The boat reached Thong Sala well before sunrise, but there were plenty of jeepney drivers waiting for them at the pier, in the dark. It was Full Moon season again already, a little bit earlier every month.
The price offered by the first driver who approached Marin was fair so she followed him to his jeepney and boarded its back. There was only one other passenger, a pretty blond backpacker, and his aloof stare precluded conversation. Marin settled into the unexpected luxury of having half a truck bed to herself as the driver gassed up and they drove up the small dirt hill to the road.
The island was greener than Marin had imagined it would be. She smelled the pickling joints of trees and the salt of the breeze and heard no one, but the island didn’t feel empty or friendless. She sensed the curved outlines of an excitement forming, a bottled-up tension approaching release. It helped that there were two handsome men waiting for her somewhere close, that the moon itself was closing in on full.
The jeepney passed through a narrow row of shops and restaurants, all closed for the night. Empty hammocks curled in on themselves above the hardwood benches that bordered one establishment. Sand filled the floor of an empty lounge café. Grills were closed and chained shut; the bamboo counters of bars empty and wiped clean. There was an Italian restaurant called Angelo’s and an Indian restaurant called Ganesh House. A dive shop advertised lessons and day trips to Koh Tao and Koh Samui in its glass windows. A few of the other shops and businesses were in fully-enclosed spaces, with windows, but all of the restaurants, even Angelo’s and Ganesh House, were open-air. As the truck reached the end of the row it slowed. It was light now, and Marin heard every small sound that poked through the quiet of the morning.
“Haadrin Beach,” said the jeepney driver, turning around in his seat. “Walk there,” he said, pointing towards a sand path that led behind and around a small beachfront hostel. Marin got out and paid him her fare. The other backpacker had disappeared already. As the driver restarted the truck’s engine and drove off, Marin walked to the sand path that he had pointed out.
The proportion of sand in the path soon overtook the proportion of concrete, and Marin took off her sandals and felt the salt-fine grains shift as one under her feet. She rounded the corner, and before her was a long stretch of clear shallow water. It was low tide. A few small boats bobbed with the current and tugged at their anchors. The sun peeked over the horizon, and the sky was every color it’s ever been.
The beach was full of stray carnage from the night before: ashed-over campfires in the sand; rum and vodka bottles; cigarette- and swill-coated plastic buckets; discarded plastic neon-colored glowsticks, their pale torches exhausted.
A few survivors of the previous night’s festivities had stayed to watch the sunrise. They sat on rugs around the dead fires and listened to house music emanating softly from the beachfront bars. They spoke in quiet but still-vivid voices. Some Full Mooners in fisherman’s pants practiced spinning ropes attached to confettied rubber balls. Their game was no game, however: that night the rubber and confetti would be traded in for kerosene and flame.
Marin spotted Will. He was sitting cross-legged on a rug by one of the depleted fires alone, his elbow vibrating as he scribbled in a small black notebook. One of the rehearsing fire dancers was teaching a girl in a backless halter dress how to spin the rope. It spun out of her hand and the ball landed in the ash of Will’s fire pit. The girl ran to retrieve it. As the girl picked it out of the ash, she and Will spoke briefly, and Marin could tell from the girl’s body language that she was trying to flirt with him. That’s when Marin remembered that Will was the enemy.
Towards the end of their dinner at Rai Chiang in Bangkok, Ducky had invited all of them—the Fulbrighters, Yuri, and Marin—to Full Moon with him and “some good boarding school mates.” Marin had agreed to attend only because Bree and Greg had begged her to come. Marin had mentioned her Full Moon plans in passing in a mass email to the entire O/URC staff and had been very surprised when Will had emailed back saying he “wouldn’t be immune to the opportunity of some beachside revelry.” When Marin had found out, from Ducky via email, that Bree and Greg had canceled at the last minute, citing school and exchange program obligations, Will had already booked his flight to Penang.
Against her better judgment, perhaps, Marin had swallowed all of her misgivings, left a quite enjoyable Chiang Mai, and traveled to Koh Phangan hell bent on having fun. The enemy could do or not do, explain or not explain, and come and go as he wished.
She cupped her hands in a mime-megaphone at her mouth and shouted: “Will!”
Will heard her and turned. He stood and wiped wet sand from his butt. He closed his notebook, slipped it into a side pocket of his cargo shorts, and smiled as she approached.
“I have to admit, I didn’t completely believe that you would be here to meet me so early,” she said.
“You know, I was excited before coming out here about getting a chance to sleep in, but then after waking up at five in the morning all three mornings in Penang, I accepted that my programming is complete,” Will said.
“Oh, by the way, I heard from my Thai friend yesterday about the rooming situation. You can keep staying where you’ve been staying, or you can stay in the extra bungalow at our place,” she said.
“Your place sounds good,” Will said.
“It’s right on a beach—not this beach, another one,” Marin said. “Check-in isn’t until ten, though, I think,” she said. “The other guys went to Koh Tao to go diving, but we’re supposed to meet them at the guesthouse at seven to go to dinner.”
“Okay, my place is just up the beach. Checkout is from ten to twelve. Do you want to drop off your bag at my place, go find breakfast and coffee, go back to my place to check out at ten, and then head over to the other place to check in?” Will said.
“Sounds reasonable,” Marin said.
As Will led the way towards his hotel, a Thai woman came out from the nearest building, a two-story restaurant and bar, with a black garbage bag in one hand and the red plastic handles of a green bucket in the other. She picked alcohol and soda bottles up from the beach, emptying them onto the sand before dropping them in the garbage bag, out of sight.
After they dropped Marin’s bag off at the ugly little second-floor room that Will was renting a half-mile up the beach, Will led Marin out another direction to a narrow inland road which led to a slightly less narrow road which led into town. Nothing in town was open for business yet, but a few of the restaurants on the main strip had one or two staff walking around inside, unstacking and arranging chairs, filling plastic tissue dispensers with tissue, watching tiny TVs or listening to tiny radios, and eating small bowls of plain congee from scratched plastic bowls.
Marin and Will were the first two customers of the first restaurant that opened. Their petite Thai waitress handed them two large spiral-bound multi-page menus.
Marin ordered toast and eggs, Will ordered muesli and yogurt, and they each got one iced coffee and one bottled water to drink.
“So is this guy who invited you here single?” Will asked.
“Yes, but I’m not sure he’s interested in me like that,” Marin said.
“I’m sure he’s head over heels,” Will said. “I promise not to cramp your style.”
“Oh, he knows you’re gay,” Marin said.
“Is that a fact?” Will said. The bottom lids of his eyes swelled slightly.
“I’m not outing you to random strangers,” Marin said. “He guessed when I asked if my single guy friend could have the extra bungalow. I just confirmed.”
“And you don’t think he’s interested in you romantically?” Will said.
“Well, there’s a difference between being interested in and serious about,” Marin said.
“I suppose,” said Will.
Marin disliked this answer and the passive-aggressive prompting that had preceded it. Although she had a familiarity and rapport with Will that she had missed over the past several weeks interacting exclusively with random strangers, the lack of joy that Will’s presence was bringing her reminded Marin that she and Will had been in a pretty bad friendship rut even before they had gone to bed with each other.
Eighty percent of the distance between two people was essentially dead space. One traversed from the 0 to 20 percent mark with some people so quickly and pleasantly that it was easy to make the mistake that with enough time and investment the entire distance was in reach. But there was never enough time. Other people could never be truly known or trusted, at least not in the way you imagined before you knew better. When you did successfully probe further into another person’s mind or heart, it was always to find something that you didn’t want to know.
The waitress brought out their coffee: two glass mugs of shiny chocolate brown, the fingers of a swirl of sugary milk spreading quickly through each.
Ducky’s guesthouse, the Tanstaa Bungalows, was a collection of robin’s-egg-blue bungalows with large white porches, some facing a small white sand beach. Will and Marin were given keys to two side-by-side bungalows facing the hotel’s small courtyard and leaf-filled bathing pool.
“Mr. Thaksin said to make sure you know dinner here tonight seven,” the manager Soo said.
“Okay, we will be sure to be back here by then,” Marin said.
“We have beach towel and bath towel in the room. Safe deposit box back here, we lock front room at night. You need any soap, shampoo, mosquito spray, drink, snack, young coconut, anything, let me know, my wife go have look get you, okay?” Soo said. “We buy much cheaper you buy in town.”
“Oh, thanks,” Marin said. “That’s so nice.”
“All my other friends having hotel here always don’t know like or not like do Full Moon, so much trouble, but money is so much,” Soo said. “But Mr. Thaksin is always Full Moon bringing nice people Tanstaa, a lot money and no trouble. So I make sure Mr. Thaksin and his guest very happy.”
They walked to their new bungalows via a path of round concrete slabs.
“Who is this Thaksin guy?” Will said. “Thai royalty?”
“Just a regular guy with family money and a junior analyst’s expense account,” Marin said.
“Is he paying for our rooms?” he asked.
“I haven’t confirmed lately,” Marin said, “but that’s what he said in Bangkok.”
