Italian Job is an overpriced cafe in Kata Beach Phuket. The coffee is better than most places in Phuket, but then coffee isn’t really their strong suit. So when in Thailand stick to to Thai food and use tea to rid the caffeine headaches. Click to read the short story by set in Melbourne…
They were fighting about whether or not to rent a motorbike in Phuket – she was for, he was against. As per Lonely Planet’s recommendations, recommendations he’d soon learn to hate after reading The Beach and paying AU$5 for a coffee, they sat at Italian Job, a café overlooking a busy crossing in Kata Beach.
“It’s going to save us so much money,” said Abbey as their two iced coffees arrived. There was so much ice inside the Mason jar, a trend that appeared to cross all borders, that Lloyd could already picture himself hanging over the toilet in their hotel bathroom. He took a wary sip; he’d taken a Travelan tablet that morning which promised 90% protection from traveller’s diarrhoea on the cover of the packet. He hoped ice was not in the other 10%, he’d hate for Abbey to hear any sounds coming from the bathroom. This was their first trip away together.
“A motorbike only costs 200 Baht a day, that’s like, less than 10 dollars. It costs the same amount in a Tuktuk just to get to the next suburb,” she reasoned, sipping her coffee through the straw.
“Yes but neither one of us has ever ridden a motorbike,” Lloyd said, “could you imagine the look on your dad’s face if I brought you back without an arm?”
“That’s a little melodramatic, don’t you think?” she asked.
Her dad was 6 foot 3 and once played water polo for Australia, his hobbies included rowing, kite surfing, camping and boxing. The first time they had met, he’d made a comment about needing to buff him up; otherwise he’d be useless protecting his only daughter.
“He’d have me arrested.”
“He’s not a cop,” said Abbey, “plus he’d think it was stupid for us to pay so much money when there is a cheaper alternative.”
“We’d also have to pay for gas,” Lloyd said, trying to sway her logic.
“Haven’t you seen them on the side of the road?” she asked, “they sell them in used glass bottles for like 30 Baht.”
He looked at the motorbikes driving through the crossing in front of the café. There were no road rules, why were there no road rules in Thailand? Their taxi from the airport had just driven straight into a roundabout and then gotten stuck in the middle because no one waited. Apparently, you just drove whenever there was an opening. Roundabouts are logical, traffic moves through it continuously – the Thai’s would all get to where they needed to be faster, if they followed the rules. Roundabouts are the most superior way of directing traffic; they require less time than traffic lights, also produce less pollution, as cars are not waiting idly. Lloyd remembered when he first learned to drive; clutching the steering wheel hoping the strength of his grip would somehow make the drive safer. Roundabouts were the scariest of all, so much turning, so much thinking, and so much learning when to give way. But once he’d successfully driven through a roundabout and practiced 21 times, it became a habit and he learned to appreciate the beauty of such clear set rules. Rules that allowed little engines to pass by one another unharmed, without the use of language or communication, but working in unity through a shared knowledge that this is how it is done.
He looked over at Abbey who had finished her coffee and was now scrolling through her phone making use of the free Wi-Fi. He knew she was probably trying to find a website that proved Thailand’s traffic was not so dangerous. She knew him well enough that statistics could change his mind. But he’d already Googled this before they left; Thailand was ranked second in the world in terms of traffic fatalities, and the most occurred on the island of Phuket.
Abbey could never be swayed by statistics; she believed that the world was not made up of numbers, that numbers were arbitrary. She believed in chance and luck and karma and most of their fights came down to this difference. He knew that someone like Abbey deserved an adventurous guy, a guy like Richard or Étienne, who swam to The Beach without so much as a thought. She was like Françoise, beautiful and hungry for life. If he had found a map to a mysterious beach, he would have never even considered trying to swim towards it, even though he’d once represented his school for freestyle. He liked to swim, it calmed his mind and while he no longer practiced 3 mornings a week, he still knew he could swim a distance like that. Abbey would just give it a go. She was a terrible swimmer but she’d believe that nothing bad would happen, and then, annoyingly, nothing bad would happen. Abbey often told him that she needed someone like him, someone who reminded her to pay her bills, and service her car, but also someone who admired her goals and encouraged and reminded her to keep pursuing them. She said that her mind drove a thousand miles a minute. One idea would hop to the next and this meant she was never around long enough to accomplish anything. He reminded her to sometimes stick things out. She once told him that she wouldn’t have finished her degree, but hopped on a plane to Jamaica or Peru if it wasn’t for him. She said this with gratitude, but sometimes he’d picture Abbey in Jamaica, dancing to reggae in a local bar. She looked happy in these daydreams.
