DELIVER US FROM INNOCENCE
A story of love and war at the genesis of a Millennium.
|© The Author|
Don Moung airport, Bangkok. 4.45 ayem. The airport was deserted and flight information echoed up and down the empty halls. A garish yellow-green fluorescent light reflected off the pale sheen of the linoleum floor. Cleaners lingered near windows, chatting while leaning on huge V-shaped brooms.
It was still dark outside - the windows reflected the interior. David was aware of his reflection striding rapidly; he travelled light and hated waiting in line. Arriving at customs ahead of the rest of his flight, David’s addled mind was disorientated; he let his small backpack flop to the floor. Pushing his aluminium camera cases together with his foot then laying the in-flight magazine on top he sat down and smoked a cigarette as the remnants of the previous Arrival were being processed. David was hung-over and keen to stretch out on a bed.
Moments later the other passengers off his flight emerged enmasse from the walkway with a low rumble as David passed impatiently through Customs and down to the baggage rotundas.
David smiled and guffawed as he made his way through the sleepy milieu; first-time travellers never ceased to amuse him. Above the bickering and schamozzle David could here the incessant scraping of tiny wheels: the ones on the bottom of suit-cases that with the first use end up bent over, twisted and useless, just scuffing along - a hindrance to dragging 80lbs of unnecessarily, packed-in luggage. The way he'd seen some people lugging their shit across the world; bits of string and adhesive tape holding everything together and those ridiculous little identification ribbons the travel agents advise them to tie to their generic design suitcase sets. Red, blue, green and pink ribbons as far as the eye can see, Ha! There must be a squillion tons of lost clothing and personal items strewn across the tarmacs of the world by rough-enough's-good-enough baggage handlers.
After what seemed an eternity of cursing and chain-smoking his huge vinyl suitcase appeared, lolling obesely. He dragged it off and wrestled it onto his trolley - the duty-free contents settled tinkling and clinking as he laboured towards the exit. Passing nonchalantly under the big green NOTHING TO DECLARE arch - David shook his head and continued out onto the concourse, his fat suitcase bulging with what could easily qualify as commercial quantities of Johnny Walker Black Label, Australian red wines, Blue cheese and cigarettes. Contraband for Contra deals - David was a petty smuggler of sorts. On a practical level even the cheapest crappiest gift often made a negotiation schmooze through more easily than hard cash.
E.g. An illiterate village chieftain sitting cross-legged under a thatch roof in a rain cloud at three thousand feet, might not remember whether the rent being paid by the multinational corporation for the right to destroy the jungle's canopy of his tribal homeland, will increase by market rates or indexing. However, it's a for-gone' that he'll remember the ceremonial booze served and shared by the 'foreign devils' that surrounded him in a kow-towing gaggle, during the negotiations!
A deep blue caste enveloped the front of the Terminal building, the fluorescent glow from the entrance faded out into it.
Morning was smeared across the horizon - a lick of pink and orange.
A powerful waft of oven-door heat drove the pungency of Orchids, rotting trash and exhaust fumes into his nostrils, moving his hair and clothes like a bully pushing through a crowd. The putrid air was heavy with moisture - a belated end to the wet-season. Already sweating profusely as he peered into the dark grey-blue of the false dawn, David tugged at the collar of his Polo shirt and sighed as the heat pressed-in, his legs were damp inside his micro-fibre slacks.
"Yoo wan' tassi, take yoo 'otel sir?" A podgy, scruffy little man approached in a curved sweep through the sinister half-light along the edge of the fluorescence.
David had waded through the Touts in the Terminal, dodging them and their extortionate offers of taxis and sexual services to find just such a driver. On a previous trip, one particularly bilious looking and persistent creep had annoyed David into response...
"No, I don't want to 'Fakeeng' your sister, I don't care how tight her 'poosee' is, so FUCK OFF!" This closing statement turned heads.
Outside the Terminal David knew he could haggle a decent fare. He liked the small-time guys that drove the beaten-up older taxis; they were usually dishevelled creatures that smelled of motor-oil and stale booze.
Like the honest poor the world over, they grinned at the irony of it all through masks of anguished determination - a commonwealth of disappointment grasping at their souls and laughter born of empathy bonding their hearts.
By now the driver had advanced upon and was grappling with David's baggage. Attempting to carry it all at once, and tender for David's business at the same time.
"Where yoo go sir? No worry, not too much money, cheap, no problem but maybe sumsing for me, OK?"
The little guy tried to smile cheerfully - his eyes were bloodshot and his teeth were stained red from chewing Betel nut, and although all he could manage was an idiotic grin and a nervous tick, he was giving off the right vibes. David liked him.
"Come come, I tek yoo baks, no worry I hass goo' tassi, aircon, aircon!"
Straining at the bag that David wouldn't release; in a bizarre tug-of-war the driver was now rocking from foot to foot glancing nervously behind David. Continuing to resist the Driver's urging David asked him how much.
