Helen has made the mistake of being a bridesmaid three times. But on this, her first trip overseas, is it finally her turn to be the bride?
Imagine this as a movie.
The credit sequence is over soft-edged, colour-saturated touristy views of Thailand – serene stone Buddhas, gold embossed temples, green paddy fields, elephants in convoy, young saffron-robed monks in the morning mist, dancers in brocaded silver costumes and tiered crowns, tribes-people in colourful traditional dress. Then we come to Bangkok – the peaked roofs of the royal palace, glass skyscrapers, street markets, traffic jams. The camera leads us off the main roads and into the narrower streets, then rises into the air until we see we are on the balcony of a hotel room looking down on the city. Then the camera pulls back through the open french doors into the room. The room is adequate and comfortable, but a little shabby. At present it is empty.
A woman comes out of the bathroom. Her hair is wet, her skin is glowing and she is wearing nothing but a colourful batik sarong. She is past the first blush of youth, perhaps about thirty. Her nose is a little too long, her mouth a little too small, her face a little too square for beauty, but her black hair is thick and wavy and her complexion a clear, delicate alabaster.
She approaches the sideboard where an interesting array is reflected back in the speckled mirror. The woman reaches out and cups her hand around one of the orchids in a huge bunch of tropical flowers. She picks up the jeweller’s box lying next to it. It is labelled Tiffany. Inside it nestles a large solitaire diamond on a simple platinum band. She puts the box down at the feet of a jade-green ceramic figurine of a dancer, her raised hands delicately pointing upwards, her cocked head topped with a steepled crown. The woman runs her finger from the top of the figure’s head-dress to the end of its extended arm. Then she picks up a pair of glasses and slips them on.
Startled as though she has suddenly noticed that she is being watched, she peers at us through her glasses, but then smiles when she recognises us as friends. ‘Gifts from admirers.’ She shrugs. ‘Three admirers to be exact.’ She shakes her head in disbelief and picks up her comb. ‘You must be wondering how a girl like me ever got into a situation like this. It’s not as though I’m the kind of pretty young thing that attracts men in droves. Quite the opposite in fact.’
She combs her hair as she talks to us. ‘Have you ever heard that old saying: Ever the bridesmaid, never the bride? Well that’s me. I’ve even made the fatal mistake of being a bridesmaid three times – for two of my cousins and my little sister. Nanna warned me, but I couldn’t say no to my own sister, could I? Well Nanna, it looks like you were wrong.’ Her wry smile fades. ‘But then again, maybe I still am the bridesmaid.’
She perches on the bed, and rests a chin on her knee. ‘Was it Dorothy Parker who said: Men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses? And she was right, they don’t, especially if you have the disconcerting habit of correcting their mistakes in front of the cute little receptionist. It’s my job, really, to know everything. After all I am the ‘Information and Knowledge Manager’ – what they used to call a corporate librarian. I’m supposed to know where all the answers are. I’m indispensable… and invisible.
‘That’s me all over, really. Indispensable and invisible. And not just with the boys. I was the one who sat with the handbags while everyone else was on the dance floor. I was the one who covered for them when they were supposed to be spending the night at my place. I was the one who did all the work on the group project because no one else could fit it in around their social life. And I was the one who spent years waiting to go on that big overseas trip with one or other of my friends who suddenly decided she needed to save up for the wedding, until finally there was no one left to wait for.
‘I know, I should have just slapped on a backpack straight after uni like most of my classmates were doing… but back then… back then there was someone… someone I thought I couldn’t leave for so long. And I was right. If I had gone to Europe, he wouldn’t have been there when I got back. I know this, because he wasn’t there when I got back after two weeks in Queensland. Oh, it wasn’t that bad. I even got an invitation to the wedding. Pretty little blonde thing she was, with big baby-blue eyes. Her most profound statements came straight out of the gossip magazines… It took me a while, but I finally understood what he saw in her.
‘Well, at least I learned a valuable lesson from the experience…’ She stares pensively into the distance for a moment, then remembers us and puts on a smile. ‘But you don’t want hear about all that… You just want to know how I got those presents, don’t you? All right then.’ She sits back on the bed, crosses her legs and makes herself comfortable. ‘Well, it all started two weeks ago when I arrived in Bangkok…’
For a little girl from Melbourne, Bangkok airport alone is a daunting experience. But I’d read my Lonely Planet and knew where to find the ATMs to get Thai baht, where and how to get a taxi and how much the fare should be. But I wasn’t really prepared for the enormity of the airport, the crowds of people, the jumble of languages, or the blast of warm, humid air that met me at the exit, and that rich, tropical aroma.
My taxi driver was a little man as dark as mahogany, with several teeth missing, and those sepia from tobacco. ‘Bangkok City Hotel, missie? You come, come.’ He took hold of my suitcase and lifted it off the luggage trolley. It was almost bigger than he was, so I reached over and tried to unlatch the handle so he could wheel it along. For a moment a tug of war ensued, but I finally won and he gave me a brown, gaping smile when he realised I was just trying to make things easier for him.
The drive into Bangkok was long, but fascinating. Even at eleven o’clock at night, the city was alive with people and traffic. Rickety trucks loaded to the gunwales with produce for the market. Motorcycles, even push bikes, piled high with every conceivable cargo or carrying whole families – father driving, mother demurely perched behind him sideways and two children clinging to them. Roadside food-stalls lit by weak electric bulbs or paraffin lamps catering to tuk-tuk drivers, their vehicles parked higgledy-piggledy around them. Women in sarongs, thin grey hair in unravelling buns, squatting by baskets of snacks wrapped in newspaper. Children selling garlands of flowers at the crossroads.
I held my breath as the taxi left the main road and entered a district of narrow streets, then it stopped outside a building with a sign saying ‘Bangkok City Hotel’ in English and curling Thai script. We had arrived, and even by the most direct route.
The hotel had a comfortable, homely feel about it, and even at this late hour there were still a few men sitting in armchairs in the foyer, reading newspapers. There were two uniformed receptionists behind the desk. Their name tags told me the diminutive, pock-marked man was called Boon, while his colleague, a slim, elegant young woman was called Anuluck. They were chatting to a handsome young fellow who was leaning across the counter. Everyone there was Thai. I was the only farang in sight.
My taxi driver hailed the whole gathering as we entered. One or two of the men returned his greeting, as did the group at Reception. At the desk he chattered away, nodding his head at me as though speaking for me. The young fellow smiled sagely and seemed to be teasing the taxi driver. Anuluck tore her attention away from the banter to greet me. ‘Good evening, Ma’am. How can I help you?’
