Thoughts # 07 The Great Escape
I am building a bridge.
Not of my own of course. There are others here with me and we are being held captive. The conditions are rather harsh even for someone like me who, when younger, took cold showers in the morning, studied under the Jesuits’ supervision and was sent running in shorts and tee-shirts in the middle of cold European winters to fortify the body.
One of the inmates here, Red, has been reasonably friendly. If he had come across some of my submissions perhaps he would have less of a reason to be friendly but in times of solitude and hardship, most people let bygones be bygones and they need the presence of other human beings and the comfort of feeling that they are being listened to.
Apparently, along with many others, I am being held on direct orders from the Council of the Elders. After ten days here, I have realised that there is a common link among us, we have all read and sometimes posted submission on stickmanbangkok.com and I am beginning to wonder if this abduction may have something to do with it.
There, have a look at this picture, which Red smuggled for me along with a few more and, if you recognise the place, please email the location to me with some directions of how far we are from Bangkok. It may not win you the usual 500 baht credit at “Oh My Cod”, the fish and chips restaurant, but you will have my eternal gratitude.
As you can see from these snapshots the bridge is nearly finished and some of the locals have been allowed to try it out but I do not plan to stay for the opening ceremony because I am ready and tonight I shall escape. I will not bore you with the details of how this all happened but it did and when it happened it was so fast and it was over in a matter of minutes.
Shortly, I will be seen by a panel of three, which I am told includes three veteran leaders of this mysterious organisation and they all enjoy cult status among their peers. I know little else about them, as a matter of fact, I know nothing about them, zilch, nada, rien, nulla. It will be them that will decide my fate and their decision will either free me or send me to room 101. I asked Red what room 101 was and he replied “You asked me once, what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world”
It is time for the Council of Elders to see me and I am taken to a room upstairs. It is not for a short time or a long time, it is not one of those rooms and it is not one of these experiences. The room is wood panelled on all sides and rectangular in shape. Two tall windows allow parts of the room to be baked in sunshine and there is a view but I am not close enough to see what the landscape from them may be. At the opposite end of the door through which I have entered is a long teak table. There are three chairs behind it but only two, at both ends, are occupied.
The first man on the left does not look at me; he wears white framed sunglasses and is exotically attired. His clothing consists of an emerald green silk shirt over grey, cut below the knee, beach trousers, which in turn are decorated with a number of embroidered gold elephants. Silver bangles and various other assortment of custom jewellery embellish his wrists and forearms. I cannot see his eyes behind his sunglasses but I notice that he is typing something with great fervour. My guards motion to me to walk forward to a coloured circle spot on the floor and about 4 metres from the long table and now I can see that he is not typing but tapping with both hands on a wooden qwerty keyboard, which has no cables and it is not attached to any monitor. Yet he is completely focussed with what he is doing as if he is writing something for real which, in his mind, already has a beginning, middle and an end. In sport terms, he is in “the zone” and his facial expressions mirror the feelings and stirrings within his mind and he moves from one expression to another, looking serious then smiling then concerned, then happy and so on.
He seems oblivious to the fact that I am in the room even if I am standing now only four metres away while he is sitting in a dentist antique chair. I notice that he is wearing a bandana displaying the rising sun of Japan and in the middle of the red circle I see one letter, it is capitalised and it reads “D”. He shakes his head a little, then, suddenly, he barks a command “Water with ice and lemon” to some women sitting on a bench a few metres to his right.
I look at them, there are seven of them. They wear identical pink shirts with their names screen printed in large size letters. From the left to the right, their names read Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Si, The first three seem much smaller than the others, their feet are dangling in the air because, seated, they cannot reach the ground. This makes La and Si look nearly one octave higher in comparison. Do, Re and Mi spring into action simultaneously although with different rehearsed-like steps. One fetches a bottle of water, one a glass and the third one some ice. Their skin is darker, their hair black and despite their smaller stature and wide feet they are very pleasantly shaped. They move in unison with one another and I can imagine what a happy tune they must be able to play together given half a chance. There is no mamasan here and all three seem happy to be attending to him.
