Afternoons are yellow. They have always been, and that could never change—no matter how many snowy walks I take at 3 p.m. Maybe it was the blazing sun of the Southeast Asian tropics, the pollution haze hanging over Ho Chi Minh City, or the thin golden blinds that never prevented light from streaming into my room, but that is what afternoons are: yellow.
My parents, especially my mother, firmly believed that children should sleep during these midday hours. She said: “Science has shown that children who take afternoon naps are smarter.” But I hated napping in the afternoon, even as a baby. In that time, I could instead be reading books whose back cover always said “the next Harry Potter,” or counting fruits on the mango tree across the street, building Lego mazes for my hamster, spying on the neighbor’s dog named Lucky, washing the fish tank to have an excuse to touch the fish, or saving bats from drowning in our laundry tubs. These possibilities danced on the back of my closed eyelids, keeping my imagination wildly awake, as I lay there listening to my parents’ alternating snores. Everyone else was asleep as soon as they lay down.
The endlessness of those afternoons was the restlessness of my youth. I spent the minutes counting the seconds, and, immobilized so as not to wake my mother, I had no choice but to listen. So, the sounds that during the day were only background noise suddenly became more pronounced. I didn’t know it then, as I squeezed my eyes tight to shut out the light, but I spent those afternoons recording the soundtrack of my childhood. There was the soft whirring of the desperate ceiling fan attempting the impossible task of cooling. There was the spluttering of the garbage truck making its round to our market, its crane clicking up and down to collect trash cans. There was the heckling of the last market-goers, trying to get the lowest price for the dead catfish or the dry durian. There was the crowing of the neighbor’s rooster, whose messed up biological clock mistook the sun for the moon, inducing the occasional “shut up” from another neighbor. There was the perpetual hammering of construction or reconstruction somewhere on the street—a different house each month—as the dwellers tried to keep up with the city’s growth. I listened to these sounds by focusing on one at a time, learning its composition and randomness, memorizing it until it replayed on its own, blending into the other sounds until they all lived within my brain, serenading me into a sleep that I didn’t even see coming.
For some reason, during later years in my life spent on another continent on which the sun doesn’t shine as brightly, whenever I dream of home it would always be of this moment, when I had just woken up from my afternoon nap. The blinds were blown into my room by the wind, exposing the burning sunlight that my half-closed eyes soothed to a soft golden brightness, and I turned my head just in time to catch my mother emerging from the stairs, carrying a plate of fresh fruits. There were always guava and mango, grapefruit and lychee. But, above all, there was always mother. A dream of home would not be complete without her, in her flowery nightgown and shoulder-length brown hair. But I never could quite see her face in these dreams. It was always blurred, with distinguishable, but not distinct, features. I would force myself to wake up, and I would cry, afraid that I had forgotten what she looked like.
Those afternoons were always the longest parts of my day. They never seemed to end because nothing about them ever changed—the sounds, the air, the heat, all droning on and on monotonously—until, all of a sudden, they did. Sometimes they ended with a shower of rain, washing the dust and even the noise from the air that had been baked by the sun, swallowed and spat out countless times by cars and motorbikes. But sometimes, it took even less than that. Just a cool soundless breeze to signal the ending reign of the sun, and the fan would go quiet, the garbage truck would leave, the market would close, the rooster would sleep, the hammering would cease, and, as simple as that, evening would begin.