Four years my friend, Pi-Noi, brought his work crew down from Ban Nok to install an air-conditioning system in a Pattaya bar. The 400-kilometer drive gave them a healthy thirst and Pi-noy was happy to be away from his harridan of a wife. The shrew never had a good word for him and like to hit Pi-Noy with a stick when he tried to argue with her.
That night under my mango tree we drank a case of Chang Beer. Nearing midnight the bottles were empty, but the out-of-towners wanted more and I introduce them to cheap Russian vodka.
Aficionados of lao khao or rice whiskey they downed the fiery liquor in minutes. The only evidence of being mao was the cranking up of our volume. Especially me and despite Pi-Noi's claim that I’m the last surviving speaker of Neanderthal Thai, the vodka emboldened my tongue to disregard any linguistic failings and to my wife’s dismay I launched into a ghost tale.
“Phi?” Thais love ghost story.
I kept the story simple and told them about a trip to Jamaica for an underwater photo shoot. LIFE had hired my friend to shoot the female lead of SPLASH. Bathing suits and bikinis. I was his assistant. I had never heard of her. She was the star of SPLASH. A comedy about a mermaid falling in love with a mortal man.
"Ngeuuak," Pi-Noi asked with interest.
"Ngeuuak." The mermaid myth was known to every sea-going culture.
"Suay mak." Darryl Hannah was a blonde goddess.
"We stayed at an old hotel. Hotel have ghost."
"Pee ngeuuak?" Thais have scores of designation for ghosts; phee phohng 'evil spirit' phraai water ghost, bpee saat or 'animal ghost' et al.
"No, ghost old lady." I continued how the actress had complained about a female ghost entering her room. She was barely visible. Her words were echoes. Darryl was frightened by the encounter and wanted to sleeping my room.
"Sex with mermaid, good."
"No, my friend is jealous. Says he won't pay me, if I sleep with me."
"Yes, he was bird shit. I get revenge by drinking rhum lao. I drink lots of Rhum.” 150 proof quelled the disappointment of not having sex with a movie star. “Mao mak. I go sleep. Someone touches my shoulder. I think it’s puying farang suay.”
I really did think it was Darryl Hannah.
Instead my visitor was a long-haired apparition of an 80 year-old woman.
“Mai puying suay. Phi gair. Phee.”
I acted out the part of an ectoplasmic old lady.
"Guah." Pee-Noi and his crew shivered with collective fear.
"Not scared. Mao." I dismissed the old ghost and fell back to sleep in a drunken stupor. The tale was meant to be funny, but at its end Pi-Noi demanded with a chill, “Ching?”
“True 100%. The ghost was as real as you or me.”
“You sex with her?”
“No way.” I was too drunk to do anything but tell her to fuck off.
“Mai shua.” He preferred to think that I had made love to a ghost.
A really old ghost.
His friends told it was funny, until I refused to open another bottle of vodka. Pi-Noi rolled his eyes.
“Didn’t you like my story?”
His face was set with anger. “You don’t make fun of ghosts.”
“They do in the movies.” Thais at the Big C Theater roared hilariously about headless ghosts chasing fools through the night. I laughed too.
“Not same. This your house.”
“You believe in ghosts?”
Pi-Noi shrugged, as if he take them or leave them.
"I only scared my wife." "I understand that."
I was scared of his wife too.
And I suspect so were most ghosts.