How To Say Goodbye
It was one of those days when the air was filled with a kind of sparkling electrical tension and a strong wind was pushing billowing clouds over the darkened sea, when I told my household manager: "Listen, we have to talk about a serious problem."
"As you like," she answered with the typical disdain of Thai women for having plans to operate from.
"You know, the day will come, when you open one morning the door to my bedroom, and the person you see there stretched out is no longer me, it is just a lifeless shell."
"Impossible," she contradicted.
"Human beings are mortal. My father is dead, both my grandfathers, all the four of my great grandfathers and many of their ancestors. You yourself went to Buriram by the end of March to look for your parents' graves."
"Cannot compare. Mother was very ill, father smoked too much. You do not smoke."
"I do not think it might come soon, but it will come one day and I want you to be prepared for that day."
"What do you want me to do then?"
"I wish that you would go to the temple on the other side of the soi and ask the monks to bring a cheap casket, put me into it and burn me in their crematory before the sun goes down."
"Why not? They burn people many evenings, and I like to see how the brown smoke disperses over the blue sea."
"You cannot burn people at will. You need a death certificate."
"Maybe an official from the Tambon can come over, have a look at my corpse and sign the necessary papers."
"You do not exist for the local authorities, because you are officially a non-resident of Thailand."
Here she was right. I had never felt the need to register with the immigration because I was not allowed to stay longer than ninety days in the country. Still I was in favour of visiting the abbot and giving him a down payment for my burial. To get certificates of any kind is possible in this country. (Calvino – in Moore's novel "The Spirit House" – has no problems burning his friend in a well known temple in Bangkok.)
"You must learn to understand Thai ways and customs better," she continued. "The management of your condo will never allow that you die in this place."
"They cannot prevent it."
"I tell you what will happen on the day when we find you stiff on your bed. They will call an ambulance and take you to the hospital as if you were still alive. Then the hospital will discover that you are deceased and they will call your embassy to take care of your body and pay all expenses, especially for your post-mortem examination because the police wants to be sure that you have died of natural causes and not been poisoned."
"I do not want to be cut into pieces when I am dead and put on cold storage. That is why I want the monks to take care of my remains. What is so wrong with my body taken out in a casket from here?"
"You do not believe in ghosts, I know. We believe. We are sure that after your death your ghost will miss your body terribly and run amok at the place where you left it. Therefore the room in which you died will be haunted by your ghost and cannot be resold or rented out. That would be a great loss of value for this condo. By bringing you to the hospital we make your ghost follow the ambulance and forget about this place here."
"But I want my ghost to enjoy the seashore with the flapping of the waves on the stone steps, the palm trees moving with the wind and the red sunsets between the islands on the horizon."
"Don't you know, when you are dead, you will turn into an angry ghost, because you have lost the pleasure of living here and we will have to pacify you with a lot of sacrifices in the spirit house?"
I was not able to disprove her, because I had not yet picked up enough experience in being dead.
I had just read in a Bulletin Board that Farangs who had chosen to retire to the Land of Smiles were hoping for a peaceful end in the country of their last abode. Now I saw complications.
Finally my household manager asked me: "Now that we have talked about all this, may I ask you for a favour?"
"Yes, of course, what is it?"
"If you feel one day quite sure that you will be going to die, can you please take the next plane from the airport home to the West, so that you can die there and save us from the trouble of disposing of your body?!"
So funny, but I have no doubt that it is totally true!