“Towel” barks D and it is the turn of Fa and Sol to get up as they rush to their master with one carrying a dry towel and the other a wet one. They are graceful in their movements, modest looking in their attire, taller than Do, Re and Mi, much lighter skinned and gifted with slender looks and they possess a wonderful set of raven hair and glass hour shapes. They hardly have any breast or bottom to speak of and yet they movements are feline like and ever so pleasing to the eye. When they speak they end their sentences with “Kha” or “Na” and they sound ever so polite seemingly doubling their Khas and Nas. When they speak, the sounds they make are so melodic, like music to my ears. D thanks them and they return to their seat giggling and now that I can see their features a little better I notice that their faces are much whiter than the rest of their bodies as if they have been caked in flour. They look like ghosts to me and I do not know why they have done that to their otherwise pretty faces.
“Cushion” says D after having dismissed Fa and Sol and it is the turn of La and Si to spring into action. One adjusts the cushion behind his back while the other proceeds to massage his temples. They call him “hansum man” but their voice timber is considerably dissimilar to the first five and I wonder if perhaps they may be concealing something of a different nature to the others. Nevertheless, they are incredibly attractive and they come across as ultra feminine, their movements accentuated but perhaps in an extremely provocative way which makes one’s mind fill with doubt as to their real gender. After dismissing them, D takes some roast chickens from a bag and throws them to the seven women and for a moment they become forgetful of their seemingly elegant manners and grab the chickens with their hands and devour them in a matter of seconds in a rather unceremonious manner.
The fellow to the left (my right) of the table, is wearing a colourful shirt with the type of pattern you would expect to see seasoned gentlemen at a retirement Florida home. He is not wearing a bandana on his head but a cowboy hat with the initials CMK. A Montecristo cigar rests on the table. It is a number 4, possibly the best of Cuban cigars and one “El Che” himself would have been delighted to smoke over half to a full hour because that is how long these things can take. I do not smoke now but in my early twenties I did try the odd cigar. I remember those earthy undertones with tangy chocolates and coffee notes. Then I stopped smoking, cut down on the coffee but still eat the occasional chocolate.
Next to the cigar is a short fat tumbler, half full with and an almond colour liquid, which could be whisky or cognac but not liqueur because the latter hardly goes with cigars. Ice rocks are slowly melting away, quietly like fresh snow hit by warmer sunrays. The rocks thaw from many different directions but blending into one common outcome like the many twists and turns of one’s life which eventually and inevitably lead to the same conclusion that is one’s death sooner or later. The many lines on this fellow’s clean shaven face give the impression he too has had many twists and turns in his life and I sense that he probably has a few stories to tell. However, today he looks bored. He takes his hat off to reveal a bold head. He runs his hand over it and then down his face in one movement and eventually he puts the cowboy hat back on. He looks at me briefly and I am waiting for him to say something but he does not.
A four inch Swiss knife appears in his hand as if by magic. His fingers expertly handle this smallest of weapons. Then, in no time at all, he begins to carve letters on the table. The blade is sharp and he works fast. The name is complete in seconds and it reads EVORAH. I notice a woman standing not too far from him but she does not look like an Evorah to me. The woman I am looking at looks a little plump. She has fierce eyes and she is built like hod carrier, dark skinned and about 5’3. She has high cheek bones, square jaw and by the way she moves while listening to some music on an mp3, there must be a Thai-ger living in her. The man with a cowboy hat with the CMK initials on it throws to her a 20 baht note now and again and summons her by calling her “Princess” when she sees the banknotes she springs forward with cat like movement and seizes the notes before they even touch the floor and I have never seen any woman move like that before.
I look at the fellow with the cowboy hat. He is quiet in his demeanour almost unassuming and small in stature but his eyes tell a different story. There are a few men like him in every part of the world and they are in demand. They are the guys who can get “things” for you; cigarettes, a bag of refer, if that's your thing, a bottle of brandy to celebrate your kid's high school graduation, they can fix anything, well, damn near anything within reason.
Then a door opens and a man enters. He is wearing a black linen shirt over linen trousers. There are no shoes covering his feet and his toe nails are painted with bright red nail varnish. His strides are confident as if he has a purpose. It must be him I surmise. Red has warned me when I enquired about him describing him as “That tall drink of water with the silver spoon up his ass”
He is holding a folder in his hand and there is something written on it. He walks to his seat and looking to his right he says “Dana, have you finished another story already?”
