Preface

Udorn

The Klong

The Routine

The Monsoon Season

One More For the Ditch

A Disappointment

Samchai

The Morning After

Family

The Morning After

 

Jim woke to a rooster crowing in the next yard and looked at his watch. It was five thirty. In the dim light he watched Samchai asleep next to him, breathing softly, her face half covered by her long, black hair. A heart-pinching wave of guilt swept over him. He swung his feet to the floor and looked around the room. It seemed especially dingy in the flat light of early dawn.

Samchai tried to make it easier for him. She brought him his clothes and called a samblao to the house. Yet he went sneaking away from the bungalow like a thief, feeling eyes on all sides watching him. He rode through the gray, empty streets disgusted with the morning, disgusted with the town, disgusted with himself.

Back in his room, with hours to go before he was due at work, Jim threw himself into bed, closed his eyes and tried to conjure up Nancy. Her face wouldn't come, nor would the sound of her voice, nor would any of the memories he'd always been able to relive in his mind. What came instead were the sight, the sound, the feel, the taste, the smell of Samchai —blotting out everything else. He had only to close his arms about his head to breathe the scent of Samchai's breath, close his eyes to feel her flesh. He darkened the room and slept, waking again quickly from a dream about Samchai.

He gave up trying to sleep and lay quietly in the darkened room. Gradually he stopped trying to find Nancy and surrendered to Samchai, going over the events of the night before scene by scene. In spite of the stabbing guilt the visions stirred him: Samchai waking in the night and clinging to him. Samchai with her back curled against his stomach. Samchai brushing her fingers against his lips. He covered his head with his arms to escape the images, and captured within the circle of his own flesh the sweet, spicy smell of Samchai.

Before noon Ben saw that something was wrong, took Jim off his radar scope and questioned him. Jim evaded his questions and Ben finally sent him home, telling him to sleep it off. Jim spent the day reading, trying to blot Nancy and Samchai out of his mind, but he found himself re-reading paragraphs, sentences, and finally single words. In the end he gave up and went to the bar early in the afternoon. The after work crowd found him there, falling-down drunk. Ben took him home and put him to bed. After a period of nausea he fell into a drugged sleep, coming awake in the cool, fragrant dawn with a dream about Samchai just out of reach at the corner of his mind. That morning he was hung-over and miserable. Ben called him into his office, ran everyone else off, and locked the door.

"You talked last night while you were hammered," Ben said.

"About what?"

"About a girl named Samchai. You've got yourself hooked real good, haven't you?"

"I just met her day before yesterday. It's no big thing."

"Bullshit," Ben said. "That's the first piece of ass you've had since you got here. Maybe the first time in your life you've done something like that… Isn't it?" Jim closed his eyes and didn't answer. "Did you think it couldn't happen to you?"

Jim looked at the floor. "I guess… Well, I hoped…" He didn't finish the sentence.

Ben said: "I've known maybe five hundred guys in places like this well enough to know what they were up to. Do you want to guess how many certified straight arrows I've known out of those hundreds?"

Jim didn't answer.

"I can count 'em without taking off my shoes."

"That doesn't make it right," Jim said.

"I didn't say it does. I was telling you what I've seen, not what I think about it. Are you religious?"

"Not very," Jim said. "That's not the problem."

"Then the problem is what you think you're doing to your wife. Are you planning to tell her everything?"

There was a pause before Jim answered. " I don't know."

"Telling her is a cheap way out. If she forgives you, you can forget it, but then she has to try to live with it. If she can't, then you get the punishment you wanted and you both can be unhappy. It's your problem. Not hers. You haven't really taken anything away from her unless you dump it all on her."

There was another pause until Jim said: "I've taken something away from myself."

"Maybe what you took away wasn't real to begin with. In a way it's too bad you're not religious."

"Why?" Jim asked. "That would make it worse."

"Not necessarily. God forgives you, and when He does it's a fink-out not to forgive yourself."

In the silence they could hear a conversation in Thai going on in the walkway outside the office door. "What are you going to do about the girl?" Ben asked. "You've got to get your head screwed on right because I need you here, able to work."

"I don't… I'm not going back to see her."

