“Sure,” Jane said. There was no point in denying this, no point in feigning ignorance. For generations, Thailand had had a reputation as the chief fleshpot of Asia. Prostitution of the most blatant, open kind was widely tolerated here; and the economics of the situation had long made Thailand’s red-light districts a bargain for the pleasure-seeking Western male.
Even in the corporate realm, where talk of such subject matter would ordinarily be the ultimate taboo, there were whispers and innuendos about Thailand. Jane had noticed that some of the male engineers at TRX had shown a suspicious level of interest in visiting the Thai branch. This might have been nothing more than a coincidence. But well, as they said: circumstantial evidence…
“Things are so free and easy here,” Khajee went on. “So many women available. So many options for men. It’s hard to find a good man in Thailand.”
“Hard to find a good man in America,” Jane replied, by way of commiseration.
Of course, she had found a good man, hadn’t she? Jane thought of David Haley, the man she had been seeing. Her boyfriend, she supposed.
Until five months ago, when she met David, Jane would have largely agreed with the sentiment that she had just uttered. Jane was tall, fit, attractive, and well-educated. But she had seemed incapable of finding her Mr. Right.
She had gone from one semi-serious relationship to another, dealing with Mr. Not Ready, Mr. Keeping His Options Open, and their various friends. Already well into her thirties, Jane had begun to resign herself to an inevitable spinsterhood. At least she still had her work! And her cat!
She had enumerated such considerations with a sort of gallows humor. She also reminded herself that she worked a lot of hours. Maybe that was part of the problem. Perhaps she needed to change her entire life, she thought, before it was too late.
Then a friend had dragged her out one night to a party that she really hadn’t wanted to attend. At that party she’d met David Haley. Her life had been different since then.
And then David had left—but not for long. David was presently working on a corporate assignment in Germany. The distance had not seemed to dim his ardor—or hers. Jane was eagerly looking forward to David’s return, now just a few weeks away.
Khajee seemed very interested in David, Jane had noticed, although the two had never met. On several occasions, Khajee had asked to see David’s picture, pointedly noting how handsome he was.
“Yes,” Khajee said now, “but you’ve found one—a good man, I mean.”
“For a long time, I didn’t. Couldn’t.”
“But the point is, you did. Things are very different in Thailand. Also, the country is changing because of globalization and economic development. Fewer people getting married and having children all over the country. Very different now, even compared to my parents’ time. Did you know that Thailand has the lowest birthrate in Southeast Asia?”
“No, I didn’t,” Jane replied.
“Well, it’s true. Lower than Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, or Malaysia. The birth rate here is about the same as in Japan.”
“I see.” Jane had read and heard about low birth rates in Japan. A dwindling, aging population now threatened the long-term vibrancy of the Japanese economy.
“Anyway, with so many childless women, there’s now a market for dolls that contain the souls of dead children.” Khajee shrugged, as if not sure what to make of that herself, as if realizing just how bizarre that sounded.
Jane felt an involuntary shudder ripple through her body, despite the heat. She looked again at the doll—the luk thep. The “angel doll” or “spirit doll”. What had Khajee named her? Lawan.
“And think about the other side of the equation,” Khajee continued. “There are so many little ones who have died young, especially in this part of the world. I like to think that my little Lawan contains the soul of a sweet little girl who never knew a proper mother.”
Jane found herself seized by a sudden desire to change the subject. She didn’t want to speculate about the nature of the spirit that might inhabit the doll. She glanced again at the doll’s macabrely realistic face, its artificially cherubic smile.
Jane shuddered, and hoped that Khajee wouldn’t notice her reaction.
Although Jane wasn’t superstitious, she also hoped that the central sales point of the luk thep doll—the supposed spiritual infestation—was the myth that she (for the most part) believed it to be. For if a spirit were inside that doll, Jane suspected that it would not be angelic in temperament.
“You can never be sure about such things, can you?” Jane replied. (What else could you say to a notion like that, uttered by a colleague whom you didn’t know all that well, late at night in an office thousands of miles from home?) “Well, it gave me a little bit of a start, that’s all. Come on, we’ve almost finished going through the data. Then we can both call it a day—and hopefully get some sleep.”
Khajee took the hint; and for that matter, the Thai woman was probably tired, too. It had been an awfully long day. Khajee leaned forward in her chair, clutched the mouse once more, and the two women resumed their confirmation of the data.
Khajee said no more about the doll—Lawan—but Jane remained aware of it. At one point Jane considered asking Khajee to cover it, for the simple reason that it was distracting her. But there was no way to make such a request politely—certainly not in another person’s office.