Seating the Wheel Bearing on the P-3 Orion Port Inboard Landing Gear Mainmount. Photo Credit: Will Pennington
Exhausted after a heavy day of maintenance, we dropped our dirty coveralls in a bin and trudged to the van. A local woman would collect the work clothes and wash them. For a few dollars more, she would wash and press personal clothing, a bargain considering how much the hotel charged. Supporting the local economy extended to more than buying barmaids drinks and picking up gaudy trinkets for girlfriends in PI.
The ride to the hotel was unusually quiet, with none of the banter over plans for the night. Most of the guys reclined in their seats, lost in thought or dozing. George snored once or twice, but stopped when Alex elbowed him in the ribs. The driver, normally a wildly gesticulating and verbose tour guide who spoke wickedly tortured English, fell under the spell of the somnolent atmosphere and held his tongue.
I sat in the back of the van, resting my cheek against the seatback. Sasi would have gone home by now, disappointed I hoped. Maybe she left me a note. I looked out the window. In the countryside, far away from the city, the sky blazed from horizon to horizon with twinkling pinpoints of light. Stars sprinkled across the heavens lit the night with the brilliance of a hundred thousand sparkling diamonds. I wanted to run my fingers through the Milky Way as it spanned the infinite curve of the universe like a feathery swath of white splashed upon a canvas of black.
I leaned my head against the window. It was too dark to see anything but stars. My tranquil, almost melancholy mood turned my vision inward. I closed my eyes and soon slipped into that shallow region just below alertness. My mind filled with thoughts of Aida and Lek. A turmoil of images and voices, colors and scents, a mix of faces and memories, emotions happy and sad, sensations at turns cold and trembling, warm and soothing. Aida, her long, black hair brushing across my belly sending wild, delicious shivers through me; lovely Lek, pleading for a return of the same love she gave, but which she would never receive. I had loved them both and wanted both and neither. Then Mama-san, whose sharp eyes pierced my heart and frowned in sorrow for Aida and disappointment in me for my duplicity; George berating me for trying to emulate my parents’ love.
I dreamed of school and the painful, paralyzing shyness that shut me off from more than casual female acquaintance, and the years in foreign ports spent seeking easy female companionship, whatever the cost in money and drink, whatever the cost in promises and false hope. I smiled, I sweated, I laughed in my dream-filled sleep. My heart broke over and over again. I dreamed of my fear of falling in love again and my destructive behavior in seeking carnal and empty, rather than spiritual, healing love. I dreamed of my one true love, Susanna, a ghost in my dream. She had been so real once.
Alex woke me as the van pulled up to the hotel lobby. I wiped the drool off my chin and grabbed my backpack. I hit my head as I exited the van and cursed under my breath. I rubbed my head: no blood. Sasi was gone, and her absence left me empty. I asked the good-looking desk clerk with the smooth skin if there were any letters for me. She shook her head and gave me my room key. Should I ask for her? Maybe she’s in the office. No. She’d have known we were back. Should I go to her? Am I presuming too much?
The key was in the lock when the night manager ran to me from the lobby.
“Sir! Sir!” She waved a piece of paper in her hand. “Sir. I have a note for you. Please accept my apology for not handing it to you at the desk.”
It was a note from Sasi. “That’s okay. Thank you.” Excited, and forgetting the pain in my head, I read:
I am sorry our date is spoiled. I looked forward so much to our evening together. I ran from my office to meet every group, hoping to see you, but I am sure you were detained at U-Tapao. If you are able, please come see me. I will wait for you, though I fall asleep on the sofa. If you do not come, I will see you in the morning.
I brought the note to my nose and inhaled. Jasmine. I closed the door and tossed the backpack onto the chair, then stripped to my shorts. I lay in bed staring at the ceiling. Lek could wait. I had to see Sasi. I had to know. I rose after a few minutes to shower. The strong flow of hot water felt good and drew the weariness away. A lingering regret about Lek remained, but I put it out of my mind. I wouldn’t string her along until I left Thailand, but she could wait one more night. Maybe the light would go on, and she’d realize something had changed. One more day and I would tell her about Aida.
Aida. I fluttered my lips.
Memories of my earlier romance with Lek had threatened to return me to Lek’s arms. Meeting Sasi, though, had flung wide open a new door to a relationship that could lead me back to the capability for love I had lost. Was Aida a rebound from that loss? No. As I told George, Aida was a natural progression, a part of the healing for a heart maimed by the sudden loss of one half of my soul. Aida was the recovery of love. Lek was a blacking out of memory for the time it took to reach orgasm. Sasi was the half of my soul coming back to me. Sasi was the healing of my heart.
I brushed my teeth and washed my hair, humming while I showered. Refreshed, dressed, and ready to go, I grabbed my wallet and room key and headed for the lobby.
Bob called to me from the pool area. Mark and Don were with him. “Hurry up, Tom. We haven’t got all night.”
“Sorry, guys. I changed my plans. I’m not going with you.”
“What the hell, Tom,” said Bob. “We could have been halfway to town.”
“Sorry, man. Plans change.” I looked around for George. “Where’s George?”
“Studly’s schmoozing with the desk clerk,” Don said. “Dude’s hopelessly in love. At least until he sees another babe.”
Mark said, “Where are you going, Tom?”
“Club Sasi. A little place by the beach.”
“What? You no like hang wid us, braddah?”
Mark’s Chinese-Hawaiian pidgin cracked me up. “No, braddah,” I said. “I like hang wid you, but I like mo bettah hang wid da local wahini.”
I found George leaning over the front desk, deep in conversation with the good-looking desk clerk.
“You’re not coming with us, Tom?”
“No. I’m heading the other way. You guys have a good time. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“What about Lek? She’s going to be disappointed.”
“Tell her — no. Don’t tell her anything. Tell her I’ll see her tomorrow night.”
George raised an eyebrow. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
“I do, George. I’ll tell her everything tomorrow.”
We split up at the crosswalk. As usual, George argued with the others over where to go, with Caligula Club topping his list. I crossed Beach Road and walked to Sasi’s place. The international feel of the crowded sidewalk, the lights, the aromas, the sounds of a city teeming with dreams and desperation imparted an excitement that made me feel lucky to be alive and overseas. I would be an old man someday and look back on these times and wish I could relive them. Better to make happy memories now than live with regrets later.