Abbey was now looking at him expectedly, she’d obviously realised that Thailand traffic, and particularly Phuket traffic, were statistically a death trap. She always widened her hazel eyes when she was waiting for him to make decisions. Her hazel eyes, which had in them, all the colours of a palm tree. They’d joked about this the day before, lying by the pool ordering room service. He’d looked at the palm tree by the makeshift lighthouse, noting that the trunk, like a sea soaked piece of wood, was the colour of Abbey’s eyes. He noted the brownish green of the palm leaves whose spiked ends looked like the tiny threads that broke out from her pupil. Abbey’s eyes, which were green, or brown, or hazel, or grey depending who you asked and on what day, were exactly the colour of that palm tree. Lloyd had been almost pleased with himself for solving this mystery and he’d declared to Abbey that her eyes were the colour of Phuket palm trees. And while ocean, or stars, or sapphires would have been more poetic, she smiled and touched his foot with hers, her toes hugging his and told him she loved him.
Abbey’s face focussed on the building opposite, “look babe,” she said and his eyes followed hers to another Italian restaurant with quotes along the walls, “they got The Godfather wrong. You’d think they’d be able to Google the right quote wouldn’t you. Like I get that Google translate doesn’t have the right grammar but a movie quote? That would just come up on IMDB.”
Abbey always pointed out the English grammar and spelling mistakes, although here in Phuket half the signs were now in Russian due to the influx of Russian tourists. Abbey did this in Australia too, there bad grammar annoyed her, but here she found it sweet and endearing. Yesterday, when Lloyd had taken her phone to find a restaurant they’d been recommended, he stumbled upon a list of these mistakes that she’d pointed out since their trip. The list also contained funny things other tourists or guides, or hotel staff had said. He noticed that “your eyes are the colours of palm trees” had been her last entry. He hadn’t asked her about it, he knew that if she wanted him to know she would have told him. He also knew, that with these quotes an art piece would follow, or a photo album, or a book or a poem. She would present it to him months after they’d return home to Melbourne. They would then spend the night remembering this trip, remembering the fluorescent blue starfish they’d discovered while snorkelling, remembering the young Thai ladies aggressively offering massages, remembering lighting their lanterns off Karon beach and watching them sail off into the night. They’d drink a bottle of wine and talk about returning to Phuket in their 70s. They’d talk about the night they’d made love in the pool, after a night out on Bangla Road, although the pool was already closed off to guests. They’d laugh at the image of themselves at 70 trying to relive that memory. 70-year-old Abbey hiking up her dress to jump over the little fence by the pool and 70-year-old Lloyd asking her to hold his cane while he did the same. He would tell her that he’d still get hard for her at 70 and she would reach out for his dick and they’d make love on the lounge room floor. He didn’t want to ruin this night or the surprise so he’d said nothing and just found the directions to “Istanbul Restaurant” because by that time they were a little over eating Pad Thai.
“Okay sport,”said Abbey, “what’ll it be? Paying hundreds of dollars for Tuk Tuks or 10 dollars for a motorbike?”
He focussed on her round face, taking in her slender nose sprinkled with freckles, her forehead, peeling from the sun, her chapped pink lips, her palm tree eyes. He pictured tiny cars driving around it, in perfect continuous motion, hoping, begging that even in his imagination, they wouldn’t crash into her beautiful features.
The choice was stupid, he thought, as either way, he could lose her.
– The End –