As she approached the beach bar on her first night in Koh Tanu,
Thailand, Rose had no idea that the people she was going to meet
would change her life in ways she couldn’t yet fathom. The jump to
untether herself completely and come out to Thailand had been big
on its own, but had she known what was in store, she would have
thought it much smaller.
The music in the bar was so loud, Rose had to gesture at the
barman to make him understand what she wanted.
Beer in hand, she made her way out of the bamboo-roofed area
and toward the sea. She kicked off her flip-flops; the sand was still
warm from the blazing heat. She walked closer to the sea, wanting to
hear its rush, but the music drowned it out almost completely. Even
the salt smell was not as strong as she was used to.
She sipped her drink and looked around for any faces she knew.
Before she could spot anyone, a tap on her shoulder made her turn.
It was the beefy white Australian guy she had met earlier at the
coworking space. Brendan, was it?
“You found it,” he said, but she didn’t actually hear his voice.
She nodded, smiling back.
He tilted his beer toward hers, to clink them.
“To life in a tropical paradise!” He grinned and then knocked
back some beer.
She followed suit. “So, how long have you been here?” she
shouted into his ear.
“Almost a month, but it’s my third time here.”
“Nah, it’s not that long. That American woman, over there—” he
pointed toward a group of people sprawled on top of a bamboo sofa
thing, cushions everywhere “—she’s been here nearly four months.”
Rose lifted her eyebrows in appreciation.
“Come, I’ll introduce you.”
She followed him. Brendan stood beside the bamboo sofa and
gestured to the people there. She felt a little uneasy. She didn’t mind
meeting new people—she positively adored that, and it was one of
her reasons for travelling—but like this, where she could hardly hear
what anyone said? She knew in places like this you always ended
up having one-sided conversations. No one heard each other and
always answered to what they thought the other person said, until
you gave up, bored.
A thin, caramel-skinned older woman lying on the sofa reached
out an arm.
“Rose.” They shook hands. Rose noticed the woman’s beautiful
“Hey. Welcome to Tanu,” replied Miriam.
Rose smiled warmly and they clinked their drinks, too.
Brendan was beside her now. The music seemed to go up
“Most of these guys are digital nomads. Miriam here—” he
gestured to try to get her into the conversation “—is a writer of
some sort— Ouch!” Miriam had slapped him on the leg, laughing.
“Or so she says!” Another playful slap.
“You know what I do. Silly man.” She looked to him cheekily,
then turned away.
“Serge, lovely old Serge, he is…” Brendan pointed to a fortysomething
perma-sunburned white guy. “You know what? I don’t
know what he does. But he’s Belgian. Does that help?” He guffawed
at his own remark.
“Martin, over there—” Brendan now pointed to a white guy
with his back to them “—is a web developer. Don’t ask me what that
actually entails. I’m a marketing guy, not a nerd. And he’s German.
Apparently, the rumor is,” Brendan said loudly, wanting Martin to
hear him, elbowing him on the shoulder with an air of conspiracy,
“that he was one of the first guys to understand the potential of his
field. He was kind of a big deal in Berlin, back in the day, in his
youth. Many, many, MANY years ago. Huh?”
Martin turned around; Rose almost gasped. He was so handsome
and cool, with a face she felt she’d seen dozens of times in
her dreams. She felt as if time stood almost completely still as she
examined the details of that face without really seeing them. It felt
like she was trying to look directly at the sun, and it was blinding
and stunning her.
Martin nodded and smiled politely. “Whatever Brendan
says, it wasn’t my fault.” He laughed and then turned back to his
Rose had to make a huge mental effort to actually listen to what
Brendan was telling her next. It wasn’t easy. “The girl he’s talking to
is Dahlia. She’s French. She has a social media marketing agency.”
Rose immediately felt an intense hatred for this woman, an
insane jealousy. She is talking to HIM. Looking at the features of
this Dahlia—her olive complexion, the lustrous dark hair artfully
draped over one shoulder, the classic resting French face—Rose
couldn’t help but compare them one by one with her own features
and find herself lacking.
