Rob and I got off the bus in Kuala Lumpur sometime in the pitch dark of early morning. We pushed past the cabbies, chose a direction, and walked until we found a KFC. It was cold inside and full of sleepy people. They were serving breakfast and everyone behind the counter spoke English. I took out the converter app on my iphone and figured out the new prices. It was one ringgit to every ten baht, so all we had to do was add a zero at the end of the price in our heads. Breakfast only cost us 30 baht.
“How long have you been in Malaysia?” asked the manager behind the counter.
“About twenty minutes,” said Rob.
The manager flashed a big white smile under a black bush of a mustache. “Well then welcome to Malaysia sir.”
After a meal of chicken and hash browns, Rob went of to look for some wi-fi so he could map out where our hostel was and I stayed with the luggage. Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” came on the radio and I wanted to jump up and point it out to someone, but there was no one to tell. The last time I had heard this song was a month before I left America, when my co-worker dropped the link to the video in our chat window. By the end of the week Macklemore was pasted all over Facebook. And now here he was, filling my ears in a freezing cold KFC on the other side of the world.
I decided I liked Malaysia.
To avoid paying for an extra night we waited until 7am to ring up our hostel. It was tucked into a tiny alleyway and up three flights of stairs. The proprietor was a quiet, meticulous man who gave us detailed information on tours, bus routes, and historical sites while we waited for our room to be made up. I was too tired to hear any of it.
When he opened the door to our room we both dove into the wide springy mattress. The pillows were big and fluffy, the mattress was soft, and the yellow curtain over the window gave the room a warm glow. We let the manager close the door.
“I think I want to get another pillow,” I told Rob.
“You and your pillows. What do you need another pillow for?”
Rob let out a dramatic sigh. “Well I don’t know if he’ll give one to you.”
“You can rent an extra one for 2 ringgit.”
“Oh can you?”
“I saw it written up in the lobby.”
“Well then I guess you can get one yourself then, can’t you.”
I stayed in bed while he went down to rent clean towels. When I opened my eyes again he was holding a pillow up over my head. I must have squealed when I took it, and fell right back to sleep, clinging to it like a teddy bear.
When I woke up Rob was wrapped in a yellow towel, slicking his red hair back in the mirror.
“Get up, you,” he said. “Rossi’s going to be here to pick us up at two.”
I sat up and lurched towards a fresh green towel that Rob had hung up for me on the clothes rack.
“Oh, and don’t mention that story I told you about him and Asha in front of her. You might get him in again.”
Asha and Rossi were waiting for us in a silver BMW outside the hostel. Ahsa was beautiful, with big full lips, almond eyes and black bouncing hair. Rossi had a soft round chin with wire frame glasses and slicked back hair.
I remember feeling small and nervous when we went out to lunch with them that first day. These were people who had some real connection to Rob’s life outside of Thailand. And I was just a girl he met while passing through Asia. But if they ever noticed my awkwardness they didn’t let on. Asha took to me like we were already best friends and I began to like her right away. She had a way of showing interest in your life as though every story you told fascinated her. And she treated me like I was Rob’s girlfriend even though I really wasn’t.
“You’ve gotten so big,” said Asha of Rob. She leaned over to me. “When we saw him last he was so skinny.”
“Really?” Rob had the shoulders and arms of a bear. It was hard to imagine him skinny.
“Yes, and clean-shaven.”
“Yeah man,” said Rossi. “What’s with the beard.”
“I grew it for her.”
“Really?” said Asha.
“I like beards,” I replied, blushing.
“It looks good mate,” said Rossi.
“So how did you two meet?” asked Asha.
Rob and I met eyes and started laughing. Asha and Rossi exchanged confused looks.
“You tell it,” I said.
Rob leaned back in his seat. “Actually she hooked up with the mate I was traveling with.”
“Who’s that?” asked Rossi.
“You know Argie’s little brother?”
“The gay one?”
“No, the other one.”
Rossi took a second and then started laughing. “You mean Pablo?”
“That’s the one.”
“Small world, eh?”
“It sure is.”
“How did that happen?” asked Asha.
“So, Pablo and I had flown into Phuket from Phenom Pen just before New Year’s and someone tells us, look you have to go to Koh Pha Nagn if you’re going to be here for New Years. So Pablo books us this room in Koh Samui. Great place, right on the water. We get there and they tell us we don’t have reservations.”
“We got in around like ten o’clock. There’s no managers around, so we say, yes we do; give us a room. They say they only have one room available. We’re like, that’s fine, just let us have the one room. We get in there and this is like the honeymoon sweet.”
“It was really nice,” I add.
“Unbelievable. Great view of the water.”
“The bathroom was bigger than my whole bungalow.”
“Little private balcony.”
“They had complementary umbrellas in the wardrobe.”
“Well you at least got to enjoy the honeymoon sweet to its full extent.”
“Yes, I did.”
“So then what happened?” prompted Asha.
“So we get in around ten o’clock, throw our stuff in the room, and go out to some dance club. Anyway, Pablo picks her up.”
“I didn’t even notice Rob, didn’t even see him.”
Asha and Rossi laughed.
“So Pablo picks her up, takes her back to our place. And I come home around, I don’t even know when, I was hammered. I go for a little dip in the pool. But then I go to open the door and the key they gave me opens to a totally empty room. Now imagine it. I’m fucking destroyed. It’s three in the morning. I open the door and all our stuff is gone, Pablo’s gone, the place is cleaned out. I start freaking out like what the fuck is going on here. I think I’ve just been robbed and Pablo’s been kidnapped somewhere.”
“Oh shit mate,” said Rossi.
“Then, I knock on the door of the next room and there’s Pablo.”
“So you had the wrong room.”
“No, I had the right room, but they actually had given us two rooms, not one.”
“And this was when we first met,” I add.
“Right, so I go bursting in there, going on about how I had just walked into an empty room. She’s there. We meet. I get my things and go crash out in the other room.”
Rossi chuckled. “That’s quite an experience.”
“Oh, it’s not over yet.”
“So the next morning we get up and get a call from the front desk saying you gotta come down here, there’s a problem with your reservation, and so on. We get there and it turns out, Pablo booked the rooms for the wrong month. That’s why they didn’t have us on file the night before.”
“And why your rooms were so damn cheap,” I put in.
“They tell us, you want to stay another night, it’s six thousand baht each.”
“Holy shit,” said Rossi.
“Yeah, so we’re like, nope we’re outta here. Here’s nineteen hundred baht for last night and we’re gone.”
“And they let you do that?” asked Asha.
“What were they gonna do? So we’re hanging out with her that morning, looking for a new place. Everything is booked and she says, why don’t you come back to where I’m staying. They have empty bungalows there. We get there. It’s nice and quiet and right on the beach and only five hundred baht for a room with a fan. All you really need right. And we ended up spending the rest of that week together.”
“And you just decided to move in together?”
“Well, what happened is that Pablo was going to do his course in Chang Mai and then go back home. I had been wanting to do my Celta course up there as well, but being who I am, I waited until the last minute to get my application in and the course was full. So she says, ‘Hey, I can get you a teaching job out at the village where I live if you want.’ I came out there and the rest was history.”
Of course, I like my version of the story better.