"I wouldn't bet any money on that. Remember, she hasn't done anything wrong. At least not by her lights. Since you found out you're human, maybe there are a couple of things the medics left out of their V.D. lecture that you ought to think about."

"Like what?"

"Like sex is just the tip of the iceberg. The real problem is a lot more complicated than that. You ever sleep around at home?"

"Never! I love my wife."

"You don't think there's any difference between being there and being here?"

"If it's wrong there, it's wrong here," Jim said.

Ben leaned forward in his chair. "Sex is something that happens between people. If you think about the people instead of the sex, the difference gets a lot clearer. There are only two kinds of people over here who don't have a problem. There are the ones who never learned about love and don't really care about women. Those people are cold as ice. If they're married, their wives are just as flaky as they are. The other kind is the swinger. To him, this place was made in heaven. He's like a kid in a candy store. If he doesn't get a bad case of the clap or wear himself out he goes home all smiles. That kind usually doesn't really care much about women either.

"The guy with a real problem around here is the one who cares. When a guy like that marries, his wife and his kids become the most important things in his life. He doesn't need to play around. Love and tenderness are a lot more important to him than raw sex, and his wife and family are where the love and tenderness are.

"Then, all of a sudden he finds himself here. What's here? No wife. No kids. Nobody. Just a bunch of hairy legs. In our society there aren't any really acceptable ways for men to exchange affection. They try. . . That's what all the yelling games in the bar are about. Back in the States that kind of farting around is a big joke. Over here it's serious stuff. Why do you suppose people use the kind of language they use over here? They're trying to hide the feelings that get all bottled up inside.

"So for a year, this good guy is supposed to turn off all the feelings that made him a good husband and a good father. And nowadays, to make it easier for him, they let in the dependents. Everybody gets credit for an unaccompanied tour, but it's really only unaccompanied for the people who can't afford to bring their wives over in tourist status. It wouldn't be quite so bad if they made those women wear mu mu's or something, but most of the good-looking ones wear hot pants and swing it at you when they walk by!"

"I understand what you're saying, Major. But it doesn't help much."

"Nothing helps much. But if you understand what's happening, maybe you can keep from beating yourself to death over something you can't help. You have to be built a certain way to make it through a tour like this without… getting involved. If you're not built that way, trying to hold it all in can change you. Maybe you can change back later on. I'm not sure.

"The best thing is to stay straight, but staying straight can be risky too. If you try it and don't make it, some morning you're liable to find yourself with a raunchy hangover in somebody's raunchy bed, probably heading for the V.D. line at the hospital. I had a buddy on one tour who was a straight arrow for ten months. He almost made it. He fell off when he had less than two months to go. He practically went home in a basket.

"Some people think a little controlled sleeping around is the best solution, but they run the usual risks. V.D.'s a possibility. But the real drawback is that if you're the kind of guy who has a problem in the first place there isn't any way you can sleep with a girl without getting attached to her. If you start pushing that down… the feelings that made it a problem in the first place… If you push them down often enough you start getting hard inside.

"Then there's the butterfly routine. You romance every girl in sight but you don't sleep with any of them. The theory is that if you keep moving fast enough, the problems won't catch up with you. Usually one of the girls zeroes in on you though, and you end up tealocking.

"Sometimes I think the tealockers are the best of us. Usually they're monogamous by nature. When they get here, instead of tomcatting around they form new liaisons. Sure, the liaisons are temporary, but they're monogamous. Tealocking can be a shattering experience though. It can tear your marriage apart. One of the worst things that can happen is to get so hooked you can't give up the girl when it's time to go. There are some people — from our own outfit — who've been back in the States for months and are still writing to their tealocks and sending money. Most of their girls have new tealocks, but the guys in the States don't want to believe that."

Jim was shaking his head. "That's crazy."

"Like I said, a situation like this… It changes you. The best you can hope for is to be able to influence the change. What happens here can reach out over your whole life and change it. I'm not sure it ever changes it for the better. Maybe… But whether you bottle it up inside, or take a tealock, or try to compromise, leaving here and going home is going to be just as traumatic as coming here in the first place. Whatever you do, you've got to isolate this from the rest of your life. When you leave here, whatever you've been doing… it's all over. If you're not strong enough to make this just something that happened in your life, it can destroy you."

