I am quite sure that by now you all must be fed up to the back teeth with reading about all my medical problems, week after week.
Believe me, I am equally fed up suffering from them and writing about them. For many years I have suffered from diabetes and heart problems, (which as you know, necessitated open-heart surgery last year), but I can honestly say that nothing has got me down anywhere near as much as my dodgy pancreas has.
The pains are unremitting, and no matter what I do, in terms of diet or medication, it seems to make little or no difference.
Yesterday I had one of the worst pain attacks I have ever had. The pain was like a hot knife being twisted round and round in my abdomen and lasted for a wretched six hours, (10 p.m. to 4 a.m.). Even an extra dose of my already strong pain killers wouldn’t touch it.
Then on top of all that, before the pain had really taken hold, I also had one of my most dangerous hypos in years. My blood sugars were down to 2.5 mmol/l, (45 mg/dl), and it took a lot of glucose tablets before my blood sugars rose to more normal levels. If had passed out, I might never have woken up again.
So I am writing this after about 2 hours of sleep, and am asking myself where do I go from here? I have a sneaking suspicion that my condition is actually getting worse, judging by the increasing intensity of the pancreatic pain; the even worsening bouts of diarrhoea and stomach cramps and the fact that the pounds are starting to fall off me.
I am also wondering whether I would just be wasting my money by seeking yet more medical opinions. Everything I have read and have been told adds up to the stark fact that my condition is incurable and there is little that anyone or any anything can do to ease my plight.
The only thing that may help is to find some more effective medication to dull the pain, but I am very reluctant to go the opium-based route, because it is so addictive. As it is, the medication I am taking, (Ultracet – a mix of Tramadol and paracetamol), is also addictive and I have to be really careful with it. I had to work so hard to conquer my addiction to alcohol so the last thing I need is to become addicted to pain killers.
It is a bit of a conundrum.
However, a valued friend and medical expert has recommended that I consult a pain specialist at Samitivej hospital in Bangkok who may be able to help me. Apparently there are some specially targeted nerve pills that may work for me and are not addictive.
So I may go to Bangkok in the New Year to see this pain specialist, but quite frankly, I have concluded that seeking yet more medical opinions on my condition is simply clutching at straws, and probably a waste of money.
So you will be relieved to learn that unless there is a marked change in my condition or any developments on the treatment front, I will try to keep this subject out of my blog from now on. If I say nothing, you may assume that not much has changed.
In all honesty, it’s time to take stock and accept that I have been dealt a very bad hand. It is largely of my own making and there is nothing to be done.
I believe that I am entering the final stages of my life and that either my multiple medical conditions – particularly the damaged pancreas – will bring about an early demise, or my quality of life gets so bad that I decide to take the easy route out.
I will be very surprised if I am still around in two to three years’ time.
Meanwhile, I will try to soldier on and enjoy what pain-free time I have left. If I didn’t have my wonderful little Noo to love me and take care of me I think I would be well gone by now.
Thinking about it, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to get hooked on morphine based pain killers…..
Christmas is fast approaching, the rains seem to have gone and we are enjoying a delightfully cool period. We have been sleeping without an air conditioner for over a week now, and even the fan sometimes makes it too cold for comfort. For the first time for ages I can actually have a short walk in the evenings without breaking out into a sweat. Long may it continue.
Noo has some urgent business back at her home in Nong Khai, and we have agreed that she will travel there before Christmas – maybe 23rd or 24th – and return around 28th or 29th. This is because she has to go to various government offices which will all close during New Year, and also to avoid the worse of the great traffic migration home that starts around 29th December.
All this means that poor old Mobi will be spending Christmas all alone!
Don’t worry, because I won’t be, (worried that is). I was the one who insisted that she travel during the Christmas period; as I told her – I’ve already seen 66 of them so there’s no magic or excitement left in Christmas for the likes of an old alcoholic reprobate like me. I can’t drink and I can’t even enjoy a seasonal turkey dinner as it will contain too much fat, so Christmas for me is pretty much like any other day of the year.
Through the years, I have ‘enjoyed’ many Christmases alone so it will be nothing new. If my recently installed ‘UK TV’ software is still working, (I fully expect it to stop working at any time), maybe I will sleep during the daytime and then watch UK Christmas TV live at night to while away the time and pretend I am back home in Blighty…or …there again…maybe not….
Mobi-Snaps: There and back’ – a trip to ye olde country’… Part 12 –our last hurrah!
Back in August, Noo and I were into our final three days in Blighty and my youngest daughter took us on yet more trips out into the Rutland/ Lincolnshire countryside, near to her home in Stamford.
First on the agenda was the picturesque Rutland Water.
Then we drove to Burghley House and grounds. (Yes, the “Burghley horse trials Burghley” – almost within walking distance of Stamford).
Our final full day in the UK, was spent at a country farm.
Noo at Heathrow
Bangkok in Russian….
That’s The Spirit!
Following the publication of the first short story from my 2002 collection last week, (“The Good Doctor Jak”), I now have pleasure in publishing below the second one, re-titled, “That’s The Spirit”. (Originally entitled ‘Karuna’)
Like “The Good Doctor Jak”, this second story from my 2002 collection has undergone some editing and re-writing, so to any of you out there who might have read the original story, you will notice that I have slightly changed the end.
At over 13,500 words, it is a much longer story than ‘The Good Doctor Jak’, (4,600 words), and I suppose is more of a novelette than a conventional ‘short’ story.
So here it is, with its brand new ending. I do hope you enjoy it, and as ever, I welcome any comments.
That’s the spirit!
The Asian financial crisis of the mid-nineties was the catalyst that enabled my wife and I to realise our long cherished dream of buying our own holiday home in Thailand.
I had spent many years working and living in Thailand back in the seventies and early eighties, and over the last twenty years had maintained contact with friends in the region. I was a frequent visitor, and more recently, I had established a small import/export business that was doing so well that it soon became my sole source of income.
And so it was, that in the late nineties, we succeeded in finding our ideal home at an ideal price, thanks mainly to my Thai brother-in-law, who sought out a selection of desirable properties that were on the market at rock-bottom prices.
The new house was located within ten minutes’ walk from the sea, at the Thai resort of Bang Saen, which is located on Thailand’s eastern seaboard. It was about ninety minutes’ drive from Bangkok, and in the opposite direction, was only another forty minutes journey to the world famous Thai resort of Pattaya.
Bang Saen is a medium sized, strictly Thai town, with few foreigners, or farangs, (as they are known), to be found there. It boasts long sandy beaches, which are very popular with Thai day-trippers who swarm to its seafronts on weekends and public holidays. Bang Saen also has a large, regional university campus, and a renowned twenty-four hour food market. All in all, it was a prosperous town, with little evidence of poverty and a total absence of beggars and homeless people.
I hadn’t been in residence for long at my new house when I met a whole new group of Thai friends. They congregated at one particular place in Bang Saen, which was known far and wide as Bahn Bah. When I first heard of Bahn Bah, I thought it must be some kind of mental home, as I assumed that Bah meant ‘crazy’ and I knew that the Thai word Bahn meant ‘home’. I was only partially correct, and fortunately my brother-in-law enlightened me before I put my foot in it. Apparently, if I pronounced Bah with the correct tone then it was one of several words that meant ‘Dad’ or ‘Papa’; so Bahn Bah was ‘Papa’s House’, reminding me yet again of how careful I had to be when pronouncing or interpreting Thai words.
Bahn Bah was a truly unique establishment and whenever I went there, the prevailing ambience always imbued in me an overwhelming feeling of peace and tranquillity.
Bah’s rambling, Thai-style, wooden house was located at the far end of his extensive tropical gardens. The lawns were of lush tropical grasses, and the flowerbeds emitted fragrant perfumes of wild orchids and jasmine. A variety of palm trees and bushes created areas of shade from the hot sun, with hand carved rustic seats and benches strategically placed to take maximum advantage from the shade and benefit from breezes that always seemed to waft through the garden, even on the hottest of days.
The house had obviously passed through many stages of evolution, judging by the various extensions which had been built onto the original structure, and which now spread along the complete width of the extensive gardens.
The first time I was taken to meet Bah, I entered the main room of the house and was struck by a large, circular table, which dominated the room. The table could probably seat up to twelve people, and had a Chinese style turntable in its centre, to facilitate the passing of food around the table to those who were dining.
