Please Don’t Touch My Cigarettes!
The budget carrier banks and cruises for a while before lowering the undercarriage. I peer out over the waxy yellow sodium lights of Krung Thep and a chill travels up and down my spine, same as it did in the 80s when I first set foot in this place on my way to Kathmandu. I’d kicked off 18 hours ago, waiting nervously outside the Royal Exchange Hotel in the pre-dawn chill of winter for the little Mitsubishi bus that takes you to Coolangatta, then onward to KL, change and two hours in transit. Now we’re over the skies of Bangkok, waiting for clearance to land.
We hit the ground and I bolt to the smoking room then clear Immigration before I proceed outside. Not too bad tonight, not as bad as they say. The official was very pleasant and next thing I’m outside on ground level. The last ‘Baw-Sor-Khor’ bus has gone already so I’ll need a cab, never mind…it’s magic. I’m back!
Swampy, Suwannaphumi, happy to be here – upstairs in departures they’re crying in their beers.
A cab cruises to a halt and motions to me, he drops his window.
“Where you go, mister?” he calls in English.
“Pattaya, dai-mai, Khraphom?”
“Pattaya, can…can do, mister,” he replies in English.
“Neung phan, dai-mai, Khraphom?” I ask the driver.
“Twelve hundred baht,” he replies firmly, once more in English.
An hour and a half we’ve arrived in Soi Buakhow. One of the moto-riders smiles broadly; he remembers me from last year. I’d sit downstairs some nights and usually hand over a bottle of Leo to the riders who’d commandeered the corner – prime real estate. The pancake lady remembers me and so does the lunatic at the hotdog stand. They laugh and point. So much for the rule of not pointing…
The Thai-Chinese cashier is a hard-nosed piece of work, runs the place like a boot camp, and she needs to, given the quality of other guests here. It’s July – low season – and some of these guys are the dregs: shaved heads, patchwork quilts of tattoos, sweaty singlets advertising this or that beer or this or that Muay Thai gym. I’m careful not to make eye contact with any of them. Sometimes I pity their girlfriends…
“Hong ber saam-saam-saam, mi-mai, khraphom?” I enquire as nicely as possible. I stuff a red banknote in the tip jar. She forces a smile, her demeanour changed.
“Sorry, no have,” she replies in English that gets better every year. I know she spends a lot of time on the chat rooms. They all do.
She turns to the key rack as she enters my passport and visa details into the desktop. “Have another loom. Vely big loom, top froor. I charge same – six hundred baht. No plob-rehm for you.”
Haul my stuff up. Settle in, lock my laptop to the table, and spread some things around the room. Big all right. It’s huge. Get my Nokia, put in the SIM-card – works after 10 months. Scroll down; find her name…Aperidee of Khon Kaen! My gig, will she be there? Twenty hours now since I woke but feel more alive than anything. Don’t feel up to the bars tonight, if I drink more than a couple of Tigers I’ll keel over…
But she’s better, forty-something, widowed, known her a few years. Got a son the same age as mine. No tramp-stamps, not from the bars but she’s a performer, speaks better English than I do. Wa…
She picks up! Incredibly she hasn’t yet married that German guy she’s always on about; he just visits the Kingdom all the time.
Who knows…one day they’ll get hitched and she’ll be gone, but she‘s in town tonight.
I wait downstairs in the drinking area, careful to avoid the mosh-pit of drunken lager-louts. Ten minutes, fifteen minutes then she turns up. Looks like a lady, a perfect lady. Dressed nicely but oozing it, she’s sexy as hell even at her age…still plenty left.
“Wa!” I address her by her pen-name, what she prefers. It means ‘cow’ but she’s no old cow, rest assured. Reminds me of Sharon Stone but with black hair. “Sabai-dee-deu,” I extend my hand as I stand, she shakes and gives me a peck on the cheek, almost like a relative.
“Hey, silly,” she whispers. “How come you never email?” Her English was always flawless. She writes it well too, precisely why I never gave her my email. Learnt the hard way with an Indonesian woman a few years ago.
We stand a moment, eyeballing each other. The hunger, the lust; don’t know whose is greater. Nearly midnight. Wa just stares, runs her tongue around her teeth, you’d think she’d just been released from Lard-Yao Women’s….now she scans me up and down.
“Deum-alai, na-khrap?” I put on my best voice, trying lamely to imitate the voice over from a Thai toothpaste advert.
“Cut the crap, Jack,” she says in English. It’s not my real name and she knows it; she always knew. She bares her teeth at me for a second. “Later, honey. Show me your room.”
