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November 2008
DEATH OF A BACKPACKER

Joseph Ridgwell
It was a typical hot tropical Malaysian day accompanied by a typical Malaysian island scene, dark volcanic sand, green South China Sea, and tall swaying palms.
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I was seated in the back of a red and yellow cart harnessed to a mangy looking chestnut pony. The driver was waiting for another boat to arrive from the mainland, to pick up more customers. I was bored and thirsty. The pony swished its tail lethargically from side to side. I thought about getting out and walking, but couldn’t be bothered. It was just too hot.

Eventually time passed and another boat arrived from the mainland. There was only one traveller aboard, a young woman, and the driver was visibly disappointed. The woman allowed two street kids to drag her enormous backpack out of the boat,

‘Can you take me to the nearest guesthouses?’ she shouted to the driver as if he was deaf.

The driver nodded vaguely. With great effort the two island youngsters tossed the woman’s enormous backpack onto the cart until it landed with a heavy thud. I thought the cart was going to topple over and grabbed the wooden rail for support, while the pony lifted one of its hoofs in silent protest,

‘Three ringget, three ringget,’ chirped the young lads.

The girl sat opposite me in the red and yellow cart and shot me a look of exasperation, ‘I didn’t know they expect to be paid!’ she moaned.

I said nothing.

‘Three ringget, three ringget,’ chirped the young lads.

Then the driver yelled, the pony snorted, and the cart began moving slowly along a sandy track. The girl threw the two boys a banana and one of them picked it up and looked at it with a confused face.

Then the girl dusted herself down and faced me, ‘Are you English?’ she asked.

‘Yup,’ I replied, with little enthusiasm.

The girl was dressed in the obligatory traveller’s uniform, combat trousers, hiking boots and dirty tee shirt advertising a foreign brewery. She was in her early twenties, greasy un-brushed hair, drenched in sweat, and looked a total mess. In her hands was an open guidebook.

‘Can you tell this chappie to drop me off at Lotus Guesthouse? It says here, in the Friendly Planet, that it’s clean and cheap and popular with budget travellers.’

Can I what? ‘Your guidebook might be out of date,’ I suggested.

‘Oh no, this is the latest edition?’

On this trip I’d found the behaviour of most backpackers vaguely disgusting, and on several occasions murderous thoughts had began to float through my mind like seagulls in the sky.

‘Okay,’ I said. Then I pretended to talk to the driver, ‘He’s never heard of the place,’ I said after the fake convo.

‘What do you mean?’

‘He doesn’t know where it is.’

For the remainder of the journey the girl kept up a constant stream of mind-numbing conversation. I tried to be polite and mumbled a few yeps and a-ha’s, but I wondered why she didn’t just shut up for a second. Eventually the driver pulled up outside a row of wooden beach huts painted in pretty pink and blue pastel colours. I pulled out my leather wallet and paid the fare. I told the girl,

‘Oh god thanks, how much was it?’

‘Don’t worry it wasn’t much.’

Then I negotiated prices with the owner of the huts, ‘We can have a single room each for 150 Ringget or share a twin for 200,’ I told the girl.

Despite the fact we were complete strangers the girl’s only concern was to stick rigidly to what was probably an impossibly tight budget, ‘I don’t mind sharing if you don’t,’ she said eagerly.

I was impressed by her dedication to thrift, ‘I’ll get us the twin.’

We entered the hut and began to unpack our gear. When that was done the girl looked at me in a vaguely suggestive way, or maybe it was my imagination,

‘Do you mind if I take a shower?’

‘Go ahead,’ I replied, somewhat self-consciously.

Shortly the sound of running water could be heard. I pulled out a battered copy of Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, but the sound of the shower was distracting. I kept thinking about the girl, inside, naked, and wondered if I might get to shag her. No, she wasn’t my type and afterwards I would regret it. Not that anything was going to happen anyway.

Then the voice rang out,

‘Do you have any shampoo?’

I couldn’t believe my ears. Did I have any shampoo? I walked up to the door of the shower,

‘Do you need shampoo?’

‘Yes,’ came the muffled reply.

Unbelievable, I thought.

‘Just please, push it through the door.’

Strangely, I did as I was told.

After showering, the girl stopped jabbering on about nothing and became almost playful. I figured, in her own little way, she was flirting with me, but it was all talk without walk. I knew if I made a move she would run a mile.

That evening we went to a nearby restaurant together. The girl had resumed her non-stop chatter. Her tedious convo revolved almost entirely around the UK, and university, and what career she had planned on her return. The way she told it, it all appeared very easy, even simplicity itself. Get the degree, get the prize job, and then get married, have children, and live happily ever after. I didn’t bother to tell her that life just doesn’t work like that. It was too much trouble.

After the meal we took a stroll along the beach, just two strangers far away from home, far away from the safety of family and friends. The girl wanted to buy some water before returning to the hut. She was reading her guidebook and speaking aloud,

‘It says here that the cheapest shops are in the village, apparently everything on the beachfront is double the price.’

It was in that exact moment that an uncontrollable urge to commit a terrible act of violence suddenly overwhelmed me. I contemplated several murderous options and reckoned at least one was viable. Once the decision was made the rest was easy, ‘Okay we’ll walk into the village,’ I said calmly.

We left the beach and turned onto a well-worn path that wound its way through a wild patch of jungle. There was no one else around. I saw a brightly coloured bird flitting through the trees in the moonlight. Then I stopped and turned around. The girl looked at me oddly, ‘Why have you stopped?’

Along with everything else, even the sound of her whining home-counties accent irritated the fuck out of me. I punched her hard and fast in the stomach. She collapsed to the ground with a groan. Then I throttled her. She grabbed my wrists with hands that were stronger than I thought possible. I punched her twice in the face and came back on her with renewed force. She tried to cry out, and although facing death, a strange look of excitement appeared in her eyes. Gradually her hands loosened their grip on my wrists and her body went limp.

I let go of her floppy neck and stood up. I was drenched in sweat, but felt strangely exhilarated. Her body was motionless. I checked for signs of life, there weren’t any, and the fact she had died so easily made me feel good. I dragged her body into the undergrowth and hid it under large green and yellow jungle leafs. Then I walked back to the beach huts, grabbed my backpack, and walked off into the hot, humid, murderous night. I caught the last ferry to the mainland, then the overnight bus to Thailand. I stayed in Thailand one night, before catching a flight to the Philippines.

When I awoke the following morning I found myself entangled in the mosquito net of a small wooden hut. On the bed opposite was a huge backpack, and through a window I could see and hear the sea. The sound of the sea was very relaxing.




© Joseph Ridgwell 2008
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