I crossed my fingers. ‘My name is Helen Delaney. I should have a reservation?’
Barely checking the screen, she nodded. ‘Welcome, Miss Helen. Your room ready. Room 314. Your key. Please sign here.’
The paperwork complete, I was more than ready for my bed, but when I tried to take my suitcase, the taxi driver still had hold of it.
The young fellow chuckled. ‘Driver want tip, pretty lady.’
Embarrassed, I dived into my purse, came out with a note and handed it to the driver whose eyes widened with glee.
The young fellow reached across and took the note from the indignant driver. ‘You give him too much, pretty lady,’ he laughed. He returned the note to my purse, rummaged in it and took out another note which he gave to the driver. The driver grumbled, but now the young fellow lost his laughter and said a few sharp words. The driver stuffed the note into his shirt pocket and walked away, muttering all the time. The men hanging about the foyer laughed.
I looked up and realised that my champion was watching me with rather more appreciation than I was used to. I felt myself blush like a silly schoolgirl as I stammered my thankyous. He flashed a broad smile that showed a row of white, if slightly crooked teeth in a sensitive, high-cheeked face. ‘You’re welcome, pretty lady.’
‘Miss Helen going on tour tomorrow,’ Anuluck said, with a conspiratorial side glance at her workmate.
‘With Sanya?’ Boon asked.
‘No, with Paul.’
‘Oh, bad luck. Sanya like pretty lady,’ Boon teased. ‘He looking for rich American lady. You want? He make good husband. Very sexy.’
‘No, no,’ Anuluck chimed in, ‘Sanya find rich American lady already. He save her from river. Very romantic.’
Now we were both blushing. Sanya picked up my suitcase. ‘Here, I take you. Lift this way.’
We rode up the lift in silence. At my door Sanya put the suitcase down at my feet. ‘Here you are, pretty lady.’
I laughed uncomfortably. ‘There’s no need for the “pretty lady”, Sanya. I’m not a rich American, just a poor Australian.’
Sanya looked abashed. ‘You still pretty lady.’ He turned away, took a step and came back. ‘What they say. Maybe true. But only for my family. Not for me.’
But before I could say I understood, he had gone.
Once alone in my room, I went onto my balcony and looked out over the lights of Bangkok, breathing in the fragrant air of this vibrant, mysterious city.
At ten to eight next morning I was down in the foyer. A few farang I had already seen at breakfast were scattered about. I wondered if any of them were on my trip, but they all seemed to have someone to talk to, so I thought I’d wait and see. Instead, I settled down into one of a circle of armchairs and took out the copy of Buddhism Explained I’d picked up at the airport and was deep into the six Realms of Existence when a bag dropped onto the armchair beside me.
‘Whoough,’ a female voice huffed. ‘Got here at last. Hey, would you know,’ she continued in an American twang, ‘is this where the Highlights of Thailand tour is meeting? I’m just so sure I missed it.’
‘No, you’re in time.’
She sat down heavily beside me. ‘Oh thank God. I would’ve just died if I’d missed it. I’ve been on Koh Samui. The ferry was so rickety I was sure we were gonna sink, and the bus took all night. Everything in this country is just so slow. They call it Thai time. It’s always running at least an hour behind farang time.’ She held out her hand. ‘I’m Kirsty, by the way.’
Kirsty was in her mid-twenties, perhaps. She was not particularly pretty, but she made the most of her assets in low slung denim shorts and a high cut top. Brown roots were beginning to show through her well-styled blonde hair. Her smile was bright and even.
‘Nice to meet you, Helen. You been here long?’
‘I got in last night.’
‘I’ve been here two weeks. I went to Koh Samui for a couple of days to recover. I’d been on a rafting and hill-tribe trek, and I was exhausted. You know, I almost drowned. I fell into the water in these rapids, but the tour guide, he just jumped right in and pulled me out. We coulda both of us been killed. He was so brave. And so handsome.’ She raised a knowing eyebrow. ‘Shame I got a fiancé back home… But Charles is so busy these days with all his corporations. He so wanted to come with me. He knows how much I hate travelling alone. But I so needed a holiday. I just graduated from college. NYU?… So, Helen, have you got someone pining away for you back in England?’
‘Australia. No, no-one.’
‘Well, that’s a pity. Maybe we’ll find someone nice for you here.’
‘I doubt it.’
‘Hey, don’t be so negative. You’re with me, honey. Remember that.’
The trip hadn’t even started and I’d already found a friend.
Anuluck approached us then and pointed us to where the group was gathering across the foyer.
‘OK, that’s eight of us so far,’ the tour leader was saying in a familiar accent as we approached. ‘Two more to go.’
‘That’ll be us. I’m Kirsty and this is Helen. You weren’t starting without us, were you?’
The tour leader smiled, and I was jolted by an odd feeling of recognition, even though I knew I had never met him before. Perhaps it was the smile. I can’t say he was particularly handsome, but there was something about him, a hint of sadness around his hazel eyes perhaps, that seemed to speak to me. He introduced himself as Paul, an engineer by profession who had first come to Thailand as an aid worker with the northern hill-tribes.
‘Wow,’ Kirsty marvelled. ‘That’s great. They really need people like you here.’
Paul blushed. ‘Right. That’s me. Your turn now.’
Ernest was tall and gangly, fit and sombre. His wife Sharon was a small vibrant woman with a cheery smile. They were from Kentucky. A younger woman, wearing jeans and her hair cut short, was Debbie from Alberta. The tall, well built man standing beside her was Harry from Vancouver. Carolina was a stocky blonde from Switzerland. Her boyfriend Mario was a taciturn young man with sad brown eyes and a thin moustache. Ingrid and Barbara were taking a holiday from their jobs in the Austrian embassy in Canberra.
Paul smiled at me when I announced my provenance. ‘Where from?’
My heart missed a beat as I tried to remember. ‘Melbourne.’
‘Yeah? So am I. Where in Melbourne?’
‘Altona originally, but I’m in Yarraville now.’
‘Really? I grew up in Brooklyn.’
‘Hey, that’s where I live,’ Kirsty said. ‘You sure don’t sound like you’re from Brooklyn.’
‘Not that Brooklyn.’ His eyes met Kirsty’s. And my moment had gone.
A Thai man signalled to Paul from the door.
