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Authors: Angela Savage

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BOOK: Behind the Night Bazaar
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‘OK, so Marlowe’s not exactly enlightened,’ Didier said. ‘But remember,
The Big Sleep
was written in 1939. It’s remarkable there are even gay characters in it. In that sense, Chandler was ahead of his time.’

‘Well, I think you’re being overly generous,’ she said.

Touched by her loyalty, he leaned over and squeezed her hand. Jayne met his eyes and looked as if she wanted to ask him a question. Instead, she freed her hand to sip from her glass.

‘I’ve got to warn you, Didi, just because I like Chandler, that doesn’t mean you’ve converted me. Some of the other stuff on your reading list was a bit much.’

‘Meaning what?’

‘The plot device involving invisible ink in
wasn’t very convincing.’

‘At least it
a memorable plot,’ he said. ‘I forgot the storyline in your latest Ms Paretsky as soon as I finished reading it.’

‘That’s a bit harsh.’ Jayne extracted a packet of cigarettes from her pocket. ‘Do you mind?’

‘They’re your lungs,’ Didier said, ‘but you’ll have to get your ashtray from the kitchen. Nou actually washed the filthy thing.’

Jayne gave him a withering look and, leaving her cigarettes on the floor, headed back inside the house.

‘While you’re there, can you bring the spring rolls from the fridge?’ he called after her.

Taking another sip of his gin and tonic, Didier caught sight of Jayne’s bookmark, jutting out from the pages of
The Big Sleep

It was a postcard of the century-old trees that lined the road from Chiang Mai to Lamphun. Several years earlier, a prominent city official announced they were to be cut down to make way for a new thoroughfare. But the citizens of Chiang Mai, smelling a rat, had risen in protest, enlisting the help of the Buddhist
to preserve what they saw as their heritage. With due ceremony, the monks ordained the trees, transforming each one into a shrine. Not even a corrupt city official would risk the terrible karma from destroying such sacred sites, and the logging order was revoked. To this day, the trees still wear the bright orange and ochre robes of the Buddhist clergy around their majestic trunks.

Didier smiled and had just replaced the bookmark when the phone rang.

ai yen-yen
, Jayne chanted to herself, the Thai equivalent of ‘be cool’. She looked at her watch. Surely Didier wasn’t going to work at 9pm? She’d thought once Nou left they’d finally get some time alone. But as Didier hung up the phone, he tugged at his hair, a gesture she recognised as a precursor to bad news.

‘Jayne, I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I’d hoped to get this out of the way before you arrived. You know my outreach work with some of the young guys in town? I’ve just got some new material—clear, explicit stuff—and I’ve finally found someone prepared to do the distribution.’

‘Does it have to be tonight?’

She regretted her whining at once. Reducing the spread of HIV among young men in Chiang Mai was a personal crusade for Didier. ‘Sorry, Didi, of course you have to go.’

‘Why don’t you come? It shouldn’t take long. The friend I’m meeting runs one of the bars behind the Night Bazaar.’

‘I didn’t even know there were bars behind the Night Bazaar.’

He heard the curiosity in her voice and played to it. ‘Come on, you’ve got to see this place to believe it.’ He rattled his keys and grinned.

It was pathetic how easily he could win her over. Jayne grabbed her wallet and cigarettes and followed him out—he always left the door unlocked—climbing on the back of his motorbike.

‘The guy we’re going to meet, Deng, used to be a sex worker,’ Didier said over his shoulder. ‘But his German boyfriend gave him the money to start up a bar that he now runs full-time.’

He swerved to avoid a push-cart vendor selling dried squid pegged like dun-coloured socks in lines across the top of the cart.

‘Is Deng’s bar a pick-up joint?’ Jayne shouted to be heard.

‘Not in the commercial sense. There’s a whole strip of bars, meeting places for gay men and
. Deng still has friends working in the sex industry and I want him to circulate these new materials through his networks.’

Steering the bike with one hand, he took a pamphlet from his bag and passed it over his shoulder. On the cover was an inverted pink triangle above a heading in Thai script: ‘AIDS Prevention for Men Who Have Sex with Men’. Inside were graphic illustrations of anal and oral sex and step-by-step instructions on correct condom use. Jayne wasn’t shocked so much as surprised that he could get away with it.

