A Big Watch
It had been a long day so far as we watched him amble slowly along the Soi, headed towards an uncertain and improbable future.
But, who cared-we didn’t for sure…
I’d been woken at the ungodly hour of nine by the racket of a loud farang voice and as Sunday mornings were deemed a silent zone in Soi Zero, had concluded that it was a visitor.
My tossings and turnings to try and regain sleep came to nowt as the voice droned on and on and on with no apparent pauses for breath or reflection; by ten I was up ready to commit murder when I threw my door open then lurched into the morning sun.
The courtyard appeared empty and nothing stirred as I stood blinking whilst trying to locate the source of the noise whereby I could go and suggest adherence to local tradition.
Or to fxxk off -whichever the case may be.
It became apparent that the voice was coming from over the wall and seemed to be located in the alcove behind the shopette where we would take refuge to drink when it was raining, too hot, or irate bints were on the prowl, and, it appeared that this voice
was owned by an Australian judging by the accent.
Quickly, I darted out of the gate and hung an immediate left into the wee alley beside the shopette to be confronted by a chap wearing Ray Ban, (or copy thereof), sunglasses, shorts, a go-go bar tee shirt and a small moustache. Lined up on the step he was perched on stood six empty beer Chang bottles and he appeared to be holding forth to a young chap who was not noted for his grasp of his immediate surroundings let alone a monologue in English from a pissed Australian.
But, he was obviously far too polite to insult the guest by leaving and merely squatted quietly washing and rewashing the same rice pot.
I coughed to attract Rambo’s attention and the moustache swiveled in my direction although the noise didn’t cease for a moment. Something about mercenaries fighting for Filipino communist insurgent groups and how he, (Rambo), was intimately involved in their command structure.
“Excuse me?”, I intruded.
He never missed a beat and without pausing said, ”G’day mait, howya doin, want a beer? Sun’s up, I’m just explaining to matey here how the 16’ is a piece of shit in the jungle but wot he really needs in an AK folding stock model, g’wan want a beer?"
“Oh- Christ on a bike," I thought, ”Another one”.
Then I turned and walked back to the courtyard.
As I crossed the courtyard his voice carried across the wall and had moved on to”…..Naow, up in Laos you see, C4 ain’t no good……it gets wet you see……" It was the mercenary season once more, as reliable as the grouse season and how I wished that we could shoot them as well. Better still, leave the birds be and just shoot these prats.
By now wide awake I wandered round to Rob’s room to scrounge a cup of coffee and a cigarette partly out of fear that if I remained where I was then lobbing bricks over the wall could become an option and maybe injure an innocent party.
Rob was up and about, standing in his doorway with a piece of toast in one hand and a cigarette in the other and as he alternated between puffs and bites he said, ”Foghorn school on holiday is it?"
I squeezed between him and the door frame muttering that I was seriously considering suing former members of the SAS who wrote their memoirs thus causing mental anguish to folks like myself. And the schools who taught our new acquaintance to read.
“Na-he’d only watch the video Col“, laughed Rob.
The coffee jar was empty so I had a rake around and on finding no extra supplies turned to Rob who shrugged his shoulders then said, ”Finish already-already”.
The day didn’t seem to be improving so I swiped one of his Marlboros, lit it then opened the fridge to see if anything resembling liquid was contained within. There was beer present so I opened a bottle, poured two glasses and after handing one to Rob, nudged him aside to sit on the step and smoke.
“So, mate:- your lot deal in death and mayhem. Wot’s C4 then?”, he asked.
“It’s stuff that makes big things into lots of little things by virtue of the fact that if asked nicely then it burns at about 8000 metres a second." I paused for a moment then continued, "And, if you’ve got your Ladybird book of chemistry handy then how about you go and boil up a bunch and we can turn that git into a martyr?"
Rob laughed, "And it doesn’t burn so well in the rain then? Only little explosions in the rainy season I suppose?"
I smiled and had a sip of my beer, at least it was cool.
By eleven the voice from behind the wall had run silent so we assumed that the Chang had worked it’s 7% effect and wandered out into the Soi to set up our table to watch for the returning wimin who’d managed a successful bombers moon and who were willing to buy a couple of resident reprobates a beer or two with their ill gotten gains.
Wiit was getting his motorcycle ready to head off somewhere so I asked him to bring back the newspaper from the hospital shop, and just to make sure that he’d managed to ingest the info, Robert waited a minute then asked him, "What paper do we want Wiit?"
Wiit smiled manfully and guessed the correct name of one of the two English language dailies then duly pop-popped away down the Soi.
“He’ll forget”, I said. ”Probably”, Rob replied, ”But we can always send his sister later on, at least she knows what day it is”.
We walked round the back of the shop to get a table and saw Rambo lying on the concrete with his mouth agape surrounded by eight empty bottles of Chang. A couple of dogs were having a sniff at the inert form and finding nothing of interest they cocked their legs on the wall by his head then slunk away.
We stood silent for a moment, impressed by the way that the guy had managed to slide from his perch onto the concrete without disturbing his sunglasses then grabbed a table to take out front.