‘Oh, right. That’s Udom our driver. I’ll just sort out the rooms while he’s loading the luggage onto the bus.’
‘I’m with Helen, of course,’ Kirsty piped up.
Paul ticked us off followed by Ernest and Sharon, Carolina and Mario, Ingrid and Barbara, Debbie and Harry.
Debbie looked embarrassed. ‘Umm. Excuse me, Paul. Harry and I, we’re not…’
Paul blushed. ‘Oh, I’m sorry, Debbie. I should have realised. Look, how about you take my room and I’ll share with Harry. That OK with you, Harry?’
Debbie still seemed unsure. ‘I can’t afford a single room.’
Paul brushed off her concern. ‘No extra charge. We’ll still be taking up the same number of rooms.’
Debbie smiled at last.
‘Shoot,’ I heard in my ear.
As we all piled into the back of the minibus, Kirsty hung back. ‘Oh, Paul. I get so car sick. Do you mind if I sit up front with you?’
Paul grinned. ‘Sure. Get in.’
I sat in the back of the bus alone.
Ten hours later a weary group of travellers dropped out of the minibus outside a modest hotel in Ayuthaya. We’d barely exchanged a word on the drive north, unused as we were to the heat and humidity of Bangkok. Although the morning boat trip to a floating market had been refreshing, an afternoon of trudging through temples and palaces had been exhausting.
‘I don’t know what I’m going to do about Paul,’ Kirsty said as we settled into our room.
I wondered what her problem might be. She’d shown all day she knew exactly what to do with Paul. While we were on the road, she had sat next to him and chattered constantly, making Paul laugh or his eyes light up with enthusiasm. When we stopped she would latch onto me. After I corrected a couple of her misconceptions early in the day, I noticed she would pick my brain, and more than once I heard my own words repeated in the form of intelligent questions that Paul answered gravely.
‘You looked like you were getting on all right.’
‘That’s what I’m worried about. I think he likes me. He’s asked me out tonight. He says he’s got something special to show me.’
‘And your problem is?’
‘Things are already complicated enough as it is. There’s Charles…’
She sighed. ‘And… I’ve already made one big mistake on this trip… And if Charles ever found out it would kill him… You know how I told you about the guide who jumped into the river to save me?… I was terribly grateful… and he was so brave… and so beautiful… I tried to tell him it was only a one off…’
This was better than a soap opera. I suppose I’d had vague hopes of a bit of a romantic adventure on this trip. But if I couldn’t have one at first hand, I could at least have a vicarious one with all of the fun and none of the repercussions.
‘And you’re worried the same thing will happen with Paul? Then don’t go out with him.’
‘But if I don’t go he’ll get really hurt. I think he’s like pretty lonely.’
It wasn’t a dilemma I’d had to deal with much in my own life, so I didn’t know what to tell her.
Kirsty unpacked a dress and hung it in the bathroom, then came back to get some clean underwear. ‘Say, how about you come out with me and Paul tonight?’
‘Isn’t three a crowd on a date?’
‘That’s just the point. If you’re there he’ll know it isn’t a date. And, I’m really curious about this special place he wants to take me to. Aren’t you? Whadaya say?’
Well, it was one way of seeing more of Paul. ‘Sure, why not? If it’s just company he wants.’
The shower was still running when Kirsty’s phone rang. She shouted at me to answer it, so I did. It was Charles. A voice that reminded me of JFK mistook me for Kirsty until I introduced myself. We were comparing times of day and the weather when a towel-wrapped Kirsty grabbed the phone.
‘Oh, baby, I miss you so much. Leave it,’ she called as I went into the bathroom. ‘I’m steaming the creases out of my dress.’ I turned off the water anyway.
The cooing and sighing was still going on when I came out after my own shower. When she hung up she threw herself across the bed. ‘What am I gonna do?’
Paul was polite but strained when I turned up with Kirsty at the rendezvous point. Although we were meeting well out of sight of the hotel, he was adamant there was nothing secret about our expedition.
The first stop was a little restaurant tucked away in a side street. It had no menu, just a sideboard of curious ingredients. Paul ordered in Thai, while behind his back Kirsty made ‘What the hell…?’ faces at me. When the food arrived she had suddenly developed an array of food allergies. Disappointed, Paul ordered plain fried rice for her, but was pleased to find me a bit more adventurous. Amid much laughter and teasing we tried each new dish together. I was fine with obscure fish and small amphibians, lemon grass and coriander, but the chilli stumped me. After my first frenetic reaction, Paul was kind enough to warn me about the really hot ones and those I tried in small amounts with a lot of rice. When the waiter came to clear our table, I could tell Paul was boasting to him that this farang had tried everything. The waiter wanted to bring us out one more local delicacy, but Kirsty insisted it was time to set out for Paul’s special place.
‘I bet it’s an opium den,’ Kirsty whispered to me while Paul hailed a tuk-tuk. ‘I won’t tell him I’ve already been to one. It would ruin his surprise. You-know-who took me. You’ve gotta have some. They’ll think you’re from the police if you don’t.’
‘Is you-know-who’s name Sanya?’ I ventured.
Kirsty was flummoxed. ‘Do you know him?’
‘I just met him at the hotel when I arrived. I can’t say I know him. But he fits your description. Seriously cute.’
I could hear Kirsty’s sigh of relief.
Paul’s special place was the Historic Park, the ruins of old Ayuthaya. At night, the crumbling stone temples are lit up from below, glowing magically against the blackness of the night. Bumping over invisible roads, the tuk-tuk took us from one to the other. When Paul deemed it safe we would get out and explore on foot. I tried not to watch as he put an arm around Kirsty’s waist to guide her over the rough patches. By the time we stopped at the sixth temple, Kirsty’s sighs had become audible. Paul offered to let her stay behind while he and I got out, but Kirsty quickly regained her enthusiasm.
Back at the hotel, Paul suggested we have a nightcap in the bar before retiring.
‘Oh, that wouldn’t be fair on Helen. She’s awfully tired,’ Kirsty said.
I took the hint and went up to bed alone without being able to thank Paul properly for a wonderful evening.
The hotel was a short drive outside of New Sukhothai. ‘Oh my God, this place is in the middle of nowhere!’ Kirsty declared as we checked in.
Paul came to its defence. ‘Yes, but the food’s good and it’s got all the mod-cons, internet and everything.’
‘Internet? Then I can email.’ She thrust her daypack at me. ‘Can you take this up to our room? I won’t be long.’
