Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Back to Mum's shop: Family loss, Tock finds a mate

I spent a few hours at my old drinking haunt, Mum’s shop in Pin Khlao.

No, not Ball’s Mum – but the other Mum I know, who runs a small corner shop over that way which I visited regularly before I moved into town.

On a whim, I called her, our first contact in months.

‘I am just back from Isan. My sister lost her son to tuberculosis, and I attended the funeral,’ she said sadly.

‘When would you like to see me?’

I had been thinking of a catch-up, so left home soon after we finished on the phone.

Mum’s younger sister Isra, who is still in the provinces tidying up after the funeral, gets back next week. She spends most of her days in Bangkok, helping Mum and her husband run the shop.

I met Isra’s children most recently three years ago. Her son Bon was aged 16 when he died, two days after being admitted to hospital.

‘He came down with a chest infection before he died, and was always getting the flu. However, there were no signs that this was about to happen,' said Mum.

'He had only just enrolled in school for the new term, but died before he could start,’ she said, crying.

Two women friends in their 40s turned up to boost her spirits as Mum told the sad story of her nephew.

The night was not without funny moments. One woman made supportive sounds for half an hour before Mum realised that they were on different wavelengths.

Her woman friend thought Mum was talking about the death of someone else.

I called Isra to pass on my regrets. We spoke for a minute on Mum's phone when the signal gave up.

Mum called back. ‘Mali has passed on his regrets...so let’s talk about something else,’ she told her sister matter-of-factly. I laughed.

A familiar face turned up at the shop. It was Mr Tock  – a young lad with sad eyes who likes wearing plaid shorts.

He was wearing them again last night when he dropped in to buy cigarettes.

Tock recognised me, and asked where I had been.

'I moved to a new part of town, and don't visit much any more,' I said.

Years ago when I first knew him, I chased Mr Tock down the road to ask if he was single. I also asked Mum to sound him out on my behalf. An excerpt from a blog post back then:

She asked him if he would like to find a mate. 'I would, but no one wants me,' he said sadly. Why should he feel that way, I wonder - because he looks small and feminine? He does, but that's probably not it.

He does not have much money, and knows that Thai girls like to be looked after? That's a more likely explanation, as I have heard it from my straight friends before.

Tock has now found a mate, readers will be pleased to know.

‘I have a girlfriend – and we have a child, aged one,’ he said proudly.

However, Tock, who looked a little worse for wear, was out of a job.

‘I have finished my studies, but can’t find work,’ he said.

Tock made his apologies and left.

Mum and I, meanwhile, joked about my enduring search for Mr Right.

For as long as Mum has known me, I have been chatting up men. We laugh about it, but I know she worries that I will end up with someone who will only break my heart.

While sitting at her shop, I called Mr Noom, a youngster from Isan whom I met a couple of weeks ago close to my work.

He was working at a streetside eatery where I order laab moo before work.

However, a week ago he returned to the provinces to resume his studies.

Mum overheard our conversation.

‘Is that your new fancy man?’ she asked.

'He is...though we are still getting to know each other,' I said.

I also told Mum about my slum friend Ball. Almost apologetically, I mentioned his age - just 19.

‘I don’t care about his age – is he a good person?’ she asked.

As Mum chatted to her friends, I walked into the soi next to her corner store.

I passed a smart cafe/eatery where once I entertained hopes of finding a job for boyfriend Maiyuu, selling bakery products.

Since I last saw the shop, it has expanded to twice its original size, and now has a small bar. I spotted owner Wut, wandering about inside, but few customers.

‘Hardly anyone goes there,’ said Mum.

Pin Khlao, one of the oldest and poorer parts of town, has a large student population. Out here, They appear to prefer taking cheap meals by the roadside, or even barn-like bar-b-que eateries by the river, rather than in the air-conditioned comfort of a cafe.

Mum’s shop itself is all but dead, from what I can tell. Few if any of the young people who used to drink there bother any more.

I have offered to pay a return visit next week, when Mum’s sister Isra will have returned.

Ball’s mother called.

Her son was waiting for a drink, she said.

Ball and his girlfriend Jay start work tomorrow.

Yesterday, Mum visited a market to buy the last few pieces of the black and white uniform which Jay will wear to work.

I contributed nothing towards that, but I did give her money towards a pair of work shoes for Ball.

‘I have decided not to buy him any more black pants. He can wear the ones we wore to his last job, even though they have a hole in one knee. I am not sure how long he will last in his new job, so why take the risk?’ she said.

At Ball’s place, where I turned up an hour later, I did little talking.

At Pin Khlao, I felt my world had grown. Back in the slum, I felt it had shrunk again.

Ball's mother knew I had been in Pin Khlao, but did not seem interested when I told her the story of my ties to that place.

We watched a movie. Ball sat across from me, while his girlfriend perched moodily on the couch between us.

When the brown stuff had ended, I left.

Ball’s mother could tell my mood had changed. She asked what time I started imbibing.

Her son, who also noticed the change, looked at me with his sad eyes, but said nothing.

I felt sorry for him, but did not linger.

We talk best when we are alone. We seldom get the chance these days, which is a pity. So the game carries on.

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