And I had so much time
To sit and think about myself
And then there she was
You don't like traveling alone.
But just because you don't like it doesn't mean you won't do it. If a shark stops swimming it will die, and Donna always said that traveling was your way of swimming. So you travel. You've been sticking to Earth lately because Earth is easy. Earth is safe and warm and you can get a new culture just by changing your longitude. Earth is a little bit of everything and that's why you love it.
Today, you are in Bangkok. It's June, 1999. Next month NASA will intentionally crash the Lunar Prospector spacecraft into the Moon. In August, a 7.4-magnitude earthquake will strike northwestern Turkey, killing more than 17,000 and injuring 44,000. In December, dozens will die in Venezuela in a series of mud streams. And, on a less global note right now somewhere on the other side of the world Chang Lee is hugging his friends and Grace Halloway is kissing her boyfriend goodbye and in December you'll be there to make sure that their after-Christmas plans don't turn out quite as right as they hoped.
But Bangkok is wonderful. Oh, you've been here before. Various times, various places. You brought Dodo here once, and Leela. Still, depending on the year and the month and even the time of day, there's always something different.
It's probably around 2 in the morning, now. You'd spent most of the day chasing after a smart-mouthed Time Agent, and it was finally time for a breather. Time to enjoy some of the city before you have to leave.
Neon lights seem to fuzz out in the stifling heat. It shouldn't be this hot in June, but the Time Agent had a few plans lined up that involved the city's water systems, so for the next few weeks the people of Bangkok get an early August.
Sweaty people push past and around you, tourists and locals alike. The air is full of strange, spicy scents that make your nostrils burn even from a distance. Your stomach growls, but you haven't two baht to rub together so you pass it by and promise to buy yourself something decent from Amaldomaya when you go there tomorrow. If you had Donna on your arm, she'd be dragging you to the nearest vendor, money or no. And then she'd demand an atm to buy a souvenir for her grandfather. And herself. And herself again. Oh, Donna.
It's funny. All these people around and you're still lonely. Still alone. It's not time to leave, you've hardly talked to anyone.
You turn into a Thai club. Bigger than the fake Irish pubs, and there's a variety of tourists inside so you won't stand out quite so much. When you're with a mate, it's easier to play a tourist among a world of natives. When you're alone…well, sometimes it helps to fit in.
There's a blacklight-lit bar that circles the circumference of the club, with a variety of bartenders at each. A pulsating techno beat you don't recognize blares from the speakers and seems to make each hair on your head shake with each twang of the bass. Everyone around you speaks in a drowning whirl of languages. Thai, English, Mandarin, French…there are tourists attempting Thai and Thai waitresses attempting English. The TARDIS can't translate it very well, so it's a little disorienting.
This is really the sort of a bar that Jack would like more than you would. Women are dancing on a stage. They're too thin and some of them are wearing shoes that are either far too large or far too small but they fit the theme of their outfit. Humans are silly sometimes, the things they worry about. Like matching. Honestly.
You head over to the bar and order a water. The bartender's name is Mei. Her name badge is white with red lettering and it looks like it's been through a fair number of uses. She has chin-length black hair and a fringe of bang that's just over her eyebrows. She tries for English, asking you if you'd prefer something stronger. She smiles flirtatiously. You reply in Thai that a water's really all you need. She looks a little crestfallen.
Everyone in a place like this wants something. You don't generally like places like this, but there's no point in saying you don't like a place if you haven't at least tried it out. But here, there's so much wanting. Even you, but you just really want a little conversation. Some of that human connection. No one here wants to talk.
You eventually meet a short woman named Jui. She has some sort of a crush on you, or so she tells you. She has a tiny voice and little pom-poms on her shirt, but she has lines around her eyes. You can't tell if she's thirteen or thirty.
You ask her if she wants to talk. She asks you to buy her a drink. You tell her you don't have any money. She loses interest, her crush not enough to sustain her. You're a little disappointed, but she must just be rather thirsty. Half an hour later she's on the arm of a fat American. She has a variety of taste in crushes, it appears. It's at this point that you realize what her "crush" meant, exactly.
Prostitution is not an uncommon in the universe. For any species with sexuality as a pleasurable recreation, one can find someone who is willing to sell it. You've avoided the more backwash planets rifled with that sort of business (despite how much Frobisher begged for otherwise), but it's still around.