Debbie said for my ears only, ‘If you ever get over her, you can share my room.’
The offer was a surprise, but appreciated. I did contemplate it for a moment, but for reasons I didn’t quite understand at the time, I wasn’t ready to change roommates quite yet. I wondered, though, if anyone else had noticed the subtle shifts that had occurred that day.
Although I had pretended to be asleep the night before when Kirsty came back to our room an hour after I did, she had insisted on telling me all about their heart-to-heart as we got ready to join the others for breakfast. Apparently Paul had come to Thailand to escape a broken heart and had taken up tour-guiding when his stint as a volunteer was over because he hadn’t got over her yet and didn’t feel up to going back to Australia. Kirsty gravely analysed Paul’s predicament, while I wondered how much he had actually told her and how much she was extrapolating. So Kirsty was not impressed when Paul joined us for breakfast and sat next to me, even though there was an empty seat beside her. But she made sure to claim her seat next to Paul when it was time to get on the bus. She hardly left his side for most of the morning, but by late afternoon I was once again her best friend.
Kirsty’s phone rang as I unlocked the hotel room and without thinking I rummaged in her daypack to find it before it rang out. It was Charles. I offered to give Kirsty a message but he held me on the line, wanting to know what we’d been doing that day. He was as fascinated by Ayuthaya’s history as I was. It had been an international city of a million people when London and Paris were just big country towns. I was describing some of the temples when Kirsty came in and claimed the phone.
‘It’s a dump,’ she was saying as I retreated into the bathroom. ‘Nothing but museums and ruins.’
‘Paul’s taking us to the best bar in town,’ Kirsty announced when I came out of the bathroom. ‘Do you want to borrow something to wear?’
‘Well, yeah. I told you. We’re not dating or anything.’
Well, I would never have gone to New Sukhotai’s best bar on my own, would I?
But when we got there, Kirsty was in for an unwelcome surprise – Ingrid and Barbara waving at us to join them from the depths of the bar. Paul couldn’t ignore them as Kirsty urged, so we followed him to their table. We shouldn’t have been too surprised to find them there. After all, it was the only decent bar in town. Kirsty’s expectations for a night on the tiles in sleepy Sukhothai seemed a bit a bit overoptimistic now. It looked like sneaking out of the hotel with Paul after dinner was about as exciting as the evening was going to get.
But it turned out to be a fun night in the end. Ingrid and Barbara were great characters, with fascinating and hilarious tales to tell about all the countries where they’d been posted. They even had a funny story about life in Canberra. So it was quite late before we decided it was time to head back to the hotel. It was only then that I realised Kirsty wasn’t with us. But Paul knew where she was – at the bar with a couple of Thai men. While Paul went up to call her, Ingrid and Barbara commiserated with me and offered to share their tuk-tuk home. Twenty minutes later while I waited for Paul and Kirsty to finish their argument, I wished I had accepted their offer.
Finally Paul came towards me, his face like thunder. ‘We’re going.’ I followed him out to the street. By the time he found a tuk-tuk, Kirsty had joined us, sullen and silent.
At the hotel, Kirsty said she still wasn’t ready for bed. Our obligation fulfilled, Paul and I were happy to leave her downstairs while we went up to our floor.
At my door Paul said, ‘I’m sorry about what happened back there. I don’t know what got into me.’
I could have told him what it was, but I didn’t want to put it into words. Words would have made it real, concrete, when I was hoping it would all go away. So I just mumbled something reassuring and said goodnight. As I sat alone on the side of my bed, fighting back tears, I realised I had joined the cast of the soap opera.
When Kirsty burst into the room an hour later she was in a very different mood. She plopped down on my bed. ‘Helen, are you asleep? I’m just so excited. I just got this email from Sanya. He says he loves me. He wants to marry me and go back to the States with me. What do you think?’
Of course, a good friend would have warned her of the dangers and reminded her of poor Charles. But I wasn’t her friend. I was in a soap opera and I gave her the kind of advice you’d get from a soap opera – go for it and bugger the consequences.
‘What I find amazing is how these old cities are never entirely abandoned. There are always people there praying to the Buddha. They’ve even built new wats there.’
‘Yeah. It speaks of this continuity, that the past doesn’t just disappear, but still everything changes. The Buddhists talk a lot about Impermanence. How everything changes all the time.’
‘That’s not much of a revelation to us these days.’
‘No, but it must have been to the people who lived in Sukhothai. I mean, their lives must have been so stable, for so long, just the changing of the seasons to remind them of Impermanence.’
‘There’s still not much going on now,’ Kirsty interjected. ‘Come on. How about we go out for like one drink?’
We were sitting on the balcony of our room, making the most of the cool of the evening. Paul had arrived just as I was about to go out with Ingrid and Barbara. Kirsty had pleaded with me not to leave them alone. So I stayed. What other opportunity would I get to have a quiet evening with him?
‘We’ve got an early start in the morning,’ Paul answered. ‘Best we get an early night.’
Kirsty groaned. We were saved by the bell when her phone rang. Kirsty went inside and made a desultory search for it. With it still ringing she came out and handed it to me. The screen said it was Charles. ‘Say I’ve gone out and forgotten my phone.’
I would have thrown it at her, but I felt sorry for Charles. While I described to him a huge ancient stone Buddha, sitting serene in the scattered remnants of his temple, yet draped in a startling yellow silk sash, Kirsty sat on Paul’s lap and whispered in his ear.
After Charles hung up I went out and gave the phone back to Kirsty. ‘You should call him. He’s left half-a-dozen voicemails for you. He’s getting worried.’
Kirsty snatched the phone from me. ‘What’s it to you?’
‘I’m the one that has to make your excuses for you. Where was I supposed to tell him you’d gone without your phone? To church?’
‘I’ll talk to him when I’m good and ready.’
‘Well, that had better be soon, or you’re going to lose him. Him and all his corporations. And you said you weren’t ready for that quite yet.’
Paul was standing now. ‘Who are we talking about?’
Kirsty mouthed at me: Don’t say anything.
I shrugged. ‘That’s between the two of you.’ I went inside and closed the door on their argument. When I came out of the bathroom, Paul had gone and Kirsty had thrown herself across the bed. She didn’t speak to me for the rest of the night and well into the morning.
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar was a sea of light, colour and milling tourists that seemed to go on forever – a shopper’s paradise.