She slipped the pamphlet into her pocket as Didier parked near Chang Klan Road, the town’s main tourist precinct—or, more accurately, the area where tourists were most tolerated. Foreigners could find the burger joints, banks and supermarket chains they recognised, while Thai village life went on around them. By the entrance to McDonald’s, a plump woman pounded shredded green papaya, chilli and limes in a mortar and pestle to make spicy
som tam
salad, the fast food of the northeast. A man pushed a cartload of durian through a beer garden, offering a gap-toothed grin to the backpackers who wrinkled their noses at the sour smell. Money-changers clutching wads of baht notes circled the currency exchange booths like sharks, while the soothsayers and amulet traders thought nothing of blocking the entrance to the 7-Eleven by laying out their wares on plastic sheets. Jayne would have stopped for a closer look at the traditional medicine booth—she had a macabre fascination for shrivelled animal parts and desiccated reptiles—but didn’t want to lose Didier in the crowd.

She followed him into the Night Bazaar, a concrete building that could pass for an underground carpark. As they zigzagged along aisles laden with clothing and souvenirs, she wondered who created the demand for stuffed cobras wrestling with mongooses, scorpions in glass boxes and metre-long wooden penises. She paused briefly to feel the fabric of a crimson and black sarong: one hundred per cent polyester.

They took a side exit, ascended a short set of steps and reached a narrow alley running between the bazaar and the next building, the glow of coloured lights ahead. The sound of dance music grew louder as they approached the strip of bars, each separated from the next by bamboo partitions. Between Tarzan’s Vine and Climax was Man Date, where Didier was greeted warmly by the barman. Deng, the man they’d come to meet, was elsewhere and Jayne agreed to wait while Didier looked for him. She took a seat at the bar and ordered a beer.

The walls of Man Date were a patchwork of beer coasters from around the world, interspersed with posters of male centrefolds. There were more photos of naked men on shelves adjacent to the bar, together with a stereo system, a stack of CDs and a display of ornamental fruit—a large banana flanked by two brown lychees. On the top shelf was a small bronze Buddha, respectfully placed above head height. In front of the bar, an ornate water feature contained fresh lotus flowers and a ceramic figurine of a Chinese fisherman. Two young men and a kratoey sipped drinks at one of the club’s three tables, the kratoey’s red lipstick a perfect match for his mules and handbag. A neon tube lit the place, and Barbra Streisand struggled to be heard above the
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
soundtrack blasting out from Climax.

Jayne tried to chat with the barman, but he laughed nervously and focused on rearranging the flowers. The three patrons eyed her with amusement, one muttering something behind his hand. When the kratoey responded with a high-pitched laugh, Jayne cursed Didier then herself for joining him on this errand.

She was halfway through her second beer when he reappeared with a young Thai. Smiling through gritted teeth, she returned Deng’s wai and followed them to an unoccupied table. Seeing she had company, the patrons breathed a collective sigh of relief and one even leaned over and introduced himself.

‘Hello. Ex-ca-use me, where are you from?’

‘Australia,’ Jayne said, ‘but I live in Bangkok,’ she added in Thai.

‘You sa-peak Thai very well,’ the young man pressed on in English.

‘No, not really. You speak English very well.’ It was an exchange she’d played out a thousand times.

The young man flushed. ‘Only a little. What is your name?’

‘Jayne. And you?’

‘Mana. Pleased to meet you.’

Mai cheua
!’ Didier’s voice cut across their small talk. ‘I don’t believe it! I can’t believe he’d be so stupid!’

‘I’m sorry, Mister Di,’ an ashen-faced Deng said. ‘But you know Nou, he’s got a problem with gambling. He owes a lot of money.’

Jayne frowned, wondering how Nou had come into the conversation.

‘But I would’ve given him the money!’ Didier said, tugging at his hair. ‘He didn’t need to go back to Loh Kroh. Why didn’t he just ask me for it?’

‘I don’t know.’ Deng bit his lower lip. ‘Maybe he feels too ashamed…Ah, look, he’s here now!’

Didier leapt to his feet as Nou and Jet sauntered in with two Chinese-looking men. If Nou was surprised to see Didier, he hid it well. Gesturing for his companions to wait, he approached their table.

Sawadee krup
—’ he began. But Didier cut him off.

‘Nou, what the hell’s going on?’

The young man shrugged. ‘I needed money.’

‘Well, why didn’t you ask me for it?’ Didier’s face was flushed, his hands curled into fists.

