Bangkok is a town full of stories. Everyone there has one. Travelling means being a perpetual adolescent in cultures not your own. He had learnt quickly that the places you go to indulge soon become dull. The girls, the booze, the same old crap. The same dead look in the eyes of the long timers and the same sad and hopeful look in the young ones. A fraud. The oldest con trick in the world. All it took was a little clear-headedness, the minute observation of people reacting to people in the gaudiest Oscar winning fashion. The girls seemed to know to leave him alone. They would just look at him hard in the eyes and see that he understood.
“Farang roo mahk” – the round-eye knows too much.
They would smile and get on with their show finding other prey, more willing to waste their money and time night after night in the same bars. Knowing the pointlessness but unable to stop.
Sam liked the girls. He felt they were people he could drink with without having to speak to and become emotionally involved with. He was careful not fall into the trap of thinking that he could help or “save” them like a lot of ex-pats he had met.
The Roxanne Syndrome, he called it.
“You don’t have turn on the red light…”
Yes, he liked the girls. He did not like most of the farang he encountered as they were always trying to talk to him, or more precisely at him.
He was sitting alone in a bar where he felt comfortable, a typical neon-lighted open air bamboo construction close to the Sky Train. The girls were doing what they do and he was sat there staring at the ice cubes in a large vodka that the mama-san, who had soft spot for him, had prepared. The ice cubes looked to him like little drowned sailors floating in the Arctic Ocean. All of a sudden there was a commotion, and a farang in a suit far too big for his size, stumbled into the bar and started dancing with the girls in the most absurd way. He looked like a clown who knew the joke was on everybody else; ordering people about, hugging and squeezing the girls. When he finished his performance, he perched himself right next to Sam looking for all the world like an aristocratic scarecrow.
“Hey man, smile!” the scarecrow spoke in an Eastern European accent that Thomas could not place, as it was bastardized with a smattering of the New World.
“Smile! Life’s not so bad!”
“…Hey, I like you, what do you do here?”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you working, on holiday…? I mean what’s your story?”
At this the scarecrow started to have a look of comical exasperation more often seen on the faces of game show hosts or used car salesmen.
“Okay man, try this question. What would your ultimate job be?”
“A writer”, Sam spat back immediately.
“Can you write?”
“Better than you can, boy”
There was a moment of silence.
“Buy me a beer and you’ll be workin’ for me tomorrow” croaked the scarecrow and he passed Sam a business card. Sam merely glanced at it, then sat up straight and stared into the mirror in front of him.
“Listen, pal. You should be buying me a drink, as you are sat next to the best fuckin’ writer in this city. Now, are you going to buy me a beer and then fuck off. Or, are you just going to fuck off. It’s your choice, Jack.”
Suffice to say the scarecrow did indeed fuck off after a touch of blustering about and bruhaha and the girls set about calming him down in a lacklustre fashion secretly happy that this idiot had been shamed in a culture of face-saving. All gave Sam a nice big wink, and one even offered him a freebie, which he politely refused.
Yes, Sam liked the girls.
Jonah had seemed different since the arrival of Figgis. Jonah had told Sam that he was beginning to dislike going to work. It was not the school, or the students, both of which he adored. It was his new work colleague.
After the first uneasy night of drinking together, and a mere mumbled and insincere apology from the Irishman, Jonah had decided that he nothing more than righteous cunt.
Figgis’s drinking problem was now becoming a company legend, for when he was sober (which to be quite honest, your humble author has decided that it was not very often) he was a meek and mild character, lazier than most in his work (possibly on account of his multitude of hangovers) but on the whole not Jonah’s problem. The amount of days he was missing would have rang alarm bells in any company that cared about its reputation and maintaining standards, but luckily for Figgis their company was a cowboy effort and with Thailand’s bad work reputation and ever tightening immigration laws, teachers were scarce and everyone was desperate. He also had the habit of turning up bloodied and beaten after being out on the piss and having a young Irish mouth(with an ever diminishing number of teeth), but the body of a scraggy twenty-something. And he was getting himself in trouble at least once a week. Figgis couldn’t handle his drink, it was that simple. Yet he continued to overindulge.