‘Oh my God!’ Kirsty exclaimed as it came into view. ‘Now we’re talking.’
‘Right.’ Paul stopped on the opposite footpath and gathered us round. ‘Do you all remember how to get back to the hotel? Do you all have a card from the hotel to show the tuk-tuk driver? Then you’re on your own. Take care of your things and I’ll see you at eight o’clock tomorrow morning.’
Kirsty had already disappeared. The rest of the group moved off as one. I lingered for a moment, as did Paul.
‘You OK?’ Paul asked.
‘Just catching my breath.’
‘Paul! Hey, Paul!’ Kirsty appeared across the street. Paul nodded a quick goodbye and crossed the street to join her.
The morning’s coolness hadn’t lasted long. Paul had been distant when he met us for breakfast, but Kirsty had taken her place in the front seat as usual for the long drive north to Chiang Mai and had spoken to him at length in a low, urgent voice. By the time we stopped for lunch, he was glassy eyed. Kirsty had been bored as we toured the handicraft factories that afternoon, and only showed any interest when Paul spent too much time with another member of the group.
I wandered round the Bazaar in a daze. I’m not much of a shopper at the best of times and the noise, crowd and selection were overwhelming. In a quiet spot somewhere in the middle, the eye of the storm, I found Paul standing and looking round.
‘Have you seen Kirsty?’ he asked with a hint of panic.
‘She’ll be all right. She’ll find you when she wants you.’
Paul nodded with a sheepish grin. ‘Actually, maybe you can help me. Come in here. I want to show you something.’
He led me into an antique shop and showed me a celadon figurine of a traditional dancer. ‘It’s probably not a real antique, but it is lovely, isn’t it?’ It certainly was – a soft jade green, with delicate crazing that only added another dimension to the exquisite detail.
‘Do you think she’ll like it?’
‘Who? Your mother?’ What a stupid question.
I studied the figure while I tried to think of the right answer. Save your money. She’d prefer diamonds. Give it to me. I was rescued by Kirsty herself. ‘Hey, Paul. Come and help me pick something out for my Mom.’
An hour later, footsore and jaded I was looking for the way out when I ran into Ernest and Sharon. ‘Helen, honey, Ernie and I are just about to go look for a place to eat. You wanna come?’ It sounded like a great idea.
Contentedly tired, and not a little drunk, I got back to the hotel very late. The rest of the group had had the same idea as Ernest and Sharon and we’d all ended up together at the night market for dinner, and then Harry had suggested we do a bar crawl, which, we found out at the third bar we stopped at, had turned into a gay-bar crawl.
Harry had enjoyed teasing Ernest, taking him for a typical southern redneck homophobe, which Ernest took in good stead, until they got caught up in a competition between two elderly British queens for who could come up with the most names for the male member. Ernest was only just pipped at the post. Harry looked at him with a new respect after that. Sharon was wide-eyed, enjoying every minute. Carolina spent the night rescuing Mario who had no idea why he was constantly being offered drinks. Suppressing giggles, Ingrid and Barbara held hands, and let people think what they would. Debbie rarely left my side.
Kirsty was in our room, still up, counting over her hoard of goodies. ‘Was Paul with you?’
‘No. Wasn’t he with you?’
Kirsty shrugged. ‘I kinda lost him. He can be so clingy sometimes. What did you get up to?’
‘Oh, I just ran into all the others and hung out with them.’ Something I should have been doing much more of all along.
‘Kirsty, honey, I thought for sure we were gonna lose you today. I could just see you falling off that dear old elephant’s neck and being trampled underfoot. Thank God Paul was right there behind you.’ Sharon raised her glass to Paul.
Harry raised his glass to Paul as well. ‘Here’s to our very own Sabu, the Elephant Boy.’
Ingrid solemnly stood up for a formal toast, and we all joined her, turning a few heads in Chiang Rai’s best restaurant. ‘To our hero,’ she intoned, then downed her drink.
‘Our hero,’ we chorused, and followed suit.
‘For he’s a jolly good fellow…’ Harry began. By the time we got to a rousing ‘Hip, hip, hooray’ Paul was red-faced and begging us to sit down. We all collapsed to our chairs, breathless with laughter. All, that is, except Kirsty, who had sat through it all poker-faced.
‘Kirsty, honey, ain’t you gonna give your knight-in-shining-armour a kiss at least?’ Sharon asked. ‘Why, he risked his life for you today.’
‘Kiss. Kiss. Kiss!’ we all demanded.
Kirsty got up and stormed off.
‘Oh, shit!’ Sharon said when she recovered her breath. ‘I guess I better go apologise for that.’
‘Leave her be, honey,’ Ernest said, ‘She deserves it, acting the damn fool like she did today.’
Paul got up. ‘I’ll go see she’s all right.’
Harry shook his head and rolled his eyes.
Mario leaned over to Harry. ‘Today they are very friendly, no?’
‘Yep,’ Harry said. ‘Pretty soon now I think I’m gonna have to give up my bed. Which one of you girls will have me?’
‘You can have my room,’ Debbie said. ‘I’ll share with Helen.’
Ingrid raised an eyebrow at Barbara.
Later, when the others were up on the dance floor, Harry said, ‘You OK?’
‘You know, Robin Williams, one our great philosophers, once said that God in his wisdom gave men a brain and a penis, but only enough blood to run one at a time… Sooner or later the blood will start running the other way.’ He took my hand. ‘But while we’re waiting, come and have a dance with me.’ And he whirled me onto the dance floor.
During a break in the music, I was making my way back from the ladies’ room when Kirsty appeared at my shoulder and took my arm. ‘Oh my God, I am totally freaked.’
‘What’s the matter now?’
‘Paul! I can’t believe he just did that. He tried to kiss me.’
Well, what else did you expect? I wanted to ask. You spent all afternoon in the bus sleeping with your head on his shoulder and his arm around you. But instead I just said, ‘Oh.’
By then we had reached our table where the party had regrouped. Kirsty sat down as if nothing had happened. ‘Hey, didn’t we say we were going to that nightclub tonight?’ She rushed us through the process of getting the bill and collecting everyone’s money. Paul’s share, of course, was missing. ‘He’ll probably be in the front bar,’ Kirsty said. ‘We can give him this on the way through and he can take care of it.’
Paul could barely stand up when we found him. Harry took the folder of cash from Kirsty. ‘You lot go on. I’ll take care of this,’ he said, while giving me a significant look.
