Published Book or Work by:
Do You Think You Will Really Stay On Here?
|“Do you think you will really stay on here?”
“I don’t know, in some ways a man could do a lot worse.”
“But you have a choice to leave anytime. You can just go,” he said.
“So you do, you got the same thing.”
“Not really, not being Thai. It is never the same things you have.”
“All I know is there is a lot left to see.”
“I stopped buying the travel book. I saw some last week. I had to put it down again. I could not buy it. It makes my heart very hot when I read it. I cannot let it happen, to go feeling all locked into this school and this job and this life. Those books are a new evil for me.”
“Better to write your own anyway.”
“Yes, but so much still to see.”
THE SEA is a smooth black. I sat back and listened to the rain. In the dark black of the water the stick tide fence is all you can see below the sky before the sea ends in a pale purple line that stretches all the way across the lulling, wide sea. The boats are the light out there. The liners make a dotted cloud that glows all the way out to Sri Racha, where Goh Loy sparkles and Korean men forget business in the laps of make-upped girls, hip-hop crashes into look-tung music and drugs push silently across the tiny island of Si Chang on the way to the Philippines and America.
Ang Sila hems the sea in, stretching out in tight circles. The long, winding wild road runs through the small town rabble of sea food shacks, simple menus and stone shops that run up the hill to where the giant red Chinese temple’s dragons keep watch, past the dim karaoke bars with the girls shuffling outside, past Muang Mai and the country pubs and all the way into the bigger rabble of Chonburi before the road turns into Sukhumvit and the dirty hot ride into Bangkok. Depending on the time of day you take the road you run across all the women sitting on tiled steps in the day, old men lingering and younger ones shuffling off to work, two-deep on a step-through motorsai or you fly through a warm, sad slowness of howling dogs, road side food and lives drowned into television and whiskey by nightfall.
Where are all those people going? What are the lives doing? Too much crazy wondering surfaces in this peaceful place. There is something shockingly decent about the lulling of the sea that makes my mind get wild, rested and roaming. Stay focused man, pin this down. If you think about saving, you lose, it is a drowning down.
Jake sits on stage, strumming lightly under the bright light.
“When will we go to Samed?”
“When are you free?” I ask.
“Next week not good. Maybe one after if no meetings,” Sawang said.
“I am ready, this place is crushing me.”
“I can’t breathe,” he said. “But here, look,” he waved his glass into the blackness, “Here, look, we have the sea, look it is beautiful chai mai?”
He’s already a bit drunk. It’s been five or six nights like this. I need food, something with bulk. I look for the waitress and before she sees my hand I realize or remember we don’t have money for food. I look over at out bottle. Half full or empty, who can call it? I keep taking it straight to make it last. You got to do it yourself in a place like this when the waitresses are used to filling the bottle cap with whiskey and the rest with water. The big ice and each bottle of water adds up. I try counting all the glass bottles under the little black cart but it is no use, he needs it and I don’t so here we are, drinking up to remember or drinking down to forget.
There is so much work in this Kingdom to be done that the sheer horror of percents and lives stare back at me in such ugly colors that I can hardly stand it. We understand each other, a Thai born Karen and a half-breed American. I might be six breeds but there is no way to communicate that in Thai, not even to this pal. We don’t need to speak anyway.
When we talk, his eyes go small as the whiskey takes hold. Forget talking, soak up life. The mosquito coils disappear as the evening evaporates into the hot night. The sea crashes, blue lines breaking as the plankton goes neon under the soft light. Let the levy break then, let the river flow. Don’t dam things up. I trust all those prone to thinking or to real action, violent or sporting, must drown sorrows and thoughts one way or another. Drink up victories or drink down losses. I understand it plainly.
Across the sea is all mountain, black now except for the rocky face. Small sparse lights bathe the tiny road that circles the bottom of the mountain before climbing in tight circles where the monkeys sit eating fruit in the daylight. Now the apes sleep in the trees and the road lies empty except for the trash and all the stray dogs.
I race that road at night.
When I am hemmed in with disaster and too many sabotaged lives, kids bent on killing braincells and men resigned to an idleness my Thai can’t help, I race that road over there. I pray like hell those dogs stay still on the side. Few things give a fear like crashing into one of those hairless mutts. I have been bitten enough to know going slow doesn’t help. Dogs bite and demons fly around that hill. I have never seen a ghost, but I have seen too demons already.
