Leaving Bangkok

I opened the door of the taxi to the great shadow of the 21st century and its glowing metropolitan, monolithic swirling nightmare: Saturday evening, its eastern-eyed promise and palpable peril; tangible cursing warmth, selfish aspiration, and human stranglehold. I began to sidestep and slide from within the car, up and over and down to the known road. Mark held a light-red palm outstretched with a loose assembly of coins, crushed notes and pocket fluff, and then it came with then a silver, flash, slash, the like of a train’s wheels seizing against the track as it skidded towards a bridge disappeared. The amplified cacophony of downtown effervescence stifled there and then and the generated noise was now only of individuals, talking, investigating, moseying in circles; not the great life parade of simultaneous moots and moans and horns and hypnotic gossip of before the door had lost its hinges and was dragged between the two automobiles, the moment I knew I was finally losing my inconsequential errant youth. I joined Mark on the pavement, his drink-red face shocked into amusement. The taxi driver was still inside. Motorcycle taxi drivers in musty-orange numbered bibs looked on opposite and an immaculate, brilliant white-suited security team stared curiously from the car park entrance of the Emporium Mall. Mark looked, looked, looked in three different directions at once and said what I was thinking – ‘Should we run?’ And before I had the chance to consider more than west the taxi driver had cottoned on and was bansheeing round the front of the battered old yellow Toyota with its missing door. From the new oversized beige Lexus stopped front and central only yards away, a small, plump, middle-aged Chinese man appeared in golf wear, immediately walking to the other side of his car to inspect the damage: two doors, front bumper, back bumper – if lucky. He shook his large head, much too large for his age-shrivelled undercarriage. He looked half asleep, his hair was uncombed, the slept-in look of past caring. I hoped he would be insured because it was too late to run; it would have turned into a film scene. The motorcycles would fly like kites into the wind, the peak capped, white-suited guard of honour-and-commerce would lose their statuesque polish and join the witch hunt, the taxi driver would scream foreign murder and the distant devil, and well, there was just no point. ‘You go police,’ he sneered disdainfully, grabbing hold of my arm, something I’ll never be able to stand for and I struggled free and barked ‘No!’ I moved across to the kerb with all eyes on me, the audience filling up space in front of a small stall selling colourful kids’ clothing and there I sat, for half-an-hour until the police arrived. I told Mark to go, it wasn’t his gig and his night was still ahead of him and he accepted with regret. The golfer was Taiwanese, spoke English and didn’t really care too much, he just wanted home to his visual comfort and an air-conditioned living room, these situations are just the trials, he told me, make you stronger maybe, make you more than you were, more learned. The taxi driver, wearing a tired blue shirt on a slight frame which moulded well with lack of height and a flimsy, greased moustache, became less calm and more psychotically animated. I sensed he was a gambling man, a smoker and a low-loose back-street womaniser, he knew no shame and cared only for himself. I pictured him late at night spilling drinks in some ramshackle karaoke bar with a dumb grin and empty pockets, at home a long-suffering wife and a roaming, backwards kid who would never know how fucked he was or why that was his becoming. He’d keep an ignorant battle-worn mistress somewhere across town in a crawling shabby apartment and although tired of his lie-plastered merry-go-round she’d accept it in full, clenched between her teeth, galvanising with browned enamel as she slept peacefully and dreamt of money in the cut-throat heat. I sensed his desperation but I also knew his kind. He had seen an opportunity and he would take me for anything he could get. I was a gambling man too, and the games had begun. The tight-brown-uniformed cops eventually appeared through the now dwindling crowd of onlookers, three of them each wearing sunglasses in the fading half-light of early evening. They surveyed, waited, waited, looked, took notes, and spoke to the partisan lead actors beneath the huge advertised edifice of the grand mall, modern divinity. I would have thought what happened would have been clear but opinions appeared varied. The cops established the facts: the suitable