Confessions of a Black Dog

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Chapter 17

It had taken several days for Sam to leave his room for any length of time. He had spent so much of his life alone in his room. He hadn’t wanted people looking at him. He had wanted to be invisible. He had wanted to be a dream. He hadn’t cared about his job or food or even writing. His own company was enough and he needed to sort things out his way. It was the only way he knew how. At one point, he had asked a mosquito buzzing around the room, if it would go and tell people to leave him alone. The mosquito had flown out of the window.

Then one day he opened his curtains and went out to rejoin the mad world. He would just go and come back. Never straying too far from home, or going out after dusk. He would still weigh up every view, looking forwards, backwards and side to side. After a while, he gradually began to do the things people do. He ate. He drank. He looked at beautiful women. He smiled at the sunshine. Then one night he went to a local farang hangout and bumped into Antti, who had just started to eat his evening meal. He hovered at his friend’s shoulder until the Finn gazed up at him and gestured to the empty chair opposite.

“You okay now?”

“Sorry” Sam nodded.

“Fuck it, it doesn’t matter anyways.”

One thing Antti did not do was pass judgement on his friends. He knew that one could not afford to. Everybody has their crazy period in Bangkok. It took some time for Sam to loosen up, but he just listened to Antti waffling on about friends, work, his night before, anything to fill the black hole that was left in the conversation. It helped a lot. It eased the feelings he used to have back slowly. Antti knew that there was something wrong with his companion, and so for this he had patience.

Antti had had another rough night. It was the same old story with him. Take a girl back then at some find out that “she” was in fact a “he” and get all macho and insecure and throw “her” out. This time they had not even gotten to his front door when he had realised. “She” had thrown a sucker punch at him, which due to bad timing and luck had just glanced off his head, he in turn had punched “her” in the nose, floored “her” and then kicked “her” repeatedly in the ribs. The ladyboy had gotten up, scuttled off and threatened revenge. Antti was lucky that his date for the evening had not had a knife. He knew that if he ever saw “her” again that she probably would have. He now knew that he had to be careful. Maybe even move. Certainly avoid the bars for a long time.

Sam had finally come out again.

He had seemed different, really quiet. Even when he was drunk, which was unusual, for Sam drank to unwind and seemed more at ease with things when he did. Only once did Antti touch on Sam’s feelings. Halfway through a monologue berating Sam for his misery, he had stopped and exhaled deeply.

“If you need talk, man, just…anytime okay?” he said simply.

Sam had felt a small weight lift and the urge to shout everything out.

Then.

A peace.

Click.

“What?”

“What the fuck d’you mean, “what”, didn’t your mummy ever teach you manners?”

“Oh, it’s you”

It was Antti. The fucker was persistent, it had to be said.

“Charmin’! Yeah, mate. It’s me and today’s Friday”

“So?”

“Fuck me, you’re a barrel of laughs … what’s the matter with you?”

“Nothing, I’m…I’m tired, man”

“Oooohh, diddums. So, where’re we going tonight?”

“Aahhh, I’m stayin’ in, mate”

“’Course you are …”

Within the hour he was boozing again. Once he started there was no stopping him.

Not today.

So Sam stood up, showered himself, put his clothes on and left his room for the big wide world. “Fuck it”, he thought.

The two friends chatted all night, avoiding delicate subjects and got roaring drunk. Sam started enjoying himself and forgetting about things for the first time since that night. Things he pushed into the back of his mind with the help of the numbness alcohol brings. Things that would rear themselves up in times when he least expected them to. They left the restaurant at around ten-thirty and decided to carry on, as Antti did not care about his job and Sam had his excuse. They went to a bar just up the soi, a student hang out where the booze was cheap and there was plenty of eye candy. Sam had insisted to go there because in his three day convalescence he had tried to masturbate, but just could not muster up the images. He felt the urge badly but he also felt that there was always somebody lurking in the back of his head, laughing. It was off putting.

Sam saw her as he entered the bar.

Eye contact was made and a big stupid drunken grin was slapped all over his face. The two men managed to seat themselves in a dingy corner overlooking the whole bar. The establishment was a student bar like student bars all over the world. It was dimly lit and grubby, having a general sense of cheapness and no frills mixed with a slightly bohemian atmosphere. Nothing too avant-garde, of course, but the addition around the room of bookcases filled with rotting old English hardbacks and the posters of Rock bands, both oriental and western, dog-eared and battered to the point of dereliction, gave it a feeling of trying to be something, that of course is was not.