“You run in the right crowds in Thailand,” Will said.
“I guess so,” Marin said.
“That was not the kind of service I was getting at my first hotel,” Will said.
Marin didn’t know what to say. She barely knew Ducky, but speculated that the kind of guy who spontaneously bought newish friends champagne on ordinary evenings out liked to be liked by many, even or especially managers of tiny beach hotels in his home country. She was surprised that Will was so impressed by Soo and the Tanstaa.
“We should go for a hike,” Will said. “I think there’s some falls between the two southeast peaks,” he said.
And so, after unpacking and changing clothes, they went for a hike together, and it was almost like old times.
Following Will up a slow incline, deeper into the island’s baby of a jungle, Marin almost felt like the young woman who’d lain awake listening to her first orangutan long call and wondering if anyone had ever known the mysteries of the universe so intimately. Then she and Will would hike past some other backpackers, who would smile and say some benign greeting to both Will and Marin at once, and Marin would bristle at again being regarded as part of a single unit with Will.
What was he even doing here? Why had he horned in on her plans? He was still the same selfish, repressed, imperious Will.
They reached the falls, a small drip of water dripping over a short overhang of rock, stared at it for ten seconds, then turned around to go down the same path back to the Tanstaa.
They showered off the hike in their respective showers, dressed in the backpacker version of Sunday best, and met on Marin’s porch to go into town for the remaining hours until dinner.
Everything was open now: clothing boutiques, cafés, pizzerias, movie lounges. Excited new arrivals pulled stacks of Baht from the ATM machine at the crossroads of the two main roads. Girls in aviator sunglasses and backless sundresses slid and clicked hangers of fisherman’s pants and sarongs along metal racks outside stores. Wet-haired farangs stumbled up from Haadrin Beach wanting pizza, while made-up girls closed out tabs and crumpled tissues onto cold fries before following the fresh scent of open ocean out to Elysium. Accents and languages abounded: Scottish, Hebrew, Dutch, French, German, Estuary English, Japanese, Finnish, Danish, and even the occasional Canadian or American.
The Koh Phangan movie lounge was a purely local invention, but, being members of its target demographic, it required no explanation for Marin and Will. Open-air; furnished with thick-roped hammocks, benches and platforms covered with Khit cushions, and widescreen televisions; floors filled with sand—the movie lounge that Marin and Will decided to patron served fresh fruit shakes, iced coffee, iced tea, and farang-friendly snacks like french fries, fried spring rolls, and chicken wings.
Will and Marin seated themselves on a small platform at the back, and watched as the young farangs up front leafed through a thick book of bootleg DVDs for something to replace the movie whose end credits were now rolling up the screens of both of the lounge’s TVs.
A waitress came to take their order. Marin ordered a pineapple shake, and Will decided that that’s what he wanted too.
A DVD was chosen and inserted into the player, and the main menu of the new Terminator movie came on screen.
Their shakes were delivered a few minutes later—a frothy ice-cold yellow liquid that seemed to be comprised solely of the sweetest, freshest pineapple in Asia; there was an extra lick of addictive creaminess to the shakes that was either coconut milk or crack or air.
Another best version of a thing.
Koh Phangan was different from Borneo and the previous stops on Marin’s trip. Koh Phangan was a savvy and opportunistic tourist town with the white-bosomed heart of an ingénue. Marin felt lucky to have come here, to have seen, thriving with adventurous, pretty, hip young visitors, a place that so completely evinced her own split personality: the farang-friendly cool customer that would always be a fresh-off-the-boat naïf at heart.
An atypically uncritical Will and Marin watched sci-fi exposition play out in blue and black tones on the TVs. They slurped their drinks, leaving dry, tasteless webs of yellow-white foam behind. Around them, twenty-somethings stretched legs out, closed their eyes, rehydrated gravely, and produced late-incubating almost-laughs in response to the cheesy Hollywood stimuli.
Marin set her emptied glass at her feet and leaned back on the slope of the blue Khit cushion behind her. The shifting orientations and allegiances of her young life seemed, for the moment, blessedly still. Marin let that moment’s borrowed largesse pass through her onto Will. Even if all was not forgiven, it was conveniently forgotten, as conveniently forgotten as a fiancé killed by an android in a red pleather pantsuit. The Full Moon party tomorrow night demanded it.
After one and a half popcorn movies, one more round of pineapple shakes, and one round of Thai iced teas, Will and Marin left the lounge and walked two blocks away to a Parisian-café-styled coffeeshop, Café Deux.
They selected sweets to share from a glass bakery display case—a banana-nut muffin, a pain au chocolat, a cheese danish, and three cookies—and ordered cappuccinos.
After paying, they sat down at a table for two with their plastic number card—“23”—and their basket of baked goods.
“Do you remember when May made those cookies from the recipe on the back of your oatmeal box?” Marin said. Using a plastic knife, she cut the muffin, croissant, and danish into quarters.
“Oh my god!” Will said. “They tasted like meat! Like ground, unseasoned, undercooked mystery meat!”
Marin laughed. “It wasn’t her fault: the recipe was literally water, oil, quick oats, and raisins.”
“Meat,” Will said. “I can’t believe you brought that up: that was a deeply repressed memory of unadulterated trauma.”
“Well hopefully these don’t taste like meat,” Marin said. She picked up a quarter of the chocolate croissant and bit into the chocolate-filled edge. The chocolate was almost solid, sticky with sugar, and the pastry was soft, chewy, and perfectly tasteless. It was a fair facsimile of a French pastry, drawn in the broadest possible strokes. It tasted like home.
“I love that this is our lunch,” Will said. He ate some muffin.
“So how is fame and fortune treating everyone at the O/URC?” Marin asked.
“Fame and fortune...” Will said. “We gots some plans. I trust Wan. This is real now, you know? The holy trinity is money, leverage, and vision, and we’ve got the first two now. And I trust Wan to deliver on the third.”
“That’s great,” Marin said. “I mean, that’s really telling that you have that much faith in him.”
“Because I’m normally Mr. Skeptical, huh?”
“Well, because you know his motivations and abilities better than anyone,” she said.
A waiter brought their cappuccinos and took their number away.
“Except Stephanie Walczek,” Will said.
“Oh, god,” Marin said. “I almost forgot about her. How did the profile turn out?”
“It was fine,” Will said. “There was just one place where she tried to be extra clever and used curry chicken at the center of this canteen dinner anecdote, when really it was fried chicken.”
“How annoying,” Marin said. “Fried chicken is more Malaysian than curry chicken anyway.”
“That’s what I said!” Will said.
Marin picked up her cappuccino, blew a bean-sized clearing into the foam on top, and then took a sip. She tasted real milk and espresso.
“Yummy! We are going to be so caffeinated by dinner time,” Marin said. “Ducky’s friends are going to think we are manic freaks.”
“Marin, before we meet up with your friends tonight,” Will said, “I—”
“So sorry to bother you,” interrupted a pretty Aussie girl sitting down at the table next to them, “but what kind of muffin is that?”
The girl was with her boyfriend, a fellow exactly ten percent larger than Will in every visible respect. They had just arrived on the island that morning and wanted to make friends.
They were funny and nice, and Marin liked watching Will charm them with orangutan anecdotes and his I’m-just-another-useless-Ph.D. shtick. The admiration of the attractive strangers made Will more confident, relaxed, and generous than he’d been in months. Two hours at the café went by in an instant, followed by beers at a bar on the beach with the Australians. Then it was six-thirty, the sun was setting, and Will and Marin had to hurry back to the Tanstaa.
“What a big and funny place the world is!” Will said, as they turned onto the empty road that led to the Tanstaa.
As they walked through the Tanstaa’s courtyard to their bungalows, a Thai man rushed by them, carrying four huge tiki torches under his arm. He walked straight out to the beach, where, to Marin’s surprise, Soo and his wife were setting tables with dishes and paper-napkin-wrapped silverware. Above the water, a large white round had already appeared against the graying blue-white sky.
“I guess we’re having dinner here,” Marin said.
She unlocked her bungalow door, waved a silent goodbye to Will, went in, and shut the door behind herself.
Marin found the hibiscus print skirt that she had bought at Chatuchak and a cream-colored camisole in her bag and changed into them. She brushed her teeth; she brushed out the mane of sun-warped, frayed black threads that was her hair at that moment and twisted and pulled it into a loose bun at the back of her neck. She had a new freckle: on the edge of her right cheek under her eye.
It was becoming night fast when Marin stepped back out onto her porch. She could smell sweet barbecue and burning gas and heard the great velvet pounding of the Gulf of Thailand against the shore.
Her life was kind of amazing.
Will had changed too and was out on the beach already, introducing himself to Ducky (even handsomer than Marin had remembered) and Ducky’s five farang friends. The tikis had been lit and were close to becoming their main source of light.
“Marin!” Ducky called out.
The last and only time that Marin had been in Ducky’s company, he’d worn a blazer all night. Now he was wearing a short-sleeve polo shirt that showed off the incidental benefits of the Thai kickboxing that he’d claimed avid amateur practice of.