truths, the lies, and the taxi driver had no insurance and I had no identification, these two things I could be sure of so I was led to an open-roofed grey cop truck which tore its style from a forties’ military jeep, and was taken slowly through the unending traffic along Sukhumvit Road, under the concrete snake of the sky train, the occasional electric whoosh from the tracks momentarily drowning out the siren drill of cars and buses and human exclamation. My gaze took to the diseased crowds in restaurants and food stalls, layers of street-stall shoppers in front of neon-lit hostess bars housing red-faced male sex tourists, shadowy, bloated, chasing long-lost dreams. We argued, with rudimentary cross-language skills: I would take them to get my passport and we could solve matters easier. They refused. I would have someone bring my passport. I refused. I was the only one holding keys to apartment doors and necessary information, and they refused and invoked reason of a girlfriend’s powers of attorney and means to a solution – C. The jeep came to a halt outside the bland six-floor edifice of the Tourist Police station, the taxi driver already there, squatting on the steps outside, disconsolately scheming with a small army of shady-looking associates who wore dull colours and dark skin and though lacked in the powers of great men gone they knew better than I how to sit and stay quiet and wait and work towards advantage, gain and leniency. Inside, a tall beige-linen-shirted German with wavy greying hair vociferously denied allegations of battery, alleging thievery and insanity instead while his hoarse-voiced opposition stood as dignity transfused, drowned in sequined rags from scathing nights, poor and oppressed, beat up like the dogs, angry like the dogs, unsure in her testimony, gambling on contradictions and absent alibis. The cops watched the football, TV the only colour not institutional brown or grey in the grey and sullen building where clusters of legal mafia assessed the damage of human interaction. The stout Taiwanese man sat outside smoking and my patience hit a threshold. ‘Oh fuck off,’ I announced through childish frustration and the need for a drink, a cigarette, and my immediate lack of tact met with the small brown eyes of a  young, twenty-odd-year-old daisy-faced law enforcer who turned away briskly and returned moments later with a middle-aged serious-looking superior. ‘He say to me fuck off,’ he said in English. ‘Yeah, fuck off,’ I confirmed through a sneer and the older man immediately bellowed at me in Thai. ‘You go jail!’ he added in English. I calmed myself, said sorry, but my faint apologies were heard deaf and it was time to make that call to C., I was informed. My only chance. The cells would not be to my liking and the weekend meant that they would not be to my liking until the weekend was the week. So I called her from the phone on the captain’s desk, and oddly, she was calm. She took the details calmly as I protested my position like a spoilt child, only thinking that I wouldn’t now join up with Mark, despairing that the buzz from the wine and beer at dinner was fizzling out to sickness, both of stomach and mind. I began burning with anger I was struggling to control. I slammed down the receiver and, again, I pushed away the hand of someone pulling my arm and we scuffled tamely but three of them were on me in an eye blink, my arm clasped behind my back and a finger pushing hard into my Adam’s apple. I was lifted by a leg and a leg and two arms up the stairs and thrown into an elongated cell before the main cells where lines of fully clothed black-haired bodies slept head to foot. I landed with a thud, my knee bouncing off the concrete floor. ‘Fuck off the lot of you,’ I snarled as they locked the door and headed back downstairs. I sunk down in a corner and tried to breath, think, breathe, relax. I finally calmed down and awaited my fate. Hours went by and I took photos of the cell with my phone, my thoughts rampant, trying to stay calm, trying not to make things worse. It was clear to me at that point that freedom is man’s only necessity, and not the kind that politicians rally unashamedly. Just to not be caged. I’d earn and find my food and water as long as I wasn’t caged. I could do anything in this world if I wasn’t caged. I watched minutes pass, 23.50 for sixty seconds and then 23.51 for sixty seconds and so on. And at 01.13, what must have been about forty seconds in, an older officer with a creased brown face and uniform, brittle grey hair, and a gentle, unconcerned demeanour, opened the cell door and beckoned me downstairs.