I got the hint. ‘I’ll keep you company for a while. I wanted an early night.’
‘No,’ Kirsty said. ‘Come with us, Helen. Harry’ll be all right.’
Ernest grinned at Harry. ‘Let’s go, Kirsty. They’ll be right.’ And he dragged her away.
Harry helped Paul to a secluded table, sorted out the bill and had a quiet word with the barman. ‘Maybe the blood’s starting to run the other way, now,’ he said, as he left us alone.
Several litres of water and coffee later, Paul was beginning to sober up.
‘Did she tell you what happened?’
‘I’ve made a total fool of myself.’
‘No. You had every reason to believe she was interested.’
‘Do you think so? I don’t know what to think. She told me it was all over with the ex-boyfriend. That he just keeps hassling her. So I thought…I thought. And then tonight she says she can’t ‘cos there’s someone else.’
This was the point in the soap opera for a dramatic revelation, for the long hidden truth to be told. I was just trying to work out where to start when he said, ‘What am I going to do, Helen? I think I’m in love with her.’ Time for a commercial break.
I let him talk then – about Kirsty and his feelings for her, his blow by blow analysis of their relationship, and then about the girl who had broken his heart back in Melbourne, a girl who sounded unremarkably very much like Kirsty.
When the restaurant finally closed, well after one, we walked back to the hotel. There we found that the other keys on our floor were missing. The receptionist told Paul the nightclub was closed that night so the others had been back for hours.
Only one lift was operating and that one was stuck on the third floor. As we waited, I asked Paul about our itinerary for the next day.
‘Up to the border to see the Golden Triangle, and then a river cruise.’
‘Does it really exist, the Golden Triangle?’
‘It certainly does.’ The lift mechanism started to whirr. He looked about and then back at me. ‘Helen…’
‘About tonight. Thank you for… you’ve been very kind.’
Was it my wishing so hard for it that did the trick? Paul bent forward and kissed me. Then he pulled back, and I saw panic in his eyes.
‘I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t’ve…’ The lift doors opened. ‘You go. I’ll catch the next one.’ The doors closed on my desolation.
By the time I reached the room I wanted to be rid of them both.
‘Where the fuck have you been?’ Kirsty demanded as I opened the door. ‘Harry was back ages ago.’
‘Where you left me. At the restaurant with Paul.’
‘All this fucking time?’
‘It took a while to sober him up.’
‘I saw you come into the hotel. You were down in the lobby for half an hour. What were you doing down there?’
Oh, this would be sweet revenge. ‘Talking. Kissing.’
‘You kissed him?’
‘He kissed me.’
‘You bitch.’ She stormed out of the room and I breathed a sigh of guilty satisfaction.
Kirsty hadn’t returned when I switched off the light that night, nor the next morning when my alarm went off. And there was no way she could have sneaked in. I hadn’t slept a wink, as I swung from bitter triumph, to disillusionment, to anxiety as to what had become of Kirsty. I had a shower then sat brooding by the phone. Should I risk calling Paul and finding out she was with him? But it was either that or tell him she was missing in front of the whole group. I put through a call.
She wasn’t with Paul. He was silent for a moment when I told him. ‘Did you tell her everything?’
There was another pause. ‘Leave it with me.’
Half an hour later he joined us in the hotel foyer. The rest of the group had been discreet so far, not asking me where Kirsty was and stepping back when Paul came to speak to me.
‘She took another room for the night.’
‘Have you spoken to her?’
‘No. She won’t open the door.’
He shrugged and called the group together. ‘I’m sorry about the delay. Kirsty is…indisposed this morning so we’ll just have to get going…’
‘Paul? Can I talk to you…alone?’ Kirsty had suddenly appeared in our midst. Deliberately turning her back on me, she took Paul by the arm and drew him aside. I could feel the others burning with curiosity, but I got nothing but a few sympathetic looks.
After a short whispered exchange they came back towards us and I heard Paul say, ‘Can’t we do this later?’
‘No. We do it now.’
‘Then you do it.’
Kirsty gave him a disdainful look and turned to us. ‘I can’t share a room with Helen anymore. Please don’t ask me why. But I need to trade with someone.’
Debbie replied with a knowing smile. ‘Sure. I’ll trade with you. Be happy to.’
Kirsty insisted that they move their things before we set out.
But if she had hoped her little scene would garner any sympathy, she was disappointed. The group rallied around me. It became almost farcical, the consideration they showed me, and the way they would protect me from Kirsty while keeping their distance from her. For the first leg of the journey, Kirsty sat in the back of the bus, but no one sat beside her. Eventually she reclaimed the front seat, whereupon Paul joined us in the back. But even then Paul kept his own distance from the rest of us, or I should say, from me. After that morning’s scene we barely exchanged a word.
But by a strange coincidence both Paul and Kirsty were engrossed in messaging on their phones during the last leg of the drive home.
‘You’ve got beautiful hair,’ Debbie said, as she watched me brush it out of the French roll I usually had it in during the day time.
Debbie’s short crop only needed the minimum of preening but I took it as a hint. I stepped back. ‘Did you want the mirror?’
She seemed a touch flummoxed. ‘No, no. You go ahead.’
Perplexed, I went back to brushing.
‘Um…’ Debbie said, ‘I mean… look, I just wanted to say, I mean… it’s not as though I’m looking to get you on the rebound, or anything like that… but if you need to talk to… to someone who understands how you feel…’
I paused for a moment, then went on brushing, the better to gather my thoughts.
‘I mean, we could all see it… how much she was hurting you, playing up to Paul like that…’
I put the brush down. ‘Is that what you all thought? That Kirsty and I were… together?’
Debbie was beginning to blush. ‘Weren’t you?’
‘I met her five minutes before you did.’
And then we both laughed till we couldn’t breathe.
We came in late from dinner that night as we’d spent a good part of the evening walking all round Chiang Rai looking for an Italian restaurant for Mario who’d eaten little but fried rice and bananas all through the trip. Carolina was afraid he might waste away to nothing if he didn’t get a good feed of pasta soon. As neither Paul nor Kirsty had joined us, the evening was light-hearted. Debbie had announced my true relationship with Kirsty and everyone insisted on hearing my side of the story in full. I was glad to get it off my chest, but tried as best as I could not to let it reflect too badly on Paul. Somehow the kiss got mislaid in the telling, and Kirsty’s outburst was attributed only to the length of time we’d been alone together.
