“The only problem is, what am I gonna do when I finish building?” Shrugs. “Eh, I’ll probably just make furniture. You can always make furniture.” An indeterminate accent—mentions being a kid in Canada, but it’s not that; there’s a twinge of something else. Speaks Vietnamese with the workers, seems to joke with them—they smile—but the tone is flat, and the face rarely smiling.
He shovels dirt in the afternoon, asks, “Is your Wifi working?” “Did you ever get your coconut?” Yes, yes. Disappears during the day to a place behind the buildings and shrubs and palms, where I imagine him weaving, hunched over shirtless in his baggy cloth pants—weaving more bamboo roofs and walls and beach umbrellas; carving and crafting wood into chairs and tables, shining the dullness until it glows.
Weaving, weaving, a neverending project—his own Buddhist sand garden. And you wonder what for. What is he building away from, or towards? The framed photos that hang over the doorway to the kitchen? Him with an 80s mane, tuxedo arms embracing a woman in layers of poofy sequins? The dim pictures of a little girl?—face obscured, leaning over sand, or in a park, maybe, leaves creating shadows that even in the still-frame seem to crawl like insects. Where are they?
I don’t ask. He doesn’t really create an atmosphere of asking. “How long have you been here?” I asked on the first night. “Just since last night,” he teased flatly, the hint of a twinkle in his eye that reminded me of my dad, only a little dimmer. “We knew you were coming, so we built it up.”
“Oh, well, you shouldn’t have.”
“Ah, no,” ashes his cigarette, clears his throat. “Nine and a half years, we’ve been here.” And looks around at the roof, the table, the trees and paths now consumed by night—looks around and down and doesn’t say anything more.
So he answers, and he certainly isn’t rude, but it doesn’t encourage any more asking. A tough old dude, a building dude, a man of that generation—the world covered with them, from every country it seems—as though there were something in that generation. Something they’ve seen, or that’s seen them, and they seem to withdraw very far inside, into their man caves of building and sculpting and staring off and thinking. Of laughing with their chests and smiling with their eyes, and leaving you never quite sure when they’re messing with you or when they’re serious or if you’re bothering them or bugging them—them, them, under all those layers of sun-beated skin.