There are a lot of women like that in this bar. All in too-tight matching outfits that are really just costumes of the hour. You feel instantly a little more awkward and reconsider leaving, coming back when you have someone to share this world with. Someone who will tell you when you're being propositioned by a prostitute unknowingly.
Mei slides a glass of some blue liquor in your direction.
She tells you it's the Thai equivalent of "on the house". It's probably unwise to drink it, but when have you ever been wise? You've gotten old, but you'll be immature forever, it seems. The liquor is cold and feels like freon going down. It settles in your empty stomach like a block of ice. It's strong, but you don't want to be drunk. Nice thing about Time Lord metabolism. You don't want to be drunk and you're not.
Everyone wants something here, she tells you.
You agree, because you were just thinking that an hour ago or so. You ask her what it is she wants.
She smiles. Not one of those coy smiles she wore earlier, or the little-girl smiles the women in the bar practice. It's not a lie, like a lot of the happiness in this part of town.
It's a real smile, showing off her two crooked front teeth that have a little red lipstick smeared on them. It's not the most perfect smile, but it's a real smile and you like real smiles so you decide it doesn't really matter what she wants, because whatever it is she wants involves talking to you.
Which is a little pathetic, actually.
You take her tiny hand and walk out of the bar. This incarnation of yours is thin, but it has nothing on Mei. Her hands are bones under a thin layer of warm skin and her black skirt hangs on her hips. She doesn't eat enough, and you wonder if that's because she can't afford to or if she doesn't want to. It's not an easy conversation to breach, so you don't.
You walk down the street and everything seems to glow in the red haze of the neon lights. You ask questions, because for all that Bangkok has been an adventure, it has no story for you, yet. Cities need people to make them real. Scotland is Jamie. San Francisco is Grace. New York is Tallulah.
Mei tells you she grew up in Laos. Mei tells you she used to be like those girls with the too-tight outfits but eventually she won a spot behind bar instead of parading in front of it. Mei tells you she has three children, all girls and they are all staying with her mother this weekend. Mei tells you that she's worried she won't make enough money to send her daughters to college. She asks you if you have any children.
It's far too hot in your suit jacket so you shrug it off. Mei loosens your tie. It feels strange. It feels like you're missing part of your uniform, but at the same time you feel less like an intergalactic tourist and more like a regular bloke.
Mei's flat sits over a Chinese take-out place. The hallways smell like grease and fried beef. There's no air conditioning so the wallpaper peels up at the seams like a wrapper curling up against hot steam.
The door to her flat makes a loud thuck as she unlocks it, and she lifts the knob before turning it over. You're nervous about entering. You don't usually go into your companions' homes, and if you do, it's not of your own free will. But Mei invites you in and you go. She shuts the door.
Mei steps towards you. You step backwards.
She steps towards you again. Your back finds wall.
Her tiny body presses against yours. The buckle of her skirt digs into your thigh. Her red-painted nails rake through your hair. She kisses you.
She tastes like Laos. Like metallic water and strange spices and coconut milk. Her lipstick is more chalky than waxy. She doesn't kiss how you normally kiss. Not enough lip, too much teeth, and her hands have a killer grip in your hair. Nothing about her is soft, but that doesn't make her kiss unattractive. You've kissed many women in your life, but not one of them has ever been quite like Mei. She's human, with all the human tendencies in a kiss, but she's still different. Still alien.
You can't figure out why she's kissing you. Maybe, to her, you're foreign too. But to her you're only some British bloke on holiday. She doesn't realize just how alien you are in Bangkok. In Earth. In the Milky Way.
Everyone in this city wants something.
You break the kiss and pull away from her towards the door. She doesn't understand, she says. She thought you were lonely. She's lonely too. Everyone in this city wants something, and she wants to feel like she has someone.
You invite her to come with you. It's silly, of course. You hardly know her at all.
She can't, she says. Three daughters, coming home on Monday.
But it wouldn't be real, you tell her. As if you know what it really feels like to not be lonely. Maybe you did, once. But it's been too long since you have.
Mei tells you that it doesn't have to be.
It feels like a fix and loneliness is the addiction. You turn the doorknob and it sticks. You pull out the sonic and give it a wave, fixing the mechanism within. A little familiar in this city of alien.
She doesn't understand why you're leaving. She just wanted to spend time with you.
You don't understand why she wants you to stay. You only wanted to talk.
But everyone wants something in this city.
And what you wanted got lost in translation.
Muse: The Doctor (Ten)
Fandom: Doctor Who