The Great Escape

A wave of heat engulfs us as the cabin decompresses. Outside the airport it’s difficult to spot a taxi through the crazy assortment of people clattering their luggage.

A small black-toothed man waves to us. “You want ride?”

Happy to escape Britain’s winter, and the Thai heat, we dodge through traffic to meet him.

"You got money?" he asks as we clamber in the back of his dusty white sedan.

A voice in my mind warns, ‘Don’t get in,’ just as I land on the springy back seat. ‘Too late,’ I think.

It’s a relief to sit even though my back slides on the vinyl. There’s an overly friendly man already perched in the front seat. He asks where we’re from. I tell them we are from the U.K. He makes rude gestures thrusting his circled fingers with his other hand and the two men snigger.

Andy looks concerned. I decide to let him do the talking since he’s been here before.

"Do you know the Meridian?" asks Andy.

We drive for twenty minutes in erratic Bangkok traffic. The friendly man glances in the rear view mirror and advises, again, not for the first time, "We take short cut," his eyes hide in his creased smile.

I scan the streets and see dishevelled buildings and sketchy trees. We come to a busy junction where cars jostle for position.

Andy leans forward as the taxi begins to join the flow of traffic leading left onto the freeway. He points impatiently right at a sign. “It’s down there, Mate.” I marvel at his clear mind considering how much vodka we drank on the plane.

The driver ignores him and hunches his shoulders. The other guy waves his arms about vaguely, apparently not able to understand. After a minute he turns and asks us if we’d like to see some nice women. The two men look at each other and giggle.

“No..., thank you, we want to go to the… Meridian… Hotel,” he speaks slowly and looks at me wildly.

“We take short cut,” the front passenger says.

I gulp back bile. My head aches. I search Andy wide-eyed, “This don’t feel right.” I wonder where the freeway goes and imagine if we keep going on it we’ll end up who knows where!

“I know,” he mouths, suddenly official. “When I say go... JUMP!” he shouts. He used to be Private in the Navy.

Springing alive, I shove open my door and let it fly wide, narrowly missing an old man on a bike. My feet hit the road and slide. Smokey acid swirls in my gut as I skid under the car door. Andy shouts from round the back of the car, “Get up!”

My heart grips my lungs as I scramble to my toes and sprint blindly. I stop when I get to the other side of the road to see if Andy’s okay. He’s pounding towards me, the two seedy men right behind him.

Andy screams, “Go!”

I turn and force my thighs to surge forward. I’ve never been so afraid in all my life! We run with our bags clutched in our fists. I’m glad we travelled light; I only packed two swimming shorts and two vests and toiletries. I recognise wafts of sweet coriander mixed up with heady sandlewood as we rush past noodle bars and street sellers who wave burnt-orange and sky-blue silk scarves in our faces. My school boy karate reminds me to breath and I force in slow gulps of hot stale air.

Eventually we find a large hotel with huge marble columns. We ask to sit in the cool bar, grateful for safety and rest from the heat. We explain what has happened to the concierge who advises that sometimes people have been kidnapped.

He leads us outside after our iced tea and pastries, takes enough notes from us and gives it to the driver of a neat comely taxi. Advises us to keep cash in the safe at our hotel, says the streets can be dangerous. No kidding, we say.

He tells the driver in his unfamiliar furious syllables, our story I assume, as the driver looks suitably concerned and nods.

I turn to Andy, “I had a feeling we shouldn’t get in that taxi.”

He laughs, “Well next time, say something!”

Sunning ourselves lazily by the pool the next day, I ask, “Do you think they were chasing us for the taxi fare?”

T Johnston

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