They also have to make an exception for my teerak Mrs Pobaan because she has gone to Lopburi to be a nun and, although she’ll be a nun, I’ll still be her husband so it’s practically my job to continue to lust after her. Anything less would be weird. Strictly speaking, she’s going to be a lady monk, but it would take a keen observer to tell the difference.
‘How long will you be gone?’ I ask gently as my beloved prepares to depart.
Mrs Pobaan is notoriously bad at formulating meaningful plans that stick. This is a failing she shares with all known members of her family. There’s some gene which their chromosomes all harbour—the Total Disorganisation Gene is its technical term. We might be spending the evening with Mrs Pobaan’s family, underneath her mother’s house, where everyone sits. There may be an earnest discussion about what we’re doing tomorrow. It is decided that the matriarch, plus daughters 3 and 5 (that’s Mrs Pobaan by her maiden name), son 2, grandchildren 4 and 6 and Mr Pobaan will all travel by pickup to Chumphon to buy provisions from Tesco. We will leave at 8am sharp. I go to bed with this prospect in mind. At 8am the next morning I am showered and dressed and ready to embark.
The place is dead.
‘When are we leaving?’ I ask a passing family member.
‘Chumphon. Tesco. Provisions.’
‘Oh, Ma decided not to go so you’re taking a couple of nephews to the waterfall instead.’
‘No, about 10 o’clock. Is that alright?’
‘Sure. I think I’ll go back to bed for a couple of hours.’
With this as a typical family occurrence, I am not expecting an accurate prediction about the trip to the nunnery, but nothing prepares me for the response I actually get: ‘I’ll be away for four or six days,’ the cream in my meringue replies.
‘Four or six? You’re sure it won’t be five?’ I quip wittily, testing my wife’s command of arithmetic.
‘No, it can’t be five because I have to go for an odd number. Four or six.’
My mouth drops open. I’m like a hippo expecting small birds to pick at my teeth. ‘Four and six are even numbers,’ I point out warily.
‘No, you don’t count the first day. Four is three days and six is five. Odd numbers. See?’
Well, explained like that of course I see. Who wouldn’t?
‘What exactly do you nuns get up to at the wat?’ I ask, mildly expecting it to be all pillow fights in the dorm, midnight feasts and a lot of talk about Line, handbags and silicone, those three abiding passions of the distaff contingent. ‘How do you spend your time?’
‘We’re gonna get up at three o’clock in the morning, play till six; then feed the monks and clean the temple until 12. At 12, we play till three in the afternoon, shower, wash clothes until six, then play again from six to ten. Sleep on a mat. The next day, same.’
I knew it. These nunneries are basically holiday camps in which women can get away from their husbands and other worldly phenomena, and have a good time.
‘There seems to be a lot of playing. What kinds of games do you play? Volleyball or just Facebook?’
‘Not playing, praying,’ my lady monk responds indignantly. How could you think playing?’
‘No, I was thinking about something else.’ Lady monks. Praying. Of course. Stupid me.
I drop her off at the Mo Chit bus, which leaves from outside Wat Chai in South Pattaya. We’re so early that proper male monks are still plying the streets, picking their way carefully, in bare feet, through the vegetable waste discarded from the market. They don’t appear to be very happy, but then I suppose they’re trained to look like that. As I leave, Mrs Pobaan calls out, ‘Don’t forget to eat food.’
‘Food? Right. Got it.’ To my wife I am a small helpless child who has to be reminded to breathe. It’s her life’s vocation.
On the Friday, I receive a call from some zonked-out zombie. I take her through some simple security questions before acknowledging that the caller is Mrs Pobaan. She’s coming back on Sunday.
‘Right. I love you.’
‘[Grunt.] I’m not allowed to talk about that.’
‘I’m a lady monk.’
‘Of course. I love you anyway.’
‘I miss your plump, soft breasts. I miss…’
She hangs up. Apparently, you can’t say ‘breasts’ to a nun. Even Audrey Hepburn would have drawn the line at breasts.
With another two days of fending for myself to go, on Saturday I lunch at the Tropical bar on Soi Khao Noi with a number of gentleman friends. My phone rings. It’s Mrs Pobaan, the sweet chilli sauce on my spring roll and the starch in my wimple.
‘Please come to pick me up now.’
‘Now? Where are you?’
‘In South Pattaya, at Wat Chai.’
‘Well, actually I can’t. I don’t have the car and anyway I’ve had two pints of cider.’
‘I’ll have to get a taxi.’
‘You said you were coming home tomorrow.’
‘You’ve only been gone for five days. Take off the first one that doesn’t count, and that leaves four which is an even number. I’m pleased you’ve come home – don’t get me wrong – but aren’t you supposed to be a nun for an odd number of days? Will your merit still work if you bend the rules like that?’
‘I got so tired from not sleeping and all the playing, that I decided to come home. I’m going to count the first day, so that makes five days which is an odd number, so no problem.’
‘Playing? You mean praying?’