There was nothing but a small table in the kitchen and nothing in the bathroom either except a French-style hole-in-the-floor, squat toilet. It was very, very basic, but light and airy and cheerful in that it had lots of potential. It looked as if someone had built himself a home and got bored halfway through the project.
A huge green spider appeared from nowhere and made a suicide run at Craig, but Lek was too quick for it and crushed it under her bare foot. It left a sticky mess. Craig walked around the house keeping to the edges in case the floorboards were rotten, although they looked sound enough. There were six eggs the size of ping-pong balls stuck to a wall in the bathroom. Lek smashed them with an old broom. “Tokay. Not nice lizard,” she said in justification.
The woman had moved out a week ago and wildlife was already reclaiming their lost ground, he thought. Things grow so quickly in Thailand. The grass was reclaiming the garden and the animals were reclaiming the house, but he could see himself living there and being happy. In his mind’s eye, he could see a typical Thai exterior to the house, but a beautifully modern interior. When people came to the house, they would think ‘what are they living in?’, but when they stepped inside it would be wonderful. He could see it as plainly as a cottage on a biscuit tin lid.
Lek, on the other hand was thinking of demolishing the whole shebang and building her dream concrete bungalow or even house, if the money would stretch that far. Or maybe they could add another floor later. She wasn’t too sure of the details because houses were not one of her strong points.
“This is a lot better, Lek,” he said eventually, allowing Lek to breathe normally again for the first time since they entered the garden. “We could make something of this. We could make something really nice out of this. How much does your friend want for it?”
“Oh, this is a good friend. She wants us to be happy near to Mum. She wants two hundred thousand for the house and land together. Not bad, eh? Yes, I think we could be happy here and make a nice house too.”
They were both thinking the same words, but the minds’ pictures that they were describing were totally different.
“Tell her we will take it subject to survey and valuation,” he said. “We will need to see some paperwork. I need to see who actually owns it before I pay up.”
This took the wind out of Lek’s sails and left her feeling nonplussed. “I don’t understand, telak. Mum’s friend live here for all my life. All her life, nearly fifty years. It is her house, her land, she can sell.”
“Yes, I don’t doubt it, but I still need proof. I can’t just give her two hundred thousand, move in and then get kicked out by her brother next year, can I?”
“She don’t have a brother or a sister. Only a mother.”
“But she must have some papers from the government to say that she owns the land and can sell it, surely?”
Lek was crest-fallen, but she smiled and started locking up. She was good at solving problems. This was just one she hadn’t come across before so had not been able to anticipate.
They decided to leave the next day, so they hardly saw each other for the rest of the day. Craig stayed in the house writing pages of content for his web sites and Lek went to Phitsanulok to get some bus tickets to Pattaya. She took a friend with her, the mayor’s wife, so that she could learn something about buying property in the village. She already knew the bare bones of property ownership or chanoot, but she knew that she needed to know more to satisfy Craig’s enquiring, suspicious Western mind.
When the time came to leave the following day, they had to wait for their lift back to the bus station. Craig was a patient sort of person, but he liked to know how long he had to wait or when something would happen. If he was told he had three hours to wait, then he would find something to do for three hours and be ready on time, but he would definitely not be happy if he was then told he had to wait another hour. Lek considered it to be one of his weaknesses.
Unfortunately, this was what happened. They waited for the taxi for hours and then some more; and then some more and yet more. He tried to keep calm and to console him, Mum fed him with her best mangoes. He had eaten at least eight by the time the taxi arrived. They were lovely.
By the time they got to the bus station an hour and a half later, Craig was very lucky not to have embarrassed himself and couldn’t get to the toilet quickly enough. Lek was aware of his predicament, but she said there was nowhere to stop.
He learned his lesson that day - he loved mangoes, but he vowed never to eat more than two at a sitting again and never, ever before travelling.
