Boom and Bust
Before my good friend Chris died (see my story Life Goes On. Readers Submissions 13 ) I was fortunate enough to have spent some time with him in Bangkok. It was some years ago now when The Biergarten was just about the only place on Soi 7 where you could
get a drink. Unlike today it was a dark and uninviting little Soi. Corrugated fencing, that ran down one side made it even more unappealing. Overhanging trees, that surrounded a single streetlight, cast sinister looking shadows into the road.
If you were on Sukhumvit you would be inclined to just carry on walking, even more so if it was raining, unless you knew what was down there. It was on one such swishy wet night that I was there with Chris. At that time the thatched roof above
the bar just about held the rain off if you sat as close as you could to the bar itself. We sat with a couple of beers. It's hard to imagine now but the girls then were less likely to approach you as they do these days. Most encounters
seemed to come about through eye contact, and a smile, followed by a would you like a drink gesture across the bar by way of an invitation for her to join you. I once had to explain this to a lost looking guy who, after about fifteen minutes
of just sitting there, leaned over to me and asked, in a thick German accent, "Excuse me, do you speak English"?
"Yes I do", I answered, unsure of what was coming next.
"Ahhh", he said with some relief, "Zen maybe you can tell me how does it function"? Hard to believe when you look at the place now. That night with Chris I sat listlessly nursing a beer. Though I should have known better I was moping around over some bar girl. To this day I can still see Chris looking at me with disappointment as he shook his head and muttered the words "you muppet".
It's almost eight years ago since Chris died, and many more years before that since we last sat in The Biergarten together. Having just returned home, from yet another trip to Bangkok, I can feel him looking down on me now. In the silence that surrounds me, after several weeks in the city, I can almost hear his voice uttering those words once again, "you muppet". I must admit he would have a point. As once again, after all these years of dealing with them, I find myself moping around over a bar girl. After all these years I have somehow let one get to me. One that got through the cynical barrier that goes up when you spend long enough in the bars of Bangkok. One that found a chink in my armour. Whether it was by accident or design I'm not sure.
Boom was the sort of girl I almost went out and bought gold for. One rule I've always had, apart from the one that says never fall in love with a bar girl, is never to buy gold for one either. Instead I bought her a fake Rolex watch and gave her a $10,000 bill that had a picture on the front of some dodgy Fu Manchu type character. "This copy or not?" Boom wanted to know, laughing and holding it up to the light just to be sure. I never exactly said that it was, but then I never said that it wasn't either. She was 99.9% sure that it was just a worthless piece of paper but that very slight element of doubt kept the joke going for awhile as she put it in her purse rather than throw it back at me. She didn't have a watch, which is why I gave her the Rolex. "It's from a department store", I lied unconvincingly.
"You think is still working tomorrow?", she asked with a knowing smile, in no doubt that I'd bought it on the street earlier that day. She would always wear it though, and I'd often take hold of her wrist to ask if her skin had turned green before feigning a sigh of relief to see that it hadn't. I'd like to think that she'd remember me more for that and a joke $10,000 bill rather than a gold chain that would ultimately end up at the pawn shop. Maybe I'm just fooling myself.
There's nothing I could say that would describe Boom as being any different to countless other bar girls I've known. Yet, for some reason, she has somehow got right under my skin. I catch myself moping around with a head that seems to be filled with nothing but thoughts of her. I'm well aware of how pathetic this sounds. I go to bed at night and I'm thinking of her. I wake up in the morning and see a photo that she gave me, placed up on a shelf, and I'm thinking of her. I know I should move it but I can't. I don't know why it should be that she has affected me so much. But just occasionally I find that there is a connection that goes beyond the usual short time / long time encounter. There are girls I've known there for years, who I like and get on well with, but who I just don't make that same connection with. It's not something I look for, it's not something I really want, but I never see it coming until it's too late. There's never any telling which girl it's going to be either. The last time it happened was some years ago now with a girl from The Star of Light Bar. How messed up is that? If I could have chosen which girl it was going to be it wouldn't have been one from The Star of Light Bar that's for sure. As I say, just every now and again for what ever reason, there is a connection. The romantic idea of maybe having met once before in a previous life plays on my mind. But deep down, as Chris so eloquently put it on that rainy night long ago, I know I'm just a "muppet".
The Biergarten was busy on the night I met Boom. Like old times it began with eye contact and smiles across a crowded bar. Having planned to move on I left it at that for awhile. As usual one beer turned into two which turned into three. When the stool next to me became vacant I finally relented and made the gesture for her to come and join me. She shook her head and gestured to the stool next to her that had just become available. I shook my head. This game went on for awhile longer as both stools were either taken by various girls, or punters, and then vacated again. Three beers turned into four which turned into five. In the end, as I later told Boom, she reeled me in like a fish on a hook. I went to join her. Her English was good and it was nice to discover that she could sustain the conversation beyond the standard set of questions. Nothing was really arranged. We just left, after a few more drinks, to go and eat and then wandered slowly back to my room. One night with Boom turned into two which turned into three. She was equally at home sipping hi-so cocktails on a rooftop bar, looking like she belonged there with a backdrop of city lights far below, as she was sharing a jug of beer and playing pool in the bars on lower Sukhumvit. Three nights with Boom turned into four which turned into five. There was never any pretence about things. She told me up front that a few days before I was to return home some guy, that she'd known for a long time, would be arriving and that she probably wouldn't see me again after that. She knew that I went to spend a few days with Sai in Pattaya and Hua Hin. Unbeknown to Sai I'd be calling, or texting, Boom wishing I was with her. It got to the point where, if we hadn't arranged to meet up, I'd set off with the intention of a night on the town only to find that the later it got the less I could resist contacting her. Wherever I was, or whoever I was with, I'd be calling Boom to make sure I could spend another night with her. I'd always end up racing back in a taxi, or rushing to get to the skytrain, if they were still running, just to get back. One evening I was out with Nuch who is, as they say, a good girl and a good friend. I've never made any move on her and nor would I. She is a lovely sweet girl who doesn't deserve that. She likes going out for dinner with me as much as I do with her. We were out somewhere in Bang Khen enjoying a meal as a live band played. It's usually her who suggests when it's time to leave as she's the one who has to get up for work the next morning. On this particular night temptation, once again, proved to be too much and I secretly called Boom. I felt a little bad later looking back as I must have been on the edge of my seat asking for the bill before Nuch had finished her drink. Of course at that point the band then started playing some old Thai favourites, that she really liked, just as I was urging her to drink up so I could drop her back home in a taxi and get back to Sukhumvit. "I like dis song", I remember her saying, while looking back over her shoulder at the band, as I herded her towards the exit.
