Several years ago Fabo and I were sitting at the garden bar of the Welkom Inn on Soi 3. I hadn't seen the Belgian oil explorer in a year. Both of us had suffered exile from Pattaya. His place of banishment was the North Sea. I was stuck in New York. We were equally glad to be away from either. He greeted me with a hug and the bargirls on the patio regarded us with neglect. We were old-timers in the Last Babylon and gesture with disgust. They only liked straight men. Newcomers to Thailand spent money like bankers on a cocaine binge.
"Papa." Fabo thought that we resembled each other.
"My son." I didn't see the likeness.
I drank San Miquel. It was made in the Philippines. Heineken was my pseudo-fils' beverage of preference. He was 31. I had been in Brussels at the age of 36 in 1988. A Walloon girl had taken me home to her parents. They had made breakfast for us in the morning. Her mother was glad that I was white.
She wasn't Fabo's mother, but he liked to think that she was.
"Good to see you>"
"Welcome back home." Fabo's skin was tanned from the sun's reflection off the sea.He had been three months without a drink. We ordered beers. The time was noon. Loso was playing on the radio. He told me about his stay on the oil rig in three seconds, "No fun. No beer. No girls."
"New York. Cold beer. No girls." Six syllables to his seven. The economy of age.
"One plus. Two negatives." Fabo had once shown a photo of his mother. The skinny punk girl with wide eyes looked familiar, but not too familiar.
"Now we're here." His nose had been mashed by too many accidents, but his eyes were arctic blue. Mine were high Nordic steel.
"You mean sa-wan," said Prueng said the Thai word for heaven. "You want go short time?"
"Sorry. No can do. I have a wife."
"Your wife not here." She was an angel with soft hair and small breasts, but I was blind to her allure.
"I know, but I love her." I had no choice, but to be true and I ordered another beer.
"Same as you love your wife." Preung's girlfriend worked at a big hotel. They were saving money to pay for her penis operation.
200,000 baht to change from a woman to a man.
I gave her 200. Fabo handed over a 500-baht note.
"It's for a good cause."
"What mean 'cause'?"
"Good for your wife."
"Good for me too."
Preung went to take up her position at the door of the Welkom. She had a long way to go to hit 200,000 baht.
"Ah, ouais, paradise." Fabo didn't mention his wife or her German lover. Saying SS Tommy's name was unlucky everywhere in the world.
"You can say that again." The heat of May gave any human a thirst."
"Here is paradise and all paradises are close to the equator.
"The equator?" I had heard his hypothesis on more than one occasion. My one attempt to explain it to Mam had met with her contempt. She had little patience for 'tawh-lay' or bullshit. All women say the same about men.
"Only 1200 miles south of here."
"I know." I had crossed the equator in the jungles of Sumatra.
"The relative speed of the earth's rotation sends more blood to your head."
"It doesn't depend on speed, but the reformulazation of the theory of gravity." Fabo recognized his conjecture was full-on mad or 'bah mak' as say the Thais and we argued about acceleration measured in m/s2, air resistance, and the downward weight force.
We were happy to sit at a bar far from the North Sea and New York.
The afternoon stretched east. We watched the men run the gauntlet before the entrance of the Welkom Inn's bar, where the interior was perpetually night and the ancient mama-san played any song from any year. The male clientele liked 1977. No matter what the nationality everyone knew the words.
Around 5pm we were surprised by the arrival of four Mid-Eastern men.
Normally Arabs frequented the smoking bars at the end of Walking Street.
"Egyptian." Fabo sniffed the air. Strong tobacco.
I bet Fabo 500 baht on their country of origin.
They bar-fined Preung and a few other girls.
Everyone was happy.
A half-hour later they exited from the bar and bought a bottle of Sky Whiskey before departing for Beach Road. They had paid for the short-time in Thai baht, but had tipped Preung in another currency.
Preung waved good-bye to the Arabs.
"Where were they from?" I asked her.
Fabo and I had both lost, but Preung flourished a handful of banknotes. The colors were strange.
Not dollar green or the green, blue, red, and purple of Thai currency.
Her co-workers cheered her order for more whiskey.
Five minutes later she brought two glasses of whiskey-coke to the bar. We were too polite to say no. Preung slapped the foreign money on the bar. It was a big pile and each bill had a lot of zeros.
They were Zaire Francs.
Fabo had worked oil platforms in the Congo and sat frozen on his seat. Someone had to pop Preung's balloon, as she reached for the free drink bell. There were about 33 people with the range of its peal.
"Drinks for everyone."
"Why not? I happy. I want everyone happy. Same me."
"Because." I read the finance section of the Herald Tribune and studied currencies.
"How much worth?"
An exchange rate came to my head.
“62 baht per million.”
Preung was holding ten million.
The buffalo herd for her father was kidnapped by disappointment. Her girlfriend stayed a woman. A 600 baht tip for a short-time wasn't bad, but no trip to paradise. Preung was Thai. Happiness came and went fast and her hand dropped from the rope hanging off the bell
"I not win. I not lose. It was nice rich one minute. You want go short-time?"
"Your wife still not here."
"She's in my head and in my heart."
"Kee-neo."Preung was accusing me of being cheap, but Fabo seized the chance. "I'll go with you."
He had been at sea three months. No fun, no beer, no women, and I was one hour late for Mam.
"Just think of it as another 1000 baht closer to 200,000." His arm encircled Preung's waist. She was no longer an heiress, but a common girl from Isaan with a good heart and smooth skin. Fabo paid the bill and they strolled to room 101. It was the closest.
"Bonne nuit, papa."
"A vous aussi, mon fils." From behind Fabo did look like me.
Only me from thirty.
Not young, but younger and therefore rich, because youth was always worth billions in both dollars and baht.
But never Zaire Francs.
ps Preung means bee in Thai.
But this Preung never stung.