In Hiding

Where I'm sitting, I can see across the café. There are two couples: one mixed, a white guy and a dark girl, very obviously Thai; one white, very obviously American. The mixed couple are sitting side-by-side and silent, eating and drinking and glancing at each other occasionally. The Thai girl reaches over and wipes something off the corner of the white guy's mouth. They look married: the guy looks contented and the girl looks restless. The white couple is definitely married. They look strained from all the trying to stay interesting while simultaneously keeping the interest up. The woman is gesturing fiercely. Her strident voice echoes off the walls--something about her office coworkers. The woman's husband quietly gives his assent. I wonder to myself, which of the two is worse?, and am just then glad to be alone.

I haven't talked to Nam-Aoy in days. Being without her this long is bewildering. I have to remind myself, I'm the one that left her.

There may be plenty to do on the island. I don't know about it. I sit in this café. I can't imagine going anywhere or seeing anything. No thanks. Even just thinking about it makes me tired. I'll just stay here. I don't like to think of it as being in hiding. But it is. Cut myself off from everyone. Haven't opened my yap in almost a week. Left my phone behind. No email, nothing.

Nam-Aoy gave me a note when I was leaving the apartment. She herself refused to leave. I couldn't even get her off the bed. She just stayed there, shoulders slumped, legs folded beneath her, silent, staring at the wall. So I left her like that. If she didn't leave on her own, the cleaning staff should've eventually come along and kicked her out. The place isn't ours anymore.

There at the very end, Nam-Aoy wasn't talking at all, making it pretty tough to get her plans out of her. Before she went mute, the last thing she told me was to read the note. I haven't yet. I can't read Thai. I need a translation and now I am out of Thailand and out of friends.

After leaving the apartment, Sutin's house seemed the best place to go. It was a delicate situation. Everyone I know, they all know Nam-Aoy. Sutin is one of the few who hasn't known her since childhood. Also he lived in Germany for ten years. Long residence in the West made him economical with the politeness. At least from him I'd find out where I stood. The taxi honked. Sutin came out and opened the gate to his house.

Definitely, he was surprised to see all my bags and me. I told him it was all over but the tears. I just had to get my shit together and get moved somewhere else. Somewhere Nam-Aoy couldn't find me. Sutin listened and didn't invite me in.

"Maybe you should leave," he said.

"I'm definitely getting out of Bangkok," I said. "For a while at least. Take a trip. Clear my head."

"No. I mean, maybe you should leave here. I cannot believe you would do such a thing, to such a girl. It is not right. You should not leave her alone in this way. It's cruel and shameful and I do not want you to enter my house."

Come to find out, everyone I know feels pretty much the same way. They all seem to know about the illegal procedure we'd bribed a doctor (not a gynecologist) for, and the state of Nam-Aoy and her insides (all of them) since then. They seem to think I owe her. Well, maybe I do. Doesn't change anything between us. You can't change what's already over. I didn't ask anyone about the note. I just got out of town.

Okay. It's been a few days. I'd say my head is cleared. That note: it's bothering the hell out of me. There are plenty of Thais here, women escorted by sweaty farangs on visa runs. The one across the way seems approachable enough. I just need to know how her English is. The two of them just go on not talking. Their backs are to the wall and their heads are tilted to look out at the street. I took in everything there is to see a few days ago: a Seven-Eleven; an Internet café; a street vendor peddling fruit juice; black-belching buses rumbling and whining scooters zipping; backpackers in T-shirts and tattoos and sandals, perpetually on the lookout for someplace more interesting. The two of them keep on looking, not touching, and not talking.

Meanwhile, the white woman is still yakking. She's on to the scandalous behavior of her friend Kim now. Detailed in all its banal glory. I'm trying not to listen and still I know all about it. Her husband's feigning absorption. He's doing a better job than I would be. I'll file this one away. For the next time I get homesick. Talk about an instant cure.

Yeah, a career woman. Recently promoted, apparently. Flush with her own importance. Probably she's been hearing since birth about how wonderful and special she is. She's spent her life believing the hype. I bet she reads inspirational books. I bet she watches CNN and listens to NPR. I bet she exercises regularly. Her husband must constantly remind himself how lucky he is to have landed this spirited go-getter of a gal. I bet he likes to think of his wife as his equal. I bet seeing all these apparently oppressed Asian women makes him feel even better than giving at the office. I bet if you stuck him with a pin, he'd leak repressed desire for the next week.

