Eggs wasn't his name; I made that up after we had gone our separate ways, never to see each other again. From this distance - and time here is the geography; this story is 30 years old - some details are scant; pieces are missing, and I appear as a stranger even to myself. I remember the boy on the beach, the girl in the pink skirt and the sugar. Those parts of the story are clear.
We had caught the same flight from London to Bangkok. For Eggs, Thailand was his destination; I was on a stop-over before returning home to Brisbane. I had spent the previous three years backpacking around Europe, bragging rights being my only goal, “Hey, I backpacked around Europe.”
Have you ever gone looking for something and did not know how to find it because you didn't know what you were looking for? You’re aware something is missing, a piece that prevents you from completing the puzzle, but which piece and where could it be? In the sand dunes of the Negev desert? On a beach in Portugal? The Scottish Highlands? I had hoped backpacking and living outside of my comfort zone might shake me awake so I could see. I roamed from Jerusalem to Pamplona and nothing. My eyes stayed firmly shut. I could not see what I was looking for.
Then I met Eggs.
I imagine we met at the airport, at the luggage carousel perhaps. I watched him lift his backpack, and he would watch me do the same. He would have thought, "Aww, another backpacker," and nodded, like we shared a bond.
He would have walked towards me, a cheeky grin parting his pinched face, hair hidden under a bandana that told me what he wanted it to, that he was cool, dude. He was as young as me; a razor blade had barely scraped his chin. Yet he looked aged, as if, like his backpack, he carried more weight than his stature could support.
He was friendly and forward. I can only claim one of those traits, the former. It took more than two drinks for me to say hello to a stranger. Not Eggs. He marched straight towards me, with a smile. Happy, perhaps, that he'd met a like-minded traveller (I guessed my backpack drew him to this conclusion) or, he saw in me a taxi fare to the city centre. Who doesn't beam at a half-price cab?
"Off to K road then?" he said, slinging his pack over his narrow shoulders, legs buckling under the weight. I wanted to prop him up. He was not a big guy, by any measure. His accent, though, was huge. I knew England enough to know Yorkshire was his home and Leeds United was his team. I'm guessed he was here for the beaches.
I guessed wrong.
"Yes," I replied. By "K" road, he meant Khao San Road. I knew his lingo because I, too, had studied the guidebook, reading, and highlighting places of interest; the best places to eat and sleep; how to get from A to B. To my housemates in the cold Victorian terrace we shared in London, I gave the impression I was cramming for a University exam; so intense was my interest. I just didn't want to get anything wrong.
“Come on then, we can share a rickshaw.”
I didn't have time to think about it and trotted off after him, like an obedient dog, and he had whistled, "come." Any attempt we made to converse, cramped as we were in the back of the rickshaw, soon proved pointless. Here drivers considered the horn a far more critical tool than the brake or clutch and rode it endlessly. Our attempts to get to know each other were drowned out by the needless, Honk! Honk! Honk!
In the guidebook, sensibly called Southeast Asia on a Shoestring, I highlighted several hostels recommended for their cleanliness and price. Eggs, it turned out, had been to Bangkok before; I was privy to visit number three and he already knew where we were staying.
"'Driver, 'ere,". The driver slows to a stop in front of a tallish, narrow building, plain, several stories high, sprouting from a garden terrace with a bar and somewhere to eat. Guests pouring milk over cornflakes gawked as if we had just descended the steps of a spaceship. We were like aliens in our clothes, still smelling of Persil Ultra Clear, our skin a delicate shade of English winter white.
Our rooms were simple concrete boxes with a ceiling fan, a mattress on the floor, and a mosquito net hung above. Mine had brown water stains leeching from the corner cornicing. Our baggage stowed in lockers, we rendezvoused in the garden bar to drink and watch “K” Road like it was a movie marathon. Twenty-something-old kids tanned and tattooed or like us, clean, waiting, and willing to go native (all it took was a beach, sarong, and half an ounce it seemed) strode the streets, up and down, back and forth, owning it. And in a sense, they did. Once a rice market, the road was now home to this disparate lot; kids in gap years, kids with trust funds, kids with drug problems, kids escaping home, their lives, parents, and church. Here you could get lost. Is that what I wanted? To lose myself.
I told Eggs about my travels around Europe; how I milked cows in the Scottish Highlands, the time I dropped acid at Glastonbury and spent the night dancing to the Orb in Joe Bananas rug store. Not to forget being so stoned in Amsterdam I concluded a geometrical equation contained the answer to the meaning of life. Running with the bulls. Oktoberfest.. And so on.
“You’re gonna love it here mate, the girls love guys like you and me,” was his response.
