Preface

Udorn

The Klong

The Routine

The Monsoon Season

One More For the Ditch

A Disappointment

Samchai

The Morning After

Family

Sawadee (Hello)

 

Ben Green arranged for Wilson Sims' going away party to take place in Dempster Park, the picnic area directly across from the tennis courts— just about the only place on base where grass refused to grow. The park was fitted out with a half-dozen tin-roofed, concrete-block barbecue pits and sticky picnic tables that in mid-afternoon always swarmed with bees. Ben advertised the party as a stag or drag affair, mainly, Cass was sure, so that Ben and Wilson could bring their girls. In the event, nearly everyone came stag.

About the time Ben lit the charcoal a single cloud appeared in the sky and by the time he started to grill the hamburgers and hot dogs the cloud had become a cloudburst. Cass and Alan reached the park just as the clouds opened up. They ducked under a roof near an unused barbecue pit and watched people on the other side of the park gather under the other small roofs while the rainstorm became more violent and drenched everyone with spray. Ben and Dang, with tears running down their faces, went on cooking in a pall of smoke that came from a combination of poor combustion in wet charcoal and fickle winds kicked up by the rain. Wilson stood nearby with his arm around Lek's waist. Lek was stunning in a green miniskirt and red blouse with a pink heart at the tip of her left breast.

As soon as the rain let up most of the party moved away from the fire but Alan and Cass braved the smoke to be with the host and guest of honor.

"Sawadee Colonel," Ben said to Cass as the two approached. "Who's that dirty old man with you?"

Alan laughed. "It's bald man himself."

"Sawadee Wilson," Cass said. "We're gonna miss you."

"Me too," Wilson said in a tipsy voice. "Hey, either of you guys ever had a 'ping?'"

"No," Alan said. "What's a 'ping?'"

"Lek," Wilson said, "Give the colonel a ping."

"Monee," Come here, she said. "I show you." She held out her arms, and when Alan bent down she kissed him in the ear! Wilson was right, it was a "ping!"

The party continued in Dempster Park until nearly ten, then moved to town without Ben, Wilson, or their girls. In the morning everyone went down to the passenger terminal and floated a lei-decked, red-eyed Wilson off on the "Freedom Flight" in an ocean of champagne and female tears. Lek was inconsolable, sobbing on Dhow's shoulder, then on Dang's until the airplane's doors closed, its engines started and it taxied out, took off, and dwindled eastward to become a toy, a spot, and finally, nothing. When it was gone, they all went home.

Several times on his way through the trailer court during the next week Alan saw Lek squatting over a basin scrubbing clothes or sitting on a stoop shining shoes, always with a blank face and downcast eyes. One evening more than two weeks after Wilson's departure, when Alan stopped by Ben's trailer for an after-work drink he found Dang ironing and Lek nearly buried in the big chair, hunkered forward with one elbow on her knee, chin in her hand. She was dressed in a pair of faded green slacks with preposterous bell bottoms that covered her feet, and a white blouse so short it left her navel uncovered. She had on a green felt hat with a huge, floppy brim that nearly hid her eyes. Her long hair cascaded out from underneath the hat and outlined her face in a soft, black frame. The big chair exaggerated her tinyness and without makeup she looked like a pouting child. She'd managed to pull down her shade but there were tears in her eyes and her face was white. It was the first time Alan had seen a Thai try to look inscrutable and fail. Several times Dang said something to Lek but she refused to answer.

"What's the matter with Lek?" Alan asked.

"She be all right. She try to fo-get Wilson," Dang said. She turned toward Lek and groaned: "Ohhhhhh, Wilson." Lek wrinkled her forehead into a frown and put both palms against her cheeks.

After lunch the next day Alan went to his and Cass's trailer for a nap on the couch. He was listening to the quiet sound of Annie's iron and he was nearly asleep when he remembered to ask her: "Annie, who's Lek?"

Annie went on ironing for a minute while Alan drifted back toward sleep. "Colnan mean lek Lek?" Little Lek?

"Mailoo," I don't know, Alan said, dreamily. "She's little, all right. She was Wilson Sims' tealock."

"Chai," Annie said. "Lek Lek. Name 'Boon.'" She went on ironing until Alan was nearly asleep. "Everybody sink she young girl, Colnan, but she not young girl."

Alan grunted and closed his eyes again. He was nearly asleep again when Annie said: "She hab hus-band, Colnan. Hab ba-bee… Littun pooying" girl "name 'Jarawee.'"

"Where's her husband?" Alan asked.

