The sky was a miserable grey. Raindrops pounded the pavement, splashing furiously at my badly made shoes. A large red bus screeched to a halt beside a puddle. The three of us hopped through the doors quickly in an attempt to avoid a bucketful of rain to the face. I had to smile at Kristin hauling that huge pink bag of hers up the steps. How that tiny girl is able to handle luggage five times her own size will forever remain a mystery.
Shuffling our way through the aisle, we studied the interior of the vehicle. This was just a normal bus…yet something was not quite right. A string of flashing fairy lights twinkled through the dusty windows. The sweet smell of banana lingered in the air, and a giant glittering mirror ball hung from the ceiling. (Just like the ones from school disco days!) What was going on? Was it the bus driver’s birthday? Slightly puzzled, we hauled our bags onto the back seat. A red leather sofa with jazzy cushions! Who needs seatbelts?! “How ace is this?” giggled Antonia.
We sprawled across the sofa, taking full advantage of the rather odd seating arrangement. All was well until a formal looking gentleman with a briefcase was forced to squeeze in between us. Followed shortly by an elderly lady with a terrible cough. It just doesn’t seem natural to share a sofa with strangers. Especially when those strangers are staring at you!
And we were off. The engine started with a splutter, followed swiftly by….the ‘music’. It was the frightfully feared….the deeply detested…the horrifically horrible….Thai Karaoke! The only equivalent sound I can imagine would be an old cat drowning in a deep well. Whilst being electrocuted!
“What sick person would think to do this?!” groaned Kristin.
There was a reason we avoided the Karaoke bars here. And now we were stuck on a bloody moving one with a grooving, coughing granny and Mr Briefcase. Oh life. After spending about an hour trying to block out our surroundings it suddenly occurred to me that we had no idea where we were. We were supposed to be going to see Becky in her Thai Town. But we had never bothered to ask when to get off the bus!
“Shit!” I cried jumping up from my spot on the sofa. “Shouldn’t we have got off by now?!”
“Crap!” swore Kristin, rubbing her eyes. She’d been asleep. God knows how in that racket.
Antonia looked up briefly from her phone. “Don’t worry guys; I’m sure it will be fine”.
“Ban Son?” we hopefully asked the grooving granny. She simply shook her head.
“Ban Son” we tried again to a group of middle aged men. Our pleas were met with peals of laughter.
We’d missed our stop.
“What are we going to do?!” I wailed.
The news of the Farang’s ridiculous mistake appeared to have spread quickly down the bus, for a group of school children keen to practice their English raced down the aisle to our sofa.
“Come on…come with us! We help you!”
There didn’t seem to be many other options. So we followed them off the bus…into the middle of the night…into the torrential rain. We expected to see perhaps a town…some shops…at least SOMETHING. But there was nothingness.
“Where we go?” asked Antonia slowly.
“Follow” said a short girl with a long plait in her dark hair. She was beckoning us past a puddle.
We reluctantly followed the children down the roadside, hauling our huge bags of luggage over our shoulders. They were taking us to a building in the distance, but as none of us possessed the ability to read Thai, we had no idea who this building might house.
The local police it turned out. Why had these kids brought us to a police station?! How awkward was this! We couldn’t communicate with them, they couldn’t communicate with us. We stood back slightly as words were exchanged. All we could do was smile and nod, and hope that the children weren’t telling them we’d committed a murder or something!
A stern looking policeman nodded solemnly in our direction. The children skipped off merrily into the distance waving their goodbyes. Shit. We’d now lost our translators! He indicated for us to move to the doorway of the station. My heart was racing as images of ‘Banged Up Abroad’ came flooding into my conscious. As we stood hesitantly in the doorway, the stern man reached slowly into his pocket. Oh god did he have a gun?! Was he going to shoot us? What the hell had those kids told him? I closed my eyes. Waiting.
“Yim Yim!” cried the policeman. A flash of light filled the sky. I opened my eyes slightly, peeking through my lashes; to see that pointing directly at us…was…a camera. I then noticed that two more policemen were stood beside us, grinning wildly for the shot! Slightly unexpected. My nerves were in pieces. We sat down at the table in the station and shared a much needed cigarette with the officers.
“We go Ban Son” Antonia tried to explain.
It was then that we were bundled into the back of a patrol car. I heard the doors click firmly shut. We were locked in and being driven down the road at a ridiculous speed, with no idea if we were being rescued or arrested.
“What the frig is going on?” Kristin clutched at her pink bag for comfort.
The crackle and beep of the radio echoed around the car. Muffled attempts at English blared out through the sound system. “Your friend BanSon where??”
“KFC!” we shouted back immediately. We knew her house was somewhere near KFC. We knew all Thai people knew their local KFC!
“AHHHHHH KAYY EFFF SEEE!!”
Thirty minutes later, those kind policemen (who I had initially suspected of attempting to shoot us) delivered us safely to the doors of Ban Son’s local KFC. They waited patiently for us to be reunited with our friend. They refused our money and brushed off our gratitude. Leaving simply with a smile and a wave, it occured to me then, and not for the first time, that Thailand really is the friendliest place on Earth.