around the city horizon and shakes his head to clear the dizziness. The sky burns inside his head. A silent scream, the insect battle cries of building cranes draw together in one long plangent shriek across the hot blue sky, a shrill of anxiety only he can hear. From wherever you stand these days, alien stick-figure monsters loom on the skyline, a tangle of mindless, implacable builders. Destroyers. Sometimes—now—Chai hates this great suppurating city, swollen with people and cars swarming like maggots on a week-old corpse, multiplying like bacteria in a wound till the pressure of pus threatens to burst the tissues.

They kept Chai and his brother awake for ten months, erecting the high-rise condominium where the noodle shop, the best in the neighborhood, and the adjoining ice-house used to stand. They worked twelve-hour shifts around the clock, seven days a week. Nobody could sleep, but it wouldn’t have done any good to complain to the police. They had been paid. Now things are quiet once more, but Chai will never be able to see the sun from the roof of their building again. And now the lane is always choked with cars and delivery trucks. But mai pen rai—it doesn’t matter; soon they will have to move anyway. Another condo is going up and the whole row of old houses, the grocery and the barbershop have to go. Rents are so high these days, though; it’s hard to say where they will move to.

Before they tore down the old wooden icehouse, Sombat the legless boy used to clatter around the neighborhood on his cart delivering baskets of crushed ice. After the ice-house went, the rattle and squeak grew less frequent, slower, somehow less cheerful. For months before he died, Sombat gradually faded away, sometimes sitting for hours on the street doing nothing, just looking, smiling a bit if you said hello.

Black-smoked windshields throw reflections of Chai back up at himself, phantom witnesses to his presence, watching and waiting there this day. And now the moment is moving surely towards him. It approaches with the stuttering river of cars, with the slow storm of color and sparkle in the hot, still air. Reds flare fierce as blood in the sun, blare lust and power. Blues dazzle and pine. Dark greens, cool greens; hot yellows and pinks. Glossy black class—power. The whole of it a hectic crawl, a babble of color, a confusion of grays, whites, maroons, browns, silver and gold, a vast hubbub of sorrow and anger and want and hate. And here it is—a big, long Sclass. The butterscotch Benz is approaching, slick and sweet enough to eat. The inside lane, as well. That’s good. And it isn’t going to make the green light.

Chai clatters down the steps and swings onto the bike behind Dit even before the Benz has stopped, stuck behind a truck and two cars at the intersection. Dit moves the motorcycle out to draw alongside, Chai riding pillion. Jai yen yen. Cool, cool; be cool, now. Chai reaches inside the saddlebag.

They’ll wait till the light turns yellow.

Chai waits and waits as Dit revs the throttle, looking to see the shadowy figures in the back seat of the Benz. Two people. And the driver in front. This is work, remember, Chai tells himself as the bike pulls ahead a little. Do it right. Keep cool. But his heart sings as he pulls the trigger again and again, the big pistol bucking in his hand as the smoked glass shatters and sags and caves in to reveal just another person, after all, vulnerable like the rest of us, his face dissolving in shock and then in blood. The only sound now, for Chai, is the bark of the 11mm automatic pistol, the only voice the gun, the only business the revelation of this soft, silly creature trying to hide behind his hands, behind his glasses as they, too, shatter and explode in hot red blood. With a quick look of alert intelligence, the dog hunches farther back under its shelter.

Chai puts on his sunglasses again. To cool things down; to give him distance. As they pull away, he can hear a woman screaming, maybe the one in the car. Dit angles the motorcycle through the jam of cars, scooting around a panel truck, behind a bus and then off through the intersection to lose them in the traffic. Chai never hears the mighty howl as the legless beggar rocks back and forth on the pavement, banging his cup till coins fly in all directions. “I am my iPhone,” proclaims his T-shirt, white lettering on a red background.

Sunset comes quickly in the tropics. This day in April the whole city greets the dusk with gratitude. Back on the pedestrian overpass, two men come to take away the legless beggar. In Chai’s part of town, bats dart against the sky, disappearing as the twilight dies and street lamps switch on. The street lights, the shop lights, the tail- lights of the evening traffic all lend a festive air to the city. Shabby, teeming streets throb to glad rhythms, to the honking wheeze of traffic, to the start and stop of buses, the cries of hawkers, the din of CD stalls. The pavements are crowded with vendors steaming, smoking, sizzling away side by side, blocking the pavement, the air rich with aromas of food, with the fragrance of jasmine and diesel.

Chai has finished his business for the day, and he has money. Now, finally, he’s going to eat. He is hungry, hungry. The old noodle shop is gone. He and his new friends are going to try that new restaurant. It’s air- conditioned and it has pretty waitresses in nice uniforms. Tonight he will drink beer.

In the morning he’ll go to the temple and make merit. That will make his brother Vajira happy.

Collin Piprell

Collin Piprell is a Canadian writer and editor based in Bangkok.

He has also lived in England,where he did graduate work at Oxford, and in Kuwait, where he learned to sail, waterski, and make a credible red wine in plastic garbage bins. Before and after the Oxford and Kuwait years Collin was, among other things, a driller and stope leader on four mining and tunneling jobs in Ontario and Quebec.

Over the past years he has produced many articles on a wide variety of topics. He is also the author of four novels, a collection of occasional pieces, a diving guide to Thailand, another book on diving, and a book on Thailand’s coral reefs. He has also co-authored a book on Thailand’s national parks.

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