I went to the restaurant on the bridge today with images of Pad Thai and ice-cream in my head. This local eatery is located on the small intersection between the modern paved bridge and the old wooden one. As I stepped onto the first bridge, an un-abashed Thai (or perhaps Burmese?) boy, perhaps about 10 or 11 years old, stared at me openly. I greeted him with “Sawa dee Ka.” He replied with the standard “Krup,” and then gave me a toothy grin showing off the bottle-rot apparent in his front teeth and incredibly common in these parts of the country. I smiled and nodded back and continued past him, sliding my hand along the rail as I went. It wasn’t long at all before I noticed the sound of someone else’s hand sliding and bumping along behind mine. RIGHT behind mine. The boy was following me at an uncomfortably close distance. If I went faster, he matched my pace. I crossed to the other side of the bridge and he followed. I hugged my bag closer to me in case he was a pick-pocket, and practically power walked the remaining distance to the restaurant. I ordered my Pad-Thai quickly and sat down at the far table by the rail over-looking the river. I had thought that he had stopped following me at the edge of the bridge, perhaps to follow other bridge-walkers like the bridge guarding troll in Billy-Goats-Grugg, but no sooner had I opened the book I had brought along then I spotted a small hand pulling a chair out on the side of the table kitty-corner from me. Before I could say anything the waiter had come along to poor both of us a glass of ice-water. The boy smiled at me before gulping his water down and then looking at me for more. I used the pitcher the waiter had set at our table to pour him another glass. And another. And another. By the third glass, I guessed he would be sticking around for a while.
He pointed across the bridge several times saying something I couldn’t understand. Even if I COULD speak Thai, I think I would have had trouble understanding him, because his speech was slurred, and it appeared to me that he was slightly mentally disabled. I just smiled at him and kept pouring him more glasses of water. I had given up reading my book. A couple of times he went to the side overlooking the river and dumped (or spit) his water over the edge. I told him “Mai-Au” –Thai for “Not want”; in English we would say “Don’t do that,” but Thai’s are more sparing with there use of words. He would usually just look back at me, smile, and then come sit back down.
Before long, my Pad Thai came and he didn’t take his eyes off of it as I lifted my fork to start eating. I couldn’t very well enjoy my Pad Thai while he was staring at me, so I pushed it over to him and ordered another one for myself. Now it was I who was staring as he ate. He didn’t eat as hungrily as I’d expected him to, which assured me that he probably had someone looking after him--at least when he wasn’t following people around on the bridge, but boy was he a messy eater. He’d use his fork to get a huge pile of noodles half-way into his mouth, and then would proceed to slurp and use his left hand to get the noodles the rest of the way in. I said “Mai-Au” several times and tried to show him how to wrap his noodles around his fork and eat smaller bites. It was to no avail. My one success was to convnince him not to throw his napkin over the side of the wall—“Mai-Au!!! Tee-nee!” Not want! Here! (as I pointed to where he should place his used napkin on the table.) It wasn’t long before my second plate of Pad Thai arrived, and I was embarrassed to discover that I was no better at politely eating the dish than he was. I tried my best to set a good example, though I felt like a hypocrite every time I had noodles hanging sloppily out of my mouth, and I used whatever means I could to stuff them inside of me before he could see.
I ate as fast as I could worrying that if I didn’t leave before he was finished with his food, he would just follow me home, and what would I do with him then? I won the race, and hurried over to pay the bill while he was still working on his plate. I couldn’t leave without a little ice-cream though, so I ordered two-scoops to go, glancing over at him to make sure he wasn’t looking. Unfortunately, he was, and he immediately came over and stood hovering over the cone as the cashier scooped first a chocolate-chip, and then a chocolate scoop into my cone. I smiled at him and pointed at the table where his unfinished plate of Pad Thai was waiting for him. He happily went back to work on it, perhaps hoping that I would return with ice-cream for him as well.
I paid the 75 Baht and walked quickly out of there, hoping that he wouldn’t follow me, and hoping that the management knew I didn’t have a clue who the kid was and that they had a better chance of communicating with him than I did. He didn’t follow me. I felt guilty all the way home as the ice-cream dripped
Dripped, and I wiped the drips off the cone with my tongue and off my face with the back of my hand.