My shoulders dropped in a way that made me realize they were tensed this whole time and my legs warmed up. I dreamt about an argument I had with my ex from four years ago, how I didn’t like the way one of her work friends kept putting his hand on her bare hip bone every time he asked her a question at the bar, finger wiggling into the belt loop of her jeans. This was only time she cried and pushed me, yelling: Why did I always have to police her body? What was she supposed to do? Go off on him and then have everyone at work talk shit about her? He’s from France and that’s just how they are over there.
I woke up at midnight after the best sleep I’ve had since 2016, hungry because I clocked out before dinner, and in a kind of anger that I had forgotten about. I reactivated Facebook and looked up her profile. She’d only posted one thing on her feed since last year, a photo of her one-year-old niece, head full of black hair tied up like a turnip. All the other posts were from her friends and family wishing her Happy Birthdays, New Years and Merry Christmas’. This pandemic has me remembering too much.
1am Counter-Strike casual match, de_dust2, desert setting with limestone archways and ramps except for the double wooden doors. This cunt, bat_soup_4_u, sat at a 12-5 KD. Each time he died, air from his nose would static over team chat for the rest of us dead Counter-Terrorists. “Ni hao fellas, anyone ere got the Chink flu?” Except he said Ni hao with that larrikin inflection like it was a question. I switched over to the T’s and ran from one bomb site to the other with an AK until I finally caught him going through the double doors, spraying him in the back of the head. I put “HAHAHAHAHA ur shit” in all chat knowing that he couldn’t reply to me while dead. It felt good for two seconds then I quit.
July, a week coming up to my birthday, Dez called to see if I wanted to go for a drive into town. “It’s Saturday night, where you gonna park?” I asked before figuring the city is dead anyways. We came down Quay Street and pulled in front of Prince Centre, Daruma side. The beige building looked like it came from 1980’s Hong Kong. Big glass panels for every shop front with silver skirting. White fluorescence over stonewash tiles. The intersection traffic lights changed from red to green for an empty road. Street lamps wet the pavement and reflected the white and orange glow of the 7-Eleven. Our volume dropped outside of the car because it felt as though we were the only noise on the street. I looked at the hours on the 4P parking sign out of habit, free after ten. “Get Mevi’s since we here?” Dez asked.
There’s a smoke shop around that sells bootleg cigarettes. If you know the place, you know the place. It’s the size of a toilet cubicle and you tell the Uncle with the eyebrow mole what you want from the footpath. “Can I get my-seven purple, boss?” Dez stepped to the shutter portal, a good eighty mil of the sloping pavement, handed over a fifty note and got fifteen back with a brown paper bag. You usually save ten bucks buying bootlegs but they don’t sell Mevius in Australia at all so we have to pay premium for it. Especially the purple ones that taste like grape. “How’s business, boss?” “Good good! People smocking more now!” Dez stamped a thumbs up into the air and pulled the green and blue pack out from the bag, shining like a deck of Yu-Gi-Oh cards. These are easier to look at than normal packs with the Clockwork Orange eyeball stretched out by hooks.
Twin trees sprouted from the concrete and towered over the black tiled doorway to Dynasty Karaoke. Paved around and clamped in by two benches to stop them from taking over Dixon Street. I sucked on a Mevi knowing that the next day my lungs were going to be tight, throat itching and there will be specks of blood in my spit but Dez doesn’t like smoking alone, always pressing a deck towards me. “You know the lady in Canley ran out of Mevi’s? How’s this guy still getting them?” I asked as Dez spilled a cloud from his head. “If I knew the answer, I’d be running bootlegs.” True. They don’t ever tell us the success stories, only the failed attempts. Like that guy who got caught delivering a bag and some caps inside of a fruit basket to his friend in quarantine at the Sheraton. Dez’s mate, but really his DD, told him that’s normal, everyone’s just racking and dropping at home nowadays, by themselves even. When people have nothing to do, their mind runs too much.
