The Day After...
by Ciaran Bennett, Dublin
The atmosphere began to change when a more senior looking character in a fresh uniform arrived, I suppose he was to make the decision how to get rid of us. He started speaking to JC, then a smile appeared and he obviously like what he was hearing. Maybe JC had suggested a serious bribe, he could have the land rover and a few thousand dollars maybe. I was just startled when JC started the car and we backed out of the village, past the ponies, with any thought about trekking on horseback well gone. The silence was as heavy as the humidity between us, as the windows were all open and the sweat wasn’t just to do with external temperature.
We drove for a few miles, well away and south ,desperate to reach any paved road before the armed men changed their minds. At last a road with signposts in Thai and English seemed to rescue our sense of relief. We spoke at last. Obviously what the fuck had just happened, and how were we still alive.
We didn’t stop until we reached some town, the impulse was to drive all the way to Chang Mai and just stay there. It turned out that JC recognised the officer as a junior attendee to some general of the Kuomintang, he had had lunch with at an expensive restaurant in Chang Mai, when some members of the royal family had been visiting. He mentioned his name and this brought about the change of attitude, for business trumps racism in the part of the world, we might even be useful or even worse well connected. The captain as it turned out that what was he claimed to be, ordered his men to stop shouting and pointing their guns, as he had decided we were not Americans , but French. The old empire still exerted a magical influence all the way from Saigon to Chinese border, everyone knew the French were not Americans. So my life had been saved by this rotund gourmand and his relish for young girls and gold plates.
The Day After...
I knew, I was risking an old friendship, but I couldn’t let him be incarcerated because he was just stupid. Some of the family were obviously distressed to be involved, as anything to do with drugs was just too contaminated a subject. The establishment position was that they were a legitimate capitalist state with and industries and agriculture as its main export, and had nothing to do with drugs. The presence of the US agents for the war on drugs was simply a financial matter, as they paid a bounty for to the police for every foreigner arrested and convicted for drug possession.
At last a solution seemed to be agreed, I didn’t understand and was never really informed how it would work, but legal appearances would be maintained and yet my friend would be on plane out of the country within the month.. I trusted blindly that whatever this was would work, the prosecutor was a woman, ery stylish in a western fashion, she spoke completely in Thai throughout the proceedings. At last I was informed that Gaton was sentenced to four year probation to be administered by his lawyer in Antwerp and he was leave the country on the next available flight to London, where his passport would contain in Thai the sentence hand written into the cover. So everyone was contented, but I owed a huge favour , which I could never really repay, I had lost one of my best friends, my pressure on his family was more than acceptable, but I couldn’t let Gaston go to prison.
The Day After...
The other end of the lane was rather less magnificent than the main street end, a sort of concrete centre of habitation with lots of trucks spewing noxious clouds and indifferent shops, which all felt quite prosaic, there were no tourists here. I had heard from one of the servants who shopped at this end of the lane that there was a good oyster place, and as they were never served at the grand table where I ate with the family, I decided to have a look. There was that usual mixture of small houses with trailing flowers and lots of carved wood, then tarmac and concrete near the other end. The pavements were all unbroken, concrete grey no colour anywhere, lots of shop houses without any character, very Chinese business district feel to the place. I went into this eating shop, the servants all smiled and between my atrocious thai and there delightfully remarkable sort of English, I sat down on a metal table which might have been metal or concrete, just fairly industrial anyway. There was something peculiar about his lack of grace , something fiercely undecorated, the plates were plastic the knives and spoons aluminium and the servers all peculiarly large . They all smiled at me , others came over to see the white person, some of them may never have seen one a close range before. I order the oysters by pointing, they were excellent, the girls kept serving me more beer and the manager with his limited English thanked me for coming, as they had never had a white person in the restaurant before. The servants were all laughing, giggling and smiling at me, whispering little comments which caused even more laughter, they were the largest girls I had ever seen working together , certainly not pretty but in Thailand the perverse desires of the owners often led to bizarre combinations of human tragedy. I paid and left they all ingratiating and asking me back, the oysters were excellent and besides a certain lack of charm, it was weirdly alien, it took a few minutes for me to realise the serving girls all gathered together to say good bye, were strangely muscular in fact they were all men.