So rolled over, one eye slowly opening as the tail end of a dream rounded a corner of his mind. The room’s ambient light gradually gave substance to the dark mysterious shapes surrounding him as his consciousness stirred, lazily trying to grasp what it was that had awakened him. He felt the unfamiliar chill of a silently running air conditioner on his shoulder, and just as he decided to there lay the blame his thoughts drifted off on a new tangent, summoning a picture of the crumpled cellophane bag tucked into the pocket of his jeans that still held a handful of the tiny white pills he would need in the morning to unclog his sinuses and keep him from feeling like he had a cold all day.
So’s mind cleared taking a second and as unsuccessful stab at alertness, focusing on the prodigious mound of flesh deep in slumber an arm’s length away. Holding his breath to stave off a panic that had not yet taken root, he watched quietly until the telltale rise and fall of blankets signalled the problem was not with the farang whose bed he shared. His head sunk back into the pillow. His thoughts sunk back into nothingness. His stomach spoke up and admitted to being the cause for his restlessness.
Cocooned in down-filled softness, So though how good it would be to get up, get dressed, and make his way outside where he knew just two sois away, even at this early hour, there would be a few food carts just coming to life, the aroma of cooking fires freshly started already dispensing a heady steam filled with the mingled scents of meat, vegetables, and spices fresh from the morning market. It was almost enough to pull him from bed. That was one of the things So liked about Bangkok the most. Any time of the day or night there was food. Rice, noodles, fish, vegetables, and fruit; a quick snack, a full meal, whatever you wanted to fill your belly, it was always available, warm and fresh just waiting for you to pick out what you wanted to eat. Visions of his favorites played tag with his mind’s desire to dream some more before he squashed the thought, knowing he was not free to go find food anyway. But this was a good farang. Maybe he would understand. Or maybe So could sneak out and be back, his stomach full again, before the farang awoke.
Still caught between a nod and wakefulness, So took inventory of where he was. He knew this hotel. Over there in that dark corner, just below where the television sat, was a small refrigerator. But it would be empty. This hotel was not one of those that came with a refrigerator filled with juices, sodas, beer, and the kind of snacks you could buy at 7/11. There would only be two bottles of water inside. Two free bottles of water. But he wasn’t hungry enough to try to fool his stomach with liquids. Maybe he could wait. And sleep some more. If the farang woke up early enough, this hotel had a good buffet breakfast. There would be familiar dishes, not as many as those made for farang tastes, but enough. And a place he could order as many eggs as he wanted, cooked whatever way he wanted too. The eggs sounded good. Their runny yellow yolks were worth dreaming about for a bit.
So knew this was an expensive hotel. He couldn’t remember how expensive, but did remember the first time he’d been here and how surprised he’d been when he’d asked the farang how much it cost. He could never figure out why the expensive hotels never had food in the refrigerator, but the cheaper ones did. It must have something to do with farang, even though the hotel was in Thailand, because it really didn’t make sense. If he woke up hungry at one of the less expensive hotels – and waking up hungry was not an unusual occurrence for So – he could quietly sneak a quick snack in the dark of the night while his customer slept. Maybe a bag of chips. Or a chocolate bar.
He’d be careful to hide the wrapper at the bottom of a trash can; farang never noticed the missing food unless they saw an empty bag laying about. Years before, before he knew better, he’d made that mistake. And his customer became angry in the morning. Over such a silly thing. The farang had complained about how much that bag of chips had cost, had whined that the hotel charged twice what it would cost from Foodland. He’d been angry over 40 baht. When he was paying 1,800 baht for the hotel. So had been embarrassed for him. But he’d learned a lesson. And besides, a cooked egg was better than a bag of Doritos any day.
So’s head fell back onto his pillow. He arched his back, lifting his head up to let it fall into the deep softness of the pillow again. This was a good pillow. Big. Fluffy. Soft. But not so soft he’d get a crick in his neck from sleeping on it. He turned over and buried his face in the pillow deeply, filling his lungs with its freshly laundered scent. Noi would like this pillow, So thought. He sighed dreaming of how nice it would be to have this pillow at home, how good it would be to lay in bed with this fine pillow under his and his wife’s heads. His eyes closed while his mind played over all the possibilities of how he’d be able to take this pillow home with him.
The pillow was too big to just walk out with. The hotel wouldn’t like that. And his customer probably wouldn’t let him out of the room with it anyway. He could toss it out the window when the farang wasn’t looking; there were so many pillows piled up on the bed he’d never miss just one. But someone would find it before So could get down to the street. The old man he pictured in his dream running off with his pillow turned into Noi . . . that would work. But his mind was too busy, still too much awake, to let that vision remain for long; Noi was at home kilometers away, not waiting down on the street for a pillow to float into her arms.
So’s eye popped back open, focusing on his cell phone charging on the nightstand next to the bed. He could call Wit, his bar mate. Wit would wait down in the street, Wit would go along with his plan. But he knew Wit well enough to know he’d want a pillow too. And that would only be right. Would the farang notice two pillows were gone? Moving quickly through cause and effect as the human brain seems only capable of when asleep, his scheme involving Wit dissipated into a vision of his diminutive friend running down Suriwong with a large soft pillow tucked under each of his arms, and then crystallized into a picture of So riding off on his motocy with a stack of big fluffy pillows strapped to its seat. He laughed, quietly, at the thought, rolled over and enveloped the sleeping farang with his body, thinking he too made a fine pillow. And drifted back to sleep.
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