A blue Mizani single speed zipped past the stone lions, black box shaking side to side as the attached cyclist stood and pedaled like it’s Tour de Haymarket, fucking up whatever food was inside I bet. Dez thumbed the butt of his cigarette, scattering tiny grey leaves over the pavement. “Imagine running a pack through these Deliveroo guys. They’re everywhere now and no one would suspect it ay.” I laughed. Short bursting exhales that brought Dez back to Earth. His eyebrows and arms are too thin to stand over anyone if they didn’t pay their tick. And I have too much anxiety as it is. “They make one doco about Cabra and now every Viet in Sydney thinks he’s a hard cunt,” I told him. “Harder than bumfuck Perf.” “Perf’s the meth capital of Australia.” “Yeah cos there’s fuck all else to do out there.” We’re playing the game that Viets love to play called, Who had it worse? Taught to us by our parents, who had a worse childhood than both us and their parents.
At Bankstown Anytime a week later, Dez threw head down haymakers on the boxing bag, elbow about to blow because it’s bent upwards with each connect. I’ve never seen anyone actually use the boxing bag here before. It hangs in the middle of the kettlebell rack as part of the furniture. The Leb with rockmelon shoulders smiled and pointed the back of his phone towards us. The bag swung so far it almost hit a girl doing chin ups off the adjoining monkey bars. You’re supposed to meet the bag when it swings back, Dez punches it towards the direction it’s already swinging. “Take it easy, Balrog.” “If I find this cunt, I’m gonna pull his jaw outta his farken head.”
Earlier that day, Dez’s mum got spat on outside the Central station tunnel going Haymarket side. Some rat. Some fuckin’ dog. He wore a green Kathmandu jacket and told her to stop eating bats. Face pink and folded like a slab of pork. That’s all she remembers. Too busy trying to walk away to notice anything else. Dez told her he’ll bring home some take-away but she still wanted to cook Cá Kho for dinner herself, even after everything. “We can’t help what other people do,” she told Dez. I get it. My dad’s the exact same, always spouting these proverbs. Buddhist philosophy is our parent’s answer to racism.
We met up after dinner and drove into the city the same night around nine, walked along the abandoned Goods Line coming out of the underpass from Central Station where the old tram tracks cut along the asphalt. Searching for anyone that looked like they would spit on our mothers which isn’t so much a physical trait but a vibe from how their eyes stick and faces scrunched on us. I understood Dez’s anger. Agreed with it even. I thought about the whole eye for an eye thing and fuck it. Why do we have to always forgive, always forget, always grateful to get bashed here because at least we’re still here and not back in our rice paddies? We must’ve walked back and forth towards the station four times and saw a total of nine people, none of them had a green Kathmandu jacket. But even if they did, what’s to say it’s the same guy anyway? We finally agreed to just wonder around and see if we could catch someone, anyone, spitting on an Asian. Dez needed it. Me too, I think.
“You look like a Tiger Air baggage handler,” Dez bantered. I was still fat but after a month and a half of gyming, my biceps and shoulders came back. I pulled out my CBD bottle and squeezed five drops into his Mevi, “Give that a go.” By the time we got to Market City, Dez stopped and sat outside NAB on stones the city had cut in half and left on the footpath as art “Chill for a second.” He rubbed his cheeks, eyes drooping off the sides of his face. It felt like a good time to squeeze six drops under my tongue. “We’re really just gonna sit here and wait for some racism to happen?” I asked Dez. He stood up and twisted his head left to right until his neck cracked, “Yeah then I’ll swoop in like Batman.” This guy. Batman. He’s talking about Bruce Wayne. But I’m imagining Dez eating a bat then turning into some fucked up half bat half human creature with pink skin flaps webbed between his wrists and ankles, ears stretched to the top of his head and teeth sharpened into fangs. Every time someone calls us a bat eater, Dez will swoop in on his fleshy glider and bite a chunk out of the cunt’s neck. I must’ve smiled at the road for a good ten seconds leaving Dez to stare with his upper lip twitching. I explained to him, “So you know how Peter Parker gets bitten by a spider?”
This story was commissioned by Diversity Arts Australia as part of the I Am Not a Virus project. Supported by Australia Council for the Arts, Create NSW, Creative Victoria, City of Sydney, City of Parramatta and Inner West Council.