paying for everything the past couple of months. The temple is all very well. It’s a good thing. But right now money comes first. There will be time for the temple later. So he has come to meet his new partner, into the middle of the city in the traffic and the heat, to do this job.

And now he’s waiting.

A little way along, on the other side of the pedestrian overpass from where Chai waits, a beggar sits at his station. He’s older than Sombat was, but just as legless, the legs of his short pants pinned up and empty. His face is full of mortification, his life one long humiliation. As people come by, he rattles the few coins in his cup, supplicant, bending forward to bang forehead and cup on the steel deck, pisspools either side of his head. A legless beggar in a puddle of his own urine, left by his handlers for a long day shift on the overpass. A couple of people drop coins into his cup. Most do not. Fastidious, they walk around him and his piss. One band of youths laugh, pointing to the pools. Three armed soldiers on patrol in camouflage outfits look, just as they look everywhere, for signs of insurgency. It’s a full year after the last Red Shirt protests boiled over, but the government is still in power, the soldiers are still here and Chai is still hungry. No one asks the beggar if he wants to be moved. The police won’t move him, Chai knows; they have been paid.

Chai leaves his post to turn and stroll past the soldiers. He stops to check his pockets as though he’s looking for something and watches as, oblivious to his presence, the patrol descends on the opposite side. He returns to his vantage point.

Looking down, he can see his partner, Dit, standing a little back from the street with his motorcycle. Beside Dit, under a road construction sign like a pup tent, a dog rests in the shade. The naked red ulcers all over its body look sore. Its muzzle, now healed, has been crushed and twisted to one side, maybe from too close an encounter with a car. That painfully contorted dog face turns and turns, strangely peaceful, observing passers-by with quiet interest.

Dit is pretending to work on his motorcycle. That boy knows what he’s doing; he has been around. Dit was a Ranger. Up in Korat. And last May he made good money as a Red Shirt guard. Dit laughs quietly and says that’s because he wore black, not red. Chai was there too, but he only wore red.

Chai likes Dit’s high-top sneakers, and he feels ashamed of his own rubber thongs. Though he wonders if the high-tops aren’t hot in this weather. Maybe he’ll buy a pair after the job, when he has money. Below, the traffic stops for the red light, and the dog turns to watch as, loose-limbed, flip-flops slapping a quick tattoo on the metal, Chai comes down the steps to stand on the pavement. Dit looks over at him, his manner questioning. But Chai just waves and lights a cigarette, the Marlboro Dit gave him earlier. Chai catches a glimpse of himself in the tinted windows of a passing Toyota Crown. He likes the sunglasses. Counterfeit Polaroids. Same as the real ones, but cheap. He takes the glasses off and hangs them on the collar of his T-shirt. Right now, this afternoon, he wants the city unmediated by his Polaroids. Maybe it’s the heat, but the colors are brighter today. Hotter and brighter. More real. Especially without the sunglasses. Even with the pollution and the car exhaust, everything is so clear. “CHEVY CHASE” reads his brand-new T-shirt. Chai doesn’t know any English, but the vendor who sold him the shirt explained that a Chevy Chase is an American car. That’s what he’s going to buy one day, Chai tells himself, admiring the logo on his shirt front. A Chevy Chase. He wants to tell Dit. After they are finished.

The Toyota Crown moves on. Cars snarl and wheeze at the intersection, stop and start, an intermittent river of shiny waxed reds and yellows and blues. All the colors in the world. Splendid hues multiplied and complicated in chrome and glass. A big air-conditioned bus rolls by, painted up like a new-model iPhone, its giant screen a window on some world of happy people.

Last year this part of town was a sea of red. Red shirts, red headbands, red banners, red pickup trucks and, finally, red blood on the streets. Even Chai came out in his brother’s red Singha beer T-shirt and his reddish motorcycle taxi driver’s vest. He got money every day he showed up. Not a lot, but they were going to bring the government down, he was told. Then there would be much more money for everyone. The old prime minister would return, bringing back “democrazy” with him. Nai Yai—the Big Boss—was the richest man in Thailand, maybe in the world. So everything would be okay again, everyone said. Chai believed them and tries to now, tries to remember the days when everything was okay.

