Socks for a cause

The roar of the rain against the metal roof is more effective white noise than anything I can produce in my tiny headphones. It circles and nibbles at the bottom end of everything, separating life into brash high frequency squeals and the rest, seething and unhearable. I step sideways to avoid a woman struggling with an umbrella that is disassembling itself as it collapses. The ribs make the sound of a ship grinding against a pier, the sawing metal merging with the popping sounds of the rivulets cascading off the freeway above and onto the roofs of Songthaew far below.

This cacophony of noise and motion, Saphan Taksin, snarled with the traffic of a monsoonal Friday. Vendors jostle with tourists fighting their way up to the platform and office workers fighting their way home. The ragged line on the uneven concrete that marks the edge of the dry patch under the freeway overpass is fiercely contested. Wheelbarrows of barbecued squid are gradually shunted backward as the damp encroaches and the rain splashes off newly stoked coals with a wet hiss.

"Excuse me, are you going home?" someone says.
"Sorry, what?" as I tug my earphones out of my ears and turn to face him, a teenager, sixteen maybe, headphones held tightly against his chest and toe-tapping nervously on the broken pavement.
"You live here? Are you going home?" his English is accented with the soft lilt of foreign educated Thais, enunciation perfect and sentences carefully clipped at the ends.
"Yes. I am going home." The suit gives it away.
"Can I buy your socks?" he says.
"I, what?" I stop, look at him now, “What?”
"Can I buy your socks? I'll pay you 500 baht."
"I don't understand. My socks? Why not buy from Robinson, it's just over there?"
"No, they need to be used?"
"Used?"
"It's for a party. I need used socks. Farang socks." I don’t even know where to go from here. I worry that I might have misunderstood something, misinterpreted a word, but as I run through the conversation, it seems pretty clear. People flow around us. The Songthaew edge forward. "Sorry, I like my socks," I say, and I turn away. He doesn't seem crazy, just nervous, a little on edge. I cross the road and run to the awning of the barber’s and wait for the light to change.

I’m concentrating intently on the greater meaning of all this when he taps me on the shoulder again, clearly embarrassed, hair slick from the rain. “Maybe I can explain this better,” he says, “my friend is an idiot.” I raise my eyebrows and wait for him to continue. Each of the old guys inside the barber’s have neatly swiveled their chairs so they can watch the spectacle. “He decided to have a party and the law is that you must wear some clothes you have traded from a foreigner. This is a very stupid idea but I think it will be a good party and so...” he is now actually going to die of embarrassment. Still it rains.

I take him home and give him a pair of old socks, ones I borrowed from my father over Christmas. Ratty, with tiny nautical flags running along the seams. Semaphore stitches. I said I’d bring them back the following year, but this is a better story. He wais, cannot escape fast enough, burbles out a muted, “thankyouthankyouthankyou khrap,” and is gone. I have no idea what just happened.

I hope his party was good.