However, the others were not as kind. As we claimed our keys, it was noted that Kirsty’s key was missing as was Paul’s. The salacious speculation was confirmed when we unlocked the doors to our rooms, and Harry shook his head. ‘He’s not in here.’
There was nothing more I could do for Paul’s reputation.
When we flew back to Bangkok the following morning, it was Udom alone who accompanied us to the airport. Paul and Kirsty didn’t make the flight.
The Bangkok City Hotel almost felt like home. We all had a day’s shopping together in Bangkok, then I spent most of the next day at the airport as two by two the others flew home. With each departure there were hugs and tears, exchanges of addresses and futile promises to keep in touch. And now I was alone at last. I had no schedule, no itinerary, no one else to please but myself and three more days to explore this amazing city. Day one started with a late and leisurely breakfast of rice stuffed omelette and papaya with lime.
On my way out for the day I saw that Boon and Anuluck were back on duty at Reception.
‘Good morning, pretty lady,’ Boon greeted me.
‘Oh, Anuluck, could you please tell him it isn’t nice to tease a lady like that.’
Boon was put out. ‘Why not? You very pretty lady.’
Anuluck smiled. ‘Boon not teasing you, Miss Helen. Maybe in Western country men like blonde lady, but in Thailand men like beautiful lady like you. Light skin, curly black hair and long nose. I wish I have lovely long nose like you.’
I was stunned into silence. It was the first time anyone had told me I was beautiful.
In the meantime Boon and Anuluck exchanged nods. Boon leaned across the counter. ‘Hey, Miss Helen, maybe you tell us. Why Paul stay in Chiang Rai? His boss very angry. If he not back tomorrow he lose job.’
‘I can’t say, Boon. He didn’t tell me.’
‘Oh well. Maybe Sanya know. He coming back tonight.’
‘Excuse me, miss,’ a voice like JFK’s said to Anuluck from the other end of the counter, ‘but would I be able to enquire about the Highlights of Thailand tour that left here last week? I was looking for one of the passengers, a Miss Kirsty Daniels?’ The voice came from a tall, exquisitely dressed gentleman, distinguished rather than handsome, with a touch of grey in a full head of brown hair.
Anuluck exchanged a glance with Boon. ‘Sorry, sir, Miss Kirsty not registered here.’
Boon pulled Anuluck out of the drink and threw me straight into it. ‘Miss Helen here on tour. Maybe she know Miss Kirsty.’
Eyes alight with recognition, he turned to me. ‘Helen? You must be Kirsty’s roommate.’
‘And you must be Charles.’
Over a cup of coffee I fielded Charles’s questions. It would have been sweet revenge to tell Charles the truth, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’d grown to like the man on the phone and didn’t have the heart to hurt him. Instead I told him only that Kirsty had decided to stay on in Chiang Rai and was expected back the next day.
‘Oh, that’s such a shame,’ Charles said. ‘I thought I would surprise Kirsty. Maybe I should have told her I was coming, but I only knew at the last minute I could get away for a couple of days. I guess I’ll just have to cool my heels for a while.’
I thought I could give him at least one day of happiness before his eyes were opened. ‘Look, I know Bangkok City Hotel might not be your style, but it’s not too bad. Why don’t you check in here and come out with me today? I was planning to see the National Museum and I’m told the Royal Barge House is worth a look.’
Charles smiled. ‘That sounds like a plan.’
‘My goodness, that one was priceless,’ Charles laughed over his Armagnac. ‘Do you think the people who built that barge knew what they were doing when they put that garuda astride the canon?’
‘Oh, I bet they did. Freud would have loved it.’
‘Only there wasn’t much subconscious about it.’
Good company, good food and good Armagnac – I could get used to this.
Charles sat back in his armchair, all the lights of Bangkok his backdrop. ‘Thank you, Helen. I’ve had a great day. It was kind of you to take this poor lost waif under your wing.’
Now here was one American who understood irony. ‘My pleasure, kind sir.’
But then his smile faded, and I could see how weary he was, a weariness that was more than jetlag. ‘But I was so looking forward to seeing her. This is burning a hole in my pocket.’ From his inside pocket he drew out a jeweller’s box from Tiffany’s. It held an enormous solitaire diamond on a simple platinum band. ‘Do you think she’ll like it?’
I could only nod speechlessly.
‘She’s worth it. She’s the world to me. I let my first family slip away, but I’m not going to let that happen with Kirsty. I’ve been reluctant to take the plunge up to now, but with Kirsty away these few weeks…God, I’ve missed her.’
I had to get the subject away from Kirsty before I screamed at him. ‘So you have children?’
‘Yes, two. That’s how I met Kirsty, actually. The Bursar’s office at NYU had misplaced my daughter’s tuition fees. Kirsty was awfully helpful. She was on the phone to me every day until we had it sorted out. I invited her out to lunch as a thank you. And the rest, as they say…’
I could well imagine, having seen Kirsty in action. So, Charles wasn’t actually her fiancé yet. And now for her recent graduation from NYU…‘So, was Kirsty working at NYU as well as attending classes there?’
Charles grinned. ‘Attending classes? Kirsty?’
I saw Charles off to his room, but I wasn’t ready for bed yet. I was giving the porters an impromptu English lesson when Sanya found me. He confided in me over a Mae Kong whisky and water. ‘I think I find my rich American lady. She young and pretty, too. I think after we come back from Mae Hong Song she forget me, but then she send me lot of email. She say she love me, want to take me back to America. She say I wait for her. She coming back tomorrow.’
There was something a little defiant in this announcement. He must have known Kirsty was in my tour group. I doubted, though, that he knew why she had stayed in Chiang Rai. Was there anything I could do to give the poor boy a soft landing? ‘Won’t your family miss you if you go to America?’
‘Maybe. But I can send money. So my younger brothers can go to university, get good jobs, take care of my mother. In Thailand if you have no money and no friends you get nowhere. This I can do for my family.’
As I finally got up to go to bed, it was the combination of wine, Armagnac and Mae Kong that made me do it. I kissed Sanya goodnight on the cheek. ‘I wish I was a rich American lady.’
Sanya returned the kiss. ‘Me too, pretty lady.’
Charles had still heard nothing from Kirsty when we got back to the hotel after a walking tour of Chinatown. He was beginning to get worried, despite my reassurances that mobile phone reception was pretty bad up north. I lingered downstairs after Charles went up to his room, eager to get the latest update from Boon and Anuluck. Paul and Kirsty had still not arrived. Relieved, I was able to accept when Charles phoned and asked me to join him for an early dinner. We arranged to meet in the foyer at five o’clock.