Opening the throttle and taking your chances seems to work better. Lean over the tank then and meet doom head on. All the same, one night I had the speed on, flying past the small temple tucked into the side of the cliff up around the tightest bend, a left-handed glide you take blindly. I came right up on a stage where they make the leekay. I locked the brakes, the rear sliding out from under me. Somehow I pulled her up before a high-side. The stage took up almost the whole road. On stage the silver suited man danced and mimicked with his face painted up like a girl or a whore. His suit flashed under the moon and the poor Thais huddled around laughed hard at the coarse jokes I didn’t understand. A soft, tired coolness bounced around the mountain that night
Tonight some other calm is boiling up while Jake plays. A sleepy calmness fills the place as the waves lap. Grilled chicken soaks the air and a salty wind blows cleanly across this new shop. Jake’s easy strumming is the only sound if you don’t listen to the rain falling.
Two policemen relaxed down to their white undershirts are on stage now, turning in bad takes to belt out high into the wet, humid night. Their small maroon Kawasaki sits outside, gold helmets resting on the seat. I guess you can’t do much when cops want to sing, no matter how bad they do it. This pub is down to four of us. Sawang and I and two girls sitting back behind telling out their problems and not looking around for men or for us or anything as it seems, just drinking the final glasses of beer as one girl cries and the other listens. Two werewolves, it takes all form and then I remember less than one percent in this nation have heard of the medicine for heartache I came to tell. Percents are winding us down, drinking us into sleep.
Few things calm out my nerves like this place out by the sea. Usually it is bone dry empty where you fear there won’t be enough bottles bought to keep the doors open. Other nights the energy sparks with a full crowd trapped, riding out the monsoon. No place to go so drink more, stretch out the feet and get rested. Jake’s guitar bounces as the vibes shoot up the spine, someone somewhere howls into the darkness and bottles clank on carts as brown alcoholic smiles light up faces, girls crowd around and men slink into the wood bench seats. The wind blows across the sea, some strange spirit that reminds you there is something out there bigger than you as the moon rest in the sky and the stars shoot down like bright, white needles into the warm night. The thought of losing a place like this is such a cruel, ugly vibe I can’t think of leaving. Here you can feel like a decent human being for at least a little while. The madness of work and small lives crawling towards salvation (or was it away?) and all that talk and worry and broken language across culture and the doom of impending disaster disappear. At least for a little while, you can feel like a human being again. Here there are no students, no dreams, no missions, no work, no Bibles, nothing holy except that which we carry in our hearts, two wildly unhinged men colliding into each other.
“Where will you go next?”
My phone vibrates into my jeans. I am due down in Sri Racha. Another mission is calling. How could you want to leave? The vibe is calm, passionate in this place like down on Church Street with Mayuka when I could clear my head in the silent pastels of a warm place on a bitter, ass-frozen late January back in New York.
“To bed maybe.”
“No, next year when this work is finished.”
“Sri Racha is calling.”
“No, no man. Next year when this is finished for you?”
“I can’t think too much about it.”
“You said about South America before,” Sawang says. His English is so clear it makes me feel stupid to keep up the Thai.
“I know I did. It still seems kinda right. It seemed a lot more so before I came here. I think it must be a good, natural place to live for a little while.”
“So you’ll go there?”
“I spent too much time thinking about it not to go.”
“And you won’t come back?”
“I can’t think too much about it now. How do you watch so many people waiing incense and these kids, those kids, man those kids, how can you burn that our your brain? I can’t think too much about moving on. It will ruin all of this. I read too many stories before and I had to stop that too. We trust the Lord, eh?”
“When I saw the travel book some days ago I started to read it and then I put it back on the shelf,” he smiles. His face is happy and bright with alcohol. He throws in Thai randomly, splitting his mind and keeping me awake. “I could not read it. It made my heart feel like, like hot and I felt trapped here. I can’t read them anymore.”
“Nong,” he looks around. “Nong, khaw naam kheng kap.”
The waitress comes with a big bucket of the large ice cubes. She pours out two more drinks, his full of soda and water.
“I don’t know why I drink it this way. I have to piss all the time.” The girl smiles from his Thai. “Next time I try it like you drink,” he says pointing at my glass. “Just plain with the ice. When I drink in my room I don’t have to go to the bathroom like this.”
“You drink in your room now?”
“Chai laeew, I drink almost everyday now. I was never like this. And I don’t know why either. I just like it now.”
“There is no problem if you can control it.”
“Do you drink every night?”
“Usually only if I am working, writing letters or sermons or stories.”
“But you drink everyday?”
“In my room I have no ice and no water, no Coke or nothing. So I drink from the bottle. I like to feel it a little in my room. What do you call it like this,” he says, shaking his head around.
“I like this.”
“It’s no problem if you can control it.”
“All of them can kill us if they knew you know,” Sawang laughs then sips his drink slowly.
“Sure, but they don’t have to know.”
“After a year away it is very hard for me to come back here. Sometimes I still feel like I am still out on the road. I want to go back out again and it has only been a few months. It is hard to be around them and their ideas. I don’t know if I am crazy.”
