I returned from my vacation in Europe yesterday to learn that one of the five motorcycle taxi guys who work outside my apartment building had died.
Every morning, when I leave the apartment building, I say "Sawadee Kha" to the two security guards, stop and admire the turtles in the big pond out front, and then step out into the "soi" (alley) where the motorcycle taxi stand sits. There are five guys who work there and they are as familiar to me as the turtles and the lobby. In the morning, they are often busy ferrying people to and from work but by the time I come out, they are often hanging out and bored. I chat with them a little bit - joke about who will take me where - and then climb aboard to start my day. I love riding down the soi with the wind blowing in my hair and zipping around the turns. I trust them with my life and my safety and I never wear a helmet.
I don't know anything about them - they call me Madam. I know one guy's name. But still I feel like they are a part of my Bangkok life and I like them and look forward to seeing them.
The fat guy on the yellow motorbike. he's the oldest. He will often very much over charge me to go to Emporia or places that are a bit further away. I prefer not to take him because of this fact and that he's not very chatty. But I always say hello.
Wang Chai - the only one whose name I know. He's young, well dressed, sometimes dyes his hair red. Wears gold chains. he speaks pretty good English and told me if I want to go to the beach, he can rent a car and take me. I took him up on it and it was fine except he charged me almost 1000 baht more than I could have taken a taxi for. Since I wanted to give him business and I like him, I accepted it but since then, I've been a bit wary since he seems to be a bit of a smooth talker. He picks me up if he sees me walking down the street and doesn't charge me. He's funny and we laugh a lot.
The short one who wears a cap all the time. he's very funny and smiley and always calls me "Madam". He likes to touch my leg and talk to me when we're going down the soi. He told me that his friend died. He said the guy who died is named Wan. We went to the shrink today and he remembered the way even though its been 6 weeks since I was there last. He always puts his arm out for me to balance on when getting off the bike.
The other kind of fatty guy who looks like the short guy. Also funny and sweet. I rarely see him drunk. I think he has a gold tooth. He is a bit more reserved than the other guys. But always safe and nice. Polite too.
The skinny smoking guy. A bit of acne scarring on his face, very thin, likes to drink hard every night with the Cambodian/Lao/Thai people who live in the squat next door. I fear it is him that has died. Every night he would stay til about 9:30 or 10pm drinking whisky with the guys next door. he liked me and would always pick me up if he saw me walking or offer me a free ride when he was drunk. A happy drunk.
I asked the lady at the front desk what happened but she couldn't really tell me. I felt so sad that I don't know all their names. They are a part of my every day life in Bangkok and sometimes the only people I talk to. Normally, they cheer me up every morning with our little interactions.
My friend Marise was here a few weeks ago and we were talking about Thailand. We came home to my apartment and the skinny one was drunk and being super friendly - grabbing at my hand. I said that I saw him drunk every night, that he cycled home to god knows where, but was always there in the morning to work. We speculated on how much money they must make - I myself spend about 80 baht a day (2 euros) on transport and there are 60 apartments in my building plus all the staff. I had recently read an article about the union and how it works. Some of the guys have insurance. They all wear helmets. And they have to pay to the "syndicate" to work on the corner. "Ah," she said, "the life of a Thai Motor Taxi Driver."
Now I wonder what their life is like when they aren't napping by my apartment building? I once brought them all some beer and dropped it off. I wanted to sit and drink it with them but was sure that if I was TOO familiar, it would open myself up to some unwanted advance and then my happy friendly relationship with them would be over. I am sure they are all married. WangChai told me he was not. But I know they must have girlfriends, wives, children - people who miss them and wonder what they are doing all day. Do they make up stories about us - the weird farang who live in the rich persons building and go about our mundane lives every day? I go to the psychologist's office which I think they think is my office. I go to Emporia to the movies sometimes, to Terminal 21 for lunch, pedicures, or the gym. How odd they must think I am - always alone but suddenly with a group of friends that they never see again. No boyfriend, Madam? they always ask. But they seem happy to see me when I return from the airport and in a way, are my family here in Bangkok.
And now one of them is dead. I have seen the Fat guy, Wang Chai, and the Short Guy. Which leaves the skinny guy and the fattish guy left. I fear and suspect it is the skinny guy. He drank a lot. Perhaps it got him in the end as he made a bad turn on the bike. He must leave behind a grieving family. And I didn't even know his name.