Under that jungle canopy, climbing up the mountainside on Yai's back, I told her about Sergeant Henderson, the motel, Ma, Clint Eastwood. She told me about her Ohio childhood, the New York City skyline, NASCAR, TJ Maxx, the drinking habits of American teenagers. I told her about Pamela, my last American girlfriend, and how she promised me her heart but never answered any of my letters. Lizzie nodded sympathetically and told me about her bastard boyfriend Hunter, whom she'd left last night at their hotel on the other side of the Island after finding him in the arms of a young prostitute. "That fucker," she said. "That whore." I told Lizzie she should forget about him, she deserved better, and besides Hunter was a stupid name anyway, and we both shook our heads and laughed at how poorly our lovers had behaved.
We came upon a scenic overlook. The sea rippled before us like a giant blue bedspread. I decided to give Yai a rest. He sat down gratefully on his haunches. For a minute Lizzie and I just sat there on the elephant's back looking out at the ocean, the wind blowing through the trees behind us. Yai was winded from the climb; we rose and fell with his heavy breaths. I told Lizzie about how the Sergeant and my mother used to stand on the beach, point east, and tell me that if I looked hard enough I might be able to catch a glimpse of the California coast rising out of the Pacific horizon. I pointed to Ma's motel below, the twelve bungalows like tiny insects on a golden shoreline. It's amazing, I told Lizzie, how small my life looks from such a height.
Lizzie hummed contentedly. Then she stood up on Yai's back.
"Here's your shirt," she said, tossing it at me.
With a quick sweeping motion, Lizzie took off her bikini top. Then she peeled off her bikini bottom. And then there she wasmy American angelnaked on the back of Uncle Mongkhon's decrepit elephant.
"Your country is so hot," she said, smiling, crawling toward me on all fours. Yai made a low moan and shifted beneath us.
"Yes, it is," I said, pretending to study the horizon, rubbing Yai's parched, gray back.
After Rambo, lunch with my mother, and a brief afternoon nap, I walk out the door to meet Lizzie at the restaurant when Ma asks me what I'm all dressed up for.
"What do you mean?" I ask innocently, and Ma says, "What do I mean? Am I your mother? Are you my son? Are those black pants? Is that a button-down shirt? Is that the silk tie I bought for your birthday?"
She sniffs my head.
"And is that my nice mousse in your hair? And why," she asks, "do you smell like an elephant?"
I just stand there blinking at her questions.
"Don't think I don't know," she says finally. "I saw you, luk. I saw you on your motorcycle with that farang slut in her bikini."
I laugh and tell her I have hair mousse of my own. But Ma's still yelling at me when I go to the pen to fetch Clint Eastwood.
"Remember whose son you are," she says through the day's last light, standing in the office doorway with her arms akimbo. "Remember who raised you all these years."
"What are you talking about, Ma?"
"Why do you insist, luk, on chasing after these farangs?"
"You're being silly, Ma. It's just love. It's not a crime."
"I don't think," Ma says, "that I'm the silly one here, luk. I'm not the one taking my pet pig out to dinner just because some farang thinks it's cute."
I make my way down the beach with Clint Eastwood toward the lights of the restaurant. It's an outdoor establishment with low candlelit tables set in the sand and a large pit that the bare-chested chefs use to grill the day's catch. The restaurant's quite popular with the farangs. Wind at their backs, sand at their feet, night sky above, eating by the light of the moon and the stars. It's romantic, I suppose. Although I'm hesitant to spend so much money on what Ma calls second-rate seafood in a third-rate atmosphere, Lizzie suggested we meet there for dinner tonight, so who am I to argue with love's demands?
This is the complete text of 'Farangs', one of seven short stories collected in Sightseeing. Copyright © 2005 by Rattawut Lapcharoensap. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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