We left, disappointed, Songpol chuckling about Supachai’s diarrhea. Songpol asked
if he could take me to a famous temple in Nakohn Pathom. It was Monday, and I hadn’t the motivation to work. It was hot and sunny, and we padded unhurriedly around the edge of the temple grounds, reading the descriptions of the statues. In the prayer area, I followed him through the rituals, mimicking his timing and actions: the lighting of the joss sticks, the kneeling, the clasped hands and look of prayer, the gold foiling of the Buddhas. He had me shake the canister of wooden sticks for a reading of my fortune, and was tickled (as was I) when the paper said, “You may face trying times, but you will get whatever you want.”

The fortune was fleeting consolation. I had promised my parents I’d be home by the first of July, and suddenly, it seemed, July had arrived and there was no resolution in sight. Supachai was not going to settle; I was not going to confess; and no one was going to magically make this nightmare vanish. After being told by so many people that it was the best of bad options, I resigned myself to it, the last resort—I would leave.

The Endgame

I hired a lawyer the next day. She had a deep voice and a foul mouth, and her office, which she had worked out of for years, still had its wall hangings and legal certificates laying on the floor. While none of this instilled confidence, she had been recommended by a good Thai friend, and she was direct and decisive, which I appreciated. She outlined a plan: I’d sign over my power of attorney the day before I left the country so she could represent me in place of Ronnachai once I was gone. She’d file the necessary documents once I had arrived in Iowa, just to make sure suspicions were not raised before it was too late for anyone to stop me.

The drill for getting out of the country was this: Submit a request with travel dates, round-trip ticket, and explanation of purpose signed by the editor, to the judge no later than ten days before expected travel. Hope. Wait. Pick up immigration papers, submit them to the immigration officer at the airport. Fly off.

Singapore was the natural choice—close, efficient, English-speaking, and not a strong ally of Thailand. I was advised not to purchase the ticket from Singapore to the US until I got to Singapore, and to get a flight with as few connections as possible.

I submitted my travels plans eleven days prior, with a letter from Songpol detailing an assignment to report on Thai sex workers in Singapore. Though, he denies it now, I remember Pattnapong signing off on the request, and Ronnachai had to deliver it to the court. There still was no word a few days before my scheduled departure, but I couldn’t worry too much about that, as there was so much to do. I packed, shipped boxes, and worried about my baggage—it had to look like I was on a four-day work trip. I’d go to the office and gradually clear documents from my computer, take valuables from my desk, prepare to leave without it looking like I was leaving. I left my desk messy, like it always was, a tottering pile of papers, payslips, press manuals, notepads, complimentary mousepads, and calendars from UN agencies.

Finally, I got approval from the courts on Friday afternoon, July 9, seventeen hours before my flight. A relief, but not without one last complication. The embassy had called earlier in the day to inform me officials there had scheduled a meeting for me with Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I would have to reveal my intent to leave the country to go to school, but they would argue that I should be allowed to do so. A famous Russian pianist accused of raping a fourteen-year-old Thai boy earlier in the week had been bailed out and allowed to travel to Russia the day before, so the embassy folks thought I could use that as leverage.

Erika Fry is a former assistant editor at CJR.