“I’m so glad you came,” Ducky said. He gave her a full two-arm hug, as if they were old friends. “Let me introduce you to everyone.” First were a blond guy at least five inches shorter than himself, James, and a skinny redhead, Danny.
“Finally, someone with two X chromosomes,” James said. “I’ve spent the past four days looking at six chaps in wet suits.”
“You guys didn’t go to a co-ed prep school, I take it,” Marin said.
“What do you take me for, a barbarian?” James said. “Just teasing, love. I should have been so lucky.”
“Now see, he could have gone co-ed,” James said.
“You’re such a berk, Jim,” Ducky said.
Danny laughed. “We’ve been here an hour and you Jimmed him already,” he said.
“Okay, okay, I’ll stop,” James said. “Just don’t call me that in front of our one lady friend. It’s beyond the pale.”
“That’s why I love this guy,” Ducky said to Marin, patting James on the shoulder as they passed him and Danny. “He’ll answer to the sickest profanities you can think of to call him without so much as a shrug, but ‘Jim’ he can’t take.”
Next was the tallest of the bunch, Nigel T. (there was another Nigel in the group), and a cute Cupid-faced boy with pink lips and ears and a scalp of pale blond fuzz named William. Nigel T. had light brown, curly hair and big brown eyes with long, thick lashes. His jaw and chin had the strong, manicured curves of a violin and were peppered with the black stubs of a would-be beard. After a few minutes speaking with William and Nigel T., Marin identified (far too accurately, it would turn out) William as the long-suffering caretaker of the group and Nigel T. as its inscrutable, consummate alpha.
Marin and Ducky left William and Nigel T. and circled back round to Will and a tanned young man with thick dark brown hair and black eyes, Nigel K. Nigel K. was not unattractive, but he possessed an unfortunate late-twenties starter gut.
“Nice tat,” Nigel K. said to Marin after their introduction. “Tattoos are back in fashion now, is it? I didn’t get the memo.”
“I don’t imagine that the LSE is patched into the body art marketwire,” Ducky said.
“Not nice guys like me maybe,” Nigel K. said, “but there’re some real perverts in Regulation, you’d be surprised. Shall we sit down and eat some of this barbecue, then? Smells bloody good enough, don’t it?”
Marin and the seven boys sat down at the three plastic tables set side-by-side in a row on the sand. On it was a spread to rival that of much more expensively appointed dining rooms: a large platter of Thai barbecued chicken, a whole deep-fried bass ladled with sweet red chili sauce, barbecued pork skewers with peanut sauce, grilled prawns in a shallow pool of yellow curry, vermicelli rice noodles sautéed with pineapple and onion, kangkung with garlic, and a bamboo basket of coconut rice.
Soo’s wife lit the ends of green mosquito coils in small terracotta pots and put one on each table. Soo poured Chang beer into glasses and set one by each person’s plate, along with a cold new bottle of spring water.
“Ducky, fine sir, you’ve outdone yourself,” Nigel T. said. He picked up his beer. “Well, I just want to take a moment to thank the brilliant, insanely generous Ducky Chaluallakorn for reuniting us all on this bloody gorgeous island, organizing all of the logistics that it takes to get princesses like Nigel ‘Elizabeth’ Keaton to leave the G8—”
“Lying and logistics, more like it,” Nigel K. said.
“Yes,” Nigel T. said, pointing the lip of his beer at the other Nigel. “And whatever happens tonight and tomorrow night, we’re in Ducky’s country, so it’s automatically Ducky’s fault. To Ducky!”
“To Ducky!” everyone (except the man himself, who laughed and slid his hand once across his neck) cheered, clinking glasses and drinking.
Marin ate chicken, sweet prawns, curry-steeped rice, and bitter kangkung and learned that James worked in advertising, that Nigel K. had briefly dated a famous football manager’s daughter, that all of the boys but Danny had seen a pair of stingrays on their dive trip, that William’s father was a judge and his mother a press attaché of the British Consulate in Brussels, and that Ducky had once dyed the tips of his hair purple.
“So this is your first time in Asia,” Will said to Nigel K.
“I’ve been wanting to get this group of chaps out here for ages,” Ducky said. “I brought my uni friends first, five years ago right after uni ended and before we all started working. Soo had just opened the Tanstaa, and it was just these ten bungalows here. I brought my work mates two years ago, and my cousins and some friends and I flew down to Samui from Bangkok last year and did Samui and Full Moon back to back. That was a crazy week.”
“Famous last words,” said William.
“You know,” Ducky said, “this place... I’ve learned not to have too many expectations and just go with the flow, as they say.”
It was a warm blue night on the beach. Soo was cleaning off the grill of the barbecue with a brush. Marin slowly portioned off bite-size pieces of and ate the last cold clumps of food on her plate. Soo’s wife came by with two large bottles of Chang and topped off everyone’s drinks.
“Well as long as Danny keeps his hairy white arse covered this time, I’m happy,” James said.
The boys laughed.
“Oh, fuck off, Jim,” Danny said. “You should be so lucky to see anyone’s arse at all.”
“You know what they say... if you can’t be with the bum you love, love the bum you’re with,” William said.
This line got the biggest laugh of the evening so far. Marin saw Will stare admiringly at William. And to her surprise, she was excited for Will. This was good. This was progress. And they, she, owed it to Ducky, who, she realized now with even greater surprise, was staring admiringly at her.
“So what’s the music going to be like at this shindig?” Will asked.
“Wagner,” said William, “Liszt, and a little Joplin thrown in at the end to keep things edgy. No, house mostly, I think, right, Ducky?”
“Different bars do different things: house, jungle, techno, trancecore... yeah, mainly house though. Usually whatever’s hot at Ibiza,” Ducky said, rolling his eyes.
“Well Ducky’s deejaying tomorrow, isn’t that right, DJ Quack?” Nigel K. said. “Brought all his records over in a platinum case and everything. No need to be so humble, mate!”
“Well, it’s my first time spinning outside of private parties in Bangkok and London,” Ducky said. “Hopefully I don’t clear the dance floor.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that. You’ve got seven groupies right here,” Nigel T. said. “So Will, what do you do?”
“I’m a primatologist doing research in Malaysian Borneo,” Will said.
“Malaysia, isn’t that a Muslim country?” William asked.
“Yes, pretty much. So even though Malaysia has beaches as beautiful as this, the all-night beach rave thing is definitely not happening there,” Will said.
The boys laughed.
“That would be amazing, to see a bunch of girls in burkas tripping to Oakenfold on the beach!” James said.
“I don’t know if I would feel comfortable being out of the closet there,” William said.
“Well after two years not dealing with it at all, I finally came out to one of my coworkers,” Will said. “That’ll be two out of nineteen if Marin comes back. It’s a work in progress.”
“You came out to someone else?” Marin said. “Who?”
“Linda,” Will said. “And she is more cool about it than I could have ever imagined.” Will explained to William: “Our coworker Linda is this very religious Christian Malaysian Chinese woman. Very sheltered and serious: she doesn’t drink and has never set foot inside a bar or club in her life. But, she was just one of those people who get it right away.”
“You’re a primatologist?” Ducky asked Marin. “I thought that Bree said that you work in international development.”
“I did, I do,” Marin said. “Will presented on his work to my boss at the Pac Development Bank two years ago, and then a couple of months later Will made me an offer I couldn’t refuse and I hopped on a plane to Borneo.”
“What offer was that, cold showers and monkey poo?” Nigel K. asked.
“Cold showers, malaria, and monkey poo,” Will said. “No, we needed an idealistic Stanford grad, and she needed to get her hands dirty. It was a good fit all around.”
“Stanford grad: oh, so you’re one of those smart Asian punk girls,” Nigel K. said to Marin. “I didn’t know we were in such fancy company.”
“I wouldn’t say that, necessarily,” James said. “Intelligence is so vulgar these days.”
“Then that must make you the bloody Duke of Northumberland,” Nigel K. said.
“Oh, come on all of you,” Nigel T. said. “Stop being so English and class-obsessed. It’s beyond the pale, really.”
The group finished their beers and migrated to the porch of Nigel K.’s bungalow, one of the row which faced the ocean. Soo and his wife cleaned off the tables on the beach, packed up the grill and furniture, and took them away.
James and Danny went inside Nigel’s bungalow and brought out large bottles of Thai rum, vodka, scotch, gin, champagne, cola, tonic water, and Guinness beer and a six pack of Red Bull. Soo’s wife brought two large stacks of clean plastic tumblers to them, handing the cups to Ducky and Nigel T. over the rail of the stairs. She came back with a bag of ice, which Nigel K. insisted that she throw from the foot of the stairs to him at the top.
She heaved the bag at him, and Nigel K. squatted down to catch it: it hit his chest with a smash.
The drinking was serious: everyone got a full tumbler of something. Marin’s was a mix of Thai rum and cola.
