I hugged my daughter and said, "I'll see you soon."
Chai-nat was a five-hour bus ride from Pattaya. My online site for selling fake F1 merchandise required daily attention, but I had come to Thailand to be with Angie and not flog second-grade copies to racing fanatics.
"You take care?" Angie's mom spoke little to no English. The former factory worker considered farangs 'so-kapok' and only one step above Arabs. Thais have a very high opinion of themselves and their country. Their chauvinism was not misplaced, for the Thais were the French of the Far East.
"I'll be fine." I kissed my daughter good-bye. Her mother and I had not been intimate since before her birth. Our sole connection was our daughter and she had said on more than one occasion that Angie wasn't mine. Murder constantly paced the corridors of my mind and he slightest touch could lead to a stranglehold. Accordingly we maintained a defensive distance.
The Toyota backed out of the driveway. Angie waved from the backseat. She had my mother's smile, crooked teeth and all. I swallowed a lump and went inside my rented house to open a can of beer. It was twenty-three minutes short of noon.
I thought about calling Angie's mom to come back, but my words had lost their magic. They had a full tank of gas and 2500 baht. More than enough to last two days, but if I've learned one thing in Thailand, "It's never enough."
The beer tasted of irony on an empty stomach. I was once more being deserted to my own devices in Pattaya. Her ex-boyfriend had disappeared weeks ago. Pi-et was no magician and the main prop for his vanishing act had been a bus north. Chai-nat lay in the same direction.
I turned the TV onto Fox News. Bill O'Reilly was praising GW Bush for saving America after 9/11. I finished the beer and threw the empty at the TV. The cheap aluminum didn't even scratch the screen.
As I got up for another beer, my mobile phone vibrated on the coffee table. The volume of the ringing was turned down to avoid to avoid unwanted phone calls. My wife suspected the worst and a woman was never wrong about a man. I answered the phone
It was Mint. 22 years old, thin as a runway model, and convinced that I could never love her.
"Is she gone?"
"Back to Chai-nat."
"And her 'feend'."
The Thai word for lover sounded very much like friend. I had discovered my wife sitting on Pi-et's lap. She had said that they were just friends in Thai. I had chosen to accept the lie for he sake of my daughter.
"We have to talk," she said in English. She didn't watch farang movies, so that statement must be universal in every language. The topic had few options.
"About what?" Mint and I had been lovers for over a year, but we had never spent a night in bed together. We were pure afternoon or early evening.
"I tell you when I see you." She shared an apartment on Jomtien Beach with a gay friend. Glai was very jealous of our relationship. The hustler liked it better when I had been a customer. Mint felt the opposite.
"Can't you tell me now?" One option was her leaving me. If Mint wanted to leave me. No problem. She was young. I was ancient. Her old 'friends' called at all times of the day. She never picked up the phone, while we making love.
"No. Not now. I see you. I tell you."
If you can't say it over the phone, then it wasn't about money. She wasn't shy about asking for money, but neither was Mint greedy, despite having two kids. They cost money. I gave what I gave. It also was never enough. I could see #2 leading right to #1.
Mint probably had another boyfriend to bankroll her life. She was an ace at pretending desire. Her faithful clientele from her years on Soi 6 and the Mona Lisa Massage in Bangkok were legion. She juggled her time with us like a crap shooter hoping for the best roll. She had been slinging snake-eyes for the past few months. We were more than lovers.
I drove the back roads to Jomtien. Pattaya was attracting thousands of long-timers. Coconut plantations were giving way to holiday villas. The vanishing wetlands behind Jomtien Beach put a good distance between my house and Mint's apartment, diminishing the possibility of my wife and Mint running into each other. I hated confrontations.
By the time I reached Thraprassit Road, the sun had burnt through the morning haze. The cold front had spunk down from Siberia. Thai beach-goers were reveling in the sea. Russians waddled out of 7/11 with ice creams. It was a too nice a day to hear goodbye twice.
I turned off the Beach Road and rolled up to her semi-abandoned apartment building hearing the start of the Doors' 'THE END' like this scene was the beginning of APOCALYPSE II. Mint sat on a stool. She was wearing a loose dress. A bottle of beer was on the table. The two glasses had ice in them.
"You want drink?" She averted looking in my eyes.
"Yes." Beer protected me from everything.
She poured beer into the two glasses. Neither of us took a sip. Mint had her hands folded on her lap. I sat down and asked, "What is it?"
"I'm pregnant." She lifted do-it-yourself pregnancy test. Two red lines indicated mint was carrying another life. I had thought the extra weight coming from beer.
"Pregnant?" I was old enough to be Mint's father, who's actually two years younger than me. Angie had been a surprise. This neared a shock.
"Yes. Two months. It is yours."
"Mine." Two months ago had been Loy Krathong. I distinctly recalled a long afternoon in bed. The math worked out to 1+1=3.
"I not go with other man."
"I know." I wasn't brought up to accuse a woman of entrapment. It wasn't like I was the pick of the crop. "A baby."
"Chai." Her morning sickness and expanding belly should have been signs of impending fatherhood. I was too absorbed in my problems to notice the obvious.
Walking was easy in Thailand. Marriages dissolved like sugar in the rain. Men were free to come and go as the wind. Women were glad to see them go too. Mint was well aware of her position. The father of her two children had left her penniless at 18. Her beauty had saved them from starvation. I lifted her head with two fingers. Tears dotted the corners. She had been here before, but not with me.
"Chai." She was expecting a repeat of bad luck. Men ran from a woman in her situation. Thai and farang. Pattaya was the Last Babylon. It was every man for himself.
"What you want to do?"
"I want have baby." Mint wanted to make me happier. She was too crazy to do that all the time, but she had heard the sadness in my voice, as I told her about Angie. Her mother had signed the name of the father to Pi-et. The Thai authorities would never reverse that signature.
Mint wanted to have the baby. She wanted it to be mine.
"She be cute."
"That's the truth." Looks were the least of our problems.
"How do you know it's a girl?" She certainly had not done an ultra-sound.
"Old lady see my neck and say if blood move up and down sure to be girl." Mint indicated a pulsing vein on her neck. "Old lady say maybe I have two."
"Twins?" 30 seconds was not enough time to digest the first news let alone the second.
"Not sure. What you want do?"
There was only one choice. Abortion was out of the question. It was illegal and while I accepted the freedom of choice for a woman, I was old-fashioned enough to regard every life as sacred.
"If it's a boy, can I chose the name?" I was a 55 year-old American living in Thailand. Going back to the States was not in the books.
"Yes. What about your wife?"
"We were never married." Her numerous betrayal had cancelled that event.
"I not want be mia noi." Her smile was half-hearted. The second wife or mia noi usually ends up standing in the rain outside the house of her child's father. Thai TV soaps loved that scene.
"You won't be a mia noi." I couldn't guarantee how her countrymen would view her, but Angie and her mother were living up-country. They weren't coming back. My cash flow was threatened by the global slow-down. The big house in Pattaya was an unnecessary expense. Two families were an obligation for a real man. Jomtien had the beach. Mint and I could live small.
"You and me will be one."
"I not want much." Not much sounded good today. Much would be spoken later, because kids cost money.
"Only me." I felt good saying it. Believing it was not as easy, but Mint held my hand and said, "Only you, me, and babies."
And I wouldn't have it any other way.
You never do when there's only one choice.
I wasn't going anywhere, if I could help it.