Jomtien, 15thAugust, 2010.

The “Home” page is my daily blog. The remaining tabs contain previously blogged, episodic ‘stories’, which are now re-published in chronological order

Below is Part Two of my autobigraphical short story, entitled: “Metta”

Two

There was already a long queue forming when I arrived home just before seven on the following Wednesday evening. I was amazed at the amount of interest in my second hand discards.

Apparently, all the potential buyers were from my neighbours in the apartment block, and incredibly, by eight o’ clock, I had disposed of all my excess property. Not only had I sold it all for cash, but it all was removed as well! I now had enough money for the deposit on my new home, and everything was set for the big move.

Despite a lot of shouting, sweating and several narrow escapes when we had to manoeuvre some of my larger items up the narrow staircase, the move went without any major hitches. By late afternoon on the following Saturday, I was ensconced in my new room, surrounded by Som and his beaming gaggle of friends, who were busy rearranging the furniture to what they considered to be the best positions.

‘Som, I know you all mean well, but I think you can leave me to put the finishing touches to my new home. I’m very grateful for all your help, and just as soon as I’ve finished here, I’ll come on over to your place and we can have a celebration – and it’s all on me – my treat.’

This offer was enough to persuade one and all to desist from poking my possessions around and to make a hasty exit, in the hope of expediting the commencement of the promised party.

And so the whole community had a memorable evening in welcoming Mobi, their newest neighbour, and it became the first of many happy evenings and weekends that I spent with Som, Prasert and his friends who resided in this most convivial of Bangkok suburbs.

During the following months I grew to know and love this poor community of working class people. As with any other group of people, they were a mixed bunch, with good and bad characters.

In time, I learnt which ones to be wary of when they were drunk, which were the ones who never put their hand in their pockets – even when they had some money, and the ones who always paid more than their fair share – sometimes when they could ill afford to do so.

Then there were those that always laughed and joked, and others who always seemed to be so sad and weighed down by life’s daily problems. And there were always the few who would argue and pick fights on the slightest of provocations.

The community seemed to have a knack of self-disciplining its members. If at any time a member of the group behaved in an unacceptable manner, he would be told in no uncertain terms to sort himself out, or he would no longer be welcome.

It usually worked, although occasionally one or other of the more recalcitrant miscreants would disappear for a week or so, only to eventually re-appear, having come to their senses and looking suitably contrite. Then nothing further would be said provided that all were satisfied that the offender really had learned his lesson.

The trials and tribulations of such a community were many and various. But there always seemed to be a helping hand or a word of advice for the unfortunate victim of the moment, and within the group’s limited means, it was remarkable how often that someone with serious financial problems, would receive assistance in clearing his debts.

And of course all of this existed under the guidance and watchful eyes of ‘big brother’, or Pee Prasert. He was the central pivot who clearly held the community together by the sheer moral force of his personality.

His kindness, generosity and concern for all, without fear or favour, was renowned and respected, even by the most rebellious members of that disparate ‘family’.

Prasert spent many long evenings talking to me, and helping me to put my life back into some semblance of order. Over the weeks and months, the memory of my bad experiences became less painful, and within this simple brotherhood of friends, I started to find a new contentment and happiness – a sense of well being.

I realised that most, if not all of my new friends were probably worse off financially than I was, and would have far more reason to be depressed about the life they were obliged to lead. Yet in their simple way, they were happy and content, and did not seek greater wealth or feel particularly envious towards those who were better off than themselves.

* * *

Som and I continued to slave for the terrible Ittiput, and gradually the rock concert business became a regular feature on the Bangkok music scene.

One satisfying and rewarding outcome of these concerts was the opportunity for me to provide casual employment to several of the able bodied men in my adopted community, who I hired to help out as labourers and act as security guards at the concert venues.

Som no longer had to do everything alone, and it wasn’t long before we had an experienced and semi-professional team of ‘roadies’ and security personnel who immensely enjoyed their new roles in the glamorous world of show business.

Needless to say, the post concert parties were something to behold. We would invariably adjourn to the home compound at Bangbor, where a great deal of food and whisky would be consumed, much of it supplied by those who, on previous occasions had been too poor to contribute.

In particular, Yow, that fearsome black giant, had made a wonderful head of security, and was the first to donate some of his precious earnings. I used to smile as I recalled the previous occasion when he had demanded money from me, and which had now become a distant memory.

Occasionally, I would revisit the Patpong bars that I used to habituate in my ‘pre-Bangbor’ era, for with all the money I was saving on the rent, I could afford to return to my old drinking haunts now and then.

On these occasions I would meet up with a few of my old farang acquaintances, but somehow it wasn’t the same, and it always reopened the old bitter memories.

