An Exciting Future
Behind The Smile
1 STARTING AGAIN
As the wheels of the aircraft touched down on the runway at the new Bangkok International Airport called Suvarnabhumi, Craig knew that he was going to have his hands full with Lek. She suffered badly from travel sickness – it was her one big weakness, but she even got sick on the bus going to the market, so a flight of 11,500 kilometres and fifteen hours was always going to be a problem.
Lek had taken five of the green tablets which were her favourite anti-travel sickness pills. She always seemed to have about twenty of them in her bag. One tablet would make her appear a little drunk, but five made her seem like an escapee from a lunatic asylum. He had seen it on the outward flight. He looked at her sitting next to him; her eyes were glassy and she was humming something quietly to herself.
“Are we there yet?,” she asked, “That was quick. Have we stopped off somewhere?”
“We’re in Thailand,” he replied a little too testily.
Craig was fifty years old and had never asked a woman to marry him so far, but he thought he might like to ask this one. She was a handful, as they say, that was to be sure, but there was also something about her that he found very special.
He didn’t like her taking those pills though, but he knew how badly affected by travel-sickness she could get. She’d had to throw up in her new crocodile skin handbag once – her pride and expensive joy – because they had gone on a short bus ride and she had forgotten to transfer all her paraphernalia into the new bag. It was either be sick in her new bag or on the floor of the bus and she would rather die than do that and lose face.
Later, she would have to be assisted like a drunk through the airport, baggage control and immigration and suffer the stern stares from the Thai officials who would assume that she had drunk too much cheap alcohol on the plane.
He was glad that she had chosen to wear long, baggy trousers.
The plan of the day was Lek’s usual one whenever anything unusual or exciting happened to her, namely to get down to ‘Daddy’s Hobby’ in Pattaya and tell her friends all about it. In fact, it didn’t have to be anything unusual at all, it was just the place where Lek felt most at home in he world. ‘Daddy’s Hobby’ was the name of the bar that Lek’s cousin owned and where he had met her. Craig didn’t mind going there one little bit. The two dozen bar girls always made a big fuss of him and Lek even encouraged them to do it.
Within a couple of hours, he’d have girls hanging off his shoulders, sitting on his lap and plying him with drinks while Lek recounted the details of her recent adventure in the UK. She should have come round a bit by then too.
Just in time to share a couple of bottles of whiskey with her ex-colleagues.
Still, it would be very pleasant and the apartment that he had booked before they had left was not far from the bar.
He was wondering whether that would be a good time to propose – in front of her friends, when she least expected it and when she would get the maximum amount of attention and admiration. It would certainly give her face a boost, not that it was flagging in Pattaya. All her friends thought she was a star – one in a million.
Craig thought so too.
However, first things first, he thought; people were starting to disembark. Craig thought it best to wait for most people to get off before he tried to coax and manhandle Lek down the aisle, so they just sat there and he tried to get her to get a grip on herself.
Without much success.
The cabin staff were helpful – they understood about the tablets – and Lek and Craig eventually made it to immigration, which was pretty straightforward, although Lek did attract a few of the expected stern looks from the Thai officials and Craig got more than a couple of knowing nods from them too. He just smiled back weakly in reply.
They made it to the carousel, where Lek fell into a chair and Craig picked up the luggage, which he loaded onto a trolley. He considered putting Lek on it too, but that would have been just too embarrassing, so he settled for letting her push it, so that she had something to lean against. No problems at baggage control and then out into the heat.
He had more or less forgotten the overpowering heat and the everyday bustle outside a Thai airport. Taxi drivers and their touts all shouting at once for your custom. This was one of the occasions where having a Thai girlfriend helped a lot. She shooed them all away and they stood in the queue for a proper meter taxi to take them to Pattaya, which was only about an hour away.
They were supposed to go to the British Embassy to have Lek’s six-month visa cancelled as it was still valid for three months and allowed multiple entries into the UK, but the Embassy would be closed now and Lek was in no fit state anyway. They would have to do something about it another day.
They arrived in Daddy’s Hobby after an uneventful journey. Lek had tried to talk to the driver a few times, but he thought that she was drunk so he ignored her and tried to speak to Craig, but in Thai, which Craig could not speak, so that quickly fizzled out too and Lek, being ignored, soon fell asleep, which was probably the best thing she could have done anyway.
