1 2 SETTLING IN
They woke up at nine o’clock, which was a bit later than had become normal for them. When Lek had been working, she usually didn’t get up until midday or even later, but if she was with someone, it depended on the friend.
She had been with Craig for almost a year now and she had adapted quite easily to his lifestyle. In fact, she usually got up a couple of hours before him in order to get most of the chores done first. She had also gone back to eating rice soup first thing in the morning as she had done when a girl in the village, like most people did in the countryside.
There was no food in the apartment, so Lek went for a shower, in order to go out to the shops nearby. Craig put the TV on to look for Pattaya People’s News, a local news channel that broadcasts mostly in English. He lay there catching up with what had been happening in the last seven days. As usual, a Scandinavian had jumped, fallen or been pushed off a balcony and somebody had been robbed at knife-point by a couple of lady boys on the beach at three a.m.
Some things never changed.
His mobile phone rang and it took him by surprise until he remembered that they had both put their Thai SIMM’s back in the day before. It was Lek, but then who else would be phoning him, he thought.
“Hello, darling. What’s going on? Are you OK?”
“Sure, telak, but there is a good-looking café on the grounds outside the room. I don’t want to cook, so will you come down here and we can eat in there or outside in the sunshine? They have Thai and falang food. The coffee looks good too.”
“OK, don’t cook. I’ll have a quick shower and see you there. Where is it?”
“Go onto the balcony, look down to the left and you see me. I stand outside the café.”
Craig did as he was told and saw Lek waving up at him enthusiastically.
“All right, go inside. I’ll be down in ten or fifteen minutes.”
He didn’t rush. He fancied a coffee, but he didn’t usually eat soon after getting up. Lek, on the other hand, liked to eat within minutes of getting out of bed, unless she had to go outside when it would be minutes after her shower. She was one of those people who start to feel ill, if they don’t eat regularly. Lek grazed throughout the day, whereas Craig liked one or two large meals.
When Craig caught up with Lek, she was eating a bowl of rice soup – the Thai equivalent of porridge. She had learned to drink tea and coffee because of the company she had kept, but left to her own devices, she preferred ice-cold water.
Although a lot of the apartments were owned or occupied by foreigners, farang or falang in Thai, the staff in the café could not understand his English, so Lek ordered him an English breakfast and a coffee. It was meant to be a treat, but Craig wasn’t really hungry. It was a poor imitation of an English breakfast too, but he pretended to enjoy it so as not to disappoint anyone.
It was a glorious day and the sun glinted off the small pool nearby. There was also a big pool just under their balcony and Craig decided to go swimming every day to loose some weight. He hoped that Lek would join him, but doubted it somehow.
“Telak, what you want to do today? I love this compound and I love our room. What shall we do?”
He could almost hear her think: ‘Say, go down to Daddy’s Hobby, go on say it.’
“I don’t know. We need to discuss where we are going to live and how we are going to make a living, but I suppose we don’t have to start doing that right away...”
“We can stay here! And you can swim and work on the computer. Same as before; and I will take care of you and maybe find a small job, although that is not easy. You want me work in a shop or a hotel – make bed – or in a bar?”
“We are booked in here for two months, but after that, I think we need something permanent. And yes, I will try to do something on the Internet, but no, I don’t really want you to do any of those jobs. That can wait for now anyway, unless something comes your way that you would like to do.”
“OK, good idea. You want to swim after breakfast. I go get towels and costumes and book for you,” and she was gone. Craig suspected that she had a plan of some kind. Thai women, and a lot of Thai city men, do their best to stay out of the sun because they want to keep their skin white, so why would she volunteer to sit at the poolside with him?
Lek came down with a duffel bag with his things in and a towel around her waist, which made him think that he must have misjudged her. While he went to get changed in the toilet, Lek rearranged two of the sun loungers to be as much in the small amount of shade as possible. She also put a couple of parasols up.
The pool was deserted and looked very inviting even though it was eleven a.m.
Craig swam for an hour and Lek watched and pretended to try to sleep. When he got out, Lek handed him a towel and began pulling on her jeans.
