It’s a slow night again. The other valets are out back playing pétanque with the kitchen staff. I’m sitting with Dang and Uncle Judo, watching the tour buses unload at Fai Mangkon on the other side of the Bangna-Trat Highway, when Uncle Judo says what we’ve all been thinking for many months now. He says it’s over. He says it’s time to find a new job.
‘Just look at that,’ Uncle Judo says, pointing at a group of Chinese tourists. The Chinese wear matching green hats, pose for a picture in front of Fai Mangkon’s mascot: a six-metre animatronic dragon that tilts its head, flaps its wings, emits actual flames from its mouth.
‘Look at how happy they are. You know it’s all over when the competition’s got the Chinese.’
‘It’s not the Chinese they’ve got,’ Dang says. ‘It’s that fucking dragon.’
‘How is that a restaurant?’ I say. ‘How is that authentic Thai cuisine?’
‘Don’t be so naive.’ Uncle Judo flicks his cigarette into the gutter. ‘Don’t think for a minute that we’re selling them food.’
I just blink at Uncle Judo, watch the Chinese disappear through Fai Mangkon’s replica Sukhothai-era gate.
Dang points to our wooden marquee.
‘Last I checked,’ he says in my defence, ‘that sign still said restaurant.’
‘That’s our problem, you see,’ Uncle Judo says. ‘We persist in the illusion that these people are here to eat. We’ve grossly misinterpreted our demographic’s demands.’
Ever since he started taking weekend classes in business and economics at Ramkhamhaeng University, Uncle Judo’s been full of this talk. Supply and demand. Fordism and Taylorism. Management tactics and human resources. Adam Smith and the invisible hand.
‘Here we go,’ Dang says. ‘Go ahead. Enlighten us, Professor.’
‘It’s not the food they want,’ Uncle Judo says. ‘What they put in their mouths is entirely incidental. It’s not the dinner that matters—it’s the dining experience. That’s what the Fai Mangkon people understand. They understand the dynamism of the free market. They understand that those tourists aren’t going to remember the food—they’re going to remember the dragon. And now we’re going to lose our jobs.’
‘Fuck the free market,’ Dang says. ‘And fuck Fai Mangkon.’
‘You’ve got to admire them,’ Uncle Judo continues, ignoring Dang. ‘They’ve taken our model and innovated. We, on the other hand, refuse to adjust to the market’s demands. It’s like we’re Sony, but a stupid Sony. We’ve invented a portable cassette-player but keep producing them long after cassettes have become obsolete.’
‘I still own a Walkman,’ Dang responds. ‘Don’t call me obsolete.’
A white van turns into our parking lot then, pulls up to the valet area. Uncle Judo approaches the driver’s side for the keys. Dang slides open the van door to reveal a half-dozen farangs laughing inside. I bow at them, give the customary farang greeting in English: ‘Welcome to Thailand. Welcome to Ban Kluaimai.’
The farangs stop their laughing, eye me curiously.
‘Is this Fai Mangkon?’ the Thai driver asks, rolling down his window.
Dang shuts the sliding door on the farangs. We resume our places in our chairs.
‘You see that dragon?’ Uncle Judo says to the driver, pointing across the highway. ‘The one that breathes fire? That’s where you want to be.’
Ban Kluaimai was the first restaurant of its kind in the city, a testament to the General’s entrepreneurial foresight and ingenuity. In the early 1980s, armed with insider knowledge about the construction of an eight-lane highway through the city’s south-east, the General purchased forty rai of seemingly worthless flood fields from a group of local rice farmers. Within three months, the General’s men had converted the bog into a pristine lagoon. They erected thirty traditional salas—open-air pavilions on stilts, all connected by an intricate maze of boardwalks. A floating stage was built in the centre of the lagoon. Every hour—as soon as the sun set over the green fields of Samutprakan behind the stage—traditional dances were performed while, in English, a narrator told diners about each number through a state-of-the-art sound system. Men with caged sparrows offered customers the opportunity to release the birds from captivity: good karma, they said. Women paddled in small canoes from sala to sala selling desserts, local fruits, jasmine wreaths, commemorative T-shirts and buttons. Thousands of carp and catfish were bred in the lagoon so diners could feed them scraps from their meals, watch the still water turn into a busy sheet of gaping fish-maws.
But, above all, Ban Kluaimai was notable for its size. It was—until the advent of Fai Mangkon—one of the largest restaurants in the world. Petitions were made to the Guinness Book of World Records. Ban Kluaimai could accommodate up to 1,500 customers and in its heyday it had a hundred-strong wait staff that roller-skated the long distances between the restaurant’s sixty-burner kitchen and its 400-odd tables.
