Who Won The Lottery?
I was just mooching around the courtyard, putting one foot in front of the other and whistling a tuneless ditty trying to pass some time. The sun was hammering down on the concrete but I didn’t want to go indoors and there didn’t seem to be anyone around to talk to. Rob was sitting on the porch step, intently staring at a pile of wood by the wall where a Kingka sat unmoving and basking in the heat. The Bangkok Post was open beside him but I’d already read that and it was probably too early for beer. Rob was after catching the Kingka which had revolted the locals, they, having an utter aversion to lizards of any type, even Chameleons like this one.
The hot season in Thailand is noticeable in the way the country shifts down a gear, everything and everybody appears to begin to move at half speed, the air seems thicker and sounds more muted. The atmosphere becomes edgy, tense almost and the Thais joke about this being the ‘Bang-Bang’ season. In the heat, tempers get frayed and in a country which has too many guns, well, you can imagine.
It was a Friday so there was no need to wander down to work: I’d called in earlier to find them getting stuck into some beer and I’d be there over the weekend anyway to catch up on whatever needed done, so a free day and nothing planned
in other words.
Closing my eyes I tried to walk directly from the gate to the corner post then on opening them after halting found that I’d undershot by a few inches and was being scrutinised by a curious Robert.
“Practising instrument approaches?", he asked, then, "Sit down and have a beer you daft bugger, make like the lizard – it’s safer."
Judging by the position of the sun it was probably about one and as Pheung was visiting home then a beer was probably O.K.
“Yea fine, but let’s sit behind the shop,", I suggested, "It’s not much cooler but it is more shaded….."
Once there safely ensconced under the awning we opened our beers then having noted how quiet it was the conversation dried up. Even old Kay, the shopette owner was fast asleep, trusting us to keep track of how many beers we would consume.
“Just not a happening day really", said Rob as he poured.
A rivulet of sweat ran down my chest as I looked around and considered that this is how it might be if the planet suddenly succumbed to some plague or disaster and all the people gone leaving just us alone in the city. I mentioned my theory to Rob which brought a grin in return, and, "Great – free cigs, booze and dope."
"Yea Rob, but no bints……" I retorted.
Rob looked at me then leered before adopting his best mincy voice. "We’ll work something out sweetie, don’t worry….."
“I wonder where the Ger-a-man is?", I thought aloud. A German had appeared in the block behind us a week previously and although separated from our compound by the wall it was always nice to meet freshies from Europe to catch up on the news.
"I think he’s locked in", Rob replied.
We concurred that he was probably being held hostage by the bint who lived there so left it at that.
We perked up as we heard footsteps approaching from the Soi and Dow appeared around the corner into the lane beside us. She was still wearing her going out outfit but no make up so we assumed that there had been a bomber's moon the previous night and that her mission had been accomplished.
She pulled a stool into our table, sat down and said, "Rawn" (Hot).
I stood, went to the fridge in the shop then helped myself to another couple of beers before passing one to Rob and sat once more. Dow asked if we had any money.
I stared at Rob goggle eyed as Dow stood to grab a coke and as we laughed she sat down to say, "No, serious, have you some money? You not laughing o.k.?"
She continued, "Last night I get man and go ________." This scenario we understood; she’d been hanging around the beer bars on Sukhumvit and got a trap which had involved her and the punter booking into one of the numerous short time
hotels around that area, the one in question being conveniently close to home for her thus she could even pocket the taxi fare.
Rob assured me that it had mirrored ceilings which could be confusing when a chap was drunk.
“When I sleeping, somebody come speak me and I scared because not like ghost come."
Our ears pricked up at this news as upcountry Thais never tell fibs about ghosts as spirits are seen as the harbringers of bad news and thus best avoided. (Nobody pays tax anyway so they’ve got to have some bogeymen to worry about……..)
