from Sometimes we are nothing left
The temples look like photos other people have taken. They’re impressive sure but the three of us are all too sunburnt and exhausted by the heat to properly appreciate anything vaguely educational. Tobi nearly had a fit when we had to pay twenty US dollars to get in, so he tried to drag us around as much as he could to get value for money. Even he’s had enough now and we’re sitting on plastic chairs under an umbrella as children bring us coconuts with straws and hunks of ice to put on our heads. I’m looking at Angkor Wat, which lies over a muddy stream. I let my eyes rest on it and for a moment I’m perfectly content. The contours on the tower are soothing and I shut out all the noise around me. I feel alone and insignificant and isolated and wonderfully alive.
There is a group of people sitting at a table near us. They’re all wearing bright yellow t-shirts and one of them is strumming a guitar. I’m picking that they’re a Christian group because all their t-shirts have the same bible quote on the back. If you do not stand firm in your faith you will not stand at all – Isaiah 7:9.
Two of them keep turning around and looking at us and pointing. Tobi hasn’t noticed them, I think he’s in a beer slumber, and Karen’s eyes have glazed over. I think she may sleep with her eyes open. I look towards the group again. Two of them are walking over in our direction.
‘Hey excuse me bro…’
I recognise the accent immediately. ‘You’re a kiwi eh?’
‘True,’ the guy smiles. ‘We both are.’
‘Hiya,’ the girl sticks her hand out at me. I shake it. ‘We’re sorry to bother you…’
‘This must happen all the time though,’ he says.
‘Is that,’ she points at Tobi who is now snoring, ‘is that Tobi Takra?’
‘Tobi Takra,’ I nod my head. ‘Yes it is.’
‘Oh no,’ the guy puts his hands on his head. They both look really excited. ‘I so told you girl. Tu meke!’
‘Do you know him?’ I say.
‘No,’ she says. ‘But I’ve seen him play, heaps of times. We both have.’
‘We’re huge fans,’ the guy adds.
I laugh. ‘Do you want me to wake him?’
‘Nah,’ he shakes his head. ’Actually could you?’
‘Sure.’ I throw my coconut shell at Tobi.
He wakes up with a start. ‘What the fuck?’
‘You’ve got some fans Tobi.’
He rubs his face. ‘Can I help you?’
The two kids are just staring at him, grooving their heads to the beat of imaginary music.
‘Yes?’ Tobi says.
‘Source of Light,’ the guy says. ‘Source of Light!’ He punches the air.
‘We saw you at all the Parachutes you played at,’ the girl says.
‘Those guys sucked when you left the band. They couldn’t play for shoot. Oh this is tu meke!’ They both look like they’re going to wet themselves.
‘Really.’ Tobi is sitting up in his chair. ‘When I left the band?’
‘Totally. They were nothing without you.’
‘Yeah,’ Tobi nods, ‘I know.’
‘What are you doing now bro? Are you still keeping the faith?’
‘No,’ Tobi’s eyes flick downwards. ‘I don’t play guitar anymore.’
‘Oh that’s terrible.’ The girl drops down on her knees and touches Tobi on the arm. ‘That’s a crime.’
Karen’s woken up. She looks over at the girl and I think she’s going to start growling.
‘Dude, I’ve got my guitar,’ the Maori guy says. ‘Do you reckon you could play something for us?’
‘Nah. I don’t play guitar anymore.’
‘Please,’ the girl says. ‘For me.’ She looks at Tobi with pleading eyes. Karen looks at her with razor blades. I struggle to keep from laughing.
‘Please Tobi,’ I say. ‘We’d all love that.’
‘All right.’ Tobi stands up. ‘What the…fudge. It might be fun.’
‘Yeah. Heck yeah!’ The guy is pointing at Tobi. Tobi points back with his piggish index finger. ‘Come over here. We’ve got kids from all round the world who’d love to hear the word today.’
We’re taken over. Tobi’s given the guitar. Before I know it a circle is formed around him. I sit down next to Karen. She leans over to me, ‘If that little bitch tries anything I’m going to kick fucking sand in her eyes.’