Ducky explained that Full Moon now drew enough visitors for parties for the full week before full moon every month, but the night before full moon and Full Moon itself were always the busiest.
“So essentially there are going to be people out tonight who’ve been shitfaced drunk for a week,” Nigel K. said.
“Yes,” said Ducky.
“So we’ve got some catching up to do,” said James.
“Yes,” said Ducky.
“So we better get another hit of ecstasy for Marin, then,” James said. “Marin, what would you say to that?”
“I’d say that ecstasy is beyond the pale,” Marin said.
James laughed. “Indeed, very vulgar, indeed,” he said. “Wouldn’t touch the stuff for a thousand pounds. Give me a pint of Guinness over some dippy pill any day.”
“Do you really have X?” Will asked William.
William wrinkled his lips and shook his head, no.
“I want to hear about Danny’s hunting trip with Robert Key and Steve Hamison,” Nigel K. said.
“Yeah, Danny,” James said. “Tell us: does the best bowler on the planet like to get really close in to his grouse or keep out in the brush?”
Nigel K. and James were both sitting on the porch rail in front of Danny, who was sitting in one of the porch’s plastic chairs. Nigel and James simultaneously propped their feet on Danny’s lap.
“In and out and all about,” Danny said. “He’s very clever like that. William, be a dear and pass the scotch, please.”
Marin stood up and walked back down the stairs and onto the beach with her drink. Ducky followed her, and they walked to the beachfront in front of the last Tanstaa bungalow.
“Is there anything more beautiful than this?” he said.
Marin could see the gray pockets of her planet’s sun-washed moon. The black ocean moved and broke; it was deep, mute murder, fear, and life. Marin resisted any call to the poetic, however. She felt that she currently had the upper hand with Ducky and did not wish to let it go.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Is there?”
Ducky placed his hand on the inside of her wrist in a staying motion. When Marin stayed, Ducky removed it and quickly stuffed both of his hands into his pockets. He smiled at his feet.
“I don’t know, I’m biased,” he said, looking up at her and then back towards the gang on Nigel K.’s porch. “Plus, you haven’t seen Haadrin Beach at sunrise yet.”
Marin didn’t want the awkwardness of correcting him. “I guess ‘all-night beach rave’ really means all night,” she said instead.
“That’s the plan,” he said.
“This plan must involve large quantities of Red Bull,” she said.
“It does,” he said. “So you had better start making room in your glass, yeah?”
“Yeah, yeah,” she said. She took a long sip from her tumbler and then followed Ducky back to Nigel K.’s porch.
Marin finished her rum and cola soon thereafter. Someone refilled her glass with vodka and tonic. It seemed, to Marin, during intermittent moments of concentrated self-awareness, that they were being very loud and using increasing amounts of profanity. Still, both she and Will were enjoying their roles as novelties and buffers for the close-knit group of prep school friends too much to try to enforce a more civilized pace or tone on the proceedings. Marin finished her vodka-tonic, and someone handed her a half-full bottle of champagne and told her to finish it.
Nigel T. decided that it was time to go dancing. Will linked arms with Marin on her left, and Ducky linked arms with her on her right. They started down the slab path to the front of the hotel and turned right on the dirt road to town. Some of the boys were singing an obscenity-strewn version of Danny Boy to Danny.
Marin had not been this drunk for many years. They stopped in front of a store outside of town, and Marin didn’t know why. She was occupied currently with trying to return sensory ability to the nerves in her hands and face. Nigel K. emerged with three packs of cigarettes. He threw one at James and one at Ducky. Ducky removed his arm from Marin’s to catch it.
“Can I get one of those?” Will asked.
“Of course,” Ducky said. He ripped off the plastic, and cracked open the box at its perforated edge. He slid the ends of a few cigarettes out and held out the box, brown-tipped sticks extended like ballerina legs in the air, to Will. Will took one, and as Ducky reached in his pocket, pulled out a lighter, and handed it to Will, he held the box out to Marin. Marin took a cigarette, and soon Will was lighting it, and she was inhaling its hot, toothy smile.
Marin was less out of it when they got to town, and had sobered considerably by the time they arrived at Haadrin. The beach and bars there were filled with bodies. Colored lights flashed onto hundreds of heads and flickering strobes caught tossed hair and raised arms mid-motion. A bonfire blazed halfway down the beach. The synthetic beats and candied wails of a house song blared from multiple large speakers unseen but close.
Will spoke loudly into Marin’s ear: “William and I are going to get a drink: you want anything?”
She shook her head, no.
“William, hey,” Ducky said. “Get a bucket,” he said, handing William some 100 Baht bills and miming the shape of a squat cylinder. “We’ll be in there somewhere,” he said motioning towards the crowd of dancing bodies in front of them.
William pocketed the money and nodded, and he and Will went inside the nearest bar.
“Stay close, chaps,” James said, before pushing his way into the crowd.
Nigel K. followed close behind him. Nigel T. was next, then Danny, then Marin, and then Ducky, placing a hand on Marin’s shoulder as the crowd closed again behind him. It was dense, dark, and moist as a stretch of primary growth rainforest inside the crowd. They settled in a spot and began dancing. The boys had some decent moves. Combined with all the head-craning going on from everybody but Marin and Ducky, serious skills of coordination were being exercised.
After about twenty minutes, Will and William found them and squeezed into their circle. They had two quart-size plastic buckets filled with ice, straws, and small bottles of alcohol and soda. William handed the one with a bottle of vodka and can of Red Bull to Ducky. Ducky took out the can of Red Bull and straws and handed these to Marin and then picked up and opened the bottle of vodka and poured all of its contents into the bucket. Marin opened the can of Red Bull, poured all of it in, and stuck the straws in on the side. Will and William had done the same with the other bucket. It was filled with cola-brown drink. They passed around both buckets, taking turns sipping at them through the straws that bobbed at their edges.
A good song came on. William and Danny improvised a routine together that involved a small mimed cube that was very hot to touch and ended up getting smashed into Danny’s groin to the amusement of all. Nigel K. finished the vodka-Red-Bull bucket, dumped the remaining ice on Danny’s head, and placed the emptied upside-down bucket on Danny’s head like a top hat, to the amusement of all but Danny. Even more amusing was the total non-reaction of Danny to all of this provocation. He continued dancing as James reached over, picked a piece of ice from Danny’s shoulder, and put it in his own mouth.
Ducky grabbed Marin’s hand and spun her around.
Five hundred years of global cultural cross-pollination and advancement, and the awkward spin is still the best co-ed dance move we’ve come up with, Marin thought as she turned in a circle.
“How are you doing?” Ducky asked her. “Sleepy yet?”
“Still okay,” she said.
Nigel T. turned around and said something to the blonde girl behind him. The girl looked up at him and smiled. She glanced at their group and said something to Nigel T., and he laughed.
There was a high-pitched flatline beep, and then the music stopped mid-song. The crowd moaned and booed.
“Nature abhors a vacuum,” Nigel K. muttered.
“Everyone, this is Sophie,” Nigel T. said, placing a hand on the blonde’s shoulder.
“Hallo,” Sophie said and waved. “My friend Julie is here somewhere?” she said. She had a French accent. She turned around, waved her little wave, and called, “Juliette!”
A tall girl with soft brown hair pulled up and tied into a loose bun at the back of her head squeezed into the space between Sophie and William. “Enchante,” she said, and gave the same little wave as her friend.
Nigel T. and Sophie began flirting in French, and Will asked Juliette something in French. She giggled at his Quebec accent, but gave a thorough, serious reply to whatever he’d asked her.
“Mad apologies party people,” a male voice said over the speakers, “where were we again?” The music started up again, to cheering. “Welcome to Phangan. You are beautiful. Khap khun.”
They started dancing again, widening the circle to make room for Sophie and Juliette, but hearts no longer seemed inspired by the limited vocabulary of group dancing, and head-craning picked up frequency again, in earnest.
Suddenly, Ducky grabbed Marin’s hand and pulled her off into the crowd, towards the bar and then towards the small road to its side.
They got to the end of the contiguous mass of dancing people, and Ducky let go of her hand.
“Where are we going?” Marin asked him.
“It’s a surprise,” he said, taking the box of cigarettes out of his pocket. He removed a cigarette from it and put it in his mouth.
“You have no idea, do you?” she said.
He shook his head, no, and smiled. He slid a cigarette out an inch from the box and held the box out to her. “It’s a surprise: to me, to you.”
She took the cigarette from him.
“So you never really talk that much about yourself,” she said. “I feel like I don’t know anything about you still.”
“Do you know what I think?” Ducky said. “I think that you are someone who likes to feel in control all the time.” He lit his own cigarette and took a long drag. He held the lighter out to her.
“If I said that I don’t smoke, would that confirm your theory?” Marin said.
“No, there are plenty of uptight smokers,” he said.
“Oh, thanks,” Marin said.
“I’m just shy,” Ducky said. “That’s why I don’t talk about myself. And I didn’t mean that I think you’re uptight. You’re not uptight, but you hold yourself a little out and above.”
