At Table D I find myself happily paired up with old friend Chiranand Phitpricha, Seksan’s former wife, and that well-known couple of sociologists, Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit, to my money the best decipherers of Thai lore and palinodes at work in this land. Sitting arrangements are such that I mostly talk with Jit, whom I haven’t seen in years but helped not so long ago all the same with some translation of French documents for her belated thesis or whatever it was.
Chiranand Phitpricha (pronounced ‘jeeranan phitpreecha’) is rated as one of the best living poets of Thailand on the strength of a rash of truly moving poems when she was a city and jungle girl who spitted out cleansing sulphur, but hasn’t written another poem in donkey’s years. The epoch isn’t conducive to it, see. And she has plenty of other pastimes, animating a photograph-for-sale club, subbing movies, even – not to entirely write off old times – being an advisor to the Nan Democrat municipality. And tomorrow she’s off to Varanasi for a week with her load of work still unfinished…
Since her divorce a few years ago, she has turned into a radiant woman in her late fifties, as if rejuvenated in regained spinsterhood, while ex-husband Seksan, mined with diabetes and anyway for many years anxious about no longer being the alpha-male he used to be (it’s so transparent in the short stories of his I just translated), seems to have willed himself into old age.
Before we leave, two former Manager pals come over to chat with me.
Peter Dupont – sorry: Du Pont, as he insists on calling himself but I know better – used to be my right-hand man at the magazine and I was grooming him to take more responsibilities until his defection left me in a lurch and I gave the venture up. He’s now working for some USAID-funded NGO here. ‘Manager was pretty good, don’t you think,’ says he. ‘Too bad it didn’t last,’ say I.
Then dark-browed, pot-bellied, neatly clad Ross Blaufard of currently Thailand Tatler (sic) comes over with his iridescent Thai lady-love who once wrote an article for me about cigarettes and I told her that wasn’t the way I spelt the word (Touché! Funny how sand grains still grate from one century to the next) to tell me the same tale of love lost and found again decades later, Mem and Nick-wise, and maybe they’ll tie the knot in the next few months if Ross’s science-fiction movie script pans out and he gets loaded, but with the fracas coming out of the loudspeakers I call the conversation short. Let’s keep in touch, Ross, my good man…
Oh gosh, what’s with these couples?
Jit gives me a lift in her 4×4 to the entrance to her street, where I’ll take a taxi to reach home. She has drunk quite a lot of the claret and champagne (I, for lack of pastis, have stuck to plain water) so drives slowly. To my straight question about her separation with Sek’ she answers straight, without anger or protest or malice, but a hint of rueful amusement, and I think to myself, ‘This is a classy woman’.
The taxi driver is a middle-aged chap who pines for Thaksin, but in a thoughtful way. ‘I reckon sixty percent of the people want him back,’ he ventures. We have a guarded conversation about political and economic matters as we drive past palace-skirting avenues studded with garlands of light bulbs over every tree – a week from now is His Majesty’s birthday. ‘Wouldn’t you say this is a waste?’ he queries. ‘Sure, but nice to the eye,’ I answer mildly. And so it goes until we get to my door while I reflect on the outing that was.
Human relations are a mysterious thing. Let’s rejoice when they work out, but let’s not try to read too much into them, or feel alarmed when they flounder: tomorrow is another day, another decade even. Of course I was flattered with the kind words Prof Keyes, Chris Baker, Jit, Nick and Mem, even Peter and Ross piled up on me, but those were par for the course and as many soothing dewdrops on a bear’s back. For once I was happy altogether to have gone out and been sociable but it was with relief that I poured myself a pastis and turned my computer on.