That Was A Friday Evening
That was a Friday evening. After office I didn’t have anything else to do and in times like that I always felt a sense of vacuum which I do enjoy for it does not loom like a well planned activity ridden future. It gives me a sense of freedom. I can just go wherever I want to of course within Bangkok. Even then just roaming around in Silom or Sukhumvit or just going to a book store, watching the variegated nature of the passer by crowd relaxes the knots created by the week long hectic work schedule. And in those moments, before the long shadows of the buildings from both sides of the narrow lane, where I lived, had started settling down like a nocturnal beast, I felt claustrophobic, out of breath and utterly lonely. A longing for more light, more people, automatically drove me towards the touristy parts of the city.
When the taxi was over Taksin Bridge, crawling in dense Friday traffic, I saw darkening clouds and the snaking of lightning like faraway silver serpents on the horizon. And the tremulous ribbons of light spaced with stripes of darkness from dinner cruise boats and the sprawling city on both sides of the river, brought dark yet intoxicating possibilities of a Friday evening for a man alone, in the city of a million angels. Knowing this country well, for a weak hearted person like me, I knew how quickly a couple of beers together with a casual conversation can turn into a deep emotional affair. It happened to me many times. Some of them left ineffaceable scars whereas others with time drifted away into oblivion. Yet these evenings, in this city, always attracted me like a moth towards flame. Sometime I think this city has a mind of its own. It is not just a jungle of myriad buildings and roads; it is a living thing with all the smell, all the lights and darkness which somehow in a crooked diabolical scheme had drawn me up into its darkest part of the heart from where there was no escape.
Almost perpetually arrested in the grid lock of traffic, the taxi driver switched on the radio. For the first couple of seconds it emitted a jerky crackle of jumbled up indistinguishable sounds of musical instruments and a female voice followed by a hollowness of a transoceanic phone call which gradually gained a sonic dimension of a banal Thai folk song. I requested him in a mixture of Thai and English to reduce the volume. He turned back and looked at me with a beaver like smile on an alcohol saturated oily face without any visible effort to adjust the volume. The song continued to entertain him in the same volume which surely was turning every brain cell of mine into charcoal. Then I stretched forward like a crane in order to reduce the volume by myself. That worked. Before I touched the knob, the sound was reduced to a level that can be called an amicable compromise.
Near Surasak BTS station I threw myself out of the taxi after shoving a hundred Baht note in the driver’s hand without asking for a change. While going up the escalator I noticed one more time the skeleton of the desolate high rise building on my left, a grim reminder of the last economic collapse in this country. Ever since I moved to this city, I saw this building in exactly the same condition every time I had gone past it to Sukumvit or one of many farang destinations, with its bare concrete columns rising skyward in a futile attempt to touch a non-existent roof, protruding spaghetti of thin rods, scattered heaps of raw bricks and concrete slabs resting aslant like the exposed entrails of a man blown apart by a land mine, and wondered without somebody demolishing the structure for how long it would continue to occupy that patch of land right in the middle of a busy office area at the heart of the city. Then in the very next moment I shrugged off the despondent imageries and the related thoughts as just another inscrutable aspect of this country and its people.
As the motion of the train settled into a comfortable rhythm, the storm, which had been gathering its momentum in the horizon, broke out with a sudden deluge. Through the thick sheet of rain water flowing over the window panes, I could only see the faint traces of demonic lights of the city outside in a coppery darkness like the remnant of lost Atlantis in the depth of an ocean. Inside the train the air was heavy with an interesting blend of odors from sweat, chewing gum, perfumes and man’s deodorant. Mostly people were silent, reading books or trying to get a quick nap except the group of teenagers circled around a pole along with me, like cluster of soap bubbles. One of the girls reminded me of Ana, Ana Julia of Rio De Jeniro city, a Brazilian bar girl, an exotic petite Brunet, I had ever loved. I looked at her face again. Her youthful olive skin glistened under the overhead light. In a sudden jerk of laughter her long dark eye lashes clasped together in a line with the quality of a Japanese brush stroke and they opened again to reveal her two curious little eyes.
With Ana, probably that part of the world had gone from my life forever. I sighed. Thoughts evoked memories and without me knowing they transported me back to the nights on Copa Cabana, under the bright fluorescent light and a dark ocean at repose with only gentle wavelets slapping on the beach afar, I probably had spent some of the best moments of my life. There was no chance of a future with Ana from the very beginning. There was only present. We both lived together in those moments in such intense pleasure and joy as though we both knew time was short, as it would all come to an end one day. Although she had told me at the beginning “In case if you are thinking of a life with me I should let you know that I like this life at bar” yet I had hoped over time things will change. Lesson learned, you can only change yourself if you try, not others. And with that I also had learned how to move on in life.
From the fact that she was standing next to me, I was sensing the warmth of her body. For couple of times our arms touched each other by the swaying motion of the train. There was something different in that touch which brought me back from Ana to Fon. It is difficult to point out what it was; may be a sense of tentativeness which I had experienced in Fon. There is a world of difference between a Thai and a Brazilian woman where Fon was more like a flower and Ana like a fruit.
I had met Fon in Pattaya. I remembered when we were alone back in the hotel room, where tired afternoon sun was dozing here and there on the wall in irregular patches, filtered through the leaves of a tree outside, leaned over the window, she whispered in my ear “I am shy”. Her lips were so close to my ear that I could feel her moist breath on my face. Even in that darkness, I could see her eyes closed, like a rabbit she was trying not to see my face.
“How do you work in bar if you are so shy?” I enquired.
“I am like that. I am ok in bar but shy here in room with a man”
“You are one crazy lady” I said then asked “Why?”
