Preface

Udorn

The Klong

The Routine

The Monsoon Season

One More For the Ditch

A Disappointment

Samchai

The Morning After

Family

Family

 

In the evening, Samchai's mother would sit on a rattan mat on the floor of the verandah, dressed in a worn sarong and a shapeless, colorless jacket, and stare out at the activity in the alleyway. Although Jim guessed she must be in her late fifties, she seemed very old and very wrinkled, with sparse white hair and black teeth. Her mouth was colored a rich red by the betel nut she frequently chewed. Samchai treated her with great respect, though Jim suspected Samchai rarely deferred to her wishes, if, in fact, the old woman had any wishes. Jim couldn't be sure since she neither spoke or seemed to understand a word of English.

When she first came home, Jim was apprehensive about the old woman's reaction, but Samchai reassured him: "It is all right, Jim. I have explained to her about Jo Fay's accident. She understands what you did - that you saved his life. She is very grateful to you. Jo Fay is her only grandson."

But the old woman gave no hint of approval or disapproval. She simply was there in the evenings when Jim came home. While Samchai and Jim ate, the old lady disappeared into the room she shared with Jo Fay and closed the door. What she did there during dinner, Jim had no idea. As soon as Samchai began clearing the table the old woman reappeared, sat in the kitchen and talked with Samchai while Samchai did the dishes. Jim sat on the porch sipping Mekong and soda, watched the people move past in the street, and listened to Samchai and her mother. At first, though he couldn't understand what they were saying, he tried to pick up some clue to the old woman's state of mind from her tone, but he soon concluded that the pattern of Thai speech was so different from English that the attempt was futile.

Each night Samchai prepared for bed first. Jim followed, going into Samchai's room and leaving the old woman alone on the porch. Finally, one night nearly a week after the old lady's return, as soon as they were in bed Jim asked, "Samchai, what does your mother think about us? About you having a tealock? A falang?"

"You have been worrying about that very much, haven't you?"

"Yes," he said. "I can't tell what she's thinking."

"Jim, you must understand. My mother…" She raised herself on one elbow so that she could look at him. The dim light from the window hid her face in shadow and the end of her long, black hair fell against his arm. "My mother is very old. She is not… Her ways are the old ways. It is not just about this, about you, that we disagree. But there is no anger between us. She has seen very much. She has seen the changes that have come. She accepts what she must accept." Samchai touched his arm and moved her fingers gently over his skin. "Jim, you must not feel… unease in this house. My mother does not understand what has happened to Thailand. To all of us. But she accepts you, because she sees that you are a good man. Not only because of what you did for Jo Fay but because of the way you treat me. The way you act. And she understands that I… that I care very much for you."

Jim smiled at the old woman whenever he found an occasion to do so, and though she seemed incapable of breaking the set of her facial muscles in his presence, she often nodded in reply.

Near the end of the second week following the old woman's return Jim stopped by the base exchange at noon, searching for some little present to bring Samchai. His eye fell on a pair of small, gold earrings with jade pendants, suitable for Samchai's pierced ears. Though they cost more than he wanted to spend he bought them. He was almost out the door when, on a sudden impulse, he went back and bought a second pair, nearly identical to the first. He took them to the wrapping concession and had each pair gift-wrapped in its tiny box.

When dinner was over, the dishes washed, Samchai's mother in her place on the porch, and Samchai settled at the table with a drink, Jim presented her with the little package. Samchai took it with downcast eyes, cupped it between her hands, and waied to him. "Thank you, Jim," she said. She put the box on the table.

"Samchai… Aren't you going to open it?"

She was flustered, blushing. "Jim… I… If we were alone I would open it now because I know that is your custom. But Thai think it is very impolite to open a present as soon as it has been received. When the one who has given it is still there."

He smiled at her and stood up. "Maybe what I'm going to do isn't polite either, Samchai. If it is… If it's impolite I hope you and your mother will forgive me." He took the second package out of his pocket, crouched in front of Samchai's mother and held it out to her. He smiled. The old woman looked at him and nodded. Her hands fluttered in her lap. "Samchai," he said. "Please tell her I've brought her a present because I'm glad she's here in this house and because… Because I want to honor her… Because she's your mother."

Samchai came to his side. She settled on her heels in front of her mother, bowed, and placed her hands high on her forehead in a wai. She held the position and spoke softly. The old woman reached out tentatively and took the small box. She folded it into her deeply veined hands, repeated the motion Samchai had made when she'd accepted her present, and spoke to Jim in a nearly inaudible voice.

"She said thank you, Jim. She is very pleased that you, who are an important man, should honor her in this way."

"Please tell her that she has honored me by accepting."

Samchai spoke to her mother and the old woman waied again to Jim. Jim waied in return. She looked up at him and smiled, clutching the little box tightly. In the late afternoon light she seemed wonderfully fragile. Her skin shone with a golden sheen, and it occurred to Jim for the first time that she must once have been a remarkably beautiful young woman; perhaps as beautiful as Samchai herself. "Oh Jim," Samchai said. "I wish that I could… You have made her very happy. I wish sometimes that I were falang so that I could… kiss you." She turned her eyes away as she said it.

