The dogs of Sanglaburi
The dogs of soukanaburi
It was cold, it was really cold, not lake Erie in February with the wind blowing -60, but at the time cold enough to be involuntarily shivering. I wasn't prepared for this change in temperature due to elevation and sunset. I had become acclimated to the burning days and balmy nights of the Andaman Isles. Now my recently acquired warm blood was running chill. The cold was real but it wasn't the focus of my attention. I was staring across the road at a dog, not from the usual height advantage but on the same eye level. I was staring at him and he was staring at me, staring and softly mewing, a low whimper interrupted by erratic sharp childlike shrieks and this is all it was doing. No that's not true it was also bleeding, a lot, blood was slowly creating a reflecting pool around him. The two of us are being lit from a single source of pulsing light from my toppled bike. So that we cast long flat shadows in the otherwise total darkness. Its just enough light to see his matted fur mirrored in his blood. He's bleeding and crying and nothing else.
I'm lying in the road and talking to him and nothing else. No that's not true I'm bleeding as well. If his blood flow and my blood flow are in a race mine hasn't been training. His is out classing mine all the way. I don't know what he's thinking but I'm mentally surveying the damage. I can see my left arm and its lack of skin from the elbow to what's left of the hand. There are distinct areas of pain on the hip, knee, ankle and foot of the same side. The shoulder and ear are also distinguishing themselves from the all over body throb. Most worrying by far though is my inability to move. It can't be paralysis; I have read that victims of paralysis feel nothing. Numbness, and this is not numbness. If my back had gears then some one has thrown a wrench in them, if its powered by hydraulics then a hose has blown, if it's internal combustion then someone sugared the tank cause it aint working.
The frightening pain emanating form a triangle formed by my shoulder spine and ribcage around the area of the scapula is reassuring in that it may in fact be the opposite of numb. I'm worried, but I'm trying to convince the dog that I'm not. I am telling him were cool. There isn't anything to worry about, it feels worse then it is, help my friend is on the way. Were gonna get fixed up, then I'm going to buy him a drink and does he prefer Chang or Singha beer?
I can tell he doesn't believe me and I don't blame him. There is nothing in the immediate surroundings that speaks of help. He is shivering worse then before now. I can see ripples in his blood pool upsetting the dim reflection. He was more animated just after the impact, or actually when I regained consciousness after the impact. Looking around, clawing at the dirt with front paws uselessly trying to stand. Now he seems to have given up on himself. I'm trying to bolster his spirits but the fact that no one has stopped has been a blow to both of us.
The first light I saw coming on the road led me to believe the tragedy was over. Whoever was coming would doubtless stop read the obvious seriousness of the situation and off we'd go between the seats of a sangthaew to whomever passed as the local doctor. After we'd recuperated we would become long term companions. We would retell the tale of how we met, in the back and forth way that people who have shared a life threatening experience have. Stopping each other to fill in small but crucial details the other has forgotten. The light grew closer and slowed considerably. I could lift my head enough to see the Honda dream carrying a family of four. They steered around my still idling bike and crept between us. I could make out all four faces, two large, one small and one tiny. As a family doubtless coming from some happy gathering they inspected us inturn. A faint mumble from the father, staring down with a look of removed interest. As if there were a television screen between us and the two bodies were a matter of cooperate sponsorship, the action to be continued.
In spite of the uncomfortable situation I am livid enough at the lack of concern to follow them with insults they would never understand. Soon after a bike approached from the opposite direction. Over the light chug of the old engine I could make out voices conversing in the high pitched bouncing local accent. They didn't slow until they were just upon us when they stopped dead. It was two men; local guys on an ancient mo-ped of indeterminable make due to its amount of rebuilding. They argued about what might have happened in quick bursts. Working out the accident until satisfied with their theory. Started the bike with a few kicks and drove off towards town, just as I had formulated a sentence that might have stayed them long enough to reconsider. The dog yelped furiously at their taillight until it ran out of lung and went back to its quiet tone of pain, and complaint.
Well I said, pooch were gonna have to get ourselves out of this if were ever going to see another closing time. Who's going to start, you or me? His head lolled and he gave an obstinate look. Yeah alright then me. Using my right arm to prop myself to a sitting position fired up the angry delta in my back. I tried to keep myself at the slight height gained, thinking to ratchet myself up, one burst of pain at a time. Either I had lost consciousness or my constitution just wasn't up for it. When I realized anything I was flat on my back.
Taking a considerable amount of time to recover from the effort I tried next to use my right arm and leg in a whipping motion that would roll me to my stomach. From there I could, keeping my back as straight as possible, get to my knees. This had the effect of extending the searing pain formerly isolated to my left side straight across my back from scapula to scapula. It's surprising how lying on a deserted road next to a dying dog at night in a strange country can actually be the most comfortable position.
Soukanaburi is a small town in the extreme east of central Thailand. It borders Myanmar and sits above the famous river Kwai. Besides the three-pagoda pass, three unimpressive smallish white stuppas, there is no real attraction. The boarder status changes erratically because of flare-ups between rival Burmese groups looking to control commerce crossing between the two countries. When it is open a day visa is available. Assuming that crossing back and forth would result in a Thai re-entry visa I headed there. I left from kanchanaburi, the nearest large town to re-up my quickly expiring one month tourist visa. It's a four to five hour drive that offers beautiful views of the river and its adjoining bodies of water. Along with some invigorating high speed cornering over the mountains. I made the trip on a twenty five year old Yamaha 250cc purchased for $24.00 from an ancient man with one leg and no teeth.