“I cannot sit here, darling, it is too hot and the sun move and give me black skin. I want to go to Beou’s house and eat lunch with her. You stay here, swim and read your book. It is boring for you to sit listen to me and my cousin speak in Thai, I think. No?
“I want to know everything what happen here when I stay in Wales. Too boring for you, eh? I want to speak Thai and eat real Thai food from north Thailand. Beou phone to me and ask me come for lunch. She ask you too, but I say I think you not want. You want to come, telak?”
Craig knew that he had been outmanoeuvred, but he didn’t really care. Lek was right, he would find it boring and this way, he could slip out to a bar and see who was about.
“No, that’s OK, don’t worry about me, Lek. I’ll see you later.”
“OK, thank you so much, telak. Don’t drink too much and I phone you later. Maybe see you in Daddy’s Hobby bar at four o’clock. Good idea, neh? OK, good idea. Bye-bye.”
She looked around furtively and then gave him a quick peck on the cheek. She was back in Thailand now and kissing in public was frowned upon even in Pattaya. He watched her walk away and could not help thinking how beautiful she was yet again. It was still too early to go out, so he took Lek’s advice, rummaged in the bag for his book and started to read.
He decided to wait until twelve-thirty to start his first tour. At midday, a fat, old man made a huge splash in the pool. It took Craig by surprise because he had been engrossed in his book, but he looked up to see if a greeting of some kind was in order. The man was not looking at him, but he caught sight of a small, young woman hiding from him behind a bush not five metres away.
She was looking at him, then at the man in the water and giggling. The old man shouted at her: “Spring ins Wasser” – German for ‘jump into the water’. The woman was obviously shy of Craig, so he looked down at his book, until she ran past him, dropped her towel at the last moment and slipped into the water.
Craig watched her for the last few seconds and she knew it and wasn’t too happy about it either. They were probably used to having the pool to themselves, he thought. Ten minutes later, an old couple came down, also German, as it turned out. They were both as brown and as wrinkled as walnuts. He was twenty kilos overweight and she was about twenty kilos underweight. They were lappers – swimming up and down the pool, obviously counting out a predetermined number of laps before they could go for lunch.
The first German was quite adept at keeping out of the way of these serious swimmers, but his girlfriend, just hung onto the side as if an undertow would suck her away if she let go. Each group, the man and his girlfriend, the couple, and Craig studiously ignored one another, although Craig had not started it.
‘Very friendly, he thought, ‘very friendly indeed’.
Meanwhile, Lek had got on a Baht Bus outside the compound, gone right to Pattaya Klang and then had to change bus to turn right again as the one she was on turned left towards the beach. She was in her cousin’s house fifteen minutes later. Beou’s daughters were in school, so they had the place to themselves.
“How did you get on in Craig’s town, Barry, isn’t it? Did you like his friends and family?”
“Oh, yes,” replied Lek, “I wasn’t joking yesterday when I said that I loved everything about it except being away from my daughter and a few others in the family. I want to go and live there, but that will take some work too, because Craig has his heart set on living here. With me, of course. Still, I can work on that one. There is time enough.”
They both laughed and hugged. It was great to be in cahoots with each other again. They really got on well, more like sisters than cousins. Lek had worked for Beou in the bar for ten years but even then Lek had had a special position that none of the other girls could ever have achieved.
“Well, look at it this way, telak, Soom is still only young and cannot speak English anyway – well, not fluently, eh? So, maybe it is better to get Craig to teach her before you all go over there anyway. That will take a couple of years and by then he may want to go home again. Don’t worry. As you say, you have plenty of time. Let’s see what fate has in store for you all.”
Lek had told a white lie to Craig, she hadn’t been invited to lunch, well, not a prepared lunch anyway. The two friends wanted to cook lunch together as they might have done if they were back in the village, where it is normal for visitors to help prepare the food. There, if you are not asked or allowed to help, you know that you are not being considered a close friend.