“I’m sure they’d say we’re both crazy.”
The waitress fills up the glasses again and Jake nods from the stage while he sings out a country song about a girl writing a long letter to her father out on the road working. Seems just fitting. I scribble down Heart of Gold on a napkin and hand it to the small girl pouring our drinks.
“Are we crazy?”
“I don’t think that’s the right question,” I say and can’t help but smile.
“Hey, we aren’t crazy,” he shouts. “Well, I am not sure.”
“I think it’s the wrong question anyway.”
Two days later we sat in a tight new place with three tables and a counter full of large glass jars where flowers and things that looked like weeds floated in red alcohol. The rains crashed down. I was soaked through, my jeans heavy with water. My bike stood parked next to his, both blue and wet.
Tonight there was a meeting in Chonburi with several pastors and some lay people who are planning an outdoor worship service for tomorrow night. I promised to be there. They have brought in a Thai pastor from Panat Nikhom to speak and want to offer English lessons to keep university students coming back. They have no idea how many people will show. It could be something big if there is any neighborhood turnout. We should be there to talk to people and answer questions the younger ones could have about God, Jesus and whatever else the pastor preaches.
“Did you ever have moonshine?”
“I used to drink something like this with my brothers back in Mae Hong Son. Cheaper there. Much cheaper.”
“How much is it here?”
“Six baht a glass, I think.”
Sawang motioned the shopkeeper over. The old man collects the small shot glasses and fills them, dipping the wooden spoon down into the jars red like blood. It smells better than the Sang Som rotgut we usually drink and much cheaper. I have no idea how my head will hold up though.
“You want to do it all?”
We pound down the rice moonshine and the old man immediately fills the little glasses, smiling wildly at me. I know easily no white man has sat in his shop and he seems awful proud. He keeps staring like he’s asking if it’s any good while he rests back in the hammock hanging from the sheet rock walls.
“What do they call this?”
“This one is Horse Kicking the Coffin,” Sawang laughs. “The last one was something like Tiger something, I don’t know how to say. We can try them all.”
“Might be here a while with the rain.”
“So let’s drink. Shit, let’s drink. Ah we’ve been drinking everyday now for four days.”
“I think it’s six.”
“Shit,” he says again. His journal is open, blue ink on blue paper.
“Good to share it.”
“We might be crazy though.”
“Or we will be. Does this moonshine make many problems?”
“I think it is the same as anything else. Did you ever drink lao khao?”
“Yeah, in the green bottles, right? I bought some out in the country one day when I was riding.”
“This is almost the same. Shit, you drank it while riding?”
“I was stopped out in Bo Thong, in the hills there. I had all day. Enough time to smoke and sit and stare into those places. Have you ridden there?”
“Almost too far for me. But I know it.”
“I asked the man then if that rice whiskey was any good. He said he never drank it. I tried it all the same. For less than fifty cents US you can’t go too wrong.”
“This is the same but stronger and has the herbs. You call it herb, yes?”
“I forget so many words,” Sawang laughed.
“I never learn so many words.”
“You dii laew, ma pen rai.”
“Where you coming from?”
“Today I went out to that deaf school I talk about before. I was too lazy to go. I sat in my room too tired from teaching all day. But then I make myself go. I just get up and say I have to go.”
“That’s the one over where Jake’s bar used to be?”
“Same road, yes. It was really, really good time. They said I can come any day. The director told me I can come when I have time.”
“Is it much different than our school? It’s a boarding one isn’t it?”
“Yes and they have the same problems mostly. Many of the same problems.”
“No. They are all Buddhists but the same problems with sex and fighting and the students act almost the same. The director invited me to eat and we went to a small shop on that road. We drank a bottle of 100 from six until song toom.”
“I got a few pals at a shop on that road.”
“We stayed at this small, small shop.”
“Two hours and a whole bottle, eh?”
“There were three of us. Like when we go with Griset.”
“Sure, you don’t have to explain to me.”
“It was good. I think we can do some work with them. They don’t know what to do about the students. The dorm fathers have the same problems. But they told me some things are not the same.”
“They deaf people are different than normal people. You know people who hear, who can hear. They said they deaf people are never shy to perform, to make a drama or stand in front of people.”
“But,” he went on. “They also don’t know, they don’t have the same feelings. For them when you say ‘I love you,’ it really means only the sex. Like they have the physical level but not the emotions.”
“Why would it be any different?”
“I don’t know either. This is all new to me but this is what they told me. But it is good when the boss ask me to get drunk on the first day.”
“So he knows the intention?”
“I didn’t open that yet. But he knows I am Christian. We talk about that.”
“As long as he knows the line.”
