Feb. 11, 2017

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   NICK’S SURPRISE

 

     Noi gazed up at the small green statue. Her slim hips rested on the back of her calves, her long straight black hair fell to the middle of her back, and her hands, mildly trembling with fear, were placed in a wai that cradled a burning stick of incense. Her pretty face, beginning to show the first signs of ageing, was uncharacteristically betraying a brooding seriousness.  As always this time of year, the Emerald Buddha, sitting high above her and the dozens of other worshipers on its ornate alter, was dressed a small gold colored robe for the rainy season. She was surrounded in the gilded chapel by the frescoes depicting the Ramakien, which date back to the time of the first king of the current  Thai dynasty who built  Wat Phra Kaew, the most revered temple in all of Thailand. The Ramakien, the  national epic, which is derived from Hindu mythology, provided the Buddhist nation not only with a creation story, but with a moral foundation which confirms the victory of good over evil.  The murals on the chapel’s wall of the innermost room of the temple where Noi was praying, illustrate the saga of the good King Rama of Ayutthaya overcoming the evil king Tosakan of Lanka, with the help of his loyal warrior monkeys. Noi knew many of the stories of the Ramakien well, having been told them as a child by her mother and grandmother, and later having studied them in school. The small icon from which she was seeking grace, is believed by many to be of Indian origin, and derives its power by virtue of being crafted by the hand of the Hindu god Vishnu. The Emerald Buddha is the ultimate protector of the realm, and Noi believed the image could shield her from harm, if only she could, though it, gain the Buddha’s  favor.

    In the past, in times of crisis, such as the during the breaking out of an epidemic or some other calamity, the small idol was taken and paraded through the streets to ward off the evil spirts or ghosts which were believed to be the cause of the whatever misfortune had befallen the community. However, around the turn of the 20th century, Rama the sixth, being an enlightened monarch, stopped this practice, informing the Thai public that disease was due to germs, not to evil spirits.

     Noi had 10 years of formal education. She knew about germs and how they could make you sick, but she also knew about ghosts. And one ghost in particular was her immediate problem.  It was mainly the fault of Nick, her husband, but evidently, she was being held culpable as well in light of what had happened the day of her husband’s showing of disrespect on the grounds of the Maha But temple.  A story from the Ramkien that told how deceitful behavior had invoked the wrath of a divine spirit was replaying in her mind and her own actions weighed heavily on her conscience.

     Across town Nick, her husband, drinking with his friend,  and was concerned about his relationship with Noi, but was hardly concerned with her superstitious fears concerning the supernatural, or any bad karma that either of them may have accrued.

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       “She has lost the plot,” said Nick to his best mate Michael. It’s been almost three weeks and she will barely speak to me, all she does is sulk and go to the temples. Of course, what happened to her brother isn’t helping matters, but it is not natural I tell you.”

     The two were seated across from each other in a comfortable booth in Sukumvit’s  Londoner pub. Nick, his back leaning against the wall with one leg stretched along the green leather upholstered seat on his side of the booth, was cradling his 4th happy hour pint in one hand. Michael, sitting opposite Nick, was hunched over his beer, both elbows on the table leaning and towards his friend, his wavy reddish hair sitting atop his face which appeared, even more, ruddy than normal as the alcohol was starting to take hold.

      The two middle-aged men, English teachers at the same language school, always went for beers at the popular spot after work on Sundays.  It was their one weekly splurge and well deserved. The weekends, both Saturday and Sunday, always meant teaching small kids 3 hours in the morning, which is a tiresome task at best.  The afternoons were then spent teaching adults for another three-hour long class. In addition, at times the slave driving language school owner, Lek, would schedule an extra private student making it an 8 hour teaching day. You were, of course, free to turn down the class, but it meant a lost opportunity to make and extra 800 baht a week, which at the end of the month would be about 70 British pounds. This was not a whole lot of money but could go a long way in Bangkok, even today, if you knew where to find the value for money, which both of the Englishmen certainly did.

 

     “Mate, you have been in Thailand long enough to know not to say something like that,” Michael, the 40 something-year-old Arsenal fan said taking a large gulp of lager, then glancing at the big screen TV  that was broadcasting the replay of a Premier League match from the previous night.

     “But it is all such a bunch of fucking bollacks,” said Nick, his eyes squinting dismissively as he raised his mug to take a swig, then he too stealing a glance at the pre-recorded action happening on the pitch.

