The Charm – Chapter 5


Morning finds the girls mildly hung over. They grab handfuls of brochures from the front desk and set off to explore the city. More markets, visits to Temples, and then the luxury of air-conditioning in the world’s largest shopping centre.

Late that night they return to the motel, laden with bags. The day had gone smoothly, and the memory of last week’s harsh words that hung between them has eased. The spectre of tomorrow, the imminent day of departure, isn’t mentioned as they wearily get ready for bed. Jemma knows Traci’s inner denial remains resolute and both of them are on edge, unwilling to start what could become a final argument. They turn away from each other as they lie down and sleep fitfully.

The morning sun is a mere glow on a smog-laden dark horizon, bringing a promise of stifling heat. The girls pack their gear in silence then sit on the bed listlessly, watching TV, ready to leave that afternoon. Unoccupied by noise and movement, Traci’s thoughts of going home eat at her until she can’t stand the discomfort any longer. She breaks the silence.

“Let’s go shopping. It’s hours ’til we hafta go.”

Jemma groans inwardly, thinking about how little money she has left.

“We maxed out our cards yesterday. Remember all that crap you had to have? How about we go for a walk? There’s plenty to see without spending money.”

“Plenty of smog,” Traci said moodily.

“Stop sulking. I’ve still got a few Baht left and there’s bound to be a local market around here somewhere. Probably better than those tourist traps we’ve already been to.”

Traci perked up a bit at this logic. Dressed lightly for the sauna-hot air they stepped outside. Jemma immediately felt uneasy. Dense, fast-moving traffic flowed non-stop past the motel. The bustling sidewalk was clogged with with makeshift stalls housing food vendors. Every inch of space was being used. The girl’s idea of personal space forced them to take a hazardous path along the gutter. Cars, trucks and motorbikes zoomed past, inches from their elbows.

Their white skin drew extra unwanted attention. Stares and pointed fingers were often accompanied by the word ‘farang’. Jemma pulls out her pocket translator book and told Traci it means ‘foreigner’.

“I don’t see why they need to tell us all the time,” Traci said, grimacing in annoyance as a skinny, old man shouted ‘farang’ in her face.

“Let’s go down here.”

Jemma picked a side road at random. They both felt instant relief at the reduction of road traffic and people. The roads marked deterioration probably had a lot to do with its disfavour. They tramped along the dirt and rock-strewn footpath, passing rickety stalls selling strange fruits and bottled water. Every bit of shade was occupied by a vendor or a cluster of residents leaving nowhere for the girls to stop and take stock of their surroundings.

Potholes abounded,  filled with dirty water that trickled from poorly constructed houses pressed together on either side of the street. Tight corridors disappeared between them into unknown depths that neither girl felt adventurous enough to explore.

The oppressive heat built under the dim sun. Its rays were trapped under a thick layer of smog. The hanging air sapped their energy.

“This sucks,” Traci said, pouting.

Jemma heads Traci off before she can start whining.

“Let’s find something to eat.”

They hesitantly approach a basic roadside kitchen. Steaming woks filled with unidentifiable meats wake their appetites with fragrant spicy smells. Jemma’s grumbling stomach wouldn’t let shyness excuse her from tackling the language barrier. She enters the welcome shade under a corrugated iron roof. A few tables and chairs, already occupied by friendly Thai’s, confirm the uncertain impression that this is a restaurant of sorts.

In the absence of a menu they resort to pointing at the different dishes being prepared. The motherly vendor good-naturedly noted their choices, dishing up a mix of soft tofu and fried balls of meat floating in a clear soup with egg noodles. Misgivings at not knowing what they are eating are overcome after the first taste. Jemma gives Traci a kick under the table for suggesting loudly they might be eating dog. Eating and drinking relaxes them slightly.

Jemma is finishing her second glass of iced Coke as a ratty utility pulled up in a cloud of dust. She watches with passing interest as the driver struggles to pull a large block of ice from under a wet sack. He drags it off the tailgate and across the dirt and garbage into the kitchen. The cook gave it a wipe then shaves a few splinters off for the next customers drink.

Traci laughed, delighted at the appalled look on Jemma’s face. She jumps up to pay, naively spreading a handful of notes and thrusting them at the cook. Jemma groans with embarrassment. The surprised Thai woman smiles widely before plucking one of the notes from the display and gives Traci a few coins in return.

Traci walks out, staring at the coins.

“How much is 50 baht? Is that a lot?”

Jemma does a quick calculation in her head. “If she ripped you off you deserve it. Doesn’t matter anyway, it’s about three dollars, cheap.”

(Chapter 6)

Published in: on Wednesday, 29 October, 2008 at 7:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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