Lek had wanted to speak Thai though. She was excited to be back in her own country, where she could hold a proper conversation in her own language and where she could feel that she belonged again. They had had a few months in Craig’s home town of Barry in South Wales and everyone had made her feel very welcome. She liked European food and she could speak English reasonably well, but …
It wasn’t her town, it wasn’t her favourite food, it wasn’t her language and they were not her people. She had had a fantastic holiday – her first trip to Europe – but she was glad to be home and she just wanted everyone to know it. She couldn’t wait to see her old mates.
They got to Daddy’s Hobby at a good time: nearly six o’clock. All the girls had arrived and were ready for action, but there were no customers yet and so the music was low. It would seem like a totally different place in two hours time. Once it got dark, the punters would be out and the volume would rise to deafening.
But between four and eight o’clock, the girls had time to talk and the volume was low enough to be able to hear them. It had been Craig’s favourite time to visit the bar before they had gone on holiday. He had come down to the bar for an early drink and a chat almost every day then and he and the girls had got to know each other pretty well.
He often translated messages, texts and letters from and to their ‘boyfriends’ for them. Not that he could speak Thai, but he translated good English into pigeon and vice versa. It was fun although sometimes the messages were rather intimate and the girls would blush and giggle and run around telling each other in fits of laughter.
It was a good ‘job’ to have: It earned him a lot of brownie points from the girls, even if it went unpaid in monetary terms. They genuinely liked to see him, although he was quite well aware that he had only gotten his foot in the door because he was Lek’s boyfriend. Many of the girls were from Lek’s village in the north and she had worked with others for years. She was like a big sister to them and many of them called her just that.
At thirty-two years of age, Lek was also the oldest woman in the bar or at least joint oldest with her two best friends: Goong and Ayr. Her cousin, Beou, was a few years older again, but no-one ever mentioned that – she was the boss anyway. Despite her ‘advancing’ years (most of the girls were in their early twenties or younger), Lek was acknowledged to be the most beautiful woman in the bar by everyone, although no-one ever mentioned the obvious fact that that would not be true for many more years to come.
However, for now, she was still the beauty queen amongst beauty queens, for they were all very good-lookers in their own right.
When the taxi pulled up outside the bar, it was as if a film star had arrived, all the girls crowded around Lek, took her handbag, led her up to the bar by the arm, fired a dozen questions at her and whooped and whooped and whooped.
Craig paid the taxi driver and carried the luggage to the bar. He had expected a bit more attention for himself than that.
Once he was at the bar, a few of the girls noticed him and flung their arms around him, kissing him repeatedly on the cheek and arms. A few of the girls took the luggage to store behind the bar and Lek and Craig sat down for the start of what they both knew would be a long and lively session.
All the women were talking at once and, although Craig wasn’t being totally ignored, he wasn’t getting served either. He was dying for an ice-cold beer. He couldn’t follow the conversation, maybe nobody could, but he could see how happy they all were, so he went behind the bar and got three beers. The first one didn’t touch the sides. He downed it in two mouthfuls, but the other two he took back to the bar and handed one to Lek.
“Oh, so sorry, telak! Nobody take care of you. So sorry.”
She said something and a few girls were detailed to ‘take care’ of Craig. Then she said loudly:
“You only buy two beers, this is not enough!” and she leaned over and rang the bell, signalling a drink for everyone at her expense.
Craig finished his beer quickly and accepted another.
Two of the girls detailed to ‘take care’ of Craig were unknown to him. They had obviously joined the crew while he and Lek had been away. They were very friendly, but when Ayr thought they were getting a bit too familiar, she sent them behind the bar to serve.
“So, sorry, Craig,” she said, “these girls new. They don’ know Lek and you together. I tell them later. Nice to see you again. You have good time in Wale’?” and she was gone without waiting for the answer.
Ayr and Goong were Lek’s oldest friends, came from the same village and had shared a room in Pattaya before Craig came on the scene. Neither of them held any ill will against Craig for taking their friend away though. They were happy that she was happy, because they were true friends.