1 6 THE FINAL WEEKS IN PATTAYA
The final few weeks in Pattaya were a real scramble. Lek was concerned with visiting all her friends several times and then saying goodbye to them all several times too as if she were emigrating on a one-way ticket to a dense jungle in deepest Central Africa. Craig rarely saw her alone and even then it was only to sleep. On the other hand, he was trying to find out if there were any programmes he needed to buy while he could, because there was nothing where he was going. He also needed another visa and wanted to find out about IPstar as a backup in case the trees kept growing in his way. Lek had already assured him that there were telephone lines in the village.
Craig usually started work immediately after getting up and waited for Lek to get back from shopping or the beauty salon. Then they would have breakfast together and he would go for a swim. Craig often felt that he was more comfortable in the water than on land. He thought he was rather slow and ponderous on land, but he could spend hours, literally hours, in the water just amusing himself – his feet never touching the bottom. He could float, swirl, dive and swim very quickly in short bursts, because he was now getting out of condition.
He was naturally lazy, physically, and ten years behind a desk had given him an excuse to do practically nothing in the way of keeping fit. He had once swum a measured mile in cold, north-European October conditions and had the certificate to prove it (somewhere), but now he could barely manage fifty metres at sprint speed. He felt sad about it and expected it to kill him one day, but not sad enough to do anything about it. He was not a Buddhist, but he didn’t fear death either.
After swimming for a couple of hours in chlorinated water, his eyes were not up to reading a computer screen, so he usually swam from about noon until two and then went for a beer in the girly bars alone, working his way down to meet Lek at Daddy’s Hobby at between four and five. When they got back from there, at whatever time, he would work until he had to stop from exhaustion.
Lek lived the life of a society wife. She lunched here and there, went for coffee with friends and visited before people had to start work. She felt as if she had elevated herself out of her old way of life, but she was not the sort of person to forget her friends or where she had come from. She treasured her past, although she was not yet prepared to share it with Craig. That was far too risky, although in her heart of hearts, she thought he could handle it, if he didn’t know already.
His friend Will knew, although Will would probably not spell it out to Craig, unless asked a direct question. He was a nice man and Lek and he had got on well when they had met up the two or three times in Barry recently. In fact, she liked all of Craig’s friends. ‘Birds of a feather …’, she assumed. Her close friends were all pretty good people too, she knew.
She would miss her best friends Goong and Ayr and her cousin Beou when they moved to the village, but her being there would give them an added incentive to go home for holidays and she and Craig could go to Pattaya on various pretexts as well such as to renew their health insurance, have check-ups and register his address every ninety days for his visa.
In fact, Craig needed to do a visa run as the ex-pats called it immediately. A visa run was a trip out of the country, usually to Cambodia or Laos in order to get a visa upon re-entry into Thailand. Some people did it every thirty days, some did it for longer periods – it depended where you went. Re-entry from Cambodia delivered a thirty-day visa; Laos a sixty or ninety-day visa and Malaysia a one hundred and eighty-day visa.
Craig wanted to go to Cambodia now and Laos later, so he booked a seat in a minibus, like he had when he had taken Lek the previous year. He invited Lek to go with him, but she wasn’t interested this time, so he went alone. It was a nice day out – a change. The bus set off at six a.m. after a hearty breakfast and arrived at the border just before noon. After getting the visas and having lunch, the bus then turned around to be back in Pattaya by five or six in the evening.
Lek used this time to check up on one of her priorities, which was to find out more about property ownership. Beou was very helpful in this regard. Beou had grown from similar origins to Lek into quite the business woman. She was older and had been in the game for a lot longer that Lek, but she had learned how to leave her working girl past behind her and become a businesswoman.
Lek hoped to do the same but in a different way, although she had no idea which path her business future would take in the village. She had a few tentative ideas, but it depended on how much Craig or she herself were willing to invest.
However, the first thing to sort out was the house, while Craig was still warm to the idea. One day a piece of paper arrived in a registered envelope and she showed it to Craig: “Look, darling, lady from the house send me this. She is the owner of the house.”
It was in Thai and looked very official except there were no stamps, names, address or signatures on it. Lek wasn’t sure what it was and couldn’t translate the legalese into English, so she was wary when Craig insisted on showing it to an estate agent. The agent translated the document as: “This document proves that the bearer owns the property,” but because there was no address on it or room for an address, it was worthless.
