… It’s on a corner of a small street in Bangkok, just of the Rama IV street. The café has an open façade, so everyone who walks by sees what is going on in this small café. A couple of westerners sit at the four simple wooden tables. Two young women walk towards the café. They just arrived in Bangkok. It is their first day of a one month holiday, traveling together through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. While Rosa approaches the café, she sees three men in the back standing at the bar, fooling around with a local kid of about 4 or 5 years old. The child is wearing nothing but a very large over-sized army T-shirt. The young man on the left looks up at Rosa, as she is about to enter the café. Their eyes meet for just a few seconds. Meanwhile the kid repeatedly has his small hands inside his trouser pockets. The young man smiles at the kid’s face and meanwhile laughs at his friend standing next to him. Before she can even think ‘who is this interesting man’ and ‘what’s this odd interaction with the kid’, they are told to ‘not enter the café’ by a white male of about 35 years old, who is standing at the entrance. “All tables are full, you can go to that place over there” pointing at a small local restaurant just opposite the street.
Fine. The two of them walk to the other side of the street, “let’s see if we can find some nescafé coffee between their local cooking supplies”. Rosa and Anna sit down on the small wooden benches outside. Rosa is convinced the man next to them on the right is Dutch. She does not know why, but she just recognized his Dutchness when she walked towards the small restauant. His dark hair is shortcut, he is normal build, wears glasses, and has the polite attitude of a well-educated clerk. She immediately wonders what he is doing here in this small local street, with no tourist attractions nearby. When traveling, she often meets people who are a bit older and still decide to travel around the world for a few months. His stiff-ironed clean polo shirt tells her a different story: he is certainly not backpacking. The man looks like he is about to enter a golf court with business men. He in turn looks at the two young women, politely smiling and never taking his eyes of them.
She looks back across the street to the café they had just been about to enter. The young men at the bar are wearing nice summer suits. De one left, is tall and slim, with dark hair and a haircut fashionable for students. The young man next to him seems a bit smaller and has curly pepper/salt colored hair and nerdy glasses. The rest of the people is sitting down at the wooden tables, looking down, with their heads between the shoulders, almost like inmates protecting the scarce food in a prison canteen.
To the left of her, where she is sitting right now, is a young man of about 20-25 years old. Suddenly he starts to talk to them, and he is very emotional: “I know what you are looking at. I looked at it for a long time. It’s been going on for an hour. Pedophiles! I don’t know what to do. Across the street, the parents of the child. And over there [15-20 meters away] a police officer. What can I do? Take a picture and put it on the internet?”
They look at what is going on, the other side of the street in the café they’d just visited. The young child is now playing with a man of at least 55-years of age. The boy is flirting a little bit, what children sometimes do. They play together physically. It is a neutral way of playing. She doesn’t recognize it as pedophile behavior, but it still is a bit odd. It is strange, as a grown western males seldom knows a Thai child personally (and the child looks like a poor local child). Rosa studies the man carefully. The Bordeaux blouse and sand colored shorts. He’s kind of fat, has grey hair, and despite his smile, his facial expression is unhappy. The rest of the group in the café is dressed more high-end. The man and the child smile at each other. Then she sees how the small child grabs between his legs, and then walks away again, while laughing in a naughty way. The same interaction repeats itself a couple of times. Do they both want this? she wonders. Then both the man and the child smile at each other flirtatiously naughty. From that moment on, there is no mistake about it. The child is giving him a hand job. And it is now clear, he had done exactly the same thing to the young man standing at the bar a few minutes ago .
Anna is stressed. “Well, but, Rosa . That is, that is. That’s minister Longtoes? That’s minister Longtoes! That is him!” Rosa isn’t too sure. She is even ashamed. As an educated Dutchman, she should know who-is-who, but she doesn’t know what minister Longtoes looks like. She knows the ministry he is from: this is not possible. And her German friend, is she able to recognize Dutch ministers? This can’t be happening. Rosa tells her friend that it’s not him. “I think it’s not even a Dutchman. He looks Australian or English to me. -“How can you say that, it is him!”- The man next to us, Rosa continues, that’s a Dutchman: “Shall we go get some coffee?” [Jezus, Anna, think!]
The golf man is listening in on their conversation. He suddenly looks straight ahead, as if he seeks eye contact with the older couple of about 60 year old at the next table. Rosa feels very uncomfortable now, as if she is being watched. Minister Longtoes, she can’t believe it. And she does not want everyone in the restaurant to think the Netherlands is a pedophile country. “Anna, shall we go get some coffee?” But Anna is not listening. Hmmn. [The golf man stands up and walks across the street] Behind us, at another table in front of the small restaurant, a woman enjoys food with two blond toddlers. The table next to them, an exact same picture. There is also a young Thai couple of about 20 years old or so. They don not have the same view. They don’t sit front row.
