Sunday, May 31, 2015

Bangkok Rain

White man, Thai woman and a wet afternoon

As I sit in this nondescript cafe here in downtown Bangkok a typical scene is occurring, let me describe it to you. A middle aged, bald-headed, Western business man. Black designer shirt. White jeans. Cell phone in baby-blue case. Black and grey tennis shoes. He is standing in the street with his Thai sex-toy next to him. Her face is sharply chiseled with a wide nose erupting like a bull's across her nut brown skin. Shoulder-length hair bleached earth brown. She is in black today - black patent leather pumps, black silk pants, black T-shirt with a bone-white vest - and oh, yes, a small black purse too dainty to even hold money. The black of her clothes almost matches the color of the scabs over her syphilis shankers. Two of them, big as nickels, erupt like volcanoes on her left arm while one more, somewhat healed over, is puckered over her right eyebrow like a craggy moon. Her face is silent, dead as stone. 

He glances up at the brooding sky - foreboding with rain - and says something to her. She doesn't say a word. With quick, nervous jerks, like a humming bird darting from flower to flower, his long white hand points to a table in the restaurant I am sitting in and back. She still stares like a stone. He runs his left hand over his head to wipe the sweat away and frowns at us patrons within the shadowed interior. He makes his decision. Quick as thought he scrapes a metal chair in a jarring screech over the pitted tile and throws himself down. For a minute she stands not saying anything, then not for any apparent reason she sits down and crosses her legs. Her whole position is folded into itself and is cold as a suicide's razor. 

The waiter approaches, shaggy green menus in hand. The man grabs his and roughly shoves it under his nose. She doesn't even consent to glance at the one the waiter holds out at her but stares somewhere just behind my table at one unknown dot on the wall. The man places his order and the waiter shuffles, away, his over-sized blue jeans rubbing a counterpoint to the flap flap of his sandals. 

Such a charming couple. Her with her dead face already laid beneath the sod, him with his constant twitchings. His face, like the face of all bald men, seems absurdly long. In the humidity it is slick with sweat. He flips out his cell phone, punches in a few numbers and speaks sideways into the mouth piece. He snaps the lid back down and reholsters his phone. Such self-importance. It is obvious in his stance, the way he straddles the chair, the way he looks at the other patrons then frowns, that he thinks he is something -after all look what his money bought him -his fuck sitting opposite. 

The waiter arrives with a cup of coffee and sets it before the man. Then shuffles back into the shadow of the restaurant to wait the next customer. It won't be long. Soon many people will be running from the rain. 

As usual, everything the man does will be in his jerky, abrupt style, he shakes out a cigarette from its cellophaned red and white case, snaps his lighter and puffs away like a two cylinder engine chugging on one. He plops his right hand on the table and snaps up the coffee cup with his left. He too is silent now, itching back and forth in his chair. 

Any second now the rain is going to break. The clouds hanging over the soot-grey roofs are edging towards black. The air is heavy, taunt. 

The woman takes no notice. Her back is to the scene and she is still starring at the same point. It is most disconcerting the way she does not blink, the way her eyes do not move, the expressionless face. There is also something morbidly attractive to those crusted black scabs -maybe it their nickel size, maybe it is the way they erupt out of her smooth earth skin. Don't get me wrong there is nothing sexually appealing about it -it is the fascination of watching something die. 

What's this? She is moving? Her right hand inches up to her face -thumb extended. She plunges it full into her left nostril and begins to pick. Her nostril bulges to the side and her mouth, that expressionless cast clenched in steel across the prison of her lips, is covered by her hand. But not her eyes. Even now they still stare at the same point, still do not flicker. 

It has finally arrived. The rain begins to hiss upon the oily asphalt. It gathers momentum. The tin roof starts to tap in syncopation building to a pounding of bullets. Rain splatters everywhere. Quick as thought the first black wave of water pushes cigarette butts, dog shit, pieces of paper, unidentifiable bits of plastic in an oily crest along the lip of the gutter. A single stream slips through a rent in the tin awning and manages to fall full upon her left shoulder. It disappears behind her back. 

The man says something while his hands flutter. 

She does not reply, does not change her gaze but merely lowers her hand from her nose and reclenches it with the other across her knee. She does not even shift but lets the water continue down. 

I must admit that I cannot figure it out -what is desirable about having a woman who doesn't say one word to you? Is it like necrophillia? Does she just lie there, let him do what he wants, and all the while stare up at the ceiling, at that one point only she, if she can see anything, can see? Is this what he likes? 

Even as I write this the man looks around and stares full at me. We make eye contact. It is as if he immediately understand I've been writing about him. He cocks a bushy eyebrow almost as it were out of curiosity as to what I've been scribbling so intently while staring at them. I give nothing away but continue to write. With a customary frown he reaches a decision. He motions with his left hand, a flutter of the fingers, and without turning around to see if the waiter notices, he waits. 

Fate confirms his self importance. The waiter shuffles back up to his side. A faded green twenty Baht note slips out of the man's baby-blue wallet into the waiter's hand. The waiter slumps away. The man turns back to survey the rain, or maybe it is the woman still sitting motionless in front of him. 

Rain has beaded in silver pearls upon the cheap canary-colored Formica table -a minuscule world of lakes and rivers there at the edge of the corner. Her right elbow is also poised in the wet. Behind cars and tuk-tuks splash a grimy sludge that one upon a time would have been clean. The top of the crests are silver as if they can almost remember what they should be. 

There. The rain is slowing, tapering off to a few hesitant drops still uncertain in their continuance. The air is still just as heavy, just as sooty as before. 

The man jerks to his feet and without a word to his silent companion struts up to the entrance, where, hands on each hip, he stands the way Caesar no doubt stood when his ships first landed in England. With neither glance to left or right he steps down to the street and with short, quick strides begins to march across the road and down. 

All this while she has not moved. Now finally her right hand comes up and a curious finger lightly touches the tip of the scab above her eyebrow as if to remind herself of its existence. She smiles to herself, a small thing like a broken wing. Then standing up follows the man, quite carefully keeping half a block away. 

The table is empty now except for the coffee cup with its umber lip mark and the cigarette butt ground out in a fire-engine-red ash tray. But if you look very carefully you will see her smile like a ghost poised in the air. 

The waiter comes with a greasy rag and wipes the scene away. Allan. E.P


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