So, the first job was to call another old friend from the village, Noi, who also worked at Daddy’s Hobby but as night watch woman. She had arranged to get off early to be with her oldest friends. They met up in the market and when Noi and Lek saw each other they ran at each other and hugged.
“Oh, Noi, I have missed our chats together. I tried to wait for you to come on shift at the bar last night, but we were so tired and the taxi came early. Still, here we are together again, all three of us. Like ‘The Three Sisters’, three peas in a pod, eh?” and they walked off arm-in-arm to shop for their favourite foods.
They spent an hour shopping, an hour washing, chopping, preparing and cooking the food and an hour eating it, although, in proper Thai country style, they prepared three or four dishes and started eating them first, but cooked other courses at the same time, so that there were always half-eaten and totally fresh, different courses on the table at the same time
By the time they had finished they were truly stuffed and there were still kilos of food both cooked and unprepared. After an hour dozing, chatting and watching TV, Beou, put the left-overs into cartons and put the cartons into three carrier bags so that they were shared equally.
Noi would take hers home, because she had to meet her daughter after school, but Lek and Beou weren’t finished yet. They would take theirs to Daddy’s Hobby and start the party up again, but with a lot more people this time.
Craig thought that he had got away with a free pass as he nodded to the security guard on his way out of the hotel compound, but in fact he had been granted one, so that Lek could do what she wanted. He thought he would stroll quietly down Soi Buakhao, the same way Lek had gone, but turn off before the end and make his way down to one of his favourite places the ‘Pig and Whistle’ on Soi Seven, which was not far from Beou’s bar.
He intended to stop at quite a few of the intervening bars along the way though and get to Daddy’s Hobby between four-thirty and five – late, as is normal in Thailand. He knew that Lek wouldn’t consider an hour as being late.
As he had hoped, every bar along the way was devoid of customers, because it was still too early for most people, but they were full of bored bar girls and he got come-ons from every bar. They took a standard form, which was usually: ‘Hello, sexy man’ or /and ‘Come have drink with me’. He took more than a few up on their kind offer, but he had no intention of doing any more than drink a few beers.
Most of the girls were beautiful and scantily-clad. Not many of them could speak English well enough to hold a decent conversation, but if the truth be known, they weren’t really interested in talking either. If you didn’t want sex and you wouldn’t buy them a drink, you were soon left to your own devices. This was not a problem, because there were literally hundreds of bars on his chosen route and thousands of girls. He could not possibly have even one small beer in even five percent of them.
There were usually some nice surprises too though. You would meet a girl who was willing to just talk for a beer or even for nothing, because it kept you spending money in her empty bar and because she was bored out of her mind. If there were clients then it was only fair to move on. These were the sort of contacts that Craig was hoping for today. Just a few nice chats with young, beautiful, half-naked, female strangers.
He always made a point of telling the girls the truth, although he would never reveal were he was staying. After all, the last thing you need is some drunken, desperate woman knocking on your hotel room when you and your wife are asleep. And that had been known to have happened, or so he had been told. You never knew what to believe in Pattaya, but it sounded plausible enough to make him cautious.
Today he could tell the girls that this was the first day of his holiday. That always caught there attention, because it could mean that you will stay with them for a month (most people go for a month’s holiday), or at least take them out often or it could mean that you didn’t know your arse from your elbow with regard to Thai bar girls, so they would get more money out of you. The second question was usually: ‘How long you stay here’ and the third, though less important question for most girls was: ‘You have Thai girlfriend already?’
Most girls didn’t mind ousting another Thai if she didn’t know them and some didn’t care whether they did or not, but those were rarer – much rarer. It was usually the older, desperate pros who fell into that category – and the loners and the free-lancers.
As a bar girl had once told him: ‘We bar girls don’t cheat on wives, we are just the rope that cheating, husbands hang themselves with.’
In time, he got to the ‘Pig’ and went inside to see who was there. It was four o’clock, not the busiest of times, which revolved around meals: midday, five to six and seven to ten, but there were a few faces sitting at the bar that he recognized from his previous visits months before.
