It was hot and dusty in the soi and I felt unusually irritable. My temper was not improved by the crazy old man staring at me and cackling. He lived in a corrugated iron shack at the intersection of two sois, and didn’t seem to do much – just stare at passers-by it seemed to me. And then do the crazy cackling thing.
It was all part of my daily routine now. It had been the same for the previous month – my first in Thailand. I'd get up early, and work on my laptop for a few hours. Then I’d head down to the pool of my apartment complex, and spend a couple of hours swimming, reading, and sunbathing, before the heat got too intense. I'd then take the ten minute stroll along a short network of dusty sois to the Central Plaza shopping centre, where I'd buy fresh fruit, instant coffee, and snacks – fuel to keep me going while I worked. Usually I’d find a restaurant within the centre to take a leisurely lunch, and then hit the Starbucks near the entrance for a Frappuccino and some people watching – fodder for the novel I was writing. Before long, I’d shuffle back along my route, to my air-con eerie high above the streets, and write some more.
I looked back at the old man. He was old and painfully thin. He had a small, battered enamel plate, which had accumulated a few coins, placed strategically near the entrance to his ramshackle living quarters. We both knew the routine. On the way back I’d drop in a hundred baht note, and a couple cans of Sprite, and some cakes or biscuits. He would nod and give a toothless grin.
I was just about to pick up my pace towards Central when I saw the dog. It was half hidden under a discarded cement bag, a cast off from the nearby construction site. It looked dead. I approached it cautiously. It was no more than a pile of skin and bones. The pile whimpered softly. It looked like I was about to take on another charity case.
I picked up a few extra items at Central before retracing my steps. A large bottle of water, a couple of bowls, some pieces of roast chicken accompanied the usual Sprites and biscuits. I stopped by the pile of bones. They hadn’t moved. I filled one bowl with water and put it before the scarred nose of the dog. It sniffed softly. It moved its head weakly and started to lap faintly at the water, before flopping back to rest. I must have been there an hour and the sun was burning. Eventually the dog had drunk the water. The food remained untouched. There was always tomorrow.
Over the weeks that followed my routine continued, with an extra stop by the pile of bones. Slowly, the pile of bones transformed back into a dog again and then one day he was gone. The old man, watching from his shack, would shake his head and laugh his cackling laugh, as if to some private joke.
One day, a few weeks later still, I was heading back along the soi when it happened. Something that wasn’t part of my routine.
A cloud of dust, a blur of motion, and then intense pain on my right calf. I was taken totally by surprise. I lost my balance and felt myself falling as the pain in my leg intensified. And then I was looking up at the sky and the old man, face grim, stick raised high above his head ready to be brought down. I closed my eyes and braced for the blow that never came.
The old man helped me slowly to my feet. He was surprisingly strong. My calf was agony, bleeding. The dog lay there in the dust. The strike to the head from the heavy stick fatal. It was the reanimated pile of bones. It was my dog.
An afternoon stay in the hospital, one jab in the stomach, and seven stitches later I was feeling a bit better. The painkillers helped. Soon after I moved to a different part of town and never saw the old man again.
As the years passed I realized it was one of those crazy experiences that only seemed to happen in Thailand. Treachery often came from where you least expected it, but sometimes that was the same place help came from too.