by Anne-Marie Swift
a cup of jasmine teaThe plane is full, the way planes always seem to be full nowadays, people crowding and jostling to get on, scrabbling to squash bags into overhead lockers.
Danny sits in seat 10C – his regular business travel seat. Today, however, he is wearing orange shorts, blue flip flops and a fake Armani t-shirt. Seats A and B are empty in spite of the full plane.
Danny is heading home.
On the way out, his plan had seemed so very clear, so very straightforward. He was fuelled by anger and a sense of being absolutely in the right. He knew, without a doubt, that what he was doing was the right thing, it was what anyone in his situation would do.
On the way out, he travelled in his business suit. Wearing the linen suit, he was strong and in control, and if the leather shoes with the long, pointed toes did hurt a little, they also said “money” in clear loud tones and money, Danny knows, means power.
The plane took off and Danny looked at the crossword in his newspaper instead and though the black and white squares seemed to be moving and blurring into each other, he did start to feel calmer and relaxed, just as he had felt when he first sat down.
For the rest of the twelve hours Danny tried, and failed to watch a movie on the four-inch screen in front of him. He took his laptop out of his briefcase and tried, and failed, to concentrate on a complex quote he was putting together for a customer. He’d taken leave from his job, but it if you wanted to get on, Danny knew, you’d better be there, be available the whole time.
Keep working, keep pushing forwards, keep phoning the customers, keep the deals coming, keep the money coming in. This was Danny’s philosophy and though Sunisa had left him, taking the children with her, so his home and his soul were both empty, it was what he clung to.
An airline meal arrived: yellow sauce concealing a piece of chicken; chewy formerly-frozen bread roll, a dizzyingly sweet pudding. Danny took a mouthful of everything, just enough to keep his energy levels up. He noted that the guy next to him had eaten everything on the tray and washed it down with a Coke. Danny tried, and was surprised to succeed, in obtaining an additional helping of wine, which enabled him to sleep soundly for a couple of hours.
He was woken by the gentle sobbing of the guy next to him, who was looking at a photo album and crying softly. He could see the photo of a Thai girl – or was a boy really? – and he could guess the whole sad story and he just didn’t want to know. He had his own stuff. So, he closed his eyes again and the guy stopped crying and drifted off to sleep, his head lolling amiably onto Danny’s shoulder and Danny had to fight the urge to give the guy a strong hard push, enough to hurt. And of course, there would be a greasy mark on Danny’s expensive-looking light linen jacket and his neck was still hurting where the laptop had crashed onto his head.
But then they had landed and everyone was rushing for the overhead lockers and the stewardess was pleading, “Please don’t stand until the plane has come to a final standstill” and Danny felt wired and hot and ready for action and he didn’t care anymore about the fat sad loser, who never would find the girl or boy he was looking for, he was just ready to go and do what he needed to do.
Now, on the way back, the doors closing, stewardesses performing the emergency ritual, screens dropping down, air already stale, Danny still can’t work out what went wrong.
In Bangkok he got off the plane, pushing his way out through the Business Class, one of the first through passport control, his papers in order of course, they always were, then racing to the taxi rank. He was travelling hand luggage only, as always. Danny laughed at the guys he worked with who needed to check luggage in. What a waste of time. Though it was true, he spent hours at the weekends decanting toiletries from big bottles to smaller. He hadn’t known how long it took until Sunisa went and he had to do it all himself. There were a lot of things he hadn’t known until she left him.
“Blimey” he said to one of the blokes he worked with “I had no idea how bloody complicated the house is. Can’t work the washing machine to save my life and I had to drive round the block with the top down and my shirts on the back seat to get them dry in time for work”.
They laughed at him and his boss said, “You’d better get online, get a new wife” and they laughed again. Nobody asked where she’d gone, what had happened to the kids. Sunisa was gone and that was that.
She hadn’t left a note, but then again, she didn’t need to. She’d talked enough about taking the kids to Thailand, letting them meet their Thai family, letting them learn to speak some Thai, and what Danny had done each time she mentioned it was basically to agree. Yes, he said, yes it would be a great idea and they could all go for a year or so, and he could probably work out of the office in Bangkok, what difference did it make where you were working from nowadays? Yes, he always said, yes, but don’t go on about it, I’ve had a hell of a week and there’s this big deal coming up and after we’ve done the deal I’ll have some time to think about it.
Once she’d gone, he realised he didn’t have a clear idea of where, but it hadn’t been too difficult to find out, just a few quid bunged to a secretary in the Bangkok office. It wasn’t rocket science He knew now where the kids were, what times they went to school, what classes they were in. He probably knew more than he had when the kids lived at home.
The taxi stopped outside the school. There was Thai pop music on the taxi radio. They waited. The driver turned the engine off so there was no more air conditioning. Danny and the driver both smoked. Danny sat and sweated into his business summer clothes. He didn’t want to look like some dickhead tourist in shorts and flip-flops. He wanted the kids to see him as he saw himself: strong and powerful, the kind of guy who made things happen. He’d had to take the jacket off when the fat bastard had sweated all over it but he was still in shirt and trousers and even if his feet felt as though they were being boiled alive, he knew the shoes spoke loud and clear.
At 4:30 the school day ended. Children pouring out of school doors, a sense of slight chaos, but everyone knowing where they were going. Not so different from the end of the school day at home though Danny had rarely been around to pick them up and even when he was supposed to, he’d often ended up sending one of the secretaries or occasionally even a colleague. He watched the stream of kids. Would he even recognise his own two?
He did, of course he did. Suddenly there they were, coming together in the playground. His stomach lurched, as if he’d been punched. He hadn’t imagined this, this sudden feeling of what he could only describe as love.
His kids were slightly taller, slightly paler than the others. They looked happy and relaxed, they were talking to their classmates. How could that be? How had they learnt Thai? How long had they been gone? Danny realised that nine months had gone by since Sunisa had decamped.
Both boys had grown, both were slimmer. They smiled with their friends; there was a little game of football. His younger son, a little pudgy and slow before, dribbled the ball easily around another, larger boy. There was laughter.
This was the moment that Danny was supposed to step out of the taxi, grab his children, bundle them into the taxi, and tell the driver to head to the airport. This was the moment his children would thank him for the rest of their lives. This was the moment that he would be re-united with them and live happily ever after with his two children. The kids would be pleased to be home, they must hate it in Thailand, hot and smelly and they don’t speak the language even if their mother does.
And the bitch that was his ex-wife could stay and stew on her own in Thailand. She could see how she liked waking up to a house empty of kids, how she liked looking at unplayed-with toys, how she liked not telling bedtime stories, and not being expected to know everything about everything. She could be happy with her Thai family. Danny would be with the kids and everything would be fine at last.
Danny looked at the children, his children, looked at their happiness, their young gentle faces, and saw how it would really play out. He closed the taxi door.
‘Hotel, mate’ he said.
Seat 10C, two empty seats between him and the window, he tried to work out what had gone wrong and why he was flying home alone.