ဆယ့်သုံး. Reporting from Rangoon Part 1

Duty Free

Dressed in faded denims, a drunk wandered past bottles wrapped in shining glittered paper for the connoisseurs of fine liquors.

His shirt was stained and punctured with wear. Jeans stretched, they hung loosely around his buttocks and were frayed at the ankles. Sweat gathered in black shavings where the plastic straps of his thongs rubbed his toes. The drunk shuffled on, around the aisles, he parted the hair away from his eyes then stared along the display for the right whisky.

Duty-free, as Mecca for alcoholics, chain smokers and parfumiers.

He turned the corner and saw the couple holding a bottle of Bailey’s.

They too were weather-beaten and tanned as wind-dried hide. They stared at each other for an instant, an embarrassed glance. Then the woman slid the bottle back on the shelf and turned away. There was no trace of Johnny Walker but the couple turned back along the aisle to check it out all the same: they found Bell’s, Black & White, and Ballantyne’s, they would prefer Smirnoff when they were home, but it’s Johnny Walker that they needed and there wasn’t any. They turned the corner and were confronted by the vodkas and they bumped into a group of English travellers who were engaging the shop assistant with pigeonised English and semaphore. The shop assistant smiled uncomprehendingly at the group, smoothed down her jacket with the palms of her hands and lowered her eyes.

“No, Johnny Walker is sold out and there are no Triple Fives either,” she explained.

“All this whisky and cigarettes and you don’t have any Johnny Walker or Triple Fives?”

“No, we are expecting…”

“But why..?”

The assistant looked up at them with a simple smile that conveyed nothing to the foreigners and under her breath I heard her blurt one word: “Burma!” she said. It was loud and clear.

Original © August 1988.

สิบสอง. Our Selfish War Part 2 ဆယ့်လေး. Reporting from Rangoon Part 2
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