A Shared Sunset
Part 1 – An Englishman abroad
I shall never forget the day I met the girl on the beach and we shared the sunset together!
I had arrived alone in Koh Samet two days earlier, and was staying in a small beachside bungalow rented for the week. My plan was to chill out for a few days; sunbathing, swimming, eating simple Thai food, drinking a few cold beers and may be smoking a little locally sourced weed. I had brought with me a selection of paperbacks, including several Wilbur Smith and James Clavell novels; two of my favourite authors.
It was just after six o’clock in the evening and I knew the sun would set in fifteen minutes time. The intense heat of the day was already waning. A short time earlier, a light breeze began gusting off the sea, cooling the land. I was sitting in a cane chair on the veranda of my bungalow. My bungalow was built on wooden stilts, four feet or so above the golden sandy beach below. I had just put aside the book I was reading to fetch another cold Chang from the refrigerator. This was my favourite time of the day on the island. I planned to watch the imminent sunset before retreating inside for a shower, hopefully avoiding the worst of the mosquitoes that unfailingly appear during the 30 minutes or so after sundown. Then I looked out to sea and saw the girl!
The girl was standing waist deep in the sea, about 20 yards out from where I sat. She was looking directly at me. A small whimsical smile played across her lips, accentuating her ethereal beauty. I guessed that she originated from the North of the country, most probably from Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai. The girl stood about five feet six inches tall, significantly taller than the Issarn working girls I had seen earlier in Bangkok. I noted her skin colour was much lighter than those of her compatriots from the North East. She had a smooth creamy complexion that resembled a porcelain doll. Her eyes were dark brown, almost doe like, but with a piercing intensity indicating perhaps a touch of amber. The girl’s hair was long and jet black. As she advanced towards me I could see that it extended down her back, almost to her waist. She wore a royal blue chiffon wrap over her shoulders, offset by an ivory bikini cut to show off the soft curves of her firm body to maximum effect. It struck me later that my introduction to the girl mirrored that of Sean Connery’s character when he first encountered Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) in the James Bond film Dr No.
Although I booked my trip to Thailand some ten months earlier, I came very close to cancelling it. Indeed, I had only made a firm decision to travel a few days previously. My fiancée and I had just bought a house together and were planning a tropical beach Island wedding. We both liked the idea of buying a wedding package whereby we could delegate all the hassle of organising the event to someone else, setting us free to relax and indulge ourselves. Our work commitments were such that it was difficult to find a time when we could both take four weeks leave of absence. However, after some protracted negotiations with our respective employers a mutually acceptable date was eventually found. Once agreement had been reached, I booked our plane tickets with Thai Airways immediately so as to avoid any subsequent backsliding by my boss.
Sometime later, and after conducting a little preliminary research online, my fiancée took a day off work to visit several travel agents with a view to arranging a suitable wedding and accommodation package. Tragically, she was involved in a car accident on the way home and never regained consciousness. The other driver was an 18 year old schoolboy. He had only held a full driving licence for three weeks. It transpired that the boy had bunked off school, taking his mother’s car and three friends to a bar for a liquid lunch. The combination of alcohol, inexperience and a desire to show off to his mates proved fatal. The police told me later the boy was driving way too fast. As he negotiated a bend in the road he clipped the kerb and lost control of the vehicle. The boy’s car then careered across the carriageway, colliding head-on with my fiancée’s car travelling in the opposite direction. As well as my fiancée, the boy’s front seat passenger was also killed in the accident. One of his rear seat passengers, just 16 years old, was thrown from the vehicle and broke his back. The doctors say this boy will be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. The schoolboy driver was subsequently convicted of causing death through dangerous driving, with excess alcohol being an aggravating factor. He was jailed for seven years, but his punishment gave me no satisfaction. It won’t bring back my fiancée. Just one more young life ruined as a legacy of the crash!
Although some may think it strange, I finally decided that I should go Thailand because I didn’t want to allow this tragedy to affect my life anymore than it had already done so. I also felt, again perhaps perversely, that I needed to make the trip to obtain closure, as this was the last thing my fiancée and I had planned to do together. Perhaps I just needed to escape?