      Returning his attention to his friend, Michael lectured him saying, “Of course it is a load of bullocks  mate, but you just can’t just go to a shrine in Thailand, refuse to leave any offering  and then say that Mae Mac can just bugger the fuck off to a Thai and not expect them to lose the plot. It is a good thing that there were no locals around that caught what you were saying. Remember a couple of years ago when that nutter smashed the Erawan shrine at Chitlom and that group of Thais chased the poor geezer down and bludgeoned him to death?  What happened to the assailants?  The bloody chief of police gave them a reward for a job well done!  TIT mate. This Is Thailand.  Why didn’t you give her some money for the offering, that was being a just a bit tight, don’t you suppose?” 

    “It’s Mae Nak, not Mae Mac,” Nick corrected. That is one name I know for sure, said the slim gray haired teacher with big blue eyes.

      Suddenly the electric power in the bar was lost, and as soon as the lights went out, the big screen TV first flickering,  then going blank, caused a collective moan among those closely following the match. However, no sooner had the blackout occurred, than the power was regained.

     “Don’t see that too much in Bangkok,” said Michael.

     “Probably a storm coming, though, it’s rainy season you know,” said Nick, speculating on the cause of the momentary lapse in electrical service.

      Then, picking up where he left off before the power outage he continued, “Me tight mate? Now that really is a load of bollacks,”  Nick said with a sarcastic chuckle, his eyes widening in exaggerated surprise, releasing his beer long enough to touch his hand to his chest as he craned his head forward towards his companion.

     “Do you know the amount of money I have spent on that girl? I’ll tell you how much. Not two weeks ago I sent 6 thousand baht, allegedly for her younger brother’s school fees, although I have my doubts about that. Her father is a real drunk that one. And her older brother, he was just like the father, that’s what got him killed I am sure, driving like a fucking maniac on that motorbike pissed out of his mind. The pair of good for nothings they are…or at least her father still is. I don’t like to see anyone die, but that brother did nothing with his life. Seems like half of the 400 baht I make every hour goes to keeping the men in her family drunk. Then the mother, last month she comes and stays with us in our apartment for two weeks, all the while whinging to go to that damn Pratunam market every day for me to buy something for her to take to the family in Korat. Meanwhile, I am the one sleeping on the floor while she and the Mrs take the bed. A dog mate, that’s what I am, a fucking dog who sleeps on a mat on the floor, and who happens to make 40,000 baht a month. I have to draw the line somewhere, or else I won’t have the shirt on my back, I tell you.” 

     “That is a nice green shirt you have on,” said Michael jabbing a bit of fun at his friend's tirade.

    “One more?” the Thai waitress who had appeared next to the booth asked. “Happy hour finish 5 minute,” she informed.

     Looking at the little green plastic container sitting on his side of the table, Nick counted the number of slips it contained, each note representing a beer he had drunk, the total number of slips corresponding to the number of 100 baht notes for which he would have to part with that evening.  He did a quick calculation in his head and decided that he could afford the expenditure, so long as he didn’t leave a tip. It is not Thai culture to tip anyway, he reasoned.

     “Sure, one more,” he said, smiling at the petite woman who had probably worked as a stripper a few blocks away on Soi Cowboy, until she could no longer stand one more night in the skin trade, with some drunken foreigner having the pleasure of ravaging her body for 2000 baht. 

     “And you?” the waitress asked, looking at Michael.

     Rubbing his own collection of little white slips of paper between his thumb and index finger in the container next to him, the ruddy-faced teacher decided to nurse his last beer.  

     “No I am ok,” he told the girl, who quickly turned and called to the thin young bartender with spikey hair working at the cash register for one more Chang draught.

     A few minutes later Nick, well into his final beer of the evening, and feeling more optimistic thanks to the alcohol said, “Well, it will probably blow over in a few days, not the first argument we have had you know.”

     “This one may take more time mate, you know how serious Thais take their religion,” Michael forewarned.

    “I will give her some money to take to the damn temple, that should quiet her,” Nick responded, trying to think of a solution to the problem.

      As the waitress walked by Michael raised his hand and asked for the bill. “Check bin,” he said articulating the first two words he had ever learned in the Thai language.

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      All of Noi’s troubles had started the day she cajoled Nick into begrudgingly giving her six thousand baht for her younger brother’s school fees. In fact, she only sent four thousand baht, as that was all that was required for the boy, the remaining two thousand she invested in lottery tickets.

