You’re in a foreign country, you try and be friendly. And you hope they are friendly towards you!
“Ni, Khun och!”
My head felt like a wasp’s nest, large, noisy and thumping with activity. The man was not happy; He was pointing to the bus’s door; It seemed a light year away in the distance.
“Where am I?”
He grunted, I was none the wiser, and in no state to push this any further. Wobbling to my feet and making my way juddering to the front. There were no other passengers, no luggage.
“Did I have a bag? Must have?”
A shrug was the answer. He glared as I peered at the back seat. The reason for his unfriendly behaviour became clear, a puddle of acrid smelling vomit appeared to be rotting the plastic floor. A scene from ‘Alien’ flashed vividly before my eyes.
It was all coming back; I had been in Bangkok for a Lasik retina operation. My eyes? No glasses!
“How in Hell’s name did I end up here? Wherever I am? At least my vision was wonderful.”
There was no bag, at least not in sight. Making my way to the front and checking my wallet, a small plus, there was some cash, not a lot, but some.
Heavy footfall disturbed my brief rest on the buses step. The man didn’t like me. Staggering off, left, right, up the road or down it, made no difference to me. Making the wrong choice, there was nothing in view. No shops, no houses, no other vehicles. After passing a rubber tree plantation, I turned back. Hopefully, there would be something in the other direction?
On reaching the unattended bus I noticed a coffee stand, “Was that there before?” I couldn’t be sure, anyway. It was closed.
It was hot and getting hotter. A swirl of warm dust twisted its way into a field. There must have been a storm in the night? The road had dried; The fields were still wet. A clattering motorbike shook its way past me. Carrying on in the search of a coffee, I picked up my pace. Must be something ahead? Another battered and bruised 100cc machine cruised along. Rider and three passengers looked like they knew their way.
At last, shops, people, life.
Was it me? The people turned and closed their doors. The reason for the activity soon became clear, a convoy of military rattled past, a soldier mounted an unfriendly looking weapon, he looked and shouted; The truck carried on.
My best hope for a drink had closed its doors. The wasps in my brain were back only stopping their hum when a flash of lightning rattled from one side of my skull to the other. Flopping onto a battered bench, I studied the cracks and broken concrete that was now my seat. Thinking how odd my vision was clear, I studied patterns in the cracked seat.
A man walked across the road, stopped and looked at me, not caring how I may feel about someone staring at me. I studied his flowing chequered cotton and beautifully crocheted skull cap. He was carrying a biscuit tin. Thinking some ‘Rich Tea’ or even better ‘Digestives’ would go well with my drink.
He tilted his head and asked, “What you want?”
“First, I want a coffee, then a chemist, and then a ride back to Bangkok.”
“It looks like Starbucks is closed.”
“Oh, head problem.”
Gently pointing above my ear.
“You help me, I help you?”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Take this cake to my mother. The army looks for me, I must go.”
“And, how are you going to help me?”
“My mother makes excellent coffee. And she has a phone, call a taxi.”
“Won’t a taxi to Bangkok be very expensive?”
“Yes, but no bus for a week.”
It didn’t take my addled brain long to work out how to arrange the cash when I arrive back in the city.
“Okay, where is your mum’s house?”
The directions were simple enough. Follow the road, when I see a big white house, turn left and see his mother in the field.
The man hastily disappeared in the opposite direction.
After twenty minutes of plodding, there was a large off-white structure. As I neared it, people were tending goats nearby. One of those people must be his mum I thought, day-dreaming of my prize, it might have to be black, not sure if I liked goat’s milk in coffee.
The people were standing with their trousers rolled to the knee. An odd thought flashed in my mind, ‘Were they Freemasons?’ Chuckling at my limp joke. They all looked puzzled, silently questioning this strange foreigner, “Alay?” a woman shouted. I held up the biscuit tin, hoping someone would claim the gift.
To my surprise, the group dived into the mud, hands on their heads.
Some of their arms moved to sodden pockets, searching for something. Muttering in a foreign tongue to each other. I moved forward to ask, “What’s the matter? What is wrong?” Nobody answered.
Having no intention of muddying myself, “Christ, all I want is a coffee,” I said standing rooted to the driveway.
With a squeal of tyres from behind, we all turned our heads. An army truck kicking stones behind it screeched to a halt thirty yards short of me. A camouflaged man slowly opened the passenger door, he hid behind it and waved his pistol, finally pointing it to the ground.
“Did he mean me, or the cake box?” I raised my free arm, bent my shaking knees and placed the tin on the road and raised my other arm. Now four soldiers aimed their weapons at me, three rifles and the pistol pointed at my heart.
The leader patted me down, forced my arms behind my back, cuffing my wrists and forced my face down in the dust.
Gingerly, a soldier moved and lifted the tin he threw it into the muddy field opposite. He then raised his rifle, a single shot, then instantly muck flew in all directions, splattering back to earth.
I was roughly shoved into the truck. Plenty of unanswered questions burst from my mouth. The uniformed men either couldn’t or wouldn’t speak English.
Twenty minutes later we arrived at a base. Prodded and poked, I sat behind a desk, not understanding a word screamed at me. The desk phone was ringing, orders issued, my guess, once more they placed me in a military vehicle, this time alone in a metal box with a wire grill allowing fresh air and an interrupted view of the outside world.
All I wanted was a cup of coffee, but at least I was on my way to the city!