The Time Machine
Khun Sorasak walked with purpose. Unlike most Thais who walk slowly and often appear to weave side to side for no apparent reason, Khun Sorasak walked briskly and straight ahead. 500 meters distant was his destination, the 58 bar. The bar was nothing special, very ordinary it contained a few cheap tables with chairs and the standard bar long enough for twelve bar stools. Dark and cool the bar offered relief from the driving sun and humidity outdoors. Khun Sorasak had worked up a light sweat by the time he entered the bar and as if on autopilot walked to the far side of the bar which offered the most privacy and isolation, and took a seat on the familiar stool.
This scene had repeated before each and every day for the last two years. Khun Sorasak rarely visited bars or even drank much before this time. Now he was a regular fixture who never talked to anyone. Most of the regulars swore he couldn’t speak at all, all he could do was mumble and point where the bottles of Lao Hai were kept until his own bottle and glass were brought to him. By his fourth glass of rice whiskey Sorasak couldn’t be reached by anyone. Every 20-30 minutes his stillness was broken as he poured himself another glass of Lao Hai, downed it with a quick movement, and became a statue until the next drink was needed.
It was an accident that I found myself in the 58 bar that day. A nail picked up from a nearby construction site had me swearing loudly when I found out that despite having my car regularly serviced, that the spare tire was never checked and it too was flat! By this time I was sweating heavily and feeling a bit weak from the exertion in the hot sun while taking in more than my share of diesel fumes. I needed out of the sun, a place to get cool while I phoned and then waited for a repair service. That first day I thought I was the only one in 58 bar besides for the old man who tended bar and the ladies in the back who cooked food and brought it to the tables. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a movement and letting my eyes adjust I first saw Khun Sorasak top off his blood alcohol level.
Khun Sorasak immediately fascinated me. Eyes that showed no life, vacant in a 1000 meter stare. Totally still, the only time he moved during that first visit was to top off and down his glass. How could anyone sit that still? He never ate, never talked, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen him go to the restroom. But what really caught my attention was that everyone accepted him being there like they would a picture on the wall, or an old dust covered beer sign that no longer worked. No one there could tell me anything about him other than he’d appear every day at about 1700, and wouldn’t move from his stool until 30 minutes prior to closing. Silently he’d suddenly stand and walk out the door leaving behind an empty bottle of Lao Hai, an empty glass, and the 200 baht for his check bin. However, what really fascinated me was that I was sure I knew him from somewhere, I just didn’t know where.
The following week I found a reason to return to 58 bar. I couldn’t stop myself, I never visited bars by myself much less an ordinary bar which serviced local Thais, but I was drawn to this place. I was drawn to the man at the dark end of the bar who never moved except to take another well timed drink from the bottle of Lao Hai. There he was, same barstool, same clothes, and the same stillness. His eyes were empty as before, still staring 1000 meters distant. Nothing changed. Except he felt familiar. Where did I know him from?
A few days later I had some time and I showed up before the time he normally shows up and drove around the area hoping I could find him close to his home. I didn’t have to wait long. I almost ran over him. He stepped out of a overgrown empty lot in a small soi like he never saw me. The man was on a mission, nothing mattered to him except making it to 58 bar and his bar stool. Stopping the car I got out and looked deeper in the empty lot and behind some trees I spotted an old metals shack like you’d see construction workers use for temporary housing. It was up against a small wall that separated the empty lot from a small well kept property with a simple house and young boy playing outside who couldn’t be more than 8-9 years old. My assistant was with me today so I asked her to come with me to the house and ask about the man who lived in the shack.
At first they didn’t want to talk to us, but when I explained my curiosity about the man at the bar who never moved I suppose they saw no harm in telling me the story. The couple who lived there was the man's sister and her husband. They explained to me Khun Sorasak used to live in the house with his family, a pretty young wife and four kids. One day he had a terrible car accident and only he and his youngest son survived. Since, he’s never been himself. They moved in to care for the young boy and the man decided to live in the shack by himself. Each day she leaves him food and 200 baht on the stoop, and shortly after eating he heads out and goes somewhere. They didn’t know where so I told them. They weren’t concerned, I’m sure they’d considered the possibilities. I asked when the accident happened and was told it would be two years in November. I’m not sure why, but this seemed important to me. Thanking them we left.
This time I didn’t sit at the table, instead I took the barstool next to him and he didn’t seem to notice. My assistant was on the other side of me watching. Studying his face I was sure I knew him, but how could I? Introducing myself had no effect, the 1000 meter stare saw right past me. I asked for a glass and glass in hand I waited. When he went to refill his glass I put mine over his and asked if I could drink with him. His eyes hard and focused just looked at me while my assistant repeated my request in Thai. Shrugging his shoulders he poured Lao Hai in my glass and still looking in my eyes he filled his own glass.
Reaching out I held his drinking arm and asked him “where do you go?”
She repeated this in Thai and he paused, looked at me and said “you can notice I’m gone?”
I shook my head yes and asked him to share his daily journey with me.
He was silent for a long while and then taking his drink he downed it quickly and said “I’m one drink closer.” He went on: “Do you know what I am sitting on?”
“Yes” I replied, “you’re sitting on a barstool.”
“No” he smirked. “To the casual observer it is indeed a barstool. But to me it is a time machine!”