Both Lek and Craig left the office feeling rather foolish.
It turned out that that piece of paper was not a scam, but an initial document meaning that whoever held it could claim chanoot or ownership of the land where they lived after five years and it had two years left to run. There was no identification on it, because it was a local document issued by the mayor’s office and there was no address because it referred to a piece of squatted land that did not have an address yet.
Every villager had a similar document from when the king had granted ownership to whoever was living on certain parcels of land. It would later be converted into a title deed by the mayor, who would also create an address at the same time.
There was no real ‘final night party’, or if there was it lasted a fortnight, but on the day before they were to leave, Lek collected all the gifts that were to go back to the village quite early so that they wouldn’t be in the way of the last night. Lek started her trip back to Daddy’s Hobby from her cousin’s house as had become the norm while Craig left on his own from the apartment block.
In one of the bars on his way down, he got talking to a girl he ‘clicked with’. Craig never went with any of the girls but he was comfortable with ‘playful banter’. The conversation started pretty normally with the girl asking: “What your name? Where you come from? How long you stay here? What your job?”
On the last question a thought came into his mind and he said, “I have come to Thailand to start a new business.”
“Oh,” she said, “what sort of business?” she was all ears, because he could be a good catch.
“I am a hairdresser and I heard about all the ladies in Pattaya. I hear that they like to shave under their arms and around their pussies, so I have come to set up a shop for shaving pussies. What do you think? Good idea or not good idea?”
She looked at him as if he had just dropped to Earth from another planet and said, “But all ladies shave own pussy. I shave pussy me.”
“Yes, but I am an expert. I shave hair for thirty years, you shave only three-four years. True?”
She admitted that that was true.
“And, and, I shave all ladies free for one month! After one month, must pay. What you think? Good idea?”
A twinkle of understanding grew in her eyes.
He ploughed on, “You say you can shave good, but I know I can shave better. I take my time and make sure lady is very happy. Show me I want see if you do good job.”
She looked at him again, then lifted up the front of her skirt and pulled her knickers down a little.
“It is very dark here. Can I feel? My eyes are not good.”
She got it, laughed and nodded and he put a hand in her panties. “Mmm, not bad, but I can do better. You still have a little bit hair here... Feel it? Anyway, next week, I make business cards and you can give to your friends. You help me and you get for free all time.”
She had the measure of him now and she pulled away and beamed at him. He offered her a drink for being such a good sport. She was the sort of bar girl he liked to meet.
He walked on, happy to have met that girl, happy that his joke went down well and happy for the feel, but...
There was still a nagging doubt about going up-country. He had only met one foreigner up there. He couldn’t speak Thai, but was prepared to try hard and no-one spoke English well enough to hold a conversation… and he loved a good ol’ chin-wag. On the other hand, they might just do away with him after he had paid for the house. Feed him to the pigs or bury him in a rice field.
No-one would ever know. None of his friends or family anyway. Weeks after he went missing someone might say that they hadn’t heard from Craig ‘for a long time’.
He emailed Will about it, but typically Will said: “It’s up to you, go with your heart.”
That much he knew already. It struck him after a few beers that that must have been how Lek had been feeling before she grabbed the bull by the horns and decided to go with him to the UK. He wandered in the rough direction of Daddy’s Hobby, but his heart wasn’t in it. He tried his new ‘job routine’ a couple of times to cheer himself up but it didn’t work every time, so he gave up on it for the day.
It was a huge, enormous leap to go from Pattaya to a village that no-one had ever heard of and set up home. More than once, he thought of backing out. It wasn’t too late. He loved Lek, he loved Pattaya, he liked what he had seen of the village, so why not stick with Plan A and live in a condo in Pattaya, but have a small home in Baan Suay?
By the time that he got to Beou’s bar the die had been cast in his mind – he would keep his word and go through with it.
