FIRST
PLACE
GeminiMAGAZINE
2012
Short Story
Contest
$1,000 PRIZE
by Denis Wong
NOTHING,
EVERYTHING
The Baan Rim Sathorn apartment
building was hidden among tin houses
and overhanging branches, a fringe of
Bangkok jungle where wild dogs
roamed freely. The owner of the small
building smiled each morning as I left
for the corridors and back alleys that
led me to the BTS Skytrain. Foreign-
ers were few and far between here,
notwithstanding the Frenchman living
across from me who entertained bar
girls every night to the sound of
looping electronica.

When I left that morning, the aroma
of grilled chicken greeted me outside
the building as usual. The air held a
still warmth. Bare-chested men, their
skin tan and embedded with wrinkles,
drank beer on the front steps of the
local convenience store. They grinned
and waved at me, having long ago
adopted me as an honorary Thai
because of my dark Chinese features.
Except for my neighbors, it was quiet.
There were no students in uniforms
walking hand in hand, no motorbikes
buzzing by with passengers perched
at the back.

The closer I came to the BTS, the
more dulled the sound of the
awakening city became. The main
highway lay empty and the stairs up
to the BTS were blocked by a bright
yellow gate.

With no other choice, I decided to
walk, as did a smartly dressed woman
also confused by the silent BTS. A
short, fitted, business skirt
complementing an elegant, collared
shirt, she was the embodiment of an
urban Thai sophisticate: beautiful and
composed. The shopkeepers, normally
rolling up windows and shifting racks
of merchandise at this time, were all
missing.

“Today is Tuesday, right?” I asked the
woman in English.

“Of course,” she said, without looking
at me.


After about a mile we saw a lone
vehicle, a converted wagon straining
with red-shirted passengers. The
occupants were festive, as if
celebrating a wedding or New Year’s.
One young man, smooth-skinned with
a thin mustache, hung listlessly out
the window with a bloodied T-shirt
tied around his head. An older man
held up the injured youth with one
arm and waved a machine gun in the
air like a flag with his other.

The vehicle slowed to a barely
perceptible roll. With calm eyes, the
older man pointed the machine gun
straight at the woman. She stood still,
a tightening of her lips the only
betrayal of emotion. The injured boy
(for now I could see that he was
barely in his teens), was dragged into
the wagon. The others inside stared
at us without expression. Further
away, I could see smoke, but here on
the expressway, the beautiful
business woman, the collection of
men inside the wagon, and I were the
only people in the world.

Finally, the man spoke, two measured
phrases aimed in my direction. He
then grunted and the car sped up the
highway.

The woman and I held our poses. I
felt the intake of breath at the back of
my throat.

“What did he say?” I asked.

“He said, 'Nothing is ours. Everything
is ours.'”


Denis Wong lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son. He is a
candidate in the City University of Hong Kong MFA program
for creative writing. He was a founding editor of Kartika
Review, an Asian American literary journal, and has twice
been a finalist in Glimmer Train fiction contests. Wong has
been a teacher in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and New York City.
I was taking classes in Bangkok
during the winter of 2009, and
lived in the exact neighborhood I
describe, a border where
modernity retreated amongst
jungle and makeshift homes.
Every morning, I would walk out
from the winding and hidden
paths to the BTS Skytrain, which
was five minutes away. Around
me were the rhythms of
Bangkok--motorbikes, school
children, expats, the destitute,
the ordinary, the privileged--all in
the span of that five minute walk.

Soon after I returned to Hong
Kong, the protests of April
occurred. I learned that the
street where I had taught (in
Silom, Sala Daeng), was the
center of the revolution. In fact, I
had often eaten my lunch in
Lumphini Park, where the
anti-government redshirts had
made their base. My friend told
me that the school had closed for
safety reasons and that the
streets were abandoned. Much
later on, the thought of that
emptiness made me imagine a
single car riding down Sala
Daeng; why was it there, and
who would be in it? I wrote the
story to find out.

Top photo: www.asianmirror.lk