I didn't realise we were talking about girls; I thought we were sharing war stories. But as I learnt, over beers and cigarettes, Eggs had only one story to tell, and it involved pussy. Eggs shared his yarns, from a trip he took to Australia, a vacation that sourly disappointed him. He rattled off the backpacker hotspots - Cairns, Byron Bay, Sydney, the Outback. It seemed Eggs had failed to get laid in any destination.
“What about the reef?” I asked. “Did you go snorkelling?”
He mumbled about being too hungover, and we moved on to the next subject. "Thailand," he said. "This is the place, you'll see."
I didn't do well with girls. I figured I would, one day, when I’m ready. I was happy not to get laid. I wasn't a virgin. I just didn’t get the fuss. There was the odd time, usually because the girl threw herself at me like a cannonball and I a castle waiting to be conquered. That was the case in Israel. In London, there was this girl too at a party. Both times left me feeling empty. No surprise I didn't want more.
Eggs told me about a girl he met on his last trip and hoped to find her again.
I failed to sleep well. Perhaps it was the beers perhaps, the jetlag, the spider the size of my hand that laid in wait on the ceiling or the melancholy I felt.
We met for breakfast. The guidebook said to have yoghurt each day in these parts to prevent the shits. So I did. Not him.
"Two fried eggs, sunny side up on toast," he told our server. I told him my plans for the day; a visit to the Reclining Buddha, one of the largest statues in Thailand. He nodded, "Yeah, yeah, sounds great, mate," and then our food arrived. My yoghurt crowned fresh fruit and was delicious; Eggs' eggs were pale and runny, the whites barely set, the toast anaemic. He reached for the sugar bowl and sprinkled a teaspoon of raw sugar on each egg. Before I could even gasp in horror, he told me I should try it. "Bloody delicious."
For the short time, we knew each other, his breakfast did not change. Hence Eggs.
He tagged along on my sightseeing day. We shuffled barefoot through the temple, lit incense, threw pennies into a wishing well and afterwards, I went to buy a souvenir. He told me no. "Don't waste your money mate, save if for the girls tonight."
We ate noodles cooked in a broth for lunch by a lady sitting on a plastic tarp on the footbath by the temple. She ladled the soup into big bowls and offered us china spoons. Eggs squatted Thai style to eat his. I stood. I was not that agile. The soup was good.
Eggs asked if I had a girlfriend. I said no.
“The girl, the one on the island, she has a sister.”
"So, you're coming to the islands with me then?" I queried.
"Yeah, mate, someone's gotta show you the ropes." What, to hang myself? It wasn't that I didn't like Eggs; he was fun, for a minute. But his endless chatter about girls only deepened my own anxiety about sex. Couldn't we just take a boat cruise to the floating markets without me having to hear his threesome story?
He planned our last night in Bangkok, which was spent drinking rum and cokes in a bar with no name, just a pink neon sign that screamed Girls, Girls, Girls. On stage, a Thai girl danced, if dancing was the right way to describe a naked woman popping ping pong balls from her vagina. A snake was draped around her neck for added drama. Men of all shapes and ages cheered and leered. Scantily dressed waitresses worked hard for tips. For extra, I could take one to a back room and "sucky, sucky, sucky.”
“See,” Eggs punched me on the arm, “I told you.”
He chatted with one girl who toyed with him, she was the cat, and he was the cornered mouse. It was both painful and playful to watch. He placed his hands on her hips, only to have her push him away. This game continued until the penny dropped, and he put some Baht notes in a jar that rested on a drinks tray she carried. His hands could stay for a little longer. Girls threw themselves at me too, but my polite yet firm "no thank-you" was met with hostility. Saying no in a bar advertising girls, girls, girls was a no, no, no.
So, I left.
I told him I was going across the street to watch the kickboxing.
"Aww, come on, what about her, over there?" He pointed at one of many girls working the bar, like my refusal to play cat and mouse has something to do with sex appeal.
I told him I’d see him in the morning and spent an hour or so watching two young men, their bodies all muscled and tattooed boxing with their feet, glistening with sweat. I relaxed. Spectators picked sides, made bets, drank beer. We all cheered and jeered. I ate from a street vendor and found a rickshaw to take me back to the hostel.
Sleep evaded me. Was this backpacking? Bars and temples?
At breakfast, he asked how the kickboxing was.
“I just had a beer and left.” I lied. I had about three. I enjoyed myself. “How was the girl?”
“Not good ‘ah?”
“What, a dud root?”
“You won’t say anything to anyone, will ya?”
“Of course not.” Who the fuck did he think I was going to tell?
“She had a dick.”
To this day, I do not know how I kept myself from bursting out in laughter.
We caught the train south, where we took the ferry to the island from our final stop. We rented bamboo huts on the beach and hung in a communal area where we ate lunch and read Wilbur Smith novels left by other backpackers. We smoked pot and watched the sunset.
