Unexpected Guest ...



The thick, once sturdy thumb, of a farmer turned academic rubbed incessantly at the arm of the chair. Years of this repetitive tic had left the otherwise impeccable koa wood rocker stained, weathered and aged much like the thumb itself. Suddenly the thumb moved from the rocker to the phone in an action long and anxiously anticipated. The daily ritual was about to begin.

A long series of numbers was then entered. If no mistakes are made and the circuits are not busy my phone soon begins to ring on the other side of the world. I could be almost anywhere at this time of day, but on this occasion I was at home, alone. The wife and her sister had gone off to an aunt’s house for som tam, as if that is anything new. The mother-in-law was off in the fields where she feels most at home.

Shortly before the phone rang the puppy started barking even more fiercely than normal. I reached the front door just in time to stop a young man, I didn’t know, from walking on in. I stepped out the door to stop him entering and quickly took in the scene. His motorcycle was parked outside the gate which was left standing open. With the puppy verbally abusing our “guest” I managed to get the gate closed and continued assessing the situation. In the middle of all this the phone rang. Over the continuing protests of the dog I told my father, rather abruptly, that it was not a good time and I could not talk.

With the phone already in my hand I called my wife to determine who this guy was. I had never seen him before, but that did not negate the possibility of him being family. He new my wife’s name but was too young to have been an old flame. In no way is that kind of thing an issue with us but my mind automatically scans all possible scenarios.

He was obviously under the influence of something that had emboldened him enough to walk up to our house and talk with me asking rather direct questions. He was not aggressive but there was an edginess to his demeanor and in his exaggerated politeness. He appeared pushy and insistent. He did a fair job of speaking Central Thai with me and watched me intently as he greeted me with many a Thai wai. I had the distinct feeling that he could have been easily offended if my actions were not carefully measured.

When I reached my wife by phone she suggested I should get rid of him, but that was easier said than done. I could hear the sister in the background saying don’t tell him where we are. I made up a lie about the family being in Chiang Rai and that I was busy, alone and really couldn’t help him. It took a while to convince him to leave. My language and diplomatic skills were tested and I had to return an excessive number of wais and deal with questions that were really none of his business.

Situations like this can be difficult to assess. I am usually insulated from family and social strife in the village. This was a rare occurrence were I had to deal with someone without any information, background or backup. While that made things more difficult I can’t honestly say I could have handled it any differently because of the chemicals involved. Drugs affect people in unpredictable ways so caution seemed the best path.

I tried to explain to my wife, how my desire not to offend her family or cause her any problems down the road, makes it difficult sometimes to choose the correct action. If as before, I only had to consider myself, it would be much simpler. I finally got an explanation of who the young man was.

He was from a neighboring village, a friend of the sister and was involved with some painting of the house many years ago. His father was a respected teacher but a heavy drinker and ended up having a stroke which has left him unable to move and apparently confined him to home. His mother turned into the village harlot and he has been know to publicly question if there were any men in the village who haven’t slept with her. People pitied him for a while but he has managed to alienate family and friends to the point that nobody wants anything to do with him. I think I can understand their feelings if he is always so pushy and annoying.

Eventually I got around to returning my parents call and explained the situation to my father. His need for our daily telephone session seems great enough that I find it hard to say no, even when it is terribly inconvenient. Ostensibly the calls are for mother’s benefit but seem to do more for my father as mother doesn’t really interact that much.

She just says it is nice to hear my voice and listen to my stories. Not sure how much she understands of what I say but since she doesn’t remember I guess it doesn’t really matter. When she does talk it is usually to repeat the very few things she seems to focus on. I attempt to keep things upbeat and positive. The high-powered Alzheimer's medications seem to reduce the hallucinations and delusions a bit but nothing can remove the cobwebs that cloud her mind.

Trying to reconcile the immediacy of life in the village with the broader, more disperse and less personal online life is sometimes a stretch. Taken separately they seem to lack something but combined they provide an interesting mix of real and virtual, private and public. One seems to feed off the other. Telephones and internet make face to face interaction less urgent but there seems to remain a deep, primal need to be close to someone.