Lek greeted him with open arms when he arrived at six – at least an hour late even for Thais. She guessed what he had been thinking and realised that he had no-one to talk it through with. She too had realised the similarity between her trip to the UK and his to Baan Suay and she felt for him. She also knew that promising Buddha an offering if she got back safely had given her courage, while that option was not open to Craig.
Craig was a bit more drunk than he should have been, a bit more friendly than he should have been and even a bit more familiar than he should have been, but he excused himself by thinking that it might be his last night of pleasure for a very long time or even in this life. Any woman that came into contact with him on purpose got at least an equal measure of contact back. That was to be his yardstick tonight, he thought: ‘You hang your arm off my shoulder and I’ll hang my arm off your bum.’
Everyone could see that he was past caring – in his own little world – so those who wanted to avoid him did. Some of Lek’s close friends only talked to him when there was a bar counter between them, but that was not fair because he wasn’t familiar with just anyone – only those who touched him first. Lek could see what was going on as well and chose to turn a blind eye too.
It was out of character, after all, and the next day would be a momentous change to his life.
For the first time since they had been back, he was hoping that Mia would turn up. She had to, didn’t she? Her best friend leaving Pattaya and going back to the village with the trophy ‘rich’ foreign husband. He just hoped that the Ozzie had already gone back, because he wasn’t prepared to put up with disapproving glares from him all night.
He behaved himself as best as he could within his principal for the evening and there were no upsets. He watched Lek most of the time, or tried to, and nodded when she looked at him, but he didn’t see when she sometimes looked at him in the mirror behind the bar. He was beyond that, but so was she. Lek was just glad to be going home, where she could see her daughter every day and stand proud in her daughter’s eyes. The rest didn’t matter.
Or at least, not for now.
Craig felt a tap on the shoulder; more of a squeeze that a tap, but very light. Something like Lek would do when he was talking to friends or busy on the computer. He turned with the words ‘Hello, Lek’ escaping from his mouth even as he saw who it was. It was the very person he most wanted to see at that moment, Mia, and he foresaw fun.
The bar wasn’t particularly busy so Mia had no trouble squeezing a stool in beside him. “Craig! My heart is broken! What can I do?”
“I don’t know, how did it happen,” he said trying not to smile too much.
“Bob must go home to Australia and you and my number one friend Lek go home too. What can I do without you all?”
“I don’t know,” grimaced Craig,” but let me get you a drink while we think it over. What do you want? A big Chang?.”
Chang being the name of a strong Thai beer, the Thai word for elephant and Thai slang for a penis.
“Yes, OK, a like big Chang.”
Craig shouted: “Lek, Lek, come here a moment, please, my dear. Look who’s just arrived. I want a beer Chang for her, for you and for me, please. Make them big ones too.” Lek greeted her friend and moved off to get the bottles. When she returned Mia leaned on Craig’s erection to reach her bottle before it could be passed to her. Lek didn’t see, because it was under the bar. The two friends chatted for five minutes or so while Mia kneaded Craig’s cock like a happy cat flexing its claws in a lap.
“Can I leave you to talk together, please? I want to work one last night before we go away from Pattaya.” They both nodded and the game was afoot.
“Your perfume is very nice, Mia, what is the name?”
“It is not special perfume, Craig, but thank you. It is this… wait, oh, dear...” and she spun on her chair and bent over to pick up something that had fallen from her bag. She put her half open fist to his nose. He took her hand and a deep sniff, but moved it back, away from him into his field of vision.
“What is that? Your handkerchief?”
“No, silly boy! It is my knickers! I take them off for you now because you like my smell. You don’t like?”
He did, that was the problem.
“Here, you can keep and smell again later, when you miss me” and she half-stuffed them into his shirt top pocket. They looked like a pink silk hanky poking out of his shirt. He hurriedly tucked them in out of sight.
Craig was loving it. He looked at Lek; she was talking to some punter and seemed happy enough, not that anyone in the bar would let anything happen to one of the sorority.
Pushing the point, Craig asked, “ Are these from yesterday? I don’t want you to have a problem. Maybe mosquito bite you on the bum.”
She smiled. “Not bite me. You want to see?” and she lifted her skirt for everyone who was paying attention to see her blemish-free fanny. “It is OK, or not?”
