When the police showed up in the village looking for her it was just one more thing on top of everything else. It had been a hellish few days and Narm was feeling numb and confused by it all.
The troubles had all started when she went to Chiang Mai. It had never occurred to her that leaving Boon in charge of little Tik would be a problem. Sure he was a horny bastard like all the young guys chasing after the girls in the village and with some success too apparently. He was good-looking and sometimes his uncle let him borrow his motorbike. He used ya-ba, but all the boys did and he had probably been to the ban-phooying in Chiang Dao. More than once probably but so what? They all did that too.
She told Tik she was going to work at the butterfly farm for a few days. It wasn’t true but there was no point in bothering her with the truth. Tik was only seven and still innocent of the ways of the world, just a cute little girl and Narm loved her as if she was her mother and not her aunt. “Be good, little one,” she said as she was getting ready to leave, “I won’t be gone long and Boon will take care of you. Practice your reading and writing, and respect your teachers at school. Who knows? Perhaps one day you will be a teacher yourself.”
And now this. Her niece brutally raped by her own brother. Raped and bleeding and she had screamed at Boon, called him every name she could think of and he had just shrugged and walked away and she had wanted to scream more, to hear her words go out through the thin wooden walls, down through the split cane floor up through the grass roof, she wanted him to show some feeling, some sign that he knew what he had done, but he was gone, back to his friends and it was useless anyway. She couldn’t even cry. What a mess. And nobody to turn to for advice. Both her parents dead, her sister Wandee half alive and there was no wisdom in the village anymore. Just ya-ba and TV and domestic violence. She looks at the picture of her mother on the wall. A picture taken the year before she died worn-out and wizened by life. Poor mother, wearing her Mon hat and her Karen blouse for the photograph, not one thing or another and certainly not Thai. She had never even had a birth certificate in spite of giving birth to 6 children herself, two of them dead, one in Fang prison, another one headed that way and the two girls Narm and Wandee trying to keep things going.
What to do? There was nobody to help. Her friends in the village would probably tell her to let it pass. These things happened. It was part of life. The police? Hah. She even thought of asking the falang but what good would that do? Why would he even believe her story? He was the reason she had left Tik alone with her brother and gone to Chiang Mai in the first place.
She had walked to the road, taken the bus to Chiang Mai and gone to the hotel where he was staying. The falang had seen her picture on the Internet…she’d almost forgotten it herself…Bee had asked her for a photo and she hadn’t expected anything to come of it until a letter came from America. He would be visiting Northern Thailand soon and he would like to meet her and could she come to the Mae Ping Hotel room number 106? He had sent a photo with the letter and he looked OK, a smiling falang in his forties perhaps but it was hard to tell. They didn’t age the way Thai people did.
At the hotel they made her leave her ID at the counter. Luckily she had one to leave. Well she’d been surprised when he opened the door because he was quite a bit older than he looked in the photo.
“I name Narm,” she’d said, “water.”
“Hello Narm. I’m Ralph.”said the big falang, “there’s water in the fridge. Coke too if you want.”
Lao? What kind of name was that? She’d sat on the bed and he’d put his arm round her and started stroking her hair which was pretty much what Bee had said would happen. That’s basically all they’re after Bee had said and Narm could have left at that point she supposed but she let him fuck her. It wasn’t too bad. He was a big man but his ham wasn’t very big and it was all over quickly. Then afterwards, he was quiet, as if he had something on his mind. There wasn’t much they could say anyway. He smoked a cigarette and she felt as if she wasn’t there anymore. She took a shower (the shampoo must have cost a fortune) and wondered what would happen next. He was a man after all. Not a Thai man but men were very uncomplicated really. Narm was 18 and she thought she knew what men needed. And there was no need to communicate with words if people tried to understand each other’s feelings.
She came out of the bathroom wrapped in a big fluffy towel and he asked is she was angry. He made eating gestures. No, not angry, hungry. Was she hungry? Ah! This was a chance to use an expression she’d learned from Bee’s crash course in English. She said ‘Up to you’. He had liked that. So they’d gone to a fancy restaurant where there was no kweetio and the tom kha gai cost 200 baht. He had asked her if she could stay with him for a few days and show him around Chiang Mai. He needed a guide he said and would be happy to pay her. Would 5000 baht a day be OK? She had tried to explain that she probably didn’t know Chiang Mai much better than he did but he didn’t seem to mind.