“Let’s stop talking about this,” Marin said, waving away the lighter. “And I know how hypocritical that sounds.”
“It looks like our friends Will and William are getting along,” Ducky said.
“It does,” Marin said. “We’re matchmakers.”
Ducky laughed. “What do we win again?” he asked.
“What’s the Thai word for ‘karma?’” she said.
Ducky smiled at her and nodded blankly, annoying Marin.
“Do you see that burnt spot in the wall of that building over there?” he said, pointing to a blackened square-foot of the concrete foundation of a nearby shop. “Last time I was here, someone set a bucket of alcohol on fire and threw it at the building.”
“I imagine that this event draws a lot of pyros,” she said.
“That it does,” Ducky said. He flicked the tiny wheel and pedal on top of his lighter, igniting an inch of flame. He released, and it disappeared. “Fire good. Do you know that song, Tipsy? I have it in my head for some reason.”
Marin really disliked that so many of the males in her generation suffered from an inability to spend more than one minute on a topic when they spoke to her. She refused to be one of the many females of her generation who suffered from the supernatural ability to read such fickleness as quickness and charm.
However, then Ducky kissed her. He tasted like wet ashes and the soured sweat of wine. He brushed his nose against her cheek after.
He was full of wrong rights and right wrongs—that is, the kind of perpetual tensions that mother that black-eyed child bride, desire. And one could get lost in her primary growth forest for days, months, years.
Marin put her unlit cigarette between them. “Gimme a light,” she said.
Marin smoked her cigarette, and she and Ducky reversed roles as they took their time walking to the end of town and back: he made brief attempts at more serious and probing conversation and Marin deflected his attempts with changes of subject and flippant asides, taking care to toke his interest with a double entendre here and there.
They were strolling past an intersection close to the beach when they passed a food stall called “Mr. Curry Dogs” where their friends and Sophie, Juliette, and a new girl were sitting around plastic tables eating curry and fries. Marin and Ducky turned into the eatery and were greeted enthusiastically.
Danny’s arms were laid out on the table in front of him, elbows out, and his head was face-down on his right arm. Ducky slapped hands and bumped fists with Nigel T. and James before sitting down in an empty seat between James and Will. There were no more empty chairs, but William pulled one over from the next table, making room for it between himself and the new girl. Marin sat in it.
Nigel K., who was on the other side of the new girl, introduced her: “Anne, Marin, Ducky.”
“Ducky, like rubber duckie?” Anne said. She was another Brit. She was pretty, with short brown hair and green eyes, and was wearing a strapless black dress and a braided hemp necklace with a fake jade elephant pendant.
“It’s short for my Thai name, Thaksin,” Ducky said.
“Those horrible English: always bastardizing other languages,” Nigel K. said.
“Not anymore,” James said. “Now we just bastardize our own. ‘Idn’t it?’”
“Just blame the Americans,” Will said. “That’s what we Canadians do.”
“Hey!” Marin said. “You shouldn’t ‘misunderestimate’ Americans.”
“Yes, who needs proper grammar when you have ten thousand nuclear warheads,” said William.
“Wow, you know your stuff,” Marin said. “I’m impressed.”
“Thanks, Mare,” William said.
“Well, William here is going to be PM one day, if his mum and dad have anything to do with it,” Nigel T. said.
“Please, we’re on the beautiful beach in Thailand,” Sophie said. “Let’s not talk about politics.”
“Sophie’s boyfriend is a political consultant,” Juliette said.
“Really,” Nigel T. said. “And what about your boyfriend?” he asked Juliette. “Let me guess: doctor?”
Juliette’s eyelashes fluttered, and she pursed her lips.
“Juliette is single now,” Sophie said. “But up until a few months ago, she was dating a medical researcher, so very good guess Nigel.”
“Tant d’hommes stupide et aveugles à Paris,” Nigel T. said.
Juliette smiled. “Oui.”
“What about you?” Nigel K. asked Anne. “What does your boyfriend do?”
“I... like Juliette, am also single at present,” said Anne. “What about you, what does your boyfriend do?” she asked Nigel K., to snickering from the group.
“I have many accomplished friends who are boys,” Nigel K. said. “However, my heart is not currently pledged to any male or female living or dead.”
“And the living dead?” Danny asked, lifting up his face seven inches off the table.
“I do have a very attractive zombie fiancée,” Nigel K. said, “it’s true. But she only loves me for my scrummy, scrummy brains.”
Danny smiled, having gotten just what he’d wanted, and put his face right back down.
“Well if it doesn’t work out with her for some reason, I know a few Borneo headhunter folk you might be interested in,” Will said.
“Will!” Marin said. “There’s no headhunters anymore. Tourist cash is all that longhouses hunt after now.”
“You all are from Borneo?” Anne said, her eyes sparking with something that Marin hadn’t seen since Penang. “That’s why you two look so familiar,” she said to Will and Marin. “When I met Will, I thought that maybe I’d just seen him around here sometime over the past two days. But then, Marin, you looked familiar too, and I know I would have remembered seeing you if it were from today or yesterday. You were on the BBC!”
“The BBC?” said Nigel T.
“We were working at one of the orangutan centers attacked by Pure Homeland,” Will said.
“I’m studying anthropology back in England,” Anne explained, “and my advisor does a lot of work with the Dayak tribe of Indonesia, so she knows Dr. Galdikas and some other people at Camp Leakey. I followed the story really, really closely. You were at the other place in Malaysia, right?”
“Yes,” Will said.
“Am I the first person to recognize you?” Anne said, panning her eyes once over the rest of the silent table in an unflattering horama of judgment. “You’re famous.”
“No, no,” Will said. “Far from it.”
“No, you are,” Anne said. “Dr. Whitfield is going to flip when she hears that I met you—of course I’ll have to lie a little about where. Is it true that Dr. Mohammed once shot a poacher in the leg with a tranquilizer gun?”
“Yes,” Will said. “That was a long time ago though.”
“Still,” Anne said. “You both are so lucky to work with good people who really care. It’s just really cool.”
“Are you also studying Dayak culture?” Marin asked.
“My background is in geography,” Anne said, “so I’m doing more urban-oriented projects right now. Rural-urban migration, that sort of thing.”
“I used to live in Somerset, and I live in London now,” James said. “Do you fancy studying me?”
“Doesn’t sound as if you’re Anne’s type, Jim,” Nigel K. said.
“And what is that supposed to mean?” Anne said.
“As ‘to suppose’ is to infer a likelihood based on imperfect information, to ask a speaker to suppose the meaning of his own statement is to presume that he does not know his own complete meaning, but can only guess,” Nigel K. said. “And as I know my own full meaning, I cannot suppose it.”
“Oh, bollocks,” Anne said, rolling her eyes.
“Did you perhaps intend to ask me, ‘And what did you mean?’” Nigel K. said.
“Yes, ‘And what did you mean?’ is what I intended to ask you,” Anne said.
“I supposed that you did,” Nigel K. said. “And in this instance my supposition was indeed correct.”
“And the award for most boring conversation topic goes to Nigel Keaton,” said James. “So which BBC reporter did you chaps talk to?”
Marin told him. He, William, and the Nigels recognized the name.
“So you keep the orangutans, but you’re in the jungle?” Ducky asked. “Why don’t you let them go wild? Then they’re not such an easy target for terrorists, yeah?”
“We do let them go,” Will said. “It’s complicated.”
“Huh,” Ducky said.
“I saw something like this on our news also,” Juliette said. “They, like, are the orangutans already kept by humans, so they are first must be vaccinated and trained again for the wild, is that right?”
“Yes, what she said,” Will said.
Sophie asked Juliette something in French, and she answered in French. Sophie nodded.
“Can you accept visitors at this place you work?” Sophie asked. “I think we would like to see something like this.”
“Our center doesn’t any more,” Will said. “I think you can get eco-tourist packages to stay at Camp Leakey, but it’s very expensive.”
“You’ve been getting a lot of donations, right?” Anne said. “That’s what Dr.—my advisor said.”
“The power of television,” Marin said.
There was much nodding.
“How much?” asked Nigel K. “How much money?”
Will told them. William whistled. Even Marin hadn’t known it was so much.
“People are so stupid,” said Nigel T. “So reactionary. If you want to donate to charity, research causes, plan your giving regularly and rationally. Don’t just give your money to some people that you saw on the telly one day, no offense.”
“None taken,” Will said. “I agree.”
There had been no sunrise on Haadrin for the Tanstaa clique. There had been a second wind of drinking and dancing (after which they’d shed Anne and Sophie) and then a third wind, and then two-by-two half of their cohort had disappeared: Will and William, and then Nigel T. and Juliette. Marin and the remaining four guys had been invited at one point by a pair of hyper Berliners on the beach to an after-party. They had all been holding on for some time for this theoretical future engagement, only to realize too late that they had no idea where it was.
Ducky had led Marin and the other three boys back to the Tanstaa at around four a.m. (although somehow they’d lost Danny on the way).
