Wednesday 18 May 2011

CURFEW By Paul Salvette


     Gan bashed the glass door of the electronics shop with the metal pipe sending a large crack propagating upwards toward the door’s trim.
     “Hit it again,” Gan’s friend Oat said. The three teenagers were standing behind Gan on the sidewalk, eagerly waiting to gain access to the valuable items inside. They had been lucky to find a shop with no metal shutter pulled down in front of the glass. This street in the eastern part of Bangkok, normally bustling with activity and traffic at 11 in the evening, was completely silent. Gan gave the door another whack, and the entire pane came apart with shards of glass shattering all over the entrance to the shop.
     “Don’t forget to grab all of the RAM. My buddy at Pornthip Plaza will buy it with no questions asked,” Oat said. The boys ran into the shop and began stuffing video cards, motherboards, digital cameras, and other items into large plastic bags they had found in a trash barrel two blocks away.
     “Bon, you dumbass, don’t take the headphones. They take up too much space, and they’re only worth 200 baht.” Oat, the de facto leader of the gang, continued instructing his friends on what would be the best and most portable things to steal, because they only had two 150cc bikes between the four of them to make their getaway.
     The shop’s owner came running down the stairs from her bedroom and saw the four boys ransacking her business. “Take what you want and get out!” Gan picked up a small plastic welcome kitty next to the cash register and hurled it at the woman.
“Shut up, lady. The police aren’t coming tonight,” Gan said. Just then, three police trucks with their sirens blaring roared down the street going in excess of 100 km/h. Only mildly concerned, Oat poked his head out of the shattered door and watched them drive past without even slowing down to observe the looting in progress.
“The cops are on their way to Lumpini Park, lady. They don’t give a shit about your stupid shop,” Gan said.
Like most Thais, Gan had watched the Prime Minister come on TV this evening and give his announcement that a state of emergency was now in effect for Bangkok and the surrounding provinces. According to the Prime Minister, “rogue elements” within the Ministry of Interior had subverted police districts throughout the country in an “unpatriotic” attempt to remove him and his cabinet from power. Gan was not completely aware of all the complexities of Thai politics and power struggles, but he did know that the police had decided to ally with the protestors who had been camped out at Lumpini Park for the last three months. However, the military had remained loyal to the Prime Minister. Prior to the government shutting down all the TV stations, the day’s news had been filled with footage of police officers and soldiers shooting at each other amidst the beautifully landscaped park in the middle of the city.
Most people were terrified of what would happen to their country, and they chose to abide by the Prime Minister’s declaration of a curfew beginning tonight. But, with law and order completely absent in an already chaotic city, the dregs of society were able to run amok.
“Open up the cash register, and we promise to go.” Oat said while trying to jimmy open the cash drawer with a knife. The woman, crying because she realized no help was on the way, ran back up to her bedroom and dead-bolted the door behind her. Oat ripped the cash register’s plug out of the wall socket, and threw it at the concrete wall. The drawer was knocked loose with bills, change, springs, and pieces of the chassis flying everywhere. After grabbing the big bills, the four boys ran out of the shop and jumped onto their bikes.
The two motorcycles raced down the street, and Gan, sitting behind Oat, unsuccessfully tried to light a cigarette behind cupped hands. Oat pulled up next to the bike Bon was riding and said, “Make a left on Soi 44. We need to get some whiskey.” They turned down Soi 44, and Gan noticed a man walking frantically ahead of them.
“Oat, Oat. Slow down for a second.”  Gan reached down from the left-side of the bike and grabbed a large rock that had broken off the curb. “Alright! Can you speed up?” 
Oat downshifted and fully opened the throttle. As the bike neared the man, Gan threw the rock in an underhanded motion and struck the man squarely in the back of the head. The man’s glasses flew off into the middle of the street. Gan looked back and saw Bon honking his horn in celebration and the man motionless on the ground, face down in the gutter.
“Haha, got him!” Oat yelled. “Let’s stop at the 7-11.”
The boys parked their bikes on the sidewalk in front of the store, which remained open despite the curfew. The young woman, who was working by herself, had heard the sound of the approaching bikes, and she looked nervously out the glass window as they rushed into the store.
Oat walked up to the counter and shoved the frightened woman against the cigarette display. “Give me and my friends two bottles of Sangsom, you ugly bitch.” The woman stood motionless in her green and white striped uniform with a paralyzed look of fear in her eyes. Suddenly, the woman ran out from behind the counter towards the back door in a panic.
“I guess it is going to be self-service tonight,” Oat remarked while his friends chuckled. Oat hopped over the counter and began taking the bottles of whiskey and scotch out of their boxes. He was laying them out neatly on top of the counter when Gan’s phone rang.
“Yeah.” He didn’t recognize the number.
“Gan, it’s Dad. I’m calling from someone else’s cell phone who is trying to help me out here on Soi 44. Some teenagers on bikes hit me in the head with a rock while I was out getting your mother’s heart medicine. Please help me. We can’t contact an ambulance because of this curfew, and they would never be able to get through all the road blocks anyway. I need bandages to stop the bleeding, and your mother needs her meds.”
“Sure, Dad. Please stay there, and I’ll find the stuff for you and Mom right now.” Gan ran outside the 7-11 and noticed a drug store across the street. There was a rusty metal gate blocking access to the windows and door. He located the old and corroded lock that was latching the gate to an anchor embedded into the concrete. He began looking around for a blunt object to smash the lock.

Pornthip Plaza – A well-known electronics mall in Bangkok
Soi -           A side street or alley
Baht –          Currency in Thailand (200 baht is about $US7)
Sangsom –       Popular Thai liquor

Paul Salvette is originally from the United States, and has lived and worked in Bangkok, Thailand for two years.

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