The town has two parallel main streets, a couple of small hotels a central market/food bazaar. A police station cum tourist information office and an immigration office, that exists solely for exporting Illegal Burmese back across the border. This I learned on applying for my twelve-hour pass. One of the officers was kind enough to inform me that the immigration office in the town I had left could grant a visa extension of fifteen days, meaning that I had made a wasted trip, scenic or not. It was at least another five hours back to Kanchanaburi and I was already a bit cold, but I had no reason to stay the night and was looking foreword to rounds of cold beer and flirting with bar girls. So cursing Thai immigration policy I grit my teeth and headed back.
Thailand is lousy with stray dogs, pariah animals that belong to no one, breed indiscriminately, live off of trash and sleep wherever possible. During the day they are not a threat. They learn early on about beatings and move in a self-conscious manner with tails tucked firmly between lowered haunches. At night however, they do start to roam in packs, protecting what they feel is their territory. These instincts can lead to dangerous situations. When you are innocently strolling down some dark street and some vicious cur decides it doesn't like your smell. Within seconds it will be joined by four, five, ten more and you had better have something long and heavy. They also sleep in the roads and streets absorbing the remaining heat of the day like reptiles, ignoring traffic as it works it way around them. This is how the two of us met.
As I was leaving town; pulling a right down the first hill and squinting against the tears welling in my eyes from the cold wind. It wasn't long before I spotted the first couple of dogs hunkered down together for the night. Ignoring my admittedly sick sounding horn, it sounded more like wounded water fowl then the possession of a human. I swept around the outside of the two and attempted to apply the toe of my foot to the rear of the closer one. I missed and had to bring the old bike from the soft shoulder back onto the oil and gravel road surface. Concentrating on straitening the bike out I spotted my future companion. This time I slowed considerably as he was sprawled in the middle of the road. My horn eeked as I punched down two gears and let the clutch snap out, the bike made a horrible winding sound, which gave him fear enough. He bolted to the left and glared while I sped to past on the right. As I refocused on the road ahead I caught him in my periphery just as he went into the front tire, bodily. My rear end skid to the right and before I could correct the battered machine I was going down. My jaw set for impact, I could feel his body lodged between my heels and the rear of the chassis. It seemed to be simultaneous with the sparks grinding off the foot peg and handle bar end as I slid across the gravel surface. When next I knew, we lie as we lay now, cold and dramatically lit by the soft white light of the headlamp.
Dwelling for more then half of my life now in major cosmopolitan areas where the closest it comes to being dark is a dirty orange gray perpetual dusk. The true absence of light gives me a tranquil if uneasy feeling. There is harmony with the world seeing the sky as it was born. Depthless, unpolluted, stars winking far away. Inspiring all religions and myths. One becomes a bit beguiled, and that's where the paranoia lies, staring at the sky, dreaming dreams, tainted with romantiscms I would never notice the crunch of stones under foot. The glimmer of moonshine on five inches of honed steel, or the rhythmic chambering of an automatic round. On this night truly blanketed by darkness there was neither musing nor fear. Just the two of us, bleeding and talking. Feeling stupid for each other, worrying about our own conditions.
As a distraction I was describing to my companion my favorite El Greco painting. It is the crucifixion of Christ that hangs in the Louvre, not far from the Mona Lisa, near the Lions Gate entrance. Christ is of course on the cross. You stand looking up at him from the same perspective as the two witnesses in the painting. This is no beatific Christ sliding quietly away into the arms of his father. This guy is in pain. El Greco painted him rigid and coarse. He stares up and to the right with a look indignation. The sky is mostly black accented by deep blue, slashed dramatically with fierce white clouds that simulate the composition of the figure. The cross looms directly above your head, dark and huge as you witness Christ's last painful moments as a mortal. Perhaps not the best mental picture for my friend. Considering his own state, but I doubted that he was familiar with even the most basic Christian Ideology. This is after all a Buddhist country.
As I was describing the very modern technique with which El Greco treated Christ's hands I became aware of another bike descending from town. Putting together a sentence that I would call out at when the bike stopped I bridged my neck to get a look at the distance. My previous floundering had made my back worse so that the slightest movement was debilitating. The bike came at a slow speed and stopped well away from us. The light was bright and shone from above making the scene much clearer. The dog had stopped making any noise and lay covered in its own blood. I could see for the first time its fur. White, rather a filthy gray with brown spots, twisted into matted bloody clumps. It was also clear that he would never sit in on another happy hour, forget last call.
The driver of the bike was scuffling feet behind me. I called out hello in English, a word to my experience every Thai recognizes. There was a couple advancing steps and a tentative Harro in return. Suddenly I felt completely foolish for lying in the road bleeding with this dog expecting to be helped. Taken care of by a complete stranger. More then a stranger, there is no connection between myself and the people that live here, some may have never even met a westerner in their lives. I was just minutes before indignant that people would drive on without a word. What would some redneck in the swamps of Georgia or the hills of West Virginia do if they came upon some yellow, goddamned, gook, bastard bleeding on their local road? Enjoy the sight; have a beer, perhaps wade in with the boot. There is after all a little Nazi in all of us.
