The Line Of Fire

So here’s another barding of creative non fiction. I was recently part of a night writing class taught by a friend of mine who wanted to put together an anthology of proses and poetry, and each class was given a theme. Ours happened to be fire, and this is what I came up with… which happens to be about one moment that I’m not particularly proud of. 

I wasn’t overly enthused by my time on Koh Phangan in Thailand – it’s a party island and I am certainly not a party person – but I was fortunate enough to attend a talk by another travel blogger, Tim Richards, who basically told me and my old Literature teacher that there’s a story in just about anything and everything. He definitely had a point.   

‘Taking all blowjobs offered!’ Ronny, our tour leader from Gloucestershire, shouted out which left me considering how no one had actually told me how unpredictable Thailand could be… nobody had… which was making starting to cry look very appealing.

A few men were uncoiling this long and thick line of rope out along the beach sand as the nightlife took hold. I stood somewhere out of the way as this party took off, wondering just how the hell this part of the world had lured me into it. There were little buckets of booze going around (yes, the buckets you find in a sandbox), pop songs that had been following me since Bangkok that hadn’t made it to Australia… yet (just how many times will Thailand play Nobody To Love?) and a level of enjoyment that was impossible to get on board with; this was Koh Phangan; this was a new kind of hell.

My tour group was mostly made up of Brits who weren’t so bad; there were some Scots all out of Glasgow, a few Brazilians, another bogan-type Aussie (how the hell do they get passports?) and a Colombian… whose favourite thing to repeat, at random, really did my head in.

‘Australians are so racist.’

Contemplating it, since we’d left Bangkok on the sleeper train, on how to word it to the Colombian that I, a Melbournian, was nowhere near that Sydney restaurant that had forced him to eat his food out in the carpark. Seriously?

The beach party continued on – the speakers were thumping music, tourists and local Thais were dancing, some were talking World Cup and here I was on the side still wondering how my being at this party had gone down. Our tour leader, Ronny, was still shouting out that he’ll take any blowjob offered whilst he danced and swung his bucket of piss around, drunk as; how was survival a possibility with that dickhead watching anyone’s back?

Taking my mind off of my shits, people watching others around me kind of helped out; there were the tourists who were nothing like me, a few young kids who’d been swinging fire sticks around but were now smoking cigarettes (yes, confronting) and the bartender, a large woman missing some front teeth, who didn’t believe in serving straight lemonade; she wasn’t favourable. Some close to home, in the tour group, were much better.

Two of the other Brits, a couple named Evelyn and Andy who favoured having inked up arms (they both had really intricate sleeves; Evelyn favoured dreamcatchers and Andy Las Vegas sin), ran back onto the beach like they’d been running for their lives; someone had told me that Phangan was a mafia controlled island. Word was that Evelyn and Andy had gone off to the shops for something but they weren’t carrying anything.

‘We just got chased by some dogs,’ the inked up Evelyn and Andy said together.

Now that was a random fact worth remembering.

This was only my second Thai beach party and it was hell! Did I mention that already? The first party, from two nights ago, had been in this exact same spot but it was really quiet and boring and almost enjoyable in my mind… which might sound like a big dose of irony. People are going crazy around me so getting out became my priority.

Faking a freak out; that was my way out. Couldn’t explain why but it felt like the only thing that would get the job done.

My freak out had me going wide-eyed, breathing hard and flinching all before my right eye started twitching; my experience with seizures was limited so if it was spot on, I didn’t really know. Maybe dropping down onto the sand and rolling around hissing could help? Unfortunately, though, no one from the tour was noticing me. Shit. The only person who did notice was a blond woman, in a rainbow coloured top, who was just some random.

‘You all right, mate?’ the blond asked me in an Irish accent.

Fuck it. This shit wasn’t working anyway. I dropped the fake seizure and looked the blond in the eye.

‘Yeah, I’m okay,’ I told her, feeling just a little bit embarrassed, ‘just wanted to leave.’

‘Why don’t you just get a taxi?’

Good question, but the idea of getting a ride across Phangan solo wasn’t that appealing; the taxi drivers were mental. Walking around Bangkok at night had taught me that Thailand was definitely a safety in numbers type of place. Turning away from the blond Irish and still not sure why since she’d been nice, I looked at everything.

There was Ronny, now dancing on a table, and a small group of our tour cheering him on; Evelyn and Andy were now sharing a bucket and talking about the dogs with the two Brazilian girls and one Glaswegian; one of the British boys was getting followed around by a Thai hooker (wasn’t sure if she was a lady boy but the Glaswegian girl talking to Evelyn and Andy could pick them out easily) because he looked both visible, vulnerable and valuable; and the Colombian was yet again sharing how racist my people were.

Luckily this country was good for nature, which was why the tour had appealed to me in the first place. We’d spent a night on the lake of Khao Sok where we’d seen gibbons swinging from the towering trees and a water dwelling snail the size of a tennis ball. I’d have been happy sticking around there; the water on my skin was my new found desire now.

Then the smell of kerosene reached my nose… which had me feeling concerned. Lonely Planet had said it was a given, when on Koh Phangan, and then the rope that was snaking along the beach returned to my attention. The two men who’d uncoiled it then set it ablaze. The line of fire brightened up the whole beach; the light was taking a dump on the darkness and people loved it, including me, even.

Two other big Thai men, wearing singlets and covered in ink, each grabbed an end of the rope and, instantly, a primary school setting came back to me. Everyone was watching as the rope was swung around in a circle formation; the lines were nice to look at and people were taking pictures with their phones. Back when he was sober, Ronny had told us that the locals would get a fire rope swinging and that we should avoid taking it on.

‘Fire rope people!’ Ronny shouted out from the table top he was on, now wearing a bucket on his head; my faith in his wisdom deteriorated even more, which I hadn’t thought possible. ‘Someone do it!’

The rope of orange and yellow flame swung in circles; some of them looked game. Watching as it glowed against the black night, like a curse Voldemort had fired at Harry, I took in a long and deep breath whilst Nobody To Love started playing on a speaker again, making me dread the song’s arrival in Australia, before looking at the thongs on my feet.

Should I take them off first?

Additional photography was provided by Hannah Troupe