Marin had waited for Nigel K. and James to disappear down the hill to the beach before letting Ducky into her bungalow and letting him get to second base. He’d been applying soft, wet kisses to her belly with his warm, slick lips when he’d turned over on his back and gone quiet. Her frontal lobe had been throbbing so it had taken her a full minute or two to realize that he’d passed out.
She had possibly woken up an hour or two later to a closed-eyes Ducky spooning with her, but could have also dreamed that up. Nevertheless, when she’d woken up after eleven with large planks of fierce white light plowing in from the sides of her drawn curtain, Ducky had already let himself out.
Late that morning, Marin emerged from a long shower and emptied the contents of her bag onto her bed, hoping to find planted, via immaculate conception, a new outfit that she didn’t despise, when she heard footsteps and a knock on the door.
“It’s Will,” the barely muffled voice of Will said.
She went to the door and opened it three inches. “Hi, late morning, sorry,” she said.
He smiled shyly. “Don’t worry. I think the only people up this morning had pharmaceutical help last night. So you and... Huh?”
“Me and? What about you and...?” Marin said.
Will smiled shyly again. “Yeah, we should do post-mortem later. I just came to tell you we’re assembling for lunch at Ganesh House at one.”
“Okay, I will be there,” Marin said.
“I’m going for a quick swim out in back here,” Will said. “See you at lunch.”
“Okay,” she said. She shut the door.
Marin had sat down on her bed, her towel still wrapped around her, with the top of a halter-top sundress in her hands. She rubbed her thumb over the place where the halter straps were sewn into the bust and saw something that she hadn’t before. She tied the straps to each other in a bow and held the dress up by its upper corners: she had a new strapless dress.
She had put it on and was drying her hair when she heard footsteps on the porch and a knock on the door.
She opened it; it was Ducky. Her body felt funny with all that had not found closure the night before.
He smiled. “I like your dress,” he said.
“Thanks,” she said. “Is it one o’clock already?”
A device in his pocket started playing music. He pulled out his cellphone and picked up the call, holding up an index finger at Marin and turning around.
“Hello?” he said. He walked toward the porch rail and leaned on it. “Yes,” he said. “No, it needs to handle more than that. No, you need to run it through—” He looked at his watch. “I’ll come by and show you. Are you at the Tom-Tom now? Okay, I’ll be there in ten minutes. No, it’s okay. It’s okay. Okay, bye.”
Ducky turned back around and put his phone in his pocket. “Sorry, Marin, I’ve got to go take care of some DJ stuff. I’ll see you at lunch?”
“Yes, see you then,” Marin said. He bent over the threshold, pressed a single wet kiss to her left cheek, and left.
The outer structure of Ganesh House was painted pink, with a multi-armed Ganesh painted in blue and yellow on the large column to the right of its entrance.
Everyone from the original group except Ducky was seated at a large table in the corner when Marin arrived.
Will was recounting a very drunk James’s encounter with a Thai policeman from the night before, to much full-throated, table-pounding laughter from all.
“And that, my friends,” James said, “is how you come this close to third world prison without doing anything illegal.”
“Oh, good, Marin’s here, we can order,” Nigel T. said.
“Squeeze in, Mare,” William said, sliding closer to Will to make room on their bench for her.
“I say we get one tandoori chicken, one seafood curry, one vegetable curry, three orders of samosas, three orders of garlic naan, and two dosa,” Nigel K. said.
“And a mango lassi for me,” William said.
“And me,” said Will.
“And me,” said James.
“And me,” said Marin.
“And one, two, three, four, five, six, seven mango lassi,” said Nigel K.
“Breaking news out of Koh Phangan, Thailand: LSE analyst sighted counting to seven without checking the model!” said Nigel T.
“I may not have gone to Stanford and been an interview subject of the British Broadcasting Corporation, but I’m not completely useless,” said Nigel K.
“That’s debatable,” said James.
“Let’s order,” Nigel T. said. “I’m bloody famished.”
They ordered and began to eat. Will and William were very much together now.
Marin could see now that the weaker link yesterday had actually been her and not Will. She’d seen some truth in their time apart, but, evidently, so had he. He’d come out to Linda!
“So I think that that Anne girl has the hots for your boss, the orangutan chap,” Nigel K. said to Marin. “Did you see how she got all starry-eyed last night? ‘Oh, Marin, you’re so lucky to work with such good people.’”
“Fame whores,” Danny said. “You should have seen how the girls were at St. Andrew’s when they heard that Prince William was coming. Bloody ridiculous. I don’t know how he puts up with it.”
“I don’t feel sorry for him,” Nigel K. said. “His royal highness can have any woman in the world that he wants.”
“Trish?” James asked.
“Of course, Trish,” Nigel K. said. “She’d dump me for Prince William in a heartbeat.”
Some of the boys laughed.
“I guess that goes for my Felicia too,” said James. “Although Nigel T. probably has enough in the bank to hang onto Veruca. What do you think, Marin, is eighty million pounds enough for a girl or does the tiara trump all?”
“Oh, well, I’m in no position to speak for all womankind,” Marin said.
“There’s no shame in trying,” said James.
She looked at Will. He was drinking his lassi and looking at her expectantly.
“Marrying a prince comes with a lot of sacrifices, principally to one’s privacy,” Marin said, choosing her words carefully. “I actually think that there are a lot of girls who wouldn’t necessarily care to take on that kind of public scrutiny.”
“So you would turn down Prince William?” Will said.
“If I wasn’t ‘in love’ with him, yes,” Marin said.
“I don’t believe that for a minute,” said Nigel K.
“Is it really that crazy?” she said. She laughed awkwardly.
“What about a multimillionaire who was crazy about you, totally completely in love with you,” said Danny, “and he’s a nice guy and everything, but for whatever reason there’s no chemistry on your end. And there’s no one else in the picture. I know that you’re a real rebel and everything but you would turn a multimultimillionaire down?”
“In the scenario you just described, yes,” Marin said.
“Oh, come on now,” said Nigel T. “Think of all of the orangutans you could save with money like that!”
“Please,” Marin said. “That’s no reason to marry somebody.”
“Everyone has a price,” Nigel T. said.
“Yes, integrity is all fine and good in theory,” Nigel K. said, “but I bet we could get you to do some pretty embarrassing things for a thousand dollars.”
“No, thank you,” Marin said.
“Two-thousand,” Nigel K. said.
“No,” Marin said.
“Twenty-thousand,” said Nigel T.
Marin shook her head, “no.” “Can you pass the chicken?” she asked.
“$20,000 in one night,” Nigel T. said. “This is a serious offer. And I’m happily engaged to a very nice girl back home, so you needn’t flatter yourself that this is that kind of offer.” He picked up the plate of chicken and held it aloft in front of her.
“And I still seriously decline,” said Marin, using the plastic tongs on the tandoori plate to pick up and place a piece of meat on her plate. Where was Ducky?
“Sixty-thousand U.S. dollars,” said Nigel T.
“No,” said Marin.
“One-hundred-thousand,” said James.
“No,” said Marin.
“$100,000,” said Nigel K. “In one day. William here used to work in the Office of Fair Trading and can draw up a fair contract of trading at the hotel. Nothing illegal. Nothing mortally dangerous.”
“Oh, that’s reassuring,” Marin said. “But no.”
“Just for your time for one twenty-four-hour period,” Nigel T. said. “Nothing gross or untoward. And we’re the ones betting on your integrity here. If you can’t get through the entire day doing everything we ask, we keep our money.”
“No, sorry to keep disappointing you,” Marin said. “But money just isn’t that important to some people.”
Nigel T. nodded, but didn’t seem impressed. “$200,000,” he said.
And that was it. Marin’s number.
Her response had been noticeably delayed. “You’re all insane,” she said, as Ducky strolled with long confident strides into the restaurant.
The final terms of the deal were hammered out on the back of three ATM receipts found in various people’s pockets. Nigel T. was on the line for $85,000; Nigel K. for $55,000; and James, Danny, and Ducky for $20,000 each. The bet would commence at four p.m. and conclude at four p.m. the following day. Will and William would co-referee, ensure the fairness of requests and their completion, and determine the winner if it was unclear. Marin could not be required to engage in violence, illegal activity, or provide sexual favors as part of the wager.
“So what can you make her do?” Will asked.
“You’d be surprised,” Nigel T. said.
They returned to the Tanstaa, to Nigel K.’s porch for drinks. William returned from an internet café with two copies of a print contract at three-thirty, which the six participants signed and dated. Will pocketed one copy, William the other, and the bet commenced at four.
“For the next twenty-four hours,” Nigel T. said to Marin, “you will speak only when given permission by one of us, your five masters. If at some point a third party attempts to make conversation with you and you have not been given permission to speak, your answer will be, ‘I velly sorry. No speak English.’ Verbatim, no editorializing. Please practice now. Say your phrase.”
“I velly sorry,” Marin said. “No speak English.”
“The power of money,” said James.
“We need a name for her,” said Nigel K.
“Ching Chong?” James suggested.