      Of course, she couldn’t just tell Nick she needed two thousand baht for lottery tickets, he would never give her money for that. She had tried asking him for a similar amount one time before for that very purpose, and he exploded in a rage saying he had to work a whole day for that amount of money, and he didn’t want to waste it on a game of chance that the government rigged. They had a big argument that day, and afterward she never mentioned the lottery to him again. Now, anytime she needed money to fuel her gambling addiction, which was often, and included not only playing the numbers, but the illegal games of baccarat which were contested in the backroom of the mom and pop’s convenient store down the soi, she would fabricate some need for her family back upcountry in Issan.

     Two thousand was a lot of money to put on the numbers in one go for her for sure. However, the fortune teller she had stopped to consult on her way home from the Tesco the week prior, had assured her she was on a lucky streak, and she just couldn’t resist striking when she believed the iron was hot.

     To make sure good luck would smile on her, she decided it was prudent to go the Mae Nak shrine in the Prakanong district of Bangkok and leave a tidy offering and burn some incense for the ghost that inhabited the Maha But temple there. Mae Nak could be quite a benevolent ghost when it came to bestowing good luck in the lottery everyone knew, at least every Thai knew. However, care was to be taken when dealing with the entity, as she was one ghost you definitely did not want to be on the wrong side of.  Normally Noi would go to the temples alone or with friends, however, as she was broke, she needed to figure out a way to get Nick to come along to bankroll the visit.

     Knowing he was not going to be much more receptive to the idea of leaving a significant amount of money at a shrine than playing the lottery, Noi decided it was time to once again make use of her womanly powers of persuasion. She didn’t like playing Nick, she did love him, and felt guilty about using her various nefarious tactics that were usually effective in procuring whatever funds were needed. But there were so much Nick just wouldn’t, or maybe just couldn’t understand.  He forced her into misleading him, but she had to do it for her sake, the sake of her family, and in the end, she rationalized, for Nick’s sake as well.  

     So, on Nick’s only full day off in a week which was always Monday, when his language school was closed, she woke him up with the sensual kiss which turned into a morning of passionate love making.

    Later that afternoon, she casually suggested that they go from their apartment in Huay Kwang on Rachada road in north Bangkok, way over to Seacon Square in east Bangkok, to have dinner at the Sizzler steakhouse in the large shopping complex.

 

      Noi knew Nick would like the idea of Sizzler, which he did, but he suggested they go to the outlet in the Rama 9 Central Plaza shopping mall that was far closer to where they lived.  She countered this by reminding him of how when they met she was working at the Robinson’s at Seacon . Making an excuse to go to the out of the way place, she said she would like to stop by the department store to catch up with some of her old colleagues. Being sufficiently buttered up, he agreed to the rather long trip out to Seacon from Huay Kwang.  Noi kissed him once again, and they fell into an embrace on the bed.

   After their second round of lovemaking of the day, Noi suggested they get ready and make the journey to the eastern side of Bangkok.  Nick, dreading the relatively long trip, as so much of his time was spent commuting around Bangkok for his job teaching, figured it was worth the 160 baht taxi ride to avoid taking public transportation on his day off.  

     That didn’t fit into Noi’s plan. She wanted them to go to the On Nut Skytrain station, then take one of the red open air pick- up trucks or “songtaews” that ran along On Nut road which would take them to their final destination. Conveniently this route passed the Temple where the Mae Nak shrine was located, but of course, Noi did not mention the stop at the temple she wanted to make.  Arguing that it was wise to save money, Noi convinced Nick to take the longer but cheaper option.

    It was music to Nick’s ears to hear Noi talking about saving money.  He was so happy, that he neglected to calculate that it was only a matter of 50 baht they would be saving by taking the public transport, something even he could easily afford as a one off.  Now Noi just needed an excuse to stop at the Maha But temple to grease Mae Nak’s ephemeral palm, thereby hopefully gaining the ghost’s favor which would result in a big pay- off for her in the lottery being held the following day.

     While Nick was in the bathroom emptying his bladder before starting the rather long journey, Noi suddenly had an idea for an excuse to stop at the shrine.  Opening a drawer of her dresser, she shuffled through her collection of DVDs, and located a movie based on the legend of Mae Nak. Luckily, she had never opened the small box that contained the disc, so the plastic was still left intact as if new. Deftly, she slipped video disc into her purse, and after a few moments, Nick reappeared from the bathroom, and they left their modest apartment and started out on foot to the Huay Kwang MRT subway station.

