M / Hotel

by David McIntosh

The following excerpt is the complete first section of McIntosh's M/Hotel

Soup


This is where it starts
History
Currency
I’m still here
We’re here together
This is where I’ll start
I am sitting at the table
between Jack and Evyatar
in a restaurant in a room north of Beijing
The card game finished
Drink
and the dim of the room
make it impossible to keep score anyway
We were talking
about girls with machine guns
12 McIntosh
Jack’s adventures in Palestine
and Evyatar’s plans to return to Israel to do his military
service
Jack says
If you don’t have to
you shouldn’t
Evyatar says
It’s true
he doesn’t have to join the IDF
He is an American citizen
and he doesn’t always agree with Israeli policies
But
he says
The Israeli state
its policies and their repercussions
affect him as a Jewish person
If he is going to interact
and possibly criticise that state
he feels he should serve his time
Jack is emphatic
You have a choice
You are able
You can leave
The right thing to do is always to leave
To leave and never go back
Just leave
All the Jews in Israel
All the Protestants in Ireland
All the Whites in all of the Americas
Leave
Jack had been Irish
He had left long ago
never staying long anywhere
M / Hotel 13
Tinkering
Smuggling
Traveling
He believed in leaving
I had been following Jack
for the last three months smuggling things around Asia
Goods and currencies
in exchange for travel and accommodation
mostly
We had just met Evyatar that week
With our money
worth eight times its official value
when converted on black markets to renminbi
we bought heavy communist bicycles
and rode off into rural China
The country
just weeks earlier opened to us
Tourists
but not on a tour bus
Individuals
Tourists
from the west
Evyatar’s ideas about service shook me
The sacrifice of serving your nation
Your race under threat
There’s a hard-wired appeal in that for a young man
Especially
if you didn’t agree
with your community’s policies
Neighbours
fathers
mothers
brothers and sisters
14 McIntosh
all wrong and speaking against you
but you serve and sacrifice anyway
That had a powerful
masochistic allure
to me
sitting comfortably displaced
in that room in China
But what should Evyatar do
His choice
I could wonder about it as if it were mine
but it wasn’t
I am sitting at the table
drifting
Drifting through Asia because I can
It’s easy for me
My history
my race made it easy for me
Protected me
for now
I knew it
Privileged
I must have known it
Used it
It was the road I cycled on to this restaurant
My privilege granted me passage through landscapes
over other peoples’ lives
It’s a road I cannot
not be on
Even if I were to step to one side
M / Hotel 15
or the other
It would be the road that carried me
If it was possible
once you knew where you stood
where I sat
Could I leave myself
What would be left
The corners of that room seemed to disappear in soot
In that restaurant North of Beijing
still open because of us
Three white boys arriving from nowhere on bicycles in the
night
The tilt of the world
determining the cost of the meal
who we are
how we got here
We began to argue
over whose turn it was to pay the bill
Our choices
Our money
worth so much more
we can change small amounts and live well for months
Who tonight will pay the bill
I say
let’s split it
and Jack looks at me coldly
He calls me a cheap cunt
Though I object
I know it’s true
He takes money to pay the bill
16 McIntosh
out of his wallet
and slowly
with his stubby fingers
he submerges the money in the soup
Poking each renminbi note to the bottom
of the muttony stodge we’d not eaten
Evyatar
with a purposeful precision
retrieves the buried money
Using chopsticks
he rinses each note in beer
and lays them out
on the table
for the waiter
I watch
Jack calls Evyatar a Jew
Our histories in the world
Money at the end of our night
We each find our own way home
That’s where I start

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