Royalty attended the opening ceremony. So, too, did the prime minister, retired generals, various actors, singers and television personalities. A short film was screened about the General’s life: his humble provincial beginnings, his illustrious military career, his philanthropy and visionary business ideas. The prime minister made a speech about Ban Kluaimai’s role in the tourism industry, its importance to the economic livelihood of the city. He called Ban Kluaimai a world-class dining facility. He said it made him proud to be Thai.
So older employees like Uncle Judo remember a better time. They remember bright and profitable years when every table was occupied, every performance was applauded, every fish was fed, every caged sparrow was released, every Singha- and Mekong-filled customer—farangs and wealthy locals alike—parted freely and easily with tips. They remember sleeping like exhausted children, their pockets filled with the day’s meagre though tenable earnings, instead of laying awake each night worrying about their jobs.
For there were things the General did not anticipate. He did not anticipate the green fields of Samutprakan becoming pink condominiums towering over the floating stage. He did not anticipate the city’s brownouts, plunging the restaurant into darkness every time it rained. He did not anticipate the carp and the catfish’s decimation by disease, their bloated carcasses occasionally bobbing on the lagoon’s surface for all to see. He did not anticipate the hyperactive farang child who climbed over the boardwalk’s railing and fell into the lagoon, breaking his arm and nearly drowning. He did not anticipate the child’s parents filing a lawsuit that—though unsuccessful—would blemish Ban Kluaimai’s increasingly spotty reputation. And, finally, he did not anticipate Fai Mangkon. He did not anticipate its fire-breathing dragon flapping its wings across the highway. And he certainly did not anticipate the headlines announcing the competition’s arrival that week: fai mangkon, one of the business papers declared, bigger and better than ban kluaimai.
We get a van now and again but the larger tour buses have deserted us for good. Traffic these days consists of farangs with outdated guidebooks, middle-class provincials vacationing in the city and—every night without fail—the General’s son Thanet and Thanet’s ridiculous friends. Ever since the General retired to the south last year, Thanet has been responsible for running the restaurant. He and his friends arrive now, a Mercedes-Benz and a BMW swerving into the parking lot, competing bass speakers vibrating the night air.
We all check our uniforms, bolt from our seats to receive them. Uncle Judo opens Thanet’s door, bows to him, while Dang opens the passenger side. A lithe, skinny woman gets out with Thanet, her face and her hair fastidiously arranged. She’s not a woman we’ve seen before. They rarely ever are.
‘Good evening, sir,’ we all exclaim, bowing again.
‘Okay,’ Thanet says, hooking the woman’s arm in his own, running a few fingers through his thick and shiny hair. ‘Enough already. Go take care of my friends.’
Uncle Judo drives Thanet’s Benz to its place in the lot while Dang and I tend to the BMW. Three young men emerge from the sedan: buffed leather shoes, neatly pressed pants, sunglasses, watches, amulets on gold chains. They’re a little like their car—sleek surfaces, glinting corners, gilded edges.
‘Oh, boy,’ one says to Dang. ‘It’s you.’
‘Watch this one,’ says another.
‘Listen,’ says the driver seriously, handing Dang the keys. ‘Be careful this time.’
‘Don’t speak. Just do your job. Be careful with my car.’
I worry the hem of my uniform. I can sense Thanet watching from behind, smell his cologne souring the air. I turn briefly and see his pale face smiling wryly under the lights, his thin lips pulled back from his perfect teeth.
‘You hear me?’ the BMW’s driver continues, gesturing with his chin at Dang. ‘Do your job properly for once.’
‘Yeah,’ says one of the others. ‘Don’t dent the car this time.’
‘But I didn’t dent it,’ Dang says, looking bewildered. ‘I never dented your car.’
‘Hey,’ Thanet interjects, pointing at Dang. He walks towards his friends, the woman still on his arm, her high heels stabbing the asphalt. ‘Is there a problem here? Are you arguing with the customers?’
Dang shakes his head. He looks at the ground, grips the BMW’s keys in his hand.
‘You idiot,’ says the driver before suddenly, inexplicably, shoving Dang in the chest with both hands. Dang stumbles backwards. One of the men catches him before he falls, holds him up by his armpits, and the look on Dang’s face as he’s held there—surprised, panicked, helpless—makes my stomach lurch.