Sam could see that Jonah was fast coming to despise the Irishman with an amused passion that was spilling over onto all of Figgis’ fellow countrymen. Even Irish music and films were becoming objects of his scorn. He found the whole of the worst of Irish culture concentrated into this one loathsome individual. It was not only his laziness that pissed Jonah off so badly, it was his complete disrespect for the local people, especially the women and his obvious inferiority complex.
The Potato Famine.
Paddy, Mick, Bogtrotter, Guinness…
Sam could see that the situation was getting worse.
The comments were becoming more and more vicious everyday. The weak-minded skeleton would instantly bite as soon as he sensed another derogatory remark flying his way but he was no match for quick witted Scouser and so would either just get loud and walk out of room, embarrassed at his own feeble mental sharpness or shut up and lick his wounds as he tried to keep his anger from spilling out into the workplace.
Yet through all this, Jonah refused to let his emotions turn to hatred. He despised the Irishman, he did not hate him. That would mean he felt something mutual with him, which he did not. They were just working at the same school; everything else in their lives was different.
Sam knew that Jonah loved living in Thailand. He loved the food, his girl and even the culture was something he tried to appreciate, though at times, it bewildered him. He tried to understand the life there which was the one thing that separated him and his friends from the likes of his new workmate. He still became angry at times, still found the locals to be illogical and sometimes downright stupid, yet in the end he knew that he could change absolutely nothing and neither should he. It was not his job and to try would be like banging his head against a brick wall.
Still, life was good for him; he could quietly smoke as much weed as he could buy, drink cheaply and live cheaply in the country of his choice. And that is exactly what he did.
Sam was a little envious at the way that Jonah had adapted to Thailand.
He put it down to the dope consumption.
At the end of the week looking forward to the New Year holidays, Figgis had politely asked Jonah if he happened to fancy a drink after work. Realising that it would be just him and Figgis, he reluctantly agreed. He didn’t know why he said yes. It was probably out of spite. A scab that he couldn’t stop picking.
“But just one, okay, I’m meetin’ my chick later ’nd she is fffiittt!” he declared loudly.
“An’ I tought all ya Brits were all queens!” replied Figgis laughing at his own joke as Figgis winced once more.
“No,” Jonah retorted, “yer only allowed one queen per country. Jeesuz, you Paddys really don’t know anythin’ d’ya!”
The humour was infantile but it seemed to work.
Know your enemy.
Jonah and Figgis left school as soon as possible and went around the corner to the closest bar to the school. They drank their beers, chatted about work and Figgis left to go to another bar to meet an American pussy hound friend who had been convinced into another bargirl baiting session. This after all was why they were there.
Jonah got a motorcycle home and on his way passed the familiar skinny trudging figure of Figgis. Telling the driver to speed in close, he waited until he was right up next to his figure of fun to scream “WANKER!” as loud as could, almost shocking the owner of the motorcycle into veering crash mode and sped away into the evening. I can see an extended middle finger taunting a lonely and miserable man in the middle of South East Asia.
And so we come to Figgis.
I envision him as a wholly superficial and stupid character (not evil, never evil, as evil has a certain charm and intelligence all its own, like Himmler dressing up as Nero) who is based on a couple of Irish gentlemen that have crossed my path. Nothing against the Irish but these two were cunts.
Why would such a person wish to travel, to live in other cultures, except to take all and give nothing back?
He had been born and bred in the small coastal town of Baltimore in Cork. It was a place full of typical Irish clichés in the centre, tourists in the summer and aimless people driving around and around their housing estates. A community of bored and desperate shop owners. For Figgis it was a place full of bad memories. When he was young, he went to live with his mother in a caravan on the outskirts of town. She was a lonely half mad alcoholic widow who survived off her dead husband’s ever diminishing civil pension and her basket weaving skills. Her husband had died of a heart attack during Figgis’s childhood. Figgis never went to the funeral.