“Easy peasy japanesey” is Dana’s answer
“I read your last one” says the man in black “I have to say that's the most amazing story I've ever seen. Old age does not seem to diminish your fantasy powers, that’s for sure.”
He then takes a seat and places the folder on the table and I notice the printed title on the top left hand corner “Stick’s X files 2011” and then my name below, Tommaso. He opens the folder and a thick set of papers appears, they are my submissions and I did not realise that I had written so many pages in such a short time and there is the odd photo too.
The man in black takes a pair of rimless glasses from his shirt pocket and briefly checks his notes and when his eyes look in my direction I know that we have a problem in our hands.
In a flashback I quickly re-run my brief conversation with Red earlier that morning when he told me “A word to you about escaping. There is no barbed wire, no stockade, no watchtower, they are not necessary, we are an island jungle. Escape is impossible, you would die”
I am now aware that the reason why I am here is because of my submissions. I was trying to be light hearted but perhaps some comments were taken seriously. Red explained that some writers had made fast and furious starts on the Stickman’s readers’ submission and as time went by they tried to add something different to the mix but after a while they had become a little incoherent with their entries and they had eventually disappeared and no one had ever heard from them again. He told me of two such fellows who were confined to isolation on an indeterminate time. Their names, Bend Over and Evil Penevil. For a newbie, he explained, some if not most of their stories should be compulsory reading. Their demise occurred at the hands of Thai women, arguably among the sultriest of temptresses. They fell in love, caught the yellow fever and their subsequent fall was like watching a re-run of Samson and Delilah. After such a long time being held captive their imagination and along with it their motivation for writing was quashed…forever.
Red tells me that rumour has it that the Stickman site is a smoke screen and in truth there is no Stick. Various people have tried to identify him and from time to time someone has gone to great lengths trying to reveal Stick’s identity with wicked attacks but all have failed. He tells me that allegedly the Council of Elders runs the whole show and they take it in turns to write the column. Today, I am facing three of their representatives.
I tell Red that I have corresponded with Stick and he has always replied my emails. True I have never met him but I have seen no reason for us to meet other than to shake his hand and to say thank you and keep up the good work. We have a pen relationship and that suits me fine. To his credit he has always published all of my submissions and his manners have been both courteous and decent. I have no issue with him and may he live for a long time and continue with his success.
Red agrees, these are malignant rumours and he does agree that Stick exists but he is a dolphin in a shark infested sea and there is nothing like a free lunch. Stick, he explains, has to earn his keep and be mindful of sections within his readership. At times he dares by publishing some different kind of submissions, some have included entries written by women too. When this happens, the Council of Elders immediately summons him to a meeting and then despatches him either to Ayutthaya to take photos during the floods or even, over extended periods, to God forsaken places like New Zealand where big and dark skinned giants wear all blacks, stump their feet when dancing the Ka Mate (I die) or other Haka derivations, stick their tongues out and chase a funny shaped ball which does not bounce evenly. During the off season they abscond with Thai women and do some serious “Ringa Pakia” while shouting “Ka ora, Ka ora”
I reflect on what Red has told me. I have no issue with Stick. He has done me no harm and I would buy him a drink anytime. I've been thinking. Tomorrow it will be twenty-eight years to the day that I've been in the service. Twenty-eight years in peace and war. I don't suppose I've been at home more than ten months in all that time. Still, it's been a good life. I loved it. I wouldn't have had it any other way. But there are times when suddenly you realize you're nearer the end than the beginning. And you wonder, you ask yourself, what the sum total of your life represents. What difference your being there at any time made to anything. Hardly made any difference at all, really, particularly in comparison with other men's careers. I don't know whether that kind of thinking is very healthy; but I must admit I've had some thoughts on those lines from time to time. But tonight… tonight I shall escape no matter what.
I have met some bad characters throughout my life dressed as angels and sweet mouthing their way in life. I have spent a great deal of my time negotiating policies in Montecitorio, advising ministers. Then the scandal of Tangentopoli was followed by the investigations of Mani Pulite from 1992 to 1996, which led to the fall of the dominant Christian Democracy party. When it comes to Italian politicians, the old adage of rich friars and poor monasteries springs to mind. I was experienced enough to know what would happen next and I had no need to witness the inevitable damage. I saw it coming. I resigned and became a consultant.
