This week I made a mercy dash to Chanthaburi after receiving a disturbing phone call on Sunday evening. ''Lersak's tried to kill himself,'' Samai breathlessly told me over the phone. ''He drank weed killer at your house.''
Not the kind of thing one wants to hear after settling down to one's first Sunday screwdriver; I was in my car and on the motorway in no time, hurtling towards the eastern province at a speed that would have required 100 baht firmly attached to my driver's licence had the cops pulled me over.
I have a modest wooden house in the hills of Chanthaburi, a province nestled on the Cambodian border. It's very peaceful except that it's right near one of Cambodia's bigger casinos catering solely to Thais, who make the 250km trek from Bangkok in hundreds of rented vans every weekend. It's the casino that regularly harbours Thai politicians when they need to make hasty escapes _ I believe Jakkrapob Penkair is enjoying one of the concrete and linoleum penthouses there at present _ but besides this attraction, Chanthaburi is also a picturesque corner of Thailand with lots of fruit groves and rolling hills.
Twelve years ago I achieved the distinction of having the number one best-selling book in Thailand for a couple of weeks. The follow-up proved to be a best-seller as well, dispelling any personal fears that I was some kind of literary Sigue Sigue Sputnik who would disappear without a trace after only one effort. With my new-found wealth I built a wooden house as a kind of weekend getaway from the Bangkok rat race, somewhere I could disappear to and continue to write my runaway bestsellers.
Murphy's law. The moment my house was finished the next book I wrote peaked at No5; the one after that at No10. The one after that didn't even crack the top 20; that was around the time Mariah Carey released her Glitter album so she and I were soul mates there for a brief moment. And like Mariah, there was an unexpected resurgence in my literary works around 2005 and suddenly I was flavour of the month again on the book charts, enabling me to return to both my house renovations and my passionate dislike for Mariah Carey.
My Chanthaburi village friends are so nice and friendly and accept me for all my faults and eccentricities, especially if I turn up with a bottle of 100 Pipers and a dozen soda waters.
One of my best friends there is Lersak, whom I have known for nearly 20 years. Thirteen years ago he fell in love with Hattai, an 18-year-old local girl. They never married; Hattai moved to Bangkok and gained her degree, while Lersak generally stayed in Chanthaburi running his rubber plantation.
In retrospect what happened was clear to see, though not for us who were so close to the events. Hattai grew out of Lersak. Recently in the Bangkok office where she worked she met a guy and, well, Lersak was sidelined. Two weeks ago she broke it off with him.
''He's over at your house ... dying,'' Samai explained over the phone as I reached the halfway mark of my mercy dash.
Dying at my house? Crazily I'd forgotten to bring my camera along. And besides ... what is it with Thais killing themselves to get back at their lovers?
Despite the proliferation of massage parlors on every corner of this country, there seems to be a strong commitment _ or perhaps it is a sense of ownership _ when it comes to finally meeting up with one's life partner. The commitment part is good; but thinking you can ''own'' anyone is dangerous, and this is clear when someone in a relationship here wants out, but the other doesn't.
Over the years of reporting the news in this country I am baffled by the constant recurrence of one particular news item, and it is this: Thai man has girlfriend. Thai man has relationship with other woman. Thai girl kills herself to ''get back at'' the Thai man.
It's been my experience that being alive is far more disturbing to an ex- than being dead. I just need to get this idea through to heartbroken young Thais who want to die to revenge an ex. This usually takes the form of jumping from a great height from one of those dreadful suburban apartment blocks _ you know the kind, all concrete and linoleum, like Jakkrapob's penthouse.
I once met an American man here who lived in a nice apartment who had a Thai girlfriend who was a university student. They'd been together six months. He met somebody else and decided to call it quits, so the next time his girlfriend was visiting, he told her the news. She nodded and took it in with an ashen face.
He went to the kitchen to get a drink, and when he returned she was gone. There, on the balcony, he spotted her shoes. She had jumped from the 15th floor.
Now if Hercule Poirot or Nancy Drew had spent any time in Thailand they would have spotted the important discrepancy in this story. Any Thai would have left her shoes by the door when she came in to the apartment. Why were they now out at the balcony? Simple; while he was in the kitchen she'd taken them out there before jumping. It was a sign. She was going to show him; teach him a strong lesson. She was going to kill herself and make sure he knew what she'd done!
The poor girl. There's a match for any old boot, as my mother used to say frequently, but that is beside the point; she left that balcony and hurtled down through the atmosphere thinking: ''Ha! This'll show him!'' Thwack.
It's all too tragic to even think about.
If it's the guy who's hard done by, he's more prone to do like Lersak and drink the local version of Drano, or worse, murder his girlfriend for daring to be with another guy. Such is the heart of we humans, especially when we delude ourselves into thinking that we can really ''own'' somebody else.
I am telling you all this because, after 250 kilometres breaking the speed limit, I arrived in my little home of Chanthaburi to a very-much-alive Lersak, sitting under his house with a glass of whiskey in front of him and a forlorn expression.
It turns out he'd trudged up the mountain with his bottle of weed killer into the forest where he couldn't be found. And then what? Unscrewed the cap and chugged it down, sputtering and choking on the poison as it wrested the very life out of him?
Hardly. He telephoned Hattai.
''I'm up here in the forest ... about 20 metres diagonally to the left behind Andrew's house. You'll never find me. I'm about to drink weed killer. I'm ending it all because of you, Hattai. Goodbye!''
All he needed was a swelling of violins and a commercial break to complete the picture. Hattai, of course, quickly called Lersak's mother, who called his best friend Wan, who happened to be at the rubber plantation, who sped over on his motorbike 30 minutes later with a gaggle of locals to find Lersak sprawled out under my sala with a hardly-touched bottle of weed killer.
I was furious.
''I drove three hours for this?'' I snarled. ''This isn't a suicide attempt! It's not even a cry for help! It's just pathetic!''
Lersak to his credit didn't disagree. I actually felt sad for him, having been jilted then having staged a very bad suicide attempt. Haven't we all felt like him at some stage in this life?
I certainly have. I couldn't show my face the week my book didn't enter the top 40 bestselling books. But there's always a new book, or a new girlfriend, for Lersak and me to look forward to. Despite our faults, both of us have managed to survive life's punches and pitfalls far longer than Sigue Sigue Sputnik ever did.
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