"Hus-band in army, Colnan. S-tay Lopburi."

A week later after a particularly frustrating day, Alan came home from work in a black mood, grabbed his bottle bag, and went over to Ben's trailer. Ben and Dang were propped sideways on the bed talking while Dhow ironed and Lek sat in the big chair, looking sad. Alan fixed himself a drink and one for Ben. After a while Dhow finished her work and said good-bye. Lek got up and left with her. Alan barely had settled himself into the big chair when Lek came back and climbed wordlessly into his lap. She leaned forward and put her chin in her hand.

Dang rolled away from Ben and moaned: "Ohhhhhh, Wilson." Lek got off Alan's lap and grabbed the bottle of Jim Beam from the top of Ben's refrigerator, splashed a generous shot into a glass, and tossed off a quarter of it in a single gulp.

"Oh oh," Ben said, sitting up on the bed. "Don't let her get started drinking."

Alan got up from the chair. "Lek," he said, trying to take the glass away from her, "Quit that!"

"Chai," she said. "I do…" She spun away from him and tossed off half of what was left in the glass.

"Dang," Alan said. "Tell her to cut it out."

Dang sat up on the bed, propped her back against the wall, and smiled a Buddha smile. "Why you care?"

"Come on," Alan said. "It isn't going to help her to get drunk."

"Mailoo," I don't know, Dang said. "She want to fo-get. She be all right."

Lek finished the rest of the Bourbon in the glass and reached for the bottle. Alan grabbed it just as she got the top off and together they splashed Bourbon in an arc across the floor. Lek put one hand on her hip, stuck out her stomach, and stamped her foot. "I do!" she said. She ripped open the refrigerator door, grabbed a can of beer and snapped off the top. Dang lolled against the wall, laughing. Lek gripped the beer in both hands and glared at Alan. He stared back for a moment, shrugged, picked up a glass, poured a splash of Bourbon into it, went into the bathroom and filled the glass with water. Lek followed him to the bathroom and back to the chair. He sat down and she settled herself on his lap again and drank her beer. Alan drank his Bourbon and water.

When she'd finished the beer Lek groaned and put her hand on her stomach. "Not eat rice today. Feel sick."

"Hey," Ben said, "That's a good idea. Anybody want to go eat?"

"Where we go?" Dang asked, sitting up again next to Ben.

"How about the Royal Thai," Alan said. "I've never been there."

"Dee mak!" Great! Dang slid off the bed and stood up. "I go my trailer. Change clothes."

Lek jumped up from Alan's lap. "I go do too."

"No," Alan said. "You go get your clothes and change in my trailer."

Lek got up and stood still for a moment, staring at him without saying anything. "I bring," she said, and was out the door like a shot.

"She can't hold her booze," Ben said. "If I were you, I wouldn't let her drink any more."

"That's why I want her to change in my trailer."

Ben gave Alan a pained look. "Sure."

"She be all right," Dang said. "She want to fo-get Wilson."

"Drinking won't help her do that," Alan said.

"It help," Dang said in a positive voice as she went out the door.

By the time Alan finished his drink Lek was back carrying a clothes bag. They left Ben to dress and went down the walkway to Cass and Alan's trailer. When they were inside and Alan had closed the door, Lek looked around with big eyes. "Annie go home?"

"Long time ago," Alan said.

"You not tealock Annie?"

"What?" Alan barked. "What makes you think I tealock Annie?"

"Annie tell everybody you her tealock. Annie sooay mak." Very pretty.

"No," Alan said, beginning to laugh. "Annie's my friend, but she's not my tealock. I don't have a tealock."

"You hab beer?" She started for the refrigerator.

"No!" Alan said. "You eat first."

"Mai!" She stamped her foot and started to open the refrigerator door.

Alan grabbed her, whirled her around, and pinned her arms to her sides. "If you want to go with me to the Royal Thai, you behave."

"What mean 'behabe?'" She looked up at him and didn't try to break loose. "Not know 'behabe.'"

"'Behave" means you be a good girl and don't stamp your foot at me." He let her go and they stared at each other for a moment. "Let's go," Alan said. "You're going to eat first."

She watched him for a moment longer and then smiled. "Okay, we go Royal Thai. I change clot. Where you loom?"

"Ti nan," Alan pointed toward his room.

"Mai ti nan," Not ti nan, she said. "Ti noon."

Alan laughed. "A pocket-edition, long-haired dictionary. Come on. I'll show you."

While Alan stripped off his shirt, Lek poked around the room looking at his pictures. "You wai?" she asked, pointing to one.

"Yes. My wife."