It was early one Sunday evening, and I was introduced to Bah, (Papa), and to his wife, Mère, (Mama), who welcomed me and offered me a seat at the table, which was already occupied by a number of people. Later, I came to learn they were all members of the Bahn Bah ‘gang’.
It was quite a while before I was able to remember the names and faces of all the ‘gang’ members that were introduced to me during my first visit. Bah had three sons, and one daughter. Two of his married sons and his daughter had their own quarters in various parts of the house. There were three grandsons, two dogs and several birds, which completed the complement of permanent residents of Bahn Bah, although the numbers were swollen from time to time, by visiting relations, friends and ‘gang’ members who didn’t always make it back to their own homes after a night’s drinking.
Bah had just turned seventy, and had recently retired from his profession as a dentist. Two of his sons were lawyers, and most of the ‘gang’ members were well-educated, professional people whose ages ranged from the mid-twenties to the mid-forties.
The principal activity of Bahn Bah’s ‘gang’ was drinking alcohol. Debates, arguments, singing, and especially eating were all pretty important activities, but drinking whisky, and the occasionally beer, was by far the most important item on the nightly agenda.
Bah had been a heavy drinker all his life and amazingly had never shown any signs that alcohol had been anything but beneficial. His ‘gang’ members were valiantly trying to follow in his revered footsteps, and were always trying to follow his maxim: if you drink and get drunk, then the whisky is no good, but if you drink and don’t get drunk, then you are no good.’
The whisky was consumed in the typical Thai manner – small shots in tall glasses with an abundance of ice, mixed with plenty of water or soda. Thai snacks were eaten along with the drinking, and in this way, it was possible to consume a copious amounts of whisky over many hours, without succumbing to the worst effects of inebriation.
Thus in this unique setting, important topics of the day were discussed. Political issues were argued about. Items of gossip were exchanged. Dubious jokes were told. Problems at work were examined. Golf matches were recounted. Affairs of the heart were scrutinised. Folk songs were sung out of key. And all this would all take place, while drinking whisky and eating snacks, around the circular table and under the watchful eye of Bah, the gang’s amiable and benevolent leader.
If anyone happened to be particularly vigilant – and it must be said that due to the heavy consumption of alcohol, personal vigilance was a rare event – they may have observed that at a certain point during the evening’s drinking, Bah would quietly disappear from the table, and would not return. The time had come for him to retire to bed and leave the younger members of his ‘gang’ to complete their drinking, talking and singing in his absence.
One of the first people I got to know during my inaugural visit to Bahn Bah was a young man by the name of Tom. Once Bah and Mère had made me welcome, Tom spoke to me as soon as I had taken my seat at the table. As he took my hand, I could see that he was already quite tipsy; the combination of whisky and the hot afternoon sun producing a sheen of perspiration over his dark skin.
‘Welcome to Bahn Bah, Mr. John. My name is Tom. I hope you can drink!’
‘Good Afternoon Tom,’ I replied, ‘I think I can manage a glass or two.’
‘I hope so, because you can’t become a member if you don’t drink, can he lads?’ he asked the assembled ‘gang’ of half a dozen people.
They all smiled as I assured Tom that I thought I would be capable of ‘holding my end up’.
Tom looked about thirty years old, and had rugged good looks. He was quite short, but well-built with a muscular, ‘bulldog’ sort of a body, and as the evening drew on, it became obvious that he was one of the more voluble members of the ‘gang’. He always seemed to be at the centre of loud, rather raucous discussions; arguing one moment and joking the next.
It came as no surprise to learn that Tom was always outspoken, even when sober, and this uncontrollable habit had brought him many problems in the past. I was told that the latest problem to beset him was at work where he was the assistant branch manager of a national bank. Apparently, he had spoken his mind to his superior, when discretion would have been a wiser course of action, and as a result, he had been transferred to a branch in the small township of Trat, which was located over a hundred miles east of his home in Bang Saen. The distance was too far to commute, so he had to stay in lodgings during the week, and drive back to Bang Saen at weekends to be with his wife.
Tom’s wife, Jun, was also sitting at the table, and the discussion revolved around Jun’s attempts to speak to a family friend on Tom’s behalf, who happened to be a very senior official from the same bank. The friend was based at the bank’s head office in Bangkok, and the idea was that Jun would go and see him and ask him to use his influence to have Tom transferred back to Bang Saen.
After much discussion it seemed that the ‘gang’ was divided as to whether this was a good idea, both from an ethical viewpoint and also whether it would actually work. Jun seemed to have her heart set on the plan, as the couple was childless and she was very lonely during the week when Tom was in Trat. She was obviously was very fond of this loud, unruly, but in some indefinable way, very likeable young man.
As the night drew inexorably to its conclusion, with Bah long departed to bed, the ‘gang’ members also made their exits one by one until just Tom, Jun and myself remained to finish off the last of the whisky.
The drunken talk took on a personal flavour. Tom and Jun told me that they had been married for over five years and desperately wanted to have a baby, but so far had drawn a complete blank. Apparently they had both been to specialists and there was no medical reason why Jun couldn’t conceive. It was just one of life’s mysteries, and they continued to live in hope. The lack of children appeared to be the only blot in an otherwise very happy marriage, which had enjoined a poor, earnest young man from a very humble farming background to a friendly, pretty girl from a wealthy family of landowners. It had been a love match from the very start, and although Jun’s family had originally objected, they were good people at heart, and had been won over by Tom’s charm and genuine desire to make something of his life.
‘Do you think Jun will be able pull the strings so that you are transferred back to Bang Saen?’ I asked Tom.
‘I hope so John,’ he replied, ‘Theses separations are hurting us, especially Jun. She’s so lonely when I’m away’
‘Well I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you,’ I said as we finally headed off. Tom had to return to his job in Trat the following morning and I certainly didn’t envy him the early start, after an evening of hard drinking with the ‘gang’ at Bahn Bah. But from what I gathered, he was more than used to it.
* * *
It was two weeks later when I next ran into Tom and Jun at Bahn Bah. It came as no surprise to find that Tom had already imbibed more than his fair share of alcohol by the time I arrived. As usual he was in a heated conversation, this time with a man I had not met before. The man was tall and slender, and his name was Nim. He was dressed informally but looked very smart, and also looked older than other members of the ‘gang’.
Tom was in the full throes of a conversation with Nim about house construction, and as the discussion progressed, I learned that Nim was a renowned architect. His family home was in Bang Saen, but he worked in Bangkok where he had designed a number of prestige buildings and his services were much sought after.
Tom and Nim seemed to be having a protracted argument over the design of a particular house, and after a while it suddenly dawned on me that they were in fact discussing a proposed new home for Tom and Jun.
‘We’re fed up with living in rented accommodation so we’ve decided to build our own house down by the sea shore, and we’ve asked Nim to design it for us,’ Tom explained.
‘More like he’s telling me how to design it,’ Nim interjected, with an air of superiority.
‘No I’m not, Nim. I like most of your ideas. It’s just that I only want one bedroom and I don’t want a garden – gardens are too much trouble.’
‘Can you believe this man wants to have a swimming pool instead of a garden?’ Nim asked, to no one in particular.
Bah was sitting in his usual place, sipping his whisky. He didn’t say much, as he was usually content to sit and listen. However, when he did speak, it would be beholden on all those present to listen and take due regard of what he said. After all, he was their venerable host, and in any event, Thais must always show respect for their elders.
‘Nim, if you agree to design and build this house for Tom and Jun, I think you must go along with their wishes on how many rooms they need and whether they want a swimming pool or a garden. It will be your design, and they have asked you because you are a good friend and they know that you will build them a beautiful house,’ Bah concluded.
Bah’s carefully chosen words had the effect of taking the edge out of the discussions, and I asked Tom why he only wanted one bedroom.
‘There’s only the two of us, and after five years of trying, it’s obvious that we’re never going to have a family.’
‘But what happens if friends want to stay overnight?’ I asked.
‘They’ll have to sleep in the lounge, but quite frankly, I don’t want to encourage anyone to stay. They’re welcome to come and eat and drink, but I’d rather they all went home at the end of the evening and left Jun and me alone in our little ‘love nest’. And if we only have one bedroom, everyone should get the message!’ He exclaimed, laughing.
I enquired how the attempts to have Tom transferred back to Bang Saen was progressing. It appears that Jun had spoken to the family friend, who had duly promised to help, but as yet nothing had happened.
