孟大龍 by J H Martin



I look at the tattoo of my Chinese name.

I don’t see a bad translation. I don’t see something stupid. And I don’t see something without meaning.

I see three black characters. Mèng. . Lóng.

I see my Chinese friend who gave me the name. A short but well-built man who teaches Chinese history in a middle school. A good man with a good heart, who nursed me back to health on more than one occasion.

I see his Uncle too. A thin man with very long black hair, who practises traditional Chinese calligraphy. He is well-known in his province and makes a living from his art.

I smile because I had thought a cultured man like that would laugh at my Chinese name and laugh at me for having one. But, no, he didn’t. Between long drags on a cigarette, he explained to me that it was a good name, along with all the reasons why.

Four years later, I see the parlour, where I had the tattoo done. It was very a small place and was owned by a friend of my local female friend. The owner and artist made most of his money from doing eyebrows for the local women there. Every summer though, he would travel around China and go to as many tattoo festivals as he could. That way he got to do more interesting work and build up his portfolio of clients. This tattoo on my leg was the first of three he did for me.

Now, I see myself going back for the second one. I do not look the same at all. I am pale, I have lost weight, and I know I am drunk and medicated. My friend even asks me if I am alright. Of course, I tell him that I’m fine, even though it is clear that I am not.

From this wooden chair, in this low-lit single room, I can see that point was the beginning. The start of things unravelling. Addiction. Debt. Legal issues. Breakdown. Overdose. Recovery.

Yes, I can see my fifteen years there in every drop of black ink. Three characters etched with hard experience. A world of meanings that mark my skin but do not and cannot define the rest. A country that I know is there. A country that no longer exists.

 

 

© J H Martin