“Hello, Craig, how are you?, When did you get back?,” said a voice from down the bar. It was one of the people who either owned or managed the bar/restaurant-cum-hotel.
“I’m fine thanks, Rob. How are you? We got back yesterday evening.”
“How’s that little darling of yours, Lek, isn’t it? I thought I saw her walk past here a few minutes ago with another woman arm-in-arm, but I thought, no, that can’t be Lek, she’s in Wales with that Taff.”
“It probably was her – with her cousin, maybe. She went for lunch at her house and I’m supposed to be meeting her at about now. But she’s all right, can you ask one of the staff for a pint of Guinness, please? Do you want one?”
“Nah, not for me, thanks. I’ve got an hour off, then I’m on till closing. It’ll start getting busy soon. Can’t be pissed on parade, can I? Well, not every night anyway.”
The pint of Guinness duly arrived. The taste of burnt wood or charcoal that characterized Guinness for Craig was always a lot stronger in Asia than in Europe. Probably because of the water supply there he thought.
“What’s the news then, Rob? Anything monumental happen while I was away? A few more Scandinavians fell off their balconies pissed, I suppose?”
“Nothing much has been going on. The season has been quiet and hot. Except for Songkhran, of course. That was busy, but then it always is. Even if there were no falangs the Thais would make up for it. It’s always good. A couple of jumpers, yes, if you believe that. I think most of them get pushed. Pissed, robbed and pushed. Not only Scandinavians either. Quite a few Germans too.”
Rob left and Craig had another Guinness. Nobody else seemed to recognize him and he couldn’t be bothered to start a conversation with any more strangers, so he just sat there and watched the girls walking to work and the falang coming back from the beach, wondering about where all this living in Thailand lark would eventually take him.
In truth, in private, in his head, he had no idea at all, although he was more confident when talking to others. He knew what he wanted to do: live in Thailand with Lek and support them by working on the Internet. And that seemed possible, but so much was beyond his control that anything could go wrong any day with just minute changes in the law or the exchange rate. It seemed unlikely that no law or no currency valuation would not go against him in the twenty-five years that he reckoned he had left to live there.
That was too much to hope for. What then? Would he have to go home broke with his tail between his legs? Would he be able to take Lek, even if she wanted to go with a pauper? The future was exciting, but it was also very uncertain and there was nothing he could do about that at all.
He and Lek were riding a canoe in white water on an unknown river.
So, on that sobering thought, he finished up and ambled down to see Lek, who he assumed would be waiting for him at Beou’s.
And there she was, looking as beautiful as ever, standing behind the bar chatting with Beou and a couple who were sitting in front of it.
She saw him coming and waved and whooped as if she been doing it for years. “Hello, sexy man. You want to have drink with me? Where you come from?,” she shouted. The three women laughed out loud and the man smiled broadly. When Craig got closer, he stood up and held out his hand.
“Hi, my name is Bob. I’ve heard a lot about you. How are you doing?”
“I’m fine thanks, Bob. How are you?”
Craig struggled with the man’s face as he shook the girl’s proffered hand. He knew her all right though – that was Mia, an old friend of Lek’s from up-country, but Bob with the Australian accent, Craig was sure he’d never met him before.
Craig had met Mia before though and in such a way that it would take senile dementia for him ever to forget her. She had behaved even more ‘friendly’ in the past than the new girls last night, although Mia had been shrewd enough to avoid being seen doing it. Mia was dangerous, but he liked her. However, they were all sitting right in the front of the bar with Mia’s fairly long-term boyfriend so that should be all right, Craig was reasoning.
He sat down next to Mia, Lek put a beer in front of him and Mia squeezed his knee.
“Oh, Bob! I love this man. He is very good friend for my good friend Lek and he help me too. You un’erstan’? You not jealous, neh? Craig only good frien’.”
Bob nodded and smiled at Craig. Craig smiled, but grimaced inside knowing the truth that was being shared between him and Mia, but which had not been told in its entirety to Lek and Bob. He felt as if he were being held to ransom.