     After transferring from the MRT subway station to the Skytrain at the Asoke interchange, they continued their journey, moving rapidly  50 feet directly above the traffic jams that were clogging the major passageway through downtown Bangkok. As the nonstop adverts came pouring out of the monitors over their heads in the clean modern carriage, Noi politely sat with both of her feet placed on the floor under her knees. Nick, who was sitting next to her on the yellow fiberglass seat, was staring out the window of the train watching the passing cityscape as it zipped by them. As usual, when he was relaxed, he was slouching just a bit. In addition, he was resting the calf of his left leg on the knee of his right leg, dangling his foot. As such, crassly leaving the sole of his shoe exposed for all to see. This bothered Noi of course, and normally she would have given him a mild reprimand, but she decided to let it pass, not wanting in anyway to alter his good mood she had so carefully cultivated.

      They disembarked at the On Nut Skytrain station as planned, exited the platform, and glided down the modern well- kept escalator and started towards the busy intersection of Sukumvit and On Nut roads. It was from there, near the intersection, that the songtaews departed that traveled eastward along On Nut until reaching Sinakarin road and turning right towards Seacon Square.

      As usual, there were throngs of people on this part of Sukumvit road squeezing past the many vendors on the narrow sidewalk selling everything from shoes, to foodstuffs to DVDs. Being almost impossible to walk abreast in the crowd Noi let Nick lead the way towards the pick- ups.

    However, after a couple of minutes, she stopped and ducked into a small bakery shop, leaving Nick, oblivious to her subterfuge, to carry on walking alone.

      A minute or two later Nick turned to say something to his wife, but she was not there. Upon not seeing her he backtracked 10 meters or so, looking around over the tops of the heads of the short statured Thais, but failed to locate his spouse.  Thinking that Noi must have somehow passed him, which given the crowded conditions could have easily happened, he continued towards the row of songtaews parked opposite the Carrefour superstore,  figuring to find her there waiting to make the final connection of their journey. However, on arriving at the row of waiting pick- ups, and not finding her, he pulled his phone out of his pocket and speed-dialed her number.

     After a few rings, Noi’s voice came through on his small cheap black Samsung, “Hello, Tilac, where you go?”  

    “I’m by the songtaews, love,” Nick replied a bit impatiently, but nonetheless understanding of the difficulty they were encountering.

     “OK, I come now.  Rak tue,” Noi said, bouncing a message of love to her husband from her cell phone to his, via the communication satellite orbiting 20 miles above their heads.  

      Nick half shrugged his narrow shoulders and slipped his cheap phone back into his well- worn black trousers. While he waited for Noi to appear, a fat lady  sitting in the passenger seat of the pick- up they were to board to take them to the Sizzler steakhouse  repeatedly yelled “Pak Nam” at every passerby on the crowded sidewalk, alerting  all as to  the final destination of the commercial vehicle she co- piloted. Oh shut the hell up for Christ sakes, Nick thought to himself looking into the obese woman’s face into which she was shoveling a spoonful of som tam from a small rectangular Styrofoam container after each caterwaul. The woman, a bit puzzled as to why this farang had his eyes fixed on her, and having no idea the level of aggravation she was causing the not so well-bred Englishman, returned  his look and screeched “Pak Nam,” so as to clarify any doubts for him as to where the sontaew was headed.

 

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      As they were sitting in the vehicle waiting to depart,  with fat woman still clamoring in the cab for more customers in order to pack the songtaew to full capacity before departure,  Noi pulled out  the Mae Nak DVD she had clandestinely stashed in her black purse back in their apartment.  

     “See what I buy?” she said flashing the disc at him. “We watch tonight tilac, OK na? Na glua.  Nang pii.”  She said, as if delightfully frightened by the idea of watching the horror movie she had just supposedly  purchased during their supposedly inadvertent separation. 

      ‘Mae Nak Prakanong,” Nick read, completely screwing up the tones of the transliteration with his North England accent.

     Correcting his pronunciation, as he took the disc from her for inspection Noi said, “Mae Nak Prakanong,” speaking slowly and protruding her lips when pronouncing  “nong.” 

     “You know Mae Nak, Neek?” she inquired, applying a high tone to her husband’s name which did not exist in his native Stoke on Trent.

      “It’s a ghost story, isn’t it?”  Nick said, as a teenaged girl dressed the blue uniform of high a school student sat next to him on the bench and eagerly fished a cell phone out of her school bag.

      “Chi,” Noi confirmed. “Temple for Mae Nak, Wat Maha  But,  stay near here, you want go see? she asked as if the idea had just come to her.