It’s 3 AM and I’m woken by the shower. Feel like I’ve done a marathon, feel like I’m destroyed. I’m wiped out. Wa…she’s like a single malt, gets better with age. I haul myself out of the bed and find a towel, put on the reading lamp. Start up my laptop. She’ll want to use it, save her from going to the internet cafe. Her German boyfriend will be on the other end by now. I potter around, check the drawers and cupboards. Then I find the things: a diary, with leaves pressed in it, some other things and a pack of Gauloises. Haven’t seen this brand of cigarette for years. I pick up the pack and hold it to the light. Stuff that’s been left behind by somebody…not mine.
“Please don’t touch my cigarettes!”
I freeze and tense up. It’s the voice of a young woman, not my lady. I whirl around.
“Who the fxxx are you?” I snarl. “How’d you get in?!”
She only sits in the corner, a young hippie-type western woman crouched down and standing next to her is a young male who sports dreadlocks. They look like real travellers, like I did 20 years ago when I first passed through. Pattaya seems off the beaten track for them.
Oh my God! Shit! They’ve been in here the whole time. They’ve been watching us. Wa is gonna flip!
The hippie-girl speaks again: “Please don’t touch my cigarettes. They’re mine, buy your own. Give them back.” Her accent is strongly European and her English is good, possibly Holland or Denmark. They’d be an attractive couple if only they took a shower.
I pass the pack of Gauloises over, the hippie girl snatches them from me, she takes one from the pack and lights it. I tighten my towel around my waist, unsure of what to say. Then the shower stops. Wa…Aperidee…my gig from Khon Kaen calls out: “Honey, pass me the towel, please.” The hong-nam door opens a crack and the fluorescent light streams out. I catch a better look at the hippie couple.
My outrage now turns to an impassioned plea: “Look, my friend is in the shower. If she finds you in here she’ll be very upset. Please get out of here. I’ll pack up my stuff after and change rooms. Just leave us be.” I gesture to the light from the shower.
The hippie girl stands slowly and blows out a huge cloud of smoke. She tiptoes to the same drawer I found the cigarettes and returns them. She turns to me, her dreadlocked boyfriend watching sternly. They open the door and step out into the corridor, closing it gently behind them.
“Phew!” She steps back into the room. “Oiee – men-buri,” she moans. She waves her hand. Wa hates smoking. I always knew that and took care to go on the balcony whenever I lit up.
“Sorry,” is all I can muster.
We go downstairs, it’s 4 AM. The procession of unaccompanied bar workers and go-go dancers race by on moto-taxis. Wa takes seat. I hurry to the receptionist and whisper to her. I’m annoyed now but I’ll keep my cool.
“Why didn’t you tell me about the other Falangs?” I hiss, way too flustered to attempt any Thai.
The receptionist wrenches herself away from Facebook and gives me a puzzled look. “Other Falangs?” she replies.
“The hippies! The girl and the big guy with the Bob Marley hair…”
The receptionist, with her hard face suddenly looks guilty. “Oh, your lady friend; she tell you the story, right? This vely sad story…bad thing for hotel.”
“Excuse me?” Now it is I who is puzzled. “I need my regular room, there were some-”
The receptionist cuts me off: “This just after you go back last year. Two young people come; Amsterdam. They stay two days…” The receptionist glances at Wa who sits waiting for me. She continues, “Two from Holland. They stay two days, then after they want to go to Koh Samet.” Now the receptionist inches closer to me. “Smack! They go buy heroin from the Thai man on Beach Road. Dead! Two people dead, mister.” She shakes her head. “Vely bad for me. Police come, all kinds of plob-rehm…two Falang dead.”
My hair stands up on the back of my head. I take two drinks and pay for them – a Tiger for me and a Spy Cooler for Wa. Stumble over to the table she’s sitting at.
“You okay, Jack? Looks like you’ve seen a ghost.” She giggles. “Maybe I should head back to my condo. You need to sleep.”
I glance at my wristwatch – 27 hours now, since I woke up in the southern winter. Wa’s right, I need to sleep. She stands and I kiss her hand. I pass a hundred baht note to my mate the moto-taxi rider.
We stand for a moment.
“We Falangs don’t believe in ghosts, dummy. Thought I told you. See you in a couple of days.”
“See you, Jack. Call me.”
It’s getting light. She rides off toward the north. I turn and head back upstairs. Before I go I grab another bottle of Tiger, a large one this time – I’m gonna need it if I wish to sleep. And my own smokes, that’s for sure.