My first day in Bangkok was memorable, but not in a good way! The flight was delayed, so I did not arrive at my hotel until nearly midnight. I was standing outside my room, key in hand, when I heard a commotion emanating from a room just down the corridor. Suddenly the door was flung open and a young Thai bargirl catapulted into the wall opposite. A large man followed her out into the corridor. Although I normally prefer to avoid stereotyping, I can only describe him as a caricature of the western whoremonger so despised by feminists worldwide. He had small mean piggy eyes; and was bald, morbidly obese, tattooed, dirty, severely sunburned, red-faced, and smelled strongly of alcohol and stale tobacco. I noted that Khun Moo (Mr Pig) was dressed in shorts and a tee-shirt that ended somewhere north of his belly button. The belligerent bellows rising from Khun Moo’s lungs indicated he was very, very angry. The terrified bargirl failed to make good her escape in time and a looping punch caught her on the side of the head. The bargirl collapsed in a heap on the floor with a big red welt rising from her cheek and a trickle of blood running out of one nostril. What happened next truly shocked me! Khun Moo walked slowly towards the bargirl, unzipping his fly as he did so. On reaching the bargirl, he unleashed a copious stream of steaming urine over her head and upper torso. When at last he had finished, Khun Moo nodded to himself satisfied, tossing the bargirl a green 20 Baht note. “I nearly forgot to leave you a tip”, he said nastily. “Cray-zee man, not Lek’s fault you boom-boom cannot”, the bargirl screeched indignantly.
Whilst all this was going on, I had been routed to the spot, horrified. At last I regained my senses, stepping forward with the intention of helping the bargirl and perhaps taking my chance to aim a couple of well placed kicks towards Khun Moo bloated mid-drift. At this precise moment the bellhop arrived with my luggage. On noticing the bellhop, Khun Moo extracted another banknote from the bankroll in his pocket. This one was purple! “Get her out of here”, he growled menacingly at the bellhop, thrusting the 500 Baht banknote in his general direction. The trolley with my luggage on it was abandoned as the bellhop attended to the bargirl. Khun Moo then backed away slowly towards his room. As a parting gesture he lifted one elephantine leg and farted loudly, sniffing the air contently before slamming the door.
As I unloaded my luggage from the trolley, I reflected on what I had just witnessed. Whatever one’s opinion of the bar scene in Thailand (i.e. whether the men prey on the girls, or vice versa), it should be recognised that it attracts a number of unbalanced and frankly dangerous individuals. Not just the customers; but also the bargirls, the bargirls’ families and Thai boyfriends, the bar owners and their mama-sans, and especially the unsavoury characters that hang around on the periphery of the industry providing miscellaneous services such as security and finance. I remember reading that the mass murderers Steve Wright and Derrick Bird both had connections with Thai bargirls!
After my unpleasant welcome to Bangers, frankly I was not minded to linger any longer than was strictly necessary. I did remain in the city for a few more days to do a little shopping and sightseeing. Then with almost indecent haste, I found myself on a mini-bus bound for the calm and tranquillity of Koh Samet.
Part 2 – The sunset
The girl stood by the five rickety wooden steps leading up to the veranda of my bungalow. I smiled down at her. She climbed the stairs to join me. I pulled up a second chair for the girl to sit on and offered her a cold beer. The girl indicated that she would prefer water.
I was curious as to whether the girl was on the Island with friends. She was alone. The girl sensed I was a kindred spirit and wished to share the sunset with me. She didn’t press me as to whether or not I was also alone. It seemed she already knew!
As the sun slipped over the horizon, the cloudless blue sky turned gold and then to red. When darkness eventually fell, the sky was illuminated by an enormous full moon. The moon was complimented by hundreds of bright twinkling stars, not dulled through light pollution from the city. Out to sea, I could make out several small pinpricks of light grouped together, indicating the presence of fishing boats. It was the most perfect sunset I had ever witnessed. The mosquitoes that had plagued me on previous evenings were conspicuous by their absence. There was silence between us. Although the girl and I were complete strangers, I felt a closeness and companionship that I had not enjoyed since the death of my fiancée. I sensed the girl felt the same way!
The girl didn’t probe, but I felt compelled to tell her. I knew it was what she wanted! I held back nothing of the events that had brought me to Thailand. Not only what had happened to me, but also my inner feelings. I’m not ashamed to say that I shed a few tears. When I paused or stumbled over my words, she would hold me in her arms, comforting me until I was able to continue. I sensed, in fact I was certain that her life had also been touched by tragedy!
Later, we went into the bungalow and made love. It was the most natural and beautiful thing I have ever done. Afterwards, I found that the emptiness and sadness that had taken over my life had been lifted from my shoulders. I stroked the girl’s cheek and thanked her in the only way that seemed fitting. “You have set me free”, I whispered tenderly. “And you have set me free too”, was the message I received back from her!
Much later, I was awakened by the sunlight streaming in through the windows. I looked for the girl but she was gone. Despite our intimacy, I realised that I did not know her name!
Part 3 – The Girl’s story
My bungalow was one of 20 or so in the beach development, administered through an on-site office. A small restaurant and bar was provided for use by patrons. The bar and restaurant was also open to any passing trade.
