What are all these people staring at?
They’re looking at something on the ground. I move closer and see that it’s a woman. She’s lying awkwardly on her back with her head held up by a man. He’s holding a black purse between her teeth and she’s biting down on it hard. Her eyes point toward the crowd of onlookers but she doesn’t seem to see anything. She’s making noises as if she’s hyperventilating or crying, or a little of both. It disturbs me.
I notice a string of saliva fall from the side of her mouth onto the shopping mall floor. I shouldn’t be watching this. It must be humiliating for her. That is, if she’s conscious enough to realise anyone is staring at her. I doubt that she is.
Maybe I can help. The man holding her seems calm though. He seems in control. He’s been in this situation before, I’m sure. Perhaps it’s her husband. I could try to help but I’d only get in the way. Maybe I can call an ambulance for them. I wonder if someone has done that already. I wonder how long she’s been there. There were at least ten people standing around before I got here. Surely one of them would have called an ambulance already. I scan the small crowd to see if anyone is holding a phone. Or perhaps I can tell from their faces if they’ve made the call. I don’t how I could tell such a thing but I scan the faces of the crowd anyway. No one is holding a phone. I take out mine from my pocket and move my thumb toward the “0” button. But I’m not in Australia. “000” won’t work. What’s the emergency number in Thailand then? Do I need to put any numbers in front of it? I’m on global roaming so I need to put “+61” in front, don’t I? Except last time I tried I couldn’t get it to work. I tried ringing my wife’s parents from the mobile and it wouldn’t go through. I put my phone away. I decide that someone else has already rang the ambulance.
The crowd is growing. At least twenty pairs of eyes stare at her now. One after another, people are pulling themselves away from buying and selling tacky souvenirs to witness a little piece of human tragedy. I feel ashamed that I’m part of it. I should leave. I can’t help here, so I should leave.
But I find myself glued to the spot, focused on her glazed over eyes as her small but powerful convulsions continue. I allow my gaze to shift a bit and notice her tattoos. Creeping vines run along the sides of both her feet and grow up her legs. It makes me wonder if she is a prostitute, but I immediately regret such a thought. It’s bad enough that I’ve assumed large tattoos equal prostitution, but even more shamefully, I know it’s only because she looks Thai. Unfortunately, spending time on Bangla Road, the main party district here in Phuket, has made me question if almost every Thai woman I see is a prostitute. The road is also known for its sex trade, so when I first arrived and was confronted with throngs of women in every bar, I assumed they were all there for one reason. I prepared myself for a night of feeling uncomfortable and turning down sex at every turn, but after a few hours it became clear that most of the girls were there just to look nice, act friendly, and encourage you to keep buying drinks. The only other red-light district I’d seen was in Amsterdam. There the working girls stand behind glass windows advertising their wares, so there’s no mistaking what they’re there for. The comparative ambiguity of Phuket’s trade left me perplexed, and from that moment it seemed that every Thai woman I saw was potentially a sex worker … including the poor lady on the floor in front of me.
My disgust at myself for jumping to conclusions adds to my shame, and I decide I will let her be. However, my feet refuse to move, and I realise what is keeping me there. I want closure. I want to know that she is going to be okay. I find myself thinking back to how she first looked, and try to figure out if her condition has improved. I decide it hasn’t. She’s still shaking violently and her eyes are rolling back in her head. This is no good. Wanting closure is fine, but what if she’s not okay? Then I’ll be the guy who stood around watching a woman die. That’s not something I want to live with.
Finally, I turn around and walk away.