She had fully approached and I could now see the backlit outline of her standing over me. A small women, she said nothing so I pointed across the street and said maa. Assuming that one word, the word dog, would explain any questions that might exist. This brought forth a gush of rapid high tone Thai from which I gleaned only "no good". I tried to mime the accident the state of the animal, and condition of my body. She paid no attention to my small gestures and started patting me down. Now I'm thinking, this bitch just stopped here to search me, she's looking to see if I'm wearing a money belt and feeling my pockets to locate the cash. A common practice during the unfortunate time I had spent in Buffalo,NY. A mugger would push someone in front of a moving car and then act as if they were trying to assist the either stunned or unconscious victim while robbing them of cash and pawn able objects. As she worked her way up to my shoulder and neck I realized that contrary to my pessimistic outlook she was looking for broken bones. She examined all the areas I knew where damaged and even came up with some new ones. She then came to a kneeling position and crossed my arms over my chest in order to very gently roll me to my front. As I turned one way and she the other I saw her in full light. She was a good looking young women, dark from the sun and simply dressed. She was most definitely a country girl. She had long blue, black hair, wide unshaped eyebrows, the left slightly furrowed at the end. Her nose was broad which fit her full face, her mouth was set in a slight grimace with the effort and I could see small imperfections in her teeth. Her hands were small but made strong and able from the every day labor that comes from living in the country.
Now she straddled me sliding one hand over my left shoulder, down my sternum placing the other firmly against the lumbar region of my back. To my shock and slight protest she raised me to my knees in a rigid and painless way. She then squatted behind me wrapped her arms around my chest, looped beneath my own, and despite the size and great weight difference brought me to a standing position. We stood facing one another, her four inches beneath me looking for pain in my expression. She pointed to her bike and demonstrated how she was to drive me very cha cha back to town. From any one else this would have been a threat, a way of obtaining some crucial piece of information. Or inducing me to kill my own mother. From her, the girl sized women who in minutes transformed this prone, bleeding, aesthete, trying to convince a dead dog that El Greco truly was the genius of his age, into a standing moving human it was easily acceptable as the right thing to do both morally and factually.
I pointed to the dog my former companion and future friend who was presently a carcass. She waved it off with the Thai gesture so commonly used to tell you that the important thing you need which is totally accessible, cannot possibly be had. A sort of rapidly performed parade wave. Of course she was correct the dog was now inaccessible. I bid him go then to the place where luckless curs are fondled by beautiful women.
The short drive I had made from town to dog turned into an endless ride filled with boulder sized obstacles, which sent eye bleeding strokes of pain across my back. As carefully as she would drive, a speed providing just enough foreword momentum to keep us from toppling, deftly skirting every visible rut and bump the excruciating pain was there. In fact would have been there even if carried in a sedan chair by a team with silicon implants in their feet. I attempted to ignore the pain, I breathed in the clean air. Tried to enjoy the temperature changes as we hit warmer pockets. I rested my chin on her shoulder so that our hair brushed and mingled into each other's with every small undulation. I tasted her scent of talcum powder and fried foods, mixed with a smell of oats or millet. If it wasn't for the seething pain of ripping tissue in my back, this could have been the kind of moment that would call down the pointy hammer of love.
We came to the edge of the town just in sight of a row of large brightly painted and gilt Buddha's. Lit from huge spotlights on the other side of the road, causing a very serious driving hazard and turned off to the left heading for the lake. Slowly moving down hill to a group of five small traditional style stilt houses. We descended the path and came to a clearing which all of the houses were built around, and stopped. She helped me off the back of the bike and to the bottom rung of the stairs to one of the houses, where she lit a kerosene lamp and led me up. I remembered to kick of my thongs despite the pain, which seemed to please her, and felt the congealed blood and skin remnants rip away from my left foot. We went slowly through the house. Sparsely furnished with a bench, two low chairs, a table and sleeping mats on the floor. A screen that could be used as a partition was folded and leaned against the wall. Stepping through the back door to the cement block toilet I realized her intention. The air was noticeably colder then the cold air from the road and a bucket shower was the last thing my aching brain could justify as necessary. Of course the various wounds needed to be washed, scrubbed actually as they were covered in dirt and imbedded with pebbles and small stones from the road.
There is a certain amount of embarrassment when standing naked in cold water when your physicality is less then it should be, even with women that you know. A total stranger is a scene from an adolescent nightmare. There was no way I could wash my self and she seemed determined, without embarrassment for what she may or may not see.
The water was icy and my body immediately seized up. Then the scowerring, fiery along my left side added a considerably uncomfortable balance. Standing there shivering as she scrubbed with a course cloth, some very tender spots of my body, brought me to the verge of passing out which was stayed only by the ripping pain in my back whenever I began to hunch. After an eternality of two or three minutes she doused me with a final bucket and toweled my dry with a large and surprisingly warm cloth. Lead back inside and directed to a sleeping mat, she helped me to lie down. It had been a long day and I wanted badly to sleep, and for the first time in my life nearly fell into it the moment I was supine. In the transitional period from consciousness to sleep I felt cool liquid and those small strong hands kneading the pulsing muscles of my back, I turned to see the simple beauty of her face in the low yellow light of a kerosene flame and as she smiled I was gone.
People sleep like the dead or they sleep like a baby. Some claim to sleep as a log others like stone. Sleep is referred to as the small death, no wait that's an orgasm, either way its generally considered a recuperative, restful act when body and mind come to peace.
Sleep has never been like that for me. Its been elusive, its been adversarial and I have often thought of it as more a sparring partner that is subdued with a beating rather then a lover who comes to an embrace. I have battled with sleep since I was a child, and from the time I have been old enough to imbibe the only true sleep I have is induced by quantities of fermented fruits and grains.
