Pattaya Daily News

04 February 2008 :: 18:02:26 pm 6943

Two Thai Women: A Drama, Act 1

A year after Salee had returned to her home in Nong Bua, Nipa unexpectedly appeared. Nipa‘s arrival caused quite a stir. It happened one June afternoon when an old run-down vehicle halted in front of some shabby shops where several ragged urchins and mangy dogs were scavenging. A dusty gust of wind followed the little bus and stirred some men from drowsiness. They shifted and wiped weariness from their eyes. Nipa turned to one of these lethargic men. "This is Baan Nong Bua, isn‘t it?" she wanted the confirmation.
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Her audience remained silent at the sight of this opulent-looking woman in trousers. Her city clothes, Central Plain Thai accent, rouge, painted nails, jewels, pouting red lips and paunch made her look weird, garish and menacing. An old man nearest to the madam stirred. He understood her but did not wish to try to speak for shame of his Lao tongue. Thus, he merely nodded, coughed and spat.
“Do you know Salee, Salee Boonpan, then? She used to work for me,” Madame said grandly.

Surmising that the lady must be influential, representing perhaps the power of the Masters, the gathering lapsed into the submissiveness that peasants normally adopted when confronted by officialdom or well-dressed city people.
“Children, take the lady to Sa’s hut,” another old man ordered the curious youngsters.
One daring, half-naked child took hold of Nipa’s tote bag and began to lead. Among the throng of jabbering boys, our Pattaya grand dame followed with the air and grace of the high born as dogs yelped and chickens squawked out of their way.

When Salee returned from watering her herd of buffaloes, she betrayed no obvious pleasure at seeing Nipa, already quite at home amongst her admirers, young and old, from various neighbouring huts.
Salee’s mother sat humbly on the wooden floor under the presence of one so extraordinary, glittering and gracious, exuding wealth and civilization as opposed to the subsitent, poorly clad dwellers of a forgotten Village of the Lotus Swamp.

“Hello, Sa! Here, I am!”
Nipa uttered joyously.
Salee did not return the greeting. She pulled hard at the buffaloes, forcing them into the pen under the hut.
The beast startled by this unusual congregation, refused to budge. So Salee hit one closest to her with a bamboo twig. Only then did she express an anger and this produced results. Finally she penned the animals and wiped the perspiration from her forehead.

Salee had not expected Nipa to turn up in the village, nor has she ever considered how she would cope with such a situation.

Having observed Salee’s features and her healthy nature colouring, Nipa could see that the cycle had turned the form protege back to peasantry, that Salee had recovered. She could pass for twenty, just a little robust and rustic for the present.

“Dearest Sa, you must have been working hard in the sun and the wind!” Nipa exclaimed.

Turning to her attentive audience, she bewailed. “I could never understand why Sal left me. The work was nothing, and we lived well. Many young girls would have envied her if they had known.”
Several wizened women simultaneously remarked on Sale lost city life. What a tragedy to fall back to the drudgery of village life.

“I hope she’ll return with me to be happy again in Kroongtep the Heavenly City of Angels,” cooed Nipa while Salee came up to the hut and sat nearby. Patting her long lost niece on the shoulder, procuress continued: “You good people may not know that I’ve adopted Sa.”
Salee’s trembling mother struggled within herself to voice words of gratitude for such great kindness for it was so rare that a peasant girl would have the chance. The crone shook with an effort to express an appreciation that would be acceptable to the lady from the Divine City.
Meanwhile, Nipa rambled on: “Did Sal ever tell you all about how we lived in Bangkok? Never? Not a word about our big house in Sukhumvit, the most posh area of Bangkok or about our villa the sea?”

 

Everyone seemed to be murmuring. Salee shifted painful inside her loose cotton blouse. She forced a smile, made an excuse and went into the cooking part of the hut. There she sat on the floor and blew onto the embers, trying to revive the fire in the earth stove. A flame flickered whilst the smoke and soot brought tears her eyes. After dinner, weariness from the day’s work lulled her. The darkness was soothing and consoling, yet Salee still fretted. She tried not to disturb Nipa who was sharing the same corner. She was troubled as she contemplated the pattern of moonbeams coming through the broken bamboo partition. Only yesterday, with the natural turn of seasons, life at peace had seemed eternal. But now her sordid past had arisen before her eyes, carrying her away on a sea of memories -names, faces, words and deeds committed in desperation and duress, in daylight and darkness alike. To Salee, it did not matter providing her mother and the inhabitants of the Lotus Swamp Village knew nothing of her past life in the Heavenly City of Angels and in Pattaya. The end result, the money orders sent, had meant survival for several of her people under this thatched roof.