Once I had showered and dressed, I sought out the owner / manager who was pottering around the bar area, a favoured place where he was often to be found. Sombat was a Thai man in his mid-fifties. He was an amiable enough individual who would usually make time to chat to his guests, even though his English was not too good. I hailed him, to ask whether he had seen the girl with whom I had shared the sunset. I was surprised that Sombat seemed worried by my apparently innocuous question. As I described the girl and the manner of our meeting, Sombat’s demeanour changed from concern to fear and open hostility. “Farang ask too many question”, he spat angrily. “Farang should leave Island!” On that note Sombat turned his back on me and stalked off to his office.
I repaired to the restaurant to collect my thoughts and ordered breakfast from the pretty waitress who was serving the tables. To my surprise, it was Sombat and not the waitress who returned with my coffee, which he served without further comment. He also left two newspaper clippings on my table. The first clipping was taken from a copy of the Bangkok Post published eight years ago. I was startled to be confronted by a picture of my sunset girl, dressed exactly as I had seen her. I read the accompanying text with mounting horror. It transpired that she had committed suicide by walking into the sea from this very spot. The second clipping was a follow-up story written about five years later. The more recent article documented a number of reported sightings of her spirit, usually seen around sunset.
I became aware that the pretty waitress had returned and was nervously hopping from one foot to another. She clearly wanted to talk to me. “Did you know this girl”, I asked her gently?
“Yes, Noi was my older sister”, the pretty waitress replied. “Please tell me what happened last night”.
Trying to suppress an uncomfortable feeling of déjà vu, I invited the pretty waitress to sit with me. I told her the whole story, omitting only our love making. I noticed Sombat hovering in the background, but he made no attempt to intervene, or to join us. When I had finished, I asked the pretty waitress who I now knew as Nit, if she could tell me what made Noi decide to end her life. A solitary tear run down Nit’s cheek. I put a protective arm around her shoulder to comfort her – more déjà vu. Nit made no attempt to pull away!
Nit told me that her sister Noi had just graduated from university. Noi was very much in love and engaged to be married. To celebrate the end of their studies; Noi, her fiancée and a small group of their university friends had travelled to the Island. Noi’s fiancée would soon turn 23. Noi knew her fiancée loved the sea; so as a birthday treat she hired a crewed boat for a day’s swimming, sunbathing and fishing. On the day of the boat trip, Noi went down with a mild dose of food poisoning. Although not serious, it prevented Noi from making the trip. Noi’s fiancée offered to stay with her on the Island, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She told him to go off with their friends and enjoy himself. Noi was certain she would feel better by the time they returned. She had arranged a sunset birthday party to take place that evening when they would barbeque any fish caught during the boat trip.
Sadly, Noi’s fiancée and his friends did not live to attend his sunset birthday party. A violent storm blew up without warning and their boat was lost at sea with all hands.
Noi remained on the Island unable to accept the loss of her fiancée. Exacerbated by survivor’s guilt and her responsibility (as she saw it) for what had happened, Noi’s depression became ever deeper. She convinced herself that if she waited long enough, then surely her fiancée would return from the sea to her arms. Every day Noi would walk waist deep into the sea at sunset calling for her fiancée. Noi’s younger sister Nit travelled to the Island to be with her sister, and to help her through her depression and loss. Nit eventually had to take a waitressing job at the restaurant to support them both. One evening Noi walked into the sea and did not return. Noi’s body was washed-up three days later. The body of her fiancée was never found!
Nit had given up her own university place to look after her older sister. After Noi’s death, Nit had remained on the Island unsure as to what she might do with her life. Nit’s English was rapidly improving and she was earning good money through the tips she received from the Farang tourists. Nit thought perhaps she might eventually go to Bangkok, using the money she saved to retrain as a tour guide. Requests / demands for money from family and relatives meant she was never able to accumulate sufficient funds to realise her dream!
Part 4 – Everyone loves a Happy Ending
I didn’t take Sombat’s advice to leave the Island – in fact I’m still here, three years later! I decided that I liked Nit and the Island more than I liked Investment Banking and England. I shouldn’t complain too much about Investment Banking, as it gave me the where with all to buy out Sombat. Nit and I now run the business as a married couple. We have modernised and expanded, and are doing well!
There have been no further sightings of Noi’s spirit since I came to the Island. I like to think she is now at peace!
Now, my days’ begin with the Bangkok Post and a mug of hot steaming coffee in the restaurant, before I turn my attention to whatever needs to be done that morning. In today’s paper there is an article about a Farang who was found beaten to death in Soi Cowboy. The Thai police have made no arrests in connection with his demise, nor indeed are they actively looking for anyone. The police are however appealing for friends or family to come forward and claim the body. The Bangkok Post also printed a small passport style photo of the deceased. I had hoped never to see Khun Moo’s small mean piggy eyes ever again, and now I know I never shall!
Nicely put together!