“I told him.”
“Cool then. Just make sure you keep the line.”
“Those kids are the same as mine. They need someone love them. That is the line. I think the director know why I come today. I think he know. He doesn’t know Jesus, but he know. He know I can do something good. It can’t be us or them. And besides I really go for the experience of using the hand language.”
“Amen.” It was all I could say. My phone shook in my pocket. An old student was on the other end. She has severe money problems. The winds howled and the metal gate shook. Our glasses sat empty.
“Speak louder,” I shout into the receiver. “Louder. What?”
“Pi Mai bawk wa, Khun Kai poot Thai gaeng laew. Pood Thai dai mai? Khun mai khao jai pasa Kariang, chai mai?”
“Yung,” I shouted back. She spoke in rapid burst of Thai. The university was choking her. Memory of my own crippling debt crowded my head. I handed the phone to Sawang so they could speak more clearly in the Thai and Karen languages they shared.
We drank the rest out of the small glasses. The rain never stopped. The monsoon poured down under the yellowed pier lights as I handed Sawang the extra jacket I keep under the motorcycle seat. Then, jackets zipped as high as they go, we headed out in the pouring rain. I cruised slowly behind Sawang peddling hard on his mountain bike. The orange lights lit the pier and the falling rain, never touching the black sea as the rain streamed down in light amber showers that made me shiver in the slow lull. Gloves wet, jacket soaked, jeans beyond wetness, I rode slowly as Sawang peddled hard, drunk. We stopped as the road turned around the bend of Laem Tan. At a small Muslim shop, under small cover, we ate plates of fried basil, pork and chicken in chilies, steamed rice and fried eggs.
“I got to get a coffee,” I told him. “You want one?” My head was sour and hard and still reeling from the Karen girl’s call. Easy problems to fix can make you feel like a kingfish when so many days you wade through impossibility. People in America could help, but don’t swear by it, I kept telling her. She said she understood. Sawang had told her the same. My goodness, all the evils $1,000 could fix. But how can you promise anything when the gulf between what people need and what people will give becomes an ancient ocean wide?
“How much is it?”
He stared up at me.
“I got it.”
“No, it’s ok. I don’t want the coffee,” he said then. “Do you think John and Luke did this?”
“Do you think they were like us?” His eyes were closing, shot through and red.
“I don’t think they cared.”
“Do you think they act like this?” Sawang asked. “Were they like us, even a little?”
“I think we got the wrong questions. Do you want a coffee or not?”
“No, I don’t want coffee. My head is ok laeew,” he said. “When do you teach tomorrow?”
“Bible at 7.”
“Were they like us? Just answer.”
“Hell, I don’t know.”
“Even a little?”
“I don’t know. They were pals. Sure they might have been just like us. They could’ve been pals.”
“Sure, real pals.”
“Choke dii, nah,” he smiled.
Yeah, good luck.
A day later we were at the beach.
Talk about work and then the sleeping on the beach, the swimming. Then the SWIMMING, and rice wine and the girls speaking in awful rounds on the beach, and A calling, singing into the phone.
“Luem wela” with no way of translating.
A border between this world and the next, expressed failures, and dull hurt at not getting this mission gig right. Then foul-mouthed girls. Express being men without girls. How can we help our own girls? Those are our students in a few years or months.
Ocean is dark, lit under the moon on the small waves. The green-black ocean. The salt. The blue-green plankton under. A swirl when you move your hand.
“Thank you for showing me this.”
Him disappearing. Worry. Finding him again. Swearing to never lose him again. Him drunk.
“Not fair, you are never drunk. And Griset, he is never drunk enough. I am. And it is so good to just float when your head is like this.”
Him in his Thai fisherman pants.
“Do you want to go with me tomorrow to the pier? 5am? We can drink coffee and eat something like a donut, you call it a donut, we can eat it on the pier. I will ride there.”
“There is no why. Do you want to ride with me?”
“I can’t think of a better thing.”
“Then we will ride. Listen to these girls. Shit, every third word is awful. Listen, not even one sentence but every third word is bad. Just listen.”
“What if those were our girls?”
“They are but I can’t move.”
“Griset, you help them. You console them.” Even half as he is, he doesn’t half understand what I’m saying. “You go, you help them.”
“No, no you got it all wrong. Shit, Griset get us some coffee. Here,” Sawang reaches deep into his bag and pulls out his last bills. “Get us coffee. And then we will eat.”
“Then we eat,” Griset echoes.
“Then we eat,” I say. “Then we sleep.”
“We never sleep. Even when we die, we rise again.”
“Shit, how can you express that in a borrowed tongue?”
“We never sleep, but I am sleeping now.”
, Short Story
||You must be logged in to add a comment