The evening became a ‘free for all’ debate on Tom’s new house, which incidentally, was being paid for by Jun’s father, and the drunker everyone became, the more outrageous the suggestions. But two things were inviolate. There was going to be only one bedroom, and there would be a large swimming pool and no garden.
* * *
During the following weeks, intense discussions continued on the design of the house, and eventually, much to everyone’s surprise, the final plans were agreed and construction commenced. Jun’s father had purchased for them a small plot of land by the seashore, near to Bang Saen Beach. The plot could only be accessed from the land via a secluded narrow driveway, and without any nearby properties, it was going to be the private, isolated marital home that they both desired.
However, like all beaches in Thailand, Bang Saen beach was open to the public. It was a popular place for many local residents – me included – to take their daily exercise. This was usually in the form of walking or light jogging in the early morning, before the fierce sun arose and made such activities unbearable. Although Tom and Jun’s new house was at least two hundred yards inland from the beach, I discovered that at low tide it was possible to walk along the shoreline and approach the house from the sea.
As the building work progressed, I grew into the habit of taking my daily walk near that area of the beach, and when the tide permitted, I would walk along the shore to see how the house construction was progressing.
Although by no means a mansion, Nim had excelled himself .The building was a beautiful two-storey house in the Thai style, which faced out onto a large swimming pool. The second floor was tapered upwards, as if the apex of an intricate triangle, and consisted of just a large single bedroom, in accordance with Tom’s wishes.
About four months into construction, I arrived at Bahn Bah one Saturday evening to find everyone in uproar. Tom was singing and dancing around as though the hot sun and whisky had finally got to him; Jun was grinning from ear to ear, and the rest of the ‘gang’ looked almost as manic. I was beginning to wonder whether everyone was high on marijuana or something even more narcotic.
Eventually, Tom spotted me, and with a fierce slap on my back shouted, ‘John, you won’t believe what’s happened!’
‘No Tom, I’m sure I can’t imagine what’s happened,’ I replied, keeping my suspicions to myself.
‘Jun’s pregnant! She’s three months pregnant. What do you think of that?’
‘That’s incredible Tom. Well done. How have you managed it, after all these years?’
‘We don’t know. It just happened. We always said we would have a baby one day, but after five years we had really given up hope. Isn’t it wonderful news?’
‘It certainly is. So that’s why everyone is looking so happy. What have you all been drinking – champagne?’ I asked.
‘Not quite John,’ Bah replied. We’ve been drinking Thai wine. Try some, it’s very good.’
I had tasted Thai wine before and had found it most unpalatable, so I politely declined, indicating my preference to toasting the happy couple with a stiff glass of whisky. I could understand why everyone was so inebriated – mixing whisky with Thai wine would undoubtedly have a dramatic effect on their ability to remain in control and maintain their dignity.
‘What about your new house, Tom?’ I asked. ‘You’ve only got one bedroom, and it’s probably too late to change the design isn’t it?’
‘Didn’t I tell you that one day you’d regret it,’ Nim shouted, from across the table.
‘Ok Nim, don’t rub it in,’ Tom replied, ‘we’ll worry about that later. The main thing is that we’re going to have a baby. Anyway, the baby will stay in the bedroom with us for the first couple of years. We’ll figure out what to do later – maybe we’ll build an extension.’
‘Build an extension!’ Nim interjected. You can’t do that! It will ruin my design!’
Nim was ignored in the general joy and confusion created by Tom and Jun’s unexpectedly good news. Many more toasts were raised that night, and even Bah stayed up past his usual bed time. The news was spread to absent ‘gang’ members by telephone, and within the hour, most them had turned up, many bringing yet more Thai snacks to add to the already overflowing table of food. The resultant riotous party went onto into the small hours, for it truly gladdened our hearts to see this good-hearted happy couple so overwhelmed by the news of the forthcoming addition to their family.
* * *
I didn’t see too much of Tom and Jun over the following months. Jun had been unsuccessful in her attempts to pull the necessary strings to get Tom transferred back to Bang Saen, and when he did make it home, he preferred to spend most of his time taking care of his in increasingly pregnant wife.
Tom did occasionally venture out to check on the building progress of his new house, and I ran into him early one Sunday evening at Bahn Bah, when he popped in for a brief ‘hello’ on his way back home. I asked him how it was all going and whether the house would be ready in time for them to move in with the new baby.
‘That’s the plan John,’ he responded. The house will be finished in another week, and the baby is due in a month, so we should be already settled in when the baby’s born.’
‘I hope you’re going to have a house warming party?’ asked Malee, Bah’s daughter.
‘We certainly are. If all goes according to schedule, there should be just time to squeeze in a party before the baby is born.’
Bah told Tom that we should set the date so that all the ‘gang’ could make sure they were free, and after much poring over calendars, the party was set for two weeks hence.
As it turned out, Jun’s baby was a little premature, but nothing was going to stop the party, and the entire ‘gang’ turned up at Tom and Jun’s new house for the double celebration of the house warming and new baby.
It was a beautiful baby girl, and she was given the nickname of Nok, as she made the most endearing sort of chirping sound when she tried to speak. Tom said the sound was just like a little bird so he called her Nok – Thai for bird.
He was the ultimate proud, doting father and was already making plans for Nok’s schooling when she was only a few days old. We all poked fun at his over zestful enthusiasm but there was no disputing the sheer joy that the new parents derived from just sitting with and cradling their little Nok.
The house, with its traditional Thai designs, was as beautiful from the inside as it was from the exterior, and we all congratulated Nim in creating such a wonderful home.
It looked as though Tom and Jun would be very happy there, and we hoped that Tom would somehow get himself transferred back to Bang Saen to set the seal on what appeared to be the perfect life and marriage.
* * *
Over the next few months, Tom spent most of his spare time at home, doting on his baby daughter, which was understandable as he could still only see her at weekends.
My wife and I were returning to England for a couple of months, so we decided to take a little gift to Nok before we left. We drove down to the beach one Sunday afternoon, parked up and walked along the sand to Tom’s house. Father and daughter were sitting out on the small veranda enjoying the brief period of cool breezes, which sprang up just before dusk.
We surprised Tom, by approaching from the beach, but he produced a stepladder from the side of the house and we were able to climb over the fence and join him on the veranda. Tom made us welcome in his usual, inimitable manner, and after a bottle of whisky was produced, Jun and Tom opened our gift – a very pretty, hand embroidered, little pink dress. They were delighted, and insisted in changing Nok into her new clothes straight away. She was an exceptionally pretty baby, and the new dress fitted her perfectly. She was already crawling, and as far as I could make out, she seemed to really like her new outfit, as she crawled around the veranda making her funny chirping noises.
We drank a couple of glasses, and then bade our farewells. As we strolled back along the beach to our car, we looked inland and could just make out the sight of Tom sitting quietly, and little Nok moving around on her hands and knees, chirping away. It was a blissful scene indeed.
* * *
I was away for six weeks, and soon after my return I dropped by Bahn Bah to let Bah know I was back inform England and to enquire how everyone had been in my absence.
It was around eight in the evening, and two things struck me as soon as I walked into the house. Firstly, there were no visitors – which on a weekend was virtually unheard of -and secondly, Bah was sitting with his wife, Mère, on the sofa, rather than at his usual position at the drinking table. But most unusual of all was the fact that he wasn’t even drinking.
‘Hello John,’ Mère said in greeting, ‘come on in and sit down. Did you have a good journey?’
‘Fine thank you Mère, but what’s going on? Where’s all the ‘gang’?’
‘I don’t think anyone has the stomach for drinking at the moment,’ Bah replied. ‘We all drank so much last weekend that we’re still suffering. For once, Mère has put her foot down and has insisted that I stop drinking for a few days.’
‘He’s not getting any younger and he has to look after himself,’ Mère explained.
‘Last week was very bad, so bad – for everyone’
‘What was the celebration? Whose party was it?’ I asked.
‘No celebration or party, John. It was the opposite I’m afraid.’
I started to have a funny feeling in my stomach that something wasn’t quite right, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to hear what was coming. ‘What do you mean, Bah?’
‘John, something terrible has happened. Little Nok, Tom’s baby, has died.’
‘Oh my God! I don’t believe it. How? Where?’
‘She died two weeks ago. She drowned in Tom’s swimming pool,’ said Mère.
‘But they never let her out there by herself, and I know the gate to the pool was always locked. Tom told me he had a strict rule about that, because he was worried that an accident might happen. Where was Tom when it happened?’