Something radical.

Gazing out over the people, Sam saw all the young people enjoying themselves, some glancing warily at the table of foreigners wondering why their space had been invaded. The people were all drinking Thai liquor, mixed with soda and Coke, a dreadful brew, but as cheap as the talk around the place.

As the bar was self-service, Antti stumbled off through the sea of nailed down benches, stools, and dark blue denim to buy their own night’s poison and Sam set his mind to lay the groundwork in snaring those gorgeous eyes he had seen on the way in. His eyes searched for her in the throng, and bingo! She was sat facing him three tables away. She was surrounded by a group of female friends and they all seemed to be having an above average time, laughing, singing, enjoying life. He focussed on his chosen victim. He studied her movements, her body language, trying to gauge her personality by observation. He suddenly realised the hopelessness of this as he thought back to previous doomed relationships.

“The only way to know them is to know them”, he thought and then dismissed this statement as drink induced stupidity. He needed to relax and not think so much.

Antti stumbled back, dropping a little ice-bucket in Sam’s lap.

“Go, fetch, you lazy motherfucker.”

Sam decided to go the long way to the enormous ice bucket as the route passed the girl’s table. As he did so stared directly into those two lovely eyes and bumped straight into a fat Thai girl, spilling some of the ice cold water on her top. The table erupted in laughter. The fat girl grinned.

“Oh well, got a laugh out of them” he thought.

He came back the same way and the signs seemed to all point in his favour.

“She likes you, you lucky bastard” said Antti, “Now, where’s mine?”

“Go find your own, you lazy forest dweller.”

“I will,” the Finn replied wincing in mock pain.

That night they both left the bar with phone numbers and promises.

A week later as dawn broke over the city, Antti was lying on the bed in his room alone, staring out over the morning hum. His bed was in disarray; his makeshift pillows strewn around the room, his sheets curled up in one corner of the bed like a sleeping ghost.

A used condom was on the floor.

He was smoking a cigarette, one from those from the insidious American corporations that we all despise, no more so than the people who smoke their wares. On the sideboard was a bottle of local beer, half-drunk. Through his red eyes Antti was thinking. He was thinking about women. He had always had a problem keeping them.

He would leap into situations with the opposite sex wholeheartedly with a passion that would not allow him to sleep, yet as soon as she did one little thing against his value judgements, that was it.

Game over and get out!

It was the story of his sex life.

And he was going through it again with the girl he picked up at the bar. She had phoned him early that morning and had snuck out of her parent’s house and had come to pay a sneaky visit. Antti was, of course, awake anyway. After the previous night’s debacle, he really had to sit and think about his life.

What strange dream he had the night before. He always had fucked up dreams after sex. It was the punishment after the pleasure.

He was back in Helsinki, it was winter and night-time. The moon shone its pale dead light onto the land. He was walking down a nondescript street. The trees seemed taller than usual, oppressive and angular and the red brick buildings stretched into sky becoming a vertical tunnel or corridor with the moon at the end, the light at the end of the tunnel.

Ahead of him in the distance Antti saw a man standing under a tree, screaming into the night’s sky. The man was shouting in indecipherable guttural noises, a stream of grunts and howls, the language of beasts but a language nevertheless. The man was small one second and tall the next like a shadow coming down the hall. The man was moving and stretching and curling and bending to the sounds he was making, every new sound creating a new shape. Antti stood watching the grotesque show in front of him for what seemed to be hours, feeling nothing, just a slight curiosity as to what the screaming man would do next.

All of sudden the man stopped screaming.

The silence was shocking and lasted just long enough to become unbearable for Antti, who began running towards the man. Running, faster, faster, wanting to hear the screams.

Wanting to hear sounds, anything but silence, that silence which is all-emcompassing and waiting for him on his death bed. Antti began screaming himself, willing the man to join him as he approached him.

The man turned to Antti and opened his mouth.

Out of the man’s mouth flew a large colourful moth.

It was the most splendid insect that Antti had ever seen and its colours were that of the light in a musty cathedral on a summer’s day.