“Pom pai Bangplad, Charansanitwong, Soi Lertboon jet-sip-et, ti, Baht?” Requesting a price in Thai, to go to a specific destination, which was not a Hotel, startled the driver.
"Oi, yoo sapeek Thai, OK, Sii Loi, (400 baht) OK we go, soon t'affic no goo'!" The driver urged, as he again tugged at the bag David was holding.
“No, Soung loi –Haa sip Baht, OK.” David stood his ground for 250 Baht.
“Oi, Ok, Ok, we go now!” The driver agreed, better 250 Baht than nothing. If the independent drivers brought a fare to the Airport, they knew they only had a few precarious minutes to pick up a return fare before being given the Bum's-rush out of the Airport precinct by Cops on the take from the Touts.
Peeping around David, the Driver grimaced. One of the Touts David had palmed-off and a couple of Cops were bearing down on them.
The driver; dragging the bulging suitcase and juggling the majority of David's luggage, turned and scuttled out into the three-deep row of Hotel Limousines and a dozen sleek and shiny Meter-taxis. The Tout and the Cops were calling from behind as David followed the driver. David had what he wanted and didn't respond.
When they were safely pulling into traffic David took a look back; The senior cop, standing hands akimbo on the concourse, was boyishly thin, with a pot-belly; in his skin-tight brown uniform, peaked cap, bulky revolver and big black boots - he looked comical, like a Nazi Mickey Mouse. Comical however, these tough little brutes were not.
The temperature inside the taxi was an icy shock. Rarely did the air-conditioning work; none the less the Touts would use the facility to hustle the taxis they controlled. It wasn't until you were jammed in traffic, baking in your own juices and demanding the air-conditioning that you would be casually informed that it had broken down. Complaints went begging - "I was told it had air-conditioning"! Was invariably answered with "Yes, there, there is Aircon' " the device itself being pointed out.
The cultural anomalies inherent to explaining that merely having the device in the car was not sufficient - it has to actually operate - defied a debate of the ethics involved.
For some reason the driver couldn't explain, the new multi-million dollar Fly-Over was not available for use. As the taxi moved into the flow of the busy morning traffic David rested back onto the cold vinyl seat.
Through the driver's side passenger window David could see the sun rising, a spray of chrome-yellow rays fanning the sky and striking in silhouette with bright jagged contrasts the outer-urban-industrial skyline of Bangkok.
Leaving the freeway several minutes later and approaching an intersection shrouded in smog, the taxi slowed to the pace of the city traffic - A cityscape of dull grey skyscrapers pierced the fluffy ginger haze. Bangkok was one huge filthy traffic-jam from 6am 'til 2am every day of the year.
The driver was fiddling with the tape deck. The gaping glove compartment revealed a jumble of cheap cassette tapes - bad rip-off recordings of good artists.
"Ingliss moosik, very goo' ". A goofy betel-nut grin flashed across the Driver's face as the tape deck began to play with a pop and a squeal. The tune was The Goo Goo Dolls' - Iris. One of Sally's favourites. The Driver began humming and moaning out of tune. As the song was beginning to affect David's thoughts the tape deck squealed again and stopped. The Driver cursed and started pressing and re-pressing all the grubby prongs with polished tips protruding from the Tape-deck; the buttons appearing to have fallen from grace long ago.
The Tape deck itself was slung beneath the dashboard in a firm web and clump of telephone cable and electrical tape. When the cassette finally ejected, a tight knot of brown ribbon that was still attached to the inside of the tape deck blossomed from the cassette player. With a gleaming embarrassed face the Driver dropped the damaged cassette tugged out the rest of the tape and inserted another that he found after a quick rummage along the dashboard.
"Sony, Sony re-al one, is bery goo, no problem"! The Driver beamed as he pushed the tape into the ancient knobless Tape deck.
Lara's theme - it couldn't be worse; this was the tune Sally and he had selected for their wedding waltz, David laughed and sighed - this wasn't coincidence - someone somewhere was sticking pins into his wax effigy.
At the intersection, through the dense acrid blue haze belched up by the traffic, David could see a Cop on duty, gracefully pirouetting as he directed the traffic with large reflective gauntlets, helmet and poncho. After the long boozy stoned flight David was still dazed unfocussed and melancholy. Lara's theme ebbed across his thoughts - he gulped at the whiskey from his remaining bottle and passed it to the driver who grinned at the side of David’s head took a long swig and passed it back. David chugged down the last mouthful. A warm buzz flushed through his body, the music hummed and a moment later the scene transmogrified as they rolled through the smog passed the traffic cop.
David saw through the translucent rays of dawn; His Bride, in her wedding-dress, turning in the slow incandescent swirls of a smoke machine...the traffic lurched forward. Sullenly, David rested his head against the window.
The City of Angels loomed ahead...
TRUTH IS NOT RACIST | FACTS ARE NOT HATE