Dow frowned then continued:- “I no understand this ghost……it speak Lao, she keep say, (and here Dow recounted three single digit numbers)"
Most Thais will understand a little Lao and numbers to a S.E. Asian never become a problem in any language.
“This farang he still sleeping so I think ghost come for speak to me only." Again she recounted the numbers. Then, "After she go and I not sleeping, scared too much you know? But I thinking what mean she and I thinking lottery………."
Rob looked at me and we agreed that it was probably the lottery.
There being the official lottery in Thailand although rumour has it that it is actually possible to lay bets on the last two and three digits of the winning six digit number. Not that I’d know anything about that of course, no-no-no. It’s
against the law don’t you see.
Rob suddenly looked and said, "Hey Dow what room number were you in?"
I looked at him puzzled but he merely raised his hand and shushed me as Dow replied, "14."
Not following this at all I looked on in amazement as Rob stood and quickly strode back through to the courtyard leaving Dow and myself there in bemused silence.
He returned shortly smiling. "Remember Dow-2 years-3 years before a Lao lady she was killed in the _____ hotel? Well, it was room number 14!"
Turning to me, he quickly filled me in with the details which basically involved the fact that a Lao bint had checked in there with a punter and had been found throttled the next morning, minus money, gold or I.D. Nobody had ever been arrested for the
murder it appeared.
Mau had known the lady in question and was well up to speed on the precise details, hence Rob’s sudden departure to her room to check the story.
We filled our glasses and once again contemplated the fact that this was Thailand and that most things were possible so why disbelieve what you don’t know about?
Dow said, "No speak OK?"
We clicked on most rickey- tick in the knowledge that if the lottery numbers were kosher then Dow was going to clean up- and could it be said that we would want in for a percentage?
Too many punters on the same numbers would lower the odds and if word got round that a ghost had spoken the numbers then every tipster in town would be forecasting them. This is not a good way to gamble on what after all could be a sure bet. Hypothetically of course: After all, gambling is illegal. See- I wrote that with nearly a straight face.
Anyway, the matter of a ghost whose soul could not settle was believable to Dow as this was Thailand after all, and the fact that the spirit had given her the (possible), winning digits was also believable. Funny old world isn’t it?
Dow got a couple of beers in and explained her plan: What she had in mind was to go to different lottery drop-offs around town, and not betting too much to be noticeable, but enough to make a decent return on her bets. On the ‘high odds’ a decent sum could be made if she could get the stake to spread around.
Well, Rob and I had been in town long enough to have heard most of the scams, we’d seen people fleeced in ways that a five year old wouldn’t fall for and we’d seen countless broke, sad faced men heading for the airport- a lot wiser
and a lot poorer. Perhaps it was the heady air of S.E. Asia that made apparently sane people want to invest their life savings in idiotic schemes which on closer inspection would have been mega no-no in their home country. But, we knew Dow and
she didn’t try to pull fast ones on us. Well, not that we were aware of anyway.
Nothing stirred for a while except the chest of the scabby dog sleeping under the table, until Rob asked, "What do we get?"
Her answer of, "Ten percent", caused me to look up in surprise, after all, she was a bint and thus being mercenary was second nature to her, but this was rather on the low side I felt.
I snorted and replied, "Hey-Dow: It’s us……you know? Robert and Colin? So, fifty it is ok?"
She looked at the table as we waited and then, "Look-I no like work bar. Work no good go hotel with man…..I not like, I scared AIDS, I scared crazy man."
She paused for a moment before continuing, “I win lottery I go home buy some land and maybye open shop. I win- you get thirty percent. I no win then I sell gold and you get money come back. One day."
I looked at Rob and nodded, he shrugged his shoulders in return so we stood and made our way to our rooms where I unearthed my stash to see that I had 9000.
So, I peeled off seven then wandered outside to find Rob waiting who handed me a further eight.
We quickly did the calculation of fifteen grand at 60-1 and our cut of thirty percent plus stake money back and came to the conclusion that we couldn’t really lose. If Dow gave us the stake money back in a worst case scenario that is.
