From the vantage point of a white plastic picnic chair, the legs of which are half buried in the sand, in the middle of the only beach on Koh Jum Island, I can see…nothing, no one, not a soul. Unless you believe crabs have souls in which case I can see hundreds. Once or twice someone walks past, a healthy type, probably walking the entire coastline, but other than that my only company on the island is the sun, the sea, the sand, the crabs, the cats, the dogs, the bungalow owners and staff, a French couple, a Swiss man, and Shaun.
When I was growing up a ‘holiday abroad’ meant the mysterious disappearance of one or more of my friends from school. These were the days when pulling your child out of school for a holiday didn’t result in jailtime for the parents and there would regularly be a conspicuously empty chair in our classroom. It was always the usual suspects, the ones who lived on private estates and had a mam and a dad at home. After a week or two they would return with skin the colour of strong tea, shell bracelets on their wrists and bright cotton threads woven into their hair. Like nothing had happened.
Perhaps it’s down to a lack of experience then, that I find myself sitting on the beach feeling like I’ve fallen into a postcard and wondering what it is I’m supposed to do. Whatever I want, I suppose, I’m just not sure what it is I want to do, exactly. I pick up Anna Karenina, read until Kitty realises Vronsky is in love with Anna and then fall asleep, getting horribly burnt in the sun.
That night, I have my first real emotional meltdown of the trip so far. After watching the sunset, an activity in itself apparently, we walk along the beach to a resort for a drink. There’s no one here either, just a surplus of waiting staff singing along to a melancholic love song with the same, slow reggae beat that all of Thailand seems to move to. The moon is a slither of orange peel, barely illuminating the sand and sea enough to make a distinction between them.
Everything looks perfectly still and I feel the pleasant sensation of that stillness starting to settle on me when a wifi single pops up on my phone. I connect and immediately a message comes through from my little brother to say he’s having laser eye surgery that day. The next moment I’m sobbing.
My little brother is having lasers shone into his eyeballs. ‘Who’s going to make sure he gets home okay when he’s recovering?’ I ask. ‘He’s not going to need glasses anymore. But I like his glasses. He’s going to look so different. I don’t want him to look different. What if something goes horribly wrong and they blind him?’ Shaun’s looking at me like I should be sectioned and I feel a million miles from home, from all the people I love and all the people who love me back.
On the way back I splash my feet in the cool sea and my composure returns. We meet the owner of the resort back at the hut and make polite conversation, each of us petting a resident cat or dog and looking out to sea, when the most magnificent thunderstorm begins. The lightening forks into the sea, for a split second colouring the whole world in a flash of electric blue, and we wait for the roar of thunder. Perhaps in response to the coming storm, handfuls of little hermit crabs come scuttling off the sand onto the concrete floor we’re sitting on, heading god knows where.
I sit there watching this tropical storm flamboyantly raging against the sea until the feeling of being a million miles from home turns from a negative back to a positive again and I remember why I’m doing this in the first place. I get my notebook out of my handbag and start to write.