It is 2 AM.
He is sitting at the stony table in his hotel yard, sipping the orange juice and smoking the last few cigarettes before going to bed.
There is nobody else in the street. Not even cars nor bikes passing by. It is late, but tomorrow is a holiday, the biggest holiday in Thailand, and he expected a wild night.
If it were a usual Friday night, numerous bikes would be buzzing up and down, drunk and rude American students would be coming back to their dorm, yelling and insulting everybody. But tonight, the night before the most important national holiday, there is nobody anywhere. As he were the only person still alive.
Tomorrow it will be “Songkraan”, the Thai New Year. So, in a way, it is New Year’s Eve, but it is so different from the Western one. Instead of chaos, there is only an absolute silence. He guesses that everybody has gone to bed early, to be ready for tomorrow.
He knows it will be wild. Ha has bought enough coffee and cigarettes, so he can stay at his hotel. Being all wet in a crowd is not really his idea of having fun. And he doesn’t want to risk. He doesn’t want to insult a Thai person who might offer him a drink. He’s been sober for two months, for the first time in decades, and he doesn’t want to ruin it.
It was hard, it was like hell. Quitting. The first few days. But, as time went by, it got better and better. Valium has helped a lot, he has been calm for the first time in his life, in spite of everything. He is brokenhearted right now, but it doesn’t hurt as it usually does. Maybe because Tasha is not at the hotel right now: she is spending her school holiday in Bangkok. Or “Krun-Thep”, as Thais call it… He takes another sip of the orange juice and lights another cigarette. He is looking at the juice, but it doesn’t hurt. He doesn’t really like it, he started drinking it after he quit alcohol, just because she liked it. Suddenly, it tasted so good.
He is peaceful, in spite of her cold rejection, in spite of the hard words they exchanged in the end. Maybe not just because of the Valium, maybe because of the new girl in his life, a girl who he has just met, a few days ago. He is peaceful, but not completely. There is something different about this night. In a way, he misses the drunk passers-by, he misses the noise he usually hates. Suddenly, everything is quiet and it is upsetting in a way. He is calm, but a little bit worried too. As if he could feel a danger coming. As if this were just a calm before the storm.
Suddenly, he sees a movement in the street. But it is not a human being. A big yellow cat is slowly walking up the street. Inside the hotel yard, it behaves like a master, walking freely and paying no attention to the people. But he has never seen it walking in the middle of the street. Even the cat knows that this night is different.
He takes the last sip of the juice. The cat is now really close to him, just across the fence of the hotel yard. It is still walking in the middle of the street, carrying a big dead rat in its teeth. It is holding it by its neck, but the rat is so big that the half of its body is touching the ground. Paying no attention to him, the cat keeps walking towards the Uniloft, the biggest University dormitory in Chiang Mai. Claire (the new girl) is staying there. The American peasants are staying there, too. May, the girl he moved to Thailand for, used to stay there a few years ago.
He finishes his last cigarette, stands up and takes the empty juice pack. He doesn’t want to leave his rubbish behind him, like the American students who were drinking there recently. He goes towards the hotel door, but he suddenly stops and turns around. He is standing and looking at the empty, silent street. Not a sound. Not a move. And he can feel it again… A calm before the storm.