We sat down again and after making sure that the coast was clear, slipped the notes across to her. Then I asked, "How much do you have now?"
“Twenty thousand,", she replied, "But you get thirty percent of your money- not all"
We laughed as her ploy hit home, but if you can’t be a Chinese banker then you can emulate one.
Dow explained her plan which was to involve taking a motorcycle taxi around town in a circular route placing small bets in joints known to participate in the, (hypothetical-ha-ha-officer), lottery an idea which we improved on by suggesting a number of motorcycles as a pound to a penny if she used just the one, then word would soon get round.
After a period of reflection she agreed in principle but griped about the extra expense involved.
The route was planned to take into account the one way systems and starting in Soi Nowhere it went to Pratunam, Huay Khwang, Soi Cowboy and on to Khlong Toei. This covered a fair area of the city’s more nefarious zones around our location and if need be she could get the bus from point to point if she was all that upset about the motorcycle fares.
And of course it went without saying that if she won then tight lips were well in order; A cool mill and a bit in your back pocket could easily lead to a premature arrival in the next life
(minus the money).
Now it’s time to backtrack a little for a reality check: Here we have two ex-pats earning a tenuous living in a S.E. Asian country, who are sitting behind a wooden shack which serves as the local shop, and are surrounded by mangy dogs with the odd rat skittering past. These ex-pats are drinking beer while the sweat runs off them in the mid afternoon heat and are having an earnest discussion with a bint about how to clean up on an illegal lottery with numbers provided by the ghost of a Lao woman murdered in a short time hotel.
Okey-dokey? Got that then? Like we like to say. Thailand is a strange place and straight lines and straight thoughts don’t figure much which is perfectly acceptable as long as you aren’t a rocket scientist.
To continue: Rob wandered away for his lunch while I scored some fried rice from the lady down the Soi and after eating, retired inside for a siesta.
Later as darkness fell, the air cooled and the residents woke up to shower before heading off to work or merely emerged for a shuffle around before eating. I listened to this familiar ritual as I lay in the gloom smoking a cigarette and contemplating
the oddities of life in Thailand and the sheer "Nothing is as it seems" factor.
Thoughts of a winter three years previously crossed my mind and I remembered the engine fire we’d had on take-off in appalling weather with the aircraft at near all up weight loaded with cargo.
In that turbulence and icing there was no way that we were going to fly on one engine, let alone land safely so shutting the motor on that side down wasn’t really an option- quick decision time and a look out my window confirmed that it was most
likely the engine intake de-ice system that had decided to become an electric fire rather than a heated mat. I’d quickly pulled the relevant circuit breakers in the darkness behind me and the fire stopped.
With both engines turning we were able to get above the freezing level and back home. But it was close, very close.
Later examination showed that a twenty dollar current limiter had changed it’s job description and that was just the way it was flogging ancient aircraft in cargo fit around Europe’s wintery night skies.
My musing ended as the door softly opened and a body softly sat on the cushion in the corner. A cigarette lighter flared briefly, then, "You ‘wake?"
It was Daeng. Come and sit or sleep and talk or not as the case may be; I reckoned that she was lonely and also that she reckoned me no threat.
I grunted in reply then she asked, "What you thinking?"
“Not much Daeng, not much at all", I replied.
“Same me", came the soft answer so I slipped off to sleep once more.
The next morning I woke to smell food close by which was a surprise then rolling over saw Gop and Daeng with bags of johk which they were pouring into bowls. This was a decent idea so I rose to join them on the floor where I cracked an egg into a bowl of the porridge, added some nahm pla, (fish oil), and ate.
As I ate I watched the steady stream of people walking across the courtyard headed for the shopette bearing small folded pieces of paper with their lottery numbers written inside, it being lottery day. Gob asked me what numbers I’d be betting on that day which put me in a quandry. I couldn’t tell her about Dow and her story as word would soon travel, much though I liked Gop, she was still an upcountry girl and spooks, lottery numbers and gossip go together like beer and foam.