A loud cheer went up from the group, and Rose had to turn to see
why. Two women had just joined them. Brendan raced to hug them.
“Oh, my Lord, what is the occasion?” The woman he hugged,
a tall, white skinny fortysomething with dirty blond hair, played
“Come on, Brendan. It’s not that unusual that Helena and I
come out for a drink, is it?” The other woman was a diminutive
black woman with very short hair, probably in her twenties.
The Belgian man, Serge, had gotten up. “Must be a leap year!”
He laughed. “Shall I get you a drink?”
While they discussed their drinks order, Brendan turned back to
Rose. “That’s Helena and Laila. Laila is the owner of the TribeHut.”
“Oh, cool. I didn’t see her there today,” Rose replied. But her
eyes were back toward Martin, on Martin’s back. His lovely, strong
back. She could not look away.
“That’s because she keeps a very low profile,” Brendan said.
After a long pause, Rose realized Brendan was expecting her to
say something, but she had no idea what. “Cool, thank you. It’s nice
of you to introduce me.” She wrenched her gaze back to Brendan.
“Anyway, you’ll see everyone at the coworking space, at some
point or another,” Brendan continued.
Miriam got up and stretched. “So, what do you do?” she shouted
in Rose’s ear.
“I manage the Etsy stores of various artisans and manufacturers,
and I also travel around looking for new products to sell.”
“Did you say Etsy?” Miriam asked loudly.
“Yeah.” Rose nodded more than spoke.
Miriam leaned toward Martin, cutting Rose off mid-sentence.
“Going to get another drink. Want anything?”
“Nah, I’m cool.” Martin shrugged.
As she left toward the bar, Rose was left feeling a little put out.
That was rude. After a moment of feeling hurt, she decided to believe
Miriam hadn’t heard her.
“So, how long have you been travelling?” Brendan put his arm
around her shoulders and started to steer her away from the music.
“Well, on and off my whole life, almost.”
“Now, solidly, for about six months. I have no plans to stop.”
“Me neither.” He smiled.
They reached the sea’s edge. The music was a little more bearable
here. Rose put her feet in the water, grateful. Wow, the water is so
warm. Then she turned around, throwing a casual glance in Martin’s
direction, but quickly. She didn’t want Brendan or Martin to notice.
“Every night, I come out to the beach. I look out at these stars.”
Brendan gestured up and she looked, too. The sky was incredibly
bright, with thousands of sparkling dots. “And at the fishermen’s
lights—” now he gestured in front of them at the green twinkly
lights dotting the horizon “—I say to myself, ‘Wow, Brendan, this is
your life!’” He laughed.
“Well, how long have you been travelling, then?” she asked back.
Rose gasped. “Whoa!”
“I do go home about once a year…”
“That’s all right, then.” She laughed and took another sip of
He laughed, too. Rose realized her beer was already finished,
and Brendan noticed.
“Want to get something else?” he asked her.
“What do you say to a bucket of Sangsom and Coke?” he raised
an eyebrow comically.
“What’s Sangsom? And why does it come in a bucket?” He
laughed a comedy villain laugh. It made her giggle. “Oh, my child.
You have so much to learn.” He put his arm around her shoulders
again. “Shall we?” he inquired.
“Fuck it. Whatever you say, mate.”
He started steering them back toward the bar.
Brendan began saying something else but she wasn’t listening as
she felt her mobile vibrate in her tiny macramé handbag. She fished
it out, unlocked it. It was a message from her mum. Oh God, what
now? Rose thought.
Hi sweetie, I hope Thailand is as fab as you were expecting.
Looking forward to hearing your experiences. By the way, I
ran into Frances’ mum yesterday, she sounded a bit worried
about her. Have you any news? Let me know. Love, mum.
Rose stared at it a moment longer, then locked the phone again.
They had arrived at the bar; the music levels were unbearable this
close. Brendan looked at the barman, then her.
“Sangsom Coke. Bucket.” He motioned holding a bucket with
The barman turned around and shouted “Sangsom Cooooke!”
and another barman sprang to life and began making their drink.