Happy Pizza; I knew we’d get into that rotten stuff pretty soon. I mean, my god, it’s pizza (the best food ever) plus happiness (the best feeling ever). It felt mischievous and downright criminal to tell a tuk tuk driver to take us to the “happy pizza” in Phnom Penh. I expected a dirty alley. A secretive man would beckon us with a gnarled finger into a tiny door. The smells of cheese and earth would mingle together as we ordered with our heads down. My over-active imagination seemed to think we were buying opium. The reality was a brightly lit street of open air pizza joints proudly advertising that their pizza had a personality. The places were packed and full of families. Jack, Prajeen, Penny, Minji, and I sat at a table and pouted in our disappointment. Where was the element of danger? More importantly, were these old people getting high?
The restaurant was draped in red with silly Italian knick knacks and photos on the wall. The conversations around us were at a soothing mumble. We ordered two happy pizzas; bianco and veggie. Prajeen looked at the waiter slyly and said “extra happy please.” Prajeen seemed like he was trying to send a message with his eyes, but the waiter didn’t reciprocate and just nodded and walked away. Jack was already paranoid.
“Oi, man. How much do you think they put in these pizzas? Everyone looks real normal here.”
There were either two options. We had gone to a normal pizza place and were idiots or everyone around us was sufficiently high and hiding it very well.
“Maybe most of these people got normal pizzas”, said Minji as she tossed her hair over her shoulder and took a sip of her drink.
“Yeah okay fantastic, then we’ll be the only high people in the restaurant. That should go well,” I laughed and turned around to see delicious smelling pizzas headed our way.
They tasted as good as they smelled, but the general consensus was that we had been scammed.
“I don’t feel anything. Do you?”
“Not at all.”
“I feel buzzed? I had a cocktail though..”
“We need another one.”
Thus, we walked five feet to the right to the other pizza restaurant. This time it was a happy chicken pizza and happy shakes. We weren’t going to mess around. As soon as our order went through, I felt a change. I felt…happy. People’s voices were getting muffled and I had to concentrate extremely hard to keep myself in the moment. I was scared to death that only I was high and so I tried to keep it under wraps. That is, until Penny exclaimed, “WHY IS THE PEPPER SHAKER STARING AT ME???!!” It had begun.
We were in space. Our table was floating and we sat around it like some inter-galactic tribunal council. But then we were not anymore and my shoes were expanding and moving under my feet.
“You guys, my feet are so funny!”, I giggled.
My feet are so small and the shoes were so big! It was ridiculous. Jack kept giving me looks like I was crazy so I tried to play it off like I was fine, but Penny saved the day by exclaiming, “I HATE CAMBODIA.” She had meant to say Doritos. Was anyone even talking about Doritos? I couldn’t tell you. We left the restaurant and I walked as if I was in mud. Slowly and with great effort. We walked along the river with lights shining. At least I presume it was a river. In my mind it was an ocean and I was back in Greece. The wide shiny streets looked the same, the cement benches were the same, and I knew I wasn’t there, but it seemed very possible. A playground appeared like some oasis in the desert and we spun ourselves around and around and around and up and down, until we came to rest on the grass sitting in a circle. We sat in silence looking at each other in turn. It was peaceful, until Minji spoke.
“Are we finished with this hippie shit yet?”
We all laughed and attempted to sing a song. Giant rats were spotted and it was time to get the hell out of there. We walked for what seemed like hours, until we came to a hookah place that Jack had decided to drag us to. Before we went in, Prajeen spoke seriously about how we would decide if we wanted to stay.
“We need a code. How about “Did you see the movie Apocalypse Now?” We say “Yes, I loved it” if we want to stay.”
We nodded our heads in agreement and got ready to use our code. Prajeen moved the beads at the entrance to the side and we walked into a shrunken room with candles on the ceiling and stairs and doors going nowhere. Cambodians draped in black cloth and gold circled us, waiting for us to sit down. We huddled together in a clump as they moved around us. We were all scared out of our minds.
“Did you guys like Apocalypse Now? Um, let’s sit down,” said Jack confusedly.
“No!”, we hissed. “Let’s get the fuck out of here!”.
Minji led us back to the hostel where we gulped water at a plastic table in front. We made jokes and laughed obnoxiously loud. Prajeen made a joke to Penny that none of us would ever remember and I laughed loudly and then pointed at him with mock seriousness.
“You’re a fake!” I said smiling.
There was silence. Prajeen looked at me as he never had before. Jack spoke to me in a dangerous voice.
“Prajeen! Things just got serious,” I said as I laughed nervously.
Our energy died down and we headed up to our mattresses on the ground, protected by mosquito nets. I worried to Minji that Prajeen hated me now, as the boys debated whether I had hidden hatred for him.
I woke up the next morning to find Prajeen in our doorway.
“Prajeen!! What happened last night? I just made a joke and now I’m worried that you hate me!” I said with concern.
“Oh thank god,” he said, “Jack was feeding me propaganda that you had a problem with me!”
“Happy Pizza drama!,” we exclaimed and hugged each other.
It seemed all’s well that ends well. But just wait until we saw those goddamn bats.