Remembering a familiar face
Certainly, I will see Mon as I pass the southwest corner of Chang Klan and Tha Phae in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He sets up unusually early for the Night Market. Perhaps this is his second home - or his first.
As I approach, I notice him slouching in his rickety white plastic chair in front of his makeshift table. He is dozing in the scorching late morning sun. I attempt to slip by without waking him, but he jumps up with a startle. Not asking, he guides me across the street - his hand raised to stop traffic. It is questionable if we will arrive with success. We always do.
He refuses to take money from me and I continue towards Warorot Market wondering what I will buy for him. He likes to hang offering garlands from his table, so I go to the flower market before heading back.
From a distance, I see his table is covered with the familiar faded green tattered tarp, and his chair is empty. Never far away, he is returning as I cross the street.
We greet each other with a smile, a nod and a wave of the hand. I am thankful for the universal language of gestures. I give him the garland, and we spend some time together - mostly in silence. We carefully remove and fold the tarp protecting his merchandise. We arrange his assortment of colourful change purses and hand carved wooden elephants. He settles into his chair, and I leave to prepare for an early morning flight.
I am away several weeks. The day after my return, I expect to run into Mon on my way to the market. It is midafternoon and exceedingly hot. I stop to buy him a large bottle of cold water. I look forward to his crooked smile and our awkward exchange of staccato gestures.
While it is still early for most vendors, it is late for Mon. I am surprised to discover an empty chair, an unassembled table and a locked blue bin. I look down the street to see if he is with the tuk-tuk driver. He is not. The driver is alone waiting for a customer. No one acknowledges my presence as I stand by his belongings waiting for his arrival. After some time, I give the water to 'the hat seller' and continue with my day.
It is nightfall, and I am on my way home. I look forward to greeting Mon. I am shocked he is not there. His belongings remain untouched. From what I understand, no one has seen him for several days. It is impossible not to worry. I walk away hoping for a better tomorrow.
Morning comes and I think about Mon. I imagine him slouched in his chair sleeping - his parched lips slightly separated. I think about the sweets and nuts he loves. I stop along the way and select some special goodies. As I approach his corner, a wave of despair overcomes me - his belongings are gone.
Fortunately, the tuk-tuk driver is down the street. I approach and point to Mon's spot. He shrugs and shakes his head. The message is clear. He does not know. I return home confused and sad. The beacon of the southwest corner of Chang Klan and Tha Phae is gone.
Perhaps one day I will find Mon holding court on a different street in Chiang Mai.
For now, farewell my friend - you are missed.