This night was no different, though my body wanted for sleep and the phenomenon came readily enough it was a wild, anxious sleep of painful dreams. Each dream involved dogs or a single dog like creature that wreathed and fought. One that remains vivid involved a dog body with a head on each end, that chased in a circle as a puppy seeking its tail. Except this one sought its own, rather, its others throat. First the front head would turn sharply and latch onto its ass' heads throat until they wrestled apart. Then the ass head would go after the front head, each time opening a fresh gash, each time drawing more blood. The animal had no tail to tuck, no haunch to lower in submission so it continued to circle round growling and snapping, whining and growling again. I had no part in the action; I was only a spectator, but a spectator that observed from all angles. As if my field of vision surrounded the dogs completely.
I woke from this vision curled on my side, my back locked into position. The room was dark; as my pupils grew to the available light I could make out the form of the girl sleeping silently on her mat near the other side of the room fully clothed and oblivious to my thrashing. She had covered me with a blanket, which at some point I had pulled away from. Again feeling the cold I covered my naked, injured body with the coarse thick blanket. Trying to warm myself I lie, with eyes fixed on her quite form.
Who was this girl who had the ability to heft, transport, bathe, and put to sleep in her own home a thing she found in the road? Something she couldn't communicate with, something without the simple instinct to avoid that which can injure. An animal, even I with my small poisoned heart, would stop and try to help Probably before an injured human. From a dog there is nothing to fear, after the initial ceremony of sniffing and petting. You heal a dog and its mind belongs to you. A human might still get up in the middle of the night and feast on your entrails, steal your life savings, sodomize your children, but a dog? No, it will bring your slippers, growl at your neighbors, sleep at your feet with complete unsoiled loyalty. I was her dog, she couldn't fathom me bringing her any harm, and neither could I.
When next I woke the house was full of warm sunlight. The shudders had all been thrown open and the cool air slid in off the lake. It was midmorning, in the afternoon the air would be still and hot and then sunset would again bring the cold, but now a morning full of light with the fresh air smelling of water and trees. She was up and out; her mat was rolled and set by the wall. There was no other sign of her existence here. No dishes, no toiletries, no decorations, no flowers for Buddha, no picture of the king. The house was smaller then it appeared at night, the room was approximately fifteen feet long and less in width. The plan was what they used to call in the southern states a shotgun shack, a door on both ends and windows on the sides with no glass or screens. Simply constructed of roughly hewn planks worn smooth on the floor by foot traffic. There was no electricity, and no heating element. I had the feeling that she didn't live here, that it was used for visitors, or in my case strangers scraped off the road.
The constant calling of proud cocks in the courtyard was now a familiar sound to me. It is a constant throughout South East Asia. It is part of the soundtrack of life here, they do of course begin sounding at daybreak but contrary to urban belief they don't stop. They continue throughout the day and often into the night. The cocks and the dogs, not yet tamed by the sun were finishing their morning rounds barking, occasionally quarreling with one another over breakfast scraps.
I had woken on my back so sometime in the night I had righted myself. My body ached form the impact with the road. I once heard a physicist explain that during an accident three collisions occurred; your vehicle hitting the obstacle, you hitting the inside of your' vehicle (or the road and parts of the vehicle) and your organs hitting your skeletal structure. I was acutely aware of these last two impacts this morning. I examined the healing skin on my arm, hand and leg. My arm had a long wide scab from elbow to wrist that looked brushed by an angle grinder. It was translucent white so that the clotted blood and remaining dirt was visible beneath. The wound on the hand was much deeper, from the knuckle of the little finger the skin and fat layer had been ground off. The hand was swollen to a comical size and three fingers wouldn't bend. The foot and ankle were also swollen with missing chunks of skin and my small toe looked to have been nearly torn off. One of the dangers of living day to day in thongs. The other scrapes and cuts along the leg; hip, elbow and shoulder were superficial. All in all it wasn't too bad. Most encouraging was the loose feeling of my back. I tried sitting up using my arms to push my torso forward, my abdominal muscles contracting. The pain started just below my neck and continued down both sides of the spine. It was a different pain then the screaming, hot, torturous feeling of the night before. This was more of a "hey I've been hurt here, lets try not to aggravate it any more then necessary" pain that could be acknowledged and ignored.
Sitting up in the bare clean room I could see my shorts and shirt through the side window hanging on a line to dry. I didn't like the prospect of walking out into the courtyard in my blanket to retrieve my clothes. I liked even less the prospect of a husband or father coming home from a night of fishing, or worse of drinking and finding a naked white man lying helpless and naked on his floor. After a couple of starts I gained my feet and slowly shuffled to the rear of the house. One step at a time I descended the stairs into the clearing. Took my clothes down and shuffled into the toilette to dress.
The toilette was an old style squat, Essentialy a hole with a porcelain basin, so that the smell of decomposing waste is overpowering. One tap came into the wall and a cistran is kept full, small buckets are used for washing, laundry and mucking out the toilette. It is the smell of the country I thought as I put on my chill and still damp clothing.
The sun was just hitting the rear steps of the house so I gingerly sat on the second rung keeping my back as straight as possible to warm and further dry my shirt. The effort of dressing had taxed the flexability of my muscles; I could feel my lumbar tightening and the scapular triceps seizing up. Sitting in the sun looking out at the courtyard of these timeless weathered homes was enough; I had no desire to move. I sat again listening to the sounds of this little outpost, the cocks, the scornful voices of children chastising one another. The high pitched whine of two stroke engines echoing down from the town, and of course the occasional stirring of the countless feral dogs squeezed under houses, tables or whatever would provide shade. Out of the sun, out of sight.
