Carter, the owner of the resort and the Lemon Tree’s bartender, had startled me when he mentioned merchants and villagers were talking about old Mr. Me and May Linh. I thought I was finally recluse, away from the world, with for company only May Linh, whose contract stipulated she’d be living in the nude around the house and be fondled here and there. But, again, I couldn’t really escape the world.
At the beginning, when I made up my plan and bought the house by the beach in this Southeastern Asian country, I had a simplistic vision of the ‘job’ which, I thought, wouldn’t in all likelihood be too demanding, nothing for example like the demands of a pimp in Bangkok or those of an Occidental capitalist liberal owning sweat shops in Dacca.
Other than, of course, the nudity thing and this anal affair, everything considered, this job, for this kind of money – 4.000 coppers a month, which is huge in this country – seemed to me like no big deal really. I was now getting to understand that this was getting to be a lot more complicated for me than for May Linh maybe.
In any case, May Linh appeared to have found a home in the past three weeks she had been with me – she even brought her grand piano – before taking a week off. Alone again, I ended up at the Lemon Tree and that’s when Carter mentioned that May Linh and I were the talk of the town.
I hadn’t thought of it but of course the merchants and villagers of this small fishing town, all protector of good morals, would ask this new woman: “What is exactly your job over there?” I have no idea what May Linh answered but I guess she’d say something like this: “oh, I’m just taking care of an old white man, he’s a fool but he’s fair and you know how hard it is for good jobs to come by these days…” And people would certainly nod in agreement.
Then again, now that I thought of it, the merchants and villagers had probably already heard stories from the crew that rehabbed my house before I moved in. I had called on local artisans, very crafty ones indeed I discovered. So I could imagine conversations in their homes: “yes, my nephew worked there (i.e. in this remote house in the jungle owned by this weird white man), and he was well paid and he never saw anything foolish. He just told me he was surprised there was only one bedroom in that house. He also said that this foreigner was a writer, at least that’s what he had been told.”
I remember thinking about having a crew coming from the capital to do the rehab work but I knew that would have antagonized the locals and I didn’t want that. And the natives did an incredible work in my shotgun house.
Then it occurred to me that, anyway, fishermen would have reported to the merchants and villagers that this foreigner set buoys in the water and that he goes to swim every day – if I could see them at sea, they could probably see me, fishermen have binoculars, don’t they? – and they’d report also that May Linh, now that they knew her name, was also going to swim and it looked to them, from afar, that she was naked in doing so. And fishermen would have noted that, when this guy is alone, he seems to be swimming farther and farther at sea.
So I guess people from the village and the area didn’t quite know what to think of old Mr. Me but they were getting ideas. If only they knew… Yet I realized that for them not to have a straight story could be a source of problems. You know that, regardless of the situation, everywhere and anywhere on this goddamned planet, there is always an asshole having a problem. It’s the law of big numbers. So I knew villagers and merchants needed to have a rational explanation for me and May Linh being here or else there would be an official from city hall, a developer, a local gangbanger or whatever, who would be either dumb or greedy and would come and try to mess up paradise. There’s always one of those fucks.
And if I’d pay this prick, thanks to aliens’ money, himself or his bosses will want more. I could see it. You have to imagine this with a heavy southeastern Asian accent: “What the fuck is this shit? What do you think you’re doing, coming onto my turf to have a girl I know nothing of and get no share of? If you want whores, fine with me, but I’m the lord pimp in this town and I don’t like tourists like you and this is how much I want per month, per girl.”
What do I do? Call the police or the consulate? “Hello? See I’m living by the beach in this nice house with one woman naked most of the time – and I don’t tell you about the rumors – and these bad guys are disturbing my peace. Can you please arrest them and take them to jail, or at least out of my view?”
Right. I don’t think so.
I know there’s not always a way to deal with assholes; assholes, there’s not much you can do to them but they sure can screw up your life. And I didn’t anticipated May Linh may be asked questions as she goes to the local markets for groceries. In such a little village, I should have known. So when Carter asked me what was May Linh’s job, I told him, with much French ambiguity, that she was “Gens de maison”. I figured that’s what he would tell his wife and that’s what she would tell everyone. I didn’t know how that would translate in their language but I’m sure it would make some kind of sense.
“I have a guest-house and that’s where she’s staying,” I volunteered, figuring that would answer the only one bedroom question.
I was lying of course. The lying didn’t bother me per se – I lied an awful lot in my former lives, like everyone else I guess – but I felt like I was disparaging May Linh, and myself. Carter seemed to understand and said: “ah, OK, that’s what I’ll tell if people ask me.” I don’t know if he believed everything I had said, probably not, but I was thankful for his discretion.
