Lek has me trapped at a cooked-food stall on the sidewalk off Soi 11. It’s lunchtime by now, and all the tables are full. There is a traffic jam to my left and iron railings to my right. Lek sits opposite, staring resentfully. “I can’t believe what you just did,” he says. We have ordered and the food has arrived-tom yam gung for Lek, green sweet rabbit curry for me; neither of us can eat.
“I told you, I’ve found the path, you should be pleased.”
“For five years you’ve been the guy who has to get promoted next. It’s outrageous that the committee hasn’t promoted you yet. If it was up to Colonel Vikorn, you would have been promoted years ago. Even your enemies think you should get promoted. Sukum’s okay, but he’s not inspired. You’re a genius.”
“They’ll never promote me. You know that. People put up with me as a lowly detective. If I rise any higher, people will start talking about my farang blood. You know how Thais are. Totally fair-minded Buddhists, until their personal income is threatened. Anyway, I told you, I’m almost there, Lek. A few more sessions with Tietsin and I’ll be an awakened being.”
“That charlatan. I hate him.”
“You’ve never met him.”
“I hate him for what he’s doing to you in your time of grief.” Lek covers his face, lest I see my suffering there. He has become like the picture of Dorian Gray: I see in him the reality I dare not see in myself. I turn away.
“I’m not really a genius. It’s just that my English sometimes gives me an advantage. D’you know how I guessed about the pebble and the imago and the trepanning? It’s all in the titles of the books and screenplays-”
Lek wipes his face and tuts. “I don’t give a shit how you did it, I only care about you, and that Tibetan witch is destroying you.” He stares at me with simple country love, then calls for a can of beer. When the Singha arrives he says, “Drink it.”
“I can’t, Lek,” I say, shuddering slightly at the can and its implications.
“If you love me, if you have any regard left for me, drink it.”
“You’re scared, aren’t you? That’s an artificial high you’re on, I think you were smoking dope last night while you were reading witchcraft-”
“It’s not witchcraft, it’s Tibetan Buddhism-”
“So, if it’s not witchcraft, drink a can of beer. Just one. I’ve seen you sink ten in a row. But you’re terrified of the comedown, aren’t you? Just one little can of beer bursts your balloon-that’s why he’s a charlatan, that Tibetan witch.”
Wearily, because I love him, I guess-he might be the only one left-I drink the beer. He’s right, the very modest intake of alcohol bursts the bubble. I feel the onset of paranoia. Lek pays for the food and takes my hand, leads me to the nearest cab. It doesn’t matter that we’re going to sit in a traffic jam, it’s the relative privacy of the backseat Lek is looking for. When I close my eyes I see what is always there, like a video playing on the back of my forehead: a car-it was a silver Toyota Echo-taking the turn into the soi, hitting my six-year-old son, Pichai, where he was standing in the street after getting out of a taxi. Chanya only slightly injured in her left foot, refusing help, taking Pichai to the hospital, calling me on my cell phone. I arrived at the operating theater just in time for his death.
Chanya couldn’t handle it any better than I could. She became a novice nun at a radical forest convent out in Mukdahan, on the border with Laos. They still meditate over pictures of dead bodies there. She turned into a fanatic, observing and merging with every stage of human decomposition. For my part, I found Doctor Norbu Tietsin, the mad Tibetan mind master. Let’s say he showed me how to orbit the earth, as an alternative to living on it. The technique doesn’t go with alcohol, though. Even a small amount is inimical to spiritual evolution; alcohol is a death drug, a devil brew from the lands of the setting sun. It drags the spirit back into the body: more torture.
“I’m going to have to roll a joint, Lek,” I say, suddenly feverish.
“Not in the taxi, for Buddha’s sake.” He stays my hand, which is reaching for the small bag of pot I’m never without these days. “Master, face it, you’re bipolar. Your tragedy has done this to you. With help you can get over it. Real help, hospital help. Farang help.”
“Sorry, Lek,” I say, and pull the handle to open the door and get out of the cab. “It’s an emergency.”
It’s been no more than an hour, but I’ve forgotten all about the gigantic dead American and the theatrical circumstances of his murder. I’m concerned with how to survive the next five minutes. It happens that the cab has stopped in the jam outside the Rose Garden on Soi 7, where I’m quite well known. I dash through the bar to the toilets, where I find a booth and roll a joint, but I can’t stand the claustrophobia, so I leave the booth as soon as the joint is rolled. While I’m feverishly smoking, I check out some of the signs on the wall above the pissoirs, which warn that the establishment is not responsible for the behavior of the women who use the bar to solicit customers, and advises patrons to take note of a girl’s identity card before taking her back to a hotel. There’s a female worker in the process of cleaning the toilets, but she doesn’t seem to notice the acrid stench of my joint. I retreat to a cubicle to sit on the throne and soak myself in a damn good cry.