Christopher James

Tanah Abang

A burglar, or at least a guy in a mask with either a gun or an extended finger in his jacket pocket, came into our shop, where we sell heavily discounted fabric in bulk. My wife, like many Chinese people, is lactose intolerant, but she loves Starbucks’ green tea lattes, so once a month she sucks it up (as it were) and hopes we’ll get back home before she paints vibrant matcha. We fight about it. This, she says, is the shortest distance between two points. She often eschews explanation in favour of pith. When she does, I act like a caveman Neanderthal. “What means this Ug Ug?” Which we also fight about. The burglar said “Money. Quick.” He disguised his voice, high like a boy pretending to be a girl, so perhaps we knew him or perhaps he worried we had microphones hidden in the rolls of cloth. “Lie down,” I said to him. “You look tired.” And he admitted in his fake voice that he hadn’t slept, and he lay back on some of our sari silk. If my wife drank green tea latte with soya milk instead of cow’s milk she wouldn’t be sick, but she points out then it wouldn’t taste the same. She wouldn’t love it as much as she briefly does. “You know, you shouldn’t do this,” I told the burglar. I wrapped him in the silk and, ossified, he told me it felt wonderful against his skin. He asked me to take off his mask, all the better to enjoy the feel of the fabric on flesh, and I gave the mask to my wife and wondered if she would try it on because surely all of us when handed a mask feel the desire to step inside. No. She said instead, “I wish you treated me like that.” I didn’t recognize the burglar, and later we forgot he was even there. Imagine, my wife says, you want to travel from Jakarta back to London. The shortest line is straight through the Earth. What if, she says, you could travel straight through the Earth?