A Smile Bar Christmas

On Christmas Day I am the first one to wake up. I decide to kill time by making little Christmas cards for the guys. I sit in our darkened room drawing and painting while they sleep. As I sit, I soak up my contentment. I am hung over and it hurts. I am also, however, extraordinarily happy.

Our day starts slowly –you did read the part where I said I was hung over and it hurt, right? – but we eventually begin to get ourselves together. We laugh about the evening’s events, recounting some of our funnier moments.

As the day progresses, we each contact our loved ones back home, wishing them a Merry Christmas. We speak to parents, siblings, partners, friends. I enjoy the sweetness of our individual exchanges. There is something about the fact that we are all here alone, our families far away, that connects us.

It is once we head into town for lunch that a sort of sadness begins to creep into my bones. I can’t quite pinpoint it, but my Christmas spirit seems to be dimming. There is something about the day that feels off. I blame it on the hangover, I think. It’s always easy to blame it on the hangover.

We decide to meet some friends at a riverside bar called Smile Bar and begin to make our way over there. We still have our Santa hats on, don’t you worry. The walk there is a pleasant surprise. We squeeze through a little space between two houses and cross a rickety bridge over a river. There are ducks and geese along the riverbed below. Up ahead there is green; green everywhere. The mountains rise in front of us, lining the horizon.

The bar itself makes me want to pinch myself. Set along the Nam Song river, it has little cabanas with hammocks. The beach is rocky and the river has tubes floating in it. Our friends lounge in the water, calling to us.

“This place is amazing!” I squeal.

“I thought you might like it,” one of them says.

The sadness begins to retreat. My day feels suddenly feels like it’s being pulled right side up again.

“I’m definitely going back to the hotel to get my bikini,” I say. And so we do.

Half an hour or so later, I am in the water, beer in hand. The sun shines down on my face and the water is cool. I turn my face towards the warmth and close my eyes. My finger traces circles on the surface of the water. I take a sip of beer, and I smile.

I smile as I realize that this was all this island girl needed. Tucked between the mountains of Laos, feeling suddenly far away from home, all I needed was my band of friends, a bikini and a body of water for this to feel familiar.

I feel the giddiness rise in my stomach; I feel a laugh bubble up to the surface. I feel my smile stretch farther and my heart swell larger, because right here, right now, it truly feels like Christmas.

Who’d have thought?

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