     Nick having lived in Thailand for almost 10 years was not enthused about the idea. The novelty of visiting a Thai temple had long since lost its charm, and he rebuffed the idea saying the traffic was going to get bad as the rush hour would soon be upon them. It was much better to continue onwards to Seacon, he reasoned.

     “I want go tilac,” Noi pleaded. Then, hating herself for doing it, but with no options, as so much money was on the line, she quickly kissed him on the cheek.

     “Noi na,” she then pleaded, feigning great disappointment in his decision.

      The two old men and the middle-aged woman sitting on the bench opposite the married couple in the songtaew pretended not to notice the public display of affection, but they did notice. Immediately the suspicion was validated in their minds that among the passengers on the songtaew were a prostitute and her customer. The young girl sitting next to Nick didn’t notice the socially unacceptable act, as she was transfixed to the game she was playing on her cell phone, but would have cared less if even if she had.

    OK, said Nick, giving in, but we won’t stay long, agreed?

   “Ok, no problem,” said Noi, already counting her money from the lottery winnings that were now sure to follow.

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      After a mile or two ride on the songtaew  Noi pushed the red button over her head which sounded a loud buzz which indicated to the driver that they wished to disembark.  The pair then climbed out of the back of the pickup and headed down one of the side streets off the main road that lead to the famous temple.

     “Should we take a motorbike?” Nick asked, as they passed a group of young men with orange colored numbered vests sitting on a bench in front of a line of small motorbikes used to shuffle customers up and down the soi for a small fee.

     Normally for Noi this was a no brainer, she did not enjoy walking anywhere.  However, in keeping with the story of the day’s theme she had contrived of saving not spending money she said,  “No tilac not far, they see farang, they want money too much.”

     The group of dark skinned motorbike taxi guys, no doubt most of whom were from Noi’s native Issan,  eyeballed the couple as they passed, mildly disappointed at not getting a potentially lucrative fare.  Walking down the narrow street,  Noi thought it best that Nick be informed of the complete story of Mae Nak, which may make him more likely to give her a large amount of money she had planned to transfer from Nick’s pocket  to Mae Nak’s coffers that afternoon.

     It was a beautiful day, not too hot, and the strong southerly breeze coming off the gulf of Thailand was flushing most of the smog from the mega-metropolis.  Nick was having a good day. Starting first with the morning and afternoon rounds of lovemaking, this impromptu trip to a Thai temple, on their way to his favorite restaurant, reminded of him of when they first met and fell in love.

     “Neek, you know story for Mae Nak?” she asked.

      “I know she was a ghost,” responded the ESL teacher, beginning to find some genuine interest in visiting the shrine.

     “She stay Prakanong long time ago.”

     “When” inquired Nick.

      “Not sure,” answered his not so well informed tour guide.

      “Before this king?” he probed, his linearly obsessed western mind begging for a spot in time in which to place the story.

     “Maybe, not sure, before long time,” replied his wife who was far more concerned about the events and ramifications of the story, than when it happened.

      “Ma Nak have husband she love too much, same I love you Neek,” she explained coquettishly, causing Nick’s heart to soften even more towards the expedition. “But he go make war.”

     “He was a King?” asked Nick, his interest building .

     “No he never king, he soldier,”  Noi clarified. Then continuing, “He go make war, but  Mae Nak she have baby, but she dead already  when baby born, baby die duay,”

     “So she and her child died during childbirth?” Nick said rephrasing her broken English.

     “What?” asked Noi.

     “Nothing, go on,” said Nick, pretty sure he was following along.

     “After husband Mae Nak come back make war, Mae Nak now ghost but he never know,” Noi recounted, continuing to spin the fabled yarn.

      “So, he didn’t know his wife was a ghost and was living with her?,” Nick said trying walking just a bit faster than Noi making her pick up the pace.

        Noi after having listened to Nick speaking English for so long understood most things he said, so a past simple statement combined with the past continuous like this was easy enough for her to understand if she knew all the vocabulary involved, however such a complexity was all but impossible for her to articulate.

      “Chai,” she confirmed.

     Then Noi started telling the most famous part of the legend and continued, “One day Mae Nak cooking nam prik and make lemon fall down. She make arm for her long and husband Mae Nak see and scary too much. Neighbors tell to him Mae Nak ghost already. Then he leave Mae Nak and she have broken heart too much.

      “So,” Nick said recapping the key points, “The neighbors knew she was a ghost and eventually told her husband t the truth about her and he left her because he was scared shitless?”

