“Give me my money,” the girl says. She is identical to all the other girls with her green primary school uniform and her close cropped hair. You have probably walked past her dozens of times. On other days she may even have greeted you in the exact same way. On other days you may have even returned the greeting with a smile and shrug.
On other, sunnier days.
“What?” You stop walking and look at her. Her legs are ashy. Her feet are shoeless. A thin crust of dried snot hovers just below her nostrils. On other days you would have kept walking. On other days you would not have said anything.
It took me a few days to notice that Mr Steak had disappeared from school.
“I have not seen our friend for a while,” I say to Mr Jerry in the elliptical vernacular that is common in this part of the world. He looks at me quizzically. “That one,” I say, motioning in the direction of Steak’s desk.
“Oh. He has gone to get a transcript,” Jerry says, “In Mzuzu.” Thyolo is in the South of Malawi. Mzuzu is in the North. Nothing unusual about the journey taking a few days.
The rainy season was late. Before Christmas, the President was gearing up to ask everyone to pray for the rainfall this country depends on to survive. Any prayers were answered a couple of weeks ago in the form of a tropical cyclone that formed out in the Indian Ocean. Malawi may be a landlocked nation, but the arms of a category 5 are long and when one of them decides to hug the coast of South East Africa, it’s time to bring in the laundry and break out the gumboots.
The rivers and seas didn’t boil. The dead didn’t rise from their graves. Dogs and cats weren’t living together. But in a country where the bricks are made from sand, two solid days of torrential rainfall and high winds are bound to cause some chaos. Floods. Muds. Collapsed walls. A nice dose of mass hysteria to kick off the New Year. Continue reading →
Malawi has a new president. It took a week and a half. During that time there were fears and accusations. Threats and counter-threats. Injunctions and injunctions to block injunctions. The Overlords kept us all on high alert. They feared violence, recriminations and general apocalyptic destruction. Told us to stay vigilant. Stay put. Stay safe.
I want to leave Hua Hin. I want to go home. “What’s your rush, my boy?” Terry says, drinking another beer. The six-pack is down to one. The movie is over. Wayne Newton lives. Robert Davi dies. “Let’s all go to the beach,” Terry suggests. I want to refuse. But the light breakfast has only awakened my appetite. And it is lunchtime.
The three of us leave Will’s apartment. It seems friendlier in the daytime, when there are no shadows to peer into. When the darkness cannot conceal villains who will mug and rape and kill and rape me. There is even a pool. Some of the tiles are in the shape of a dolphin. A friendly dolphin. An elderly couple passes us on the way to the elevator. Will greets them. They smile. A friendly smile. Continue reading →
I feel like the floor of a taxi cab. There is a creature burrowing into my skull and another one gnawing on the lining of my stomach. My eyelids are heavy. I achieve consciousness and immediately regret it. I want to sleep. I try to sleep. I fail. I open my eyes. The sun is just starting to poke through the curtains. It is 6AM.
I am in the driver’s apartment. Somewhere in Hua Hin. I look around the room. I notice a small stain on the floor. It looks like blood. I am pretty sure it is not mine. It is a very nice apartment (blood notwithstanding). Widescreen TV. Satellite. Stereo speakers. Bean bag chair. Some artwork of an elephant on the wall. Some sort of crane type bird statue in the corner. Where did that blood come from?
Without the wind of a moving train blowing in my face, the heat of South East Asia takes over. My brow beads with sweat. I wipe it off. The sweat immediately returns. In my hands are two large bottles of beer. One is half empty. The other is half full. We walk off the train. Terry makes a beeline for the toilets.
“Hey! You pay!” the waitress hollers out the window at me. I wedge the bottles under my arms and reach for my wallet. I pay the waitress, tipping her forty baht. She blows me a kiss. As I am trying to put my wallet back in my pocket, one bottle slips from my arm. I reflexively try to catch it, releasing the other bottle in the process. Both bottles hit the ground. The half empty one shatters. The half full one remains intact. Chang sprays everywhere. Miraculously, I manage to avoid most of it. Only the lower part of my trousers receives a splashing. I look around. Embarrassed. No one seems to be looking at me. I step over the broken glass.
We stop at my place. I grab a toothbrush. I swallow some ibuprofen and chase it with half a litre of water. While driving to the train station, Terry insists on stopping for supplies. He buys beer. I buy bread. Terry lifts his can. “To Hua Hin,” he says, taking a long pull on the straw. I take a bite from a happy bun and wash it down with Chang.
We arrive at the train station. Terry buys tickets. I hand my beer to him and excuse myself. I enter the bathroom. My eyes are having a hard time focusing. The graffiti swirls in front of me. It is a good feeling. A happy bunny feeling.
Day 32. Thailand. I have been teaching for a few weeks. Terry invites me to dinner. The man who takes our order has a long, equine face and an overbite that looks like he has difficulty closing his mouth. We order steak and french fries. And beer.
Terry is in his mid fifties. He is thin, almost too thin. He has something of a predilection for colorful socks. Bright pinks. Bright yellows. Stripes of cerulean blue. His glasses frequently slide down to the end of his nose.
His real name is Robert. The first thing he did when he got here was change his name. He didn’t want to walk around all the time having people call him “Lobet”. He doesn’t seem to mind the fact that the local accent never fails to pronounce his new name as “Telly”.
The music adds people. The people multiply into a crowd. The crowd divides into groups and subgroups. Students. Non-students. Boy childs. Girl childs. The curious. The bored. Mendazi merchants. Beggers.
Two students have been stationed at the door to stamp hands and collect the entrance fee. One is the boy with the jaunty hat and the “OH SHIT!” shirt. The other is a girl with pink jeans and sunglasses. Her shirt says “California”. Her cleavage agrees.
The lack of parental supervision reminds me of the film “Bugsy Malone”, in which a young Scott Baio and Jodie Foster played Prohibition era gangsters in a world without adults. As if to prove my point, a seven-year-old girl walks by wearing high heels. Continue reading →