It was difficult for many of my old friends to believe me, but there was no doubt that my alcohol intake had definitely reduced considerably since I had come under Prasert’s influence.

But there was one particular occasion, when in some inexplicable and temporary reversion to my past ways, I became so drunk one day from a night back at the old establishments that upon awakening in the morning, I  discovered a strange female beside me in my bed.

Up to that point, not only had I refrained from bringing any ladies to my new home, but to my utter consternation, I had no recollection of how she happened to be there.

I was wondering what I was going to do with my ‘visitor’, when there was a loud bang on my door.

‘Mr. Mobi Mr. Mobi. Wake up, it’s late. We’ll be late for work’

I looked at my watch and realised I had overslept. ‘I won’t be a minute Som, can you wait downstairs?’ I asked, too embarrassed to let Som see who I had brought home.

‘Why downstairs Mobi?’ Som replied as he turned the door handle, and to my horror, the door opened and he walked in. I must have forgotten to lock the door when I came home.

‘Mobi, who is that in your bed?’

‘Um … it’s my new maid Som. You can see what a mess everything is in here, so I decided that I need a maid to clean up the room.’

‘Even in Thailand we don’t usually sleep with our maid, Mobi. Come on – the truth.’

I told him the truth. Frankly, I had little recollection of who she was or how she happened to be there, but by this time she had woken and proceeded to enlighten us as to the name of the bar where she worked, and how we had met.

Apparently I had insisted on taking her home with me when the bar closed. With Som’s help and a little financial inducement we managed to send her on her way, and subsequently made a late entrance to our office where the assembled Disc Jockeys were all screaming about the absence of their radio engineer. Som glanced at me with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, and I knew that I hadn’t heard the last of this particular episode.

There was much merriment, at my expense, for many days following my adventure with the ‘maid’.

On one such occasion, about a week after the infamous incident, even Prasert joined in the ‘Mickey-taking’, and told me that he was very glad to see that I had finally got over my ‘broken heart’. But he then asked, with a grin on his face: “Mobi, was it really necessary to sleep with your maid?”

He followed this question with his now familiar, mischievous and somewhat mysterious wink.

‘But seriously, Prasert, I really do need a maid,’ I said, trying to inject a note of seriousness into the conversation. My room is such a mess, and I don’t seem to have time to clean up any more, what with all the concerts going on…’

‘And drinking here most evenings, when you’re not looking for ‘maids’ in Bangkok’s bars,’ added Som.

We all had yet another good laugh but it was so good-natured that it was difficult to feel offended. My state of well being had certainly improved ever since I had moved, and there were long periods when I felt something akin to real happiness. The hurts of the recent past were slowly becoming more bearable and I had stopped the drugs. I was sleeping a lot better and life was really starting to feel worth living again.

My reverie on this particular occasion was interrupted by the arrival of Vitaya, one of the police sergeants, who announced that he had been given free use of an open back truck for the following weekend and suggested that we all take a trip ‘up-country’.

‘Where to?’ I asked.

‘Why don’t we go to Nakhon Nayok,’ Prasert suggested. ‘It’s beautiful up there, and I have a friend who has a large hunting lodge where we can all stay on Saturday night.’

There followed much excited discussion about the proposed trip to Nakhon Nayok, which was nearly a hundred miles north of Bangkok, and to my relief the subject of ‘me and my maid’ ceased, for once, to be the main topic of conversation.

I was told in no uncertain terms that my presence on this trip was most definitely required, and although I nurtured a few misgivings, I agreed with the plans, which were that we would set off at midday on the coming Saturday.

* * *

There must have been about twelve of us all told, who started to assemble from noon onwards, with our overnight bags for the two-hour trip up-country. I might have guessed, that in true Thai tradition, the promised truck didn’t arrive for another two hours, and by the time we all finally settled in the back, with various boxes and supplies for the journey, it was past three p.m.

The journey, for me, was an education and an introduction to yet another aspect of Thai ‘culture’. As we arranged ourselves as comfortable as possible on the floor of the truck, a number of large plastic bottles containing a milky looking substance were produced from one of the boxes, and we were invited to have a swig and pass the bottle around.

‘What on earth is that Som?’ I asked, fearing the worst.

‘Try it and see, Mobi.’

I took a small mouthful with some apprehension. It was quiet a strange taste  – sweet, fairly bland, but with an underlying yeasty flavour that wasn’t particularly pleasant.

‘Come on Som – what is it?’

‘We call it ‘gou lou’ It’s a sort of wine made from rice.

It tasted most unlike any wine I had ever tasted, and upon further investigation I managed to deduce that it was an illegal, very cheap, raw alcohol mash – made by the fermentation of rice, water and yeast. It probably had a fairly low alcohol content, but at the rate it was being consumed, there was undoubtedly going to be some sore heads by the time we reached our destination.