Some time passed, the sun grew higher and the air warm on the verge of being hot. I was dozing awake, having forgotten where I was and reminiscing on past insults. I didn't hear her come through the house. She was standing above me and I just softly became aware of her presence. tilting my head all the way and arching my back so I saw her face and torso upside down and distorted by my eyelids. She was holding a plate of rice and vegetables that made my stomach rumble and reminded me that I hadn't eaten in twenty-four hours. She was looking down at me with a quizzical expression. Wondering I assume how I had made way to the stairs and what I was doing sitting there. Still looking at her from a tilt I said sawsadee krap the all purpose Thai greeting and salutation. To which she replied sabai dee mai? Inquiring how I felt, smiling a bit I answered sabai dee, rou, a passing I'm fine and you. We looked at each other recognizing the awkwardness of speaking in these infantile catch phrases. She went into the house and returned without her plate, leaned down and helped me up. My muscles were sore and tight but the strong sun seemed to have helped. I walked without really needing but gladly accepting her assistance. She looked at me and while making the international sign for eating asked kin mai. I nodded and made for the table, now very aware of my hunger. I had started to move towards the table when she gripped my arm and nodded towards my mat while putting her hands to the side of her head and shutting her eyes. I was struck by how beautiful she looked at the moment, a smile teasing up the corners of her mouth, a slight tilt to her head. When she turned and saw me staring instead of obeying she moved me bodily leading me toward the mat.
What is this; does she want some action? A little pre-lunch coupling, a nooner? I actually doubted my back was up for it. These obscene and wonderful thoughts were banished when she picked up the bottle of ointment, or liniment or whatever it was she had used on my back the night before. Now I knew I was in for another kneading, not quite the same but a nice second.
We took off my shirt and I lay down. Again she poured the cool liquid onto my back and began working on the affected muscles. A strong herbal odor wafted up as the liquid began to heat from the friction of her hands. I had fallen asleep the night before so hadn't noticed this effect. The heat and herbs penetrated the skin. The muscles gave up their tenacious pull on one another as her hands worked around my shoulder blade seeking the king knot that was causing all this trouble. After ten minutes she stood from a kneeling position wiped her hands on a towel presented me with my shirt and went to the table to set out rice. My muscles felt limp and vibrated with the memory of her hands. I could tell she hadn't rooted out the core, and if that meant I was going to be subjected to this every day I hoped she never would.
The next two days passed in much the same way. We talked little, we ate some, she was gone for most of the day. My back was quickly repaired by her deft, working, my wounds grew thicker scabs, and my appendages swelled and receded. I had no books with me so spent the late mornings drawing in the loose red dirt of the common clearing between the houses. I caught glimpses of the neighbors passing in and out of their houses. I greeted the first couple of women I saw but they paid no attention. This was unusual to my experience of being in places with little or no tourism. Normally I would draw some curios attention at least from the children.
Only at night did the houses come alive with the sizzle of oil and the smell of cooking. Children screamed and chattered to one another. Adults conversed loudly, playing cards and gossiping. All activity ceased an hour or two after nightfall. These people were early risers who were off before I ever woke. Each after noon she would bring rice and vegetables with some smoked fish or grilled chicken. In the evening she would come with rice or noodles along with one or two simple dishes of vegetables on the side. It was simple food, food you would never find on the menu at a Thai restaurant in Sydney or Manhattan. It was always very salty, mildly hot, but other then the regrettably pungent fish sauce there were no other added flavors.
Each evening when she would arrive from I supposed work she would be covered in fine dust. Smelling of talc and what I had mistaken as a grain, which I realized now was mineral, something from the ground. She would set the food on the table and go through the back to shower and change her work clothes to her house clothes, having been washed and hung on the line to dry each morning. By the time she had finished her abolitions the sun would have set and she would appear In the door way lit by the kerosene lamp. Her skin was absolutely clear of any blemish or wrinkle and radiated the light as if it shone from within.
Her Long black hair still wet would be tied tightly behind her head. She would come to the table bow her head slightly, as would I, and sit to spoon out the food. Before taking her first bite she would always show me just the least bit of a smile.
We would commence to eat in silence; the small house rang with the voices of the neighbors. Afterwards she would clear the dishes, I always went through the act of rising to help knowing full well it would be refused. As she went out to clean the plate's forks and spoons I would sit and ruminate on what was expected of me. The sexual tension that almost certainly didn't exist was driving me goofy. After an hour or so of trying to converse mostly with our hands, which never really transferred any information. She would motion for me to lie down for my back treatment. Her using the herbal infused liquid, rubbing and prodding my muscles, kneeling so close I could smell her scent. Ten minutes a night then she would stand, wipe her hands on a towel, walk across the room unroll her mat blow out the lantern and sleep as if someone had snapped of a toggle switch.
In this agitated state of arousal I would plot, ponder and grit my teeth. Each night when the light went off I spent half an hour on the cusp of vocalizing something. Some veiled suggestion, an innuendo meant to draw her to me in the dark. If I were Bukowski I would just say ‘hey baby this is to much, lets make it', not that it would mean anything to her even if she weren't soundly asleep. Was this just charity, was she an infinitely gregarious person who wanted nothing in return for her kindness.