C. looked up and smiled reassuringly as she stood beside the captain and his sycophantic acolytes, a coy and seductive schoolgirl of 25, dressed in a pink tank top, hair professionally styled; the young business girl’s weekend leisure time interrupted by her fool of a boyfriend; oval and alluring Chinese eyes which nodded, smiled, and agreed effortlessly with everything they were summoned upon. It wasn’t the greeting I’d expected but then maybe that was to come as of course this was just the show, as so often things were just for show around this time, a guessing game of both meaning and honesty. I had witnessed it time and time again, a wanton ability to brave deceit and pale-faced bullshit to protect from disorder, loss of face, to maintain an order so intrinsically flawed and servile that I ached bitterly for them, for me, for us all. I stood staring at the TV with a look of unremorseful contempt as things drew to a close and I was signed over to C. like a parcel from overseas. My charges had been dropped (how much? I wanted to ask there and then) and I was to heed the warning, wai the captain, apologise for my misdemeanours, and settle with the taxi driver in a civil manner, and through civil court proceedings. I thanked C., although I was still basking in some kind of petty elitist fury – you can’t do this to me, and again she smiled a ‘no-problem’ smile, the type of dead and buried no-problem smile that said – Well, I’ve given up long ago knowing what to do with you boy, so I’ll sit back and let nature resolve us now, without argument, and I’ll move on to something or someone new when that time comes and I guess I’ll just have to brave the sadness and I’m a bit afraid of the arrival of that sadness, and in that sense I don’t really want to lose you, but I have to do what’s best for me and I hope you understand that, but you won’t, will you? Not now anyway. She knew everything. I hated that strength, I hated her calmness. We opened the car door as C. explained that the case with the taxi driver would likely go to civil court. I vowed non-attendance and placed my arm around her and stroked her stomach gently and she brushed me away as if I were a stranger. Add, was in the car. (At that point I had no great ill-feeling towards her, although I knew her boyfriend, and she cheated on him often, and often with her and C.’s saggy-skinned 50-year-old Swiss boss, but more so, she showed no repentance, often claiming that everyone else does it, striking the axe into my own oak of trust which splintered away in C., and that was the crux of it really, the root of the problem: there appeared little problem with fucking around; everyone was on the game, especially guys, and girls were balancing up the scales, just doing what guys do, and expecting deceit on the other side of the fence, and when it came, then forgiveness came almost as easily and everyone was happy again and it was all accepted and it fucking enraged me, me the hypocrite, but it wasn’t about me; other people’s bullshit was starting to consume my thoughts, seize control of my mind and I thought to myself then that rather than forgive, it would make far more sense to kill someone, put out a message, get it in line. Was it the same in Europe? I wondered. Was everyone the world across actually full of shit in the face of love these days. I hoped not.) I greeted Add warmly although I was still tense. Hypertension, C. would often tell me. No, I needed a drink and a cigarette, soon. We drove up to Petchaburi in near silence, C. refusing to talk about the price of my freedom for now, and seemingly uninterested in the events of the evening. We turned onto Rama IX and along towards Rachada. I sat staring out the window, watching darkness and the drab streaming lights of other cars. I really needed that cigarette. And all it took was three lines. ‘Thai cops are fucking assholes.’ ‘Why don’t you go back home then?’ a snide-sounding Add retorted like a gunshot, showing the beautiful blood red of her heart on her sleeve now that public was private and national identity – no matter its form – was so viscously attacked. I had forgotten my place. I was a foreigner on this piece of the Earth. Flags had been positioned long before me and my torrents of insensitive blasphemy. How had I said, as I meant – Cops are assholes, then I may have just returned to my spiteful piercing stare at passing cars and dirty night concrete, and forged new memories to fragment, but the knife had cut deep enough. ‘Stop the fucking car.’ And she stopped and I slammed the metallic beige door, the same colour of all modern clone cars and she didn’t hesitate, she just drove away, burning diesel, and our year together melted out stagnant onto the grim pavement, my head buzzing with rage and apology, but it was too late, the car merged into the distance and was replaced by other cars, lost in among them, impossible to track, and C. would become lost within them too, until discovered again, sooner or later, by someone, more suitable, just like she knew. I arrived home by taxi and sat drinking whisky on the balcony, watching planes hover in the moonlight, typing into a phone that she was never mine anyway, only one boy for her, the smiley cunt in the photos from Florence and Venice. I spent the next week in a state of alcoholic mania, and at some point booked a flight to Shanghai. Christmas came and went and I lost track of days. I scoured the streets and clubs avoiding my friends, looking for something to move from and to. One night around that time I met a girl, dancing with her friends around a glass-filled circular table in a noisy, drunk disco on Rachada. They giggled amongst themselves, trying their hand at schoolgirl flirtation at four in the morning. They needn’t have bothered. They just looked sluttish and so I staggered in accordingly and didn’t bother much for the chat. G., her name, told me to fuck off, and worse still, Nic, my French-Canadian cad of a companion got into a taxi with her best friend as I emptied the poison of another wasted evening into the many cracks of the broken pavement outside. The following night I began sleeping with the very same slim and proper dark-haired 24-year-old girl, managing enough phony charm to harpoon her although I knew it didn’t stand a chance. I had apologised and we had had dinner, the four of us. For a brief moment of insincerity she seemed like a light in my cave, but no, I was too gone, and she would sit glued to morning TV as I drank whisky for breakfast, grinning at the shallowest of slapstick comedies, so on the 30th of December I withdrew my month’s salary from the school I worked at, and bid G., farewell with the deceitful promise of a quick return. I drank the whole day and finally called C. from the airport, expressing through a slur some kind of forever love that was too selfish to be love, too jealous to be love, and to unforgiving to be love. As my plane was called and I stumbled angrily towards the gate, my only joy was that her tears were real.

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