Antti ran after it, a huge smile appearing on his face and a memory of childhood. The butterfly fluttered chaotically side to side and onwards, always just out of Antti’s reach, its internal glow showing the city to be a place of joy under its sad and dark exterior.

After flying around trees and benches, into the sky and close to the ground, it settled on a drainpipe. The moth’s wings gently flapping like thin lungs breathing, slowly opening, slowly closing and the drainpipe became a jewel, cut glass, a thousand colours twinkling over its screws and hooks.

Antti walked slowly up to it, creeping quietly, not wanting the magnificent insect to move, entranced in its beauty.

Crying as he realized that this insect was the most precious thing he had ever seen, he slowly reached out to hold it. The moth accepted the man’s offer of pampering, offering itself to the man, allowing itself to stay inside the cold cupped hands.

Antti felt the rush of energy to his hands, warming, tingling, against the cold hard wind of Northern Europe, a feeling of rebellion against his culture.

So, when he crushed the beautiful creature violently and his hands became fists, he felt a rush of happiness and well being flood his body, knowing that some things were good in the world.

When he awoke his mind jumped and fled to land on an image of Sam. The only feelings he had for others were for his friends. They were the people on who you could trust and tell anything to. These were Antti’s solid notions of friendship and not knowing what was troubling his friend was undermining his ideas of right and wrong. That made him feel uneasy inside. The previous night had been a strange one.

The night was going well, people were enjoying themselves, dancing and laughing. All except Sam, who had started acting strange again, ever since he had met Nat a week before. Antti could see that Sam liked her, but would not answer her phone calls or arrange to meet her again. When Antti approached him about it, he would clam up or change the subject abruptly.

“I like her, man. I really do…I like her a lot…”

So, when Antti had invited the two girls to join them and his friends, he thought it was a good idea.

Sam spent the night ignoring everyone, even Antti, the girls were blatantly bored by this behaviour and so had decided to flirt with other members of the group of friends. Antti spent the night trying to mix between the girls and his silent companion, who was starting to anger him. In the end he just gave up and went to sit with the girls as he could see some of his so-called friends were beginning to resemble drunken hyenas after picking a corpse. Suddenly he noticed something. Figgis was there. Uninvited but caught up in the general frenzy of night time drinking. His woman had finally gotten rid of him and he was on a pure hooker trip, he thought he was some kind of God’s gift to women. The sort of weak minded man in a pig-like delusion that believed every girl who called him handsome, Bangkok can do that to a man. Actually he was miserable and emaciated, but never seemed to realise it. Antti saw him too.

The two friends exchanged glances and Antti shook his head as if to say “Not here.”

Then Figgis staggered his way over to Nat. Antti saw him groping at Nat’s arm and shoulder and saw that Sam saw it too. He walked over to his quiet friend.

“She’s only a woman. There’s hundreds of them here, I’ll have with word with Figgis, Okay!” he whispered.

Sam suddenly stood up and turned to Antti with a glazed expression.

It was at that moment that Sam heard the howling.

It had built up inside him.

It was growing.

In all men lie the greatest of contradictions.

The ancient Greeks believed that the gods were something to be avoided, placated and never invited. They were the events that took life to a new level of experience and feeling. A level intolerable to bear constantly, as madness and humiliating death would ensue. The Greeks also knew that a life without the gods was one not worth living. Sam understood that was his life. A true waste of life like so many others. A lack of real feeling, real purpose. You just work and try to find whatever happiness you can, and drain it until it means less than nothing. Always tomorrow, tomorrow, never now. Always grabbing what you can from the tables of those seen as your betters, yet making sure that whenever you shake their hands, you let out a nice big fart. All his petty crimes and petty victories came to nothing when weighed against the supreme crime of waste.

Time. Potential. Choices. All wasted.

The Greeks had their Furies to avenge their crimes and Sam had his.

A Fury with snarling teeth and black eyes.

He saw it everywhere, in the minds of the dissolute, in the people escaping their former tedium. In the mad. And he could tell nobody. To be truly afraid, to see clearly how fragile life is. To know that death is so near and to have time to reflect upon it. To really breath and feel the polluted air of this city inside you. Most people come to Bangkok with no past, no real past. Just invented tales to bullshit everybody. Sam was different. He had no future. Not there.

