A journal of narrative writing.
Memory of Water
Page 2

One evening, Phil and I met at a crowded red light district in one of the tourist sections of town, sitting outside and drinking cold bottles of Singha beer with plates of cashew nuts and fried anchovies.

"I think I'm going to die one of these days," he said glumly, with a look in his eyes that was both vacant yet desperate.

Maybe it was the beer that had deadened my senses, or maybe it was because I knew that he was right, but I didn't answer. We both continued to sit and drink, saying nothing and just watching the hordes of sweaty and drunk tourists walk by. Most of them were men—Europeans, Australians, Americans—with ladies half their age and weight on their arms, new friendships no doubt made at some of the nearby go-go bars earlier in the evening.

"It's better for her if I go sooner rather than later," he continued, drunkenly unaware of the swells of tourists idling about around us. "I don't want her to spend her life chained to a farang zombie who can't even hold a job."

It was both frustrating and surprising that he had become this depressed. I briefly thought about all the news stories I had read about crazy or broke foreigners in Thailand committing suicide, throwing themselves off their high-rise apartments, some even hanging themselves from bridges. Between them and all the sex tourists, it was no wonder many Thais thought foreigners were either depraved perverts or just flat-out crazy. Not knowing what to say, I stayed quiet before some awkward or insincere-sounding attempt at consolation came out of my mouth. Instead I drained my bottle of Singha and ordered another one.


"I want to show my parents that Phil is still healthy and strong," said Noi the next morning. The two of us were meeting for coffee at a shop near her apartment while her husband still slept.

She wanted me to take their photo while jogging in the park. She had an enthusiastic tone in her voice. Ever since Phil was diagnosed with his condition, they had few opportunities to do fun things anymore. I would be leaving Bangkok soon, and so the last few days of my vacation were an opportunity for us to try and recapture some of the happiness and good times we had enjoyed years ago. I said yes, of course, it would be great to go out for a run and take some photos in the park. Privately I wondered if this vacation would be the last time I would ever see Phil.

Hours later, we met at the entrance to Lumpini park—one of the few places left in the city where there were wide swaths of greenery and trees. Phil was wearing a ragged t-shirt, a pair of white shorts and some beaten tennis shoes that looked over a decade old. His pale skin and bulging belly exposed his poor health. As for me, although I was no longer a regular runner I could still manage a light jog on weekends. Still, as we walked into the park we were both already damp with perspiration from the afternoon heat. Noi, on the other hand, looked impressive—managing to look impossibly composed and elegant in the hot sun, a trait that some Thai women seemed to have been born with.

Seeing them together, for the first time I was struck with how their appearance contradicted each other so strongly. He, an overweight, sweaty farang walking with a fatigued gait, whereas she looked trim, awake, and exquisite. I briefly wondered how I would look by her side.

We continued strolling about, observing small groups of people picnicking in the shade of trees, lying on colorful reed mats and eating plates of papaya salad and sticky rice. Older couples were walking briskly along paved walkways, and in the distance families were flying large colorful kites high into the blue sky. We stopped at a walk bridge over a small stream, deciding it would make a pleasant backdrop for some pictures. I took several photos of Phil and Noi, egging them on to show some affection as I snapped some pictures.

The park was a haven of calm and quiet in the midst of Bangkok. The shiny silver skyscrapers that dominated the city became more distant as we plodded along further, passing more park-goers and vendors who were idling along the shaded walk path. As the roaring sound of Bangkok's congested boulevards grew quieter, we began hearing echoes of music coming from deep within the park. It was nearing the late afternoon, and there was a live concert somewhere beyond our view. The sound of a tenor saxophone climbing up and down scales echoed eerily through the warm air, winding through the trees. We followed the music, patiently trying to chase down its source.

After walking over a shallow hill, we could see a cream-colored band shell far in the distance, nestled among a clump of trees by a small lake. In the shadow of the covered stage and tree shade, an audience had already gathered, lounging on the grass. On the stage itself were several musicians playing pleasant strains of jazz.

"I can beat you in a race," said Phil slyly, reminding me of the reason why we had come to the park to begin with.

He had an eager look on his face, reminding me of the fun banter we had had years before when we would race each other. I laughed and agreed.

We decided to run alongside the lake in the distance, and meet at the band shell, where certainly there would be vendors selling cold drinks and grilled meats to reward us with. Surely Phil couldn't get too far in his condition, and I wondered to what extent I needed to hold back so as not to embarrass him. Still, Noi's teasing smile reminded us that it was all in good fun, and she agreed to meet us at the concert.

We both ran slowly at first, feeling and likely looking a little awkward as we challenged muscles and tendons that hadn't been tested in far too long. I settled into quick, even strides early, picking up speed as I trotted rhythmically down the walk path in the direction of the band shell.

There was a faint breeze across the lake, but it provided little relief to the late afternoon heat. Yet despite the harsh temperature, there was a pleasant earnestness that came with running together for the first time in so many years. At first Phil and I jogged alongside each other, enjoying the open greenery and wide spaces of the park that was so different from the dense streets of the city. We swerved around small groups of uniformed school children and smiling vendors hawking bottles of chilled sugarcane juice.

Within a few minutes, I began running ahead of Phil, despite the fact that I was only jogging at a lazy pace.

"I'll meet you at the concert stage," he yelled out raspily as he dropped down to a walk, apparently exhausted.

He waved me on with a tired and breathless half-smile, gesturing in the direction of the concert that was still far in the distance. I momentarily slowed down and waved back, then continued running in the direction of the music.

Chugging through the warm air, my shirt was now damp with sweat, and perspiration was rolling down my forehead. The sun was slowly receding behind the Bangkok skyline, but the hot glare of sunlight still lit up the park. I was breathing fast and heavy and my heart was thumping loudly, but I still had some energy in my legs.

Coming closer to the band shell, I could see that it was not cream-colored but instead pale gold. The music had gotten louder, bright melodies springing from trumpets and tenor saxophones filling the hot sky. A large mass of people had gathered in front of the stage, some of them standing or dancing, but most of them were lying lazily on the grass. The music was so vibrant that the ground around me seemed to tremor slightly. The whole area seemed to glow with a light reflecting off the golden roof of the band shell.

Nearing the stage, two others joggers had suddenly come up behind me. They were both young Thai men wearing matching dark running outfits. Yet despite the heat of the afternoon, they looked calm and controlled as they ran.

As they came up alongside me, one on each side, one of the runners extended his hand and told me to grab hold. I took his hand and held on, and was suddenly propelled slightly into the air. The other jogger grabbed hold of my other hand, and together the three of us began gliding effortlessly in the direction of the stage ahead. The crowd parted as we skated through the air. The golden glare from the top of the band shell illuminated the musicians on the stage, who had stopped playing their instruments to look at us.

The heat of the late day had subsided, and my heart was no longer beating. The two young men let go of my hands, and I gently fell down on my back in front of the stage. The crowd started applauding loudly, clapping and cheering.

There was Noi, standing above me as I lay on my back. Black canal water was flowing out of her pants, pouring down her legs and covering my body. She reached down with both her hands and grabbed mine.

That was the last time I saw Phil, but I'm sure he is alright.