Extracts From The Diary of Dr JA Earnshawe (Part 9)
The Hilton Hotel, Bangkok. Friday 25th March 2005
The bell boy took me in to the foyer of the prestigious Bangkok Hilton - presumably as my room was prepared for me. Inside the foyer I noticed a rather scruffy and emaciated Englishmen. I walked over and asked him how he was enjoying his stay at the hotel.
'It's great here' he replied '- if you like sleeping 30 to a cell and eating one cockroach-infested meal a day. It is worse than hell and the only thing I look forward to is my death.'
'But don't they have any leisure facilities here?'
'Drugs including heroin are freely available, anything is available for bribe - except a woman. Of course, for a small fee the Head Swineherd will let you have 15 minutes with one of the sows.'
'With with a pig!' I exclaimed, 'whatever for?'
'Remember, many of us have been here for 20 years or longer. I've heard it is not as bad as you might think as long as you don't get an ugly one. I could never be as desperate myself - but I've even forgotten what a woman looks like.' He looked at me with features etched in profound desperation. 'You don't happen to have a photograph of a woman on you do you? It may revive a distant memory lost so long ago.'
I found the snap of my sister Grissel that I took when we were at Whitley Bay last summer. With rather dreadful, manners he snatched it from me, and trembling with delirious joy he hesitated a second before daring to look at it. Transforming the last glimmer of his anticipated pleasure into the hard light of his utter dejection (I'm afraid that she, like me, is not at her best in a swimsuit) he remarked:
'Perhaps one of those sows will not be so bad after all.' He took both my hands in his and shook them vigorously. 'Thank you - you have helped me make up my mind about this. I have built up some foolish expectations about the outside world in here. At last I feel I have something to live for. I will go and see the Head Swineherd now.'
I watched him hurriedly scamper off through the door before I noticed another man sitting dejectedly on the floor and went to get a second opinion about the quality of the hotel facilities.
'Hello', I said, 'how long have you been staying here?'
He looked up with the expression I saw inside the eyes of some many of those staying in the hotel; a look of intense despair and helplessness.
'I'm two and a half years in.'
'Really?' I said, 'I've only just arrived. Could you tell me what are the rooms like here?'
'Mustn't grumble. The first part I've spent in the worst building; an overcrowded and strict regime in number two - 32 of us head to toe, sleeping on a concrete floor in a cell the size of a modest living room in a council house. You soon get permanent cold and scabies, unavoidable when you're so packed in.'
'It sounds if they've overbooked.' I suggested. 'Can't you request a single room?'
'The overcrowding problem can be solved - I've spent the last 6 months in shackles in the solitary block, in a cell the length of my body and shoulder width. But there is another way the problem is taken care of.' Eerily, he pointed his index finger at my head and said 'bang'.
I felt so uncomfortable that I hurriedly changed the subject. 'Do any of the rooms have en suite facilities?'
'In solitary I had a VIP hole as a toilet and a tank for shower. It was filled with river water via the reservoir that never seemed to work, as soil, decomposing rats, turds and other unidentifiable objects came through to block the pipe.'
'It seems that the plumbing sounds in need of renovation.' I remarked. 'What is the food like?'
'The water is the same colour as the Thames. The food each day is a bag of rice and a bag of soup with a bit of cabbage or bamboo and a few bits of pig fat - or if yer lucky a chicken neck section.'
'I won't be ordering from the al a carte menu!' I exclaimed. 'Is room service reliable?'
'The only help we get to supplement this is the £25 a month from our saviours - Prisoners Abroad - who are keeping us alive as the British Government won't do anything to help us survive. What we would do without them is starve.'
Amazed that he should stay in such a dreadful hotel so long I asked, 'How long are you booked in for?'
'Only ninety seven and a half years left. That stretch in the hole should have been for 3 months but somehow I was there for 12 months and 3 days in chains.
'Overall, then,' I asked, 'would you say you were rather dissatisfied with the hotel?'
'Dissatisfied?' he looked at me with a kind of resentment - as though it was my fault the hotel was not to his taste. He continued: 'Well now, I'm not broken, but the 12 months in solitary almost destroyed me. I've been educated to become invisible. I've had my low points, sure. What they are doing is cleaning their own arses on our faces, as they want to look tough on drugs, but our only hope is that the King will come to our rescue in the 11th hour - so we get out along with the mother-fucker-killers, who are also on the list. Weird eh?'
'It is rather a strange hotel. Haven't you thought of making a complaint - and then if you still don't get any satisfaction, why not just check out and refuse to pay them a penny?'
He shouted across to a group of men engaged in baiting a rat trap: 'Looks like we got another weirdo here boys.' Then he looked towards me with an evil fire in his eyes, and still addressing the other men he said: 'Solitary has failed to break me but if I spend another minute in this guys company so help me I'll…' His voice tailed off, and his eyes lids closed tightly as his face changed into an expression of profound pain.
I thought it best that I move quietly away from him. Among the other men was one who looked even more rotund than I. He was totally naked and was engaged in putting some dead cockroaches into a matchbox.
'Who is that strange fellow over there?' I asked an unusually cheerful looking man close by. I was told another remarkable story:
'That's Steve Roy a 'looser'. He says he's had a vision and seen God. Now, he has a 'bob or two' so he had 12 disciples. He runs round the building naked. When he started that we knew he had real problems as he was one of them blokes who showered with 1000 naked men with all his gear on! Anyhow, after a week of him ranting and demanding to be called God the climax came.
'Two disciples 'hog tied' him to the bed and beat him with a rubber hose, to all our delight. Next day they took him to what they call the hospital and gave him a shot of 'Zombie Juice' and he was a dead-ringer for Jack Nicholson in 'One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest'. Then he 'married' a Thai with a big dragon tattooed on his back and a long record - they now live happily together…. So I'm told.'