As the alcohol started to have its effect, the ubiquitous guitar was produced, and singing commenced. I wasn’t familiar with any of the Thai folk songs that were sung in the back of the truck that afternoon, and as the gou lou bottles started to empty, the songs became ever more strident. The guitar was accompanied by much banging of make shift drums and ‘bongos’ and there were frequent shouts and loud peals of laughter when the songs evidently reached raunchy parts in the lyrics.

We made it there just before nightfall. Prasert, who had avoided the drinking and raucous singing, by sitting in the front of the truck with the driver, guided the truck down a twisting, pebbly track for a mile or so, before heading off, seemingly straight into the jungle. Another mile or so and we finally came to a halt outside the promised ‘lodge’.

It was a large log cabin, built on very high stilts, with a rope ladder hanging down from a trap door in the centre of the floor. I was disconcerted to find out that the cabin was built high to provide protection from the wild animals, which were prone to wander through that part of the jungle at night.

We clambered up with our meagre supplies, and I was further disconcerted to discover that there was just a large, bare wooden floor, which was to be our communal bed for the night. There was no electricity, no running water and obviously no toilets. For lighting we had a couple of hurricane oil lamps, water was stored in large covered earthenware jars underneath the cabin, and calls of nature had to be attended to outside, in the jungle, with the wild animals! It was certainly primitive.

After we had all found our own little area of floor to park our overnight belongings, I learned that we would be going to eat at a nearby Wat, or temple, where we would find a few local eating places. Apparently, there was a dance being held in the temple grounds, and that was also to be included in our evening’s itinerary.

I was told the temple wasn’t far, but the walk along the narrow jungle paths, armed with two pathetic little torches and yet more bottles of gou lou, seemed to go forever. I was becoming convinced that we were irretrievably lost when we finally spotted the temple lights in the distance and at last we made it to enjoy a very welcome repast.

The dance at the Wat was something I shall never forget. Some incredibly beautiful young ladies dressed in traditional, mid-riff  hugging sarongs; a lot of very drunken men – locals as well as us interlopers – under a stormy night sky that provided an electric and sensuous atmosphere.

Unfortunately, the ‘maid’ joke still wasn’t dead, and many a young maiden was introduced to me as a potential ‘domestic’ to take back to Bangkok with me.

I have to admit that the heady mixture of rice alcohol, Thai music, and exquisite girls in the middle of the jungle, made this jocular suggestion sorely tempting.

Inevitably, just as the dance came to an end, it started to rain. It was an incredible tropical storm, that showed no signs of abating, so we commenced the long wet trek back to our lodge, and this time I was more convinced than ever that we would never make it.

The pathetic torch lights that we had been using to find the way faded completely as the batteries died, and we stumbled along in the darkness for what must have been a couple of hours. More by luck than judgement, we almost bumped into the stilts of the lodge before we thankfully realised that we had made it back at last.

My previous concerns about sleeping on the hard wooden floor evaporated as I collapsed in a heap and rapidly fell into a deep and exhausted sleep.

* * *

At first, I was sure I was dreaming. There was a very loud bang, like a gunshot. Then there was another. The noises were very close to the lodge. I looked at my watch – it was seven ’o clock, so I had only been asleep for about four hours. No one else seemed to have stirred so I made my way gingerly to the trap door and looked out. I could make out the two police sergeants shouting at each other. One of them, Vitaya, was pointing a gun at the other, Vichai.

I tried to make sense of what was happening. Just next to the lodge there were two stools and a rough wooden table on which there was an empty bottle of  Thai whisky and two glasses. They had obviously been drinking ever since we had returned.

‘I’m going to kill you,’ Vitaya shouted at Vichai.

Vichai stood still, staring at Vitaya, with no apparent sign of fear on his face, but he must have been very close to death as Vitaya continued to point his loaded gun in a very menacing manner and scream Thai obscenities at him.

As if by magic, Prasert suddenly appeared in the gloom behind Vichai and held up his hands, seemingly warding off an imaginery blow.

‘Vitaya, stop that now. What are you doing?’

‘Keep out of this Prasert. Vichai has insulted my wife and he is going to pay with his life!’

‘I didn’t insult her, Pee Prasert. I just told Vitaya the truth. Someone had to, and I thought I was his friend.’

‘Friend! Friend! Speaking terrible lies about my wife like that. Keep out of the way Prasert, for this man is going to die!’ he said in a cracked emotional voice.

Prasert walked quickly in front of Vichai and obscured him completely from Vitaya’s line of sight.

‘Prasert, if you don’t move out of the way, I swear to God I will shoot you as well. Move now!’