His mother still tried to hide her drinking from her only child but was so obviously drunk from dawn to dusk when she fell into a coma that Figgis tried to get out of the little caravan as often as possible, disgusted by the sight of her and sensitive to her lies. When was sixteen, he got a job at a local convenience store but was fired for stealing a packet of fags. It didn’t his penchant for petty theft. He enjoyed stealing. In taking what belonged to others. It was a natural right.
One day after his mother had drunk her fill and was snoring on her permanently occupied sofa, Figgis saw a programme on television about Thailand’s sex industry, produced in a typically tawdry American-style exposé. He saw the colours, the excitement and the women. He had never had a stable relationship with a woman and had only started really having sex (not just handjobs) when he went to live for a year in Amsterdam, working in an Irish Pub. The local brothels, being the only outlet for him, had given him his education into sex. His experience of Amsterdam had given him a wanderlust in search of snatch. After seeing that programme he knew what he had to do. That night he decided that Bangkok was the place for him and he got himself another job, working as a petrol pump attendant in a garage, saved his pittance and stole as much from his mother as he could.
Five months later he was on a plane.
The only other person that who would associate with him was an ex-military type called Jon and they would sit and try to outdo each other with stories of hardships and sex amidst neon lights and naked dancing women.
The night that Jonah had alarmed Figgis, he was on his way to meet Jon and to have some fun. Jonah screaming at him like that had set him off in bad mood. He would get his revenge and to hell with the consequences.
When he arrived at the infamous Soi Cowboy, Figgis began another night of excessive drinking. He ordered himself a tall beer and drank it fast, feeling the cold liquid soothing his sweaty body. Then he ordered another one. Within ten minutes he turned his head and saw the strapping form of Jon coming into the bar. The American hi-fived him as loudly as possible turning heads and bringing out sour looks of boredom from the half naked girls stepping listlessly around their poles to the beat of the music. The duo moved from bar to bar drinking, talking, evaluating which girls they would like to fuck and which they already had, to bars with glass ceilings and girls wearing high school uniforms and no panties dancing as they gazed upwards, to bars with older women with too much make up and stretch marks, to bars with mirrors at all sides, to bars with “Naughty Boy” corners and free blow jobs. They felt like this street wanted them to be there, they owned it.
Yet there came a point where the night just had to end. Jon was discussing a price with an older member of the scene and Figgis was left stinking drunk and alone. It was then that he made his catch for the night. The bar was starting to close, the police would be around soon to make sure and pick up what was owed to them and the stragglers were waiting all predatory and frantic, when a lady sat next to him and started touching his leg. He turned clumsily and put his scrawny arm around her, squeezing her breast as he did so. She giggled a false little laugh and whispered “I go wit’ you, na?” and after paying his bill, the two people left the bar and wandered into the early morning.
The woman was laughing and playing the game wonderfully when they hit the street in order to hire a taxi. Figgis was finding it hard to walk again and stumbled off the pavement into a parking BMW. He landed square with both hands crashing onto the bonnet. The driver of the car pressed hard on the steering wheel and the horn beeped jolting an angry feeling into Figgis’s soul and the drunkard slapped the car on the bonnet and causing thud to ring through the soupy air. The passenger’s side door was flung open and a tiny Thai woman, immaculately dressed, jumped out and flew at Figgis. She screamed in English.
“What you doing! This is so bad! I talk to you people everyday, you are not polite! This is not your country! You are not polite … you farang come here and make everything bad, my boy friend, he kill you if you don’ go now, he have gun! He kill you!”, then she began harassing the bar girl who stood there in silence making a prayer gesture that showed her place.
It was a request for forgiveness.
The infuriated woman then turned back to the car and began arguing with the driver, who just put the car into gear and drove off, the car tyres screeching in a show of frustration at not being able to shoot the insulting drunk. The bar girl began kicking Figgis who was just sat on the kerb.
He was holding his head in his hands, belching.