No, I don’t wish to return to the gutter,
Salee assured herself. And she said as much to her former colleague the next day.
She tried to explain a little: “My mother, as you can see, is now old and ailing.
My uncles and aunts are poor and hopeless by themselves. I’d like to be married to a man who could help me with the work in the field.” Salee laughed and arched her graceful neck. The idea of trying to catch a husband locally made her girlish.
“Oh well,” Nipa sighed. “But having come all this way, I may as well try to take one or two girls back with me. Won’t you help me convince some pretty faces that there are good jobs and a home waiting for them in the magical Kroongtep?””You can try,” Salee did not succeed in attempting to hide her agitation.

Somehow the remark seemed a challenge to the old professional.

Early in the morning, Nipa set off from hut to hut. By mid-day her catch amounted to one willing tiro (an orphan) and one reluctant beauty. The reluctance was simply because the rice planting would soon begin. All the help the family could have would be much needed. But Nipa skilfully brushed aside this obstacle; she had only to paint a glowing image of the Heavenly City, gentle living and money.

The mere mention of magical Kroongtep had a fantastic effect. It had always been the home of affluence, attracting adventurers and , landless peasants alike, to seek fortunes and employment their share of the nation’s wealth within its limited radius.

The two pretty girls were soon to leave for the Celestial.The dwellers of Nong Bua believed it was indeed their good luck merits accumulated from past lives. Their reward was the chance Nipa offered to take them away from the quagmire of penurious peasant life.

To send the two lucky girls off in style, the village elders organized a soo-kwan (soul binding) rite. Several old men and worn sat solemnly, mumbling words of blessing. Witnessing the ceremony, Salee became more wretched. The knowledge of the life that awaits the two innocent ones in Pattaya made her wince. Despair drove out of the village to brood under a banyan tree beside a sluice. Above her, darkening skies rumbled with thunder. Squatting among tree’s gnarled roots, she snapped a fallen dead branch and flick pieces at a dragonfly hovering over the murky water. “Would I dare?” she murmured.

A crow circled and then arched its wings to land, screech. Gar! Gar! Gar!” the sound that means in Lao: “Courage! Courage Courage!” Salee froze, statuesque, as she tried to decide.

At water’s edge, small mud crabs rushed to and fro. Frogs watched tensely from their hiding places. The creatures were quite relieved when she rose and eventually walked away. Courage! Courage! Crow sounded encouragingly, observing her departure.

Back in the hut, Salee told Aunt Ni that another beauty fro nearby village wished to be taken along. Greed flashed across Ni face. “I think you should see the girl before you agree to accept Salee suggested. “You mightn’t want her since she is approaching twenty. But she’s astonishingly beautiful. Yes, beautiful and petite she is too. If we leave now, we could be back before it rains.”

“Thanks for helping your old chum, darling,” Nipa sound pleased.

Many witnesses saw the two women leave the village. Late that night the inhabitants of the Lotus Swamp were thrown into great excitement by the news that bandits had killed the city worn Death, particularly a gruesome one, made fertile ground for rumours and superstition. Men and women gathered during the follow’ days to talk of the robbery and murder. Some said that Salee ranwildly into Nong Bua, bleeding from wounds. They said the body the city woman was found in a thicket, stripped of jewellery. She had been stabbed to death.



Once again the village elders organized a soo-kwan rite for Salee to bring back to Salee’s flesh and blood her soul that might have taken flight due to the frightening experience. In the headman’s house, sages, women and children, young men and girls all gathered on the floor. Sitting among them, Salee seemed heavy with humility. The doddery soothsayer cleared his throat to signal that the ritual would begin. His voice rose gently. Crouching towards the chanting senior man, Salee trembled as several people bound her wrists with the blessed cotton thread. A feast followed, specially prepared for the rite and to feed the policemen from town sent to investigate the case. They sat apart from the villagers, enjoying their meal and whisky with the headman and his wife attending them.