From Montecitorio to Whitehall the road is littered with booby traps and many inevitable disappointments. I have never fought in the front lines of any war but I know how the politics that cause these wars begin and they are not about the ordinary. More often than not they are knee jerk reactions to populist demand as long as they secure votes and re-elections and when they are not about votes, then they are mere excuses to pillage, make money and get rich quick for very significant returns. The loss of human life when contained in the fingers of one hand is tragic but when it runs into thousands it just becomes another statistic. There is probably some truth that the world is a stage. Thus, if you want to be an actor and play a part as opposed to being a spectator then learn your lines and behave accordingly. I wish that more people took an interest in what is happening around them and how their money is spent by so called political leaders but more often than not what I see is apathy and I know only too well that successful politics are about stable instability.
The man in black is looking at me and his gaze I see disdain. He does not know who I am and I have no interest in him. If you placed a bet of 100,000 baht as to who was going to speak first, you would have no certainty of getting your money back because in the theory of the probability of risk no matter how many times you have flicked a coin, the likelihood that it will land heads or tails next time you toss it remains a 50% chance.
The man in black looks at my written pages again, he pours on them, he checks and rechecks them shaking his head in disapproval. Then, he takes his rimless glasses off and resting his elbows on the table, he clasps his hands parallel to his chin and then asks me “Who are you?”
“I could tell you that but then I would have to kill you” is my answer
The man in black does not flinch. He did not find my comment funny. There is no laughter left in him and by the look in his eyes no love left either.
“Apples and Oranges…I suppose you thought it was amusing. So tell us what you are… an apple or an orange?”
“Actually, more of a mandarin” I reply
“We have never seen you before. You are not one of us. Who has given you this information?” my interrogator, the man in black, now asks sounding irritated.
“What have I done?” I ask in reply
I look at him carefully. I know about his writing. I even liked some of it but as I went along I detected a lack of humbleness in him and he makes me sick with his heroics. There is a stench of death about him and he carries it in his heart like the plague.
“Every time a different style of story is published, it distracts people and productivity slows down. We have told Stick several times to cut on fiction, it makes people’s mind wander. At this rate, we will never complete the bridge” says the man in black and then he continues “Do you know what will happen to us if the bridge is not built on time?”
“I haven’t the foggiest” I reply
“They will kill us. What would you do if you were me?”
I look at him for a while and then I say “I suppose if I were you…I’d have to kill myself”
“What did you do when you were a…mandarin?”
“I checked newspapers, weekly magazines, intelligence, diplomatic cables and academic journals. My task involved an analysis of facts and figures, which three or four people had checked before me and then there were other people who checked them after I had checked them”
“Sounds like a frightful bore” says the fellow with the cowboy hat
“Sir, it was a frightful bore” I reply
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” says the man called Dana
“Madness! Madness!” adds with disappointment the fellow with the cowboy hat
There I was, Brothers and Sisters, after years of daily punishment in Latin and ancient Greek while at college, after long spells taking minutes down and writing meaningless reports in my first years working in the real world, according to the fellow with the cowboy hat it all amounted to madness and to tell the truth I agreed with him when he said that. You see, when we are young we spend a great deal of time chasing money and then when we are older we spend a great deal of money chasing youth. That is my excuse at least.
In our young days, we begin with fire in our belly and the line dividing right and wrong is very clear and visible to us. However, in time it becomes blurred and the difference between right and wrong amounts to the tiniest hairline crack. In my younger days we witnessed social movements and some provided inspiration and aspiration but today all most youngsters witness is MTV and is not quite the same thing and for those few young people who still have a little passion, their path is blocked by the lack of opportunities and the propaganda television channels feed to them daily. As they grow older, they become disenchanted and disengaged. Poverty and lack of opportunities for the weak mind lead to despair and some are introduced to unsavoury companionship often leading to distasteful foes like drinking and/or violence.