‘He was in Trat. Jun was in the house alone with Nok. She doesn’t know how it happened. One minute Nok was crawling around in the house, the next she was at the bottom of the pool. She has no idea how the gate came to be unlocked.’
‘That’s terrible,’ I said. ‘So…the funeral …was last weekend?’
‘Yes, at Wat Sansuk. We all came back here afterwards and drank too much – all that night and all day Sunday. We drank and drank, but no one seemed to get drunk. It was so sad,’ Bah explained, ‘and now Mère has stopped me drinking.’
‘So where is Tom and Jun now? How are they taking it? Pretty badly I imagine.’
‘Jun never stops crying. She is completely distraught. Tom doesn’t say much, he just sits quietly and drinks and drinks. We don’t know what he’s thinking – he keeps it all inside himself.’
We continued to go over the details of this terrible tragedy, when we were disturbed by the unexpected arrival of Jun, alone. She looked awful. Her face was deathly white, with sleepless rings under painfully red eyes, and recent tearstains were still in evidence on her cheeks.
‘Jun,’ I began, ‘I’m so sorry for what happened…’
‘It’s OK, John. I know you are. Thank you.’
‘Sit down Jun,’ Mère said, ‘Have something to eat. You look like you haven’t eaten in days.’
Jun perched on the edge of the sofa and said, ‘I can’t eat anything Mère. I’m just not hungry. Bah, can you help me to talk to Tom? He hasn’t spoken to me since the funeral. He just sits on the veranda twenty-four hours a day and stares out at the swimming pool. I’ve tried talking to him but he won’t answer me. I don’t know what to do. Please help me.’
‘I can try Jun, but Tom has a very strong head and he is traumatised. Maybe it is better to leave him alone for a few more days’
‘I can’t stand it any longer,’ Jun replied. ‘Please Bah, please try to talk to him.’
Bah walked over to the table, sat down and picked up the phone. There then followed a long conversation, which we couldn’t really make out properly. At length, Bah replaced the phone and returned to the sofa. ‘He’s coming,’ he said.
‘Coming? Coming here?’ Jun asked.
‘Yes, he didn’t want to, but I told him it was the best thing to get it all out in the open and sort it out one way or another. At first he refused but I insisted, so he has to come.’
Such was the respect that Bah commanded from his friends that even Tom in his present condition could not refuse what amounted to an order. I knew that Bah didn’t like using his ‘authority’ in such a manner, but the circumstances were exceptional.
About half an hour later a car drew up and Tom entered the house. He was sober, and had a haunted, distraught look on his face. He nodded to Bah, Mère and me, but took no notice of Jun, as he sat down on a stool at the end of the room.
‘I have come out of respect for you Bah, but I have nothing to say to her,’ Tom said, with a brief wave of his hand in the direction of his wife.’
Jun started to sob as Bah said, ‘Tom, You have to come to terms with your daughter’s accident. She is gone and life must go on. You have to speak to Jun and find a way to pick up your lives again.’
‘Bah, it wasn’t an accident! It should never have happened! That woman killed my baby. She was so careless, so stupid! She killed her truly, and I can never forgive her or speak to her again.’
‘I didn’t do anything Tom, I swear it!’ Jun mumbled in between her sobs.
‘How can she say that, Bah?’ Tom shouted. ‘The gate to the pool was always locked. How could Nok get into the pool? She was only six months old, she couldn’t open the gate, and there was no one else in the house. Of course it was her, she just won’t admit it!’ Tom finished, refusing to speak to his wife directly.
‘But I didn’t! I didn’t! I didn’t! Why don’t you believe me? I’ve never lied to you. I love you Tom.’
Tom finally turned to his wife and looked into her tearstained eyes.
‘But I don’t love you anymore. You killed the most precious thing in my life and I can never forget it.
Jun burst out crying again and collapsed hysterically on the floor in front of Tom. ‘Oh Tom, I can’t stand it, I love you so much. Please Tom. Please believe me’
The scene was very harrowing and Bah tried to intervene. ‘Tom, your daughter is gone, she will never come back. What is done is done. You can’t go on being so bitter to Jun. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, it won’t change anything.’
‘Bah, I know you mean well, but you don’t know how I feel. Nok was my daughter. It was a miracle when she was born; you know we had been trying for five years. That was my only chance to be a father, and now my beautiful baby is gone forever. It was all due to her stupidity. She killed my daughter and she has ruined my life.’
There was a long silence and no one knew what to say or do, as Tom’s attitude appeared to be so truculent and entrenched. After a few minutes Jun stopped crying and slowly got to her feet and stood facing Tom.
‘Tom, Nok wasn’t your baby.’ She said in a low eerie whisper.
At first, Tom didn’t seem to hear what Jun had said, as there was no instant reaction. But after what seemed like an eternity, he walked over to Jun, and facing her, he grasped her shoulders and said, ‘Not my daughter? What do you mean?’
‘She wasn’t your daughter Tom,’ Jun replied, with a look of total terror.
Tom started shaking Jun. ‘What are you talking about? Are you mad? Of course Nok is my daughter!’
‘Tom you’re hurting me!’ Jun screamed, as Bah and I grabbed Tom from behind and tried to restrain him.
He looked at us, released Jun, and taking a step backwards, he said to Jun, ‘Will you please explain yourself? What are you saying? Not my baby? it’s… impossible!’
Jun sat back down on the sofa, next to Mère, as if for protection, and Mère put her arm around Jun, sensing her vulnerability.
‘Tom you are so stubborn. You only believe what you want to believe. All these years you’ve been telling everyone that there’s nothing wrong with you and there’s no reason why you can’t have a baby. I know you didn’t blame me, but the way you spoke, a lot of people thought it was my fault. Yet all the time you knew that it was you. The doctors told you so many times it was you – you’re sterile! You know you are! But you won’t accept it. Tom, you can never conceive a baby.’
This piece of information hit all of us like a bombshell. We didn’t know what to say, and Tom looked as though his world had truly come to an end.
Tom finally asked the obvious question that was in everyone’s mind, in a low trembling voice. ‘If Nok wasn’t mine, then who was the father?’
‘I can’t tell you. I promised him it would remain a secret.’
‘If what you say is true, then I demand to know who the father is. I want to know – now!’
‘No Tom, I can’t tell you. You can kill me before I tell you. I made my solemn promise, and it will go with me to my grave.’
There was another long silence and eventually Tom said to his wife, ‘Why did you do this? Why did you deceive me? I thought you said you loved me? I don’t understand!’ he said as he buried his head in his hands.
‘I was so lonely and unhappy after you were transferred to Trat. Every day was like a nightmare. I didn’t know what to do when you were away. Then one day I thought that if I became pregnant, it would solve all our problems. I would have something to keep me occupied, you would be so happy, and I thought maybe your boss may take pity on you and bring you back home if you had a family.’
‘So your solution was to be unfaithful. To commit adultery!’
‘It didn’t mean anything Tom, honestly. I just wanted a baby, for both of us. I found someone who was willing to help. A very kind, understanding man – but you will never understand,’ she said, breaking into sobs once again.
‘No, I will never understand what you have done. You have betrayed me, you have killed what I thought was my baby, and you have shamed me so much. This is the end of my life. I can never hold my head up again.’
‘Tom, what has been said here today will be our secret,’ Bah said to Tom, as he made his way to the door.
‘Thank you Bah, I appreciate that. And I appreciate what you have tried to do for me. At least I now know the truth,’ he said as he walked back to his car without saying his farewells to anyone.
I felt a bit of an intruder in this terrible domestic tragedy, and decided that I too should make my departure. I quickly bid my goodbyes, and left Jun quietly sobbing in Mère’s arms and Bah looking out into the garden with a look of utter despair etched into his brows.
* * *
Two further events happened over the next few weeks, which will conclude the first part of my tale.
The first was about two weeks after the confrontation at Bahn Bah, when Tom surprisingly appeared at Bah’s door. A small group of us were having a subdued Sunday evening drink, trying to put recent events to the back of our minds.
Somewhat selfishly, we didn’t relish Tom’s arrival, which would undoubtedly put a ‘dampener’ on the proceedings. He didn’t stay long. He was just passing by to say goodbye as he was going away, somewhere ‘up-country’, with no intention of returning. He had left his wife, had quit his job and was clearly in no mood to discuss anything pertaining to his future plans, if indeed he had any.
Bah and the rest of us wished him well, and that was that. He was gone, and as far as we were aware, he had left Jun in the family home. But no one had seen her since that afternoon when she had told Tom that he wasn’t Nok’s father.
