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Ilustration by Lars Otterclou
Dylan found himself standing on the platform at Chumpon in the late afternoon. The hum of flies and the chirrup of geckoes resonated across the tracks.“There’s no way I can make that ferry now,” Dylan grumbled, mopping sweat from his brow. The air was as humid as a sauna. “Trust me, take a taxi to Jetty 31. And don’t pay more than twenty e-dollars!”
A grizzled old taxi-driver drove Dylan through the maze of townhouses, Buddhist temples and mosques. Dylan’s heart pounded against his ribcage. Every red light and traffic jam had him gnawing on his fist. Were they ever going to get there? And then the buildings parted to reveal a sapphire blue sea. Fishing boats bobbed alongside a wooden pier.“What’s going on?” Dylan gasped.
A small crowd of fresh-faced backpackers had gathered at Jetty 31. The ferryboat churned the water with its engines, while its crew looked on bemused. As Dylan clambered out of the taxi, the crowd cheered.“Go Dylan!” they shouted.
Too stunned to speak, Dylan boarded and waved goodbye as the boat chugged out of the harbour. For a moment he did nothing, leaning over the deck and staring at the crystal clear waves. Then he pulled out his tablet.“A flash mob,” Lorie grinned. “I sent word out that if you missed the trip you’d lose the chance of a lifetime. It was amazing how many wanted to help. They just pleaded with the captain to stall long enough for you to get there.”
Dylan puffed out his chest with a surge of confidence.“Lorie, nothing’s going to stop us now.”
An unusually large wave smacked into the bow. The boat tilted sharply and threw Dylan against the railings. The tablet slipped from his grasp. It dropped into the water and vanished into the briny depths.
Ko Chokdee rose from the sea like a jewel, a land carved from emerald and jade. Mango, banana, and papaya dotted the hills in a mosaic of greens. White sands ringed the shoreline. The sea was a beautiful turquoise. Yet this beauty was lost on Dylan as he trudged dejectedly from the ferry to the row of wooden shops. Thanks to his meagre budget he only owned one mobile computing device, the same tablet now lying on the bottom of the Gulf. All his plans and demonstrations for the VPA were in that. And worse, so was Lorie. Here he was on a remote island, miles from an Internet café. He didn’t even know where the software conference was taking place. The sunshine was invisible to Dylan, he was lost in a fog of despair.
A hand touched his arm. It was a woman in her late sixties, in the ubiquitous tourist uniform of tee shirt and shorts. She took off a straw sunhat and a bundle of silver hair flapped in the sea breeze. “Excuse me young man,” she said blushing. “Are you Dylan Howard?”
He nodded.“Only I’ve had this text from someone called Lorie.”
Dylan’s eyes widened. This was incredible.“She says to tell you there’s a phone shop down the street, selling cheap mobiles.
Actually that’s where I got this one.”
The sunset found Dylan sitting outside a noodle shop, enjoying a glass of frothy local beer and idly watching rickshaws conveying tourists. The shiny new mobile lay on the tabletop. The phone shop only stocked the old-fashioned kind of mobiles, no interactive touch screen models, but at least Lorie could communicate by texts.
He picked up the mobile and reviewed Lorie’s messages.‘No more we can do tonight. Somsak’s Guesthouse has a vacancy, across from this restaurant.’
Dylan had never felt so exhausted. The change of time zones, the heat, the stress of travel all added up to one heck of a punch. He wondered whether he could have made it this far without Lorie, always on tap to translate a word or point in the right direction. The answer was no. Dylan swiped his e-card against the reader in the waiter’s hand and headed wearily for the guesthouse.
A cockerel in fine voice awoke Dylan at dawn. He lay under the folds of the mosquito net, watching the pale glow of daylight seep through the shuttered window. It felt safe here, tucked up in the womb-like gloom. But this was his big day. He had to get to the hotel, find a way in, and somehow persuade a group of powerful company executives to listen. Back in England the plan had seemed feasible. Now it seemed half-baked. Maybe he should just slope off back to the mainland. At least that way he’d be spared the humiliation of abject failure.
The mobile on the bedside cabinet began trilling its morning alarm. Once again Lorie had predicted his needs. He checked the text inbox.‘Good morning Dylan, and don’t despair. After all, you invented me!’
With a bashful smirk Dylan scrambled out of the netting. After an invigorating cold shower, he approached the landlady in the small, bare-floored reception. She was a plump middle-aged woman with saffron skin and jet-black hair.“I want to get to the Sandalwood Spa Resort,” he asked
She laughed as though he’d said something deeply stupid. He repeated the question. She jabbed at the sky with her forefinger.“Only way Mister. Only way.”
Dylan took a step back, confused.“You mean a plane?”
She shook her head vigorously.“No plane, other thing. Me not know how to say in English.” “Oh, you mean helicopter?”
She nodded with equal ferocity.“There must be roads.” “No roads, mister, jungle too thick.” “Then how do I get there?”
The landlady shrugged and walked away. Dylan grabbed the mobile from his pocket and anxiously keyed in a question.‘Just told no road to hotel – help!’
He pressed send. A few seconds later the mobile pinged.‘No tarmac roads but paths. Hire a bicycle from Tom’s Bike Shanty on the next block. Pedal west. I’ll send you directions. And Dylan, don’t forget to buy drinking water. Heat stroke is a possibility.’
Dylan kissed the phone, a gesture that brought peals of laughter from the landlady. He ignored her and bolted for the doorway. Tom’s stock of rusty boneshakers left something to be desired. Dylan ended up with a racer two sizes too small. But he was in too much of a hurry to quibble. It was the last day of the conference, before the big six flew out. He pedalled furiously along a wide, dusty road, lined with ancient banyan trees. The odd peasant sat on the verge selling boiled peanuts or rice in bamboo. Dylan had forgotten to eat breakfast and the aromas were as distracting as a siren’s song. But there was no time to lose.