‘Good thinking Karen,’ I say.
The guy next to me looks my way. ‘How do you know Tobi Takra?’
‘He’s my brother.’
‘No way dude.’
‘Yeah.’ I say. ‘He’s a pretty special guy.’
‘True. Anyway, I’m Hemi.’ He sticks his hand out for me to shake.
Tobi lifts his hand in the air and holds it there for a few seconds before strumming one single power chord. The circle goes quiet. A few Cambodians walk over to see what is going on.
‘What do you want me to play?’ Tobi asks.
Hemi’s standing beside me. He calls out, ‘This Much.’
‘This Much eh?’ Tobi says. ‘I really need my distortion pedal for that but we’ll see what we can do. This Much?’ He shakes his head. ‘How does that start again.’
‘One day!’ the girl calls out.
‘Yeah, of course.’ Tobi starts playing a simple slow riff on his guitar. He leans his head back and, in a quiet falsetto, starts to sing.
One day I asked Jesus.
How much do you love me?
And He said – I love you this much.
The music stops for a moment as he stretches out his arms. And He stretched out his arms and died.
The slow riff has become faster and chunkier. Tobi’s rocking out on his guitar as the song has kicked in. He’s playing like he’s possessed. His fingers are blurs, moving up and down the frets. He throws his head back again and keeps singing.
In my eyes the revelation
The burden that I bear.
When I’m wandering in the night
It’s Christ’s word I hear. –
Judas. Tobi cries. Judas. Tobi pleads. Judas! Tobi screams.
I look around the circle. Everyone is entranced. Even Karen is staring at Tobi in a way I have never seen before.
I pray His wrath comes down and consumes you…
Suddenly Tobi stops playing mid-sentence. A change has come over his face. He looks at the ground, examining the beetles. He sharply looks up again. ‘You know, all I ever wanted to do was rock and roll.’
‘Yeah, and spread the word,’ a voice yells from the crowd.
‘For a while I did. I believed all these words I was singing. I believed because I wrote them and there was something inside me that said that I was doing the right thing. I followed the rules that were set for me and because I did what other people said I should I thought, no I knew, I was a better person for it. But now all I can see is the hypocrisy, the hating that exists, the intolerance that is taught by those that covet intolerance…’
‘Yeah, and then you found Jesus,’ comes the same voice.
‘Nah,’ says Tobi sadly. ‘I lost him. But I found Motorhead instead.’
Tobi starts playing ‘Ace of Spades’. The crowd stands around looking at each other. There is a growing discontent. People start calling out their annoyances.
‘Hey do you think you could ask your brother for my guitar back?’ Hemi asks.
‘No,’ I smile. ‘I don’t think I could.’
The crowd are calling out abuse at Tobi. Nice abuse. Good-natured abuse. No cussing. He plays on and on, then stops when the noise builds to a crescendo. He speaks, ‘Hey, fuck you guys, let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone.’
Someone throws a stone at him.
‘Who the fuck threw that?’ Tobi growls. He throws the guitar to the ground and advances into the circle. People scatter.
Karen runs to his arms. ‘Hey all of you fucking bitches better be prepared to eat glass if you want to carry this fucking party on.’
I see Hemi ducking behind Karen and Tobi, he grabs his guitar and starts to run off.
‘Hey man,’ I yell, ‘nice to meet you.’
He smiles and gives me a thumbs up. ‘Cherbro!’ He runs off.
‘That was amazing Tobi,’ I say to him.
‘You make your choices James.’ Tobi is quiet, contemplative for a moment. ‘You have to stick with them.’
‘I don’t know what that means,’ I say.
‘What it means James, is that the fucking monster king of hard riffery is back in the mother fucking house. The last survivor of the royal dynasty of rock and roll.’ He takes off his singlet, wipes off all his sweat and throws it in my face. He leans back and howls at the sky.
‘Lock up your little boys,’ I say but Tobi doesn’t hear me, he is naked save a pair of off-white shorts, posing and flexing while a group of Cambodian motorcycle drivers circle round him tooting their horns. Children start to cry and fires are lit. Somewhere, somebody is sacrificing a goat.