Air-con bus fares have gone up again. Everything is going up. How can a person live in this city, the way things are going? You sit on an ordinary bus, no air, and the bus gets stuck in traffic, not even a breeze. It’s torture. Clouds of exhaust choking you. You haven’t got to work yet and you’re all screwed up, your clothes soaked with sweat. Chai got off the bus three stops early, not wanting to be seen, and he walked the rest of the way to the overpass to meet Dit. You need a car in this city. A motorcycle is faster, but then you’re right down there in the worst of it. Coughing all the time. Chest tight. Eyes sore. Motorcycles aren’t the same as cars. Chai knows he’ll be nobody until he can sit in his own car with his air-conditioner blowing and some music on his stereo. A nice girl beside him. Then it won’t matter how bad the traffic is.

The Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs and Honda Accords roll by. Lots of Mitsubishis and Toyotas and Peugeots and Isuzus. Volvos. One Jaguar. But no butterscotch Benz. Not yet. It’s amazing, with what they cost, the number of Mercedes-Benzes on the streets. When Chai gets his car, he wants smokedglass windows all around; it looks good. And it keeps the sun out. But then how will people be able to see the nice girl beside him? It will be better if people can see her. He stares hard at the side windows of a passing Volvo, seeing only shadowy presences that could be anybody. No, not anybody. Someone rich. “Mobile Class Members Club,” proclaims a sticker on the back window of one car. Chai has heard how much a single beer, a small beer, costs in a club like that one. The job his brother Vajira has, he doesn’t earn that much in a day. Vajira’s wife, Daeng, she doesn’t make that much in three days, renting out woven mats in the park so people can sit on the grass. At a place like the Mobile Class Members Club the girls are all beautiful and, somebody told Chai, their drinks cost even more than the beer. And you know how much you have to pay to take one of these chickens home for the night? It’s unbelievable.

But they say the Red Shirts are coming out again. And this time there’ll be no stopping them. No more double standards. Everybody will have money. Nice cars. Good whiskey. Dit says all these things will come true. It’s democrazy that does it. And then he laughs, maybe because this makes him happy.

The light is turning, so Chai goes back up the steel stairway to his post.

This job today will buy him a few beers. Beautiful women, too, though not in the Mobile Class. A motorcycle, bigger than his brother’s. And this is only the start. If he does good work this time, there will be more in the future. This is a big chance for him. He’ll be able to buy a car. A Toyota. He’ll drive his brother and his wife to Nonthaburi, to that restaurant by the river. And they will eat big grilled tiger prawns with sweet solid white meat. And cold, cold beer. Even a bottle of Black Label whiskey. Put it on a trolley with a bucket of ice and bottles of cola. The waiters will keep pouring it out, nobody’s glass allowed to go dry; then he’ll call for more Coke and ice. And when the first bottle of Black Label is gone, he’ll send a waiter for another. He’ll buy a Blu-ray DVD player, and the neighbors will come to sit downstairs, on the road outside the house, and watch the Muay Thai boxing. A big color set with a fortytwo-inch screen. HD. He’ll buy everybody Mekong whiskey and beer and fried duck and prawns. No. He should buy them Black Label too.

A young woman stops to drop some coins into the legless beggar’s cup. A nice-looking woman in a nice dress. She’s wearing a chunky gold-chain necklace, and Chai sees the look in the beggar’s face as he thanks her. Had the beggar legs to stand on, he would stand to snatch the gold and run like the wind. The woman walks down the steps to the street and towards the intersection. Chai likes the way she moves.

Chai suddenly sags, struck with the gravity of it all. Cars and motorcycles, tuk-tuks and trucks roar and whine and growl, a snarling confusion of sound, a weight of color and movement and want and hate, killing in this heat. Chai hasn’t eaten yet today. It’s too hot. The heat weighs down, threatens to suffocate him. The cityscape shimmers for a moment and then holds still again, intense and hard-edged.

A brown Mercedes-Benz is approaching… It isn’t the one. The man told him to watch for a butterscotch Benz, the same color as the foreign khanom, the candy he gave Chai to taste. Expensive candy. What the foreigners eat, but it doesn’t taste so good. Chai likes Thai food. And with that thought he feels pangs of hunger. He feels faint, dizzy. A dull throb has started in his temples. The butterscotch Benz is a big one, he has been told. An SE class. Chai repeats the license plate number he was given, repeats it over and over like a mantra. He steps to the other side of the bridge, the beggar’s side, and looks towards the intersection to see the changes.

The gigantic mall they burned last year has been rebuilt; it seems bigger than it was before, and more beautiful. Chai has been inside only once. It’s like a temple, but far grander than any temple he has ever seen. Behind the mall and there, on the other corner, they are building more things—who knows what? Chai gazes all

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