I didn’t know what to do last night, so I went for a ride.
I could have done something more exciting on a Friday night, for sure, but it’s been a long week full of words and thoughts and I didn’t want the city, or a beer, or even company. The danger existed, lurked, of staying inside my air-conditioned bedroom the entire evening. I already knew I wouldn’t grade papers or write a homework assignment or even cobble together a few words of my novel, though, and thankfully hunger forced me out the door.
There’s a restaurant around the corner from the school that is open for lunch and dinner. The tables are made from fiberglassed sections of tree trunks, and at the smaller tables the stools are entire tree stumps. We call it AC Place, although I’ve found that the doors are open and the fans are on just as often as the air conditioning. When we leave campus to go to the city we turn left out of the driveway, but AC Place is a very small distance to the right and, until last weekend, was the farthest I’d traveled in that direction.
Last Saturday David, Ako, and I went to a Nature Preserve in Wat Bot where I took the photo at the beginning of this post, and on the way discovered that the drive was perfect. Last night I wanted a bit of perfect, so I drove past AC Place and kept going, over the railroad tracks, onto 1086, and down the curving two-lane road. Trees overflowing with greenery hung over the road, and I drove past rice fields and intermittent patches of jungle. Friday seems to be trash day, so I passed many roadside fires, always untended and burning gently by the side of the road, releasing fumes of plastic bags and bottles into the dusky air. Thai people sat outside their houses, near the road, sometimes selling watermelon or rambutans. Sometimes they sat at restaurants, but it was always hard to tell if they were restaurants. I peered into the darkness of tables and people sitting beneath roofs with no walls, looking for food or a kitchen and smelling good things, but I remained ultimately unsure and drove on, unwilling to stop. They don’t get many Farang in this neighborhood, and as I drove by people stared, laughter and a smile on the edge of their faces, as though wondering what I was doing there.
I marked a few roads to come back to at a later date, including the way to a local wat (temple), but ultimately this was a trip for getting out of the house, not one of wild exploration. (Should one always be wildly exploring? Can one be forgiven for feeling shy and wanting only a bit of air and the sunset?) I turned around a little ways after the road widened into a four-lane on its way through a miniature strip with shops and a 7-11, and just before it met the broader highway. (If you are traveling all the way to the Khao Noi – Khao Pradu Non-Hunting Area, you will turn off again after a very short stint on the highway and soon find yourself on a narrow and muddy dirt track that travels up and down hills and tests your ability to stay upright on your motorbike.) Where the horizon was wide due to the lack of foliage near the highway, I saw the sunset in my rear-view mirror, dusky purples sinking into grey clouds and a yellow haze. I turned to face it, but lost it soon after I began to head toward home. The road turned a bend and very soon the sunset was reflecting in brilliance, once again, in my rearview mirror. A metaphor? Perhaps.
I stopped at AC Place on the way back and had the chicken with basil over rice (it cost a dollar). Then I picked up some evening snacks at the convenience store and turned down the drive to the school. A dark and dainty shape ran out of the shadows and chased alongside my bike as I passed the empty school buildings: Lady Gaga, one of the school dogs. She is all black and slender with long legs and elegantly tufted ears. Moments later Rusty appeared on my other side, a red-brown dog who always seems competent and in charge of the situation. They are the parents of the four puppies on campus, three baby black dogs and one the color of rust. The two dogs flanked my bike like an honor guard the whole way to my door. I wondered if they wanted to play, or say hello, but by the time I had turned off my bike they had already run off side by side into the night.