In Part 1 Jess, with some bumps along the way, had made it on to a minivan destined for Krabi.
The rain thundered against the roof of the van as it took off out of the busy bus stop, winding its way around motorcycles ridden by locals wrapped in colourful plastic rain coats. It was becoming very hard to see very far out of the side windows but with the enthusiasm that the van driver whipped the van along the narrow one-laned streets, Jess imagined hopefully that it must be much easier to see out from the drivers seat. Without warning the van came to a complete stop and Jess’ seat slid forward in a way that Jess was almost confident couldn’t be by design. Jess shifted her weight backwards and though the seat seemed to click back into place, the solid metal bar under her butt felt like it had shifted to the base of her spine. Jess wiggled ambitiously between the silent Thai women on her right and the young student on her left but only a sustained tilt in either direction seemed to alleviate the awkward bump below her. Jess took a deep breath, shifted herself an inch closer to the woman who was trying as much as possible to avoid body contact and settled for the position she’d describe as ‘only slightly uncomfortable’.
Jess noticed that while she had been distracted the van driver had left the vehicle, and a growing line of cars and bikes had built up behind them. The door slid open and the driver peered into the van from beneath a green and yellow 7/11 branded umbrella. The man pointed roughly in Jess’s direction and she assumed the string of Thai that followed was directions on where to place a parcel of some sort. Instead, an older woman who sat in the seat directly in front of Jess reached below her seat and pulled out a dusty-looking old brown plank. Jess’ face furrowed deeply as she attempted to piece together what was unfolding in front of her.
“Could the driver be delivering a plank? Has the van broken down and this is a part of fixing it?”
Before Jess had a chance at developing her theories any further the woman slid the plank in a small gap directly underneath their seat and attached it to a similar gap under the seat directly opposite in the aisle creating a platform between the two. Jess couldn’t quite understand what kind of package needed to be off the ground, deciding that it must be something of religious or traditional value. The driver beckoned to someone outside, out of Jess’s eye-line and she watched as a figure emerged out of the down pour and climbed up on to the step of the van.
“Not a platform.” Jess realised with a start. “A seat.”
The van, which Jess figured could hold 14 passengers comfortably, had now just reached an obviously uncomfortable 16 as an old woman slowly pulled herself to the back of the van. The woman wore a dark blue hijab and a look that said not much impressed her these days. She clasped on to the back of the final set of seats in front of Jess and before sitting down, gave Jess a weighted stare that seemed to last forever. Jess glanced to the left and right of her and found faces so intensely pressed towards their screens that she couldn’t believe anything was that interesting. Before Jess could think of finishing the thought of offering a nod, a smile or her seat, the old woman eased herself down onto the plank in front of her.
“Oh god, oh god…” Jess panicked. “Should I have offered my seat? Did I fuck this up somehow?”
Anxiety whipped her brain back and forth with the concern she’d made some sort of cultural faux pas. A sweat had broken out on Jess’ brow which Jess attributed to the stress but at the same time this now also drew Jess’ attention to a rising dampness in her shirt towards her lower back.
“Is it getting hotter in here?” Jess considered as the van pulled off once again.
Despite the rickety plank below her the old woman in front of Jess remained remarkably composed, with a posture Jess had always read about in random internet health articles but could never remember to bother with herself. This eased Jess’ concerns slightly and as the van picked up a rhythm weaving rhythmically around the traffic on the single-laned road Jess was slowly lulled into a light sleep as she watched the woman in front of her sway silently with the movements of the minivan.
Some time later Jess woke with a start as the van bounced over a particularly neglected pothole in the road. It took her some time to gather her thoughts as she cleared the sleep from her eyes. By now Jess’ entire back was wet with sweat and as she wiped a pool of water from her brow she concluded that waking up had been a terrible idea. She raised her hand up to the little adjustable slats in the roof that were supposed to be where the air conditioning did its work and felt nothing but stagnant air being dismally spat out. While Jess settled into her new reality she began to now think of herself in unflattering but apt terms like ‘swampish’ and ‘marshy’ and she felt her body releasing moisture at an alarming rate.
Jess looked around at her companions to see if they too were suffering from the same problems as herself. The boy beside her had his eyes closed and his chin dipped towards his chest and it seemed to Jess that he was reaping the benefits of being unconscious, a pleasure that Jess was beginning to miss more and more. His unfinished green drink sat precariously between his thighs and while Jess thought briefly of moving it she couldn’t quite bring herself to wake the kid who right now seemed so content. To her right the petite Thai woman had put her phone and down and was watching the greens of the jungle through the windows of the van. Jess noticed the rain had stopped and sunlight had begun to spill onto the seats in front of her. Jess spotted a single bead of sweat fall past the woman’s ear and this gave Jess just the smallest feeling of relief knowing that she was not the only one who was feeling the stifling air.
Jess wiggled uncomfortably on her seat again but this time she felt herself sliding in her shorts and Jess imagined her thighs aquaplaning on a layer of sweat. On the plus side she seemed to have to come to an uneasy truce with the metal bar below her as her bum had gone completely numb. Perhaps this was an evolutionary benefit, some sort of self-preservation action that had allowed cavemen to sit themselves on even the most uncomfortable cave floors for days on end. Just as Jess’ thoughts were drifting to cavemen and she thought that perhaps the heat had driven her to delirium, the van began to slow down and move off to the side of the road. Jess raised herself up off her seat to get a view of what was approaching and almost let out a yelp of relief to see they were approaching a gas station.
To Jess’ eyes the blue, white and red branding looked like a goddamn oasis: toilets, water and a chance to stretch her legs seemed like pillars upon which she could rest her sanity. As the van pulled up onto the ramp off the freeway and the van unexpectedly bounced and Jess slipped sideways onto the teenage boy beside her. She tried to use her hands to stabilise herself on the seat in front of her but missed completely. She spotted the green liquid just in time and pressed her hand down awkwardly on the thigh of the student. “Phew,” was all Jess had time to think before the boy, waking in a panic that his personal space had just been so unceremoniously invaded, swiped his right hand across his lap, connected with the cup between his legs and dumped the watered-down sticky green concoction straight over Jess’ legs.
“Fucking great.” Jess thought loudly, this time unable to to muster the energy needed at a positive spin on things.
The boy smiled sheepishly while repeating “sorry” over and over and while Jess held no ill-will to him personally, it was with great effort that she held a thin lipped smile and kept muttering the phrase “mai pben rai”. They all disembarked from the heavy set air of the van and emerged out into the sunlight and Jess and her now-green shorts bee lined for the toilet signs.
To be continued.