“No,” said Ducky, wrinkling his nose. “Yuck.”
“Jyna,” suggested Danny.
“Apt and easy to remember, works for me,” said Nigel T. “What do you prefer,” he asked Marin, “Marin or Jyna?”
“I velly sorry,” she said. “No speak English.”
“Jyna it is,” said Nigel T. “If the terms of the agreement are not being violated, you absolutely can not complain or otherwise indicate your displeasure, and, if you need to cry, you cannot stop your work to do so. Understood?”
Marin’s first job was to clean the boys’ bathrooms while they pre-partied. James took her down to his bungalow where, as per arrangement, Soo stood on the porch with a bucket, a can of bleach, a sponge, rags, rubber gloves, and a plastic spray bottle one-third full with bright blue cleaner.
“I think maybe you want change your dress first?” Soo said.
Soo’s faith in Mr. Thaksin had been deeply confused, if not shaken, and it seemed to Marin that her answer to the hotelier, if she was allowed to give it, might affect him on an existential level.
“You would think so, Soo,” James said, “but you know women and their impractical passion for fashion. Thanks, I can take it from here.”
Soo left quickly.
James reached in his shorts pocket and pulled out, one by one, keys to the five straight men’s bungalows.
“One of the Gay Billiams will be out in a tiny bit to check up on you,” James said. He walked towards the stairs, placed his hand on the support column, and turned around for one moment, pausing in thought before he said, “Have fun.” He went down the stairs and back around the corner to Nigel K.’s.
Marin picked up the bucket and unlocked James’s door. She went in and, without turning on the light, walked through the bedroom to the bathroom. There were no curveballs, but it was still a young man’s bathroom on a tropical beach. There was mold, hairs, sand, and unidentifiable stains and smells.
She could hear them on Nigel’s porch: laughing, one-upping each other with daring, with wit, with vulgarity that was harmless, heartless. She put on the gloves. She wasn’t too proud. She wasn’t anything that they thought that she was.
She heard Will’s voice but she couldn’t make out his words.
It took Marin more than three hours to finish all five bathrooms. When she returned to Nigel K.’s, she found that she was no longer certain if she should go up on the porch or just wait on the beach for further instruction.
Sophie and Juliette were back, with two new girls.
On the bottom step was her answer—a short stack of clothing with a note on top: “For Jyna: Wear Me.”
Marin picked it up and looked up at everyone on the porch: they were busy; no one needed her. She took the clothes and her bucket of cleaning supplies to her bungalow. The clothes were a hot-pink wrap skirt and black T-shirt, a uniform. Printed across the chest of the T-shirt in hot-pink lettering was a logo: “Tom-Tom Bar.”
She put the skirt and T-shirt on. She went back to Nigel K.’s porch, and they wanted her to go pick up pizza in town: one large pepperoni pie and one large pepper-onion-mushroom.
Marin walked to town and found the pizzeria. It was packed with people. She stopped a male server.
He spoke to her in Thai.
“I’m sorry, I only speak English,” she said.
“You are not Thailand?” he said.
“No, China, sorry,” she said.
“But you are working Tom-Tom Bar?” he said.
“Yes, it’s a long story, can I order some pizzas to take out?” she asked.
“You need order take away?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said.
She told him. He nodded.
“Okay,” he said. “Twenty minute. You leave come back twenty minute.”
Marin left the restaurant, stopped outside, and waited by the entrance.
Was she crazy to do this? Could she really trust these guys? Did she and Ducky deserve a real chance instead of this far-fetched transaction?
Night’s dark glaze had set. The moon, their collective MacGuffin, was the big white zero it was every month everywhere. It had no answers for Marin on this night or any other.
You don’t know what you don’t know. Suddenly Marin understood the existential horror at the center of the saying: that the closed circuit of ignorance is impossible to escape without some intervening (and wholly random) act of third-party benevolence.
The porch people were not sober when Marin returned with the pizza.
“Oh, good, Jyna’s back,” Nigel K. said.
“That smells so good,” said one of the new girls.
“I think that’s the pepperoni. You ordered extra pepperoni, right, Brigitte?” Ducky said, taking the boxes from Marin.
“Pepperoni? No!” Brigitte said. “Sophie, you didn’t get a one with vegetarian only?”
Ducky laughed. “We got vegetarian, don’t worry.”
Brigitte laughed, swatting at him. “You scare me, Ducky!”
“Jyna, can you clear the table please?” James said.
Marin reached over James and stacked used tumbler glasses. She turned and put them on the porch rail next to Danny, who had his butt and right leg propped on the rail and was leaning against the column behind him. She moved bottles and the ice bucket to the side of the table. She picked up five empty beer bottles and put them next to the cups on the porch rail. The table was wet and she mimed wiping to James. He reached under his chair and pulled out a roll of paper towels. She tore off a few sheets and wiped the table dry with them. Then she got out of the way, as Ducky put the pizza boxes down on the table.
She moved the used cups and bottles to the bottom porch step. Soo walked up with a plastic busing tray.
He gave it to her, and she emptied the used drinking vessels into the sand and placed them inside the tray.
“Come with me. It’s okay, Mr. Thaksin tell me show you,” he said.
He took her to a concrete building behind the row of bungalows that faced hers. It was Soo’s home. They passed through the living room on their way to the kitchen. There was a small Buddhist temple in the living room, and a television on a wheeled table, a plastic shelf filled with DVD cases and old newspapers, several plants, plastic chairs, and a wicker loveseat.
The kitchen was the size of a walk-in closet.
“Garbage going here,” Soo said, opening a door in the back corner of the kitchen.
Marin followed him out of it and opened the lid of his trash can. She saw the champagne bottle that she’d drunk from the night before (identifiable by its label’s missing upper-right-hand corner). She dropped five beer bottles on it.
They went back inside, and Soo showed her the sink and sponge and soap and then went back into the living room and turned on the TV.
Marin washed her hands with the dish soap and then washed the tumblers.
When Marin returned to Nigel K.’s, most of the party had moved to the beach. One by one, they stripped to their underwear and ran into the ocean. Nigel T. and Juliette were still on the porch talking quietly in French. After a few minutes, Nigel T. noticed Marin at the bottom of the stairs.
“Are you hungry, Jyna?” he asked.
Juliette looked at her.
“Yes,” Marin said.
Nigel placed five leftover pizza crusts on a paper towel and combined the dregs of five tumblers and two beer bottles into a tumbler.
He placed this food and drink on the top step.
“Finish it all,” he said.
He returned to Juliette and resumed their conversation.
Marin sat on the bottom step, ate, drank her whisky-vodka-flat-soda-flat-beer, and watched the others play in the ocean. It was nearly nine o’clock. Nineteen hours to go.
They left for Haadrin a half-hour later. Marin was instructed by Nigel K. to stay and clean up the porch and then look for a person named Kit at the Tom-Tom Bar.
All of the bars on Haadrin were hosting crowds that were packed in shoulder-to-shoulder from the bar entrance out straight back along seventy feet of beach to the water. A troupe of fire dancers was spinning fire balls and juggling torches in the middle of the crowd on the beach behind the bar next to the Tom-Tom.
At the Tom-Tom, Marin flagged down a girl wearing the same uniform as her. The girl knew who she was and led her to the second floor. It was as crowded as the beach. At a small bar, Thai girls dressed like Marin filled buckets with ice, mixers, alcohol, and straws and pushed them across the bar to customers in exchange for cash. The girl found Kit, a young Thai man wearing a Tom-Tom Bar shirt and hot-pink knee-length fisherman’s pants, on the balcony watching the crowd on the beach. Ducky was sitting next to him and thumbing through records. Next to him was the music system, where a farang was spinning a set. Ducky raised his right hand to Marin, and then said something to Kit in Thai.
“You working downstairs,” Kit said to Marin.
Kit led her back downstairs to a bar that had been extended onto the beach with four folding tables placed end-to-end. Like the upstairs bar, it was doing steady business in buckets.
Marin joined the line and, despite the simplicity of the task at hand, had difficulty keeping pace with the other girls.
“Hurry the fuck up little girl!” one farang shouted at her as she counted out his change.
After Marin had served nearly one hundred buckets, the DJ’s voice came on the PA system: “And that’s all I’ve got for you tonight. You all have been fantastic. Next up, making his Full Moon debut, is the Bangkok Baller, the Menace of Manchester, DEEEJAAAAY QUAAAAAAACK!”
Ducky’s voice came on the PA, but Marin was trying to hear a customer’s order and missed what Ducky said.
After Ducky finished his set, he came down and asked Marin to leave the bar and follow him to the beach, where their friends were dancing. Some of them had bucket and food orders for Marin. She went out to get the buckets first and on the way back some drunk farang reached over and groped her breast. She was far from her group so she kicked her harasser hard in the shin.
Getting the food took about an hour with all of the lines and waiting.
There was another round of orders when she delivered the food.
