Christopher James

Salmon told me that he thought more people should commit suicide. Especially religious people, he said. I asked him if he meant suicide bombers, like that Pakistani guy they arrested in the toyshop on Regent Street. No, he told me, that Pakistani guy didn't commit suicide. He said I shouldn't call them Pakistani guys. I asked what I was supposed to call them instead. Salmon said I should call them guys from Pakistan. He said I shouldn't label people according to circumstance.
We were walking from his house to my house. Every day we made the same journey. I walked alone to his house, smoking a joint, we walked together to my house, sharing a joint, and then he walked back alone to his house. Probably smoking one last joint.
My mom killed herself, I told him. He said that he was sorry, for me, personally, but at the same time he thought my mom had done a good thing. The world was overpopulated. Somebody had to take a lead on this, or we'd all be in deep shiatsu. He was sorry for me personally, he said again, but definitely, on an abstract level, what my mom had done was making a difference in a grander scheme of, you know, what needed doing.
Normally I provided the weed we smoked and Salmon rolled, but today Salmon had, rarity of rarities, got hold of some squidgy black, all by himself. He'd already rolled it into little joints, mixed with tobacco. The joints smoked a lot faster than our joints normally did, and I think Salmon must've been stoned even before I'd got to his house.
He sounded like he was getting lost in the ideas behind his idea, so I set him free. My mom didn't really kill herself, I said. I just made that up to test you. We both knew then that in one sense, Salmon had passed the test. He'd said more people should kill themselves, and he'd stuck by it, even when that person was my mom. But also he'd failed the test, because it was a test of friendship. Most tests will judge you on many levels. It's how math exams can be racist. We didn't say much more until we reached the bakery place.
Halfway between our houses was a bakery place that sold the best banana bread in all the world. It's entirely possible that this bakery survived purely to service the needs of Salmon and me, although they appeared unaware of their true raison d'etre. We went inside and bought two banana loaves, the same thing we bought every day. One time Salmon had gone in and said to the girl behind the counter 'The usual, please' and she didn't know what he was talking about. 'The usual what?' she said. Ever since then, we'd been perfectly specific ordering.
So tell me properly, I said, why people should commit suicide. He said that if I wanted him to tell me properly then it would help if I lost the attitude, for one thing. I said hold on a minute. I patted my pockets, even the pocket on my shirt that covered my left nipple, I lifted up my hat, looked underneath it. I said Oh, crap. He said what? I said My attitude. I've lost it. Salmon didn't laugh, though I think he knew it was pretty funny.
The girl in the bakery didn't laugh either. She was still waiting for one of us to pay her for the banana bread. Probably Salmon had thought my pocket patting routine was me pretending I'd forgotten my wallet.
Is it to do with overpopulation? I asked. Forget it, he said. You're just going to poke fun at me. No, I promised him, I wouldn't do that. He said that was exactly what I would do. You don't get it, he said to me. That's fine. Most people don't .
We started eating the bread even before we left the bakery. The best thing in the world, bar none, is to leave this bakery eating banana bread and blaze up another joint as soon as you're fresh out the door.
I started making a list of people I thought should commit suicide. Kim Khardashian, I said, though I've nothing really against her. I've never seen her show. I just know she fits that slot at the moment, the one that used to be Paris Hilton's. The Pope, said Salmon. The Pope should be the first one to kill himself. It didn't feel so much like a game when Salmon played it.
What did the Pope ever do? I asked. Salmon smiled, and I felt like he knew something I didn't know. We finished the bread and we arrived at my place. I said goodbye, went in, and Salmon went back home. Back upstream, as he put it.
"Hey dad," I said, safely locked inside. He'd been to the hospital again. "How's mum?"
"The same," he said. Neither good news nor bad. "Did you tell Salmon?"
"No," I said. I was going to say something else, but thought better of it.
Dad's eyes were pink again, and it was hard to focus on them. I looked at the wrapper from the banana bread instead, found a crumb I hadn't eaten, then another, then one more, and so on, until Dad wasn't there anymore.

Christopher James lives in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Read CJ's postcard.

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