Water Towers – Part Seven

Mursley-GBThe old petrol station, the pumps standing like loyal forgotten sentries. A green painted shack, a chain and padlock hanging from the door. Paint peeling from the wood in long triangular strips.

When I’d seen this part of the film, I was taken back to the beachfront in Pattaya. The time I’d made my way there in the early evening, after being beaten up, dead drunk, spitting blood into the sand. Traffic tearing up the road, motorbikes teeming like pilot fish through the taxi cabs. A low, soft breeze teasing at the humidity, the tinny, insistent music from the bars. Later, I’d discover that I had a broken arm, and while the pain showed up dimly, a torchlight flashed against closed eyes, it didn’t seem to matter. I sat drinking up the last of my money, watching the evening sun melting into a pink pool on the horizon, the last of the light hitting the towers across the bay. A shack stood set back from the road, selling beer and lychee juice, the split wood painted green.

The owner was a man in his late fifties, with clipped thinning hair, wiry frame, a broken nose smeared into his face. I told myself that he was an ex-boxer: you could see them fighting in open air bouts, roared on by the Western tourists, lonely men looking for a pack. I built a career for him in my head, the discipline and the training, only to be broken and left aside. I bought a Singha from him, and at first he named the wrong price; marking it up for a tourist was the only attention he paid me. Still, I felt a surge of kinship, toasting him with the first sip of the beer, both of us looking out over the pure turquoise sea.

This was the scene I pictured, on that Boxing Day, when I heard about the tsunami. The tide shrinking from the shore was that tide, the exposed sands of the bay. And then the surge of the water’s return, the devastating relentless push. But the east coast went untouched. The old ex-boxer, the shacks and the sea front, the bars further back, everything went on as before, until the news came through, I guess. Even if it was only to myself, to understand the whole of it, to bring it home.

Words © Daniel Bennett

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