Before I sleep, I dream half dreams of other worlds and forget the difference between them and reality. There are ghosts who float through my mind, but I am not afraid. Maybe it is because I know that ghosts do no harm or maybe it is because as I lay there in bed I have become more like a ghost, just a shadow amongst shadows. Anthropologists say that human beings became creative once they believed in spirits. There was no art or dance or music or poetry until there were ghosts and gods and devotion and superstition. And somehow this comforts me before I fall away.
One time, I went to the aquarium, and there was this little girl there. She was pressed up so hard against the wall of the tank, sometimes even banging it dully with her palms. She smeared her tiny fingers across the glass. It was as though sheer power of will could transport her into the cool, dark world on the other side. Or maybe she just wanted the creatures to wave back at her. Whatever it was, she wanted it badly, and she was oblivious to everything else around her. It happened years ago, but the image has stuck. I guess because when I saw her, it made me remember the intense yearning feelings of childhood. I remembered that untamable feeling of desire- so greedy, yet so earnest. It was the feeling that made you use your mom’s brand new lipstick as a marker because the color was just so pretty, and it was the feeling that made you throw a handful of dirt at your playmate because she laughed at your outfit. It was also the feeling that you spent the rest of your life trying to suppress- at first so your siblings would stop calling you a brat, and later so you could focus on your studies and eventually become a respectable, miserable but employed, adult-type person. Whenever I think of the little girl, I still feel it. I still want something, but now I don’t know what.
We remembered ourselves and forgot about them. Who says the wilderness is only for dudes? The canyons rose above us, the grass spread along our sides and we felt free. Freer than we could recall feeling ever since the day we squeezed on our heels and walked up stage, cap on head, and somehow got stuck in cubicles or behind a counter cash register. None of it made sense. This was supposed to be adulthood, yet everyone seemed to be telling us we had time. It was a lie. There is no such thing as too much time. We saw that in the rock and the water and trees. We saw it in each other.
Everywhere he looked, he saw the chicken. Sometimes he mistook pigeons walking down the sidewalk as the chicken. He told himself he needed to pull himself together and not become like one of those men muttering to themselves, hunched in the window seat of a bus, glaring out at the passing city. But the chicken would not stop haunting him. He could hear the chicken clucking outside his window, but when he looked, nothing was there but some wilting flowers and patches of brown and green grass. He had recurring nightmares where the chicken was on fire, but somehow still alive, walking and pecking at the dirt in his backyard. It would flap it’s burning wings a bit and the flames would grow. And then the chicken would look up at him with its squinted orange eyes, straight into his human ones. That’s when he always woke up, his heart pounding into his throat.
I remember the food. So much of it. Noodles and dumplings and greens soaked in garlic sauce and pork belly in red sauce and more noodles and green tea and red bean buns and cakes. I remember the sounds. The people chattering, the drums beating, firecrackers crackling, people laughing, feet stomping, someone playing an erhu, a boombox blasting traditional music. I remember the smells of incense and smoke and the sweet and sour and saltiness of food and sweat and perfume. But most of all, I always remember the lanterns. How they glow so red and warm, welcoming us into a new year. How they seem to just say, this is the beginning. This is fresh like blood. This is when you can look up and actually see a year of health, happiness and prosperity.
Kinsey could see the giraffe basking under the warm evening sun. And to her, though she knew it was likely her imagination, he was smiling. She had watched the giraffe slowly roam from tree to tree, picking the highest leaves from the acacia trees. He walked in a meditative way, step by step, occasionally bending his neck down to lick up some dirt with his strange dark tongue. She tried counting the spots on his neck, but failed to ever count up the same number. Each afternoon she went out to watch him, and many days she stayed until her lids weighed down heavy with fatigue and her mother would call her back into the house for dinner. Some nights, as the sun was setting, she could see him through her bedroom window, his silhouette still slowly roaming in the distance. And she wondered, “Does he ever sleep?” Her mother always told her to count sheep to fall asleep, but she knew a trick that worked much better. “Goodnight Daniel,” she said, as she closed her eyes and began counting the spots on her giraffe.