There had been bombings, small ones that failed for the most part. A detonation in front of the Israeli Embassy that wounded only the bomber, a minor blast (three reported injured) outside the mall near Phrom Phong, Thailand. Still, I was shaken. In a city of a million motorbikes, the kick of an engine can sound like an explosion.
I was glad for the armed guards and metal detectors at the entrance of the American School, even if it meant another two minutes in the heat. Once inside, I followed the star-spangled signs to the Fourth of July party in the courtyard. Children ran red-faced and sweaty through the neatly-trimmed grass; their parents congregated under the white tents, nursing American beverages and tasting poor renditions of Cincinnati chili. God it was hot, almost a hundred, humidity in the high eighties, no breeze. I grabbed a bottle of water from a red ice bucket and rolled it against the back of my neck. Then I braced myself and stepped into the burger line.
“Bloody hot, isn’t it?”
I turned around slowly, when Bangkok got wet like this, it was imperative to move slowly. She looked Thai, but her accent was English. London, I guessed.
“There aren’t many places worse,” I said, and she laughed.
We spent the afternoon playing Bingo in a kindergarten classroom. Reveling in the air-conditioning, we bought card after card in hopes of winning obsolete cell phones or gift certificates to the only Carls Jr. in the city, the two of us laughed when the eight-year-olds beat us again and again. That night, we went to a restaurant in Thong Lor, Soi Sixteen or something, and ordered grilled cheese and fries and drank Coors Light and pretended like we were in Texas. By the time we’d finished the last of the beers, it was past midnight. We stumbled outside into a drizzle not even worth opening an umbrella for and started toward the skytrain. My arm around her shoulders, ever aware of the press of her damp hair against my bare skin, the curve of her bone, already imagining the heat of her body.
Then, a blast, on top of us, I can still hear her shriek. We turned around, looking for the explosion, for the carnage, the flames, the screams. Silence. The rain started coming down harder, a deluge, god bless the monsoons. It was nothing more than thunder, and when we figured that out, we laughed. Together we let the rain cover us and wash down our necks.
“We should go somewhere” she said.
“My room’s not far.”
By the time we made it inside, our shirts were soaked to our skin, earlier that night she’d taken off her heels so she could navigate through the puddles, I washed the mud off her feet and we collapsed into each other.
A week later, I told her I’d be here for another year, that my company had extended me and she smiled.
She moved into my apartment, a little place with decent internet on Ekkamai Soi 8, and we’d stay up all night drinking the same whiskey the tuk-tuk drivers drank, chasing it with Coke because we couldn’t deal with the knockoff cola.
“Let this love ferment,” she said as we ate starfruit and rambutan on the balcony and tossed the peels onto the street below. “Let it ferment like this city, how it rots and rots until it turns beautiful. Let us rot.”
I kissed her and she tasted like salt, like the ocean. Did you know that in order to ferment fruit, you must first mix salt with water to create your brine? And then for months or even years, you must let it ferment, until what remains is lactic acid, bacteria, and brine, until you’re left with something that will not spoil. Something that will make you stay.
Scott Thompsen is a Guest Writer for Panorama.
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