When this had passed I would fantasize in the true "Harlequin Romance" meaning of the word. She would stand to walk away I would reach out and gently touch her leg. She would lift the lantern so that the soft yellow light made her face glow against the dark room. I would run my right hand up her leg and let it fully enclose her left buttock; she would utter a barely audible but wanton gasp. Her clothes would miraculously loosen and fall to the floor as we embraced. Her kneeling me half sitting. I would kiss her strongly on the mouth. I could smell her clean hair and taste her smooth skin, then, well then, then she would scream as the men of the village burst through the front and rear doors, their machetes flashing in the fire started by the dropped lantern to finally butcher this farang like a hog for doing what they had expected all along. It was no hope; finally I would fall off, muttering to myself, for a night of bad dreams and short naps.
On the fourth day it was time to go. The long afternoons of staring into the red dust and walking back and forth to the boggy edge of the lake had to end. I decided to walk up the hill from the little settlement to see if my bike was still on the road or, if as I expected it had been hauled to town and cannibalized by some repair shop. As usual the girl was gone when I woke, I thought about finding my bike and just splitting. Remember her from our days of domestic cohabitation. Her moving about the house serving food, washing dishes, the radiance of her skin after showering, the pleasure of her hands working the warm ointment into my back, the wry little smile she would show me occasionally. No goodbyes, for all I knew she was sick of me being there, eating, never lifting a finger nor paying for anything. Besides wasn't she enjoying herself teasing me night after night, driving me mad with lust, no good byes.
The hike up the hill was tiring; my muscles were sore and had atrophied during the four days of inactivity. As I reached the meeting of there path and the road where the four garish Buddha's sit staring down at the lake I rested and took the time to see the view. I was rushed when I came into the town and only glanced at this. The lake was long and broad, I had the feeling if the land didn't cut into it, it would stretch to the horizon. The valley it created was bright green in contrast to the parched scrub and red dirt of the higher land. Across from me was Myanmar with all its brutal troubles. The lake was dotted with floating settlements, five or six small dwellings lashed to a central platform. I wondered if that's where my girl and her neighbors went during the day. It wasn't a fishing setup; there were no nets or traps. A few flat-bottomed boats floated near by big enough for four people at the most.
These things were really none of my concern what I needed to find out was if my bike was where we had left it and if so, do something about my very fast approaching visa expiration date. I plodded a way down the road up and over the first dip and by the honey sweet blood of Jesus there in the distance leaning on its kickstand, shinning in the sun was my twenty five-year-old, twenty-four dollar Yamaha 250 GTO. I was giddy with the find and skipped down to inspect the damage. As I came up to it I saw that the left foot peg was bent and one tail pipe bracket had snapped off but that was it. Then I saw what must have been oil in the road, the crankcase was clean, the oil cap was in tact so actually that wasn't a stain but a smear. This was not motorcycle oil, it was dogs' blood, I followed the smear to road edge and there was my friend.
Probably the other dogs had gotten to him early on and then the birds had come to clean up. Very little was left of him, a small pile of bones, blood and dirt matted fur.Unrecognizable bits of meat or grizzle. I climbed down to the ditch and kicked apart the bone pile until I found his skull. There was still too much matter attached to it so I decided to leave it and picked up a meta carpal joint. I wanted something to remember my companion, my almost future best friend and drinking partner. With his paw bone in my pocket I kicked over the Yamaha, and the son of a bitch fired right up. This damned dogs bone is a talisman I thought as I raised the RPMs clicked the gear lever down to first, and letting the clutch out hard skidded off for town.
Before setting out for Kanchanaburi I wanted to put some substaintal food in me and fill the tank with fuel. There is only one place equidistant between the two towns for gas. If leaving from either one without a full tank a person could end up spending a very long night in a very cold ditch. I had already tasted this and wanted no repeat of it.
I pulled in front of the largest hotel in town, which had thirty rooms and seemed ludicrously outsized for a town that might draw ten tourists in a week. The short drive into town cleaned the four-day fog of inactivity from my brain. The day-to-day waiting and longing for the girl now seemed simple and useless. I was fully awake now and ravenously hungry. Taking the hotel steps three at a time I burst into the restaurant swept a menu off the counter collided with a chair sat down heavily and flashed a genuine smile at the three women cutting vegetables. It was late morning so I decided to cover both breakfast and lunch by ordering a pineapple pancake, fried rice with an egg on top, a cheese sandwich and a pot of tea. The women took this down and shuffled back to the kitchen without acknowledging my gluttony.
Having disposed of the pancake, working on the fried rice and awaiting the cheese sandwich I was joined by a young Thai. He greeted me in competent but awkward English by saying hello, where do you come form. A Common hyphenated question to greet tourists, often followed by what is your name, how old are you, are you married. I usually lie about all of these not so much to be an asshole but simply to keep my self interested in the conversation. I bid him sit; he did and followed by asking about my occupation, tourist agenda and various questions involving Thailand. I had enough of his shit and started asking my own questions; what did he do, where had he been, was he married. He was happy to answer all of my questions and added so much more. I learned he was twenty-six, his father owned the hotel and had sent him to work at a resort in Phi Phi hence "his mastery of English". As my sandwich arrived he got up and returned with a large bottle of Chang beer and two glasses. It was then that I realized I hadn't had a beer or anything to drink in four days, a crime.
