Marie met me at Suvarnabhumi Airport east of Bangkok when I flew in on Thai Air from Tokyo three days later. I’d only seen photos of her for the past three years--an annual photo was her Christmas gift to my father and me--but she stood out in the swirling crowd. That is to say that such was her royal bearing that the crowds left a good six feet of open space all around her whether she stood or moved.
I hadn’t called her mother since she’d abandoned us--or, rather, since she’d refused to leave Bangkok when my father was transferred back to Hawaii with Dole Pineapple from being the export manager for that company’s pineapple export business in Thailand. Even before that, she tried to train me to call her Marie, and she let maids do most of the mothering.
She was a beautiful woman still. She had married young, a refugee in Thailand from Vietnam, conceived in what was then Saigon, but born in Bangkok shortly after the fall of that city in 1975. Her family had already owned the bookstore when she’d met my father. I knew that being born in 1976 made her almost forty now, but she looked several years younger than that. Her features were exotic--which I mirrored a good bit. Her demeanor was regal and cool despite the sultry heat of Thailand, her figure trim, her persona commanding. She was dressed in a Jim Thompson green-silk shirt dress that fit her like a glove--with impeccably white gloves for her hands--an outfit that was more appropriate for an audience with the Thai crown princess than in meeting a plane at the sixth-busiest international airport in the world.
I can’t say that she was looking anxiously for me at the arrivals gate. She was one to assume that everything would fall into place for her, which, of course, it always did--and did in this case. I walked right up to her and she met me coolly--yet marginally affectionately, with a peck on each cheek--as if we had last seen each other just that morning--and we were in Paris at the time.
She said both the inevitable and the expected. “My, you’ve grown up.”
We both, of course, knew that wasn’t wholly true. I was almost twenty, but I still was small of stature and of an androgynous and exotic appearance that caused others to note my beauty more than my manly handsomeness. I think she was pleased, though. My father was manly and handsome enough. Marie would mark it as a some victory that I had turned out favoring her more.
“And so handsome too. A real heartthrob,” she added. Again, I had the sensation that she was speaking more of how much of her was in me than about me.
With very little else to say to each other, Marie didn’t take long to turn to a man I just then noticed was standing behind her, touch his arm, and say, “Let me introduce you to Mom Rajawongse Krit Srihipan. As you know . . .” which I didn’t “. . . I have no car of my own and the M.R. was kind enough to volunteer transportation for us.”
A distinguished Thai gentleman, probably in his late forties, trim and tall for a Thai, stepped forward. He was dressed as impeccably as my mother was and now that I noticed him, he was being accorded an area of inapproachability by the crowds in the airport terminal that was even greater in respect than my mother’s was.
He gave me an open smile, clasped my hand briefly--only brief contact, but leaving the impression that only a few would dare to touch him--none certainly without his permission--and said, “Let’s not overwhelm him with a mouth full of title such as that, Marie.” He turned to me. “You can just call me Sri. If you’ll describe the luggage you have to pick up--I assume it is labeled with your name, we’ll send Lek here to fetch it and go directly to the car.”
The liveried chauffeur came into the picture for the first time, a young Thai man not much taller than I was--very good looking and all shy smiles. And when we went out to the curb, a late-model Mercedes-Benz S550 sedan was waiting at the door, being watched by a policemen, who, I got the impression, would be ticketing the car instead for a mere mortal rather than a Mom Rajawongse. I knew from my close study of Thailand--because that was where my mother was--that the M.R. was a fringe title for Thai royalty, but close enough to the divine for most of the Thai public to bow and scrape to in a society that revered its royals.
“M.R. is taking us to dinner before dropping us off at the flat,” Marie said, as the car got under way. I started to protest. Going out to dinner was possibly the last thing I wanted to do after a long plane trip from Tokyo to Bangkok. And I wasn’t dressed for any restaurant my assessment of Marie and Sri told me they’d go to.
Sure enough, the Mercedes glided up to the front entrance of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on the banks of the Chao Phya River, for a century, until the building boom of recent years, the premier hotel in Bangkok. If the maitre d’ or wait staff of the Riverside Terrace restaurant where Sri led us had any reason to look askance at my shorts, T-shirt, and sandals, which they surely did, they were keeping it to themselves in view of my being with the M.R. I got the impression that my mother wasn’t a stranger to them either.
