First Day in Bangkok by Doug E. Jones
I dug through my pack for the Vonnegut book and opened it up, but not at the beginning. That would be too obvious, making it clear to everyone how green I was. I noticed Dad had dog-eared several pages so I went to where he had underlined a couple of sentences: “New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.” That sounded interesting. New knowledge. More truth. I thought about where I was and how I got there. And I wondered if there was something for me in this errand, something beyond bringing Mike home.
It wasn’t really an errand at that point though, was it? It was more of a mission. So if it holds true that the higher the stakes, the higher the reward, then maybe I was in store for something special. I looked around Mai’s cafe again, the restaurants across the street. What were all these young people up to? Why weren’t they back home studying? Or working? What did they know that I didn’t? And then I brought my gaze back to the bar next door, where it suddenly stopped, transfixed.
I had caught the eye of this beautiful girl sitting at the bar, a woman actually, probably in her mid-twenties. Hold on. Was she checking me out? I couldn’t take my eyes off her, all decked out in some sort of hand-made mirrored shirt with no back and an exotic sheet wrapped around her waist for a skirt. Her long brown hair was whipped up into a bun of dreadlocks, like she had a dozen pet snakes on her head. And she was one of the tan ones, giving her an air of superiority that fell in place with her long straight nose and high model-like cheekbones. However, as my luck would have it, she paid her bill and left just as I was concocting an intricate fantasy, one that would end up with me getting laid of course.
I played out these daydreams in my head all the time. What choice did I have? I hadn’t had a girlfriend all summer after Molly dumped me during finals week. She said school was stressing her out. I told her I had a remedy for that—SEX. She chose to study more. Maybe Mike was right about Northwestern girls. Disappointed, I turned back to my table to find the Thai boy setting down my pancakes.
“Roti,” he reminded me once more.
“Thank you.” Roti is a flat-bread, pan-fried in butter. And in this case, it was cut into bite-size pieces stuffed with banana slices and doused with creamy chocolate and powdered sugar. Practically drooling, I was just about to dig in when I felt the presence of someone standing over me. I assumed it was still the boy or maybe the taxi driver. It wasn’t. Believe it or not, it was the woman from the bar. My morning was about to get a whole lot more interesting, just not in a good way.
“Asshole,” she growled as she reeled back and slapped me across the face--Hard. I’m not going to lie. It hurt. I even saw those fluttering, transparent little stars floating above my head for a second or two like Daffy Duck used to when Bugs got the best of him. The whole cafe heard skin cracking skin and turned their attention toward us. Now, you’d think I’d be pissed that a stranger up and hit me out of the blue, but I had quite the opposite reaction. In fact, I was ecstatic.
“You’ve seen Mike, haven’t you?” I asked.
She squinted her eyes like Clint Eastwood, as if she didn’t trust me. “What?”
“My brother.” She looked confused, but I persisted. “Where’d you see him last?”
“Wait. . .” She was catching on. “You’re Mike’s brother?”
“Twin brother,” I explained. “He must’ve told you about me. I’m Scott.”
“Nothing. I just. . . I’m so sorry.” She set her backpack down. “You look just fucking like him.”
“Don’t worry about it.” I slid my plate to the center of the table, eager to talk. “Roti?”
“Ta.” She pulled up a chair, still in shock.
“When’s the last time you saw Mike?” I continued. “Did you know he was in jail?”
She let out a deep, troubled sigh. . . “I need a cup of tea.”
“Okay.” I raised my hand, trying to find the Thai boy again before turning my attention back to her. “But tell me, where are we? What is all this?”
“This?” she said, taking in the amazing scene around us. “This is Khao San Road, mate.”