‘Didi, please sit down,’ Nou muttered. ‘
Jai yen-yen

‘I will
be cool!’ His voice rose dangerously. ‘I can’t believe after all we’ve been through, you’d go off selling sex again.’

‘You know I love you,’ Nou said feebly. ‘I was only doing it for the money…’

‘God, you don’t get it, do you? I don’t give a shit about you having sex with other men.’

In the two years she’d known him, Jayne had never seen Didier this angry. Customers were turning to stare and she reached out and put a tentative hand on his arm. Didier glanced down and she felt a slackening of tension beneath her touch.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said, lowering his voice and releasing his fists. ‘Look, I care about you, Nou, about your health, your self-respect. Don’t you understand that?’

‘Yes Didi, I understand,’ he said, eyes downcast. ‘But I thought you’d be angry with me…You always say I should stop gambling and…’ He left the sentence incomplete.

Didier looked away, shaking his head.

When Nou raised his eyes, Jayne saw a flash of steel in them. Deng grabbed the pamphlets and excused himself, and Mana returned to his companions. Donna Summer had joined Barbra Streisand in ‘Enough Is Enough’ and Jayne took it as her cue.

‘Didier, I’d better go.’ She rose to her feet and slipped two hundred baht under her glass. ‘You and Nou have a few things to sort out and you’ll need the house to yourselves. I’ll stay in a hotel tonight and call you in the morning, OK?’

‘But Jayne—’

‘Don’t worry about it.’

She allowed him to kiss her on both cheeks and, with a perfunctory wai to Nou, turned and made her way back out through the Night Bazaar.

She kept it together until she’d waved down a tuk-tuk and given directions to the driver. But once they took off, she fired off a string of expletives under her breath, cursing Nou for having spoiled her evening and Didier for letting it happen.

Jayne was at a loss to understand Nou’s attraction for Didier. Either Nou’s talent in the sack was enough to sustain Didier’s interest, or her friend was like any other ‘rice queen’ who got off on being the wealthy white partner of a younger Asian man. But this didn’t fit with Jayne’s image of Didier.

He should be with someone who understood him, who loved him for his idiosyncrasies—not some little bastard who was more likely to squander large sums of money over a card game than ever to read a book.

And what of Nou’s bizarre suggestion that she and Didier get married? While it might be the done thing in Thailand for gay men to marry to have children, what made Nou think she’d enter into such an arrangement? His presumption unnerved her, as if he’d trespassed into her most private thoughts.

A sudden downpour hit as the tuk-tuk reached the market near Didier’s place. Despite the driver’s attempt to lower the plastic flaps over the passenger tray, Jayne was drenched by the time she reached the house.

She headed for the guest room, leaving a trail of wet footprints on the wooden floor. Flicking on the bedside lamp, she peeled off her wet clothes, wrapped herself in a sarong and set about re-packing. Too miserable to care as water dripped from her curls onto her gear, she vented her anger with more muttered curses.

‘I knew you were cross with me!’

Didier stood in the doorway, towel in hand, smiling sheepishly. He’d removed his glasses and his wet shirt was unbuttoned.

‘I didn’t think you’d be back so soon,’ Jayne blushed. With the drumming rain on the tin roof, she hadn’t heard him come in. ‘I thought I’d dry off before I leave.’

‘I came back to apologise, and because I do need to see you. There’s still so much we need to talk about and—’

‘What about Nou?’ she interrupted him.

Didier shrugged and gave the half-sigh, half-scoff unique to francophones. ‘It’s the same problem we’ve always had. One more night’s not going to make any difference.’

He handed her the towel and sat down on the edge of the bed. ‘I really am sorry,’ he said, staring at her half-packed backpack.

‘For what?’ Jayne said, wringing out her hair.

‘For dragging you out tonight, for losing my temper, for not being a better friend.’

‘Don’t worry about it,’ she said, nervous that he’d overheard her mouthing off about being taken for granted. She put the towel around her neck and wondered if she should keep packing.

‘I mean it, Jayne,’ Didier said. ‘I don’t know what I’d do without you.’ He held out his arms. ‘Forgive me?’

‘You know I do.’ She sat down next to him.

He put his arm around her and she rested her head against his damp chest. They held each other without speaking, Didier rubbing the top of her arm. Soothed by his touch, Jayne closed her eyes.

‘What the hell is that?’

BOOK: Behind the Night Bazaar
3.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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