Last Sunday morning I stumbled half awake (my usual early morning fog) from the bedroom of the condo into the kitchen. I had orange juice on my mind. Normally the kitchen is empty at 8.00 a.m. On this Sunday, though, the counters and floor were piled with plastic bags from Klong Toey market, fruit and vegetables spilling out onto the counters. My wife was talking to our Burmese maid. On the floor was a plastic basket and inside the basket was a duck.
A white duck with its feet tied. It looked at me, I looked at it, then at my wife and finally the maid. “How did a duck get past security?”
“The guards just laughed,” said the maid.
I wasn’t exactly laughing. “Let me get this straight, we have a live duck in a building in which all pets are prohibited except gold fish. The duck wasn’t going to cut it as a fish.”
“It’s for Pattaya,” said my wife, as if I were far too slow off the mark.
“Our duck needs a wife,” said the maid.
I started to understand this was one of those Saturday morning conspiracies. The women had taken in their minds that a bachelor duck had to be miserable and the way to fix his life was to buy him a bride.
You need some background about the groom—the male duck who was about to have a blind date with the white duck in my kitchen.
We have cobbled together some buildings on a plot of land near Pattaya. There is a small pond on the land. And in that small pond is a duck. A solitary male duck that I had assumed was a mallard. A wild duck that had found a sanctuary away from the maddening crowd.
“That duck is a wild duck. He’ll have nothing to do with this duck from the market,” I told the women.
Later that morning, we set off for Pattaya with the duck in the backseat. I had gone back to the condo unit for a book, the wife and duck were already downstairs in the car. As I got out of the lift, I saw the signs of duck vomit, duck shit, and duck food, and this wasn’t difficult, as the maid and wife had left a nicely defined trail of feathers, food, and poop that led from the lift to the condo door. The whole floor smelled foul. I held my breath. The damp duck smell seemed to seep through my pores.
You can only hold your breath for so long. I found that when I got in the car and saw the duck looking at me from the backseat—this time she had her wings tied too, to prevent hazard of duck flight I suspected. That bad smell filled the interior of the car. My wife who is usually the first line of defense in the bad smell department was suspiciously quiet. It would have been anti-duck to fuss about the odor. I braced myself for the hour and a half drive, mouth-breathing, as I clutched the steering wheel. It so happened that at the entrance to the elevated Expressway, two Thai police officers, wearing those cheap versions of surgical masks, pulled me over. He asked for my driver’s license, I unfastened my seat belt, found my wallet, and gave him the license.
“What’s the problem officer?”
“You’re not wearing your seatbelt.””
“Of course I am not wearing my seatbelt. I’ve stopped and you’ve asked to see my license. I needed to remove the seatbelt to get the license.”
He looked at my wife. “She wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.”
As we approached the tollbooth, my wife who faithfully wears her seatbelt had unfastened her seatbelt to check on the duck (bad timing). That made her a felon I guess. The cop kept looking at the duck. It crossed my mind that I could go down in history as the first crime fiction writer who used a duck to pay a bribe to a Thai cop. I was getting ready to hand the duck through the window, when he asked, “What do you two do?”
There are just so many ways I can answer that question. The one answer that is never used: “Well, sir, I am a writer of fiction.” That’s a good way to lose a duck. Instead I said, “I am a lawyer, sir. And I am on way to advice the chamber of commerce how to increase tourism in Thailand. Duck farming,” I said.
“And I am a consultant for the UN,” said my wife.
I glanced back at the duck as if she was obviously on an undercover humanitarian mission and had risked herself to check on the condition of white ducks.
That admission, fortunately carried the day, as no self-respecting cop is going to take a duck from the husband of a UN consultant and not get some blow back from the big flock of swans in Geneva. He waved us through. No money had changed hands. I saw the cop in my rearview mirror, his facemask protecting him against the worst of the duck smell and realized for the first time why they wore those masks.
On the rest of the drive, having just escaped arrest, possible forfeiture of the duck, and other outrages, the conversation between my wife and me was subdued. “The pond duck is not going to like the market duck. He might attack her. After all she’s going into his pond.”
“He’ll bond with our duck.”
A few minutes after we arrived at Eel Swamp, the name of the surrounding properties, which includes our little hovel, my wife took the white duck and released her in the pond. The brown duck was already in the water. I waited thinking this was going to get ugly, and white feathers would fly. I also thought Starbucks was insane to sell coffee for $3 when you could buy it on the street for 50 cents. I was wrong about Starbucks—which the Thais took to like a duck to water—and I was dead wrong about the brown duck in the pond.
First he wasn’t a mallard. He was also a market duck bought by the workers who had nailed together our hovel. He’d been left behind. Sooner of later one of the workers may sneak back to claim the brown duck for dinner. In the meantime, he swam straight up to the white female and did what so many single male tourists coming from outside of Thailand do—he surrendered. After a day, she had him swimming behind her. She took over the pond. Two days into the program, the once proud male duck, hides in the tall grass and rarely goes into the pond for a swim. He has that haunted look of man on the run, under torture, or married. She doesn’t let him out of her sight. As if she was scanning the sky for younger, slimmer Pattaya ducks, the female duck is no longer that docile tied up creature I saw in the kitchen on Sunday morning. She had a bold mission—keep her man in line of sight while hunting for something to eat. Females are good at multitasking.
By Wednesday most of the duck smell had evaporated from my car. The brown and white ducks seem like they’ve been a couple for years. It doesn’t matter that they just met. There wasn’t a lot of choice in their mating. And may be there is a lot less choice in our own mating. The lesson for me in all of this, should the police pull you over for a traffic violation, it doesn’t hurt to have a live duck on your backseat. Actually it helps matters. Even a hardened cop understands that a couple who love animals and nature should always be given a second chance.