When the policemen had been fed, Salee was summoned for questioning. She meekly crawled on all fours to crouch humbly near to the most senior officer, bending her head as if she had to talk to the wooden floor.

Taking control of herself, Salee began: “Nipa and I came upon three men in the woods. They were strangers and, to judge from their accents, they must have come from another province. They wore black shorts and black cotton shirts. Two carried a small chest balanced on a bamboo pole. The other had a knife. The one that was holding a knife asked us where we were heading, and I told him. The strangers paid special attention to Nipa and her obvious wealth. You know she wore a lot of jewels. The travellers followed us. I did not see anything suspicious about them. One often comes across strangers passing our part of the country. But when the man with the knife overtook us and blocked our way, it was plain that he intended to rob us.”

“Slowly, slowly,”
said the senior policeman. Salee paused so that he could catch up with her statement. While she waited, hardly anyone stirred. Then the officer said she could continue.
“The other men tried to prevent us from running away, forcing us to leave the track and then marching us into the depths of the woods.”
“Would you recognize these men, if you saw them again?” The policeman burped rather loudly.

 

Yes. I had a good look at all of them while they waited for Nipa to take off her jewels. But then she decided to fight though we did not have much money on us and her jewels were fakes. She was a big woman and very strong, so it took all of them to cope with her. While the scuffle was on I ran as fast as I could. One of them followed me but there was the sound of buffalo bells somewhere I cried for help at the top of my voice. The herd of buffaloes scatter at my cries and sudden appearance, but there were no herdsmen about. My pursuer did not know that that was the last herd let loose in the woods to be rounded up for ploughing in a week’s time. He was frightened off. I kept on running.” Then the headman directed another villager to make a statement. Feeling important, the appointed man sat up straight, expanding his chest: “Sir, Salee came running and shouting into the village. Her clothes were torn and she was bleeding. It took us a long time to make any sense out of her. The headman was away, and I confess that we were afraid to go into the woods at night. We waited till the morning to look for the Bangkok woman. We found her stabbed death.”

The headman then gave an account of how they had disposed of the body. His account was brief, for the headman’s wife servants had by now brought another generous helping of Esan sausages, yum-nue (spicy beef salad) and a new supply of whiskey.
The policemen formed a new circle to eat and drink.
Weeks passed. Some people still felt sorry for the two girls who, having lost their chance, had to content themselves with villa life now that Madame Nipa was dead. They would not be able to live it down that they had missed that once in a lifetime opportunity set foot in the Heavenly City.Then the monsoon rain came pouring down, flooding the rice fields. Planting rice, knee-deep in the muddy water under the glare of the sun, Salee stretched up to ease her aching back, breathing deeply the fresh clean air. A soft breeze revived her with the scent rice seedlings that blended well with the smell of the newly turn soil. Her mind spelt: L-O-V-E, and then its eye saw Horst smiling her, coming towards her. Then she felt a warm wind enveloping her as his image faded away.


Salee had no way of knowing that Horst had perished in and crash some 35 minutes after the aircraft had taken off from Bangkok International Airport. “My love” came out of her lips without her having to make an effort to form and utter them.

The swaying bamboo grove at the fringe of her fields whispered the promise of a good season. Salee attempted a smile, but then she caught her reflection in the water.

If Nipa had not been dead, she would have returned to Nong bua from time to time to lure unsuspecting girls into a sunless prison where days became chains, and cruelty came from hands, feet and fierce, soulless eyes that threatened: “Try to escape and we’ll kill you, they will bring you back to us if you go to them for help. They work for us!”

Salee could hear Nipa’ s dying scream; it shattered the placidity of her domain. A crow glided and perched on the grove, reminding her with: Courage! Courage!

“Gar! Gar!” she answered back hoarsely.

A handsome young man, who was planting rice not far away, looked over. Aware of his gaze, she smiled at him. Only then his boyish face bloomed into a refreshing, innocent smile………

Story by:  Pira Sudham 105 Moo 13 Napo Village,
Burirum 31230 THAllLAND

Reporter : Methawee   Photo : Internet   Category : Stories

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