Three weeks ago Fabo and I were sitting at the garden bar of the Welkom Inn on Soi 3. I hadn't seen the Belgian oil explorer in a year. Both of us had suffered exile from Pattaya. His place of banishment was the North Sea. I was stuck in New York. We were equally glad to be away from either. He greeted me with a kiss on the lips. The girls on the patio regarded the gesture with disgust. They only liked straight men. Preferably newcomers to Thailand. They spent money like bankers on a cocaine binge.
"Papa." Fabo thought that we resembled each other.
"My son." I didn't see the likeness, but I drink San Miquel. It's made in the Philippines. Heineken is my pseudo-fils' beverage of preference. He was 31. I had been in Brussels at the age of 36 in 1988. A Walloon girl had taken me home to her parents. They had made breakfast for us in the morning. Her mother was glad that I was white.
"Welcome back home." His skin was tanned from the sun's reflection off the sea. Fabo looked healthy. He had been a month without a drink. We ordered beers. The time was noon. Loso was playing on the radio. He told me about his months of the oil rig in three seconds, "No fun. No beer. No girls."
"New York. Cold beer. No girls." Six syllables to his seven. The economy of age.
"One plus. Two negatives." Fabo had once shown a photo of his mother. The skinny punk girl with wide eyes looked familiar.
"Now we're here." His nose had been mashed by too many accidents, but his eyes were arctic blue. Mine were high Nordic steel.
"Paradise." Saying that I felt like Adam waking on the day after his maker created 'woman', except the almighty hadn't the heart to destroy his previous failures. The line-up at the Welkom Inn's entrance had a woman for every man's desire.
"You can say that again." I was blind to their allure. Mam dominated my libido. She was too cute for words. Fenway's mother knew that I was here. Trust. I had no choice, but to he true. I ordered another beer. The first bottle died after 47 seconds. The heat of May gave any human a thirst."
"Paradise, and I blame it on our position." He didn't speak about his wife or the German. It was better to not say SS Tommy's name.
"The equator?" I had heard his hypothesis on more than one occasion. My one attempt to explain it to Mam had met with her contempt. She had little patience for 'tawh-lay' or bullshit. All women say the same about men.
"Only 1200 miles south of here."
"I know." I had crossed the equator in the jungles of Sumatra. The relative speed of the earth's rotation is meant to send more blood to your head. "Speed."
"Not speed. The reformulazation of the theory of gravity." These words were spoken in French. Fabo loved the idea, but recognized his conjecture was full-on mad or 'bah mak' as say the Thais.
We argued about acceleration measured in m/s2, air resistance, and the downward weight force. The 3rd beer cured the affliction of banality. We were happy to sit at a bar. Happy the phone wasn't ringing. Happy heading toward drunk. The afternoon stretched east. We watched the men run the gauntlet before the entrance of the Welkom Inn's bar. The interior was night. The mama-san played any song from any year. The male clientele liked 1977. No matter what the nationality everyone knew the words.
We had been surprised by the arrival of four Mideastern men. Jeans. White shirts. No robes. They normally frequented the smoking bars at the end of Walking Street.
"Egyptian." Fabo sniffed the air. Strong tobacco.
"Turkish." They weren't speaking Arabic. Neither did I, but I had heard enough Arabic in Paris to know the difference. I bet Fabo 500 baht on their country. They sounded too Roman.
An hour later they exited from the bar to the warm wishes of several girls. They had barfined eight of the hostesses. One produced a bottle of Sky Whiskey. Half-done. Another flourished a handful of banknotes. The colors were strange.
Not dollar green or the green, blue, red, and purple of Thai currency.
One girl looked over her shoulder. Prueng. A shortcake angel with soft hair and small breast. The tomboy was almost 24. 6 years older than the first day she worked the Welkom. Her girlfriend worked at a big hotel. Preung saved money to pay for her girlfriend's penis operation. 200,000 baht. She lifted a thick fist of money in the air. Her co-workers cheered her order for more whiskey.
Five minutes later she brought two glasses of whiskey-coke to the bar. We were too polite to say no. Preung slapped the foreign money on the bar. It was a big pile. Many zeros. Zaire Francs. Value almost zero. Fabo was frozen on his seat. Someone had to pop her balloon. A bottle of Spy Whiskey was close to 500 baht at the Welkom. I was down to 300. Preung reached for the free drink bell. There were about 33 people with the range of its peal.
Drinks for everyone.
She didn't ask why. I read the finance section of the Herald Tribune, studied currencies, and scanned Karl Marx. An exchange rate came to my head.
“62 baht per million.”
Preung was holding ten million.
The buffalo herd for her father was kidnapped by disappointment. Her daughter was banished in the hicks or ban-nok. Her girlfriend stayed a woman. 600 baht for a short-time trip to heaven was the asking price at the Welkom. Her math was good.
"I not win. I not lose." Preung dropped her hand from the rope hanging off the bell. "It was nice rich one minute. You want go short-time?"
Preung was asking me, but Fabo seized the gauntlet. He had been at sea three months. No fun, no beer, no women. I was one hour late for Mam.
"Another step closer to a million." His arm encircled Preung's waist. She was no longer an heiress. A common girl. One with a good heart and smooth skin. Fabo paid the bill. 300 baht was tomorrow's breakfast or five beers tonight.
I was heading home. Fabo and Preung strolled to room 101. It was the closest. He did look like me only me from six years ago. I had been only 51.
Not young, but younger and therefore rich, because youth was always worth billions in both dollars and baht.
But never Zaire Francs.