I knew by then that Boom had got to me. I'd realized it the evening before when we'd arranged to meet at our usual place. I'd fallen asleep in my room around dusk. A call from Boom woke me up to say that she was on the skytrain and was on her way. I really liked the fact that she was always on time, which is very unusual, and I didn't want to be the one that was late. In a rush to get dressed, pick up my wallet, turn off the TV, grab my key and leave I found myself coming out of the lift into reception carrying the TV remote instead of my key. The girl on the desk looked a little puzzled thinking that there must have been something wrong with it. I tried to explain that there was no problem, I'd just bought it with me by mistake. It was another five minutes before someone could come back up to open my door and retrieve the key.
"What did you do to me Boom??, I would ask as we lay there in bed.
"What I do?", she wanted to know, "I do nothing", she would say while wrapping herself around me. "I do something wrong or what"?
"No Boom you do everything right and that's the problem", I'd tell her. Inevitably the time came when there were no more nights together. The other guy had arrived. I've been there more than enough times to know how the game is played and if you can't accept it then you shouldn't be playing the game in the first place. "I'm sorry", she said, just before leaving, "You must understand what I do."
"I do understand Boom but that doesn't mean that I have to like it", I replied. She promised to try and see me one more time if she could. A few days later she called and came over for some afternoon delight. She'd got away under the pretence of going back to her room to pack some things ready for a trip down to the coast with him. Though we kept in touch that was the last time I saw her.
Before arriving in Bangkok I found myself in London. It was one of those bitterly cold, colourless December days. The sort of day where it seems to start getting dark at around 2 o'clock in the afternoon. The unusual combination of having time on my hands, a couple of beers down my neck, and some early Christmas bonus in my pocket led to an enjoyable couple of hours in the company of a Brazilian working girl. Maria turned out to be a lot of fun and, to my surprise, we exchanged a few texts in the days before I left for Bangkok. For the few weeks I was in Thailand I was even more surprised to find that she was sending me e-mails, with photos attached, telling me how cold it was in London and wishing me well in Thailand.
Back home from my trip, with nothing but thoughts of Boom in my head, I came up with the bright idea of a return visit to Maria. It's an idea I look back on now that I know would have amused Chris. In an effort to get over a Thai bar girl I'd decided I was going to visit a Brazilian hooker. I called Maria and we spoke as though I'd known her for years. It was arranged that I would see her the following Saturday. On the Tuesday my heart sank when I received a text saying sorry but she had got a last minute deal and was going back to Brazil for six weeks on Friday. I called in sick on the Thursday and went to see her. "Guess who came here yesterday"?, she said. I'd only just arrived and was barely through the door.
"I don't know. Who"?
"Hollywood movie star?" she whispered, as she kissed me on the cheek. "I can not believe it when I open my door", she said, pulling me excitedly towards her computer to show me photos of him, on the red carpet, at a London film premier a week or so before. Maria was hardly the soul of discretion. Just in case I was in any doubt about what she was telling me she grabbed her phone to show me his mobile phone number in New York. Unlike her I'm not going to name the guy here. It was what she told me later that struck more of a chord. The sorry tale of one of her "customers" who, it appears, had fallen for her and was falling apart as a result. Maria also has a little part time job, that she goes to everyday, and which she appears to enjoy as much as she does when working from home. "He wants me to stop working", she said. He obviously had a high flying job. She wasn't interested in the offer. "He calls me everyday", she said, with some exasperation, "and now he can not eat, he can not sleep, he's off sick from work because he can't stop thinking about me". The words "you muppet", echoed in my mind.
"What do you think"? Maria asked.
"I know how he feels", was all I could say.
My home sits under a blanket of the worst winter snow for twenty years. As I write Boom is sitting on a beach on Koh Samui with the same guy who arrived while I was in Bangkok. "You miss me or not?" she asks, as she always does whenever I call.
"You have no idea how much", I tell her. I wish her a happy birthday and we chat for a while. I hear the sound of waves. In my mind I picture her there on golden sands, the shady palms in bright sunshine, the deep blue waters of The Gulf. The image I have is in sharp contrast to the Siberian like landscape just outside my window. "What did you do to me, Boom"? I ask.
"What I do"? she laughs, "I do nothing. You think I do something wrong or what?" It's good to hear her voice and the way she phrases certain things. But in the end I somehow end up feeling worse than I did before I called.
Redundancy looms, as it does for many people, and the future looks bleak. I receive e-mails from Maria in "sunny Brazil" with the promise of photos to follow "soon" taken at the beach. She tells me how hot it is. I send her a photo of a snowman, that some kids had made outside earlier that morning, joking about what she's missing here in England. As I click on send, and sit back, I can't help but wonder how I ever reached a point in my life where I'm visiting a Brazilian hooker in order to get over a Thai one and end up missing them both.
Yep, these women sure can get under your skin…