I said “please go on..” And he did.
“Two years ago I was happily married with four kids and a good government position teaching at a university. My wife was beautiful, she loved me and she was my life. It was the happiest time of my life.”
Pausing he looked at me and said “do you believe in angels?”
“Maybe” I said. “Sometimes I’m not sure.”
Knowingly he nodded his head before saying “do you know that more people in the world believe in angels, than who believe in evolution?”
I considered what he said, ran some numbers though my head, and I had to agree he made an interesting point. Across most countries and religions, more people believe in angels or spirits of some type, than who believe in evolution.
He continued, confident now that I was listening from the right perspective. “Each day I come here and start drinking. After the third drink I know the time machine is warmed up, but the fourth drink I’m on my way, and by the fifth I’m there.” He stopped and there was that 1000 meter stare again.
Grasping his arm I looked at him and asked “where, where are you?”
Smiling now and with tears streaming down his unshaven cheeks he goes on: “Every day I come here and climb on my time machine. I start pouring in fuel and by the fifth glass of Lao Hai I’m there, I’m with my wife and children, I’m back where I belong, where I’m happy and my life is complete.”
Now he’s really looking at me and his eyes sharpen and his breath intakes as he grabs my forearm and holds tightly “You were there!” “I saw you there!” He’s really holding on tight now and I can feel it, but I can also feel I know him.. but where..
Directly I ask him “how exactly did you loose your wife and children?”
He tells me: “I was coming back from a birthday party almost two years ago this November with my family. I was driving down the Expressway at about 0100 and it was really dark. A taxi passed me going very fast and just as it passed me it hit the center wall, flipped over, and my car ran right into it. Other cars hit us from behind and my car flipped over and over. The emergency workers dragged me from the car and I was standing there on the asphalt looking at the bodies they’d lined up in a neat row while waiting for the hospital vans to arrive.”
Continuing: “Laying in the middle motionless, covered in blood, was my wife and three of my kids. All dead. I checked the other bodies but I couldn’t find him, so I checked back in the wreckage and I found him in the back. My youngest son was sitting there with his eyes open, unhurt, but afraid to move or make a sound. I gathered him up and the emergency workers checked us both and said we weren’t badly hurt at all. All the while my eyes kept going back to my wife and other three children so I took off my suit jacket and used it to cover her. Soon the hospital vans arrived and covered them, and then the police wanted to clean everything up really fast. Someone asked me if I wanted a ride off the Expressway and soon we were in a car. The next thing I knew we were standing near Victory Monument at about 0200, just standing there. I didn’t know what to do.”
Memories were coming back to me now, two years ago, I’d just dropped off a special friend and watched her go inside before getting back on the Don Meuang Tollway to head home. I’d been really disconnected at the time and after witnessing a particularly horrible automobile accident I’d pulled off the Expressway at Victory Monument, got out of my car almost shocked by the sound and smells that flooded over me, and just walked around in a circle. I even penned a submission about the experience called “The Big Disconnect”.
He was all there now, staring at me, eyes hard and his grip firm he almost yelled “you were there, I saw you that night walking around like you were lost. You heard my son crying and you turned around and looked at me and then you kept walking. Everyone kept walking that night. I remember the distant look on your face and when you turned around we stepped a taxi and left.. “
I remembered it all now. I remembered his son crying, both of them covered in blood, the little boy holding tightly to his pants like he’d just lost the world and this man was all he had left. I remember walking away, so many sights and sounds and I was overwhelmed at the time. I had my own memories that night, visions of some of the worst accidents I’d responded to while a police officer were going through my mind after seeing that wreck. I forced the memories from my mind and just concentrated on getting home, getting away from it all. I never stopped to think that I could have been the one to help this man and his boy. I’d just assumed I couldn’t, that a fellow Thai would stop and assist him. I should have asked. I should have tried.
Now both of had a 1000 meter stare and he’d released his grip on my arm. Filling both our glasses full of Lao Hai he leaned in with a glint in his eye and said “Do you want to know a secret?”
Only half listening I nodded yes.
He points at the barstool I’m sitting on and asks “Do you know what you’re sitting on?” He’s smiling and raising his glass towards mine in a toast.
Knowingly I say “yes, it’s my own time machine!”
Khun Sorasak is all grins now, he’s ready to take off. With a huge smile on his face he raises his glass and I join him, we both drain our glasses, he refills then, we drain them again, and he refills them again and says “farang, I’d like you to come home with me and meet my wife and kids. Will you have dinner with us?”
They kicked us off the time machines right before closing and pushed us out the door. We’d had a great time visiting his family and we’d talked and talked. His wife told him that he must not travel back to see her anymore, that his son needs him now, that his students need to learn about angels and evolution and all the things about life he could teach. Both of us knew on the way back that this would be my first and only journey on the time machine, and that it would be his last.
My assistant drove us back to his house, not the shack, but the house where his sister and her husband and his young son were waiting for us. I’m not sure how, but they said they knew we’d bring him home and that everything would be alright after we did. His son held him and the man cried, happy to be home. My assistant and I got back in the car and as she drove away I remember thinking how glad I was that this time.. that this time I took the time to stop and give this man a ride home.
Until next time..
It's nice to read a story that is original.