I did my best to keep my eyelids open while we were waiting for our food and then eating it. But in that time I learned that the Sathon Road foreign-language (meaning English and the European languages) bookstore that Marie’s family had owned since before I was born had reached safety since my mother had last written. There had been a good chance earlier in the year that it would go under financially, but now, thanks to a silent partner, it was doing fine. It didn’t take much of an imagination for me to discern that Sri was the silent partner and that he partnered Marie in a more intimate sense than book sales.
For his part, Sri was an architect by trade and specialized in designing sets for the Bangkok Opera and national theater. He also was a poet--of some renown, Marie interjected--which, she said, was the context in which the two had met. She had hosted book signings for him and carried his books in the bookstore.
I was being naturally brought into the conversation without being expected to follow it too deeply--Marie acknowledged that I wouldn’t be at my sharpest after the plane ride. I told them of my own life, studies, and interests in bits and pieces of conversation without being given the third degree. I didn’t mention Kwame. I didn’t mention my interest in men at all, which had come as a revelation to me since the last time I had seen my mother. I most certainly didn’t mention having been enrolled in the mile-high club between San Francisco and Tokyo.
Marie was mildly affectionate and matter of fact. If I had thought we’d have a “Why did you abandon me, Mother?” confrontation either then or later, her demeanor and the obvious limits she was setting guaranteed the futility of that. It wouldn’t satisfy me any more now than it did when I first was brought back to Bangkok to see her--by a father who seemed to accept the situation amicably--when I was barely ten.
For his part, Sri was free and easy and flattering in the extreme toward whatever I talked of myself, my interests, and my ambitions--within the limits I’d set of how much I wanted to reveal.
This all was shattered, though, when my mother casually asked me if I had a boyfriend in San Francisco. When I gave her a shocked look, she just smiled and said, “Surely you knew your father would tell me about that before sending you to a hedonist, devil-may-care city like Bangkok.”
I mumbled that I didn’t really want to talk about that now, not looking at Sri, but hoping my mother would get the message that it wasn’t something to be discussed in the presence of someone I’d just met. Marie, typically, was unfazed. Shortly after that, she went off, while Sri and I were having coffee, to powder her nose. It wasn’t until months later that I wondered if that visit to the ladies room was orchestrated beforehand.
She was barely out of sight when Sri turned to me and in a low, smooth voice--he spoke with the hint of a British accent--said, “As you may have gathered, your mother and I have an arrangement. I hope that won’t be a strain for you while you are visiting here, or that it will affect a relationship between you and me.”
“No, I don’t see that it affects me in any way,” I answered. And there would be no way it should, considering how loose the ties between my parents had been for years, even though, to my knowledge, they never had divorced--and that my father now had a male lover. “I came to grips with Marie’s lifestyle many years ago.”
“You should also know that I’ve been married before and . . .” and this was where I was floored by what he wanted to convey to me “. . . and that I am bisexual. I have had as many male partners as female. Marie knows this, of course. I hope that you will realize that Thailand is an open-minded country in this regard. I would like to establish a ‘no secrets’ understanding between us from the beginning. And if you’d like, I could make some introductions for you with--”
“No, thank you,” I said, blushing. “I think I can make my own way.”
“I’m sure you can. You are a beautiful young man. May I surmise that you do have a boyfriend in San Francisco--that you have had male lovers?”
“Yes,” I murmured, suddenly wanting to be anywhere but here.
“And that they cover you? I only ask so that there will be no misunderstandings here. I am very fond of Marie, and I think it best that everything be in the open while you are here. I think that is in your best interest too. I assure you that Marie isn’t shocked by your preferences. Nor am I.”
“Yes, I prefer to bottom. When I do it. I don’t really do it all that frequently.” If I could have blushed more deeply, I would have done so from that lie. Until recently, it was true, but since Kwame had come into my life, I’d fucked like a bunny. And I could see that, by her nature, Marie wouldn’t be shocked. If it didn’t shock her that the man she was still married to had a male lover not much older than I was, why would anything I did along those lines be shocking to her? I almost wished she did show enough interest in me to be shocked.