I was sitting at the bar, showered and refreshed, at five to five, just in time to see Paul and Kirsty arrive. The distance between them and their grim, averted faces seemed to indicate the romantic weekend had not been a happy one. Kirsty took a key and went straight to her room, too pre-occupied checking her phone for messages to notice me. Paul headed for the bar and paused, shame-faced, when he saw me. I ordered a beer for him.
‘So, I guess I don’t have to ask how it went?’
Paul downed half his beer in one gulp. ‘You could have warned me.’
‘Would you have listened?’
‘So how rich is he, this Charles?’
‘He could buy and sell us a thousand times over. Poor bloke.’
‘Hey, Paul. Where you been? Everyone asking about you.’ It was Sanya.
He ordered a coke and sat with us. With a conspiratorial grin, he showed me a message from Kirsty on his phone: Meet u in bar in 15.
Before I could warn him Charles had joined us, grinning from ear to ear. ‘Sorry I’m late. I’ve just been talking to Kirsty. Though she doesn’t know I’m here. She’s meeting a friend down here any minute. Is it you, Helen? You haven’t let on have you?’
I was just taking a breath, wondering where to begin when we all heard it.
‘Oh, my Gaw-awd!’
Charles turned round at the sound of the familiar voice and there we all were looking at each other wordlessly – the quintessential soap opera moment. End of episode.
And the joke is that Kirsty blew the gaff herself. She was so sure we’d been talking about her that she tried to justify herself and gave the whole show away. Poor Charles. Paul, Sanya and I beat a discreet retreat, none of us feeling up to saying a word as we took a lift back to our rooms.
That was last night, so you can imagine what a surprise it was early this morning to get a call from Charles – an invitation to a ride in a limousine. I was reluctant to accept, but Charles pleaded that it was all paid for, and to please give him the pleasure of my company just one more time before he went home. I didn’t have the heart to turn him down. The limousine took me down to the nearest pier on the Chao Phraya River where Charles was waiting on a river boat. Except for the crew, the waitresses and the musicians, we had it all to ourselves.
Charles waited until we were in the middle of the river before he took out the Tiffany box and all but went down on one knee. He laid before me his estate on Cape Cod, his beach house on Martha’s Vineyard, his penthouse apartment in Manhattan, the flat in London and the pied-à-terre in Paris. He even offered to buy me a house on Sydney Harbour. I tried telling him I was from Melbourne, but it didn’t seem to register.
I was too stunned to make a coherent answer. I tried to take the ring off and give it back to him, but he insisted I keep it while I thought it over. As a sign of his goodwill, he said. The limousine brought me back here and Charles to the Shangri-la. He’s flying back to New York late tonight.
The flowers are from Sanya. I found him waiting for me downstairs. He sat me down and we had a long talk. At least there’s total honesty between the two of us. He wants me to marry him and take him to Australia. I tried to explain to him that by Australian standards I wasn’t particularly rich. But he was adamant he had no intention of living off me. He just wanted the opportunity to go to a country where he could make a decent living for himself and his family.
When he’d had his say, I got up to go, but he realised there was something more I needed to hear. He took my hand and drew me towards him. ‘Hey, pretty lady, come here. Pretty lady like you need good husband. I promise I be good husband.’ And if the kiss he gave me is anything to go by, he meant it.
After that I really needed a cold shower and to be alone to think. So I was a little short tempered when there was a knock on the door. It was Paul.
When I opened the door we both stood there in silence for a minute, not quite looking at each other, until Paul said, ‘Can I come in?’
I shrugged and stood back. He held out a gift bag to me. ‘A little going away present.’ It was the celadon figurine, of course. ‘I could see how much you liked it. I thought you’d appreciate it more than…’
My face must have softened as I cradled the dancer in my hands.
‘Shit, Helen, I’m so sorry. I’ve been such an idiot. I should have realised that you were…’
He stopped as I placed the figurine on the sideboard next to the flowers and the diamond ring.
‘Ah, I see…’
I found a postcard in the bag. There was a Melbourne address on the back.
‘My parents’ place… if you ever… I’ll be back in a couple of months.’
There were a million things I wanted to say, so I said, ‘I need to have a shower. I’ve got to be at the airport in a couple of hours.’
I let him see himself out.
So, now you know the whole story. What do you think? Is it my turn to be the bride now? Or am I still the bridesmaid?
Dressed for her journey, Helen is zipping up her suitcase. As she does so a housekeeper knocks on the door and enters. She apologises when she sees Helen is still there and withdraws. Helen calls her back.
‘Do you like flowers?’
The housekeeper nods.
Helen picks up the flowers, vase and all, and hands them to her. ‘I can’t take these home with me. Please take them.’
The housekeeper is embarrassed but accepts them and leaves.
Helen goes to the sideboard and picks up the gift bag. She carefully places the celadon dancer in it, together with the postcard.
From the folder of hotel stationery she chooses a large envelope and prints on it a name and room number at the Shangri-la Hotel. She places the jeweller’s box inside it and seals the envelope.
There is a knock on the door. A porter tells her her car has arrived. He picks her suitcase up off the bed and carries it out of the room.
Helen looks around, giving the room one last sweep. She pauses and gives us a wry smile before she follows the porter out, her two parcels in her hands.
Down in Reception she gives the gift bag and envelope to Anuluck with her whispered instructions. Anuluck seems sad, but nods.
Next to them, Boon is dealing with a male guest – a dark, handsome man with the sophisticated look of a European. ‘Maybe Miss Helen can help you.’
He turns to Helen. ‘Miss Helen, Monsieur Luc hire car not come. He going to airport, catching same plane as you. Maybe he can go in your car?’
The Frenchman surveys Helen with an appreciative smile. ‘Madame, I would be most grateful,’ he says in a rich, throaty accent.
Helen blushes and drops her eyes, but then we can see her lift her head. She looks the man in the eye and smiles back. ‘I don’t see why not. Are you visiting Australia?’
‘I have been transferred, for my business, to Melbourne.’
‘Really? What a coincidence.’
Preceded by porters carrying their luggage, Helen and Luc, already deep in conversation, go out to the waiting car. The driver, a small dark man with a gap-toothed smile, opens the door for them.
Boon and Anuluck exchange a wink and a smile.
The scene fades to black.
© Pauline Montagna 2016