In my journal, I wrote, "Why am I here?"
"Can you ride a motorbike," Eggs asked at breakfast?
“No, can you?”
“Sure, Lets hire one, you can sit behind me.”
We rode from one beach to the next, ate fish and chips at the more touristy end of the island and then backtracked to where we were staying. I read and watched fishermen cast nets into the still water. Eggs wanted to nap before going out.
That night we hit the bars. The area had all the charms of a drunken 21st party. Most drinkers were Australians, Poms, or Kiwis, living up to stereotypes. Everyone was having fun. Everyone, that is, except me. Eggs had no intention of making friends, hanging with his English patriots, or singing, “I Come From a Land Downunder.” There was only one thing on his mind, and I felt obliged to tag along.
“This is it,” he said. The bar was brightly lit, and fairy lights formed a crude canopy over the sandy path that led to the front door. Eggs told the waitress who serves us rum and cokes the girl's name, and soon, she and the other waitresses all started to squeal with excitement. They sounded like seagulls being fed chips. "He's back. Her Knight in shining armour is back," I imagine them saying. The girl appeared a few minutes later, throwing her arms around him. They talked for a moment before she went back to work.
“When the bar closes, we can go back to her place, you can meet the sister.”
“I’m tired,’ I tell him.
“Don’t be like that, you promised.”
The sisters live in a small dwelling constructed of besser bricks that needed a lick of paint. It's clean enough. There's a small portable television, a refrigerator and a kettle. However, no kitchen and a poster of Tom Cruise, dipping his Ray-Bans in his Risky Business pose, was tacked to the wall with sellotape. A plastic pot plant lent a splash of colour. We all sit on the sofa and the elder sister serve Cokes. Soon she and Eggs disappear.
The younger sister, dressed in a tight-fitting pink miniskirt shuffled closer to me. "Nice music," I lied. The brand of Thai disco she played was, to be polite, was like listening to a cat drowning. She took my hand and eased me into her room, sitting on the polyester pink bed sheet and urging me to do the same. I sat. She took her top off. I did too, and before I could reach for the button to my shorts, she took charge.
“Do you have a condom?” she asked, “No worry. I have one.”
When I’m done, I stand and gather my clothes. She sees that I am leaving.
“You do not like me? What is wrong?”
“I thought you wanted girlfriend?”
I never said that.
I felt as shitty as I could making my way back, to the beach hut, the sound of the waves guiding the way.
I knew where I was going.
In the morning, Eggs returned with his girl.
Her: “You not like my sister? What is wrong with her?”
Eggs: “You shouldn’t have gone with her if you didn’t like her mate.”
I only thought that.
He and the girl took off on the bike.
I spent the day alone, walking the beach, reading. In the evening, Eggs returned, alone.
“You really upset her mate.”
There was a full moon party on a neighbouring island in two days. We biked to the ferry and caught the boat across. The girl stayed behind. She had work.
Since disembarking Thai Airways Flight 101, I managed a smile for the first time. We ate magic mushrooms, drank rum and bought amphetamines at a pharmacy. The drugs, the music, the moon, the people, the dancing all created a spectacle I fell into, head first.
I lost myself to the beat. Seeing other guys shirtless, I followed suit. Although the truth is everyone was fitter than me, so I hesitated, but finally, I told myself, no one cared.
I felt a rush of both adrenaline and freedom, my mind blooming like a flower in the sun. I felt sexy for the first time.
This boy danced near me; his skin pale like the moonlight, a tattoo of flowers and a tiger wrapped around his bicep. He smiled at me as he twirled in the sand, his hands running through locks of soft dark hair.
The tattoo was beautiful. So was he.
I tapped him on the shoulder.
“Hey,” I said, “I love your tattoo.”
His smile turned to a snarl; “Bugger off will ya,” he snapped, turning back to a girl.
The smile wasn’t meant for me.
I moved away but looked, every now and then, just to catch a glimpse of him, if just for a second.
Was he the missing piece?
If only that smile was for me.
I found Eggs. He danced with some girls. He still wore his t-shirt, his hair hidden under a bandana, his face was pinched, he still looked old.
I danced towards him.
“Hey,” I said. “This is fucking amazing.”
“You should put your shirt back on,” he said.
“It’s not you.”
Everything made sense, right then, at that moment, on that beach, under that moon, in that country, on that day, in that year, the music at 180BPM. It all made fucking sense.
Yes, it was.
“I need to tell you something,” I said to Eggs.
He shook his head; “Don’t.”
He, too, turned his back to me.
The night finally yielded to dawn, darkness to light, waves broke gently on the sand, the earth was in rhythm with the DJs, and I can recall, like it was yesterday, me, this me, the one writing this, looking out towards the horizon, far from home, the sand shifting beneath my feet.