"Wilson lub he wai mak mak. She picked up the picture of his two sons. "Who?"

"My sons."

"Ohhh, sooay mak," Very handsome. "Mai me pooying?" You don't have any girls?

"No. All poochai." Boys.

"Chaub mak." I like them. " Why Alan not hab pooying?"

"I don't know," Alan said. "We had boys."

She picked up the picture of his wife, looked at it for a moment, and then searched his face. "She same you. Sooay mak." Very handsome.

Alan left her poking around his room and went into the bathroom. He'd nearly finished washing when he heard a scratching at the door. He opened it.

"Tam alai?" What're you doing?

"Washing my face."

She began poking around the bathroom. "Numba one basloom."

"Lek," he said. "You can have the bathroom in a minute. I finish now."

"Mai pin lai." It doesn't matter. "I wait. Watz you." She lowered the lid on the toilet and sat down.

"Lek! You wait outside."

She got up and went out. "Lao lao," Hurry up. "Hab take shower." He closed the door.

"What you do?" she asked through the door.

"You know damn well what I do," he shouted. "Wait."

"Lao lao."

He flushed the toilet and opened the door. "Okay, you can take a shower now."

"Alan moho?" angry? she asked, smiling.

He opened the cabinet and handed her the biggest towel he could find, then put down the toilet lid and sat down.

"What you do?" she asked in a loud voice.

"Watch you."

She blushed. "Mai tam." Nothing doing. "Alan go change clotz now."

"Mai pin lai," It's okay. "I'll wash Lek's back."

"Thai not same falang," she giggled. "Thai shy."

"I'm shy too."

"Mai," she said in a positive tone of voice. "Falang not shy. Newah!"

Alan laughed. "Falang shy same Thai."

"Mai. Not belieb you. Falang newah shy." She stood still, looking at him. He didn't move. "Ba!" she said.

"Ba what?"

"Ba. Same, 'let's go.'"

Alan got up. "Have a good shower, nitnoy. If you need help, call me."

"Not need holp," she said, blushing again. "Alan go change clotz."

Alan went into his room and put on a clean, black and white polka dot shirt and sharp-creased, light-blue slacks. "What the hell are you doing?" he asked himself in the mirror. "You're primping for Lek. It's hard enough to stay straight without something like this!" Still, the dark mood he'd come home with had evaporated and Lek was the sunshine that had burned it away.

The shower stopped. Alan went around the corner, smiling, and scratched on the bathroom door. Lek didn't answer. He rattled the handle and scratched again. "Yeut," Quit it, she said through the door."

"Lao lao," Hurry up.

"Mai lao!" Knock it off!

In a moment she unlocked the door and came out. She was damp and steamy and the big towel was wrapped around her, tucked above her breasts like a sarong. She was so short the towel hung to her knees.

She looked him up and down. "Neee!" she exclaimed, pinching his arm. "Alan mak mak hand-some."

Alan heard the trailer door open. "You get dressed," he said, heading for the door.. "There are hangers in the closet."

"Where Lek?" Dang asked as Ben came in behind her and closed the door.

"She's in my room getting dressed." Dang let herself into Alan's room and closed the door. Alan went to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. "Want a drink?" he asked Ben.

"Yeah. Same as you're having." Ben sat down at the end of the couch.

Alan got out some ice and began mixing drinks. "Was Lek really Wilson's tealock?"

"Sure," Ben said. "You saw 'em at my trailer and at Wilson's sawadee party."

"What I mean is… Were they really sleeping together?"

"For about four months. It's probably a good thing it didn't start sooner."

"Why?"

"They were… It got… heavy. He talked about leaving his wife and coming back for her."

"Was he serious?"

"I guess. He thought he was."

"And he changed his mind?"

"He never made it up."

"I don't understand how that could happen. She's just a kid."

"She's not a kid," Ben said. "According to Dang, Lek's twenty-four. Twenty-three the way we count. She's got a baby. A little girl named Jarawee."

"Where's her husband?"

"I'm not sure. Dang says they're divorced. I've never seen him around." Alan handed Ben a drink and sat down in the easy chair with his own. "She's got her eye on you," Ben said. "I think that's why she's been coming to my trailer again lately. For a long time she couldn't stand to go there." He sipped his drink. "She's looking for somebody now that Wilson's gone."

"I'm not looking for a tealock," Alan said. "But I have to admit, the world's a brighter place when Lek's around."