We went through several bottles of Chang when he broke out the Sangsom. Sangsom is a sort of Thai rum, even though its reffered to as whiskey, made from fermented rice and a whole slew of chemicals. It registers at eighty proof and tastes like mellowed kerosene at first. With tenacity one can become very attached to it and being the closest thing to a Thai national drink it pays to acquire both a taste and tolerance for it when socializing with the population. Thais mix it with soda water, lime slices and drink it over ice. Many tourists mix it with coke, which I find brings out the worst in both. We sat and drank the Sangsom with a couple of beer chasers. He told me about all of the white women he had conquered in his years on Phi Phi, and I could just imagine the string of below average beauties feeling oh so special and native with their Thai boy. We got along to Thai women and he was surprised that I didn't have a "girl friend", and so did I like boys? I told him I was attracted only to Laplanders and then it made no difference what sex they were.
The warm glow of alcohol was having its way with me and the urgency of returning to Kanchanaburi was waning. We were half way through the big bottle when he suggested we go to the dogfights. I said hell yes, why not, nothing goes with sangsom like watching some half starved animals forced to fight each other.
Thais love to gamble on nearly anything and will pit almost any species in combat for that purpose. I have been to beetle, snake, fish, cock, water buffalo, and of course human fights where poor men have lost a week's wages on one match. We sauntered out of the hotel into the late afternoon light. The temperature was already dropping as we headed towards the border and the fighting grounds.
The streets were empty in town, as everyone had turned out to the fights. The bikes parked around the entrance were so thick that we had to weave through and step over tires to enter the fray. It was like a country fair in a one horse mid western town. Vendors were selling food of every kind; noodles, grilled chicken, sticky rice, satay's, dried fish, pork balls, sausage, steamed buns, a variety of sweets and fruits along with beer, Chinese whisky, Sangsom, bags of soda and heavily salted fruit drinks. The grounds were littered with a variety of garbage, wrappers, and bags, straws, cans and bottles lie where people dropped them. We pierced the outer fray of playing children and gossiping women to the inner circle of gamblers.
Most had been drinking heavily since morning, The winners were jubilant slapping friends on the back and talking loudly. The losers were sullen and shifted their feet with nervous tension.
We arrived just as the first dogfight began. Meaning we had missed the water buffaloes, a spectacle I have enjoyed in the past. The sight of the lumbering beasts, straining neck to neck attempting to savagely wrench the other to the ground and therefore establish it's dominance. Once established the loser would gain it's feet and run off pursued by the winner and two handlers whose job it is to get around the massive horns and grab the animal by the ring in its nose in order to bring it under control. A much more dangerous situation than the actual fight.
Dog fights in Thailand aren't the brutal blood fest of dog fights in America or Mexico. Those fights are run by professionals who breed and train dogs to be huge, single minded killing machines that may only see one fight until being killed in the pit. Fights here are between the average misbread pariahs that are unlucky enough to be caught by a keen gambler who might actually feed them for a couple of days prior to the fight to get their strength up. There is no pit, but a circle of spectators who keep the dogs in check with kicks or threats of. Most fights end with one dog supplicating itself, rolling over on its back reveling its vitals to show it will no longer fight. There is no blood lust in these dogs and fights rarely end with a kill or even serious injury.
We missed the betting of the first fight, which ended quickly as one dog caught its mismatched opponent by the throat and pinned it wheezing to the ground. Two men broke into the circle and easily kicked the dogs apart. The winner was seized by his handler in order to fight again while the loser coward off through the circle. The second pair was paraded by their captors and the betting started. Poh found the bookie and we both put two hundred bath on a large dirty hound of some sort with a grapefruit size tumor in it's neck, a certain look of dangerous desperation in its sunken eyes. There was little thought put into the matches as the other was a German Shepard/schnauzer mix, which had trouble simply, keeping its feet under it. I couldn't see any way that these two were going to fight; they were both listless and seemed to only want to crawl under a house and sleep. Then the bookie came into the center of the ring with a piece of raw meat. Each handler had to re-grip the nape of his dog's neck to keep the animal from bolting. The dogs were given a good up close smell of the meat, then it was thrown into the ring.
Each dog had worked itself into a state of confused frenzy they whined, growled and snapped at their handlers until on a count they were released. There was a frantic charge at the prize, each animal wanting to seize and escape with a chunk of the flesh. My hound predictably reached it first. The malformed Shepard pulled short and bared its teeth with a low growl more fitting its head then the rest of its truncated form. The sick hound lurched back, its mouth clenching the flesh its tail rigid; pointing up, its hackles raised. The little one went for a leg bite but the hound reared to flee catching a stiff kick to the side of its head. Dislodging its hold on the meat and confusing the hell out of it.
A large percent of the more intoxicated spectators are Burmese men who cross the border every weekend to sell their cheaply made house wares for a tiny profit to Thai dealers who turn the products over in larger towns for a substantially less tiny profit. The Burmese seem to gambler with a vengeance against winning. It could be the long years of being beaten physically, mentally, and ideologically that draws them to wager on the clear underdog regardless of the odds. Poh and I were standing amongst these sullen men. They smelled of the cheap but potent Chinese whisky that hill people prefer and goat musk.
As the fight went on the dogs became livelier, each one wanted the meat and the little one was proving itself more capable then I imagined. Its low center of gravity made it difficult for my boy to topple, and easy for it to get under the hounds flapping tumor to snatch a leg. Any lull in the action resulted in a charge from the circle. Kicking out a foot to keep the fight going. Anytime a dog would come close to us it received a savage kick or stomp that had nothing to do with sustaining the match from one of the Burmese crew. They were sloppy drunk clinging desperately to the few baht remaning from their day of trading. I was expecting them to topple each other with their swaying, and then one would spring forward like a decathlete and deliver a tremendous blow with his foot getting a whine or a snarl before reeling and stumbling back to the circle. The dogs were bloodier then I had ever seen in a Thai dogfight. The constant kicking and stomping from the crowd had driven the two of them to actually charge and fight one another, they were scared, hurt and getting truly mean.