I went across to have a word with the poor fellow.
'How do you do Steve? My name's Earnshawe. I hear you have taken up long term residency in this hotel, and while they get my room ready I would be grateful if you can tell me something about it. I see you like cockroaches, I tried them myself once; perhaps if you rang room service they would bring you some fresh ones.'
He did not look directly at me as he spoke but stared ahead of him. 'Maybe I'm not as nuts as I thought. I'm certainly not the craziest guy in this gaff anymore.'
'I don't expect I'll be very much longer in here myself.' I confided, 'I'm going to a book into another place - this doesn't really sound like my kind of hotel.'
'What do you mean another place?' he said looking at me for the first time. 'What are you in for anyways?'
'I was persuaded to come here by a man who was involved with coke and ants; I took his place. We exchanged names and clothing at the police station.'
'I think you got well and truly stuffed there. Was this guy selling it or possessing it?'
'The coke or ants? I asked.'
'Selling, I believe.'
'You got 100 years minimum - lucky you're not a Thai because…'
'No, I definitely won't be staying long. I'm going home soon anyway.'
'What? You are crazier than me. The only way you'll get out of this place is …' he hesitated a minute and his expression seemed to change from anger to one of fear. 'You don't mean…hey, I'm sorry I didn't realise.'
'It's alright, I'm sure we will meet again in a better place somewhere.'
'You may be crazy but you're one hell of a brave guy. If I was about to face the firing squad I doubt I'd have your guts.'
'Firing Squad!' I gasped.
'Yeh, sorry, I thought you knew - there are plans to introduce lethal injection - but like everything else in this place they haven't got round to it yet'.
'But.t..t when is it likely to happen?' I stuttered.
'You could be taken out and shot any time. Someone will just come in out of the blue and call your name. You aren't told a thing in this hole.'
As he spoke, I was aware of heavy footsteps approaching from behind us. Then a chilling voice rang out:
Before I could gather my wits I was led down a corridor to another room full of men waiting in almost complete darkness - the condemned cell! Surely a reputable hotel, a Hilton hotel at that, can't be allowed to solve its overbooking problems by shooting its customers?
The terror on the faces of my fellow condemned had a curious affect on me. It brought back vivid memories of the time I was among my boys at school in England as they waited for their tuberculosis inoculations and I was doing my best to buck them up. England! Will these feet no more walk upon mountains green? My last thoughts were for my sister Grissel and I was transported back to my fireside. I began to smile to myself as a man brought me back to reality by tapping me gently on the shoulder.
'Are you not afraid my son? I feel so hopeless myself. I do not know what words I can offer these men at a time such as this.'
It was a pastor. I hadn't noticed him before. He had a kindly, wrinkled face and a faint Irish lilt to his voice.
'I do not fear at all Father.' I told him. 'I have broken from my heart all the ties that once held it to the earth and prepared it for eternity.'
'My friend, you charm me with your lesson in fortitude. Let them all find hope in your example.' He indicated my fellow condemned wretches around me.
I looked and saw the fear in the eyes of the little Thai men before me - rather like frail schoolchildren waiting for assembly to begin. I would not shirk my last mission in life - I would take that assembly now.
'Yes I will point the way, and my soul shall guide theirs in ascent, for we will take our flight together. My good pastor' I said, 'let all the prisoners gather here and listen to my counsel.'
The pastor immediately got the men to together as I took my position at the lectern.
'My friends and fellow sufferers', I began, 'I ask you to expect no pardon here and only exhort you to seek it at that greatest of tribunals where we all shall shortly answer.
'When I look round these gloomy walls made to terrify as well as confine us; what light only serving to illuminate the horrors of the place, those shackles imposed by tyranny; when I survey the emaciated looks, what glorious exchange would death be for this!
'Let us take comfort now, for we shall be soon at our journey's end; we shall soon lay down the heavy burden through death - the only friend of the wretched, when we will no more be trodden to the earth below.
Just then someone entered the cell and my name was called out again in a voice as equally chilling as before: 'Earnshawe!'
Without thought or dignity, I immediately grovelled before him, screaming out in dreadful spontaneity: 'Am I to be pardoned? Please God let it be a pardon - please for mercies sake - I BEG OF YOU!'
'For you no pardon,' he said quietly but firmly. 'You come now this way.'
'But I'm too young to die - I'm only a child - please - I don't want to die - I DON'T WANT TO DIE.'
But it was all in vain, I was dragged out of the condemned cell kicking and screaming. The pastor hurried after me and tried to calm me: 'Please my son try to compose yourself. I beg of you - think of how the others will see you.'
As I was led away, down that long, dark corridor to my fate, I settled slowly to a sublime peace. I was seized by thoughts which were prophetic and untarnished with bitterness; I was inspired to speak out fearlessly:
'I see the lives of the Thai people, rising from the abyss in their struggles to be truly free and destroying this evil institution that holds the abandoned and forlorn.
'I see the England which I shall see no more, with policeman riding by red pillar boxes on bicycles to church to drink warm beer.
'I see the chirpy cockney for whom I lay down my life; useful, prosperous and happy, selling a range of soft drinks in a 7-Eleven through long years to come.
'I see my friends, Cummings, Walker and Foreskin; expatriates yes, but patriots always, defenders of the crown and the English Empire.
'I see my dear sister Grissel, weeping for me on the anniversary of this day.
'And finally, I see her, little Nok, with the child upon her bosom that might have been ours. I see her bring that child to this place of execution, and hear her tell my story with a tender faltering voice.
'It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done. It is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.'
J A Earnshawe BSc PhD
Dr Earnshawe may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org