Expat life is a pocket full of privilege and some days that sits more comfortably than others. Walking down the dock to join the ‘monster Halloween party’ boat, dressed as a disco diva modern witch, it really wasn’t all that comfortable.
Faking a confident stride walking beside a scary ghost and a zombie bride, I felt more than a little silly striding down the jetty groaning with fruit sellers, hawkers and ferry men waiting for a fare. They looked at the three of us as if we’d blasted down from another planet. They weren’t that far off.
The boat had been converted for the night – net table cloths thrown awkwardly over barrels, rails draped with synthetic spider nets and plastic crawlers. No doubt the boat looked quite a sight pulling off into the sunset and sliding off into the thickening night.
The boat was well packed with the usual crowd – journalists, teachers, NGO workers, UN interns, footballers, wives sweating bright under white strip lights, blazes in their costumes. Music throbbed sensuous, a little nauseous. Super heroes gyrated with sexy cats (why are there always so many sexy cats?). Medusa’s plastic snakes swung rhythmically with the music as the geek chic guy grooved closer.
On the dark deck of the prow conversation mingled with the usual questions: what to do you do? How long have you been here? Where were you before? I’d long for the simplicity of ‘where are you from?’ if I only knew how to answer.
A heavily made up pirate flirted half-heartedly, distractedly, then pointed out his wife walking away through the crowd. I asked why she was walking away but he said he couldn’t say. When I told him I worked for a NGO he gushed enthusiastically, sloshing his pink punch out of his plastic cup and all over my shoes. He told me all NGO workers are remarkable, noble, laudable. I felt pigeon-holed, invisible, irritable so I argued the point. He looked perplexed.
The boat bombasted on through the night as other shyer vessels slipped by, the passengers looking on, silent, baffled, unsmiling.
I stood at the rail watching river waves slope away, wishing I could get off the boat before the punch pulled me away from sense and myself. A man I’d smiled at an hour before, sidled up beside me. I noticed his wedding ring and cynical, braced myself for the usual bullshit.
He turned to me, asked me if the night was what I expected, what I hoped for. Glibly, I told him the two questions had different answers, expecting him to get back on the predictable track of questions one to three. Instead he said he’d like to hear why and turned to look at me.
Surprised into sincerity I told him the party was fun (as expected) but left me longing for special, to be close, to be seen and to meet someone who showed me something real. I expected to be silenced with a laugh, a smirk or a smart retort. He paused for thought, leaned forward and pointed out the lights dancing deep in the rippling river, hugged me and walked away.