Readers' Submissions

The Stories They Tell





“Here’s why I’m so attracted to Thailand,” he said. “I have fun here, and fun to me is the true meaning of life. I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done in my life.”

I don’t know why these guys always feel the need to explain themselves to me. Hedonism is the easiest thing in the world to understand; hell, “fun is the meaning of life” is the motto of every two-year-old who’s ever lived. Giving up all responsibility and spending your days in the pursuit of momentary pleasure is way easier to do, and way easier to understand, than any other option open to a man. Still they all want to explain it, like it’s string theory or Shingon Buddhism. I let them chatter on. It’s their dime.

“Everyone with any sense knows not to get serious with a Thai woman, any Thai woman.”

It kills me, and I use that expression fully conscious of its irony in my case, that these guys always want to hand out advice on women. As if any woman, Thai or otherwise, would ever get serious with this joker. Very few men know anything useful about women, and none of those men hang out in Bangkok bars. The bars of Bangkok are purpose-built for men who are clueless about women. The men who occupy the stools in Bangkok bars pay more for sex than most men spend on rent and groceries, yet they believe themselves to be all-knowing in matters of intercourse. Like I said, it’s their dime. My job is to hear their story before the end, and if they want to spend their last few moments on earth spewing a bunch of bullshit it’s no rust off my scythe.

It’s all so routine. After telling me how they would never become involved with a Thai woman, inevitably, certain as the tides, they will tell me about their Thai girlfriend. The girls are always “different” from the other women in the bars. This guy was telling me his gal wanted to marry him, but he was unwilling because he’d always “valued my freedom as a bachelor.” This part of the story is interesting to me, as I am a being with no free will at all. Freedom to do what, I always wonder? Freedom to pay for sex? Freedom to sit around in crappy bars all day and all night? Freedom to waste the miraculous gift of life on a meaningless pursuit of fleeting pleasure? Freedom to leave no mark on the world at all? I would give up my sackcloth and sickle in a heartbeat to have a heartbeat, and I damn sure would not waste it in the Tilac Bar.

I used to gather the souls of shipwrecked sailors, and their end tales were full of adventure and the joy of exploration. Before that I harvested crusaders, and their stories were steeped in devotion to a certainty that heaven exists and moreover is obtainable. Very early in my career I gleaned the essences of Neanderthals, and even they grunted out ambition for meat, for heat, for shaggy tail. But the guys I work with in Bangkok, their stories are all without any goals, without any real desire, and dull as skim milk. None of them wants anything more than a drink and a wank. They see no further than their next bar fine. Their perceptions are stunted, their emotions dulled, their souls so desiccated it’s hardly worth the trip to gather them up.

If I had lungs I would yawn. He was telling me about what a big shot he was back in the West: multiple homes, fast cars, important job, lots of friends, wife and kids. But the wife was a harpy and the kids were needy and the job got boring so he cashed in his chips and moved East. To hear them tell it all these guys were Rockefellers back in the old days, but of course I cover the whole Kingdom so I know the Rockefellers are sipping champagne from the navels of movie starlets in suites at the Oriental, they’re not in the Tilac Bar with a clinically depressed drug addict named after a barnyard animal sitting on their laps. But they’ve all been telling lies so long they’ve come to believe the lies are truth, and they would all sincerely be shocked to see themselves as everybody else in the bar sees them: washed up, without talent or purpose, and just as boring as plain white rice.

I’ve listened as long as I can. There are other men with stories I have to hear tonight, other threads to cut. I lean over and touch him with a bleached phalange and he goes quiet. He gets the look in his eyes. I’ve never had anything but graveyard dust in my eye sockets but if I did have eyes I would never want them to contain that look. The look says he knows what’s happening and he doesn’t want to go. He thinks first that he can’t leave yet because he has more to do, but then he realizes that he really has nothing left for him on this earth, and it will make no difference in the life of any human being, including his own, whether he goes now or next week.

I swing my blade and cut the thread and he’s gone. His tiny little soul flutters upward like a cinder and then disappears. The meat hits the floor and a few girls scream and the bartender swears. A couple of people slip out to the street and rush away. I brush some ectoplasm off the hem of my robe and ease my bony ass on out the door. The night is young, my list is long, and I’m not as spry as I was ten thousand years ago.

I don’t know where they go from here. Maybe there’s a heaven, maybe a hell, maybe a Nirvana, a Valhalla, an island of misfit toys. I don’t really care. It’s not up to me. I just listen to their sad stories and then snick-snack. I’m the neighborhood barber, giving eternity a trim, or the tree surgeon cutting the deadwood off the tree of life. I’m just the boy who mows the grass.