     “Chai,” Noi said with one exaggerated nod of her head, just before Nick sidestepped an oncoming pedestrian who, not taking note of anyone else on walking along the narrow side street, would have walked straight into him.

     He didn’t quite understand the part about the arm, but over the years he instinctively knew when an explanation of something was critical or not, and he reflexively just let it go.

     In fact Noi was referring to the part of the story when Mae Nak was cooking and dropped a lime and the small piece of citrus fruit then slipped through the cracks of their traditional Thai house which stood elevated on stilts for when the flood waters inevitably came. Evidently, Mae Nak couldn’t be asked to go retrieve the lime by normal mortal means, so decided to elongate her arm with the supernatural powers she now possessed.  Evidently, situational alertness is not a ghostly quality because her husband accidently witnessed the uncanny phenomena.  Naturally shook up by what he had seen, he talked to the villagers and they told him that his wife had died while he was away fighting the war. No doubt brave in battle, he didn’t possess the stones to live with a ghost and promptly moved house.   

     As they continued walking down the soi Nick was becoming annoyed at the foot traffic they had to negotiate as they had now come upon a pair of tiny women meandering in front of them.  In typical Thai fashion, they were obliviously zigzagging along, unaware that a 6 foot plus tall farang was directly behind them, itching to get by.

     “What then love,” Nick said in a louder than normal voice, hoping the two women would hear his voice and move to the side. As usual, it didn’t work.

     “Mae Nak angry too much and she kill neighbors because they tell husband she ghost,” Noi said, not bothered in the least about the people walking in front of them slowing their passage.

      Noi then concluded the story.  “People in Prakanong get ma pii. He catch Mae Nak in bottle, and he put bottle in Klong Prakanong, but she free now,” she said concluding the tale.

      Nick didn’t quite get the part about a Thai shaman getting involved and putting the ghost’s murderous rampage to an end by bottling her up and tossing her into the canal they were walking parallel to down the soi. However, he did have a good outline of the story, and as he saw the entrance to the temple, he felt relieved that the tedium of following  Noi’s  storytelling,  while simultaneously dealing with the foot traffic, was coming to a close.

     A few minutes later they arrived at the Maha But temple. Inside the shrine dedicated to Mae Nak, there were many different portraits of the famous woman who had supposed lived in the time of the great reformer of Thailand King Rama the 5th in the middle of the 19th century.  There were a number of people kneeling in front of a small gold faced image of the young mother to be, become the murderous ghost, and the smell of incense wafted through the air.

     “Neek, give money for make tamboon for Mae Nak,” said Noi.

      Nick, expecting as much, as they were at a shrine, was not put off. He reached in his pocket and produced a 20 baht note.

     “More, please Neek,” Noi requested.

      Nick half knew that the 20 was just an opening bid, but being in a light mood he didn’t really mind pitching in another 20 if it was going to keep the peace.

    “Today give 500 baht,” Noi said as if it were nothing unexpected.

    “500 hundred baht?” repeated Nick not really believing he had heard, and knowing immediately the day was shot.

     “For Mae Nak,” responded Noi. “She make good luck for you.”

      Normally Noi, when she was asking him for extra money in addition to her 1000 baht a week allowance, which seemed like a daily occurrence to Nick, used the soft sell approach and tried to wear him down slowly.  But this time it was different. When he refused to give her the 500 baht it angered her, and with a look of contempt she accused him of being a “Cheap Charlie.”

     That really set Nick off. He spent six days a week running all over Bangkok to make on average 35 to 40 thousand baht a month for the two of them to live on. Over the five years, they had been married, not only had he supported Noi, but had sent 10’s of thousands of baht to her family in Korat. Once he had made a 20,000 baht investment for her brother to open a motorbike repair shop. He had been assured by Noi and her family that the business would be a success, thus letting up some of the financial pressure on Noi to send money home. Two months after the supposed launching of the venture, he had gone to Korat expecting to see some sort of business up and running. However, upon arriving at the family’s house in the northeast region, he found the brother sitting around a dilapidated table with some of his friends enjoying a liter of gut rot Sang Som whiskey. When he asked to see the shop, he was simply told it was closed that day. He later found out there was, of course, no shop.

     In spite of all of this, Nick loved Noi passionately. She was by far the most attractive woman with whom he had ever been. But besides that, when things were going well, they had a real rapport. Granted there was a huge cultural gap between the two, but at times, especially in the beginning of their relationship, this seemed like a voyage of discovery for him. However the past year or so there were to more and more problems which always seemed related to money, and the gap between them appeared to be widening.

