|Night view of some of the same area seen in the day in Part 1.|
Things went better for Chaa after the first couple of times he was taken out of the club by a customer, meaning after he'd had time to learn more of the game from Na. More often than not he was able to manipulate the situation by feigning ignorance (real or not), playing on the emotions of the customer, declining to do something he found unpleasant or offering different services than what had been requested. Most times the farang on vacation didn't want to go back to the club and try again, so they gave in and settled for what Chaa would do with them. Sometimes his tip was cut some because of that, but it was worth it if the customer had horrible personal hygiene, an aversion to showering or some physical thing that Chaa simply couldn't rise to the occasion for. We won't go into all he shared about this, in case you're eating.
Dee got into the habit early on of fondling Chaa when he'd pass within reach, as did Boss. Dee seemed to do it with everyone, and since the others had found a way to turn it into a playful thing with no harm intended, Chaa went along with it. He added his own line to it, sticking his hand out at her after a grab and saying "Twenty baht!" The others soon joined in, and as odd as it sounds they pulled together as many others do in trying circumstances and became somewhat of a half-ass family, looking after and taking care of each other.
Boss, on the other hand, became a handful - especially when he was expecting or demanding access to what he considered his property. He would punish them in a variety of ways, but the worst of it wasn't even a specific punishment, it was his unpredictable outbursts of temper when he would sometimes lash out at the closest guy who wasn't quick enough to get out of his way.
As close as I've been able to figure it out he actually had a horse rider's crop he kept with him most of the time, except during business hours. When he was conducting his "pep talks" he'd sometimes snap it on a table top for emphasis, but it was talked of in hushed tones that he'd struck a few boys in his time, and none were still there when Chaa had heard about that. He also had a voracious appetite for the boys themselves, and was liable to demand favors at any time. As he was rather rough with them many had left his employ for that very reason.
When he was looking for some company upstairs, either before work or as the club was closing, he'd walk around the club whistling the same tune every time, leer at the guys one by one and then have Dee let them know that it was their turn. Chaa didn't know the tune was, but when he whistled it for me, I recognized "I'm In The Mood For Love", although I didn't try to explain this perversity to him. Nobody there was happy to hear him whistling the tune, and some even left work early if it was near closing time, risking the fine for doing so, and boy, did Boss love coming up with fines for his guys.
There were so many possible infractions that Dee was assigned the task of keeping track of them, and they changed so often that even she had trouble remembering some of them. Showing up five minutes late was one fine, more than 15 minutes late was a higher one, an hour late and you didn't get your "salary" for the night. You were fined for not getting enough drinks bought for you within a specific period of time, or for not getting an off in a few days. In addition, Dee would sometimes be instructed to discourage customers that spoke with her from selecting you, so you ran out of money and had to borrow from your friends or rely on them to eat.
Chaa was popular with the boss and he cringed with he heard the whistling because he knew he may be in for another rough ride, but he felt obligated and somewhat trapped. The first night Boss was kind of nice to him, but shortly thereafter he became rougher and more physical with Chaa. To begin with he called Chaa "Dark Eyes", but that gave way to a nickname Chaa didn't understand and I won't repeat here on the blog. I didn't explain it to him when he asked my friend and I, either, but we told him it wasn't a nice word. At the time Chaa just said "Well, he not nice."
The week before I met him Chaa was talking with Na one afternoon and told him he just didn't think he could do the job any more. Being a very nice looking young man he'd been popular with the customers and had been taken off by quite a few who were overly kind to him and tipped him generously. Maybe they realized he was still relatively new and unspoiled, maybe they sensed he was truly a gentle soul who didn't fit the often raucous club life so many of the guys fall into - a life of partying, shiny baubles, cell phones and, worst of all, drugs. Chaa was intent on saving every bit he could and sending it home. His immediate goal was to earn enough to replace their still-ailing water buffalo, have a new roof put on the house and add some to the family savings as a back-up.
He ate as cheaply as he could, bought slightly used clothes from his flashier friends as they tired of them and bought new ones and even had a friend cut his hair. He had just sent a large amount home for his father toward the purchase of a young male water buffalo, and now had only enough to eat for a day or so unless he got more money at work... but he was fed up with being used and abused, and just wanted to go home.
Two days before I'd met him he'd been into work early to lock a gift he'd bought for his father in his locker, and he heard the whistling. Chaa tried to get himself out of the club before Boss saw him and was just a few feet from a clean getaway when Boss called out his name and told him to stop.
He was leering and wiggling his eyebrows at Chaa as he approached him (it was funny when Chaa did it for us, but I'm sure it wasn't at the time) and this time Chaa said "No". As Boss's face got red and he began to charge through the club at Chaa, Chaa picked up the only thing within his reach - a common broom - and swung it to keep Boss away, cursing at him. While swinging the broom it slipped out of his hands and flew across the club; the bristle end knocking a light down and the handle smashing two bottles of liquor. Boss flew into a rage that just seemed to grow and grow.
Dee came running from the back when she heard the glass breaking, and arrived just in time to see Boss with the broom held in his hand, gripped near the bristles and wound up to strike Chaa with the handle. Chaa cowered against the wall and turned by reflex to protect his front side. Boss swung and Chaa felt the intense snap of the handle across his thighs. Dee shrieked and began begging Boss to stop, but he turned on her, ordering her to stay out of it unless she wanted some of the same. She shouted across to Chaa to run and he was already heading towards the door when Boss caught up with him and gave him the blow that would leave the second bruise I saw.
