Talking to Strangers

After forty-eight hours living on buses and trains I was beyond relieved to throw my backpack to the floor of the cool, clean room and collapse on the surprisingly crisp, white linens of my first double bed in days. Even the towels were intricately folded as if in a five-star hotel. But with a quick shower and a few minutes reveling in the silence with only the soft whipping of the fan landing on my ears, I realized I had been running on beer and Pringles for days, and I needed food far more than sleep.

Clean for the first time since June I threw on my favorite tiny cotton excuse for a dress, the one with as many holes as times I’ve worn it, and headed out to the lobby for the free wifi. Despite my love for traveling and writing letters, the internet was my sole connection to my loves back home, and it was about time to remind everyone back state-side that I was still alive.

As luck would have it, just moments after updating all the appropriate social media outlets, the charming young Irish lad I had seen at check-in returned again. As lone travelers tend to do, we began chatting about where we came from, and where we were headed, and decided to walk to the night market together to indulge in my first proper Thai dinner.

The Krabi night market is much like any other you will experience in Asia. Overwhelmed by sights, smells, and sounds, local fare is pedaled at bargain basement prices, and both locals and tourists abound. Night markets remain, by far, my favorite places to eat and explore in Asia. After browsing several stalls that all seemed to be selling the same menu, we sat down to order some food and exchange tales of our traveling and our lives back home. He was blue-eyed adorable, conversation drifted easily between us, and I was glad to have a companion again after so many days of feeling utterly alone.

krabi night market

nutella??? can i just have some pad thai please?

Dinner turned into drinks and drinks turned into World Cup watching and before I knew it my words were blurred as my sight as we stumbled from bar to bar. But the boy I found charming in his innocence before became a close-minded and offensive specimen after a few too many beers. After watching him cruelly mock and harangue a woman at the pub, and with my attraction to him disintegrating before my eyes, I suggested we head back to the hostel as I had an early ferry to catch to Koh Phi Phi in the morning.

But for all my internal objections, as I went to bid him goodnight and close my door he kissed me and, too drunk to object, I let it happen. So much for willpower. With the frustration of missing out on everything I had wanted with my fair-haired Scot just the week before, I let this Irish stranger take his paphian place in my bed. Such is the romance of a day-a-place traveler. Two or three nights is often the most long-term relationship you can find, and so more often than not, I would settle for one.

In the midst of what seemed to me to be an average sexual encounter that would soon go on my list of things to forget, I turned over onto my knees. And as my hair tumbled from my back a choked, mid-coitus yelp escaped from the rictus of his indelicate mouth.

“Jesus! Wot tha fock is tha?” His Irish accent instantaneously lost every modicum of its charm. “Well did ya give ita mae?” Without the courtesy to pull out before horrifically insulting me, I rolled over to escape our tangled imbroglio. With a single breath, I mustered every ounce of energy I had to not express the depth of embarrassment he had caused.

krabi night market

would you like some leprosy with that herp?

In the singular monotone of forced control, I explained that the horror to which he was referring was scleroderma, a localized skin condition I had since I was six. Its taut, darkened cells rested benign between my shoulder blades for twenty years. And since the cruelty of middle school children fifteen years before, I had never experienced such a stunning blow to the confidence I believed I had so carefully cultivated.

What else could I do but feign casual than let a boy who meant nothing to me know how easily and deeply his reaction sliced?

Too ashamed to ask him to leave, I rolled to the edge of the bed as if it were the edge of the planet and turned my skin and bones away from him in used, unadmittable regret. I let tears well silent and begged them not to turn to sobs until I finally found sleep.

When the morning came I told him to leave and said my goodbye without ever again meeting his eyes. I packed my bags in the sad, weighted futility of the loneliness I believed I was cursed to endure. It was the 4th of July, America’s Independence Day, and I felt all the more silly for wishing I had someone upon whom I could depend.

But the rigors of travel quickly sieve those disappointments from those that scar and on the mini-bus full of western tourists headed to the ferry terminal my bruises and abuses rose into a dawning realization. Of all the strangers I had encountered in the last three days, of every local of whom I had been skeptical, every foreign face of which I had been afraid, each of them had treated me with more kindness than the one face I found comforting, and believed to be familiar.

So it goes on the road, another destination behind, another ahead, and yet another lesson learned.

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