     “That is a fine thing to say to me after all the money I have given you and your family,” Nick said in retort to Noi’s accusation of his frugalness, his voice growing in volume. 

      “Be quiet,” said Noi who had noticed that a few among the crowd were had taken note of their disagreement.

     “Be quiet?” asked Nick, “Don’t tell me to be quiet.” Then reconsidering, and hating to see the bad turn things were taking to an otherwise wonderful day he said, “Here, here is 50 baht.  Leave this and let’s go to Sizzler.”

    “OK, no problem, give me money for my food for Sizzler, I no eat there tonight,” said Noi, mistakenly thinking this would calm Nick down and diffuse the whole situation.

     Nick, starting to realize that the voyage from their apartment in north Bangkok to the eastern side of the city was a ruse to come to this temple for some reason,  began to get truly angry.

     “You drag me all the way on the subway, the Skytrain and then that damn songtaew to go to Sizzler at Seacon Square on my day off, and now you are telling me you are going to bugger off because I am not going to give my hard earned money for some ghost that doesn’t even exist?” said Nick, a rage starting to take root. Although not yelling, is mannerism and speech were strained and others on the grounds of the temple were starting to take note. 

     “You can bugger the fuck off if you like, and so can Mae Nak. I have had enough of this stupid bullshit. I am going to eat at Sizzler,” and he then stomped off in the direction of On Nut road to find a taxi, leaving Noi standing alone, humiliated by the argument which the nosey Thais, who pretended not to notice, clearly did.

                 **************************************************************

     The next morning after the visit to the Mae Nak shrine, Nick was forced to do something he hated to do, which was called the school and cancel classes for the day. But he had to do it. After he left Noi at the shrine he continued to Sizzler, and evidently had eaten something there that had made him violently ill.

     He had come home afterward to an empty apartment,  at that point starting to feel queasy, but before the food poisoning had really started to hit him.  It appeared that Noi had come home, but by the looks of things, she had packed a bag and left. This was not the first time she had left for a couple of days when they had had an argument. Once after another dispute over money, she left for a week, but she always came back.

     The next day after having been up all night having made innumerable trips to the bathroom, Nick, laying in bed staring at the white ceiling in his studio apartment, began to contemplate the events of the previous day. He really felt Noi was going too far calling him a “Cheap Charlie.” She had never said that before when they argued. Although at times the things Noi told him didn’t seem to quite add up, he had always trusted her, and in the end accepted her explanation of things when something didn’t seem quite right.

      The fact that he met her while she was working at Robinson’s department store, not in a bar, had always been a comforting thought.  When expat men speak of their Thai wives, nobody asks any questions about where they met when it is revealed that the woman is from Issan. This was the unspoken rule by which everyone abides. Nick however, was quick to honestly add whenever he first spoke to someone of Noi, that they had met while she was working at a respectable job.

       The term “Cheap Carlie, however, was really wearing on him, and it sounded too much like something a bar girl would say. The idea Noi was not exactly what he always believed her to be, once again surfaced to his consciousness, but as usual, it didn’t stay there too long.  The pain of this thought was too much for him to bear, and he quickly repressed any notion of it.

     Nick returned to work the following day at his language school in Central Lad Prow after he was mostly recuperated from his illness, and got some bad news from one of the young women who worked as one of the sales reps at the reception desk. The previous day when he was out sick, the school had sent a substitute teacher to the company where he had been scheduled to teach classes that day. It was a lucrative corporate contract that was paying him 700 baht an hour plus traveling expenses. He had only recently started the course, and it was due to continue for at least another couple of months with a strong prospect of extending beyond that. Apparently, by chance, the substitute teacher that the school had sent knew one of the managers at the company somehow, and it was requested that the substitute be kept on for the remainder of the course. 

     It was three days later when Nick was waiting at the school for a private student the school had assigned him that he decided to call Noi to check on her whereabouts. The fact was that Nick loved her dearly and missed her, so once again, against his better judgment,  he swallowed his pride and dialed her number.

     “Hello,” said Noi.

    “Where are you?” asked Nick.

     “I stay Korat, my brother he dead motorbike day you speak bad temple Mae Nak” said Noi, her voice cracking, obviously ready to burst into tears.