The driver leans over Dang. Their faces nearly touch.
‘I was joking,’ he whispers, smiling. ‘I know you never dented my car.’
They all laugh and guffaw then, even the woman on Thanet’s arm. Dang collects himself, smooths his shirtfront with both hands, smiles weakly along with the men.
Thanet takes a twenty-baht bill from his wallet.
‘You’re a good sport,’ he says, offering Dang the money.
Dang shakes his head. He won’t take it. He refuses again and again. In the end, Thanet simply shrugs, puts his money away, and Dang disappears to park the BMW, leaving me with Thanet and his friends.
Thanet puts a hand on my back. ‘Tell those guys to come by our table later. Tell them I want to buy them a drink.’
I nod. I pretend to busy myself with the arrangement of our chairs. It’s all I can do not to look at Thanet’s alabaster face, at his hair gleaming under the lights, at his friends still laughing and patting each other on the back.
‘And you should come too,’ he adds, before they all climb the gangplank into the restaurant. ‘You look like you could use one.’
Uncle Judo’s not really our uncle. We call him that because he’s worked here so long: he’s one of Ban Kluaimai’s original staff. A few other ‘uncles’ and ‘aunts’ remain from that first generation—Uncle Chiap in the kitchen, Aunt Bua from the dance troupe, Uncle Wirot from the wait staff—but their numbers have dwindled significantly since cutbacks began a few months ago. Uncles and aunts were often the first to go then. Judo’s the only uncle left among the valets. ‘We’re like an endangered species,’ he said one night. ‘We’re like pandas and manatees. I’m like the last dodo.’
Judo’s not his real name. Nobody knows what it is. We call him Judo because he used to be a nationally ranked judo master. At least once a week, when conversation’s slow, he’ll produce a small black-and-white photo from his wallet. The photo shows his younger self in a white judo outfit, the national flag embroidered on its lapels. He’ll tell us then about the Olympics, how he almost made it to the ’76 Games in Montreal. He’ll tell us how he was ranked second in the country that year, how everybody considered him an automatic selection. He’ll tell us how, during qualifiers—which were only supposed to be a formality—a clumsy seventeen-year-old amateur sent a strong heel ploughing through his right knee, shattering the kneecap, tearing every cartilage, ending his judo career. He’ll roll up his pants and show us the surgery scars and he’ll tell us about the long years after the injury, how all he could think about was that boy’s heel hitting his knee—its blunt, surprising force—its crushing, sickening sounds—and the way his balance had fled him like air from a deflating balloon. He’ll say that for years it seemed he never got up from that judo mat. All he could think about was the past. The future no longer existed.
But things are different these days, he’ll say. After fifteen years of parking people’s cars at Ban Kluaimai, there’s finally been a change. The future’s back again. And as soon as he finishes his business degree he plans to find out what it’s like.
Though we’ve heard it many times before, Uncle Judo tells his story again. It’s his way of consoling Dang. ‘The lesson here,’ he concludes, ‘is forget about the past. Stop dwelling on your injuries. Focus on the future.’
‘I’m not dwelling on my injuries,’ Dang says. ‘I’m dwelling on theirs. You know, if he wasn’t the General’s son—’
‘But he is. So there you are.’
It’s nearly ten-thirty. Traffic on the Bangna-Trat Highway has thinned. We watch a few more tour buses turn into Fai Mangkon, the animatronic dragon tilting its head, flapping its wings, spewing its ribbons of propane flames. Floodlights send Fai Mangkon’s logo twirling across the night sky. According to their promotional materials, Fai Mangkon diners will soon be treated to a laser-light show chronicling the country’s history. There will also be a modern jazz interpretation of the Ramakien, a fireworks display and—at the end of the night—a restaurant-wide singalong of ‘We are the World’. Then they will go home satisfied.
Over here, meanwhile, we’re staring at a vast ocean of cracked asphalt. There aren’t even a hundred customers inside.
I tell Uncle Judo and Dang about Thanet. I tell them he wants to buy us a drink. Dang shakes his head, mutters under his breath, says it’s another trick. But Uncle Judo wants to go.
‘Don’t be senile,’ Dang scoffs.
Uncle Judo doesn’t say anything. He simply grabs one of his business textbooks from under his chair, pulls out several sheets of handwritten notes from its pages, and hands the papers to Dang.
‘I don’t need your study notes.’
‘They’re not study notes,’ Uncle Judo says. ‘They’re a business proposal.’
Dang and I just stare at him.
