Pele, part 1
a story about my friend the taxi driver
There's no Uber or public transit on the Thai island I find myself on. To get around you need to do what everyone else is doing, which is ride a scooter. But I'm not feeling brave enough to learn to ride yet, and besides that my license is expired, and as a general rule I try to avoid breaking laws in foreign countries. So to get to ecstatic dance in the north, I order a cab.
A white car pulls up and I get in. The driver is a Thai guy maybe in his late 20s with bleach blonde hair. "Sorry I sweating so much, just finished football tournament." His English is pretty good and it's nice to be able to communicate. I look over at him. He is indeed dripping with sweat.
I feel bad to have interrupted his Sunday with friends just so he can make $10. "Did you win or lose?"
"Lose." He tells me about how he used to play nearly professionally, before he got injured. He now has a team called "The Farangs." "Farang" is what the Thai people call any foreigner, and it's a team of international players. They have a player from Germany, a player from Russia, players from all over. He's from Bangkok so he, too, is a farang here on the island.
He stops at a cute blue house. "We need to change cars," he explains. "I need different car for client later." I survey the scene and decide that he is telling the truth and he didn't bring me here to harvest my organs.
I notice two clocks on the wall. The big clock is missing a "3" and an "I" in "TIME". It looks like the second clock was hung up as a hot fix. Time hodgepodged together seems hilariously indicative of the feeling in Thailand; I sneak a photo.
I comment that it's a nice house and he says it's his brother's. He points to a side building, "This is my room."
We get in a truck. I ask him if he likes the island. "I don't like it," he says, pausing to flash me a big grin. "I love it." It's probably the 10,000th time he's said this line, but his joy in saying it is sincere.
When he drops me off I get his number so I can get a ride back. "What's your name?" I ask. "Pele," he says.
After dance is over I get anxious that I'll be stranded in the jungle, but Pele picks me up shortly after I text him.
In a few days I will meet Aurora, who lets me in on her secret game. The game is showing the Thai people that you're genuinely grateful for them, that you recognize them and what they've done for you. If you manage to do this—to hurl genuine gratitude up over the wall they've built to endure surviving off rude and hurrying tourists—you are rewarded with a smile that is like sun breaking through storm clouds, a smile so radiant it spills over into you and lights up your heart.
But I do not know this game yet. And so I pay him, my mind in the past and future, and get out.
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