“Best not wake him Rob. He’s probably got a jungle knife hidden down the front of his shorts and we know how tetchy these super troopers get if woken suddenly”, was my only comment.
I sat while Rob got the beers and as I poured them he said, ”Yea, it’s the trauma, the tension, the horror, the worry of remembering the stories. All adds up you know”, then he drank long and deep of Old Kay’s as always super chilled beer.
Then he raised his eyebrows and wondered aloud, ”I wonder if there are any Deks around?"
Dek being Thai for child, and in our peculiar vocabulary when talking to each other we would just add an ‘s’ onto the end of a Thai noun to make it plural.
Sometimes we would meet a purist and have to suffer the standard lecture on how to make plural nouns in Thai, and, would give the standard reply that we weren’t speaking Thai. We were talking Tinglish and could therefore use any goddamn form, style or function that we wanted.
“Hang on a mo…..”, he said quietly then stood and wandered away.
After a few minutes he returned and sat with a smile on his face then nodded his head in the direction of the alleyway from where muffled Dek giggles could be heard.
Raising my eyebrows in enquiry brought the reply, ”Judging by the amount of Chang inside him he won’t be waking up for a while, so I’ve bribed the Deks to apply his camouflage AKA Full Metal Jacket. After all”,
he grinned, ”A girl should never be without his make-up”.
We laughed at the thought as Wiit arrived back, handed us the newspaper then laughed again as Wiit started to calculate how much change he owed us which was generally a confusing and long winded process.
“Well," I said at length, ”At least the guy isn’t alone this season. I met some Irish guys the other night in ******* who reckoned that they were IRA on the run from the SAS and were hiding out here.
Keeping a low profile like……you know……getting blind drunk in Nana and picking fights with ladyboys. Totally underground and incognito, as one does."
“Indeedly," Rob said, ”That’s why they’re all here you know. The ‘ters like matey round the back hiding and all the other knobs here to hunt them down. I dunno, anything for the quiet life meself."
Then he brightened and continued, ”We could advertise then sell tickets to the locals and your mob could supply the hardware for the massacre. We could even take bets."
“Sorry mate. We couldn’t do it. Gambling is illegal remember?”, I replied.
But here was the germ of an idea which we could develop until lunchtime so we duly got involved with what we thought was to tell all the purported members of the U.S. Special Forces that we fell in with that the ******** bar was an Islamic extremist fund raising joint and every Brit who imagined that they were a spook or in the SAS that the ******* was an IRA money laundering operation.
Then we could sit across the way with a cold one and watch the show.
Both of these bars being owned and staffed by the cops you see. Apart from the bints that is. But then again, one never knows cos’ we are talking the Mango here…
Post lunch, Mau and Neung wandered out into the Soi and seeing us sitting there pulled up a couple of stools to join us. Neung asked who the sleeping beauty was then laughed when we said that we didn’t have a clue. Mau having noticed his make-up, asked us if we knew anything about that.
“Naw Mau, he was like that when we opened the box”, I replied deadpan.
We were interrupted by the chinking of toppling beer bottles which was followed by shuffles and farts which quickly led us to the conclusion that our Antipodean visitor had regained consciousness so sat waiting his arrival with interest.
A few minutes later he emerged into the sunlight of the Soi, stood silent for a minute while he scratched his behind oblivious to the fact that he was filthy black down one side from lying on the concrete and that his face resembled Pattern No. 10 Drunken Makeup Kit.
Mau and Neung shuddered then clamped their jaws shut before rising to run into the courtyard where the silent afternoon was rent with screams of anguished hilarity.
All he needed was a bush hat and a rifle to complete the image of a right dork on holiday.
Catching sight of us he slouched across, stood by the table and said, ”G’day mait- them Sheilas sick or something? It’s the bleddy food so it is."
“Indeed, quite”, muttered Robert working hard to keep a straight face.
“And what’s this I see before me mait?,” continued Rambo, ”Beer? Bleedin great I’ll join ye."
“No you won’t”, I said, ”We’ve got a really old fashioned system round here. What you do, is go to the old guy in the shopette there and give him 35 baht. He will then give you a bottle of nice cold beer and if you want it, a glass."
Rob nodded in agreement, "It's called the Swap Economy you see. He’s got beer. You’ve got money. You swap your money for his beer and everyone’s happy."
Rambo looked a bit undecided for a moment then began patting his shorts pockets before triumphantly producing two twenty baht notes which he duly waved at Old Kay and received a bottle of Chang in exchange.
“Good system we got here don’t you think?”, I asked him as he sat down on Mau’s unattended stool.
We couldn’t be bothered asking him which employee of the Happy House had dragged him home as we’d seen it all before on numerous occasions, so we settled for asking his name.
“G’day…Hollywood”, he said extending his hand.
At this point I got a little bit confused, perhaps the heat, perhaps the beer, but I replied, ”Eh? Hollywood is about 5,000 miles that way”, and pointed East.
“Me name you see. Hollywood”, he continued.
“Ohhhhhhh…….your folks must have been movie buffs I suppose," suggested Rob.
