Tim was dead. There was no doubting that the body was both Tim and that he was dead. Not one of death’s acrobats, no severed or twisted limbs, no parts missing, and no bloody abysses. There really wasn’t much to see. He lay there on the
morgue slab both Tim and death joined, a one centimetre deep indentation two centimetres above his brow and running from the corner of one eye socket to the other.
In life Tim never looked more like himself than he did lying dead on the morgue’s slab. The living often try far too hard to be themselves and become instead through hurried exertion mere caricatures of themselves. Tim never tried to hard at that or anything else for that matter. He was, however, always in a rush – he wasn’t now and wouldn’t be again.
So Tim was now lined up with all the other dead with nothing more to do or say but to wait silently, immobile and mute and, if lucky, have others think of them and say “what would they have thought of that?”
How had it come to this, Tim dead on the morgue slab in Bangkok in 1997 with a seven centimetre long indentation in his forehead?
Patpong, July 1997.
Someone with a sense of accuracy, though not perhaps with a sense of humour, had named the bar “Cozy Bar”. Up Patpong 1 on the left hand side about 150 meters up the Soi from Silom in what is now a leather hand bag shop, Cozy Bar nestled a door or two from what is still a short-time hotel. It might be argued whether the bar was cozy, but it couldn’t be argued that it was tiny. A front door, a line of 7 or 8 stools pulled up against the bar with just enough room between the stools and wall behind to force you to be more than intimate with other patrons on your five step journey to the single-hole toilet at the back.
The Cozy bar staff were friendly enough lot; personable and solicitous if you had your wits about you. If not, you were screwed. One friend of mine who had and has tendency to fall asleep in bars, any bar, after having had one or twenty too many Klosters, was the grateful recipient of this solicitousness. Four AM closing time and workers wanted home. Unable, though not without trying, to rouse the patron, it was decided to lock him in the bar and come back the next afternoon after which it was hoped he would have learnt his lesson. You might be thinking that locking a full time drinker in a bar overnight is something less than punishment. You are right. By the time the staff returned the next afternoon to open shop, forty Klosters were gone and the patron had even been able to smash and bang on the locked door until a good-willed passer-by had kindly and benevolently slipped a packet of Krung Thip cigarettes under the door. Punishment indeed.
As in all bars, as perhaps in all places in Thailand, there were moments when the cold hard light of mortality comes crashing through your bonhomie instilling a feeling in your gut not dissimilar to being told that you have terminal cancer – the distance between a good time and mortal dread is always closer than you anticipate in this part of the world. One such evening a man dressed in Brown staggered into Cozy. Drunkenly waving his hand above his head he ordered his drink and, in the time between his order and having the drink placed before him, he pulled from his holster a large silver automatic handgun that he also began waving. Alternately waving beer and gun: gun to bar – beer to mouth, beer to bar – gun waving drunkenly like a staggering booze hound trying to piss straight.
The only thing worse than your own dread is having that dread confirmed by that of those around you – no safety in numbers, but rather mortal fear intensified. There was no escape from the gun or the fear. It seemed a bad idea to try squeezing past the incoherent Brown clad gun bearer with his mumbled grudges on all things living. The door was a door too, too far away. Had anyone walked into the bar at this moment they may not at first have noticed the Brown clad man with gun, but they surely would have wondered at the impeccably quiet manners of the patrons.
Tim didn’t die the night of the Brown clad man, but a few nights later, and the Brown clad gun wielder, after an hour or so, sauntered off into the night to remind others of the immanence and closeness of their deaths.
Three days later there was a celebration, a celebration for the impending nuptials of Tim and the women he had met four years earlier whilst at university in Australia. Nothing out of the ordinary, and nothing particularly drunken, the closeness of death and the bile of dread brought upon us by the presence of the Brown clad man long gone. Tim left at around eleven, purposely not saying where he was going.
We never did find out where he was going but we did find out how he was trying to get there – by motorcycle over Saphan Taksin. This, the police informed us the next afternoon, was where Tim had died at 11:15. Saphan Taksin is an arched concrete bridge and, speeding up the incline, there was little time to see that a truck hauling I-Beams had stopped just over the crest. The collision hadn’t splintered or broken the helmet, but it had forced the helmet back into Tim’s forehead. The helmet had worked at precisely the moment that his brain didn’t.
So there we were that next afternoon at the morgue with Tim looking more like himself than he ever had in life. But for the absolute stillness it could have been a joke, an improbable farce. It wasn’t, he was surely dead.
So Tim was now lined up with all the other dead with nothing more to do or say but to wait and, if lucky, have others think of them and say “what would they have thought of that?” On Friday June 29 I’ll go for a drink, take a look around, and think to myself “what would Tim have thought of that?”.
Morbid, but great penmanship.