Bradley | Feb 4, 2020 | 0
UMM Thailand Ch. 1: Do you trust me?
Just when you think it’s safe to go back to sleep.
“You order breakfast now? For tomorrow morning. Eight o’clock. Menu here,” she said all of those words in a sing-song Thai accent and they fell into his brain one by one and he only translated them slowly and finally got to the idea of breakfast tomorrow morning.
“How are you?” Charlie asked in his best overzealous and chipper friendly voice.
“Ooh, very good. How are you?” she asked back, quick as a whip.
“Never better,” he said, happy to have the game back in his court.
“Ooh, never better,” she repeated. “Good one. I like you. What’s your name?”
“Holiday,” he said then followed up as he always hoped he one day might be able to do with just the right timing and setting and finally, finally, it was happening. “Charlie Holiday.”
He laughed out loud as his movie hero’s reference and she laughed with him. But the party was soon over as she got right back to business.
“Ham, egg, toast? For family? How many? Two babies? Four breakfast?”
“Ooh, so many questions, so few answers,” he said, scratching his chin in mock deep concern. “I ask my family.”
“OK, Charlie,” she said with a huge smile that seemed to go from one side of the train car to the other. “You find out, you tell me tonight. I need to know.”
“I’ll get right on it,” he said, enjoying his relationship with the Thai train steward more than he had many relationships in his life. He flashed her the biggest smile he could muster in return and placed his hands together in front of his chin and gave her a slight bow in a show of local respect.
“See you later,” she said and immediately continued her song, “Breakfast? Order now for tomorrow morning. Eight o’clock. Ham, egg, toast. Order now, please.” She pranced down the narrow corridor of the sleeper car as they left the Ayutthaya station en route to Chiang Mai in the north.
The train clicked and clacked down the tracks and what seemed to be mostly Europeans in the Thai train settled in for a long-night’s sleep. The mattresses were thin and the lights above bright and horrifically flourescent, but with a healthy dose of fatigue and the calling of that horizontal position, it was going to be an easy transition.
Charlie made sure his kids and wife were settled into their beds and as soon as they were, he felt a strong calling to close his eyes and sink into the lull of the night.
The air conditioning was on at full power and even though it was a humid summer outside, inside the train could keep beers cooled. Except there weren’t any beers.
Within seconds of his head hitting the pillow, he felt as if his bed was suspended by a magnetic force and somehow floated and moved together with the rocking of the train. At times, he even gripped the sides of the mattress as if it were a rollercoaster ride and he needed to hold on. But when he did nothing and let his body float is when it worked best and then he too floated with the movements of the train.
Thai voices drowned out and the hum of the steel on steel of the wheels took over. It was a massage, a water bed, and one of those cheesy alarm clock sound machines tuned to the ‘exotic night train’ setting all in one.
As with the best of transitions into sleep, he wasn’t sure when it happened and it came over him like a silk blanket.
“Charlie,” came the voice so close by that it seemed inside of his ear. But the accent was all wrong. It wasn’t his wife.
He felt a slight push on his shoulder. Then came his name again.
“Charlie,” she said.
He opened his eyes, realized he was on his back, turned his head away from the wall and towards the passageway of the train and saw the breakfast woman at his same level. He didn’t say anything because he had no idea what he should say. Also, he wasn’t completely sure it wasn’t a dream.
“Come with me,” she said.
“Is it breakfast?” was all that he managed.
“Orange juice,” she said as if that explained it all.
The lights were on, but he wasn’t sure if they had ever gone out. There didn’t seem to be any windows in the train car, so he couldn’t tell if it was still night or morning. For some reason, he started to climb out of his bed and his feet found the narrow ladder.
He peeked through the curtain under him at his youngest son Lu, but he was sound asleep.
“Just you,” she whispered in his ear and he didn’t need to turn towards her to realize that she was right next to him, right behind him.
“But,” he started, “Shouldn’t I wake up my family?”
“No, we just need you,” she whispered again and somehow he heard her over the clamoring of the tracks and the whirring of the air conditioning.
But it didn’t make sense. Why just him. What’s up with the orange juice. Before he could ask what seemed to be simple questions, she again poked his shoulder.
“That way,” she pointed a single finger towards the back of the train.
Some quick calculations somehow added up to the thought that it was simpler and safer to just do what she said than to try to get it across what all of his thoughts were, so he headed to the back of the train car.
Every one of the bright green curtains was closed. It was both cozy and a little eerie. He held onto the ladders and the sides of strangers’ beds and got to the end of the car.
“Keep going,” she said, again right behind him.
Maybe it was just a dream. He decided that nothing could really go wrong in a dream, so he kept going. They got to the next car. This one had blue curtains. But bright royal blue. As if they had glitter stitched into them.
A good snore came from behind one of the curtains as he walked down the middle of the train. But it was somehow female and sweet, maybe even a child. It wasn’t often that you walked by so many sleeping people.
“Ow,” he said instinctively and too quickly as a piece of metal from one of the luggage racks scraped his arm just above his elbow. He looked at his arm and there was a good thin scratch, but no blood. He looked back at the woman on his tail.
“Careful,” was all she said and she brushed her hands forward in a movement like you do when you want chickens to get out of your way.
A good soldier, he stopped going on and on about anything unnecessary and asking questions and just did what he was told. She’d tell him when to stop. He quickly became more adept at getting around the ladders and the baggage carriers, the backpacks on the floor and the luggage racks above and was soon at the end of the blue car. He kept going.
The area where two cars connected was darker than the previous one and the door was closed. Without further orders from bossy breakfast lady, he opened the sliding doors and stepped through.
Only then did he notice that there was no further car and he only saw the tracks under him because of the shimmer of the moonlight. He stopped because there was absolutely nowhere else to go. He turned around.
“How are you?” she asked with a big emphasis on the last word. She still had a huge smile. She was facing him. Behind her was the entrance back into the train, but the door was now closed. Behind him were train tracks and Thai jungle.
“Never better,” he said without missing a beat, but thinking that it must be a dream because he couldn’t be so clever so quickly while awake, especially having been woken up in what was probably the middle of the night.
“Oh, good,” she said, nodding. She paused, then asked him another question.
“Do you trust me, Charlie?” she asked.