“Oh, well,” he joked with himself, “Shame about that. Still, never mind. At least, I didn’t get into trouble on my first day back. Saved from myself by Lek’s friend. Saved from whatever their names were too.”
It did the trick though. He was not ignored by Lek, her friends or the strangers again. Everyone was keeping an eye on him now. He was served, kissed and complimented without long intervals in between and it suited him fine.
The girls quietened after about twenty minutes and they all sat around Lek, or as near as they could get, to listen to her favourite stories. It wasn’t long after that that the first bottle of whiskey was broken out and a few small glasses appeared. The girls preferred whiskey because it was less fattening than a bottle of beer and it was easier to finish quickly if a punter wanted to talk with one of them.
Craig sat nearby too and listened out for landmark words like: Barry, Wales and family names. Sure enough, they were all mentioned often and he was sometimes called upon to corroborate the details, although no-one actually waited for him to finish speaking. He just about had the time to nod and smile, even though he didn’t know what was being said. He trusted Lek though.
She was speaking softly so that the girls would have to listen hard:
“We set off on a typically beautiful, balmy Pattaya evening… a bit like this evening in fact, and at about the same time of day, to catch the overnight flight to Britain. We were going to Wales, where Craig’s family lives, but we had to go to London first, of course.
“Naturally we had to be at the check-in desk two to three hours before the flight, but there was nearly a disaster! Really! We nearly couldn’t go! All because, unfortunately, Craig had forgotten that he was carrying an old souvenir pen-knife in his pocket that his father had given to him twenty years before.
“I thought they were going to arrest him. I was horrified! I thought I might have to go alone and wait for him over there and I didn’t want to have to do that now, did I? Anyway, we were lucky, they only confiscated it. He was very sad about it, especially as the airline gave us metal cutlery to eat with anyway and the knives that they gave us were bigger than the one they had taken off Craig. Weren’t they, Craig? Bigger knives?
“Craig said it was stupid to take his one-inch blade from him under such circumstances and I think that I have to agree with him, don’t you?
“Anyway, the ten-and-a-half hour flight to Bahrain was very comfortable. The food was not to my liking because I am a Buddhist that does not eat beef or dairy products and the only two other choices were Indian curry or vegetable pie. I didn’t mind though. It all looked very nice and I swapped my main course for Craig’s ice cream.
“Bahrain was a shock from Suvarnabhumi airport. Oh, my God! It was OK, really, but we didn’t have any of their money, Dinar, I think, so we just had to sit there and watch people for the two hours until the connecting flight to Gatwick. That is in the UK. The time passed slowly and I was a little cold because it was 20°c there, much colder then Bangkok. Virtually freezing!
Did I tell you that a man died on the flight? I nearly forgot. Shock or travel-sickness, I think. When they opened the doors to take him off mosquitoes as big as birds flew in! Oh my Buddha! I was sure we’d get malaria…
“Anyway, the second leg flight was also OK; not as good as the first, but at least I could eat the scrambled egg and pork sausage. I had Craig’s too, because he took my feta salad. Feta is cheese by the way. Greek cheese, isn’t it, Craig? Craig? He’s not listening again… Anyway, they eat a lot of cheese in Europe. The coffee was much stronger than I am used to too, but it was lovely. All in all, I liked Etihad Airways and would fly with them again, wouldn’t we, telak?
“It took five hours to get to Gatwick and if Bahrain was a shock, Gatwick’s 5°c was as good as icy to me. As soon as I got off the plane, I was looking for the Ladies! It was that cold, honest. If you haven’t been abroad, darlings, you have no idea what cold is. We are so lucky here in good old Thailand. Anyway, fortunately we only had twenty-five minutes to wait for the bus to Cardiff via Victoria Coach Station – that’s in London again, of course.
“The tour coach was good and the driver was friendly, but the weather turned so bad as we crossed the Severn Bridge, into Wales, that is, over the Bristol Channel, isn’t it dear?, that we were late arriving in Cardiff. We got there just in time for the eleven o’clock traffic jam. Just as bad as Bangkok, but you’re in the dark!, which makes it a lot worse!
“It was hor-ren-dous!
“So, then our friend Nick, you know Nick, he comes in here sometimes took us in his car through Dinas Powys and Penarth before coming into Barry through Cadoxton.
