from Three Coin Prose: Bangkok (2008)
The bar Banana, at the top of the street, is Soi Twilight's hassle-free zone. Sitting there, I watch visitors arrive, out on a lark or in a hurry. Others do not enter, but only stand peering down the soi--a net of little blue lights turns to extravagant neon fruit further on--and they are curious or horrified. They've already passed through the city of women. Now here is the alley of boys.
Across from Banana is Hotmail and the grinning bar man whose job it is to pull people in. He was here last year too--something has happened to him. His is not sick, not old or worn. Here's what it is: he has become processed, packaged. He is a product now, his smiles as uniform as citrus in Tokyo. I don't blame him. I hope the boy from a village up North is stowed away, inside, safe.
Last night, as the pretty boys patrolled and the johns mulled their choices for the night, a beggar arrived in Soi Twilight. A skinny young man in blue shirt and blue shorts, each of his limbs twisted thirty degrees in the wrong direction. He hobbled past the the boys with spiked hair and white tank tops, past the bar men in tight black shirts and began to beg from men sitting at the bar.
He turned and I saw, on the back of his left leg, a long red open wound. Surprised, I touched my own leg, my crippled leg in its white plastic case.
I try to remind myself often that, born in another country, I would have been a beggar boy, instead of -- a sturdy scrappy man with big arms and a big chest, carefully packaged in hopes you won't notice the limp.
I should have given to him. I meant to. He didn't get as far as me. I should have followed him, but I was stuck on my barstool, leaden with beer and manners.
The chipmunk-cheeked guy across the way had waved him off, not caring if he went or not. But now the manager was here, stocky buttoned down authority: not for sale. He barked, he pointed, he ordered him out of the soi.
The beggar limped away, obedient shuffling blue. At the top of the soi the beggar received a smile from one of the spike-haired boys who was bopping decorously along to bla dee ya hee, bla dee ya ha, bla dee ya hee, bla dee ya ha ha, and the beggar man, in response, did a quick crippled ecstatic jig clear across the entrance to the soi.