Leaving Thailand was harder than I expected and I was in tears for the first half of my departure day. By the time the train pulled out, I was in a state of emotional numbness, in no mood to chat with the friendly Muslim lady who sat across the aisle from me. She was part of a tour group, all Muslim, all aging, all from the same Malaysian town, so my community for the next twenty-three hours was, I knew, abstemious and conservative.Get used to it, I told myself, and refrained from ordering my customary beer with my supper.
I was too preoccupied to notice that we had stopped at Hua Hin, but not too stupified to be unaware that there was loud pounding on the Malaysian lady's window. She peered into the darkness in some confusion and I shrugged. I had been on a train once in Thailand where someone threw a rock at my open window and that was in far less volatile times. Whoever was pounding was not my concern, I thought, but I was wrong.
Seconds later there was the Cosmopolitan Dutchman, smiling, dressed in only slightly rumpled linen, with a plastic glass full of beer in one hand and a long-stemmed red rose and a bag with two cans of beer in the other. "I told you I'd be here," he announced, "Why didn't you come to the window?"
He saluted me in European fashion with a kiss on each cheek and the Muslim lady's eyes widened to the size of those on a Blythe doll. "They got me," he told me, "Look, my shoulder is broken," and he pulled his shirt to the side to reveal a hefty bandage, "Seven stitches," he continued, pointing to his head.
"How?" I demanded and he looked toward the door, "Hell, the train is moving," and he rushed to the exit but with no luck. Inexorably, the International Express to Malaysia was in motion and there was no way to stop it.
There was only one thing to do and we took our beer to the dining car, far from the Muslim village, and began to interrogate train staff about the next stop. They were quite insouciant that the C.D. would have to travel three hours before getting off at Chumpon until they discovered that he had no ticket. Then somehow a stop was pulled out of a hat and his impromptu journey was cut to one hour instead.
This was just about long enough to discover who "got" him and how. He had gone to an ATM one evening and was aware that a woman was close behind him but thought nothing of it. Pocketing his cash, he started to make his way down a dark and untrafficked street, when the blow struck and took him to the ground. Two Thai women stood over him, methodically bludgeoning him with a baseball bat. He lost consciousness and woke up without his cellphone or wallet. When he was able to investigate further, after several days in the hospital, he found that they had also managed to get his PIN while standing behind him and his bank account was considerably less than when he had made his last transaction.
And yet, with seven stitches and a broken shoulder, the C.D. had still come to my train, rose in hand. There are far too few men like him in the world and I'm lucky he's my friend. At least I think he's still my friend--the train that was meant to take him home was two hours late and he wasn't in bed until after 2 am. The message that conveyed that information was a bit terse.
The next morning the Muslim lady peered into my sleeping space the minute I opened the curtains. "Where is your friend?" she asked. "Oh hiding at the foot of my 5'6" pallet here," I didn't say. She was charmed to hear his travel tale and so was everyone else on the car who asked me about him during the remainder of our journey. The rose cheered me all the way to Penang, where the Cosmopolitan Dutchman has promised to come for a visit. I know he will--he is a man of his word--but heaven only knows what will happen when he does.
All I know is it will make a good story and we'll have a good time.