‘A business proposal for Ban Kluaimai,’ Uncle Judo explains. ‘A proposal for our future. I want to give this to Thanet. I want to tell him my ideas for renovating the restaurant.’
Dang thumbs through the papers for a while. ‘This is crazy.’ He hands them to me. ‘Please tell him this is crazy.’
Uncle Judo peers at me brightly while I look at his papers.
‘We’re being mismanaged,’ he declares, gesticulating with his hands now. ‘We’re going to lose our jobs. If implemented correctly, however, my proposal might save us all.’
‘You might feel mismanaged,’ Dang says. ‘I just feel abused.’
I try to read Uncle Judo’s proposal. I can’t make sense of any of it. There are eight pages written in his cramped, meticulous hand. The writing’s been organized under a series of general headings—innovation and ingenuity; market-share analysis; demographic research; fiscal restructuring; maximization of human resources. There are tables and charts, drawings and diagrams. There’s even a bibliography: Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, Karl Marx’s Capital and John Maynard Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money are all listed as sources.
‘Uncle,’ I say, handing back his papers. ‘This is very impressive. But Thanet’s not going to read it. He’s not going to listen to you.’
‘He’ll listen. That boy may be cruel, and that boy may be a petulant drunk, but above all that boy’s a businessman. Any self-respecting businessman would see the sense in my proposal. Remember that he’s the General’s son. Remember that business is in his blood.’
‘That’s not business in his blood,’ Dang says. ‘That’s spite. That’s cruelty. Egomania. Whisky.’
Uncle Judo dismisses Dang with a wave of a hand. ‘And besides,’ he says to me, ‘he’s seen me around since he was a child. Surely that has to count for something.’
The other valets—Samak, Worachai and Piak—return from playing pétanque with the kitchen staff. They’ve pocketed thirty baht tonight—a good haul—but there’s little joy when they tell us about their victory.
‘I didn’t sign up for this,’ Samak says, settling into his chair. didn’t sign up to gamble and play pétanque. I didn’t sign up to sit around and chat with you monkeys. I signed up to work, damnit. I signed up to fetch people’s cars.’
Nobody says anything for a long time. We just sit there smoking, fidgeting in our seats, watching freight trucks motor down the Bangna-Trat Highway. A pack of stray dogs ambles across our parking lot, pausing here and there to sniff the asphalt before moving on to scavenge elsewhere. Fai Mangkon’s fireworks start blooming in the sky then, throwing their lurid lights on to our faces, filling the air with their syncopated reports.
‘Okay, killjoy,’ Piak mutters, producing a pack of playing cards.
We quickly rearrange our chairs into a semicircle.
‘Rummy. Five baht a hand.’
After a few rounds, Uncle Judo, Dang and I leave to see Thanet.
‘Let’s go get humiliated,’ Dang says, sighing, while we’re walking up the gangplank.
‘Don’t come then.’ Uncle Judo tucks his business proposal into his back pocket. ‘Go back. Disobey Thanet if you want.’
‘No thanks,’ Dang says. ‘I’ve already been personally humiliated tonight. From now on, I prefer team humiliation.’
‘Nobody is going to be humiliated,’ I say. Uncle Judo smiles at me gratefully. ‘We’re just going to have a drink. We’re just going to give him the proposal.’
Dang looks at me sideways, shakes his head. I share his reservations, of course, but the old man’s enthusiasm prohibits us from saying anything more. We’re going for Uncle Judo.
Inside, it’s another night at Ban Kluaimai. The customers sit scattered all over the thirty salas. Wait staff stand sentinel over them, leaning against the rails, shuffling in their roller skates. Onstage, the band and the dance troupe perform a traditional north-eastern dance number—the men on one side, the women on the other, a member of each intermittently flirting in the middle—all of them bored beneath their make-up and their bright silk outfits. The English narrator’s voice crackles the sound system. No one is really watching.
A few women paddle their boats listlessly, drift around the lagoon with their racks of unsold wares. We see a young farang boy releasing a cage of sparrows. He slides open the cage door but the birds only fly a short distance to twitter on the roofs of the restaurant. ‘Go!’ the boy screams at them in English. His parents urge for calm. The other customers turn to look. ‘Be free!’ he continues, flapping his arms. ‘Fly away, stupid birds!’
Thanet and his friends are sitting in the southernmost sala. During the silence between dance numbers, their gruff voices echo around the lagoon. As always, an all-female wait staff tend to their needs—bringing them their food, clearing their dishes, replenishing their drinks. There’s a feast of half-eaten entrées on the table: fish curry, crab fried rice, stewed pork leg, oysters simmered in egg whites.