That’s when I grasped that if my original plan was to have three naked women to live around me, now I was perfectly happy with just one, just with May Linh – I missed her already – and I smiled, thinking how preposterous my first idea was.
Anyway we were closing the bar, everybody was gone. That’s when Carter asked me: “Do you mind if I roll a joint?”
What??? Had I heard correctly? Obviously Carter wasn’t to wait for my answer.
“Sure, why not,” I said.
I was surprised. I hadn’t even thought about, much less tried, getting pot in here, although I had throughout my life always smoked in the evening pot or hashish, depending where I was living. I stopped smoking pot only upon arriving here. Rest assured, I still had cigarettes and beer, so it’s not as if I was on a deserted island.
Yet I know that dealers in this country, when they’re caught, are condemned to death and, if not, to be torn in a million pieces. So I knew it had to be local stuff and then I knew that Carter had to grow it himself. Did his wife knew? Probably, I thought.
Nonetheless, he rolled a small joint and lit it up, then passed it to me. It was definitely local weed and I coughed and coughed and coughed again. I know it’s not the pot that makes me cough like that but all the cigarettes I am smoking all day and night and those fucking cigarettes makers are not being torn into million pieces, they’re making millions on the addictions’ market. Anyway, it felt good, a goddamn joint, here!
What a surprise! I kind of liked Carter’s trust, at least he would be on my side if a local asshole starts to hassle me. I wondered again if he had to deal with those but I didn’t ask.
After this, Carter got the refills and I guess he needed to talk so, for lack of anything else to do, I listened. He told me of his youth in the outback in Australia, keeping sheeps with his father, picking cherries with his mother, and how he was no good in school and wanted to go around the world. He didn’t go any farther than this place in Southeast Asia.
He liked it, stayed here, met his wife whom he found beautiful – I could understand – and bought this bit of land by a beach.
“The thing is,” he said, “there are really only two beaches in this area: this one here, close enough to the village, and the one in the forest where I think is your place. The rest is mangroves and low lands.”
That I knew already. In fact, just few days ago I was eating crawfish I told him.
So he built a first bungalow. The way he described it, I knew that an Aussie from the bush in the outback knew how to build a frame house.
“Did you see the craftsmanship from these guys here?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, “they’re very good and I now work only with local guys.”
He lived in his first bungalow by the beach and then met his wife to be. Then they built a second bungalow, then a third and before they knew it they had a resort. A nice one. They were now living somewhere else in town although Carter still keeps his bar open to the last client I guess.
“You have it made,” I said.
“I don’t know”, he said. “I’m receiving offers for my place.”
He said that the way a guy who doesn’t want to sell would say it. Then again, there are sometimes offers one cannot refuse. Look at what happened to me with aliens’ money.
“Say, Carter,” I said, “something is bothering me: why do you hire only white girls as waitresses?” He was surprised. “Yes, there are locals in the kitchen, doing the rooms, doing the garbage, driving the shuttles but you only have white waitresses, what gives?” I asked.
“I’m glad you mention it,” he said. “You must be the first ‘white’ guy to notice but all the natives know. See, at first, I wanted only local people, you know, give good jobs and all that. And that’s what I did. I had an excellent crew. But as the place grew bigger, and more tourists came, I noticed there wasn’t a day anymore when some fucking assholes from white town or Japan or China wouldn’t bother my waitresses. I realized some of these guys were coming here, not to the Lemon Tree per se but to this part of the planet, just because they thought any Asian waitress was a whore. It was terrible. Every single day. So I put white girls in there and none of these fucks tries anything inappropriate with them, they don’t dare, and this resolved that. But there’s a lot of turnover, most of these white girls get quickly bored here and leave. And they cost me an arm. But some of them are regular and come every year and some local boys get lucky. Yet, I still have to be careful with the maids doing the rooms. I have to pay two guys round the clock to make sure none of these women is beleaguered by some drunks who escaped for a couple of days from their wife/girlfriend/mistress/mother, you name it.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said.
Again I wondered if he had to deal with the locals bad guys. He was maybe ‘encouraged’ to hire security.
“Look,” I said, “do you think you can spare a bit of this pot?”
“Sure,” he said, “no problem,” and he came back with a quarter or half an ounce in a plastic bag and gave it to me.
“It’s a local brew,” he said with a big smile.
“Thanks,” I said. “Do you have rolling paper?”
So we smoked another joint and he started closing shop so I drunk a last beer and I was on my way. To go back home I had to go through the village. There was still plenty of people out there, including those going at sea or coming back, either way. On my motorbike, I suddenly became self-conscious when it occurred to me that, if I understood Carter correctly, all those people in the streets probably knew of me, at least. I was easy to recognize I guess but the fact is that I didn’t know ANY of them.
On top of it, at least ALL of them probably knew of May Linh. And several of them probably knew her. And they knew that she was with me.
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