“Well, If you need to know the best--and safest--places to . . . cruise here, feel free to ask. I would cover the financial customs, but I don’t think you will have to be paying for it. I can help inform your interests--help guide you to what you would like; that’s why I mentioned I am a bisexual. I assure you that, in Bangkok, almost anything is perfectly acceptable. I feel I should advise you, also, to be very careful here in Bangkok. We are not immune to the scourge of sexually transmitted disease. I trust you have brought an initial supply of condoms. They are openly sold here, but it will probably take you a bit of time to determine where they are sold.”
“I, ummm . . .”
“Here are a few. I wouldn’t want you not to be prepared.” He took a handful of condom packets out of the pocket of his very expensive, custom tailored suit--which somehow seemed incongruous to me--and pushed them under the rim of my dinner plate. I involuntarily scanned the area around us. I a restaurant like this, the service would be ever vigilant. Two male waiters were standing close by. They surely saw what Sri did, but their faces were stoic, like they were statues in a niche.
What else could I say other than “Thank you” and move the packets to my pocket as surreptitiously as possible? The sooner we got past this friendly advice, the better. I could hardly tell him that I liked being fucked by black men--he was quite dusky of skin color himself and might take that wrong--or that, most recently, I had liked being fucked by a black bull on a commercial airliner high over the Pacific Ocean.
I could well understand that Sri, as a wealthy and refined M.R., could engage in any lifestyle he wanted to in Thailand. But I had to admit to myself that I was completely taken by surprise that he would think that I would need to be having--or welcome having--such a discussion--within a couple of hours of having set my foot on the soil of the country. But perhaps he could be so free about it because he was Thai and of the royal class and because Bangkok society was as open about such matters as he said it was.
And perhaps he was covering this with me because Marie was concerned about what I could fall into in Bangkok and she’d asked Sri to discuss this with me. If so, that was more concern from her than I had ever hoped to receive. I could see that I might get it wrong or get into trouble with it here, if Bangkok was as open, freewheeling, and loose as Sri had described.
It was a week after Sri had transported us from the airport to a lunch at the Oriental Hotel and then to my mother’s flat on the fifteenth floor of an Apartment on Soi Sarasin, in the embassy district, that overlooked Lumpini Park on one side and the Royal Bangkok Sports Club on the other, that I next saw him. And it wasn’t in some elegant setting.
It was late in the morning--neither Marie nor I were early risers and there was a store manager who opened the bookstore in the morning--indeed, I wasn’t really needed there to help at all, although I did put in some time there for the pay. I had become accustomed to bringing morning coffee, cigarettes, and the English-language Bangkok Post to her on a tray that had been prepared by the maid, at 10:00 in the morning. When I did so on this particular morning, I could hear her shower running as I approached the door and, as usual, I planned to leave the tray on her nightstand and go for my own shower--I was just wearing my sleep shorts and padding around barefoot.
I came up short at her bedroom door, though. Sri was sitting on the side of the bed, facing me, and engrossed in strapping on a wrist watch. Thus far that was the only thing he was wearing. His body was as elegant in nakedness as it was clothed. He was berry brown, trim, although muscular across the chest and biceps and in the thighs, and his body was hairless other than the curly black thatch at his groin from which an inordinately long cock drooped toward the floor.
I must have made a noise at the door--possibly a jangle of the porcelain cup on its saucer as I found myself trembling--because he looked up at me and smiled. It wasn’t in any way an embarrassed smile. It wasn’t a disinterested smile either. Before I gathered my wits about me enough to turn and continue on down the hall, there was time for his cock to discernibly start to go hard.
I was embarrassed, though, knowing that mine was as well.
I kept to my room until I was sure that Sri had left the flat. Marie, of course, showed no sign of knowing I had seen Sri in her room--or any sense that she would care if I did. She didn’t even remark on the lack of a tea tray that morning.
When I came back into the living area as Marie was still getting dressed to go to the bookstore, I saw that there was a book on a side table, by a lounge chair Marie liked to sit in to do her reading. I hadn’t remembered seeing it there the previous evening. I sat down on the chair, picked the book up, and looked at the cover. Poems by Mom Rajawongse Krit Srihipan. Of course I opened the book and started to read. The poetry was good, the imagery both evocative and startling. I could well believe Sri was a bisexual--and a sensualist. I didn’t want to think of my mother’s lover in those terms, but now I couldn’t avoid it.