‘Look who it is,’ one of Thanet’s friends says, pointing at Dang when we arrive.
‘What do you need?’ Thanet asks us, frowning. He has a thick arm slung around the woman’s shoulders. He’s flushed from the liquor, the mottling on his neck and his cheeks a pink frame around his pale face.
‘I’m very sorry, sir,’ I say, bowing to them all. ‘But you said you wanted to see us. You said you wanted to buy us a drink.’
Thanet’s friends chuckle, twirl the ice in their whisky tumblers. Dang and Uncle Judo shift from foot to foot. I realize then how ridiculous I must sound, how ridiculous the three of us must seem. Thanet eyes us silently for a long time, tucks a stray hair behind an ear. It’s all I can do not to flee from the General’s son. But then he says, ‘Of course. I almost forgot. Take a seat, gentlemen.’
He gestures to the waitresses to bring us chairs. As we’re sitting down, Thanet’s friends tease Dang some more. ‘I never dented the car!’ one of them squeals, cowering theatrically, but Dang just stares abstractedly over the sala railing.
Thanet silences his friends with a look. He leans towards the three of us, his hands clasped before him.
‘As you all know—’ His voice is serious. He takes a few deep and insincere breaths. ‘As you all know, there have been some cutbacks around here lately—’
I feel light-headed, nauseated, stupid; my body seems to constrict into a small, hard knot. But Uncle Judo interrupts the General’s son before he can finish his sentence.
‘Sir.’ He holds his proposal aloft. ‘I have something for you, sir.’
Thanet stares at the document hovering between them, the pages rustling from Uncle Judo’s shaking hand. The mottling on Thanet’s cheeks spreads across his features, his face a fruit ripening before our eyes.
‘It’s a business proposal, sir,’ Uncle Judo says. He deposits the papers on the table, shoves his hands inside his trouser pockets. ‘A proposal for Ban Kluaimai. My colleagues and I—’ he gestures at Dang and me—’we wrote the proposal together, sir, after many long months of study. I think you’ll find it of interest.’
‘You think I’ll find it of interest.’
‘Yes, sir,’ Uncle Judo says. ‘Yes, I do.’
Thanet purses his lips, squints at Uncle Judo. He picks up the proposal. The woman peers over his shoulder while he glances quickly through the document. Every now and again, Thanet’s face twitches with disgust.
‘This,’ he says, ‘is fucking ridiculous.’ He tosses the papers on to the table. A corner lands in the fish curry. ‘Don’t tell me how to run my business.’
Uncle Judo blanches.
‘Oh, don’t be so mean,’ the woman says to Thanet. She picks up the papers, tries to clean the curry-stained corner with her slender, manicured fingers. ‘I don’t think it’s ridiculous.’ She smiles at Uncle Judo, offers back his proposal. ‘I think it’s very cute.’
Thanet grunts. The woman immediately leaves the proposal on the table again. For a long time, Uncle Judo just sits there staring at the papers, his face vacant, ashen, crestfallen. Beneath the table, I see him clenching and unclenching his hands. Dang, meanwhile, plays with his nails, shakes both his legs, keeps staring over the railing. The waitresses pretend to busy themselves with the ice, the spare ashtrays, the arrangement of condiments and spices.
‘Wait,’ one of Thanet’s friends suddenly declares. ‘I have a business proposal too. I propose we go across the highway and destroy that fucking dragon. See if business doesn’t pick up then.’
‘Now that,’ says another, ‘is a business proposal.’
They all erupt with laughter then, raise their whisky tumblers, their voices high and excited. Thanet smiles for the first time since our arrival. He leans back in his chair, puts his arm around the woman’s shoulders again, seeming to relax, though still squinting at Uncle Judo the entire time.
‘You should thank my friends,’ he says finally. ‘I was going to fire you all tonight, but now I’ve changed my mind.’
‘Thank you,’ Uncle Judo says, his voice barely audible. ‘Thank you so much, sir.’
‘Oh no. Don’t thank me yet, old man.’
The General’s son rises from his seat. He gestures for everybody to do the same.
‘Let’s go and destroy that dragon,’ he says, grinning. ‘Let’s go and do that first. Then I’ll let you keep your jobs.’
The other valets pause when they see us approach with Thanet and his friends. We stand there trying not to meet their bewildered gazes before they go to retrieve the cars.
