This year he was going to celebrate Songkran in a different way. There was to be no more of this sitting inside and letting the crazies get on with it as Jim had decided that if he could not beat them, he was going to join them. He would join them all
at their expense.
The past three months had been a nightmare. Jim had lost his job: it had been two years on local wages but at least it allowed to keep a room going and to survive. Some old friends still bought him some drinks but he “felt” he had nearly used up all that good will. Eating local stall food for two meals a day was cheap but it was not what he wanted. What he really wanted was some of the money he had lost or been cheated out of over the previous eighteen years living here in Bangkok. In the early days it had been a good life, making good money, running his own business and generally living well. But the big downturn of 97 had put an end to all that. When he went to collect his debts they owed him, most had either slunk away or just outright refused to pay saying they had no money. His old lazy Thai partner who was so happy to take his share of the money earned had absolutely turned his back on him; although he did hear that a lot of this was because of fear of losing face. Sombart did not have the money to put in and could not give to Jim what he owed him so better to cut it loose rather than lose face. In earlier days he was happy to introduce Jim to his friends and extol his good business sense and tell them that Jim and he were going to have a big business soon. For all the smiling and wais and whisky they had given to him when times were good, he knew that he was never really accepted into their middle class group. He was useful for making money and was tolerated for that. But now he could not do this, they did not want to know him.
One particular nasty character told him that if he came back once more asking about the old money he would have the Immigration Police called on him. Jim knew they had his particulars and passport details as he had gladly given it to them years ago in good times. Now he had lost his job and his visa was due to be renewed in 2 months time and he had neither a job nor the money to get this done. The final straw however had been when Ruby his younger sister in Sydney had passed away. She was holding $5000 of his money in her bank, but the greedy nephews and nieces said they had never heard her talk of this. This was his “get out of jail” insurance money, the money he could use to get back to Sydney to try to get going again in the unlikely event he ever needed to do this. At 64 years of age, he was not going to get started again in Thailand. They even had the cheek to say that this was all she had in the bank and it was used for the funeral.
In the old days living in Bangkok and traveling around the country was a real blast. It made him feel really good and important. Getting the divorce in Australia hurt real bad especially on the monetary side, but the fact that Rhonda then met and married a rich widower within two years hurt even more and then she turned the kids against him. The fact that he had spent the majority of the previous 8 years bouncing around Asia and ME working to make money for them all didn’t seem to count. They had a good time in Australia, upgrading the house, going to private schools and generally leading the good life. All she believed was that he had a second wife up here. If only she knew the real stories. There was not a second wife but a procession of them but all of them turned out the same. As soon as he was gone they went away as well and were not there when he returned. The best one, the one he really learned to love and trust and had 5 good great years with, Pon, had passed away from breast cancer. She was a good person, had taken him to see her family in Issan, they had welcomed him with open arms and made him feel comfortable and warm unlike the moneyed people back in Bangkok. Pon tried to make him save for the future and he actually did, but after all the drama with her passing away, Jim want back to his old fun ways. He thought he had found a second Pon when he started living with a younger cousin of hers, but when the business failed and the money was not coming in she high tailed it away and today was working somewhere in a Pattaya bar.
As he got ready to go out to work the day on his terms, he thought of some of the good times he had here in Thailand. The weekends in Pattaya, the weeks away at villages up North in the Golden Triangle and some great times at the resorts in Phuket usually with a different woman each time. They had cost him a lot of money but at the time it did not matter as he knew that he would have more coming in next month. The talk about saving for a pension fund did not interest him as he would be able to retire rich as he had good money coming in. Now all he could look forward to was a government pension in Australia if he could ever get back there. He did not have the money to get a plane ticket back, his kids did not answer his emails, his ex wife had changed her email address and he did not even know her new one. His nephews and nieces said they did not have any money to lend or send to him. If only he could go back in time and change some of it around. He would have put some money away in a proper retirement fund for the rainy day like today. The local friends would not lend him the money for a ticket as they also knew he would never be coming back
Jim decided as this was to be his last Songkran in Thailand he would take the BTS to Saladaeng and blend in with the crowd. He put on shorts, a colorful t-shirt and some sandals. He looked in the mirror and thought ‘not bad for an old guy”. He knew that he could still make Thai women happy, it was just unfortunate that he did not have one who he could pleasure. Since old Gal had gone back to her home in Issan 5 months ago, he had been celibate. Gal was nearly his age but still liked to enjoy herself a few times a month and she liked the way that Jim pleasured her. He really enjoyed it with her and as she usually was the one who bought a few bottles of beer for a drink before and after it made it even better. He could not afford to pay for women anymore. Anyway from what he could see or what he heard from other people, they were not like they were 20 years ago. Today it was all just money. Not like the old days when the main thing was to thamngan sanuk, have fun while working.