The second event was about three months later, when to my alarm I noticed a police car parked in Bah’s drive one day when I came to visit.
When I entered the house I found Bah and Mère in deep conversation with two Police officers at one end of the room, so I took my place at the table and asked the ‘gang’ what was going on. They kidded me that the police were looking for me, but it became obvious that no one had any idea why the cops were there.
At length, Bah brought the two officers over to the table and introduced them. It transpired that Jun hadn’t been seen for over three months and her parents were worried about her and had contacted the Police. The Police asked all of us if we could throw any light on Jun’s whereabouts but no one had seen her or knew where she might have gone.
After the Police had left I took Bah to one corner and asked him if the Police had asked about Tom. He told me that they had asked if he had any idea where Tom was living, but of course he didn’t – no one did. There had been some suggestion from Jun’s family that Tom may have done something terrible to their daughter, but Bah had assured the Police that Tom wasn’t capable of that sort of crime.
‘Did you tell them anything about the background of their marriage break-up and their dead baby?’ I asked.
‘They already knew most of the story from Jun’s family,’ he replied.
‘So do they suspect foul play?’
‘They said they’ve got no evidence, and do not propose to take the matter further unless something concrete turns up.’
‘Do you think Tom did anything to her, Bah?’ I asked.
‘No John, I don’t. Tom was a headstrong, stubborn man who was devastated by his personal tragedy. But deep down he was good and kind, and I’m quite sure that he would never harm anyone. Jun will turn up, when she’s good and ready. You’ll see.’
A very sad end to one of the happiest marriages I had come across in Thailand.
Over the next two years, life slowly returned to normal. My business was booming, which meant I could spend even more time in Thailand, and which also meant that I had become a fully-fledged member of the Bahn Bah ‘gang’.
Visits to Bahn Bah were a regular occurrence, and in time the sad events surrounding Tom and Jun became a less painful memory. No one had heard from either of them, and we spent many an inebriated evening speculating on what may have happened. One or two of the ‘gang’ were convinced that Tom had ‘done away’ with his wife, but the majority did not subscribe to this theory.
We were sure they couldn’t possibly have resolved their differences and assumed that both of them had independently decided to live somewhere else in Thailand – a long way from Bang Saen – so that they could forget the past and start a new life. Those who had known Tom for many years were convinced that despite his volatile nature, he was totally incapable of any form of violence.
The house near the beach had been deserted for over two years now, and despite the high grade of workmanship, it was starting to fall prey to the vicious tropical climate, and was slowly falling into disrepair. The swimming pool had long since been drained and boarded over, and it wouldn’t be long before the whole place would start to become a permanent eyesore. It was a sad memorial indeed for poor little Nok.
I was sitting at the infamous drinking table one Friday evening, when Bah’s daughter, Malee, staggered in the front door, walked wearily over to where we were sitting and slumped down on a chair. She was wearing her jogging clothes and was drenched in perspiration.
‘I’ve been down to the beach for some exercise,’ she gasped, ‘Someone give me a drink, I’m dying of thirst.’
Dusk had just descended, and I asked Malee why she was jogging in the evenings, rather than the mornings, like she used to do.
‘I prefer it. The sun is already going down so it’s not much hotter than in the mornings. There were a few other joggers down there, so I’m not completely crazy. The tide was out, and I was able to jog down the shore past Tom’s old house,’ she replied.
‘What sort of condition is it in these days?’
‘It’s looking very run-down. You know something? I walked up to the fence to get a better view, and for a moment I could have sworn I heard a baby crying. It was so eerie. Although it was getting dark, I could see the veranda and the front of the house pretty well. There was nothing there, and the noise suddenly stopped. It must have been my imagination, but it was real spooky.’
Malee’s younger brother, Arun, said, ‘don’t tell us that the house is haunted Malee. Come on, no one believes in ghosts these days!’
But although the young man liked to assert that he was a modern thinking Thai, he was being a mite economical with the truth, in his declaration to Malee. Even in this day and age, a vast majority of Thais still believed in the supernatural – something which was inextricably woven into the spiritual fabric of Thai culture. Over ninety percent of Thais are Buddhists, and they completely accept the doctrine of reincarnation. Additionally, they believe that ghosts do exist and that they are deceased persons who for one reason or another, have not yet been reborn into their next life. It was not at all difficult for a believer in reincarnation to believe in ghosts.
One thing was for sure. Arun may have claimed that he didn’t believe in ghosts, but deep down, like most Thais, he did have a grudging respect and fear for all things paranormal. My own feelings were ambivalent. Being a westerner I found it very hard to accept such beliefs, but I had been in the orient long enough to know that not all strange happenings in this world could be explained away by conventional western logic.
‘Well I’ll tell you one thing, I’m not going there alone again, especially when it’s getting dark,’ Malee replied.
Bah was sitting in his usual chair, quietly listening our chatter, and he asked, ‘Malee, what did the baby sound like? Did it make that strange chirping noise that Nok used to make?’
‘I know it’s crazy, but yes, Bah, it did sound like Nok’
‘It was a bird. Your ears were playing tricks with you,’ Arun said.
‘You’re probably right – but next time I go there I’ll make sure I’m not alone.’
The drunken chatter stayed with the subject of ghosts, and many a ghost story was recounted that night, before we all finally made our way home, feeling a somewhat vulnerable from the combined effects of the spirits over our minds as well as our bodies.
* * *
I think we would have all put Malee’s supernatural experience down to an over- fertile imagination if it hadn’t been for corroboration from a most unexpected source.
Mère hadn’t been too well lately, and her doctor had recommended that she take more exercise, so Malee had adopted the habit of taking her mother down to the beach in the early mornings to take short walks along the sand. On one of these early morning excursions, they had strolled within a short distance of Tom’s old house, and both women swore that they had seen something crawling around on the veranda. This time it wasn’t just a noise, but a genuine sighting.
I was hearing about this at Bahn Bah when I dropped by one evening with Lek, my wife. The assembled ‘gang’ were in great state of excitement as they were discussing what had quickly become known as, the haunted house. While we wouldn’t dream of doubting what Malee, and especially Mère had claimed to have seen, our inclination was to make light of the sighting and to turn it into a joke. After all, Thailand may be a ‘land of ghosts’, but who had ever really seen one? I think deep down we were all trying to avoid taking the matter too seriously, as it had the potential to turn quite dark.
Bah, for one, seemed to be taking it seriously, and he advised his wife and daughter to stay away from the house when they went to the beach. He didn’t go as far as to concede that the place might be haunted, but he told us that it was not safe to dabble in such matters without expert advice and assistance. He told us that he had known of people losing their minds when they tried to delve into the supernatural. Bah rarely tried to exert any control over the way our conversation went, but on this occasion, without actually saying so, it was evident that he would prefer us to change the subject, and after a few minutes we drifted into other, lighter topics.
The time for Bah to do his nightly trick of unobtrusively disappearing duly arrived, but on this occasion, everyone had been waiting for his departure as soon as he had left the room, the ‘gang’ once more turned their attention to the matter of the haunted house on the beach. My wife, having spent many years with me in England, had become quite westernised, and refused to believe that there was any such things as ghosts, or haunted houses. A debate ensued between my wife and Malee, who by now was convinced that something unnatural was happening at the house.
‘Lek, if you had been with me you wouldn’t be so disparaging. Mère and I really did see something, and its outline could have been a baby, couldn’t it Mère?’ asked Malee.
Mère nodded in reply as my wife replied, ‘Malee, I’m sure you both thought you saw something, but it was auto-suggestion. It was in your mind, and the half-light played tricks with your brain.’
‘Both of us?’ Malee asked.
‘I think it was sort of joint hysteria. You both convinced each other,’ my wife replied.
‘There’s only one way to settle this,’ Arun said. ‘Let’s go and take another look, and we’ll take Lek with us.’
‘But Bah told us to stay away from the house,’ I said.
‘Don’t tell me that a farang is afraid of ghosts!’ said Arun.
‘Of course not,’ I replied, ‘I just don’t want to go against Bah.’
‘And so you shouldn’t,’ said Mère.
The conversation moved on to other subjects until Mère also retired for the night when we then spent an hour discussing the pros and cons of ignoring Bah’s warning to stay away. Against my better judgement, we all eventually agreed that Lek, Malee, Arun and myself would investigate further, some two nights hence when the tide was out. In theory, Malee was the only one of that group who openly professed a belief in ghosts, and she would be well protected by the rest of us, non-believers.
