Simon didn’t like sitting outside the Old Dutch Restaurant but there were no tables free across the street at the Safari Bar. Ning had promised to meet him at closing so he could avoid the bar fine and he was so anxious he had arrived an hour early. He was nursing a beer and a barbecued chicken leg and watching the Safari’s door. He was going to tell Ning he would take her back to America with him.
Since making his decision he had imagined a hundred times how she would react. He had settled on tears of joy and lots of grateful sex. Women’s tears made him uncomfortable but he was eagerly anticipating the sex.
He was distracted by a mangy dog that was sitting in the gutter staring at him. “Why’s he staring at me,” he thought. He took another bite of chicken and watched a Middle Eastern man leaving the Safari with a girl. “Sucker,” he thought. “He could have waited another half hour and saved five hundred baht.”
The dog wouldn’t stop staring at him. It was virtually hairless, its skin a wrinkled pink quilt of scabs and running sores. It had pus coming out of its ears and its ribs were clearly visible. “Why don’t they kill all these strays?” he wondered. “Be doing ‘em a favor.”
A little girl, about five years old, edged herself between Simon and the dog. Both her arms were hung with jasmine garlands. “Hey, you.” she said weakly, trying to summon a smile. “You want flower? Lady like too mutss. Five baht.”
“Jesus,” said Simon. “Go home. It’s almost two in the morning. Don’t you have school tomorrow?”
The child showed no understanding of his words, but his tone of voice she recognized. She stopped trying to force a smile and moved off. She was almost immediately replaced in his line of sight by a middle-aged woman with a gibbon on her shoulder. She was dressed in trousers worn almost transparent at the knees and a faded man’s flannel shirt; she had a wool knit cap pulled down to her eyebrows. “You want photo?” she asked Simon. The gibbon looked limp and exhausted. It eyed the dog warily.
“Hey, you ever heard of CITES?” Simon considered himself an environmentalist. “That animal doesn’t belong here.” The woman’s face was impassive as she moved on to the next table, where a pair of obese, jovial tourists eagerly posed with the ape.
Simon sighed and checked his watch. Fifteen minutes to go. Soon Ning would come out, he would gather her up and take her back to the Nana Hotel. In his room he would let her get undressed before he sprang his news. He really wanted her to be naked when she learned he’d be saving her from this life.
A young waiter in a white dress shirt and a bow tie came and asked Simon in excellent English if he wanted another beer. Simon said no without making eye contact. Earlier the boy had tried to engage Simon in conversation, saying he was a college student and he slept in a temple to afford school. He had asked Simon some questions about America, but Simon had sensed a come-on and answered the boy in monosyllables. Simon hated a mooch. He checked his watch again and told the boy to bring him his bill. Ten minutes to go.
The boy had just taken away his empty glass and the half-eaten chicken leg, the dog watching his every movement, when Simon saw Ning come out of the Safari Bar. She was wearing cut-off jeans so brief he could see the creases at the tops of her thighs. He stood up with a big grin on his face.
Then a man came out of the Safari and slapped Ning’s butt. He was a big man, with a shaved head, and a shirt that was red, white and blue stripes; Simon recognized the Union Jack. The big man was laughing and he swept Ning up in his arms to carry her across the sidewalk and out into the street. Ning laughed so loudly the sound bounced off the buildings in the narrow street. She threw her arms around the big man’s neck and sniffed his cheek in a Thai-style kiss. She obviously knew the guy well.
Simon was at a loss to understand this. Didn’t she remember they had a date? Who was this guy? Simon was going to tell Ning the big news, he was going to save her from this life and she was going to reward him with things he’d only seen on the internet. What was going on?
Simon was dimly aware of the waiter putting a small plastic tray with his change onto the table. The big man in the British flag had dropped Ning gently on her feet and the two of them were walking, briskly, down the street and away. Ning seemed pretty enthusiastic to get somewhere with the bald man. They were both still laughing when Simon lost sight of them in the crowds.
He sat back down. He looked around. The waiter was watching him from his station by the door. The dog was still staring at him from the gutter. He noticed now that the dog was shivering, and had one paw lifted. The paw was an angry red mass of crushed meat. Simon hadn’t noticed before.
He felt anger rising in his chest. “Fxxx her,” he said to the dog. “Wasted my whole damn vacation on that bitch. Trust me to find the one whore in Asia who can’t recognize her knight in shining armor.”
He got up and stood over the table, with absolutely no idea of where to go or what to do. The dog was looking at him expectantly. It’s naked pink tail made a tentative wag.
Simon scooped up his change and threw the coins, as hard as he could, at the dog.