It started in Bangkok. The itching, I mean. I needed a haircut so I stepped into one of the salons in the Khao San Road backpacker district and followed the girl to the back of the shop to get my hair shampooed. When I walked back to the front of the shop two of the stylists were curled up on a sofa next to the entrance, one with her head in the lap of the other, who was slowly picking through the hair of her fellow worker. Oh my God! Lice, I thought. I can’t believe they allow their employees to do this in full view of the customers. My scalp starting itching that afternoon but I knew it was all in my head (pun intended).
Then I went south to the Phi Phi Islands. Everywhere I saw pairs of women grooming one another’s hair. They sat on front stoops, in the entryways to retail stores, even in chairs in restaurants, picking nits. The itching in my scalp grew worse. By the third day on Phi Phi Don, whenever I scratched, my fingernails came away from my scalp with small, hard white grains that resembled lice eggs. I told myself it was just embedded sand from the beach.