Character Building by Colin Cotterill

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Part One.

It’s a Sunday. It’s been a long week. Well, actually it’s been seven days but it feels like a long week. I go to the fridge and grab a can of Bier Lao to get me in the mood. I know she’s in the back room waiting for me. I’ve missed her. I know she’s been married for six months already but that doesn’t stop you missing a woman, does it? Nothing stops you missing a woman. I have a shower to wash off the cow dung. I’ve been standing up to my knees in it putting up a fence. I hope cows can’t jump. I slip into my Chelsea Football club away shirt and my muay Thai shorts. Nobody can accuse me of fashion. This crowd doesn’t care what I look like. I might as well be a fictional being as far as they’re concerned. A few more had arrived while I was making myself dung free. They turn up whenever they liked, Lao style. I don’t mind that.

I have a tray set up. A bottle of Johnnie, four stubbies of soda, ice, glasses and two Cokes for the boys. It’s all good natured and natural when I walk in. The women stand up to do the hostess thing. It’s in their blood. She’s one of them. God, she’s beautiful. Her husband hasn’t arrived yet.

“Where’s the doctor?” I ask.

“He’ll be here,” she says with that sideways smile of hers.

I knew where they’d be, him and his friend. The two old boys liked to stop off for a drink or six at Two Thumbs’ whiskey and cigarette stall behind the evening market. The policeman’s here, stressed from a day of dealing with budget cuts and paperwork. While his chubby wife cracks jokes and mixes drinks, he bounces their baby on his lap. I look forward to watching her grow up. Standing in the corner, rocking in time to a tune only he can hear, is the man who started off as our ‘extra’ then moved up through the lines of the chorus to join the stars. Behind the sofa, dressed for once, thank goodness, is the Indian. He smiles at me as I lean back over the seat to look down at him and his frog.

I look around at them with pleasure. We have been through a lot together. We are family. I know what they’re thinking, every one of them. I don’t put the words into their heads. They think for themselves and I know. They’re all alive. No less real than me. There’s a crash from the front step. Someone’s fallen over my bicycle. I hear him swear and then the laughter of another. They walk in, arm in arm.

“Who left that man trap in the doorway?” asks the doctor.

“If you were anywhere near sober you would have seen it,” says his friend.

“If I wore glasses made from the bottoms of goldfish bowls like yours, I’d have the world magnified two-hundred percent too.”

“Siri,” says his wife, sliding across the sofa. “Come and sit down. We’re all waiting for you. We have a new book to write.”

Part Two

I’m alone in the back room. Sorry, that should have been ‘Alone’. I’ve been sitting here for two days. I have six notebooks on the coffee table in front of me and a tub of forty biros bought on special at Tesco Lotus. I have a five liter cask of cheap California red and five bags of peanuts. It’s so quiet I can hear the footsteps of the lizard tippytapping across the ceiling. I look at the sofa, the cushions are still primped from the day the cleaning lady came in to do the house. Empty sofas, like empty school busses and empty bars, only remind you of times when they were full and happy. I am Alone. I have to think all by myself. It’s like an examination and there’s nobody here to whisper the answers to me. No, it’s a conundrum:

Q “Who has no world, no life and no friends until he makes them?

No, don’t peak. You try to work it out for yourself.

A “The writer of the first book of a new series”.

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