“Craig suggested getting out at the King William IV – called The Billy – that’s a pub, so that we could have a drink. It was typical of him; well, you know my Craig, but it was bitterly cold, and it was close. We had been travelling for thirty-three hours and now we were ten minutes from my Welsh Mum’s house.
“Ooh, I’m parched, well, when we got to Mum’s, which was a day and a half after we started out from here… No, more about that later.
“I met so many handsome men, oh my gosh! Our friends Colin, Ray, Billy, Digger, Danny, Sam, Paul and Selby, the father of two famous Welsh boxers, Andrew and Lee (he gave me one of Andrew’s jackets – I’ll show it to you one day) – they were in O’Brien’s and Mike, or Henry as his friends call him, in the Buccaneer and so many others. Those places are in the centre of the town of Barry, of course, Holton Road, near the King’s Square. When they come over to visit us, we could introduce you, if you like….”
Lek had them spellbound. It was exactly what it must have been like to watch Hans Christian Andersen telling fairy stories to kids in Denmark, although Lek’s stories were true even if a little dramatised. They just stared at her, sometimes looking at Craig as if to say ‘what with him’, but actually saying “Ooh, really?” and “Ahhh, really? None of them had been to Europe before, although it was the dream that every single one of them had.
In fact, they would happily go to live anywhere abroad so long as the job was better and there was more money, which everybody believed that it was ‘abroad’ – meaning Europe, Australia and the USA. Not many of them had heard of Canada or New Zealand. Second choice was northern Africa, but most of the girls had heard rumours of sex slaves there and none of them fancied that.
Beou arrived on her motorbike and the commotion started all over again. Some girls jumped up to pretend they were working and others got out of the way to allow the boss easier access to her favourite cousin. She put one arm around Lek and, as she leaned in to exchange kisses, took Craig’s hand with the other.
“Hello, both! How the devil are you? Did you have a good time? Sorry that I couldn’t be here to greet you when you arrived, but someone was late coming to see me. (They’ll never do it again though). So, he didn’t sell you into slavery then? Or did you do a bit of part-time sex-slaving? Did she tell you, Craig? She was rather worried that you would sell her as a sex-slave to a bunch of old men in a nursing home! She might not have minded if it was to a football team. Or what do you play over there in Wales? Ah, rugby, is it? Yes, rugby.”
Lek was blushing deeply and she thought she would die if any of the girls knew what was actually being said about her, but it was a bit too fast for most them.
“No, she didn’t say anything. What’s this all about, Beou? And how are you anyway?”
“Oh, I’m fine. A few of the old women back home warned Lek to be careful that you didn’t sell her into the sex industry. A lot of people are worried about it, but I told her that the old biddies in the village were just jealous.”
Lek could still barely speak so she covered her face below her eyes with a hand to hide her blushes.
“Oh, Beou! How could you? I didn’t really believe them, but you hear such terrible things, don’t you? And I never said anything about an old men’s home or a football team! And I didn’t even know what rugby was until a few months ago.” Then in English: “Don’t believe her, Craig….. Well, not all of it anyway.”
“I don’t know what you are all talking about. Don’t believe all of what? What did Beou say?” asked Craig
“Oh, don’t worry, I tell you later. It is not important now. Ladies in the village tell me to take care nobody sell me into sex slavery, that’s all. Don’t worry.”
“Oh, is that all,” he replied, still not completely understanding. One thing he had learned though was that if Lek said ‘later’, it usually meant either ‘no’ or ‘never’, so he just let it drop. He trusted her and her judgement and, besides that, they were back on her turf now where she knew far more than he ever would.
Beou sat down and a gin and tonic was put in front of her, she lit a cigarette and rang the bell, which was an uncommon thing for her to do. Half-a-dozen of the girls jumped up to see to their boss’ order, but they all came back to find out how the story would develop. Beou didn’t mind that, she was a pretty good employer and the majority of these girls were not there to clean glasses anyway.
Lek recovered quickly from her embarrassment and she seemed to have thrown off the effects of the tablets too. The adrenaline and excitement of being with her friends again had ‘sobered’ her up faster than a cold shower, a coffee or even a car crash ever could have. She was flying high and everybody else was up there with her, so Craig just settled back to drink his beer and watch the proceedings.
