COURT MERRIGAN has worked as a bartender, construction worker, writer, surveyor, and teacher in the US and Asia. A graduate of Creighton University and the University of Sheffield, he currently lives in Thailand. He is working on a collection of short stories.

                                                                 the hard drinker

I was drinking whisky and Jiap was drinking water.  He wanted to learn some new English.

"Okay," I said.  "Hard drinker and heavy drinker."

“Hard drinker, heavy drinker,” Jiap said.  “You mean about alcohol, right? What does it mean, exactly?”

“A hard drinker is a person who, when he drinks, likes to drink a lot.  Maybe too much.  But he doesn’t need to do it every day.  A heavy drinker is a person who drinks too much every day.  Like an alcoholic.”

“Hard drinker, heavy drinker.  So a hard drinker, this person, he does not drink in every day?”

“No.  But he may see no point in drinking without intoxication.”

“Intoxi …?”

"Intoxication.  Getting drunk.  Being drunk.”

“I see.  A hard drinker may easily become a heavy drinker, yes?”

“Oh yes.  Very easily.”  I had a drink.  “A hard drinker drinks because he likes it.  A heavy drinker drinks because he has to.”

"This is easy to understand," he said.  “Of course it is the same here.”

We were sitting at a fold-out table at a street-side vendor’s stall.  Jiap knew the place and the young woman running it.  He said the noodles were the best in all Bangkok.  Also you could sing karaoke.  They had wheeled a karaoke machine out next to the curb.  It sat under its own umbrella.  The rain had just stopped.  The air was soupy.  The young woman brought you a bottle of whisky, glasses, soda, and an ice bucket.  When you finished eating, you could drink and sing, or just drink.

“C’mon, Jiap, finish up that water and have some of this whisky here.  I got this for the both of us,” I said.

“Ah, Hendy, thank you very much.  But cannot.”

“Don’t tell me you’re a teetotaler.”

“Excuse me.  I do not know this word.”

“A teetotaler.  Someone who doesn’t drink at all.  Always sober and always toting around a mouthful of stupid excuses.”

“Teetotaler.  Teetotaler.  This person, they do not drink at all?”

“No.  Not at all.”

“Okay,” he said.  “This is me.  I am a Muslim.”

“Oh,” I said.

“I had to, how you say in English.  Change my religion.”

“Convert.”

"Yes.  Convert.  So I can get married.  My wife, she is Muslim.  I  wanted to get married, so I had to change."

"You were Buddhist before?"

"Of course."

A couple tables over, someone was belting out a tune.  The young woman brought out our food.  I liked the looks of her.  Her hair and fingers and smile were all long.  We started scooping up the noodles.   A tuk-tuk gurgled by, leaving the reek of burnt lead behind.

"Was it hard, to change your religion?" I asked.

"No.  Changing religion is not difficult," said Jiap.  "Far more difficult is another thing.  To become Muslim, I must make a cut.  An operation.  Around my penis."

"Ah.  You mean circumcision."

"Yes.  This word.  Very painful.  To marry my wife, I must do so."

"Well," I said.  "You must really love your wife."  I had a drink.

"Yes,"  he said, and very slowly had a sip of water.  "Many people tell me this."


                                                                             
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© 2004 Court Merrigan