“Something terrible is going to happen” he said almost inaudibly,

Antti saw him grab the full ashtray, saw him grabbing a hand full of ash and smearing it on his distorted face. Sam heard the barking in his head. Everybody turned and stared at him. Then Sam was gone. All they saw next was a blur of violence. All they heard was the smashing glass of a bottle. Screams. The dull thud of Sam’s trainers, stamping on Figgis’s back.

Then he was gone again. Antti ran after him, past the confused, amateurish security guards on to the neon streets, the smell of rubbish, the dark alleys. After ten minutes or so of running, jogging and walking, Antti turned down a fairly large soi, one of the poorer sois of inner city Bangkok.

Corrugated iron roofs.

The cries of babies.

The smell of fish drying.

There was Sam. He was stood at the end of the soi next to a stinking rubbish bin that was so full it was spilling out all over the pavement and various people’s living space. In his hand he held a rolled up newspaper, using his cigarette lighter he was setting the paper alight and trying to catch the rubbish heap on fire. Antti ran up to Sam and hit him hard across his head. Sam fell to the floor and lay on the ground, then he shuffled through his pockets until he found his cigarettes and lit one up.

“WHAT TH’FUCK ARE YOU DOING!” screamed Antti.

Soi dogs started barking in cages and movement was stirring behind closed doors.

“Playing with fire” replied Sam, who started laughing.

As did Antti.

Sam’s laughter caught Antti like the flames that were slowly getting larger and more uncontrolled.

The smoke rising into the night’s sky mixing with their joy.

Sam phoned Antti and told him he was leaving. He had bought a ticket out of there for two days later. Antti said nothing. The silence was one of acceptance. The police had been lied to, paid off, whatever. They knew it was big-nose business, not Thai business. Figgis hadn’t died. He had fallen down the stairs. He was told to say what he said or worse would happen. He was told that they knew about him and Jonah.He worked with Sam’s friends and they could speak Thai. The Thai police wouldn’t push it, they had drug dealers to kill.

The first thing Sam did was to get lost.

And where does a farang go to get lost but among the freaks, the tourists, the fake people. Sam understood and knew that his past was well and truly severed. So, down to the liars he went.

He sat around Khao San road and its surrounding area, listening to these people talking. Saying nothing. He was nothing more than a shadow. Hardly anybody noticed him and anyone that did left him alone. Listening to the people around him, how they did this or that, smoked opium with this or that hilltribe, Sam knew these people were only doing what they were doing to tell other people about it. Like dope smokers who walk around with ganga images on their T-shirts, and then complain when they get searched by the police. Idiots, liars, fakes. Finally, enough was enough. He had to get away from them.

He would wander aimlessly around back sois and canals, watching the way that people live with nothing and still survive. He would sit in a park, talking to soi dogs and drunkards. He would stand in doorways to shelter from the periodic rain showers. He would stare into the sad eyes of elephants, who are dragged around the city by their mahoots, to eat bananas bought for them by tourists.

It was a new morning and Sam dived into a little eating shack. He was starving. He was of course, the only Caucasian there, but the interest the Thais felt for him lasted only two or three minutes and then they got on with eating their noodles. He was sat on a plastic stool, eating his rice on a folded table. A Thai came and sat next to him, they exchanged smiles and the man turned away from him, turned his attention towards his dinner. Sam saw the man eating his food with a vengeance.

“Jesus, you’re hungry” he said.

The man paid absolutely no attention to him.

None whatsoever.

Sam looked at the other Thais, feeling slightly embarrassed but they just gestured at their ears. Then Sam understood. The man was deaf. Sam tilted his head upwards and stared at the roof, with its hanging pans, rotten timbers and hungry gekkos. Then he started speaking to the deaf man in English. He told him everything. He told him about his life in Europe, in Japan, his choices, his mistakes, Figgis and Oz. The man just carried on eating and drinking, a look of satisfaction appearing on his face. When the man had finished eating Sam stood up, shook his hand and mouthed “Thank you” in Thai. The man gave him a quizzical look and simply smiled. Sam watched him leave, and glanced to back of the shack where some men were drinking whiskey. Sam turned and walked out. Without paying his bill, without a thank you, he walked out.

He passed people unaware that they would die one day,

passed buildings that will one day be torn down,

passed corporate fast food chains and stalls selling dead squid,

passed the whole damned world.

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