|Beyond The Comfort Zone – Extracts|
Page 5 of 5
Step From The Edge
.............................The next day, as I was having my customary breakfast of Bagels, Cream cheese and Avocado at my usual watering hole, Franco appeared. Strolling quickly across the café, he slid into the bench opposite me. He leaned over the table, and gestured me in closer, lowering his voice conspiratorially, the smell of last nights drunken repast wafting between us.
“Listen Jimbo, I’ve got an idea tell me what you think”.
I listened as he told me how further north he had heard of a village that is possibly being used as a staging post for child trafficking. He’d like to go and see if we could get some secret footage with the new hidden camera.
“Sounds a tiny bit on the dangerous side matey” I said with more than a hint of sarcasm, concentrating on smearing the ripe avocado into the bagel in front of me.
“How far north is this village?”
“Oh, way up in the Golden Triangle”
“Where, Chiang Rai?”
“No a bit further than that”. Well, could he be any more vague I thought to myself!
I pressed him. “Which bit of the Golden Triangle are you talking about?
Franco paused for a moment, deciding whether or not to tell me.
“The top bit”.
I took a bite out of my Bagel and started to go over the area in my mind. Chiang Rai is the gateway, further to the north and to the left is Mae Hong Son, to the right is the Mekong and further past that Lao…. I stopped chewing, the swallow sticking in my throat, as it dawned on me where he is talking about.
“Shit, you’re talking about going into Burma”. He nodded.
“Are you stark raving mad, you’ll never make it in and out, and there are Army checkpoints aren’t there?”
He explained that he’d got a contact on the Burmese side, and could get the passes we needed. I shook my head.
“It’s too dangerous mate, I don’t think I’m up for it”
Franco looked disappointed “Look, you’re always telling me you wanted an adventure, well this qualifies. Are you scared?”
“Yeah, I am, and you should be too”
If we got caught filming, or even with the camera system on our person, any number of things could happen – none of them good. The village it transpired was thirty minutes or so – he didn’t know exactly - inside the Burmese border, and we would pose as tourists trying to experience the local village life, and obviously we would be doling out cash gifts along the way to ensure smooth passage. This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for an adventure, what was wrong with an Elephant trek or some white water rafting? But I knew if I said no he would probably go alone, I also knew the probability of him getting up to his neck in it was high. What to do?
I looked past Franco to the street outside, it was raining. The kind of tropical rain, that bounces a foot high as it hits the pavement, soaks everything in five seconds and then is gone in an instant. An overweight tourist crammed onto a motorbike several sizes too small for him splashed through the torrent outside. Behind him riding pillion, was a small girl of about 15 years of age. She is not his daughter. They slowed to a squeaky halt at the crossing directly outside the café window, her expressionless face leaning against the man’s back. She should have been at school or laughing and playing in the rain with friends. Instead the girl, clearly Burmese, now clung to the back of the bike. Her innocence was gone, with no childhood to speak of she seemed to carry the worries of the world on her tiny frame her perfect almond shaped eyes unfocussed, unblinking, staring blankly through the curtain of water between us. The rain stopped abruptly, and for a second our eyes met through the glass. She looked at me for a moment, then turned her head away in embarrassment as the motorbike with its sad cargo sped on. I turned back to Franco.
“Ok, fuck it I’m in” then added “don’t get me killed”
“I’ll try not to” He beamed back.
The next day unable to sleep I awoke early, brewed a fresh pot of coffee and took it outside onto the balcony seating myself in my usual chair. In the distance monsoon rain clouds, inky black and laced with lightening, raced across the valley floor some forty miles away. Perfect sheets of rain, their edges crisp at that distance, fell from each group of black cotton candy and shafts of bright amber light separated each group of clouds. Like torch beams they illuminated swathes of the lush green rice paddies beyond the Hang Dong road all the way to Doi Inthannon. The golden singular spire of Wat Suan Dok rose majestically two blocks to the west seemingly painted in 3D relief against the shifting backdrop of the oncoming storm. It was an awesome sight. I stood up and walked to the edge of the balcony. It wasn’t raining here yet, but below me the deck chairs and loungers scraped around the poolside and the Palms leaned heavily their fronds rippling violently as they bowed to the tepid breath of the approaching monsoon downpour. The benevolent shadow of Doi Suthep, its peak shrouded in mist, sat to my right. I fixed my eyes on the shining stuppas of Wat Phra Doi Suthep, still poking through above the mist, and raised my hands to my forehead in a silent traditional wai. I gathered my thoughts. .................