When money is scarce at the end of the month the boys in brown
and black boots pay particular attention to bikers.
Not hundreds but thousands of bikers ply the streets and lanes
of this city; some are couriers, some taxis – one passenger but on occasion
i’ve seen two – and others use their bikes to get to and from work, the quickest
way to travel here as they can weave among the cars and always be on the front
row of the grid when the lights turn green. At any major intersection the noise is
deafening as they roar away and the fumes overwhelming.
Two nights each month the boys in brown set up roadblocks to check for
broken lights and faulty brakes but their main interest is driving licences.
The bikers do their best to dodge the blocks but with so many of them on the
streets and no warning where the blocks are going to be hundreds of them
I have a regular bike taxi who takes me to the train station in double
quick time whenever i’m going south and he tells me he’s been stopped
five times in two years and considers that very good odds. Some of his friends
haven’t been as lucky and one in particular has been stopped more than twenty
times. He now takes the bus at the end of the month.
My taximan says the easiest way to handle being stopped is to keep a 100 baht
note in his licence. It saves time. Once when i asked him if the boys in brown
actually check lights and brakes he looked at me and smiled. He told me, too,
he’s sure the boys in brown have a strict rule among themselves – all fines are
divided equally. Honour…
It was three in the morning, in fact a bit after three, and i was sitting at a mobile
soup kitchen on Silom Road having a bowl of hot ‘n’ sour, a great tonic after
a night on the town. The road was quiet, only a few tuc-tuc cruising up and down
on the lookout for late night stragglers like myself who wanted to go home at last
but the footpath had a fair share of passers-by even at that hour and they included
a few ring-through-the-nose packpackers who must’ve fallen off a cheap flight
from somewhere in Europe. How they ended up on Silom Road at that hour is
beyond me but they were there.
I was enjoying the soup and entering recovery mode when i noticed two ladies
of the night, one tall and the other not so tall, had stopped close to my table and
were eyeing me. This is all i need, i said to myself.
They came over and the tall one said, ‘Excuse me, Sir, we like ask something,’ and
the two of them sat. The voice was deep, the faces strong and heavily made up and i realised they were special ladies. I said and did nothing and the tall one drew from his cleavage a one-hundred dollar bill and showed it to me.
‘A nice man pay us,’ he said, ‘for going his hotel with him. He is generous, yes?’
I nodded because i knew he wanted me to agree.
‘But we sit with you, Sir, not to tell this but for another reason, we need your help,’ and he took from his cleavage wads of notes and handed them to me.
‘Can you tell, Sir, what these are and how much they are. We not see this money before. You see it before, Sir? Is good money?’
I flattened the notes out and said, ‘They’re dirhams.’
‘Dirhams, the currency of the UAE.’
‘You see this money before and it is good?’
‘Yes, it’s the money they use in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.’
‘And it is good?’
‘It’s perfectly good money.’
He smiled and said, ‘The man say he is from Dubai. He is a nice man, Sir,
and nice in bed, he like the two of us very much.’
I ignored the too much information and counted the money.
‘How much is it, Sir? In US dollar, how much?’
I made a rough calculation and said, ‘A lot.’
‘About three thousand dollars.’
‘Three hundred, no?’
‘No, about three thousand.’
‘Yes, sure. Three thousand.’
He translated for his not so tall companion and the two of them let out a series of whoops that caused the soup lady to leap out of her flip-flops and every window
on Silom Road to rattle and a few to crack. When they calmed down the tall one
asked me, ‘And this money is good?’
‘Yes, it’s good money.’
‘If we take it to the bank we have a problem? Will the bank change to baht?’
‘I don’t see why not.’
‘No problem. The banks here are used to changing dirhams and Saudi riyals
and Kuwaiti dinars, they handle Middle East money all the time.’
He took the dirhams very gently from my hands, folded them and put them back
in his cleavage. I was tempted to ask how he got hold of them but i didn’t have to.
‘We take from the drawer at his bed when he have a shower,’ he said ‘and we run.
He is a nice man, a good kisser and we feel bad but we need money.’
He stood up and his companion stood, too.
‘Thank you very much, Sir, for your help. You a nice man, too.’
The pair brought their hands together in that loveliest of Thai gestures, a wai,
and bowed their heads. In a few strides they were on the road, had flagged
a tuc-tuc and were gone.
I went back to my now cold soup and only then did i notice the one hundred
dollar bill under the bowl. How he managed to put it there without my
seeing i’ll never know. But he did. Payment i suppose for financial services