* * *
I had never known Bah to be really angry. Never, that is, until the night of our ghost hunting expedition. We were back at Bahn Bah’s, and poor Malee was in a bit of a state. She was lying on the sofa looking very pale, and her body was still shaking.
‘I told you to keep away from that house, but you young people don’t listen to your elders anymore,’ Bah complained, in as angry a tone as I had ever known.
‘We’re sorry Bah, but we had to satisfy our curiosity,’ I said apologetically.
After a while Malee seemed to calm down a little, although she was still shaking and the colour hadn’t yet come back to her cheeks. The experience had really affected her, and I could see that Bah was worried about his daughter. She eventually got up from the sofa and walked unsteadily over to the table where the rest of the ‘gang’ were assembled and patiently waiting for us to tell them about our experiences.’
‘Come on, what happened? Did you see any ghosts?’ asked Vichai, Bah’s youngest son.
Arun started to recount events.
‘We arrived at the beach just before dusk, but the tide was still too far in for us to walk to the house along the beach, so we decided to wait. By the time we could get round there, it was almost dark.
‘We reached the fence to the house, and at first we couldn’t see or hear anything out of the ordinary.’
‘We were just about to leave when we heard a sound, like a baby crying. It was really weird,’ said my wife.
‘It was so frightening,’ Malee said. ‘I wanted to leave right then, but the others didn’t want to go yet, and I wasn’t leaving by myself. It was completely dark. We looked around to see if we could make out anything in the darkness, and after a while we saw a sort of blue-ish light, shining from the house out onto the veranda. It was very creepy. In the light we made out a small shadowy figure, shuffling around on the floor. And if that wasn’t scary enough, there was another shadow in the doorway. I know it was dark, but there was really something there. It was so terrifying, and I screamed.’
‘The shadow on the veranda was probably a wild dog,’ said Arun.
‘What about the one in the doorway?’ I asked
‘I didn’t see anything, it was your imagination. You got carried away.’
‘And the light?’ Malee asked.
‘The sunset playing tricks on the windows,’ Arun suggested.
‘But it was already dark!’ Malee responded.
‘By that time I think we’d all had enough, what with Malee screaming blue murder, so we decided to make an exit, and that is all there is to tell,’ Arun concluded.
‘Maybe someone had broken into the house,’ I suggested.
‘Not possible,’ Arun replied, ‘I drove down to the main entrance this morning and the front of the house was all bolted and barred, and not a sign that anyone had been near the place in months. And no one could get in from the shore side. The fence and barbed wire were still intact, all the way down to the seashore. I checked.’
‘Do you think Tom is dead Bah? Was that his ghost I saw in the doorway?’ Malee asked in a frightened voice.
‘I very much doubt it Malee. But I did tell you to keep away. You don’t understand these matters.’
‘What are we going to do?’ Lek asked.
There was a long silence, and finally Bah said,
‘I have to think very seriously about all this. For now, we do nothing, but if there is anything unnatural going on at that house, something must be done. It is too dangerous to let it be. Someone else may wander there, and get hurt – even killed.’
Bah’s words sent a shiver down our necks. Things were starting to get out of hand. He told us that he would deliberate over the next course of action, and in the meantime would we all please heed his advice and keep away from that house!
Somewhat ashamedly, we all promised. It wasn’t a hard promise to keep, because in all honesty, none of us felt like going back there after what we had just experienced.
Two uneventful weeks followed and I had just started to think that we had heard the last of all this silly ghost business when Lek and I were summoned by telephone to go to Bah Bah urgently, as someone important was waiting there to see me.
As I entered the house, I realised that the only people present were Bah, Mère and an elderly Buddhist monk, who was dressed in traditional saffron robes and was introduced to me as Phra Samit.
Bah explained that Phra Samit was a Buddhist expert on the supernatural, and he had agreed to accompany Bah that evening to find out once and for all if there was anything unnatural going on in Tom & Jun’s house. They wanted me to go with them!
‘Me? Why me Bah? Why do you want a farang to go with you?’
‘Firstly John, apart from Mère and me, you and your wife are the only ones who know the full background to this business. Phra Samit thinks it’s important for someone who understands everything to be there…just in case.’
‘Just in case what?’ I asked, somewhat perturbed.
‘I’m not sure, Phra Samit can explain. The other reason is that he wants to meet you anyway. When I told him you were from England, he insisted that I call you. He wants to reminisce with you about his time in England.’
‘Yes John,’ Phra Samit said in English. ‘I spent many years in England at the Thai Temple in Wimbledon. Do you know it?’
Of course I knew it. Any Englishman who is married to a Thai woman and lives in England would soon come to know about the famous and beautiful Thai Temple that has existed for many years in the heart of leafy Wimbledon. It is one of the few genuine Thai ‘wats’ in England and most Thais who spend any length of time in the UK will visit the Wimbledon Wat sooner or later. Many Thai residents go at least once a year, usually at Songkran – the Thai New Year.
‘I know it well, Phra Samit,’ I said. ‘So you used to be a monk at the wat in Wimbledon? ’
We discussed England in general and the Wimbledon wat in particular for a short while before reverting to the main business of the evening.
‘Why is it important for me to go with you?’ I asked him
‘I understand you were quite close to Tom and you know all about the baby. You are also a level-headed Englishman, who won’t be easily influenced by so-called supernatural events. That may prove useful, depending on what we find.
It didn’t make much sense to me but I was happy to go along with it, as I was very curious to see what was going on there, if anything.
‘So it will be the three of us, Phra Samit, Bah and me? No women? What about Lek?’ I asked, pointing to my wife.
‘We have nothing against women going, but Malee is still upset following her previous experience, and I was hoping that Lek would stay here with her while we go to look over Tom’s house.’
Lek had no objections to this proposal, but Malee, who arrived a few minutes later, had other ideas. She insisted that as a forty year old adult, she was perfectly capable of deciding whether or not she was in a fit state to accompany us on our adventure. As with most daughters, she was able to twist her father around her little finger, and eventually, against Bah’s better judgement, he reluctantly agreed that all five of us would go.
‘Make sure you keep behind us and stay close to Lek,’ he told her.
Dusk was approaching, and the tide was out, so we set off without any further argument or discussion.
We parked the car near the beach and took the usual path along the shoreline and approached the house in the semi-darkness. The fence and barbed wire seemed to be intact, and when we reached the perimeter, there was nothing out of the ordinary to be seen. In fact we couldn’t see or hear anything. There were no strange lights, no noises, and no shadowy figures.
‘There’s nothing to see here, Phra Samit,’ Bah said. ‘I’m sorry we’ve wasted your time, let’s go home.’
‘Not so quick, Bah,’ said Malee. ‘Let’s wait around for a while. I’m sure there’s something spooky going on.’
Phra Samit seemed to be better prepared than the rest of us and he produced a pair of wire cutters from his little bag and handed them to me. ‘John, see if you can cut the barbed wire and then maybe you can climb over the fence and take a closer look.’
I couldn’t reach the wire properly, but after scavenging around for some suitable stepping stones, I was able to climb up and using the cutters, I was able to open up a small gap in the wire, making it possible for someone to scramble over without getting scratched to pieces.
‘So who’s going?’ I asked.
‘It had better be you John,’ Bah replied. ‘But you can’t go alone, I’ll come with you.’
‘Bah, with all due respect, I think you’re a bit too old to start scrambling over fences. I’ll go alone, it’s no problem. Anyway, there’s nothing going on.’
Before anyone could argue, I shinned up the fence and dropped down to the other side. I started to walk slowly towards the house veranda when I heard a commotion behind me. I looked around and found Malee running to catch me up.
‘What are you doing here Malee? Shouldn’t you stay with Bah and the others?’
‘I want to see this through to the bitter end John. Come on let’s go.’
We were almost at the house when a blue light seemed to suddenly appear on the veranda. It was a strange sort of half-light and it took me by surprise.
‘Look! There it is!’ Malee exclaimed. ‘Now do you believe me?’
I wasn’t feeling so sure of myself now, but I wasn’t going to let Malee see my uneasiness. ‘I’m sure it’s a trick of the sunset; come on, let’s get closer.’
We were nearly at the front of the veranda when we stopped dead in our tracks. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There, on the floor in front of us, was a baby, crawling around, and making those strange chirping noises that Nok used to make.