 

Jim went back to work. For the rest of the day all he could think about was Samchai and Jo Fay. That evening, exhausted, and with the remnants of his hangover, he went to Samchai's bungalow. It was nearly dark when he got out of the samblao and went up the alley. She was on the porch, ironing. She saw him at once and stood up, waiting for him to climb the stairs. "Sawadee," she said quietly.

"I came to find out about Jo Fay. How is he?"

"He will come home tomorrow," she said, searching his face. "You are so tired. What have you done to yourself?"

"Nothing," he said. "I haven't slept much."

"You have been thinking very much. I know. I have been thinking very much also." She fell silent, holding herself away from him.

He dropped onto the bench along the porch rail.

"It is all right, Jim." She came and stood beside him. "We do not need to… to make excuses. I did not promise you anything and you did not promise me anything. We both were lonely, and I was frightened because of Jo Fay. Now it is past. It is all right for it to be over. To be finished."

"Do you want it to be finished, Samchai?"

She sat down next to him. Her face was fixed, eyes smoky and deep. "I do not know what to say, Jim. I am Thai. You are falang. We do not think the same way about a thing like this. You are a handsome man. You are very gentle and you make me feel… You make me feel loved and taken care of. But I know your thoughts are not happy. You are bothered about what has happened between us." She paused. "I do not know what you want."

A flight of birds returning from the fields settled into a tree next to the house. Their babble set a dog barking. Children in the alleyway laughed and called to each other. A thin strand of smoke, pungent with the odors of Thai cooking, drifted across the porch. Samchai said, "You think about your wife and your family and you are unhappy because you have loved me too. This is a thing I do not understand, but I know it is true."

"Yes," he said. "It's true."

"I do not understand how it is wrong for you to love. Your wife is far away. You are here. You are lonely and you have no one who touches you. No one who cares. Someday you will go back to your wife and love her and you will forget about this. Then it will not matter. It will be something that has happened. That is all. How can that be hurtful?"

He looked into Samchai's face and Ben's words came back to him: "It changes you… whether you want it to or not."

"This is something you must decide, Jim. If there is trouble between us now it is because you have not decided. I do not want to have trouble between us. You have been very kind to me and you have saved Jo Fay's life. Even if there had been… nothing else, I would always care for you very much because of that."

"If I love you," he began. "If you love me… When I go away, will you be hurt?"

"Yes, Jim. I will be hurt for a while and I will be lonely without you, but it will pass. There is always hurt with love."

He closed his eyes and listened to the chatter of birds settling down for the night. "Jim, you were very drunk last night, weren't you?"

"Yes," he said.

"I think you drink very much. I do not know why. If it is not finished… If we are going to be together, I will not want you to get drunk. You will hurt me very much if you do."

He took both her hands and lifted her gently from the bench. The soft light, his fuzzy mind, the dreams of the past two days, all cast a hazy unreality over Samchai and himself. She clung to him and pressed her cheek against his chest. "You must go to bed now. I think you must work tomorrow. If you try to go back to the base you will fall asleep before you get there."

He surrendered to her and when he was in bed she fastened the luminous mosquito net and went off the lock the house. He was asleep when she came back.

He slept deeply and woke in the false dawn, coming slowly out of a delicious, unremembered dream. The night was full of the fragrance of a thousand flowers, the air sultry with the promise of rain. He drifted between sleep and waking until suddenly a gekko cackled, waking him completely. Samchai woke too and reached out to him. They made love, dreamily and without haste, until they slept again. When Jim woke the sun was up and Samchai was gone. He lay for a long time watching the billowing mosquito net catch and soften the sunlight, feeling the fresh smells of morning in his nostrils and the bright air against his skin.

Samchai came to the door and interrupted his reverie. "Jim, you must get up. It is nearly six o' clock. I do not know what time you must go to work but I think it is soon." She wore the dark blue skirt and white blouse which were her uniform, and she looked like a young girl.

He got up, slipped into his clothes and found her in the kitchen, cutting sections of a pomelo. "You did not wash," she said.

"I'll shower at the base. I still have to put on a uniform."