A few men nearby were getting an eyeful too and Craig realised that he was being used as Mia’s stooge.
He’d had worse jobs though.
For the rest of the evening, Mia sat facing him crossing and uncrossing her legs to give her audience a free peep from time to time. They talked about Mia’s ‘worries’ about being left alone and his fears of being isolated in the village, but it always came back to her pussy. Likewise, whenever someone talked to her or Craig from behind the bar, she would lean on his cock.
Even when Lek came to join them for a five minute break, Mia gave up her seat to Lek and sat on Craig’s lap. Lek saw no wrong, but Craig knew she was bare bottomed on his lap and it was driving him crazy. When Lek ‘eventually’ left, Mia stayed put and moved to the music, smiling at any man sitting at the bar opposite that looked at her.
She reacted typically: “Ooh,” she shouted above the music as she bobbed up and down, “Lek, can you check if my bag is OK over there?” She only got off his lap when Lek nodded then she went back to her own stool smiling broadly.
Craig didn’t feel low or a cheat for touching these women. They wanted it and they knew that they would never be with him. He was with Lek, but a standing prick has no conscience and he thought that he was doing no real harm as long as Lek or her best friends didn’t know. It would all be history within twenty-four hours anyway, he ‘reasoned’.
At midnight, Lek came over to join them. Again, Mia gave up her seat for Craig’s lap. She took care not to sit on her skirt and wriggled a little until she was ‘comfortable’.
After a few moments, Lek said: “Here, Mia, have your stool back, I will sit on Craig’s lap” and they swapped places. Craig never knew whether he had been caught out, but he suspected that Lek knew what was going on and had had enough. She had probably seen more than enough in the mirrors.
That old trick of people who work or drink in bars regularly.
However, Craig’s memory stopped there and Lek never said anything about the evening again. They woke up in bed the next day as if the previous evening had been a dream. The fact was that both of them wanted to put Pattaya behind them and see what the next phase of their lives would bring.
Craig didn’t know it, but Lek was far less uncertain about the next phase than he was.
1 7 A LEAP OF FAITH
Thirty-two beautiful, scantily-clad women went to see them off at the bus station and there was not a dry eye among them. Every one of them kissed and hugged Lek and then Craig as if they were astronauts being sent on a perilous journey from which they would probably never return.
Even Craig was starting to believe that he might be better off staying behind, although he would not miss Pattaya hangovers.
This was Craig’s third trip up country and he was starting to feel like an old hand at it. The bus left at six thirty, so it was dark within the hour and like everyone else on board, he tried to get some sleep. Lek went out like a light as usual, but he lay back in his partially-reclined seat drifting in and out of slumber for hours before finally nodding off only to be awoken at the half way stage to dine in a motorway restaurant. Neither he not Lek got off for that, but they went back to sleep until they arrived in Phitsanulok at two a.m.
This time they decided to try a different option and headed over to one of the two better guest-houses outside the bus station. The room was small, but adequate and very reasonable at two hundred and fifty Baht, but Lek insisted on setting her mobile phone’s alarm so that they could catch the five fifteen bus to the village. It hardly seemed worth going to sleep, but they slept like logs in their clothes on top of the bed with the aircon keeping the temperature down to twenty-one degrees centigrade.
Then it was up, shower and down to board the next bus. Ninety minutes later the bus stopped as near to the village as it was ever going to get and two friends met them on motorcycles to take them the two kilometres to Mum’s house which would be their home for the foreseeable future.
Mum had been up for a long time by the time they arrived and Lek’s daughter, Soom, had already left for school, but there were half-a-dozen there to welcome them home.
‘Home’, thought Craig, ‘My new home. Five and a half thousand miles from where I was born and my blood family. What am I doing here?’
Lek was not having any doubts about moving home at all. All right, she had been hoping to move abroad for the last ten years, but at least this option gave her her daughter back… and her mother and a few others… and there was still a chance that she would get to live abroad one day. That avenue was not completely closed to her, it was just undergoing temporary road repairs. The first task was to buy the house and make it habitable.
