An old acquaintance of mine has opened a new bar down by Rawai Beach. The Phuket Pirates, he calls it.

I met him on an obscure beach about six years ago. It was early in the morning, and I’d had my swim and was mooching around bagging up today’s plastic from the tideline. He was walking his dog, a terrifying-looking animal with a sweet temperament which he called Maus. Michi is from Hamburg, but German would be my last guess before I heard him speak. With his boxer’s nose, gap-teeth and gold ear-ring, fiftyish and ripped, he looked like a Phoenician pirate.

We were the only ones on the beach, so we sat on a rock and had a chat. After that I saw him around town once in a while. He always seemed a hedonist in a hurry, a man on a mission to enjoy himself, but a little different or more sophisticated, no disrespect, than most of the expats who hang out in the bars in town. When I ran into him once in a while we’d nod to each other and exchange a few words, but I had the impression he’d forgotten my name and where he met me.

He’s remodeled the whole of the front of his house, which has a fabulous location at the curve of beach and headland, and sourced a lot of weird wood for custom-made furniture. He’s very proud of it all, and indeed the place looks pretty stylish, with its pirate flags and hinged skull ashtrays.

It seems a strange time to be opening a new business.

“I had to do something,” he tells me. “My last roll of the dice.”

He shakes his hand and spills imaginary dice onto the table. 

“And now this fucking covid and I can’t sell alcohol. You want a beer?” he asks. “It’s all right as long as you don’t give me any money. This is my house.”

We clink bottles and drink.

“This fucking covid,” I say, for the sake of a nudge. It’s not a toast.

“Biggest hoax in human history,” he mutters. “If you ask me, anyway. We don’t have to talk about it. But I’ll tell you something, if I have to go back to Germany I’ll be out on the streets every day.”

And we don’t have to talk about it. That’s the thing — when you meet someone who can see what’s happening, they only have to say a few words and you know you’re on the same page, regardless of which paragraph. It’s a relief not to have to talk about it.

I ask him, “So what happened? Why the last throw of the dice?” He has invited the question — or perhaps he assumes I already know.

“When I came here I was already dead,” he says.

Multiple sclerosis. Pain, cramps, seizures, wasting muscles, degenerating organs. The whole body progressively seizing up. Irreversible, he was told, and heading in only one direction. So he cashed in everything, sold all his property in Germany and came to Thailand to live what life he had left. And then — disaster!

“What happened?”

“I got better.”

I like that.

“Well, you had the best doctors,” I say. “Doctor Sun. Doctor Sand.”

“Doctor Food. Doctor Sex.”

“It’s amazing what you can do,” I say, “when you’re already dead…”

And he likes that.

My laptop is open on the table. “It’s weird,” I say, “but I just used that phrase in the piece I’m writing. It’s a line from a war movie. Platoon, maybe? Vietnam, anyway.” 

He crouches forward to peer at the screen.

I read to him:  “An army unit is completely surrounded in the jungle, and vastly outnumbered. It’s the dead of night. In the morning they will try to break out through the encirclement. Chances of survival are low.

“Try to think of yourself as already dead,” their commander tells them. “If you can just do that, everything suddenly becomes a whole lot easier.”

Michi looks up at me.

“You’re a poet,” he says.

I raise my beer to him. “From poet to pirate,” I say.

Writing this now, something else occurs to me, which I hadn’t heard of until recently — the Santa Muerte cult in Mexico and the Americas, reportedly the fasting growing religious movement in the world, which is an interesting coincidence at this time. Back at my place I read up on it a little. It’s a heresy of Catholicism; its devotees pray to Lady Death as they would to any Saint.

They have many names for her, and I mutter them aloud and compose a little prayer, not just for Michi but for all of us.

“Santa Muerte, nostra Senora de las Sombras, Hermana Blanca, Madrina. Santisma Muerte, hazme fuerte, dame vida.”

Holy Death, our Lady; Lady of the Shadows, White Sister, Godmother. Most Sacred Death, give me strength, give me life.

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