Thinking that a lie was best I told her the last two digits of Dow’s ghost prediction and said that it was my mother’s birth year.
It was time that Gop got to win- she was a good sort but always tended to have boyfriends who were at the bottom end of the money tree and unwilling to part with what they had which tended to leave her in a state of semi penury most of the time.
Daeng finished her johk then snorted, "Lottery", before standing and walking out. Not a gambler was our Daeng.
I handed Gop a hundred baht note and asked her to put it on for me if she passed the shop and then noticed the downcast look on her face. Broke again I assumed, so handing another hundred I wished her, ‘Happy birthday’- whenever it was.
A grin split her face as she promptly turned to scamper off in the shop direction leaving me to wash the bowls and dispose of the rubbish.
After a shower and coffee I decided to wander down to the office and check the mail, it being a Saturday nobody else would be there so I could do my thing in silence then repair to Jay’s joint next door and sup a quiet beer or two.
Our office was located in a small Soi more or less exactly in the centre of Bangkok thankfully untroubled by tourists as the clothes market was located across the main drag. Those tourists who did venture into the Soi tended to look puzzled and about turn most quickly to return to a place where there were at least some of the signs in English.
This was a good thing as it helped to keep the prices down……
Jay was a large lady of Thai Chinese extraction who owned the shop and hairdresser opposite the office and a small restaurant next to it, and who would provide beer to Robert and I at cost if we would sit at the street front of the restaurant to try to
entice foreign customers in.
An added advantage was the girls' hostel down the Soi. Full of ‘nice’ girls at Uni or working, it was a source of wonderment to us as a steady stream of the most gorgeous creatures on this earth would emerge to perambulate down the street safe in the knowledge that they lived secure behind high walls and barbed wire. (Really.)
They’d got used to us sitting there, often inviting them to join us in order to practise their English for free. Whilst they never joined us, we did get many a lovely smile.
Anyway, just as I was locking my door Rob appeared and asked where I was bound for and on hearing that I was heading for the office and a letch from Jay's shop opined to join me. Grabbing the helmets we mounted his bike then set off. A nice sort
of a chopperish Honda but with a saddle of postage stamp size it was not a comfy means of travel for the passenger.
Hang on tight being the order of the day.
Duly we arrived outside work so I dismounted in the standard fashion by standing and moving backwards, thus removing the motorcycle from between the cheeks of my backside. I gave Jay and Boo a wave which was replied to by way of Boo sticking her tongue out, then unlocked the door and entered.
I’d finished dumping the demands for payment on the accountant’s desk by the time Robert appeared bearing bottles of beer who suggested that we repair downstairs to cast our expert eye over the talent parade outside.
The afternoon began to pass in a familiar way as various worthies dropped in for a noggin and a natter, the fan that Boo had positioned for us casting a welcome breeze around the table as we joked with the intinerants taking note of which of the lovelies would stop at the shop to cast a furtive look at the, ‘Too-lay’, (cheeky), farangs who were once again resident. It was fast approaching 2.30 when Rob suggested we venture back to the office rec room to switch on the TV to check out the lottery results. Getting upstairs once more we switched it on and sat back to wait for the winning number, our B.A.R., comments coming to a close as the big one came up.
I watched as the balls jiggled, jumped then dropped and were held up in sequence by the lottery ladies and we both let out a yelp as we clocked the last three digits. Dow’s ghost had come up trumps!
“Well, fuck my old boots,", said Rob, "Lots of beer tokens this week….."
Switching off we returned to Jay’s joint and collapsed with laughter at the prospect of receiving big, fat, juicy envelopes full of money- lovely money and as Jay approached wanting to know the joke we let her into our good fortune which prompted her to produce the book with my account and say with a smile, "Bin Coleen…..o.k. mye?"