Ben lifted his glass and stared into it as if it were a crystal ball. "Look…" He turned to study Alan. "Up to now, either you've been a straight arrow or else you've been discreet as hell. I'm not sure which. But it looks to me as if you're weakening. If Lek's looking for a tealock and she's got her sights on you, and if you really mean what you just said, you'd better put on your running shoes right now."

Dang and Lek came out of Alan's room. Lek wore a pair of low-rise orange slacks that clung like skin to her small, shapely hips and a tight, knit sweater. She must have put on a padded bra because a few minutes earlier she hadn't been nearly so well-endowed. Her black hair was divided at her shoulders. Part of it fell down her back to her bottom. The rest fell down the front of her sweater, softening what otherwise would have been too blatant an effect. The dark hair that framed her light, Chinese skin made her eyes seem wide and questioning. She'd touched her mouth with a pale lipstick, making it even more pink and bud-like than usual.

Alan came to his feet more out of surprise than out of courtesy. "Sooay mak," very pretty, he said.

"Ka," thanks, she answered, then clutched her stomach and screwed up her face. "Hungly mak. Ba! Bai lao!" Come on! Let's go!

Ben led them through a back route to the Royal Thai. Earlier in the day it had rained just enough to clear the air and the evening was sweet with a bewildering variety of flowers that grew all around in these back areas. Lek walked close to Alan, not quite touching him. She smelled of some clean, musky, almost peppery scent that Alan found immensely appealing. He reached out to take her hand, but she stepped away "Mai tam," Don't do that, she said. "Thai not do."

"I forgot," Alan Said. " I'm sorry."

"Mai pin lai," It doesn't matter, she moved close to him again. "Falang can do. Thai no can do. Lek go America, Lek do too."

The Royal Thai was cold from the air conditioning. The grinning maitre d' who met them at the door seated them in a corner booth at Ben's request, away from prying eyes. A waitress in a short skirt came to their booth with menus and Alan watched her walk away. She had nice legs.

"What you going to eat?" Alan asked Ben.

"Beef Stroganoff and rice," Ben said. "I recommend it."

"I don't know." Alan was scrutinizing the menu. "I want something light."

"You eat Thai food," Lek said. "I pick for you."

Alan turned a page in his menu.

"You eat! Not die!" She scowled.

"Okay," Alan said, "You order for me."

"Numba one Thai food," she said, grumpily. "Good for you."

"Hey," Alan said. "What's with you? Why're you grumpy?"

"Mai moho," she grumped. "Happy mak."

The waitress came back to the table. Alan smiled at her. "You order sir?" she asked, smiling back at him. Lek said something in Lao and the girl's smile became forced. Lek, Dang and the waitress exchanged some Thai while the waitress wrote on her pad. When they were finished she turned to Ben. "You order sir?"

"Beef Stroganoff and rice."

"What to drink?"

"Want to split a big Amarit?" Ben asked Alan.

"Sure."

The waitress made a final entry on her pad and walked off. Alan watched her go.

"You want her be you tealock, can do ea-sy," Lek hissed at Alan.

"What?" Alan turned around and looked at her. Her eyes were fierce. Dang slumped in her seat, giggling. Ben lowered his head and peered at Alan and Lek from under his shaggy eyebrows. His shoulders were shaking.

"Can do ea-sy," Lek said again. "I do for you."

"Do what?"

"Tell pooying be you tealock. She do."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"I see. You do… check check," Lek said. "You like her? You can do. Lek holp." She saw his angry flush and her eyes changed as she fought down a smile.

Alan stared at her and smiled. Seconds ticked by while he held her in a steady gaze.

"I see… You do…" A defensive note crept into her voice. "Annie tell me. Colnan Alan mak mak butterfly. Want check check everysing. Mak mak pooying" women "go you trailer."

"Sometimes Annie speaks gohok," BS, Alan said, still staring at her.

He went on staring and Lek became more and more uneasy as the seconds went by. Finally, in a giggly voice she asked: "What you do?"

"Look at Lek."

"Why you do?" she giggled.

"Sooay mak pooying." Very pretty woman.

"Lek mai sooay." Not pretty.

"Sooay mak," Alan repeated.

She choked back a giggle and forced herself to look serious. "Alan not say, 'hell.' Pak kaya."

"What?"

"Alan not speak pak kaya. Same garbage-mouth. Lek mai chaub." I don't like it.

"Okay," Alan said. "I won't say 'hell' again."

The waitress came back with a large tray and filled the table with dishes until there wasn't room for anything else. When Alan smiled at the girl, Lek pinched him under the table. She said something to the waitress in Lao and the girl went away giggling.

"What'd you say?" Alan asked.