"Here." She handed him a plate of pomelo sections. "What time must you be at work, Jim?"

"Seven thirty," he said. "What time do you have to be at school?"

"I must be there at seven thirty also, but I will stop and see Jo Fay before I go."

"Samchai, did the doctor say it's all right for Jo Fay to come home so soon?"

She looked thoughtfully at the pomelo section she was eating. "Jo Fay can come home and my mother can take care of him. She will be here tomorrow." She went on examining the pomelo.

"Samchai, look at me." She evaded his eyes for a moment but finally looked at him, her shade down, her face truly inscrutable.

"Samchai, how long should Jo Fay stay in the hospital?"

"It does not matter. I do not have money to keep him there. He must come home."

"How much will it cost to keep him there as long as he should stay?"

She turned away from him and lowered her face. "I do not know. I do not have that much money and I cannot take money from you. That would make me a Suzy Wong… A prostitute."

"Remember," Jim said, "I was the one who took Jo Fay to the hospital in the beginning. I paid for what the doctor did and I paid to keep him there until now. I didn't think you slept with me that night because of what I did for Jo Fay and I don't think you slept with me last night because of that. I care about Jo Fay because he's a little boy, like my own son. I don't want him to be hurt. I'd help Jo Fay even if I didn't know his mother. If I'm your tealock. If you're my tealock… If we live together and you cook for me and wash for me and do things for me, is it wrong for me to pay for our food and things? Does that make you a Suzy Wong?"

"No," she admitted, turning slowly to look at him. "Not if we are truly… Not if you are my tealock, Jim."

"Am I, Samchai?"

"That is up to you, Jim."

He laughed. "I know. It's up to me. But it has to be up to you too. I don't think I can be your tealock if you don't want me to be."

She smiled. "That is true."

"Okay," he said, after a moment of careful thought. "Are you my tealock?"

"That is up to you."

He pondered the problem again. "Then, if it's up to me, you're my tealock and I'm your tealock.

"I am glad you have decided, Jim."

He lifted her face and kissed her. She tasted of spice and pomelo. "Now," he said, taking out his wallet. "You arrange for Jo Fay to stay in the hospital until it's all right for him to come home — no matter how long that is." He found he had twenty five dollars in green and very few baht. He handed her the dollars. "How long will Jo Fay be able to stay for five hundred baht?"

"I am not sure. I will talk to the doctor this morning." She folded the bills, picked up her small purse from the table, and put the money inside. "Jim," she looked up at him again. "I am…"

"Remember," he said. "Now you're my tealock and I'm your tealock. I've decided and you've agreed."

She blushed and smiled at him. "Will you come back tonight?"

"Yes. What time should I come?"

"I will be here by six o' clock. I will go first to take food to Jo Fay."

He left her rinsing the plates and took a samblao to the base. In spite of the early hour most of the shops were open. Cooking smells filled the air. Food vendors hawked their wares to crowds beginning to gather around their pushcarts. The early light pressed heavily on the streets and already it was hot. Honking cars swirled around them and buses, gaudily painted, belching soot, roared down on the samblao, sometimes coming so close Jim thought they'd be hit. His driver jinked each time at the last second, leaving Jim coughing in clouds of exhaust. The colors were dazzling: primary reds, greens, blues, saturating the store fronts and awnings. Billboards with scenes from gory Thai movies. Trucks decked in chrome gingerbread. He absorbed it all, soaking up the violent beauty of the scene.

At the access road he paid the samblao driver, fended off the begging children clustered around the footbridge, and fell into step with a stream of people moving toward the gate, many of them carrying plastic water cans. Tealockers, he said to himself in the deprecatory tone that implied "squaw man." But I'm one too. No, he mused, I'm not like them. And Samchai isn't like their women. She's unusual. Unique. But as he thought about it he had to admit that Samchai was all Thai — that the only real difference between Samchai and other Thai women was her remarkable fluency in English. He pushed away the conclusion. No. I'm not like them, he insisted. But the only difference he could put his finger on was the fact that he wasn't carrying a water can.

 

Aftermath

Massage

Sunday Morning

Housegirls

Sawadee (Hello)

The Island Paradise

The Drunk

The Christmas Season

Sawadee (Goodbye)

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