 

Nearly a month after the accident Jo Fay came home. He was on the porch of the bungalow one evening when Jim climbed the steps, and Samchai and her mother were making a great fuss over him. When Samchai heard Jim coming she ran smiling to the top of the steps. "Jim! Come! Jo Fay is home! You must come and see him!" Her heart reached out for him through her eyes and even though her mother was watching she took his hand and led him to Jo Fay. She spoke to the child and he bowed his head to Jim.

Jim crouched on the mat. Jo Fay was a beautiful but very battered little boy. One of his arms was still in a cast. He held it awkwardly in front of him. There was a great wound on the other arm where stitches recently had been removed. That would scar, badly. Jo Fay's face had healed well though it still showed some faint bruises. He held himself painfully. "Sawadee, nitnoy," Hello, little guy, Jim said. "You look better than you did the last time I saw you." Samchai laughed and spoke to Jo Fay. The child looked at Jim with huge, dark eyes, and in a small voice said something Jim couldn't understand.

"I told him what you said," Samchai laughed. "He says he wanted to be awake when you took him in the taxi. He speaks English. Jo Fay…" She knelt down, put her hand gently on his arm and talked to him. He looked at her and hesitated. "Poot, na," Say it, please, she said.

"I am happy to meet you, sir," Jo Fay said in a stumbling voice.

"Dee," Good, Samchai said to him. "Poot, ka." Say the rest of it.

"My name Jo Fay, sir."

"My name is Jim," Jim said. "I am happy to meet you, Jo Fay, sir."

Jo Fay collapsed in giggles. Samchai gathered him into her arms. "Oh Jim! I am so happy." Her eyes were huge and her face held a kind of softness Jim hadn't seen there before. "Tomorrow I will go to the wat. The temple. It is your day off. Will you go with me? I must say thank you to… To Buddha. To God."

"Yes," he said. "I'll go."

"But there is something we must do now." Samchai spoke softly to her mother and the old woman smiled and nodded. "She will wash Jo Fay and get him ready for bed. While she does that…" She went into the kitchen and came out with a small, elongated package and a book of matches. "This is a very happy house. We must… Oh, Jim. I cannot explain. I will show you. Will you come with me… please?" They slipped on their shoes and went down the steps in the dusk, out into the small yard behind the bungalow. In the center of the yard, on top of a short pole, was an elaborate spirit house, a foot wide and nearly eighteen inches long. It rose, with complicated embellishment, from red and blue walls to an ornate, gilded roof set on upswept rafters and a ridge-pole. Samchai opened the package and took out several joss sticks. She lit three of them, blowing carefully to make sure they were burning well, and set them in a holder built into the wall of the spirit house. She stepped back and waied, bowing deeply. She turned to Jim. "Please, Jim, will you… do this?" She handed him three of the joss sticks and the matches. He took them and did as Samchai had done. They stood close together for several minutes watching smoke from the sticks gather and drift aimlessly in the still, evening air. Beyond the fence, in the next yard, Jim could hear children running and shouting to each other.

When they got back to the verandah, Jo Fay and Samchai's mother had disappeared. Samchai served their dinner. After the first few days together they'd abandoned the table and chairs and had begun eating on a mat. Jim preferred the mat. On the mat he could watch the long, graceful curve of Samchai's body, her slender ankles, her hips outlined in the patterned sarong. Normally she ate with her hair tied back but tonight she left it free. It hung nearly to the mat and she tossed it away from her eyes with a shake of her head. He ate silently, watching her. She was flushed. Glowing. Several times during the meal she looked up, smiled, and looked away quickly. They'd nearly finished eating when he finally asked her, "What is it, Samchai?"

She gave him a startled look, then giggled. "What is what?" The giggle turned into a laugh. "Tomorrow… It is your day off."

"Yes," he said, mystified.

"It is my day off too. It is a celebration. In the morning my mother will take Jo Fay to our village. On the bus. They will be gone five days…" She lapsed into embarrassed silence.

"And we will go to the wat."

"Oh… Yes. We will go to the wat. And we will go and watch the parades and the games." She stopped again.

"What are you thinking, Samchai?"

"The moong." The mosquito net.

"What?"

"The moong. We will be alone and you will not have to go to work and I will not have to go to work." She lowered her head and her jet black hair fell forward, hiding her face in shadow. Suddenly Jim remembered a morning, weeks ago, when he'd lain naked on the sunny bed beneath the diaphanous mosquito net and had spied Samchai watching him secretly from the doorway. She looked up at him, pushing the hair away from her face with a long, delicate hand. "Jim. You are… Your face is red," She laughed. "You are shy." He grinned back at her. "Oh Jim. I am too happy. I think I will not be so happy again."

"Samchai…" He moved closer and covered her hands with his own.

Her smile faded, though the tenderness was still in her eyes. "I heard… I have friends who were sweethearts, of Americans. I did not believe…" She raised herself until she was kneeling and kissed him gently, fully, on the mouth. Her lips were firm. Cool. He slipped his hand between the blouse and sarong, spread his palm behind her hips, drew her to him, held her against him while they kissed. She opened her eyes, caught her breath, and kissed him again.

"Come," he said, standing up and taking her hands. "Come."

 

Aftermath

Massage

Sunday Morning

Housegirls

Sawadee (Hello)

The Island Paradise

The Drunk

The Christmas Season

Sawadee (Goodbye)

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