From One Prison to Another

He would talk bitterly of the Thai women in a certain bar/restaurant, which used to be in Bern, under the arch just before THE clock, the one that is not so much a timepiece as a delightful puppet theatre.

Divorced, separated, or living in a personal cold war, they spent all their money and their time (so he claimed) drinking, gambling, soft whoring.

This seemed sad to me. I was too aware of the reality of spending even one night with an unloved unwanted man to condemn them, and thus too aware of how driven they must have been to escape by that means.

If they drank, gambled and soft whored, what tale of disillusion and depression did it tell?

My attention was drawn to these Thai women everywhere, beautiful for the most part, slender lithe with two or three immaculate smiling children, and often the obligatory fat bald Swiss (eerily reminiscent of the one I had at home) often so many years older it seemed obscene.

Their dead, scared eyes haunted me.

They had not sacrificed love and life for this, it was not offered them as an option in the first place, but had used their youth and beauty to buy a realistic standard of living, freedom from fear, hunger, prostitution. In so doing had found them in a world surrounded by this hitherto unsuspected element of love and life…it must have seemed as if everyone but them was awash with it.

The final cruel irony, in achieving one Nirvana at great cost they also opened a window on another that rendered it cruel, cold and gray.

I knew how they felt.

I never sought what they sought at any time in my life, but I am sure I actually got what they got anyway.

I was dealing with a man who developed his ideas of and aspirations to relationships in Bangkok, in the same market where they peddled their youth. When he found the merchandise not entirely to his taste, he assumed that the same price would buy similar goods elsewhere on the same terms, and any suggestion to the contrary could be politely ignored.

I remember one Thai girl in Zurich particularly.

She was beautiful as a reed is in water.

But cold, so cold, not there at all. She was with a party of two couples. Her partner was not unattractive, but no match for her heart stopping beauty, pasty faced, thickening, balding. They never talked TO each other, never looked AT each other.

She seemed completely unhuman, locked inside herself forever.

It chilled me.

With hindsight, I realize that she and I (a carthorse by comparison) were both no more than ornaments, neither of us entirely voluntarily.

I had gone there choosing another quite different option to find myself trapped in this one, she had never known other options existed until she arrived there.

With hindsight, my heart, once chilled to permafrost by her, thaws and grows tender.

A prison can be judged by the determination with which people attempt to escape it.

The pain that lingers and crushes if they succeed can judge the damage it has done.

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