‘I told you! I told you! It’s a ghost! It’s Nok!’ Malee exclaimed. She was becoming hysterical, and even I wasn’t feeling too smart about this unnerving turn of events.
Malee took my hand, and I could feel her trembling. ‘Come on John; let’s settle this once and for all.’
She pulled me along and together we climbed up onto the back of the veranda and as we approached the back door, we could clearly see that the figure on the floor was definitely a baby, probably about six months old. It looked human enough and I was starting to wonder about how a baby could possibly be there all alone when Malee gasped and pointed towards the door.
‘Look John, the door, its opening!’
It was indeed, and as the shaft of blue light widened, we could make out the figure of a man.
‘My God! What is it? Who is it,’ asked Malee, trembling beside me and holding my arm in a vice-like grip.
I was about to say that I had no idea when suddenly the whole veranda was flooded in a blinding white light and the figure in the doorway shouted in a deep, booming, unnerving voice.
‘Who are you? What are you doing here? How dare you disturb me and my baby!’
Malee collapsed on the floor. She was still gripping my arm and she pulled me down with her. The whole affair was getting out of hand, and I feared for her sanity, as well as my own! The figure approached, and in the bright light I could see that it was a very thin, middle aged man. He was naked except for a loin cloth which was wrapped around his waist and upper thighs, and his hair was completely white – like an albino – or a ghost! He looked down at our faces, and gave us an unearthly stare.
I was terrified, and I wondered what he would do next. All of a sudden, his face changed into a grin, and he burst out laughing. ‘John! Malee! What’s going on? Why have you broken into my house?’
‘Tom? Is it you Tom?’ I asked, not at all sure that this apparition was a real person.
‘Of course it’s me, feel my hands. I’m real flesh and blood.’
My heart skipped a beat as he grasped my hand, but I started to relax as I felt his rough, slightly tepid skin. ‘But your hair! What’s happened to it?’
‘It went white after Nok’s accident. I think it was the shock of it all. Let’s get Malee onto the sofa inside – she looks like she’s seen a ghost.’
Malee was starting to recover from her fright and we helped her into the house where she slumped onto the sofa. For sure, Tom was no ghost, but there were still many questions to answer.
* * *
It was an hour later, and we were all back on the veranda, drinking from an old, dusty whisky bottle that Tom produced, and laughing at our foolishness. I was still chuckling at the incongruous sight I had witnessed earlier of Bah and Phra Samit clambering over the fence by means of a rickety step ladder which Tom had dragged out from somewhere. Malee was back to normal and seemed to have suffered no lasting effects from her fainting fit.
Tom was a lot thinner, and he had clearly aged a lot since we had last seen him. His white hair had given him an outlandish appearance and it was no wonder that I had been seriously scared when I first saw him in the darkness, or that Malee had fainted.
The baby, who looked the spitting image of Nok, was playing contentedly at one corner of the veranda.
Tom told us the whole strange story. When he gave up his job, he went up- country to Mae Hong Song, a very remote region in Northern Thailand, close to the Burmese border. He lived alone in the jungle and eked out a living working as a labourer. Once he was away from the hustle and bustle of Bang Saen, he was able to mourn little Nok properly and get his life back into prospective. He had endless days to think about what had happened.
Slowly, his terrible anger against the world and against Jun in particular started to subside, and in the end he realised that he had committed a terrible injustice against his wife.
‘I still loved her, Bah’, Tom said in a soft voice, ‘but as well as loving her, I felt so sorry for what I had done to her.’
‘You felt compassion for her, Tom,’ Phra Samit said.
‘Well yes, I suppose I did.’
‘You felt empathy for her suffering, and you wanted to help her….’
‘Yes, how do you know this?
‘Tom, first and foremost you are a Buddhist. Remember your Buddhist teachings, and in particular, karuna – one of the four ‘sublime states.’ The Lord Buddha said: “Karuna is the compassion which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys the pain of others; thus, it is called compassion. It is called compassion because it shelters and embraces the distressed.” Tom, you felt a deep compassion for Jun’s suffering.’
‘Yes, Phar Samit, you are correct. I realised that I must go back to Jun, and give her comfort for all the suffering she had been through. I returned to Bang Saen, but she wasn’t there. Her mother told me she had gone away but she didn’t know where. I thought about this for a while and I suddenly had strong notion of where she might be. I remembered that soon after we were married, we took a trip up country and stayed for one night in a Wat in Nakhon Nayok province, near the national park, in Central Thailand. Jun loved it so much up there and said it was her special haven of peace. She said that if she was ever in need of spiritual comfort, she would go back to that place.’
‘Was she there, Tom?’ Malee asked, ‘Did you find her?’
Tom looked distracted for a few seconds before replying, ‘Yes, Malee, she was there.’
‘And then she came back to Bang Saen with you?’
‘Yes… that is what happened.’
‘But why haven’t we seen you around Tom? Why didn’t you tell us you were back? And where is Jun?’ I asked.
‘We didn’t come and see you because we wanted to be alone. Seeing all our friends again would bring back too many unhappy memories. We were planning to come and see you all one day, but we’ve been a bit busy, as you can see,’ he said pointing at the baby. ‘As for Jun, well she’s here. Jun, come and join us!’ he shouted.
After a few moments, Jun appeared at the doorway to the veranda. She must have been sleeping as she looked pale and only half-awake, and her hair was in disarray. She greeted everyone, kissed her husband and joined us at the table, declining the offer of a drink. She seemed happy enough, but was very subdued and rather distracted. I put it down to the fact that we had disturbed her sleep.
At length, Bah asked the question that was bothering all of us.
‘The baby, Tom. Whose baby is it?’ Bah knew that Tom was incapable of fathering a baby, so it was impossible that this infant was his son.
Tom looked at Jun, and said ‘Shall we tell them Jun?’
Jun nodded as Tom said, ‘Jun is the mother, and the father is the same man who fathered Nok. Jun and I discussed it, and we agreed that she would go back to that man and see if she could conceive again. Some mysterious power out there obviously likes us; because not only did she become pregnant almost immediately, but the baby looks exactly the same as Nok. It was a miracle.’
‘What’s her name, Tom?’ Malee asked, pointing to the baby.
‘Nok. We decided to name her after her sister.’
It seemed a strange choice of name, but we didn’t say anything.
Malee still seemed unconvinced about certain aspects of Tom’s explanation.
‘Tom, when my brother Arun came to your house the other day he found the place all bolted and barred, yet you say you’ve been back for over a year.’
Once again Tom appeared distracted by Malee’s probing questions and he remained silent for a few seconds, gathering his thoughts.
‘You don’t believe me do you, Malee?’
‘Of course I do, I’m just a bit confused, that’s all. Why was the front of your house all bolted up?’
‘It’s quite simple… we went away for a few days… to see Jun’s mother.’
It was a perfectly reasonable explanation and the party started to break up as we wanted to get back to the car before the tide came in too far and the waves cut us off.
Phra Samit, who had been in conversation with Tom, came over to me and told me that he thought Tom was a very strong person and a good Buddhist. ‘In spite of his overwhelming grief, Tom managed to pull himself together and do something positive, rather than let his life waste away. He clearly has a huge compassion for Jun, and he is doing everything he can to make amends for the terrible events of the recent past.’
Bah and Malee joined us on our stroll to the rear of Tom’s property.
‘So you see Malee; there are no spirits, no ghosts, no haunted houses. There is a perfectly normal explanation for everything that has happened.’ Bah said.
‘Yes Bah, as ever, you’re right. I should have known better, and I can’t tell you what a relief it is. I was getting quite psyched out about it all. It all seemed so spooky.’
We all made a somewhat undignified exit over the back fence, with Tom and Jun smiling at us from the veranda and little Nok ‘number two’ chirping away. Bah and Malee led the way along the fast diminishing shoreline, with Phra Samit, Lek and I following up the rear.
It was exactly two weeks later and all the main protagonists were seated at Bah’s circular drinking table: Bah, Arun, Malee, Nim, myself and my wife, Lek, and several more of the regulars. As ever, the main topic of conversation was the recent revelation that Tom and Jun were back at their home with their new baby. It was still difficult to take in what had happened.
After having had time to think things over, two members of our group – Arun and Lek – were still raising some doubts over certain aspects of Tom’s story.
When Malee had told her brother about Tom’s explanation for the front door being bolted, he had apparently been back to take another look.
