It sounded like a motor scooter backfiring. Barely worth a notice. But when the bar staff suddenly took on worried concern and scampered behind the alley way bar, I knew something was wrong.
A motor scooter suddenly did kick into gear, and I got the cold shivers one gets when they know something is wrong.
Two men roared past, no more than 3 feet away, I kept my head down, but my eyes up, and they were gone. Two men in dark shirts on a scooter. You see this a million times a day in Bangkok. No one sees something like this though, even when they see it. Not in America, but especially not an American in Thailand. Moments of silence, and people start to come out from behind bars, and desks, and alley way shops. And then people were rushing toward where the sound had come from. You could see the drops of blood before you could see the victim. A small crowd had formed, but kept at a distance. People were quiet, some grasped the hands of those beside them, others folded their arms across their chests in disbelief. Not in my neighborhood.
Ten feet from the crowd, slumped against a graffiti covered wall was a man in a pool of blood. Three or four young Thai women crowded around him. One tried furious to administer CPR, the others held tiny brown hands over the wounds.
I took out my camera as discretely as possible; thinking that no one back home could possibly understand, or even believe the scene in front of me. People were respectful at first, but then the camera phones came out in the crowd, hushed murmurs of disbelief. A few disapproving glances at the foreigner with the camera.
A man from Senegal started talking to me, his eyes wide with adrenaline. He recognized me as a fellow tourist. Life is cheap is Bangkok, according to this man. This is a man from an area with its own history of bloody violence. Police and paramedics began to arrive, and the crowd began to disperse. No one sees this sort of thing. Not in the ghetto, and not in Bangkok. Especially not by this American abroad.
Twenty minutes earlier, I was taking pictures of the graffiti in front of where a man now lay dying. When it happened, I was no more than twenty yards away. I’ve been abroad for more than 9 months, and hadn’t seen anything more serious than some minor bar altercations. This is my last day in Bangkok; tonight I catch an overnight to Australia. Not because of the shooting, but that’s just the way it’s going to work out.
The police are here now, and the bartender is speaking with them in Thai. Middle aged men in jeans and rolled up collared shirts. She seems to be gesturing broadly, vaguely; she is speaking in low tones. They write it all down just the same. Perhaps she saw nothing, perhaps she just knows better. I’ve sat back down at the bar, and people are settling back into their day. Everyone keeps an eye down the alley, as if the men will come back. The gossip is starting, and the clusters are forming. A Thai man with a camera and tripod races fast; perhaps he is the press or maybe police, perhaps he’s just a tourist in his own city. More police, more serious now. They carry large radios and travel in packs. Now men with uniforms, who the plain clothes men defer too. Perhaps this is more serious than life being cheap in Bangkok.
The word comes back, the man has died. No one seems particularly surprised or upset. And also, no one will tell me if they knew the man, or even who he might have been. I’m still a white man in an Asian country; they know this is not my home.
The bartender is speaking to police now. Some are looking in my direction. I have a flight in four hours, and I feel it’s best to move on.
I have a video of a young women attepmting CPR that will be uploaded in the next day or two when I have time and can figure out the coding issues.