“Yes we have apartmen’. You fine it top stair. Loom ereven”, she said.
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To me, the image of an ‘apartment’ has always conveyed comfort, income, decency.
But as I headed along the dark corridors and up the dilapidated stairs, it reminded me of a tenement block in a Gothic horror movie. It was full of alien noises. Screams uttered in strange languages from behind shut doors competed with glasses smashed in anger and purpose. There were thumps, moans and bad stereos.
Through an open door I saw a video playing; there was no dialogue, just the exchange of gunfire. Cockroaches scattered in all directions at my approach. I stepped over a naked man who was asleep on the fourth floor. It was as if the devil himself was unchained and roaming about and this was just the public area. Strangely, I felt right at home.
I opened the door numbered ‘ereven’ only to find two prostitutes and a small frog watching television. None of them looked up when I entered. Then the frog slowly turned his little head towards me, clearly annoyed and with a bulbous expression that seemed to say, “Hey man! Can’t you see we are watching the programme?” hopped a foot to the right and then turned back to the screen.
I kicked the girls out and moved in with the frog. I called him Simpson. He ate insect wings and gooey alien things and a week later, my neighbor ate his legs, washed down with some Chardonnay. Finally, I had the place to my self.
Within a week I had met everyone in the block. I heard the tenant above me many times before I saw him. His door was always open and he was never alone.
“I shall never forget”, I heard him say to an invisible guest, “how young Jack single-handedly stopped in its tracks, a particularly ugly-looking raiding party of Mbobo warriors; how he emerged from our hut unarmed, alone and in cricket whites, and how their war-whoops fell silent as they dropped their weapons and slowly approached, fascinated …”
His name was Russell, he was sixty and holding, but he’d completely lost the plot. I liked him. But , like the frog, he was on his last legs here. He has lost his only means of income when his one Thai student of English, comfronted him with a newspaper, furiously stabbed at the sports headline, “PIGGOT PRONOUNCED WINNER!” Then yelled,” This bullshit language! You no good teacher!” and fled.
Russell had a talent for society, but no talent for poverty. He had a wealth and like so many in the block, he was frustrated by the past and had difficulty with the now. He wore glasses that an ambitious optician had recommended and he was dismayed when everyone nicknamed him the ‘Aviator’. He had a growth above his top lip that could have been a moustache, but actually resembles an escaped ferret hiding under his nose. His ambition was to die magnificently in debt and he slipped away one night without paying the rent.
And then there was Celine. She lived next door. A woman of paralyzing beauty, she had a Balinese mother, a French father, and unfortunately, a Swiss boyfriend. I adored her. She was held together by class rather than position, whereas I am held together by habit rather than health.
One day she said, “there’s a tiny lizard living in my shower”.
“Does it bother you?” I asked.
“No, I just wonder what its living on”.
“Love?” I suggested.
Her boyfriend is charming, rich and rarely here. I dream evilly of skiing accidents.
There was an Australian girl who lived in room number seven who’s hair was gelled and teased beyond repair. She was trying to start a magazine called Creative Menopause and had posters on her wall advertising dismal events that dripped blood and CNN. She called herself a “liberal revolutionary”.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“It means I’ll burn down your city and then offer to help with the rebuilding cost”.
And so to Renzo, who came here to die. Bruised beyond repair by the Vietnam War, he came to Bangkok to see himself out. He called me Feliciano and was always asking, “Where’s de goddamn maid?”
Early one morning, a sheet was placed over him to keep him warm and that sheet became his shroud. His last words on this planet were, “I’ll see you downstairs in the bar”.
But he never made it. I miss him and so do many others.
Peter Ustinov once said that our friends are not necessarily the people we like the most, they’re just the ones who got there first.
That will always remain a raffle of humanity; a constant surprise and they’re living right next to you right now.
All that's in my mind, is those words we never say but always hear falling between the cracks.