I feel the outline of the note in my back pocket. It's about time to head over. I'd like to keep the social interaction to a minimum. I hope the white guy won't talk much. He's reedy, with a big nose and thick arm hair bunching up at his wrists. I'd say he's been through at least one divorce and that he thinks the girl beside him is a passport to a whole other, better life. She isn't especially pretty, this girl. Her lower jaw has a mean jut and her flat nose houses nostrils I can practically see up from here. But she's very young and her skin shimmers sleekly even in the café's shade. I'll bet he rescued her from a bar somewhere. Which makes him a passport, too.

Okay, I'm ready. My coffee cup is less than a quarter full and cold, but I feel like having something in my hands. I take it over.

"Mind if I sit down?" I say, sitting down. The guy looks startled and the girl appraises me coolly.

"Please," says the guy. "By all means." Heavy-jawed accent. Dutch or Swedish or something thereabouts. His voice sounds like he was a coal miner or a chain smoker or both.

Introductions all around. The girl's name is Noi. The guy's name I forget the second I hear it. I never have had an ear for names on fat girls or punters. Some amiable chit-chat. The usual bullshit. How long have you been here, what have you seen, where do you live, what do you do, when are you going back, etc. I was right. They're married. Living off the dude's pension from some ball bearing factory in Denmark. And from the way they hedge when I ask how they met, Noi was most definitely a bar girl. Yes, all very fascinating.

Mainly I'm checking out Noi's English. It's all right. Just the sort you pick up from straight imitation. A strange mix of the colloquial and the unreal. She throws a phrase like "level-headed" into a sentence like "He always been level-headed for me." What you learn, in other words, from being a bar girl. Typical enough. I wonder about these guys who rescue bar girls. Actually, I envy them their ability to look past so much. It's a talent I'd like to have. Would've come in handy with Nam-Aoy.

Once all the getting-to-know-you is over, I break out the note.

"If you wouldn't mind, Noi..." I say.

"Yes?" she says, cutting me off. This is what happens when you learn to speak English surrounded by blaring speakers.

"Can you do me a favor and read this over and tell me what it says?"

I hand her the note. It's less than half a page. Maybe things are simpler than I thought.

Noi says okay. Reading it, her nostrils flare to quite unbelievable proportions and a few tendons in her neck tighten up. Her eyes flicker over the note two or three times.

"You and this girl, you break up? Finished?" asks Noi.

"Yes," I say. "I left her. That's when she gave me this."

"She thinks she will see you again."

"Not in this life."

I look over at the guy. I don't know, I guess looking for moral support. Don't know why I expect it. The guy seems to find a spot somewhere above my head fascinating.

"No," said Noi. "In the next life."


"Here, it says," she said. She leans over and pointed out a few squibbles. "'See you in your next life.'"

These Buddhists. How sweet.

"That's nice," I say. "Maybe things will be better the next time around."

"No!" says Noi. "This is not for the good. I don't know what you did to her. But for her it is something very bad."

"It says I did something to her?"

"Yes. So she made a curse. She will be waiting. Then she will follow you into your next life. And hurt you in the next life like you hurt her in this life. Much worse, if it is possible."

"That's really what it says?"

"Yes. I do not lie."

Well, this is a side of Nam-Hoy's personality I haven't seen before. Strange what a broken heart will bring out in a person.

Noi doesn't seem eager to prolong our encounter. She looks like she'd rather have me gone. Maybe she's afraid she'll catch a curse. Fair enough. I thank her and bid the couple farewell. I glance over while waiting for the cashier to count out my change. Noi is cuddled up against her husband. He has his arm around her and a look of surprise on his face. He owes me one.

Okay. A curse. There's a first. This breakup is not without its bit of poetry. So she went off to wait for me. Did she really? I suppose I ought to come out of hiding, make a phone call or two. Go check my email. There could be a hell of a piece of news waiting. If I'd known about this while I was still in Bangkok... well, look. If she did it, she did it. You can't go around holding people hostage with your own life. Especially when you've evidently got big plans for the next one.

About the author:

Court Merrigan is a graduate of Creighton University and the University of Sheffield and has lived in Nebraska, Japan and Colorado. He currently resides in Thailand. He is working on a second novel.