I should have died that day with my head bouncing off of the rusting old bicycle stand somewhere between the toilet block and the school hall as I stumbled back to the party oblivious of anything in my way and oblivious to the fact I could not fly. Bouncing off of the bicycle stand as I went down unconscious before hitting the floor; unconscious before hitting the bicycle stand a distinct possibility. And there I lay with the jagged edge of a cut which still to this day can when the light is at a certain angle to the piece of skin beneath my nose and above my upper lip be seen. Lying on one those mixed grit, mud and grass bits of wasteland that seem to exist in corners of more ordered pieces of land such as car parks and school basketball pitches. Lying distant from the world and moving deeper into places in myself I had never been before and have maybe never been since. Spiralling down into a peacefulness so unique and quiet and pleasant and wanting to feel the soft embrace of the perfect quiet and darkness and then just nothing.
I stood in the house in Uttaradit, The wooden house filled with intense daytime heat and the sound of children playing and chickens in the distance and I looked at the picture of the young woman standing on the railway tracks dressed in jeans of a style from the eighties that came up over the waist and hips and curved in and a white plain white blouse. Standing with trees in the background. She was smiling. The picture was faded with little colour left.
Jamie Gears had everything that I didn’t: confidence, girlfriend, car, fashion sense. Well maybe the other three gave him the girlfriend. But I wouldn’t say I was jealous because the truth is often something best left alone. But I wouldn’t say I wanted to be his friend because I kind of was. Not a best friend and not a house on fire kind of friend but one in a circle who went around together. And Jamie came form one of those big houses on the other side of town and his father was a stockbroker or some kind of person who worked in th financial centers of the world and knew the secrets of what went on while mine was a carpenter.
Wan was living in the Din Daeng flats of Bangkok when she told me her story. The flats probably had their one and only 15 minutes of fame when while the Songkhran festivities of the Thai New Year were being enjoyed all around the country, the supporters of former prime minister Thaksin drove a tanker truck laden with Liquid Petroleum Gas into the courtyard of this slum like ghetto of flats populated by the poor, unfortunate and forgotten members of society and started to release the gas threatening to set it alight and explode the truck in the midst of the run down leaking conurbation still filled with people. That episode was to have a happy ending when local residents and soldiers chased those controlling the truck away and secured it.
I found it easy being one of the centers of attention at college. I was 24 and well there were others older than me but they kind of acted it, so for the most part I was the oldest among the 18-20 year olds and at those ages a few years makes a difference. I never wanted for friends and seeming,ky knew too many people at times when aloneness was wanted. However, parties, I always knew where to find them. Impromptu afternoons in th student union bar. I would always be found at them. Popping into the pub on the way how there was always someone aI knew. Dropping into someone’s flat tor house to share a smoke. Always an option. Concerts. Invitations to see this band or that abounded. Relationships. A couple of long ones and a bunch of messing around. I still didn’t have a whole lot of confidence but realised a lack of confidence could be an endearing feature. Car? Well who needed one of those in crowded London especially with all the partying.
The trees were scattered like match sticks strewn across the grass and paths and great boughs of century old trees stood twisted and stretching into the grey sky high above me as the trunks lay at angles and blocking all and crashed into one another with huge twisted snake-like roots pointing up also into the sky with occasionally a glimpse of white flesh inside where some tendon had snapped. Roots covered in the fresh and wet soil occasionally interspersed with a broken branch at some angle revealing a lighter brown inside with among the odours of wet vegetation and light drizzle in the air the distinctive smell of freshly broken wood.
I cannot lie and however appalling this sounds I can’t remember her name now. It was something like June or Kate or Lyn. An ordinary sounding name, but not an ordinary woman. Always dressed in tight clinging leggings and equally tight top. Usually of black or some other dark colour exposing a body of genuine perfection. Not a curve out-of-place and not an ounce of fat and a face pale and elfin and delicate looking with grey eyes that always looked you straight back but smiled rather than challenged at the sane time. Long straight hair a cross between blonde and brown tha would have been unnoticeable on another but offsetting the face and eyes and dark top to perfection. I was like so many other afternoons sat in one of the semi-circular seating cubicles in th estudents’ union. She sat opposite me and a scattering of others form different courses and years filled the seat. It was an odd collection of people who in normal circumstances would not know each other but those who favour an afternoon in the bar over some lectures supposedly of import were an odd bunch and found common fellowship in some way based on some unexplained natural order. Every man in the bar. No every man in the college. Probably every man she met wanted her and it was amusing to watch them try the lines, try to be funny, try to be serious, try to be challenging. Try everything and always fail. I knew from the first this would never be a woman for me and enjoyed to sit and listen to her. In my working class upbringing I had never met many feminists and found what she said interesting, enlightening and somewhat challenging. I had never really ever heard a woman talk about what it was like to be a woman before. I guess so many before just adapted to the mans world. This was new and interesting and I was learning something new.
It was dark. I could not see anything but could hear the dreadful groaning and screaming around me. There were shapes in what looked like beds. Grotesque dark shapes and sounds sometimes human like sounds and sometimes the sounds of pained animals. And I felt a pain inside me a bursting throbbing pain intense. Something needed to be done but all I could do was lie and listen to the sounds sometimes shocking, sometimes piercing, sometimes almost like a voice but never comforting. I lay frozen in my sweaty uncomfortable motionless body not sure of anything.
I didnt drink Newcastle Brown again until after I had finished my degree and assumed the role of an elected student union official. Then Dave and I spent many afternoons in dark working mens pubs drinking the beer of Dave’s hometown. I have never drunk Bacardi again to this day although have lesser named light rums on occasions.
I still cannot remember her name now many years later but I do remember the rest clearly. As the afternoon wore on she came over to me and sat beside me and told me that she wanted to take me home and that she had never met a man who had ever listened to her before and that it was a unique and valuable thing for a man. I wanted to tell her that it wasnt that I was a good listener but that I had genuinely never met someone like her before and that actually I felt somewhat intimidated, but I didnt tell her especially the last part. And I realised I didnt want top walk out of the bar with her. Leave with her so that all the other men would notice. I wanted to preserve the myth. To have it continue to in its own perfection.
I had climbed over the wall of Victoria park to get a look inside as the gates had been locked shut by some employee of the local authority to protect the public from the carnage that could further injure, shock and upset them after the events of the previous night. I had missed those very events with my head full of smoke and just a plethora of dreams more weird in nature than normal but not really remembered.
Jamie Gears found me on his way to or form the toilet lying in a pool of my own vomit, head down, blood flowing from the wound below my nose and barely breathing. It was lucky that he had a car. It was lucky that he did not care I would make a mess of the freshly upholstered seats. It was lucky he was confident enough to know precisely what to do.
It was while I was lying sick in the house in Uttaradit with a fever giving a delirium so pleasant, so perfect, so intense as to want total peace within it. To feel the heat and darkness and the sound of distant chickens growing ever fainter as a sudden stillness came upon me that I saw the young woman. I recognized her as the woman in the picture on the joist in the middle of the house. The joist that held the roof up. She came closer and asked me how I felt and I told her I felt wonderful. I felt the best I had ever felt and I wanted it to continue for ever. But she told me a story. A story of an old woman. An old woman who had needed her daughter and the daughter and yet the daughter had gone away. A simple story. A story of the daughter going to where her mother could no longer see her and where the daughter could no longer come back. A sad so sad story but a simple too simple one. And then the young woman was gone.