Customers came and went and girls got up to keep them company and either came back when the man had left or went with him. Some girls had their regulars, whom they were grooming so that they too might have an adventure like Lek’s. Everybody wanted what Lek had and they were hoping that she would pass on some secret, insider tips on how to accomplish it.
No-one was surprised that Lek had been the first to manage going abroad in years and no-one begrudged her her good fortune either. She was their big sister, the legendary heroine Lek, and they all wanted to be like her. Even the new girls had heard of her, they had just never met her in the flesh. This put Craig on a pedestal, because they all assumed that a woman like Lek would have had many chances to get out, but just didn’t take them for one reason or another. That meant that Craig must be something special.
No Adonis, so must be kind and wealthy, most of them assumed. Or at least well-off.
Sometimes, Lek wasn’t sure why either. Some things were coming to a head in her life, it was true: she was no spring chicken any more; but more than that, her daughter, Soomsomai, was twelve, and she didn’t want her to know that her mother was associated with the seamier side of life. She also liked Craig a lot, even loved him and he was kind. Not wealthy, but well-off by her standards and still of an age that he could work.
For his part, Craig really loved Lek. He had never met anyone like her before. True, he had worked, studied and travelled nearly all his life and had never been married, but he wasn’t totally inexperienced with women either. He had just never met one quite like Lek before. Or maybe he just happened to meet her when the time was ‘right’. He didn’t know and was not much interested in why anyway. He knew that he wanted to stay with her and that he wanted to stay in Thailand, a place he had come to prefer over his own country.
The only problems from his point of view were that he had always been wary of marrying someone from abroad because of his limited financial resources and the huge travelling costs involved with visiting two sets of parents on two different continents regularly. He would not be able to work in Thailand except perhaps as a teacher and he was sure that he lacked the patience and confidence for that. There was savings money and a few investments for the time being but how long would it last?
That was the big question.
He would have to get out of central Pattaya as soon as possible; that much was clear, but go where? He only knew Pattaya. Bangkok was sure to be even more expensive and he didn’t like big cities anyway. They both liked Pattaya, so maybe they could move to the suburbs. He and Lek had not broached the subject yet, but they had pre-booked an apartment for two months, so they had some time to work something out.
Craig spent the next six or seven hours day dreaming and drinking, while Lek spent them drinking and talking. It wasn’t boring.
Not at all. It was peaceful. Relaxing.
He had even managed to filter out the awful, loud music that he so detested. He was just so pleased to be back in Pattaya and Thailand. He was tempted to go and look at the sun setting on the sea, but couldn’t be bothered.
At sometime near one o’clock, the official closing time in Pattaya, jet lag and the alcohol were winning out over the excitement and adrenaline and Lek reluctantly wanted to call it a day and go to their room. Beou called them a taxi which arrived too soon. They had hoped it would take ten or twenty minutes to get there, but it arrived in two. Lek knocked her whiskey back in one and Craig took his bottle with him. The driver put their bags in the boot and they were off. Glad to be going to their new home for the next few months.
Their apartment was in the Diana Estate which was not far away in Soi Buakhao so they were there in less than ten minutes despite the busy streets. The security guard on the gate was waiting for them with the key to the apartment, because the concierge had already gone to bed. Not that that was a problem. They refused the security guards offer to show them the way as Craig had inspected the apartment three months previously before paying the deposit.
They went up to the room, stripped off and showered together. When they fell onto the bed, Craig was starkers and Lek was in her customary towel; pleased to be wrapped in a towel like she had been for some time every day of her life in Thailand and which she had missed in the UK. She had never thought that such a simple thing like a towel could bring so much pleasure. She hadn’t realised that she had missed it in Britain, but now that she had its protection around her again, she knew that she had.
Or maybe it was just Thailand and her friends that she had missed when she was in Europe, despite the fact that it had been her ambition for ten years to make that journey.
It didn’t matter for now really; neither of them had much chance to analyse anything because they were both fast asleep in minutes.
That would have to wait until the next day, the real start of their new life, their exciting future, together.
You can buy An Exciting Future from the bookshop in the title bar.