With hindsight, it’s very much my fault for immersing myself into epub making, virtually following an intensive course in CSS code under my obliging neighbour, and thus not having paid closer attention to Chang Piak’s running around.
Monday 8 November, he comes only to say he’s made an appointment with a Narong and will call me later to say how much his aluminium works will cost me. When he does, it turns out the price is fifty percent higher than predicted. ‘Actually, he’s the cheapest I could find, says my man over the phone. Others are asking as much as twice that.’ I agree to the quoted price.
Tuesday 9 November, in late afternoon, as I belatedly become aware that neither Chang Piak nor Narong have showed up, I call the former. ‘Are you all right?’ – ‘I’m fine, thanks.’ – ‘Are you working for someone else then?’ – ‘I’d never do that!’ ‘Then what’s going on?’ – ‘Well, I’m not too well actually.’ ‘Then take it easy today, but I want to see you and Narong here tomorrow first thing.’ I hang up convinced that my wonder-worker has more urgent work to do somewhere else.
I was wrong.
Meanwhile, every evening, I spray the windowless bathroom with bug repellent and make sure the vents at the bottom of the bathroom door are blinded.
On the first ‘windowless’ night, Sunday, I looked for keys to lock that door, found an old set of keys that’s never been used, but none would fit. However, since I’ve arranged for a guest to stay in the adjacent bedroom next month, I tried to find a key that could lock the door of that room. One key was flat enough to move freely within the lock. Thus encouraged, I locked the door from the inside and instead of trying the key without closing the door I, stupid fool that I am, closed the locked door only to find that the key didn’t fit. So, on top of having a bathroom with no window, I’ve had to live with a locked bedroom. Still am. Everyone consulted so far has said it’s just a matter of replacing the lock. Oh?
Wednesday 10 November, 9am: Chiang Piak comes alone. I ask for explanations. It turns out he’s not working somewhere else but has been stood up twice before by that Narong fellow and hasn’t dared tell me, but said Narong has promised to come here before noon.
We wait – wait until one o’clock. I call Narong. He says he’s on his way. I give him one hour to get here or not at all. Meanwhile, I treat Chang Piak to lunch round the corner. Northeastern fare: khao niao larp and sliced bamboo shoots. Of course, no Narong by 2pm.
Two days earlier, I arranged by email an important business phone call from Paris for 4pm today. But first things first. (That conversation will actually take place two days later.) We jump into a taxi. Chang Piak gives instructions to the driver. He knows this aluminium shop in the Nang Leung area he’s been buying stuff from a couple of months ago for some school. The traffic is horrid, and as we get close, it turns out Chang Piak is no longer sure which way to go. When he swears that the shop is just past the traffic lights (‘Yes, yes, I remember now!’) and it’s faster to walk than wait for the lights to change, we get out of the taxi.
Round the corner, there’s no aluminium shop. I’m starting to get hot under the collar – and elsewhere. We retrace our steps. ‘Oh look, there’s an aluminium shop over there,’ shouts Chang Piak. We cross the road.
The old man looks at the sketch of the window frame, takes his calculator, quotes a price, twice as high as first predicted. But he won’t be available until next week. We walk out.
Chang Piak is starting to sweat. I tell him, ‘Why don’t you ask around?’ He does that, to a grilled banana seller (I don’t invent these details) who says that, yes, there’s an aluminium shop over there – in an entirely new direction. So, what to do? We cross the road again, get into that one and then, lo and behold, here is the shop Chang Piak meant all along. By then it’s 3:35.
The woman holding the fort is quite urban. Her husband is away on a job nearby but could be available right away, she says. She calls him up. I talk to him. He’ll be there by 4 for sure – can we wait?
What choice is there?
Khun Bunmee arrives at 4:35, a well-groomed middle-aged man I for no specific reason feel I can trust. The price he quotes is 100 baht below the one quoted by the old man one hour ago. And he’ll take us back and make measurements presently.
He closes shop, and all of us – the couple, their three helpers, Chang Piak and I – get into his 4×4 and sometime after 5pm all this crowd is examining the guilty bathroom opening onto the surrounding wilderness. Khun Bunmee says he’ll make the frame tomorrow and have it set by Friday.
All in all, I reflect as he leaves, I’ve been damn lucky: that the deal was clenched so easily was because my house is on the couple’s way home deeper into the Thon Buri suburbs. And Khun Boonmee’s price is the going price; it’s only that Chang Piak had no idea of how much this kind of window work cost.
Thursday 11 November: all quiet and gapping on the window front.
Friday 12 November: Mission accomplished.
The bathroom is itself again. As the workers marry aluminium and silicon, they twice blow the fuses. Chang Piak’s daughter is dispatched to buy new ones. The poor fat girl comes back crimson, panting and pooped: she’s ridden miles on her bike to bring back two fuses – only to find Khun Bunmee has repaired the blown fuse (which will blow again three days later at breakfast time when I start the coffee-making machine…). Meanwhile, Chang Piak has pulled down the scaffolding. He leaves the planks at the back of the house for the night; tomorrow, he’ll take the nails out and cart them back to the front of the house to be stocked in the garage space, dig into the back garden and strengthen the wall. And there’s the metallic grids to put back in place…
Before they leave, I tell Khun Bunmee I also want the front bedroom window replaced. His team takes its measurements and he presses me to agree, he can have them set tomorrow evening, but taking out the old wooden frame and cementing the empty frame anew takes time, and besides I’m out of cash right now, so let’s wait until Monday or Tuesday, shall we?
The truth of the matter is that I don’t trust Chang Piak to work a miracle overnight.