“Or were you conceived at a drive in?”, I offered, keeping a close sign for any potential explosion of mercenary violence: After all, getting slaughtered on a Sunday afternoon is no-one’s idea of fun. Especially when the sun is warm, the beer cold and the environment quiet.
We passed the time asking the standard questions; Was he on holiday? What hotel was he lodged in? Been here before?
Alas his answers were stock ‘join the dots comic book hero’- he’d been everywhere- done everything- knew everything. The only thing that he’d never done was learn to tell the truth.
He obviously thought that Rob and I were born sitting outside the shopette and hadn’t moved in the intervening years. (Mind you, sometimes it did feel that way.)
He gabbed away, telling us of his adventures in the Philippines, Nicaragua, and such like places while we nodded at the appropriate times whilst paying not one iota of attention to him when the mention of Laos caused my ears to prick up in anticipation of something major about to happen.
I’d spent a fair bit of time there on business and pleasure, the two being indistinguishable in that part of paradise, and was eagerly waiting to hear what he said about it.
I soon switched off as he’d obviously never been near Laos so sat content with my beer to let him burble away to an empty audience.
Robert gave my leg a tap under the table which interrupted my reverie and I noticed that he was now paying attention to what was being said which seemed to concern Rambo’s language skills.
Tagalog was a piece of piss he reckoned, and he also spoke Lao and Mien which in my considered opinion was pretty good going given that he’d never been there.
“I suppose Thai is pretty easy for you then?”, said Robert.
“Sure mait- Lao, Thai- it’s all the same really when you have an ear for it like”, he replied pushing his sunglasses up his nose to emphasise the point. (Or something).
“How ever did you learn to speak Mien?”, I asked puzzled, as Mien is an ancient language with its roots in somewhere in China and the surviving Mien population scattered around the mountain areas of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.
“We were training a bunch of them one time in counter insurgency on the Lao- Viet border and I picked it up there. Like I said mait, it’s easy when you get an ear for it”, he responded.
He then drank deeply then belched, no doubt believing that we believed his interpretation of some novel that he’d read to while away the hours in whichever dead beat job he had.
“ Prasaat”, muttered Rob under his breath. (Don’t say this to Thai people. They will probably try to kill you. Or pay someone to do it for them. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.)
Rambo looked at Rob and asked if he had a cold. Rob said he thought so then looked at me.
Then we got the martial arts stories…….”Oh, you can do origami then?”, I asked brightly.
“Do them all mait," came the unexpected reply which caused me to duck across to Kay and get another beer in case I be seen weeing myself in public.
As I regained my stool, I noticed that Rob had his hands covering his face and appeared to be shuddering which brought to mind an expression that a Lao lovely had spent many an hour teaching me in Thai.
Not that I learned much language, but we sure had fun.
“Kin tee bahn kee tee bon”, I said.
Hollywood looked at me thoughtfully but said nothing.
I repeated it, (literally, ‘Eat in the house shit on the roof” – shit in your own nest, as we would say) and got a blank look in return.
Hollywood looked at me, his eyes unseen behind the shades and said, ”What’s that you said?"
“Oh, mait……it’s Thai. I got to learn a sentence or two when I was shacked up in the boondocks in Laos with a very obliging teacher."
Silently he finished his beer then consulted his monster watch before he stood and mentioned a prior appointment.
As he walked round and into the alleyway I raised my eyebrows at Rob to consider if the guy was off to slaughter a few gooks in Patpong or Cowboy.
Rob looked at the table then said, ”I’m not a violent man Col but I was nearly cracking then. Bloody origami experts- the place is full of them these days. Christ on a bleedin’ bike”.
I smiled agreement and lit a cigarette then put my feet up on the departed Hollywood’s stool.
“Anyway," he asked, ”What was that you said? Knowing you it probably wasn’t nice."
I repeated the phrase for him then explained the importance of the pause in the middle before translating it.
He gave a hoot and slapped his thigh before saying, “How did you learn that, or shouldn’t I ask?"
“Slaving over a hot pillow with my cultural advisor mate- you know how it is," I laughed in reply.
“A bit like the one about eating shellfish eh?”, then we laughed together.
(Depending on the context – ‘kin hoi’ can be eat shellfish, or eat pussy, a right laugh if you do it deliberately in the correct company).
Shortly our heroic chum reappeared out of the alley still clad in his filthy tee shirt, sunglasses and smeared face but now wearing a pair of jeans to cover his legs and said, ”I’m off for a few beers wanna come along?"
As we weren’t in ‘come along’ mode we declined his offer but asked where he was off to.
He didn’t seem to have much of a clue as to what was where, so we suggested a nice little place that was known to be the haunt of REAL ex-Special Forces types, but we naturally didn’t tell him that. Keep it as a surprise like.
No doubt the clientele would revel in his war stories and find a kindred spirit in his experiences though I for one hoped that the war paint on his face didn’t cause too many flashbacks for his potential new drinking buddies.
We watched in silence as he trogged off up the Soi until Robert said, ”Well, he might get a chance to practise his origami in a bit….”, then tailed off as he picked up his glass.
“If he does then somebody will tell us the outcome. After all they always do……"
Unfortunately I too have heard more than my fair share of soldier of fortune stories.