In front of the club Chaa met a few of his co-workers arriving to the club who understood by the fear on his face that he was in trouble, and they intercepted Boss as he came storming through the club door. Several of them held him back, wrestled the broom away from him and shoved him back through the club door that Dee had been holding open, watching it all unfold.
Boss was still bellowing and screaming for blood, saying he had friends who would "take care of" Chaa if he didn't pay for the damage and lost booze, and that he knew where he lived, so there would be no getting away. One of the guys went into the back and phoned Chaa to alert him.
By opening time Dee had managed to calm Boss down, telling him that Chaa had been contacted and that he was sorry and would pay off the damages, which was true. What Dee didn't tell him was that Chaa planned to leave and go back to his family as soon as he paid it off. Boss agreed - and the next night, being a man of his word, Chaa returned to the club.
Up front the guys all acted normally, but when Boss would be out of the room several came over to congratulate him for standing up for himself. One said he would have used the broomstick to do to Boss what Boss had done to most of them. (Although Chaa was pretty somber while relating this saga to my friend and I, when he got to this part he laughed until he nearly choked).
When I took him out of the club that night he still had a tab owed to Boss - and no money for his ticket home. After we'd finished talking that night I asked if he wanted to sleep in the unused bed in my room, and he nodded yes. I got him to understand that I needed to get some of my copious notes in order before I went to sleep, and handed him the remote for the TV. He said "I shower," and went into the bathroom, where I heard the water running for a while and then the sounds of someone splashing in the bath tub. After he started draining the tub Chaa showered, came out with the towel wrapped around him and announced "Play water!"
I wondered what he was talking about, so I went into the bathroom to look while he crawled into his bed, propping himself up and flipping on the television to a Thai channel. He'd taken the bubble bath liquid I'd bought at Watson's or some place there for a lark, read the Thai directions and taken a bubble bath. He told my friend the next day that he'd never had a tub bath before, which isn't at all surprising; at home he used a plastic bowl to pour water over his head from a large drum of water in their bathing area.
I worked for a short while and then showered and crawled into my own bed and slept. The next morning we went for a walk on the beach where no conversation of any importance was needed, but I had time to think.
When my friend arrived around lunchtime we spent a few more hours talking with Chaa, and I corrected my hasty notes from the night before. While Chaa was using the bathroom I asked my friend "What do you think? Do you think it's a legitimate story? How much of this do you buy?" My friend said he believed in it enough to pay part of Chaa's fine and his ticket home if I wanted to do the rest of it. His opinion was good enough for me, so when Chaa came out my friend asked him if he wanted to go home - today.
Chaa looked puzzled for a moment, but when he realized what we were proposing he burst into a wide grin and started speaking excitedly in Thai. What he was saying was "Really? Really? You will help me do this? REALLY?" Turning to me he asked "Sure?" "Sure," I said. Chaa was nearly beside himself and he hopped - actually hopped - around the room, like a kid on Christmas morning.
We took him to his room and my friend went in with him while I waited in the car. He bundled up what little he had there and told one of his roommates that he was going to live someplace else. We left his stuff in my room while we went and ate and did some shopping for small things he wanted to take home with him, and when we figured Dee would be at the club we stopped in there. Dee knew what his bill was, and we had her call Boss down so I could have the satisfaction of handing him the cash and letting him know myself that Chaa was leaving. Boss took the money, but told us to get out of his club, which we gladly did.
We went and picked up Chaa's belongings from my room and took him to the bus depot, where I gave him money for his ticket home and another sizable chunk my friend thought should pay for the roof repairs they'd need done soon, as the rainy season was bearing down on them. Chaa was again overwhelmed, but he had the sense not to bounce around the bus depot like he had earlier. "Thank you...thank you," he kept saying, repeatedly unfolding the bundle of cash from his pocket, then folding it up and putting it away again, as if it would disappear if he didn't keep checking it. "I happy. I happy."
My friend - who is easily old enough to be Chaa's father, as I am - gave him a lecture of sorts, saying he'd better not find him working like this again, and Chaa said he had no intentions of ever doing that again. Turning to me he said "Finit (finished). Shuah." Although farm work would be tougher he knew he belonged with his family, and still looked forward to starting one of his own. He pulled out a photo out of his wallet of a lovely young woman he identified as his girlfriend, the girl he intended to marry.
When it came time for him to board the bus we said our farewells and Chaa hugged both of us, thanking us again. He was crying, but they were tears of gratitude - and I wiped my eyes as he climbed up into the bus and waved at us from his seat by the window. When the bus pulled away I said to my friend "Well, honey... there goes our boy!" My friend laughed and pushed me away, saying "You're crazy, you know that?" "Yes, I know," I said, "but sometimes it's a good kind of crazy."
[As a follow-up - for those of you who like such things - with my friend's help I've been in sporadic contact with Chaa. He's remained in Saraburi, married his girlfriend (she now lives with him and his family) and has a baby boy - who it appears in the photo I saw to have inherited Chaa's eyes.]
|Chaa's dark eyes|