I was at work when I got the call from my wife telling me that our apartment had been broken into. Completely forgetting to ask her if anyone had been hurt which of course was unforgivable I wanted to know what had gone and then cut the call short to rush back out of the mall past the two pubs that usually deflected me off my journey home, but not today and onto the crowded Ramkhamhaeng road at five in the evening. It just so happened to be at this point that the elastic in my boxers gave out. They say bad news comes in threes so what was next. Anyway moving as rapidly as I could with legs increasingly splayed I made it to the end of my soi. Luckily, if you can have good luck on such days, there was a blue bibbed motorcycle taxi guy waiting next to his aging white Honda and I was straight on the back. Back at the apartment block it was the usual long wait for the one lift while trying to with as much decorum as I could manage try to subtly reposition my underwear from hanging somewhere uncomfortable down where it shouldnt have been to a more normal position for such garments. Up to floor seven and the apartment and my wife was at the door which surprisingly had little damage. Informed my daughter was being well taken care of I was into the room. A bit of a mess with things from cabinets and drawers strewn on the floor but for me it was straight to the bedroom for a change of lower garments which seemed to raise tension in the room. Me not paying attention to what had happened. Back calmer and comfortable I would try to make amends with my wife for my idiocy so far. All that remained after that was to clear up and see what was missing. The final result a broken Citizen watch of mine and a second-hand CD Walkman my wife had bought down a market for the poor a year or so ago. Not too bad. And we relaxed and saw to getting the door fixed. I wanted to see my daughter.
Smokey was from the deep south of Thailand and was the most prominent of a group of southern Thais studying at Ramkhamhaeng university that lived in the apartment block. They had a group of rooms straddling the sixth floor below where I lived. Rooms with no aircon and small size specially for students. Some of his friends also had the large apartment opposite ours. Smokey himself also had one of those amazing girlfriends. A stunner that everyone was jealous of. She was also a student at the gigantic Ramkhamhaeng university and also worked part-time as what was in those days called a pretty which basically meant she stood and looked beautiful in reveling clothes next to anything people wanted sell. In her case usually top range cars.
Smokey and his friends were playing football in the car park of the apartment building. Smokey and his friends liked to do that or practice their kick boxing skills by repeatedly kicking trees with their bare feet. Most people my wife included spent a lot of time down the car park area which had some nice trees and shade too. I wasnt there but my wife later told me the story. The ball went over the wall into the garden of the big house next door and then suddenly bullets were flying. Well three to be precise and one hit the ground close to Smokey’s brother. Then the old man in the house was at the wall shouting of how he was sick of them disturbing him. But Smokey was running to the wall as the old man held the gun at him. “Ok shoot me. You are going to have to shoot me. You are going to have to kill me. Because if you hurt my brother I am going to kill you and the only way you can stop me is to kill me now. So shoot”. Smokey stood before the old man.
Noi and his fellow group of northern hill tribe guys were all squat well-built and good looking. They liked to wear expensive clothes and had a knack for selecting them stylishly. In spite of being from the poor northern hill tribes of Thailand Noi and his friends were not short of money. They too were students at Ramkhamhaeng. They lived on the more expensive seventh floor of the apartment building and they dealt expensive drugs and were connected to northern policemen and a powerful northern politician linked to the government of the day, or at least so the story went and the story usually turned out to be correct in those days. They were young confident and enjoying life and even better for them they were protected and so could be confident.
It was the millenium countdown and a group of taxis were waiting to take Smokey, his brother, his girlfriend and his friends and Noi and his gang to a nightclub on Ratchada. For some reason my wife and I decided to tag along and even take our 4-year-old daughter. For some even more bizarre reason we thought we may find a nice outside place to sit and welcome in the millennium as we had once pulled off a session to midnight outside the World Trade Center with our daughter asleep in her buggy with a couple of friends. The millenium delusion though proved to be exactly that and we had to return home within half an hour of arriving at the overly packed and overly noisy nightclub jammed with people spilling onto sidewalks. there was no outside seating. Quite how we manged to even hail a taxi let alone get back home in time for midnight followed by the rather bizarre TV tour of the world countdowns I still don’t remember. But we did.
It was one of those nights where after work I had gone out drinking. I used to do that a lot in those days. And I only got the story when I returned or more likely the next day because when I returned from one of those sessions I was usually only good for falling onto the bed and sleeping until awaking the next day with that sickly, dry, sweaty, pounding, disorientating feeling. However, whenever I got to hear the story from my wife I remembered it.
Noi probably remembered the first time his head was rammed into the wall and feeling his nose collapse but he likely didn’t remember how many times it happened again after that leaving his looks permanently unhandsome from that point on. He likely also didn’t remember quite how he got to wake up in hospital with not only his looks permanently ruined but with several broken limbs. He also likely didn’t remember quite how everyone in his gang who had walked out of the apartment that night similarly ended up hospitalised. He almost certainly didn’t remember seeing Smokey take out the carefully rolled joint and start smoking it, before passing it to someone else in the huddle, as he stood examining the carnage with his small entourage.
My wife never knew his name but it was after the police had arrived and kicked in the door opposite. They found nobody there but did find the drugs and they were milling around and taking evidence or whatever they do in those situations and they had already asked my wife who of course knew nothing. She remained with the door open and noticed the young man emerge from the lift with a holdall. He looked confused and scared and surely soon the police would notice him. “my little brother come here and get in the apartment” my wife called and the young man came in. Door closed he sat down and told the story of being invited by his friends to come to visit them in Bangkok and had come to their apartment to see this. He was more worried as his uncle Mr. S, single letter initials seem to be the way politicians are mentioned in Thailand without identifying them so we will stick to this code, was a powerful politician in the south of Thailand and he could get in trouble and get his uncle in trouble. What could he do. My wife told him to just stay here until the police were gone then he could go home. Nobody would know. Nobody ever did. Smokey and all of his friends were however banished from the apartment building. It seemed certain other rooms had been raided that night too. Nobody had been in them more by fortune it seemed than planning as a party elsewhere had overrun by a complete day and even the visit of a friend had been forgotten.
The last I heard of Smokey was that he had graduated and got a job working in a bank and he was thinking of marriage. He wouldn’t go back to the deep south from where he came. Since the Muslim insurgency things were harder for young Buddhists like him. As he put it, in the past my father and his friends and before him my grandfather and his friends had the bigger gang down there and intimidated the Muslims but now they were the bigger gang and that was it really. I never knew if his analysis of the situation down there was accurate or not but to this day it is one of the things I remember him saying.