"Mai poot," Don't ask, Lek said, making her face blank.

Dang giggled. "She say you big butterfly."

"Gohok," baloney, Alan said. "Why would I butterfly when I'm having dinner with a beautiful girl like Lek?"

"Alan pak huan," Lek said. "Saweet mouth." She looked into Alan's eyes. "Hab saweet eye." She put her finger next to her own eye. "Why Alan hab saweet eye?"

"To look at sweet pooying," Alan said, looking at her.

She stared back for a moment, then shivered and muttered something under her breath in Lao.

"What?" Alan asked.

"Mai poot." Forget it..

He looked at Dang. She giggled and turned away, and Alan could see the beginning of a blush. She shook her head. "Mai poot."

Lek unloaded food from a variety of dishes onto Alan's plate and her own and they ate quietly for a while. "Ti ni," Here, she pushed a small dish toward Alan. "Alan try. Dee mak." Very good.

She put away another plate of food while Alan sampled the chicken curry she'd urged on him. "Hot," he said.

"Pet nitnoy." Not very hot. She dumped rice on his plate. "Eat ti ni," she said, pointing at the small dish. "Eat rice. Mai pet." It won't be hot. He tried it. She was right. The rice drew the pepper's sting almost immediately. Her eyes smiled at him. She dumped a huge gob of rice onto her plate and began digging into it. Already she'd eaten twice as much as Alan had.

They ordered more tea and beer and lounged for another half hour, then Alan and Ben split the bill and they walked back slowly in the fragrant dark. When they reached the back walkways, safely away from the street Lek surprised Alan by taking his hand and they went on hand-in-hand past the banana palms and trees full of flowers back to Alan's trailer. They let themselves in quietly and found that Cass was asleep with his door shut.

Ben sat in the big chair with Dang on his lap and Alan sprawled on the couch. Lek came and curled up against him. Her eyes were distant. "What are you thinking about?" he asked her.

"Kit mak mak," I've been thinking a lot, she said, quietly. "Sink about Wilson. Lub him mak mak." She closed her eyes. "Cannot fo-get." Alan kept very still and after a while she slept.

Ben and Dang had been curled together in the big chair talking in voices so low Alan couldn't hear what they were saying. After a while Dang got up and went to the bathroom. "Lek staying?" Ben asked.

Alan thought for a minute and sighed. "No."

"Her pass ran out at six, but if you want her to go home, get a cab and go through the gate with her. Then you can walk back."

Lek woke up when Dang came back. "Ba," Dang said to Ben. Let's go.

"I stay with you?" Lek asked in a sleepy voice when Ben and Dang were gone.

"No," Alan said, almost inaudibly.

"Alan same Wilson. Lub he wai mak mak." She looked at him through half-closed eyes. For the first time since they'd met she dropped the small girl impersonation. "Alan good man," she said. "Alan hab Lek be he tealock, I do fo you… evesing."

"I know, nitnoy," little one, he said. "You make me happy, but if we started sleeping together I'd soon be unhappy."

"Why Alan be unhappy? Mai chaub Lek?" You don't like Lek?

"Chaub Lek mak," I like Lek a lot. "But I already have one pooying. I can't have two pooying."

"Alan hab pooying Udon?" She asked in a surprised voice. "Who? You tealock Annie?"

"No. But I have a wife. In the United States."

"She there. You here. Alan s-tay Thai long time. Poochai no can do wisout pooying." A man can't manage without a woman. "Alan not Buddha."

"That's for sure," Alan said. He got up and went to the big chair next to the coffee table, picked up the phone and dialed.

"What you do?"

"Call a taxi. Time for Lek to go home." The dispatcher answered and he told the man where to send the cab.

"Lek be you tealock?" Her voice was tiny. She came to his chair and sat on its arm. Always before she'd seemed plain. Now, in the dim light her eyes were wide and her hair framed her face in a shimmering black shadow. Her mouth was a flower. The transformation made Alan catch his breath. He didn't answer.

The taxi came. Alan rode with her through the gate and told the driver to stop on the other side. He paid the man to take her home, and got out of the car.

"Alan see," Lek said as he shut the door. "Lek be you tealock. Do fo you… evesing. See you tomollow."

"Sawadee," he said.

"Sawadee."

The taxi drove off and Alan walked back through the gate, back through the warm, fragrant night to the trailer, and went to bed.

 

Aftermath

Massage

Sunday Morning

Housegirls

Sawadee (Hello)

The Island Paradise

The Drunk

The Christmas Season

Sawadee (Goodbye)

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