She sees how the golf man walks across the street. The table next to the man in the Bordeaux blouse, there is a couple of about 55-60 year old, just quietly looking down at the table they sit at, almost humble. The man has his back turned to the street. His hair is dark-blond and carefully cammed backwards. The woman sits faced to the street, but she looks downwards to whatever is on their table. Her long grey hair is coloured blond and it hangs over her sholders. The Thai sun tanned her face. No make-up. An outfit as if they’d just returned from a safari. The woman looks up and starts talking to the man in the Bordeaux blouse. She is clearly in control of the situation. These are respectable people. Upper-class. Uptight. Then her husband says something too and looks up while talking to the man who is still being touched by the young child … Oh! Rosa walks quickly inside to ask for coffee. Anna follows her. As Rosa waits for her turn to order, she notices how the man from the older couple the table nearby, now stands behind them and can hear every word they say. She should worry. This is not good. This is not good at all.
When they are back, now with coffee, the café across the street is empty. Entirely empty. The boy next to them is even more worried, not to say in panic. Rosa pretends she has no clue what he is talking about. “It’s one group! – The whole group together! – They were all doing this! – With the child. – The woman too. – And now they disappeared. – The child is gone!” The two young women had seen the man in the Bordeaux blouse with the child and also looked at the other people in the café. It all happened in just a few minutes.
Everything going on in that café had been visible for anyone that walked by. There were only four small tables and a bar in the back. The table in the front left, was occupied by the older couple. Behind them two men, of which the one facing the street was blond. The man with theBordeaux blouse was sitting at a table on the right. The table behind him was occupied too, but they were unable to see who was sitting there. Three man standing at the bar. Two were about 25-30 years old, the third Rosa couldn’t see, it might as well have been a bar tender. In the front of the café she’d seen two men just standing outside, waiting, watching the street, relaxt, like they were smoking a cigarette. At the other entrance, also two men outside (also an half open façade). If she had wanted to, she could have seen their faces, but she never really looked at them.
The blond guy next to them (normal to slim posture, short blond hair) spoke perfect English, but perhaps not native. She doesn’t know where he came from and does not even know if he is still alive. He refused to tell her who he was, suddenly too frightened. Rosa decided she didn’t want to do anything with what she had just seen and intended to get out of there alive. What can she do? Really? Her friend Anna somehow does not realize how serious this is.
The grey bus she had seen on the parking, is now gone. The terrace they sit at, is suddenly half empty. The two tables with the small children, are deserted. The golf man left as well. Only the older couple is still there and they seem aware of the presence of the two young women and the young guy sitting next to them. The Thais couple is also still present, however they seem only interested in each other. How do we get out of here safely?Rosa wonders. Their hostel is only 20 meters away, but they should make sure no-one sees them. And both of them should appear as if they have no idea what is going on.
When Rosa sees the henna-artist lady at the end of the street, just about to turn off onto the shopping street, she comes up with a plan and screams spontaneously like a 16-year old: “O, I love that. Come on. Let’s get a henna drawing!” and she starts running down the street towards the Rama IV, a busy street. Rosa runs as hard as she can to ‘catch up’ with the lady who makes these lovely henna drawings, while laughing as you expect from a young woman having fun on holidays. The henna-lady disappears around the corner and she follows her. Once around the corner, the street is just too crowded with people to continue at the same fast pace. They quickly decide to enter a batik clothes shop and disappear behind the curtain of a fitting room. Between the curtains she sees, how the older couple has followed them and they now nervously scan the street, while walking as fast as they can. They can’t find us. We’ve lost them. Anna seems to not notice how they have been followed from the small restaurant. Rosa is too nervous to explain. She can feel her heart beat and can hardly breath. The muscles in her torzo block her lungs. She can not believe what is happening. This can not be true. Yes, she just acted weird when running away from the restaurant, like a teenager, only to get a henna-drawing on her skin. Yes, that’s it. That must be it. It can not be true. It can not be true. So that’s it.
They don’t stay out late that evening. A simple Thai meal and back to the hostel. The hotel manager is kind to them, when they return. He asks again if Rosa indeed is German too, like her friend, because in that case he does not need to see her passport. She confims it with a smile. He smiles back, kindly. Rosa assumes he either truly believes she is German or he wants to let her know she is safe here. Either way, the man most likely does not want any trouble in his hostel. They are safe. Still, Rosa can’t sleep. What is this? What should she do? It’s best if no-one can find them. As she had only recently decided to go on holidays with Anna to Thailand and had worked a couple of months abroad in the UK, hardly anyone in the Netherlands knows where she is right now. Maybe that will save her: it certainly is an advantage …