Monday, June 25, 2007

Bangkok bus

I wait with my friends for the big new bus. Eight hours ahead, but at least it's airconditioned and no changes required.

The elderly monks climb in at the same stop. Their orange-clad figures claim the back seat where they can lounge. I sit and watch the familiar hills slide by, the golden pagoda fade in the distance. The river Kwai is swollen beside the road yet the raft houses are high and dry - the water feeding the electric lights downriver. I wonder when I will return again, yet a tinny Jingle Bells keeps interrupting my thoughts - the senoir monk's mobile phone runs hot.

We stop at the 70km point, 2 hours in. My seat neighbour knows English for "15 minutes" so I stretch for 3. I have a plane to catch and wish to leave when the bus does.

In Kanachana, I am more brave. Hunger and the need for the loo have me miming to the conductor, who assures me it's ok. Even so, I rush and end up eating a fake tuna sandwich on fake bread - a Thai speciality in a land known for its food.

My new seatmate has a six-month old baby, who gurgles and bubbles and grabs. She is cute; I am used to blocking out kid noises. Tim Winton's Australia fills my imagination instead. Jingle Bells...

After 4 hours, her mother plucks up the courage to use her smattering of English. She used to have a Belgian boyfriend, she tells me with sadness in her face. She lives in Kanchana but she will not go back. This bus is her escape - she has her daughter and one bag, and she will not have to see her husband again. The violence of my novel is personified in the delicate Thai face beside me.

Later, she points out the Chao Praya river - we are here. We smile, I wish her well. I still have 24 hours of travel ahead - she has a whole new life to build.

As I board the plane, I catch myself humming Jingle Bells.