     “What, your brother is dead?” Nick said incredulously. He never liked Noi’s brother, or for that matter anyone in her family too much. He then quickly pushed the thought out of his mind that this turn of events would work to his advantage as he now had one less person asking him for money. He was also immediately aware that this was going to throw a very dark spin on Noi’s mood for quite some time.

    “When are you coming home?” asked Nick half pleading.

    “I never come stay with you again,” said Noi, and hung up the phone.

                      ***********************************************************

     However, after about a week Noi did return to Nick. Apart from the little bit of money that her mother made selling Pad Thai in front of the 7 11 a few nights a week, the family had no steady source of income. Since Noi had married Nick, at least 4 thousand baht a month came in, sometimes double that amount. Noi had refrained from explaining what had happened at the shrine to her family. As upset as she was with Nick, and indeed now had every intention of leaving him when it became financially feasible to do so, she didn’t dare to repeat the words Nick had said for fear of provoking more repercussions from the insults her husband had visited upon the Mae Nak’s shrine.

    When she returned to Bankok after the monks at the temple had cremated her brother’s remains, she moved back into their apartment In Huay Kwang but only spoke to Nick when absolutely necessary.  She didn’t love Nick anymore after what he said, and what had happened. Meanwhile, Nick went about his regular routine, waiting for Noi’s dark mood to pass.

                                   *****************************************************

     As the waitress returned with the change from the 1000 baht  Nick had given her at the Londoner  bar he said to Michael, “Well, I guess it is about time to go home and see if some of the funk has lifted, not sure how much longer I can take the silent treatment from the Mrs.”

      Then raising his beer to his lips he fumbled the mug and spilled what remained of his pint on his green shirt.

     Reaching quickly for a tissue, he cursed as he dabbed at the liquid that was being soaked up by the silk material and said, “Damn, I just bought this shirt for that corporate class I was teaching. I got green because that’s Noi’s favorite color.”

      A few moments later he gave up on his cleaning effort saying, “Oh well should come out in the wash.”

     “Ok mate,” stated Michael now standing as the waitress counted the money he had handed her, I will see you Tuesday.  Any plans for tomorrow, it’s Monday our day off,” he reminded his colleague cheerfully, knowing full well Nick had not forgotten the school was always closed on Mondays.

      “No, not much, maybe go over to Chatuchak and take a walk in the park. Noi likes that park maybe I can get her to go take a ride in one of the paddle boats,” responded Nick, pulling himself out of the booth.

     “You should go to that temple with her and leave the 500 baht, seeing as her brother died and all,” Michael suggested.  Then deciding, in light of the beer he had drunk, thought it wise to visit the gentleman’s room before starting his bus trip back home.

        “I have to use the toilet, I will see you later mate,” then yawned and taking a stretch his arms shaking off the stiffness of sitting in the booth for the previous 2 hours.

         “Ok, have a good one, like that daft Yank teacher at school always says,” clarified ,said Nick pulling himself out of the booth.

       “Oh, he’s not so bad,” I have gotten used to him,” said Michael who then turned and headed towards the restroom door next to the big screen T.V.

        “ I am just taking the piss mate,” he is a decent sclarified,now out of the booth and hiking his pants before walking to the door, taking one last swipe at the wet spot on the green shirt.

                              *******************************************************

     A few minutes later Michael walked out of the front of the Londoner bar and found a crowd of people  chattering and jostling for a position to get a better look at something on the street. Instinctively, he moved toward the small crowd to investigate for himself what was so interesting.

    As he got closer, a young college girl dressed in a short black dress and tight white blouse emerged from the pack, after having had a look at what was going on.

   “What happened,” Michael asked the girl, as she squeezed her way free from the throng of people.

    The girl, a very good student, replied in her not quite perfect English, “A farang was hit by car. He tried to get a taxi, I think.”

     “Is he dead?” asked Nick quickly.

     “I am sure,” said the slim,pretty coed continuing on her way while reaching for her phone in her purse in order to post the gruesome picture she had taken on her favorite social network page.

 

     Just then, a space momentarily opened in the crowd, and the expression of concern which was on his face turned to one of shock when he saw the body of a slim gray haired man laying  face in the road, his green silk shirt soaked in blood.

      At that moment, across town on the banks of the Chao Praya river in Wat Phra Kaew, the burning stick of incense that Noi had clasped between her palms, slipped from her grasp.  As she reached with a trembling hand to retrieve the smoldering offering which laid in on the marble floor in front of her where she was kneeling, the bronze bells that line the eaves of the temple chimed eerily while waving in a strong gust of wind that arose from the east.