Lek had been giving a lot of thought to Soom recently and where she was going to live in particular. Should she move in with them or stay put with her grandmother? It seemed logical that she should move in with them, but on the other hand, it was traditional for grandparents to bring up the kids while the parents worked.
Besides, her mother had got used to caring for Soom, how would she feel if Soom were moved out? And Craig – he hadn’t lived with children since he had left home thirty-odd years before and he had never lived with a young girl in the house.
It was a small problem which she still had time to work out.
Craig thought that it was definitely a much better idea to sleep on the bus. He could feel the benefits. He was completely refreshed and raring to go. He wanted to get on with ‘the rest of his life’ – his ‘new, exciting future’, but he hadn’t had a new life since the day that he was born and he had never had to do much other than keep breathing.
If he but knew it, that was all he had to do now as well. There was nothing that he could actually do, physically do, to progress their new life together. He got his laptop out, but there was no signal. He knew from previous visits that the TV was a waste of time for him because there were no English-language broadcasts and he couldn’t talk to anyone. All he could do in Mum’s house was sit there and maybe read a book. So he took out one of the six precious paperbacks that he had bought in Pattaya and read that to the excited background chatter of his new family.
He lasted two hours, but only out of propriety, his heart wasn’t really in the book. He wanted to get on line and prove that he could support himself and his new family from the village, although he was still some way from having an Internet presence that was capable of providing enough income. The problem was that he still only had very woolly ideas on how to go about what he wanted to achieve. He was pretty sure that he had the basics, but he suspected that there was a lot more to it than he knew so far.
“I’m going to go to the shop to see if I can get on line, Lek, OK?”
“You want to go for a beer already, Craig? It is early, neh?”
“I’ll say it again: I’m going to the shop to see if I can get on line, OK? But now that you have mentioned it, yes, I will have a beer or two while I’m there. It would be rude not to, wouldn’t it? After all, I can’t just sit there and start plonking away at the computer without buying anything and they don’t sell tea or coffee. I’ll see you later.”
He walked off, having waaied goodbye to Mum and the others. It was strange of Lek to have said something like that, he thought, maybe she had other plans for them. She had made her living from bars for the last ten years and she was not adverse to a good drink herself, so it was definitely out of character for her.
He sat down at his usual table, the only table, and the shop-keeper came over immediately. She was a friendly sort, so Craig decided to try to swap names:
“Hello, my name Craig. You what?”
She looked at him and smiled, but obviously had no immediate idea what he was talking about.
“Beer Chang?” she asked hopefully.
He nodded and smiled, but when she brought the bottle he tried again:
“Pom Craig. Khun alai? I Craig. You what?”
“Ah, my name is Nong,” she said in Thai with a broad smile. ‘Nong’ was the only word he hadn’t heard before, so he assumed that that was her name. He smiled, lifted up his bottle of beer and said, “Hello. Chok dee,” still not sure enough to speak her name aloud.
He could check with Lek later.
Nong smiled and walked off. Craig was happy though. It was a milestone – his first ‘conversation’ with a Thai who couldn’t speak English. He set his computer up and checked for a signal. He was also half-expecting Lek to turn up and explain her remarks about starting early.
Sure enough, an hour later, Lek appeared at Nong’s. Craig didn’t see her approaching because he was head-down searching the web.
“Hello, telak, you have keun, uh, signal, here? I not want you to come here early because I think you can come with me to see lady who sell house, but no problem. I can go alone or we can go tomorrow. What you want?”
“I don’t need to meet her yet, do I, love? You go alone and tell me about it later.”
Lek seemed happy with that solution and walked off with a wave. All sorts of thoughts were running around her mind and she wasn’t proud of many of them. The one she disliked the most was that she might have the chance to get a reduction in the price, because the house was not really habitable, but Craig had already agreed to two hundred thousand and she wouldn’t have to tell him about the saving.
She hated herself for even having thought about double-crossing Craig, but she supposed it was normal. Definitely not nice, but normal and undetectable. Probably, after all, he didn’t speak Thai.