“You talk too much. I already told you” clearly she was mildly vexed.
“You talk too less” I laughed.
“Yes, that is true. My friend says that I am like my father” the voice of that taciturn lady was deeply nostalgic. I gently combed her very long hair which flowed down beyond her waist, with my fingers and told “From where did you get this so beautiful hair?”
“Do you like?”
“Very much” I dipped my nose and sniffed her hair again for that familiar yet unknown fragrance which always made my heart warm.
Then she took my hand into the moist soft grip of her palm, felt the calluses of my finger with her thumb and gave it a cautious kiss. Then in a contended voice she told “I will never cut my hair”
“That will make me happy for ever” I gave a euphoric reply.
Then I noticed for the first time her face glowing with a smile full of pride, affection and sense of hope. In the coppery lights of dusk, sipping through the foliage outside, then we made love for the first time, and fell asleep exhausted by the happiness. When I got up, she was still sleeping, with her honey-hued body ensconced in the blanket and silky black strands of hair spreading all over the pillow. Why didn’t I meet her before, even before she had joined bar, I asked myself.
Suddenly the train entered a station burrowing through the downpour. It was Silom. I got down for changing to a train on Sukumvit line. While walking diagonally to the other side of the platform, I watched from a distance the departing train, as the lighted windows flew by in one continuous stripe, punctuated by the streaks of falling rain. And when the train was gone, the empty expanse of the tracks fanned out of the station into the darkness afar. Suddenly the station felt almost empty except the occasional bouts of sound muffled by the storm from Patpong down below. The billboards on either side looked like vapor of varicolored lights and down on the Silom road ripples ran across the bright surface of puddles dappled by heavy drops of rain. A Thai couple holding each others hand came out of Silom Central and probably hearing the violent thud of rain on the station roof, uttering a faint “Oh” in a sterile dismay, hurriedly went back through the gap of still closing glass door. I realized all the while Fon had been living in a very deep recess of my mind and tonight’s rain just melted and washed away all the layers of mud been deposited by time to unearth all the secret scrolls of memories of the time we had spent together. She was from Surin I remembered.
“What is special about Surin?” once I had asked.
“Elephant show” she gave a short answer.
“For that you don’t have to go to Surin” I said.
She looked bemused.
“Well you have one right here in front of you ready for a show, isn’t it?”
She laughed in silence nodding her head. “How is Surin?” I asked.
“I like. When I stay there, I get up very early with my father and go to farm” as she was describing her life in Surin as a daughter of a rice farmer, my mind started to paint discrete fragments of her daily life spontaneously. I never been to Sureen, but I had been to other parts of Issan. I had seen father and daughter walking along a narrow aisle covered with over grown weeds threaded through the lush green rice fields to their lean-tos when the first light of dawn had barely touched the faraway bamboo groves and temple spires, yet it was amusing to conjure up an image of this very girl whom I had seen in powder caked face under assorted neon lights, was walking with her father on a lonesome village road.
“What about here?” I asked.
“I sleep all the time; this place makes me lazy” she giggled.
“That may be because here you sleep very late every night” I said.
“May be. Don’t ask me too many questions about my life. My friends know me well, so they don’t talk so much like you with me. I like to be quiet”
“I want to know you” I said.
“What do you want to know about me?”
“Your mind, your heart, your life; everything about you” I said.
“Why?” I noticed a tense expression on her face.
“Why do you always have to ask ‘Why’, instead why cannot you just tell me”
For a moment there was an extraordinary stillness as if both of us had lost our voices and then she broke into a convulsive sob which gradually filled me with a sickening sadness which probably was the reflection of my own past. A sense of fear and helplessness knotted in my throat apprehending “Here we are, two of us, with the unhappiness of our past, came together to share love but instead sharing only what we have that is loneliness”.
“You don’t have tell if you are uncomfortable”
“Ok” she said in a tear choked voice.
Then after the effervescence of raw human emotion had gradually appeased the narration of her life-story began which you all can easily envision.
Unlike Ana, Fon wanted to change. And I had encouraged her to change. "Even though she is a bar girl she has the tender heart of a woman. If she can love her family why can't she love me?" I told myself. But what I had thought as just one more step before we could be together had turned out to be a series of long arduous ascends. It was painful indeed to watch her life drifting away into the dark alleys of Pattaya, from where there was no return. Lesson learned, in this part of the world it is not always up to the lady to decide how her life would be but her family. And along with that I learned I have to be responsible for myself first before anybody else.
When the train arrived at Nana, it was still raining, although the intensity of it had diminished into a steady drizzle. All over the platform farang and Thai ladies paired together were trapped by the rain, save a Seikh in a red turban. Hands clasped, eyes locked on each other’s face, they were all set for the perilous journey of love. I knew for them it was the moment to cherish when still the love smitten smiles hadn’t dried up. "I am familiar with loneliness and anyone who is would know even if their love is an illusion, their happiness is still true and precious so let them have it. Who knows how long even a true love would last in this world of extreme uncertainties," I told myself.
Then I did what I always had done. I stopped by the stall of “Green Music” to exchange an ephemeral yet warm earthy smile with the lady; then bought a bottle of chilled lemon grass juice from the juice vendor along with another exchange of hearty smile. Now I could hear the loud music and drone of a boisterous crowd from the soi below. I knew I was one of them. Suddenly my heart pounded on my rib cage in a familiar pattern; in a known anticipation. I rushed down to the soi where I knew somebody would be waiting for me while the weeping nature still continued to perform the hymn of passion and love for the trapped ones.
Comments to follow. I am out of Bangkok today.