Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo
The traffic lights changed to green, and the roar from lorries, cars, motorbikes and tuk-tuks rose higher and higher until Dim could see the glass in Robinson’s department store vibrating. Then the queues started moving and the shop window displaying the long, red silk dress was lost behind them in the darkness.
She took a taxi. Not a packed bus or a tuk-tuk riddled with rust but a taxi with air-conditioning and a driver who kept his mouth shut. She leaned back against the headrest and tried to enjoy the ride. No problem. A moped shot past and a girl on the pillion clinging to a red T-shirt with a visor helmet gave them a vacant look. Hold on tight, Dim thought.
On Rama IV Road the driver pulled in behind a lorry spewing exhaust fumes so thick and black she couldn’t see the number plate. After passing through the air-conditioning system the exhaust was chilled and almost odorless. Almost. She wafted her hand discreetly to show her reaction, and the driver glanced in his mirror and moved into the outside lane. No problem.
This was how her life had always been. On the farm where she had grown up she had been one of six girls. Six too many, according to her father. She had been seven years old when they stood coughing in the yellow dust and waving as the cart carrying her eldest sister trundled down the country road alongside the brown canal water. Her sister had been given clean clothes, a train ticket to Bangkok and an address in Patpong written on the back of a business card, and she had cried like a waterfall, even though Dim had waved so hard it felt as if her hand would fall off. Her mother had patted her on the head and said it wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t that bad, either. At least her sister wouldn’t have to wander from farm to farm as a kwai, as her mother had done before she got married. Besides, Miss Wong had promised she would take good care of her. Her father had nodded, spat betel juice from between black teeth and added that the farangs in the bars would pay well for fresh girls.
Dim hadn’t understood what her mother meant by kwai, but she wasn’t going to ask. She knew, of course, that a kwai was a bull. Like most people on the farms around them, they couldn’t afford a bull, so they hired one of the ones that circulated the district when the rice paddy had to be plowed. It was only later she found out that the girl who accompanied the bull was also called a kwai as her services formed part of the deal. That was the tradition. She hoped she would meet a farmer who would have her before she got too old.
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