“We good frien’s long time, neh, Craig? You, me and Lek?,” she said as her hand moved up from his knee to his thigh and squeezed it. “I know Lek very long time and I love her friend, same she love my friend, neh, Lek?”
Lek nodded enthusiastically, saying: “Mia and I know each other from baby school and we met Craig nearly one year ago.”
That elicited another squeeze on the thigh, but higher up and a kiss on the cheek. Lek was sitting behind the bar, so she couldn’t really see exactly what was going on, although she knew from the direction of Mia’s arm where it was roughly.
Bob knew exactly and he wasn’t too pleased about it.
He realized that there was more going on than he knew about, but didn’t know what. Lek, for her part, could see the growing consternation on Bob’s face, but she put it down to jealousy – an emotion that she detested and had given up when she had left her husband more than ten years before.
Craig had asked Lek before whether Mia was an exhibitionist, and Lek had reacted with surprise, but he knew from previous experience with Mia that she was ‘up for anything’ as long as there was a reasonable chance of not getting caught, although he suspected that she did want to be observed one day really.
Mia was like a ‘shy’ convent girl who drops her towel while changing and is so flustered that it takes her three minutes to cover up again.
The only one sitting there who knew that except Mia herself was Craig, because he had been on the receiving end. He would happily be there again, if the truth were known, but the stakes were higher now for him and he had had his fun.
Still, she tempted him more and more as the drinks flowed and Bob was becoming more are more cheesed off.
When Bob went to the toilet and everyone behind the bar was working because of the rush, Mia leaned over, put her hand on Craig’s bulge, slowly undid his zip and said in his ear:
“Your trousers are open, do you want anything while I’m here?” and she stroked him inside his trousers.
‘Where was Lek and her guardians when you needed them’, he thought, ‘when resistance was low?.’ Bob came back and Mia said:
“Craig you zip kaput Look!”
Three or four by-standers looked and laughed.
“The zip is broken, I’ll go fix it and go pee-pee,” he said in pigeon-English.
Craig slinked off to the toilet with his hand over his crutch, trying to keep up the illusion than the zip was broken. Lek blew him a kiss from behind the bar. Once in the toilet, Craig did his business, zipped up and walked outside, only to be grabbed by Mia.
She pulled him into a shadow, lifted up her skirt and put his willing hand into her knickers.
“I shave my pussy,” she said, “but you think I do good job? You shave for much longer than me; can you help me learn to shave pussy good same your face? Have little bit hair here, by pussy, what you think? Feel here. Oh, too wet, not have hair here. Sorry, what you think? Cannot grow hair in there, eh?”
After a fondle and with a great deal of will-power, Craig said: “Mia, you said that you had finished all this stuff because you had your own boyfriend. Bob, I suppose. If you are happy with him and I am happy with your friend Lek, what the hell are you doing?”
“Nothing,” she said, “Just having some fun” and she walked back to the bar.
Craig followed a few yards behind, but he was troubled.
This was beyond his ability of deception. Not that he wanted to deceive Lek anyway. The problem was that he couldn’t help feeling flattered and attracted to Mia. In fact, this was the first time anything like this had ever happened to him. Mia was unique amongst his friends or even casual acquaintances.
When he retook his seat, Lek smiled at him from where she was standing in font of the customer she was serving and Mia smile at him too.
Bob was looking the other way quite studiously.
Eventually, Lek tired of helping out and went to sit with Craig. Lek was on his left and Mia was on his right, so to talk over the din, they both had to lean across him and shout in one another’s ears. Lek put her hand on Craig’s thigh to steady herself and Mia put her hand about a foot higher on the other one.
Whenever Mia thought that no-one was paying attention, she stroked Craig’s crotch lightly by wiggling her little finger. She pretended to be really drunk too, but maybe that didn’t take much pretence. Eventually, the night finished and everybody went their own way.
On the way home, Lek said:
“Mia likes you, I can see. If I didn’t know any better, I think I might have reason for concern.”
“Ah, don’t worry.,” said Craig, knowing that he would never shag Mia or swap her for Lek in a month of Sundays.
As much fun as Mia was.