For the past ten days they have put me in the laundry. It is hot here and it is even hotter in the laundry. The first night is the toughest, no doubt about it. They march you in naked as the day you were born, skin burning and half blind from that delousing powder they throw on you, and when they put you in that cell… and those bars slam home… that's when you know it's for real. A whole life blown away in the blink of an eye. Nothing left but all the time in the world to think about it.
The man in black looks at me and asks “Do you enjoy working in the laundry?”
“No Sir, not especially”
“I believe in two things: discipline and the Bible. Here you'll receive both. Put your trust in the Lord; your ass belongs to me.
Welcome to Thailand” he says
“Since I am innocent of this crime, Sir, I find it decidedly “inconvenient” to be here and I hope…”
“Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. We do not like your writing and we will make you conform”
“I am afraid I cannot do that Sir”
“Do you mean to say that you will keep writing like you have no matter what it costs?”
“Without freedom of expression Sir, there is no civilisation” I say
“That is my point son. Here, there is NO civilisation” the man in black tells me
“Then we have an opportunity to introduce it” I quip
“Listen to me son. You eat when we say you eat. You shit when we say you shit. You piss when we say you piss. You got that,
you maggot dick motherfucker? I despise you. You are defeated but you have no shame. You are stubborn but you have no pride. You endure but you have no courage. I hate you”
“Sir” I say “You could not be further from the truth if you tried”
“He is going to do it. Believe me he is REALLY going to do it” says Dana a little agitated
“Kill him! Kill him!” Princess whispers to the fellow with the cowboy hat
“Put him in room 101 for the next seven days” the man in black orders to the guards
Before the guards remove my presence from the room I look at him. He seems a queer bird. Even for an American. I can think of a lot of things to call him but “reasonable” that would be a new one. Then the guards take me away.
I am in the small ante room. Soon they will take me to room 101. From the small window I take a quick glimpse at the bridge. One day this life will be over and I hope that the people that use this bridge in years to come will remember how it was built. I’d say the odds against a successful escape are about 100 to one but equally the odds against survival in this camp are even worse.
Red has just appeared. By the manner in which he looks at me I know that he knows. Rumours spread quickly in the Stickman compound. He feels sorry for me. I wish I could explain to him that there are some choices in life and they can be narrowed down to just two; get busy living or get busy dying.
“You know what Thai people say about the Ocean?” I ask him and when he does not answer I add “They say it has no memory. That's where I want to live the rest of my life. A warm place with no memory and perhaps a little music, a pen and some paper”
“Music?” asks Red
“That's the beauty of music. They can't get that from you… Haven't you ever felt that way about music?”
“I played a mean harmonica as a younger man. Lost interest in it though. Didn't make much sense in here”
“Here's where it makes the most sense. You need it so you don't forget” I tell him.
“Forget?” he queries
“Forget that… there are places in this world that aren't made out of stone. That there's something inside… that they can't get to, that they can't touch. That's yours” I tell him
“What are you talking about?” he asks me
“HOPE, that is what I am talking about”
Red looks at me and then asks
“What the Christ is this happy horseshit? Where do you get this shit?”
“I read, I love reading whenever I can…tell me, do you know Syd?”
“I heard of an American guy who once called himself with that name in a website…a complete arsehole if you ask me. A stirrer and a hater. A real trouble maker”
“Who was he?” I ask
“He was a pompous American self styled electrical engineer who crossed many people and eventually got kicked out of the Country”
“No Red…the Syd I am referring to is a fictional character in a novel published in 1957. Although he does not appear in person until the last third of the novel, he is the subject of its often-repeated question "Who is syd?" and of the quest to discover the answer. As the plot unfolds, Galt is acknowledged to be a creator, philosopher, and inventor who symbolizes the power and glory of the human mind. Read the book and it may give you food for thoughts”
Red is a good man. A simple man perhaps but a good man nevertheless.
“I am sorry, Red” I offer “for speaking to you at times as if you were the enemy”
“Well, I’m an American if that’s what you mean”
And with that Red leaves and shortly after the guards throw me in Room 101.
I have no fear and tonight I shall escape.
Brothers and Sisters this could be my last submission for a while until I escape that is. I am a survivor but no one can predict the future. As and when I manage to get out of here I will share more with you. Meanwhile, please remember, if you recognise the area in the photos, email directions to me along with your valuable suggestions. Do it quick and do it now.