‘Vitaya, Vitaya, you don’t mean that. You are so drunk that you don’t know what you are doing,’ Prasert said in quiet voice, as he slowly walked towards the gun. ‘Calm down, Vichai is only trying to help you.’

‘Help me? With those filthy lies about my wife!’

‘Vitaya, They are not lies – it’s the truth. Your wife has been unfaithful many times. Everyone knows – except you.’

‘Now you’re telling me lies, Prasert. You will die with Vichai.’

‘Vitaya, look at me. I am Prasert, your elder ‘brother’.   I have known you all of your life. Why would I lie to you? Why would I want to hurt you? I love you.’

I looked at Vitaya, dreading he was going to pull the trigger, but he just stood transfixed, staring at Prasert.

‘It’s true Vitaya. Killing us is not going to change anything.’

Prasert continued walking towards Vitaya, and as he reached him, the gun dropped to the ground and Vitaya suddenly grabbed Prasert around the shoulders and embraced him.

‘Now come on the two of you, let’s go for a walk and we’ll talk this through.’

I sat watching, as they walked into the jungle, and just before they disappeared, Prasert turned and waved up at me with a smile, followed by that enigmatic wink, gesturing me to go back to sleep. I fervently hoped that the other two hadn’t seen me.

I couldn’t go back to sleep on the floor, but sat there, and mused over what I had just witnessed. I had to reassure myself several times that it hadn’t all been a dream.

The others were starting to wake, and were wondering where Prasert and the two policemen had gone. I told them that they had gone for a walk, but didn’t relate the events that had led to the early morning stroll.

A meagre meal of cold ‘sticky’ rice, and then we set off for another long walk through the jungle, this time in daylight and in a different direction, to find the famous waterfalls. Prasert and the other two met up with us as we left the lodge. Vitaya was very quiet and subdued, for a change.

It was a difficult climb up the rocky and uneven terrain, but it was more than worth the effort. In the hot, humid morning, the waterfalls were so cool and fresh, and truly spectacular. We followed the trail up the steep hillside, and near the summit we came across a picturesque and rugged rock pool into which millions of gallons of water must have been flowing. It was time to have our morning wash and we all jumped into the cold refreshing swell and luxuriated in the invigorating water.

After I had washed all the grime and dirt of the past twenty-four hours off my skin, I lay down on the grassy bank and let the sun pour down on me to dry out my clothes. Prasert came and sat down beside me.

As usual, he was smiling as I asked him, ‘How’s everything now Prasert. Are Vitaya and Vichai friends again?’

‘Oh yes Mobi. They are probably closer than ever. Everything is fine now. I just have to make sure Vitaya doesn’t do anything silly to his wife when he gets back home. He is such an impulsive and emotional man.’

‘Prasert, you were very brave, standing in front of Vichai like that.’

‘Not really Mobi. I wasn’t scared because I knew Vitaya would never harm me.’

‘How could you know that for sure? I mean he was almost out of control and was also very drunk.’

‘I can’t really explain,’ he replied, ‘but somehow I knew that it wasn’t my time to go quite yet, so I was sure I was safe,’ he said with an enigmatic smile.

‘I can’t pretend to understand that, but I’m really glad it’s all over. It’s been such a great weekend, apart from that nasty incident.’

‘Yes I think we’ve all enjoyed ourselves. And as for Vitaya – well he had to know what was going on sooner or later, so I think it’s all ended very well.’

‘It’s so beautiful and peaceful here Prasert. I feel like a new person. I feel happier and more content than I have in a very long time.’

‘Well I must say, you look a lot better. You’ve put on some weight, and you’ve stopped taking all those harmful drugs. You are certainly a far cry from the Mobi that I met several months ago – the one who didn’t know what to do with all his extra furniture!’

I laughed at the memory. ‘It’s all thanks to you Prasert. I don’t know how to thank you. You’ve been so kind and helpful. I dread to think what would have become of me if it hadn’t been for you. I was in a pretty bad state, you know.’

‘Yes Mobi, I know that. That’s why I had to help.’

‘Well thank you, Pee Prasert, from the bottom of my heart.’

‘There is nothing to thank me for Mobi, it was my pleasure,’ he added with a smile and his now familiar wink.

‘Now I think it’s time we all started heading back to the truck and home.’

The return journey was even more manic than the trip out. I think we were still all drunk from the previous night’s adventures, and yet more rice alcohol was produced from what seemed to be a never-ending stockpile. We drank and sang all the way back to Bangkok, and this time we even sung some farang songs to make sure that I didn’t feel left out.

But I knew I would never feel left out ever again. They were all truly my brothers and sisters, with the incredible Prasert very much at the head of this fascinating family. As I finally bade them all a weary goodnight, I couldn’t help musing, once again that in some indefinable way, Prasert had permanently altered the course of my life.