‘It was exactly the same as it was last time I went there – all locked up,’ Arun told us. ‘Anyway, I decided to drive over to Jun’s mother’s house and see if they had gone there again, like they said they had done on the previous occasion.’
‘Were they there, Arun?’ I asked.
‘Jun’s mother had moved from Bang Saen about a year ago, so I have no idea if Tom and his family were visiting her or not.’
‘Are they back home now?’ I asked, ‘has anyone been along the beach to take a look?’
‘Yes, John,’ replied Bah. A few of us went up there the other evening and we had a good look over the fence. There was no sign of anyone at home, so we drove around to the front, and sure enough the doors were still locked and the house was in darkness.’
‘Where could they have gone this time,’ I asked.
‘Nobody knows John,’ answered Bah, it’s another mystery. Just when we thought Tom and Jun were back in our community they seem to have vanished again.’
I was still contemplating this extraordinary turn of events when there was an unexpected knock at the door. To everyone surprise, Phra Samit entered.
We all welcomed and wai-ed the venerable monk and invited him to join us at the table.
Once he was made comfortable, Lek said: ‘Phra Samit. I am glad you are here, because I have something I need to tell you.’
‘Yes, my dear, what can that be?’
It’s about our little adventure last week, when we discovered that Tom and Jun were back home with their new baby.’
Lek turned to me.
‘John, do you remember that pink dress that we had made for Nok – two years ago – when we went to the party at Tom’s house, just after the baby was born?’
My wife had an incredible memory for all kinds of trivia which usually left me nonplussed, but even I could recall that particular dress. It had been especially made, and there was some clever embroidery that we all thought was so pretty.
‘Yes, I remember’
‘Did you know that they put that dress on Nok for her funeral?’
‘Did they? – How do you know that?’
‘Mère told me. She said that Tom and Jun loved that dress so much that they decided to send her on her way to the next life wearing it.
‘So?’ I asked.
‘So, the baby we saw last week. It was wearing an identical dress’
‘They obviously bought one just like it. You said they loved it,’ I said.
‘John, that’s impossible, because I had that dress made in Bangkok, and it was a one-off. The embroidery was a unique design, and I’d know it anywhere.’
‘What are you saying Lek?’
‘I’m not sure what I’m saying. All I know is that the baby in Tom’s house was wearing Nok’s dress – it was definitely the same one that they put on her poor little body for her funeral, two years ago.’ she replied.
‘Phra Samit, tell Lek that she’s imagining things,’ I said to the monk. ‘She’s mistaken, isn’t she? Because if she isn’t, I have a nasty feeling that any moment now she’s going to suggest that the baby we saw last week may have been a ghost after all.’
There was a long pause, and Phra Samit closed his eyes and bowed his head. Finally, he looked around table at the assembled gang.
‘Listen everyone, there’s something I have to tell you. That is why I have come to see you here today. You see, after we went to Tom’s house last week I started to think carefully about some of the things he had had told us. In particular, I couldn’t get out of my mind what he had told us about the wat in Nakhon Nayok, – the one that Jun had called her special haven of peace.’
‘What about it?’ Lek asked.
‘I am familiar with most of the wats in that area of Nakhon Nayok , as many years ago, I spent several years in that province before I went to England. Anyway, just to satisfy my curiosity, I decided to call some of those wats to see if I could track down the one where Jun had been staying.’
‘Did you find out anything?’ Arun asked.
‘Yes, Arun, I did. I tracked down the wat where Jun had stayed.’
‘What did they tell you?’
‘I spoke to the head abbot and he told me a very strange story. Two years ago, Jun had indeed gone there and asked the Abbott if she could become a nun. He had happily accepted her into his little religious community, but she kept herself to herself and hardly said a word to anyone. He told me that she had prayed all day and most of the night and hardly ate any food. Then, after two weeks of almost non-stop praying, she disappeared.’
‘Disappeared?’ asked Malee
‘Yes. One morning, immediately after prayers she walked out of the wat, straight into the surrounding jungle, and was never seen again. They sent out search parties, but couldn’t find any trace of her. She had completely vanished. It was assumed that she became lost in the jungle and had probably starved to death.’
‘But… Tom… he went there and found her…and he brought her back home, to Bang Saen…’ mumbled Malee.
‘You are right. Tom did go there, just like he told us. The abbot has confirmed it. A year ago, a very thin man turned up at the wat, asking for Jun. He was told what had happened to Jun and without another word, he immediately took off along the very same path into the jungle that Jun had taken a year earlier.’
‘So he must have found her… and… brought her home,’ Malee stuttered.
‘Yes he must have found her.’
‘..and brought her home…’
‘No, Malee he didn’t bring her home.’
‘How do you know?’
Tom must have found her, because last week, only a couple of days before I called the Abbott, two bodies were found in the jungle by a team of park rangers. The bodies were badly decomposed but there was no doubt that they were Tom and Jun. They were identified by some personal possessions that they found in their clothes.
‘My God! I don’t believe it!
Nobody wanted to say it, but we were all thinking it. Did we really experience a supernatural happening? It was extremely unnerving and we stayed silent for a very long time.
Finally, Lek asked the question that we were all wondering.
‘Phra Samit. What happened to the bodies? What did they do with Tom and Jun’s bodies?’
‘The Abbott succeeded in making contact with their families. They both told him to go ahead and cremate their kin straight away. Jun’s family had long since assumed that she had died in the jungle and had already made their peace. They were quite content for the cremation to go ahead without their attendance. As far as Tom’s family were concerned, well they were just too poor to travel from the south to attend the funeral.’
‘So they have been cremated?’
‘About a week ago.’
‘Do you believe that ghosts are dead people who haven’t yet been cremated?’ Lek asked.
‘There are many learned Buddhists who believe this. That is why we cremate the dead, so that their souls be freed and they can move on to their next life.’
Lek continued her questions: ‘So now their bodies have been burnt, do you think their spirits have been reincarnated?’
‘Yes Lek, I do. I think that what we saw at Tom’s house – what many people like to call ghosts – was a rare and fleeting phenomenon. You may not agree with me now, but I think we were very privileged to have witnessed such a transcendent manifestation. What we saw was a happy reunion of three tortured, suffering and imprisoned souls’
‘Imprisoned…?’ I asked.
‘They were imprisoned in their bodies, and there were also spiritual conflicts that needed to be resolved. I think now that they have been. When Tom and Jun were cremated, I believe they moved on to their new lives.
Lek still looked confused.
‘Phra Samit, what you say is all very well, and I’m not saying I don’t believe you, but haven’t you forgotten one thing?’
‘What is that Lek’?
Nok, the baby. How could Nok be a ghost? Her body was cremated two years ago.’
‘How do you know that?’
‘Because she had her funeral, so she must have been.’
‘Did you go?’
‘No…John and I were in England.’
‘If you had gone you would have known that Nok wasn’t cremated. They held the funeral rites, but Tom and Jun decided that Nok’s body would be kept for one year at the wat before being cremated. Then there would be another service to send her on her way to her next life.
‘If that is so, why didn’t they cremate her last year?’
‘Because nobody told them to. Within a year of Nok’s death, both Tom and Jun had left Bang Saen, and left no instructions on the disposal of the body. I checked yesterday. Nok’s body is still at the wat.’
‘My God!’ I said, ‘so Nok was a ghost after all! I just can’t credit it. Why on earth would they want to keep Nok at the wat for a whole year? It’s so grizzly’
Bah had remained silent for a long time, but it was time to say his piece.
‘This is not at all unusual, John. Some wealthy families keep bodies for up to five years before cremating them. What is more to the point is what do we do about little Nok?’
‘What do you mean Bah?’
‘I think it is high time that little Nok was cremated. If not, we might be fated to have a haunted house down by the beach for many years to come.’
‘You think Nok is still there?’
‘I have no idea, John. That is for Phra Samit to answer, but once thing is for sure. If we don’t go ahead and arrange for Nok’s cremation, Malee will never be able to take her evening jogs along the beach again. Even if she wanted to go, I for one would never permit it.’
I looked across at Bah, but he seemed deadly serious. Then I looked at Malee who was staring at her father. The rest of us were also staring at the father and daughter. Suddenly, the tension broke and we started to smile.
‘I think it’s time we all recharged our glasses and drank to Tom and June – our favourite ghosts – and wish them well in their next life,’ Bah said with a smile.
‘Well you’ll have to excuse me, I have a cremation to organise,’ said Phra Samit, as he rose and made his exit from Bah Bah.