It was around seven or eight years ago that I first noticed him, this aging man. Quite exactly how old he was, was hard to tell as he had the start of a curved back and looked constantly at the floor with his bewhiskered jowls hanging from each side of his mouth. His hair was white or silver but not in a distinguished looking way but more in a mop of short but unkempt hair hanging over his head and down onto his forehead as he shuffled forward with his brown scuffed sandals around his brown feet and his blue fisherman pants swaying with movement and breeze. His arched back inside his plaid long-sleeved shirt was letting out a little perspiration as he lugged the wide basket containing his collection of about thirty boiled eggs. He manoeuvred from table to table along the stretch of seawall at Laem Than where the young people sat and drank and chatted trying to sell an egg or two or three at each table for the drinkers to snack on. Occasionally he was even successful in getting someone to buy three eggs in a little plastic bag with a small sachet of sauce as he manoeuvred surprisingly rapidly between the jovial groups.
All night he would ply the pavement stretching along Laem Than with its couple of small bars, such as Sin’s, right up to the vendors on the corner at the cape where the cacophony of the birds grew immense at dusk and through the car parks where people sat and ate a mixture of what they had brought with them, bought from the vendors and could buy from people like the old man. The car parks where they sat in families, couples, friend groups on the floor and felt the fresh sea breezes that cooled the heat of the tropical dusk and night as they ate and drank and talked and whiled away time, hardly noticing the rhythmic rotation of the old man trying to empty his basket before heading off home wherever that may have been.
Over those years I saw this scene repeated again and again right up until the completion of the third car park and right through the rise and fall of the seafront Japanese seafood restaurant and the collection of boutique pub restaurants that would spring up before fading back into oblivion or a new facade with new ownership. And always the old man on his tour with his aim of selling just one basket of eggs. At some point I stopped going to Laem Than. It had become less fashionable except with the aging Bangkok visitors and the young crowd moved to the Wannapha end of town with its multitude of bars, restaurants and potential for beach front partying to unknown morning hours, not that I was part of that crowd. I just stopped going to Laem Than.
The other evening I was sitting with my wife at Mr. Coffee on the roundabout at Bang Saen where Wannapha, Long Haad Road and Beach Road all meet. It is and has been, for an unfashionably long time, a place far too popular for the space and number of chairs and tables with the young people from the university and all the businesses. A place where the mix of alcohol, coffee and assorted blended drinks, ample parking, sea breezes and an opportunity for those sitting there on the deck, outside the air conditioned inner sanctum, to be seen from multiple direction by each other and passersby. It was the perfect place for beautiful young people, and the mixture of low volume music, laughter and the high pitched women’s voices overshadowing the more bassy men’s voices, and all the sound mingling with smells of cigarettes, barbeque chicken from the nearby vendor and that salty sea smell that is so difficult to put your finger on.
My wife and I were enjoying a little time together, a little quiet time with our daughter still at home. A time we rarely got these days as parents, but one we both cherished and enjoyed as often as we could. The sun was now fast setting as it does in the tropics going down over the sea and leaving the coconut trees as mere silhouettes shadowing us from the weakening heat but still blinding light of the dropping orb. It was one of those times where tranquillity, nature and feeling merged to leave a feeling of isolation in a crowd as just an observer or dreamer.
Among the younger people sat on the deck came a shuffling old man. He was moving very slowly with one of those nondescript plastic bags with maybe thirty eggs inside swinging from his plaid clad arm. His back arched almost to ninety degrees and unkempt silver-white hair matted into his forehead and in places joining the grey and silver and white whiskers that ran down his sagging jowls. He manoeuvred between tightly packed groups with surprising skill so the bag of eggs never once came into contact with anything hard, unlike the flowing faded blue fisherman pants that flapped in every direction above the scuffed and ripped fading brown sandals on his feet. Feet which now seemed to match the colour of the cement on which he spent so much of his time walking. And moving between the young people and into the inner sanctum and out and along the rest of the deck he slowly ambled. This time not a single egg was sold.
The sun was almost gone now and the dusk had been replaced by a sudden darkness as my wife and I sat together not saying anything but just taking in the scene. A scene we knew so well and yet one which was so different every time. And as the sun was gone, we began to talk about a time years ago on Laem Than. As we talked the sounds of young people enjoying themselves scudded around combining with the chinking of ice cubes entering glasses and the first breath of the evening wind crept across us. It was a hot breath and one that didn’t bring relief from the heights of the summer heat even after dark. And as we reminisced an old bent man hobbled along the beach road away from us.