Love in the Time of Footrot
Taken from Les Abbey's Soi Shanties
Disclaimer. Any similarity to any person/s or events you might have heard of are entirely coincidental. The characters depicted in this story are figments of the author's imagination.
With acknowledgement to Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera and Murray Ball's Footrot Flats for the title. Note to readers: In 1983 Bangkok, without many of today's flood defenses, was severely inundated for a number of weeks.
Barry the owner of the bar was amazed. Four weeks into the flood and he still had customers every night. A drinking man he discovered, not only needed his beer, but also required the company of his friends. Some had moved on down to Pattaya but many had remained.
The bar was far dryer now than when the flood started. The short breeze block wall across the door stopped the water in the soi coming in, but was an easy step over for any sober customers, if not perhaps for those that had partaken of a drink or two. The staff kept the floor well mopped and once his customers got tired of talking about the flood they just ignored it.
Barry watched Les enter the bar. His trousers were rolled up above his knees and he had flip-flops on his feet. Les sat down and from a green army tool bag pulled out a towel, socks and shoes. Drying his legs and feet Les put on the shoes and socks and put the towel and flip-flops back into the bag. Only then did Les speak.
"A very cold Kloster thank you Barry. God, I'm glad to get those Australian safety boots off my feet. I think I picked up every piece of rubbish from Soi 49 to here between my toes."
"Not sure why you go through the bother of changing Les." said Barry. "You are going to have put them back on before you leave."
Taking his first sip of beer from the bottle Les answered. "Wouldn't feel like I was on holiday if I left them on Barry."
"How did you get in today?" Barry asked.
"Waded up the sub-sois on 49 to Soi 39 and then got a tuk-tuk. They don't want to go deeper in than that, so shanks's pony* is the only way." "Les explain to me why so many of you guys are still coming in when you have to go through this much trouble just to get here and the same to go back?" another question from Barry.
"Well going back is the easy bit Barry. Having a few drinks makes having wet feet seem very trivial. You can be looking at the stars or talking with a girl you have persuaded to make the trip with you. But probably the truth is we figure it's not that unusual to walk through water or muck to do something. Remember we are working in all sorts of strange places. Look at my last job in the Gulf of Kutch in India. Every day getting covered in mud and god knows what else. Then avoiding tides which are some of the highest in the world and sleeping in tents for six weeks at a time. After that a Bangkok flood doesn't seem like a reason to cancel a visit to the bar does it?" answered Les.
Before Barry could answer a motorbike pulled up next to the door. On the back was man in black shorts, singlet and rubber boots. Driving was Boo, a dancer from one of the go-go joints further down the soi.
The man stepped over the short wall into the bar. "How are you doing Les? You're looking as dapper as ever." Wally said in a strong Kiwi accent.
"Fine Wal. I see you still have the two-wheeled taxi service. Must be more than a week now that Boo's been bringing you in."
"Dry feet all the way Les. Got to be the way to travel." said Wally. "Barry give me a beer, get Les another and one for yourself. I've got to go down to see Boo and pay her bar fine fairly soon."
Both Les and Barry said cheers and within minutes Wally had finished his beer and stepped out of the bar.
"Never seen Wal with the same girl two days on the trot before Les." said Barry.
"Not what we are used to with Wally is it? Apparently last week as he was coming out of his hotel Boo came past on her bike from her place further up Soi 22, recognized him and offered him a lift. I'm not sure how much of conversation you can have on a motorbike, but it must have been enough. Not too long I think that girl's going to find herself in New Zealand on the family farm."
"Is that where he was from before working on the crew?"
"Yeah, some isolated farm on the South Island about a half-hour's drive from their closest neighbours he told me. You know he's pretty down to earth about sex and the girls, and he's a dammed good mechanic like a lot of Kiwi boys; both I suspect because of working on a farm since birth. I think Boo has impressed him by riding through the water every day to get to work. As I said don't be surprised if she ends up in New Zealand." answered Les.
"Anyway Barry how are you finding it with the flood?" continued Les.
"Takings are down a bit obviously and keeping the place dry can be hard work, but overall better than I expected Les. The only thing that's getting to me my feet are sore after being in this crappy water." answered Barry.
"Better get some anti-fungal powder for them Barry. It does the trick as a rule. In fact that's just made think what's going on with Wally. It's 'Love in the Time of Foot Rot' isn't it?"
* shanks's pony - walking, an English language idiom