‘Don’t look so worried,’ the BMW’s driver says, ushering us into his leather back seat. Thanet and the others get into the Mercedes-Benz. ‘This will be fun.’
Across the Bangna-Trat Highway, Fai Mangkon has closed. Their floodlights are off. The tour buses have finally gone. For once, their parking lot is as dark and as empty as ours.
During the two-kilometre drive north to make our U-turn, I consider tossing myself out of the speeding car. I think that I might actually do it, but then I notice Uncle Judo gripping my hand. His grip is strong, hot and slick with sweat. He’s gripping Dang’s hand as well, staring at the empty highway ahead, moving his mouth silently all the while, and for a moment I wonder if he’s praying or if Uncle Judo has simply lost his mind.
Dang produces Uncle Judo’s business proposal from his shirt pocket. He must have picked it up before we left Thanet’s table. He offers it to Uncle Judo now in the air-conditioned darkness of the BMW. Uncle Judo lets go of our hands, stops moving his mouth, blinks at the proposal for a while.
‘We’ll be okay,’ he finally responds, smiling sheepishly. He takes the proposal from Dang, pats us both on the knees. We nod. For some reason, it’s nice to hear his voice again.
‘You’re good boys,’ he says. ‘Wonderful people.’
‘What’s that, old man?’ the driver interjects through the rear-view mirror.
‘I wasn’t talking to you,’ Uncle Judo responds. ‘I was talking to my friends. So keep driving. Follow your orders. Get us where we should be.’
At Fai Mangkon, Thanet and his friends emerge from the Mercedes-Benz. The woman stays in the car. When we get out of the BMW, the driver retrieves a golf bag from the trunk.
‘Go ahead,’ he says, handing us each a club. ‘Get to work.’
We stand there staring at the dragon for a while, the clubs heavy in our hands. The polymer grip feels snug in my palm. I’ve never held a golf club before. Its weight is strange—natural, even, like a metal extension for my arm. There’s a tuft of sod clinging to the sleek, knobby club head like a toupee over a bald spot.
The dragon looks much smaller than it did across the highway. Its wings are folded, its mechanical head slumped against its breast. It looks like a sleeping chicken, in a way, and briefly I think that the dragon might be real, that if we rouse it from its slumber it might incinerate us with its breaths of flame.
‘Come on,’ one of Thanet’s friends yells.
‘Get going,’ says another.
Somebody shoves Dang in the back. He careens forward, totters on his feet, nearly falls to the ground. Somebody shoves Uncle Judo and me as well. When we regain our balance somebody shoves us again. Soon, it seems a thousand hands are at our backs, pushing us towards the dragon, and it’s all we can do to remain on our feet, keep the world correct, while the young men’s lunatic laughter peals across the Fai Mangkon parking lot.
I hear Uncle Judo yelling. I hear his golf club clattering the concrete. I see him grab one of the offending hands and with a quick quarter-turn of his body tossing the hand’s owner to the ground. They cease their shoving and their jabbing then. The men fall silent. It’s Thanet on the ground—his body writhing, his pale face contorted, his shiny hair splayed across the gravel.
‘You’re fired,’ he croaks, pointing at Uncle Judo. ‘You’re all fired.’
It’s only then that Uncle Judo picks up his golf club and heads for the dragon. He moves slowly, deliberately, weighing the club in his hand. When he finally arrives at the dragon, he cocks back the club and smashes it into one of the dragon’s wings. Sparks fly. The clanging sound echoes across the Bangna-Trat Highway. Uncle Judo hits it again and again, each time with more force, and the racket is so loud that it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s woken up people far down the highway in Pattaya. The wing starts to loosen at its joints, exposing cables and wires, and Uncle Judo’s not only hitting it with the club any more, he’s also kicking and tearing at it with his one free hand.
Dang and I run over to join him. Dang takes the other wing while I climb up the dragon’s back, thinking I might try its fire-breathing head. As I make my ascent, hooking my fingers into the dragon’s iron scales for leverage, I can feel my compatriots’ fury jangling my spine, vibrating the monster beneath me, the air thick with their cacophony.
I’m at the head now, sitting astride that dragon’s neck. Thanet and his friends have disappeared. I see policemen’s lights rolling down the highway. So I lift up my club and give that dragon everything I’ve got. I hit that dragon until my arms burn, until my back aches, until I’m dizzy from the pain. We’ve lost our jobs. We’re going to be arrested. But at the station later tonight we’re going to learn Uncle Judo’s name.
Photograph © smalljude