Someone died in the hotel pool yesterday. She was dead for some time before anyone noticed, as her skin was very white and pruney like wet crumpled crepe. She was a large woman with big breasts that had anchored and embedded in the railing alongside the edge of the pool so she sort of balanced there with her head out of the pool, resting on her folded sunburnt arms. Six or seven Thai guys hauled her out but she slithered back in and bobbed, slowly gyrating for a minute or so until a couple of them jumped in and pushed her like a canoe to the edge where they maneuvered her over the tiled lip. I heard later the guy at the front desk say she looked very peaceful and was smiling although I didn’t see that myself.
An older guy approached her body laid out on the cement in a bright floral costume, the water draining away from her, her legs like massive Doric columns ending in small feet with bright red toenails, carefully painted. The concierge began to drape a sheet over her and one young girl standing with another staff member speaking on her phone was sobbing. The white guy gestured to them to stop pulling the sheet up and knelt in the brutal Thai sunlight next to her, holding her pale stiffening hand. I saw him tremble, his face soft and mobile with emotion, then leaned over her, putting his head on her breasts. His body moved and jerked as though he was stifling sobs but I didn’t actually hear anything from him because the music was still being piped through the speakers, the same shit they play everywhere in public in Thailand in hotels, massage parlours, dentists, supermarkets and doctor’s offices.
After a short time he got up and gently drew the sheet over her body and stood quietly with his head lowered. A huge black and yellow bumblebee zizzed around his face and he swept his hand away, causing it to weave and drop to an orchid projecting from a palm tree.
The orchid is an epiphyte. It grows on a host plant but kindly and gently, never harming the host, absorbing nutrients from the air and rain, and is in turn, itself, a food source for other plants.
There are thousands of types of orchids in Thailand but this orchid looked, from where I sat, to be a common one you see everywhere in hotels and gardens. The labellum of the flower, in the centre, has a specific function. It’s like the helipad for pollinators like our fat friend the bumblebee, but other insects too, and on examination, like the sexual organs of all things, they look remarkably familiar; an ovary, a penile shaft, a clitoris, the testes and sperm, all built on a recognisable pattern across species in permutations, size, number and surprisingly, sound.
The Micronecta Scholtzii or the Water Boatman, colloquially speaking, for example, is a very noisy wanker. It produces a noise of over ninety nine decibels by stridulating its tiny penis across its ribbed belly. Or there’s the platypus whose penis has four heads each of which rotate in a sexual carousel getting a turn after the last intercourse with a female who has sex with as many males as possible, pooling the sperm and increasing her chances of getting pregnant. I went to school with a girl like that in Brixton or at least that’s what they said about her. It was probably bollocks and just the usual shite boys talk when they can’t crack onto a girl everyone wants.
Flowers on the other hand aren’t so promiscuous and in fact many flowers are hermaphroditic, monoecious or diecious, so either bisexual or male or female but orchids are different again and one even has kinky sex. It was a specie I had come to Thailand to find, a type of Ophrys orchid, the sex toy of the flower kingdom and aptly called The Prostitute Orchid. It is also found in Greece but I had been there, done that, and had moved on to Asia, which has over a hundred thousand orchid hybrids including Vanilla Planifolia, the primary source of vanilla pods for flavouring.
The Prostitute Orchid is so called because it disguises itself as a female bumble bee, even emitting a bee-like scent, which drives the male bumble bees into a sexual frenzy and so duped, the bee plunges himself into the flower and starts rutting away in the floral deliciousness when he suddenly realises he has been a dumb John and flits off, his legs packed with pollen and so in frustration he comes across another orchid that has subtly changed its pheromones. He dives in, deposits the pollen and fertilises the new orchid, bumping and thrusting only to discover he’s been ripped off again.
A couple of mornings after the dead woman was found, I went down to the dining room for breakfast, having arranged a driver to take me near to Chiang Rai, from there I was going to go up into the highlands to begin my search. I recognised the man who’d knelt by the dead woman’s body. I went over with my plate full of crispy bacon, a couple of eggs, grilled tomatoes and toast and asked if I could sit with him as space had appeared around him as if he had a DO NOT DISTURB sign glowing on his head. It didn’t seem right to leave the bereaved alone at a time like this.
“Can I join you? Do you mind?”
He looked up, saying in the rather nasal accent of an Australian.
“Sure. No problem. Plenty of room.”
I remarked on the lack of salt in the butter which is always a disappointment in Asian hotels. Then we chatted about how hot it was, as people do, thinking that talking about the weather is like a ticket to the First Class communication carriage. He was silently poking his dragonfruit mango and tinkering with the cut halves of the most magnificent passion-fruits I’d ever eaten in my life, and I asked him,
“So what brings you to Thailand?”
He looked directly at me and replied.
“I came for the girls, yeah, cheap sex.”
I put my knife into the strip of bacon which was too hard to cut so picked it up in my fingers and bit into it.
“Oh right, right. Common story.”
He put his teaspoon down and said.
“Well, it’s what you wanted to hear, right? Old fat white guy alone in a Thai hotel? Alone at breakfast? Goes to show, right?”
His blue eyes were chips off an angry stone and I looked at my egg, making no answer.
“So, why are you here?” he asked.
“I’m a botanist from the U.K. looking for a specific orchid. I work at the Kensington Gardens in London.”
He sighed. “Oh.”
We sat awkwardly and I could swear I saw his chin wobble but it might have been the pomelo he was eating. I dissected my egg as I always do, cutting off all the white around the yolk which I then cut into four and eat with buttery toast. I put a lot of salt on my tomatoes as it makes them taste sweeter. The toast has to be crisp. Crisp foods stimulate the hypothalamus. I put down my knife and fork.
“I saw you by the pool, with the lady who died. I just wanted to say… I’m sorry for your loss.”
He stared at me, pushed his plate away and stood up.
“I’d only just met her. I was checking her heart, I’m a doctor.”
“Oh. Right. Sorry. I just thought I saw you upset…”
He moved away with just with a little nod of his head as if he couldn’t quite bring himself to totally ignore me and, I have to say, he didn’t look like a doctor at all but, well, more like a middle manager or someone in a government supplies office.
I drained my tepid cup of bad coffee and my phone gave its little horn signal as a message came in from the driver who was waiting out the front ready to take me north.
As I got up to leave the room I saw the guy standing against a pillar staring out to the turquoise belt of sea whose beaches were lined with a vast fringe of French, German and Russian tourists baking their white flesh on Asian beaches. His arm flicked upwards as a large bumblebee ambled through the airspace making its way down to where something bloomed near his calf. I smiled. It was without any doubt what I had been looking for, the Ochyrus, The Prostitute Orchid.