The evening went through several distinct phases before Marin reached her halfway mark at four a.m. There was a period during which everyone found the music transcendent and behaved and danced as if participating in a spiritual rite. There was a period during which the women on the beach became tired of the men’s lack of seriousness and broke off for girls-only trips to the bathroom (having Marin stand in the long bathroom line for people in the group became a favorite way to “use her”) and walks in town, during which they mainly gossiped about the men. There was a period during which half of the revelers on the beach were blacked-out drunk and the other half had lost their buzz. Some people got sick on the beach, and Marin was dispatched to clean up after four such incidents. Then the too-drunk people sobered up a little, the too-sober people went for another round or two, and everyone went through another transcendent music phase.
Throughout all of this, their group, even those without money invested in the outcome, became quite comfortable with having Marin as a servant, and the limitations of her role and ability to speak had rendered her effectively invisible at times, even, it seemed, to Will. People talked about her—negotiated resolutions to double bookings of her time, for example—right in front of her.
The sun rose at just before six. Its beauty was cherished by the couples (Will and William, Nigel T. and Juliette, Ducky and Brigitte, and James and an Israeli girl named Hadas) and tolerated by the dateless Nigel K. and Sophie.
Shortly thereafter they went to an after-party at a house on the bluffs that Hadas had been to the night before.
They walked a mile and a half uphill and turned down a private road. Hadas led them through a vine-covered arch flanked with granite frogs. They walked through a hibiscus garden to the backyard of the residence of an affluent expatriate couple. In the middle of the yard was a rectangular infinity pool surfaced with blue tiles. The view from the yard was a bird’s-eye of early morning on Haadrin Beach.
Hadas greeted the hosts, a middle-aged couple dressed like yoga teachers, in Hebrew. A terrier-mix dog ran up after them wagging its tail and barked once at Hadas.
Marin stepped back and focused on the dog as Hadas began introductions. She watched the dog run off under the plastic pool chairs where farangs slept in the sun. She watched a teenage boy farang in swim trunks shoot it with a water gun. She watched young people with arms marked with body paint serve themselves from a round table and a rectangular table filled end-to-end with plates, pans, bowls, and woks filled with food.
Nigel T. had arranged for Marin to wash the dishes in the kitchen. He walked her into the kitchen, watched as she located the sponges and a large bottle of dish soap at the sink, and then left her.
Marin soaped garlic and chili skin off of cutting boards; scraped grease and burnt noodles and onions off the bottoms of pots and congealed meat fat off of metal racks; washed twenty wine glasses, thirty-one mugs, ten saucers, three serving platters, five bowls, twenty tupperware pieces, and two roasting pans; and had at least thirty more items to go.
Nigel K. came in, sat down at the kitchen table with a glass of orange juice, and watched her.
A bald man stumbled into the kitchen and zipped up his crotch.
“Hallo,” he said to Marin. “Can I get a wine glass?”
Marin turned off the water, picked up one of the cleaned glasses, and handed it to him.
He took it. “Wut’s your name, gorgeous?” he asked.
Marin looked at Nigel K.
Nigel moved his head to the left two inches and back.
“I velly sorry,” she said. “No speak English.”
“That’s alright,” he said. “You me pingy-pongy sometime, no Engrish required.”
Nigel K. stood up. “Okay, guy,” he said. “The lady’s working. Why don’t you pingy-pongy yourself outside?”
“Whatever, O.J.,” the man said. He left.
Nigel K. left and came back with a mug of coffee and a plate of toast. He placed them on the counter of the kitchen island. He was smoking a cigarette.
“Take a break and eat up, Jyna,” he said. “Eight hours to go, don’t want you to lose your energy.”
Marin shut off the water again, dried her hands on her shirt, and turned around.
She ate toast and drank coffee.
“Ducky and Brigitte just left. I have a feeling about those two,” he said. “But I had a feeling about you two, too, so what do I know? The other Nigel and Juliette will probably be shoving off soon too. They’ll probably do it doggie style. Do you know how I know? Because his fiancée doesn’t do it doggie style. Thinks it’s too vulgar.”
He took a drag on his cigarette.
“My girlfriend will do it any way, anywhere. Don’t think I’m going to marry her though.”
“It’s all a game, Jyna,” he said. “All a pathetic, repetitive, meaningless race to the bottom.”
She sipped her coffee and remained expressionless.
“You’re a good listener, Jyna,” he said. He laughed. “Spend your money on something not totally boring, okay?” he said.
He put out his cigarette on her empty toast plate and left.
Marin washed her cup and plate and then returned to washing the remaining dirty items.
After approximately half-an-hour, Will and William came in.
“I just wanted to say ‘bye,’ Marin,” William said. “I know you can’t respond.”
“Marin and I are telepathically linked,” Will said. “She says ‘bye William!’” He opened and closed his right hand like a sock puppet next to her ear along with his last two words.
Marin smiled quickly.
“We’re getting sleepy so we’re splitting up our referee duties into shifts,” William explained. “And Will volunteered to go first. I want sleep, and then a 100 Baht massage, and then a chapter of Midnight’s Children on the beach.”
“I’m kind of glad we had a reason to stay out the whole time, though,” Will said. “Because otherwise I would have crashed so much earlier and missed the sunrise and this here party. It was nice just to end the night chilling by the pool and talking about whatever with, like, the most amazing view ever.”
“I concur,” William said. “I’m stuffed, too. Deb is an amazing cook. And I am off to get me some sweet, delicious sleep. Walk me out?”
Marin finished the dishes some time later and walked out to the pool area. Nigel K. was playing fetch with the dog and was twirling its collar around his index finger.
He saw her, pulled the chewtoy from the dog’s mouth, and walked up to her. He pulled her towards the hibiscus garden.
“Took you long enough,” he said. “Will, Jim, and Hadas are waiting for us in the garden, but everyone else has shoved off already.”
They walked out to the garden, where Will, James, and Hadas were asleep in hammocks. They woke up, and the five of them walked out to the road.
Will, James, and Hadas walked ahead, talking amongst themselves. Nigel put the dog collar on Marin and threw the chewtoy into shrubs and weeds along the road again and again and had her fetch it for him until he grew bored.
There are parts of the forest in Borneo where the sun has not touched ground in years. In these dark folds live creatures and plants that have never directly fed off the Apollonian rays of our closest star. There is life that hides silent and deep in the dark of the canopy, sustaining itself through the work, chaos, and motion of other, more adventurous species who fly and bask and gorge so much that they produce sugar enough to spare.
Marin wondered which kind of lifeform—shadow- or sun-seeking—she was:
I am the daughter of Walter and Jinny Choo.
I speak four languages.
I like mozzarella sticks and gingerbread soy lattes.
I’ve slept with five men.
I have lied.
I have never been in love.
It was not lost on Marin that she was not the only one on the island washing dishes and toilets and cleaning vomit off the beach. It was not lost on her that no one else was complaining.
There were still six more hours for the five boys to break Marin. They had her drain the Tanstaa pool and clean it with a mop and bleach. After hosing off the bleach, Marin closed the drain as per Soo’s instructions: the small pool would soon refill with rain.
Her final task was to handwash the boys’ laundry in a shallow plastic pan with a bar of laundry soap on the ground by the drain in Soo’s backyard. This laundry included a pile of Tanstaa towels that James had defecated in.
The afternoon sun was above and slightly west, and there was no shade in the yard. Sunburnt, Marin nodded off for a minute ringing soapy brown water out of a pair of cargo shorts, but she knew that she had won.
The money transfers were terrifyingly fast. The boys seemed more interested in getting back to the Tanstaa to get to sleep.
Marin herself took a long nap in her bungalow after and woke up at sunset. She changed into fisherman’s pants and a T-shirt and walked to the beach behind the Tanstaa.
Will, William, and Danny were sitting on Nigel K.’s porch drinking tea and eating tea biscuits from a torn-open package.
She slipped out of her flip-flops and walked barefoot towards the ocean. She stopped on the wet bank of sand before the water. Marin took in the pale blue sky, the orange clouds of another day gone, the listless, free, cool ocean that lapped at their feet.
Will joined her. “Not too shabby, huh?” he said.
Beauty and pain was a cocktail whose taste, once acquired, Marin imagined, was not divested of with ease.
“Is it all a game?” she asked. “Life?”
“No,” Will said. “Yes. Sort of.”
Marin closed her eyes, dug her feet into the wet sand, and tried to imagine that it was snow. She hadn’t felt or seen snow or winter in over three years. It was the most impossible idea to conjure here in paradise. And yet, Marin longed for it and only it: the bare black branches of trees and subzero bite of February Chicago air on her skin. The truest of whites falling from the sky and stopping time.
“A lot of it is a game, and the rules suck sometimes,” Will said, “but they also change—faster and more often than you think.”
At that moment, Marin felt it for the first time in her life with clarity: her power. It was so clear that it was almost a physical presence within her. It was why she always got into such trouble. Why she always got such bad advice. It was why men like these men had made her, at great cost to themselves, a target for their games. And it was how she would one day be free.
Will left her alone on the beach, and the feeling left her too. All that was left, all that she remembered, was the longing to be home.