The fight ended when the little Shepard made a final charge at the hound, missed and was kicked into unconsciousness by a double blow at the other side of the ring. The bookie came round grudgingly to collect and pay off his bets, I took my four hindered and re-upped sight unseen on the same side for the next fight. Poh collected his money and put a thousand down. Our winnings brought unwanted attention from our peers who had lost ten baht apiece and weren't happy about it. The third fight had started, the loving glow of alcohol had started to fade as the dusky film of mean drunkenness descended. This last fight was no fun, I didn't come to see petty little men take their disappointment of life out on these animals, I came to see dogs rip at each other out of a primal instinct to protect terority and procure food.
I could feel my friends paw bone against my leg in the pocket of my shorts. Forgotten during the days jovial drinking. I was filled with the vision of him writhing in his blood, mewing and looking at me for help. Now here I stood laying money down on which dog would survive the most kicks. The third fight was over; I hadn't paid any attention to it and had been squeezed to the back, out of the circle. I shoved the small man flailing his arms in my face aside to catch Pohs eye, he saw me and raised his arm we had won another. I grabbed him by the shoulder while he collected from the bookie and told him I was finished. It was a pathetic scene, these men spitting at the ground growling at their selves for losing their family's budget on a dog-beating contest.
As I pushed my way out of the circle and back to town, my bike and finally the drive to Kananchaburi I found the arm flairer still in my face. He was close enough to smell the rotten air coming from between his remaining teeth. He wore a denim coat buttoned to the top, acid washed jeans and a pair of rubber farm boots. He was dark, his skin hardened and cracked from wind and ultraviolet light. He wanted my attention before, and now that he had it. He was yelling and pointing at the wad of cash in my hand. His friends, who stood in a loose group vaguely focused at the circle covered in dog's piss and blood awaiting the next fight, were now acutely aware of my passing through them.
Having been in the mits of angry drunken mobs before, both at home and abroad I understand the dynamics of the thing. The mob needs a focal point, a loud noise or quick movement to set upon. Seven or ten men joined together to become one primitive hunting animal; otherwise they grow distracted, cowardly and break up. By ignoring the pushing, yelling hoard; remaining calm but aware of the shifting aggressions one can easily pass straight through the melee to a safe distance. Open a beer and watch as the confusion rises to a point when they disembowel each other.
Being so, I used a quick body spin to pass by the goat farmer and steadily walked through the diminishing crowd of spectators. The frantic sound level of the circle had diminished now so that I could hear the man still behind me, still yelling. As I turned I saw Poh push through the crowd, I yelled what the hell is he going on about, Poh shook his head looking puzzled, what's he saying I yelled. "He says you cheat, you can't gamble here and you have to give him what you have won".
Without thinking I laughed loud and full while pointing at him, it took me by surprise and I couldn't stop the huge guffaw any more then if I had suddenly become nauseous and needed to vomit.
The sun was setting now over Myanmar. The valley and the lake were lit with the last of the day's warmth. The sky was completely clear so that the sun was simply disappearing without all the showiness of clouds picking up and reflecting the whole spectrum of colors. Blue ranged form the darkest cobalt pricked with stars to the lightest washed out powder blue above the fading yellow orange light lingering on the horizon.
I took this in over the head of the little charging farmer. Who was coming at me in a swaying run greatly hindered by the size of his rubber boots. He swung wide and wildly so far in front of me I didn't have to move at all in order to avoid being hit. I turned back toward the town; I could see Poh catching up, when the fallen man began yelling to his friends. I looked back to see their tightening faces glaring at us. Poh interpreted, "He's telling them to help him, that you hit him. We better go, immigration will be here soon to take them back across the border". I had stopped walking and was looking into the crowd. I wanted to see one laughing face, or someone in disbelief mocking this foolish farmer. There were only hard stares, looks of contempt and greed. I walked to where the farmer still lay; trying in drunken slow motion, to get to his knees. Dropped the eight hundred baht of winnings on his back and kicked as hard as I could into his gut and ribs. My injured foot rang out on my nerves so I didn't hear the sound of the impact or the groan of the man. I looked up to see the collective fury on the faces of his friends, a mob again and if I turned to run they would certainly chase me down. I stood over the man now on his side; he hadn't noticed the money that he had wanted so badly. He was coughing and lying still. I turned away and started again over the littered grounds toward town. This time continuing without looking back. I heard his crew scramble as soon as I moved but they stopped at him, either checking him out or taking the money.
Poh was waiting for me at the hotel. He thought it was great to kick that Burmese dog while he was on the ground. He invited me to stay the night free of charge, we would get drunk again maybe find some ladies. He followed me across the wide veranda and down the steps to my bike. Telling me it was a long cold trip to Kanchanaburi, I nodded in agreement that it certainly was, told him pop kin mai, see you again. kicked over the Yamaha pulled out of the parking lot and down the road to a wood and zinc shack , a fifty-gallon drum of gas with a hand pump. Filled my tank and I fled.
It was a five-hour drive and I was determined to make it three and a half. As I crested the hill, leaving town I saw the little settlement of five stilt houses, the floating shacks dark against the lake, and the black shapes in the road ahead, storing the last of the days heat against the long night ahead. All I wanted to do was get to kanachaburi drink cold beer and flirt with bar girls.
Published on 5/7/08