The Charm – Chapter 2


The girl’s reactions to stress differ greatly. While Jemma feels spitefully abandoned by her brain in this alien place, Traci shrugs off what she doesn’t understand and gleefully begins bargain hunting instead. She plunges into a gap in the crowd leaving a panicked Jemma to break her transfixed state and follow. Blasted by noise and lights, they move with the pulse of pushing bodies in the jam-packed market.

The crowd’s noise churns the air. Laughter and unfamiliar languages compete to batter the girl’s eardrums, making conversation impossible. Speakers blast music from bars, lining overflowing sidewalks. The entire area heaves with sound and movement. Subwoofers pound and vibrate air too hot and wet to breathe with ease.

Traci’s acceptance that being lost is ‘part of the adventure’ offends Jemma’s nagging inner-mother who insists her surroundings be controlled at all times.

She clamps her lips together, determined not to start complaining. Instead she concentrates on the unique sights, smells and sounds; the press of the bodies, the stink of clove cigarettes, sweat and rotting garbage. The mixed sensations blur into a dull pressure behind her eyes. She feels close to passing out. Her vision clears at a roughly shaken head. This trip is supposed to fun. A time of forgiving. She’d lose any hope of that happening if she didn’t snap out of her fugue. Jemma tries to mellow out.

Traci loves the rough and tumble, not even slightly aware of Jemma’s unhappy anxiety. She tows her grateful and compliant friend along to yet another table brimming with designer skirts and tops. They both enviously consider the clothes on offer, the scantily clad women around them, and then look at what they are wearing. Damp jeans and thick tops suiting Adelaide’s winter day were heatstroke material in Thailand’s oppressive tropical heat.

Jemma was also regretting her insistence on taking the small backpacks they wore instead of suitcases. Traci approved the choice when Jemma explained how they could avoid the baggage claim free-for-all and  beat the rush through customs. But now Jemma wished she hadn’t been so clever. Lugging suitcases would have forced them to find their motel first, and right now they could be exploring their new world in an orderly and unfettered way.

The heavy pack dragged at Jemma’s shoulders and sweat trickled down her back and between her legs. Another pointless dread of developing a rash was awakened. Like she needed to top her  stress with yet another concern.

From what they’d read in the brochures on the way over, the quantity of goods at these markets would well outweigh their quality. Obviously the tourists around them were ignorant of this fact as they handed over wads of cash. The closest stall, stacked with Rolex, Tag Heuer and many other name brand watches, had plenty of eager buyers. The next table overflowed with toys, games and hand weapons, the next piled high with CD’s and DVD’s. They all attracted their share of customers caught up in a spending frenzy. Jemma turned slowly in a circle still seeking an escape route from the noise, colour and the press of overheated bodies. She felt dizzy and sick.

“This is great! I’ll hafta buy a suitcase to get this stuff home,” Traci enthused.

Even in her distressed state Jemma saw the microsecond’s hesitation as Traci said the word home. Her alertness to Traci’s tiny inflections is Jemma’s curse. A natural sensitivity to other people’s subtle thoughts and actions had made her the responsible one in her small circle of friends. Having adults rely on her to keep their daughters out of trouble was hard to bear at times.

Traci sighted a bar.

“Woo hoo, let’s get wasted.”

A quick look at the crush inside changed their minds. Trapping themselves in there, rubbed against and surreptitiously groped by drunks didn’t appeal. Luckily this bar wrapped around and fronted the sidewalk to catch passing traffic. They bought beers and continued on, not taking ten steps before finding another. In fact they could see virtually every permanent building on both sides of the seething market was either a strip joint, brothel or bar. More than one establishment offered all three. Traci wove a complicated path, dividing her attention between the irresistible lure of the stalls then back to closest bar for a refill.

(Chapter 3)

Published in: on Wednesday, 29 October, 2008 at 9:42 am  Leave a Comment  
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