I laughed even more and suggested Monday as a better day to settle the bill as it would be a day or two before the money arrived in our pockets.
Then I ordered some oysters, seafood suki and told Boo to order herself a pizza which led to her to announce that I was her very favourite foreigner in the whole wide world. For the time being.
After a few more beers Rob suggested a trundle home to see if Dow had been murdered yet and before we mounted I asked the obligitary question: "Now Rob, are you sure that you are drunk enough to drive?"
An irresponsible attitude you may think, but at that time on a Saturday afternoon a goodly 50% of the motorists on the road would be under the influence and the other 50% would be driving as though they were. It stopped a chap getting nervous in any event.
Wedging the bike into my backside again we chugged away to Petchburi Road and thence to Nana, and on passing the cops doing their weekend ‘on the spot fine act’, gave them a friendly wave and a shout of, “Mye mee tang" (No money.)
Judging by the grins we received it was taken in good humour and at least nobody shot us.
Hanging another right, Rob cut through the hospital grounds as a short cut. We came to a halt outside the shopette where we dismounted and had a look around at the mob of construction workers who were stood there to watch the Muay Thai on the telly. Most were drinking Lao Khao in 5 Baht shots, being as they were North Easterners and as that was the cheapest. Lao Khao is cheap, potent and bloody awful to drink so 2 out of 3 ain’t bad I suppose.
I darted round to the back of the shop, helped myself to a couple of bottles of beer from the fridge then shouted to Old Kay, "Free o.k.?" He nodded in reply and continued watching the boxing, as the open mouthed construction crowd began a babble of, ‘Farang….beer….free’.
Perhaps they didn’t know that free in this context meant, ‘Pay later.’
We accepted the seats that they offered us and I began to practise my appalling Isaan dialect with them but the grins that met my idiomatic observations meant that I was at least being understood after a fashion.
Once the boxing had finished the crowds began to melt away so we stood and entered the courtyard to see the girls sitting on the porch with Dow amongst them and not a flicker of recognition crossed her face as we approached.
Sunday dawned bright, clear and hot and as I lay contemplating whether to rise or continue slumbering my door was thrown open and Gop ran in with a screech of, “Coreen; lottery!" Bier and Goy were hard on her heels bearing a Pizza Hut box, a bottle of Mekhong, coke, soda and a bag of ice which was placed on the floor then glasses poured.
Gop gave me a squeeze fit to burst my ribs then thanked me for the tip before handing me a brimming glass and again exclaiming, "Lottery!" Although she had gone for the ‘low odds’.
I was happy for her, if anyone deserved to win it was her. With a grin she handed me an envelope with my winnings followed by a slice of pizza. "Sunday breakfast in Soi Zero", I thought then sat down with them to eat and plot the spending.
That afternoon as I sat on the porch trying to focus on the newspaper Dow arrived silently around the corner. She was dressed in travelling clothes and held a suitcase. She handed Robert and I big fat envelopes then said, "Thank you", turned.
We said nothing- nothing needed said so I returned to my half stupified perusal of the news.
Some months later a letter arrived for me, addressed in a childish scrawl, (ha- I should speak), on opening it I found a brief note and a couple of photographs. The note said, "My land, my house, hope you are o.k.. Dow"
The photos showed a newly built two storey wooden house with a new looking pick up truck parked in front and what looked like a noodle stall at the side. In the foreground of one of them stood Dow with two children, a boy and a girl who looked to be about junior school age. The boy was grinning as he leaned on a bicycle whilst the girl squinted shyly at the camera. Dow was smiling and held a piece of paper with three numbers written on it.
I laughed to myself then wandered round to Robert’s room to show him the photos and note. After reading the note he raised his eyes to the roof and laughed, "I’m sending the wife to live in that hotel room whatever the damn cost…."
Lovely! Probably the best from ThaiTies so far.