The area around Silom was jammed full of people, most of who seemed to be under twenty and that was good as they were not as careful as the older ones. As Jim walked around he was able to pick up a large water pistol and start to fire it at others. When it needed filling he was able to go with the locals and fill it up from large tanks that everybody was using. After a few minutes he was soaked and had powder all over his face. As soon as he saw some people put their little cups of powder down to start a water fight with another group, Jim nipped in and grabbed the pots and walked off. He put them into one and then was able to start the fun. He walked down to Patpong 2 lane where the crowds were thickest as the cars were trying to get out of the lane onto Silom, but the crowds were so thick they could not move. The people seemed to be in one huge throng all pushing and crushing up against each other.
Jim put some powder on some young girl’s faces as they came towards him slowly in the mob and they all smiled at him. Then he was behind a group of young girls who were all crushed up in the crowd and he took the opportunity to rub his hands down the sides of the shorts and could feel the ones that had purses in there. When he felt one that seemed full, he pushed the girl in front who fell against the one in front of her who did the same. As Jim pushed he took the purse from her pocket and transferred it to his other hand and into his pocket. He then looked at the girl and said sorry and pushed backwards and away from her. He made his way as quickly as he could back along Silom but as the crowds were so thick so he could not find any place to look at the purse without being seen.
He was able to do this twice more in the next 30 minutes and was thinking of going back to the station and going home to see what his rewards were from the ill gotten gains. But he decided he could not wait so battled his way back to Thaniya corner and went into the Irish pub there and bought one small bottle of Singha. As he sat there in the bar with all the noise going on around him, he could feel the purses in his pockets and could wait no longer. He finished the beer and went into a toilet stall. His hands were shaking as he opened each one up. The first purse had 420 baht in it and some papers in Thai. The second had 140 baht and a key. The third was the heaviest. He opened it up and found 1260 baht, papers, keys and photos. The photos were of a young beautiful girl who looked about 16. He looked at them for a long time and his memory went back about 25 years when his own daughter was about that age. He closed his eyes and remembered and it made him feel warm and relaxed. He sat up and thought that he was sorry but he had to do this to you. Besides it may have been your aunty or cousin who took money from me in the past.
Jim went home and scrimped and saved and made ends meet for the next few weeks. The rent was going to be due again in two weeks and he had not been able to find any work at all. He still had one month’s deposit that he could use for next month. He looked at the TV and saw all the red shirt demonstrators in town and how they were living, being fed and watered every day and he had heard the rumors that they were being paid to stay there as well.
As he caught the BTS into Siam, he was hatching the plan in his head. He got off and headed towards the main stage at Ratchaprasong smiling at people along the way. He was wearing his only red shirt. As he stood there listening, people were all smiles at him: he was able to use some of the Thai language he still remembered. All of a sudden he was a passionate Thaksin supporter as this really pleased the people around him. He was given food and water and stayed and slept for the night with a bunch of other men up the road near the Grand Hyatt hotel.
He decided to stay again in the day and then go home at night. Around 10.30 in the morning the whole feeling and vibe of the place started to change. He could see people starting to grab their own things and start to move out. He was able to go and get more food and put extra bottles of water in his bag. He knew that the BTS was closed so he thought he would go up towards Ratchada and get a bus home. As he went towards the intersection he saw people running and then some loud bangs that seemed to come inside the shopping centre on the corner. He could see smoke coming from the top floor and people running out carrying items like they had been looting from the shops. Jim looked around and went towards the doors. Most people were trying to get out but some were also pushing to get inside. Jim joined this group and found himself inside and immediately could feel the heat and smoke. He pushed on up the space in between the shops, most of which had their shutters down tight but he could see the glass windows had been broken. He followed a youth inside one shop where 3 or so others were grabbing handbags and new wallets. He started to grab some as well when he heard the big crash. All of them rushed towards the hole in the glass window and he was pushed aside and ended up on the floor. He didn’t see the ceiling as it come down and knocked him out.
When Jim “came to” a few minutes later the room was full of smoke and dust. There was no absolutely no light at all but he could feel the dust and smoke in his nose. He could now hear the flames as they crackled and then he could see them. They lit the room up as he lay there. He thought that his back must be broken as he could not move his legs at all and the pain was so strong and the things lying across him were too heavy for him to move. He could just lay there and listen as he could hear the flames seemed to get closer and closer. In those last few moments he thought of some of the really good times he had had in Thailand and in Bangers and also thought if only! If only he hadn’t come here, if only the big crash in 97 did not come, if only his Pon was still there with him, guiding and helping him, if only he had his nest egg from Sydney back, if only had planned forward better. How different life might be rather than laying here, waiting for it all to go.
When they cleaned up the building site after a few days when the fire was out and it was all cooled down, they found some bodies that were way beyond recognition and they were sent out to a small temple in Bangna who gave the Buddhist rituals and prayers as they cremated the remains. At last Jim was accepted into Thailand and Thai society in the correct way.