She had found a songthao to take them up the mountain to Prathat Doi Suthep. They had admired the view over the city and the Ping River valley and looked at the heads of the carved serpents with their bodies leading up the long flight of steps to the temple. “Up there?” Lao had said, “you expect me to climb all those steps? May be you could carry me Narm?” It was a joke of course.
The temple was lovely. They had taken their shoes off and entered a large open pillared space, decorated with paintings and colorful painted beams and murals. It all smelt beautiful too and the main seated Buddha was covered in gold leaf. All around the main Buddha were many smaller ones surrounded by flowers and big yellow candles.
It had been awkward for Lao to sit like a Thai. He had tried but it was somewhere between kneeling and sitting.
“It’s called the Tesco lotus position.” he said. Another joke? If it was she hadn’t got it but she’d laughed anyway and shown him how to hold the thoop…joss sticks …so that most of the smoke went heavenwards and not up his nose and then she’d said a little prayer.
A young monk tied the strings around their wrist (2 pieces in Lao’s case because one hadn’t been quite long enough). The monk had smiled and said something about tua yai told them how the site for the Temple had been chosen. Six hundred years ago Buddha relics were put on the back of an elephant, and at the spot where the elephant stopped the Temple was to be built! The elephant stopped at the spot where the Temple is now, which is not the top of the mountain, but roughly halfway! When she showed him how to give the monk some money she felt his mood change again but only for a moment and they went back down the 300 steps to the car park where they ate a fairly good kweetio moo at a food-stall and waited for the songthao back to Chiang Mai.
Later in the hotel he’d asked her what she’d prayed for. She’d been surprised by the question…“For you Lao. I play for you be happy”
The next day they went to the zoo and she thought how Tik would have loved to see the monkeys but Tik was back in the village, walking home from school with her friends probably. Just one happy little girl in a group of Thai village children in motley school uniforms that had been sewn together by their mothers, some running, some dawdling along the track through the bamboo jungle.
Narm knew the track well. She had walked it many times herself in her blue skirt and white blouse or her green guide uniform. Past the stumps of giant trees now overgrown with clumps of bamboo and small cassava clearings, across the plank bridge over the stream and along the edges of the rice fields. She had never seen any monkeys close to the village and birds stayed well away from the boys and their slingshots.
Nobody in the village was sure where they’d come from. If you asked the older people they said Burma or China. If they’d been at the lao khao they said Tibet or Mongolia…very far away places lost in a vaguely remembered legend. Years ago some people had been lucky. They had found some low land by a small river…the river could be dammed to make fish traps. There had been enough flat land for a few rice fields and rough grazing for a couple of buffalos. At first they had been able to do some logging around the village but useable trees had soon run out. There were bigger trees some distance away, even some teak, but without elephants they had to be left. Later a Hmong tribe got the teak that was left to turn into furniture for tourist shops in Chiang Mai.
Narm’s people were Karen mostly but there had been a lot of intermarriage over the years, families had merged, houses and land had changed hands. They even had some papers filed with the land registry office and a lawyer had said the titles were fairly solid. They weren’t being pushed around like the new refugees or stuck on a cold, misty, eroded mountaintop like Akha.
So Narm had shown Lao around Chiang Mai. It had been a pleasant day and to her surprise she had found herself enjoying it. He wanted to hold hands in public and that bothered her but she let him anyway…other people could think what they want. A little embarrassment was a small price to pay. Lao seemed relaxed happy and she thought his smile was genuine for the first time since they’d met.
On the third night, his last night in Chiang Mai, he hadn’t seemed particularly interested in sex. He had just wanted to hold her tenderly in his big white arms and she had felt a security she had never known before. They had lain together like two ordinary people, like friends, all their differences forgotten, and he had said he wanted a wai. Wanted a wai? What was he talking about? He showed her a ring on his finger, rubbed it then said wai again? Why what? He was married already was that it? She said OK and that seemed to go across well. He kissed her forehead and she squeezed his pompui. In the morning she had gone with him to the airport and he had given her fifty thousand baht. Fifty thousand! More than enough for new asbestos roof and he had told her to wait for him. In a few months he would come back and help her get a passport. She had taken the first minibus she could find to Chiang Dao and then found a boy to take her to the village on his motorbike where she heard somebody sobbing and found Tik hiding under the house.
Well first things first. Tik would need a doctor, which meant another trip out of the village. She had explained that they were going to Fang, to the market, it would be fun. No school today for you. She wanted to buy Tik some new clothes and perhaps a toy. Perhaps one of those little games where you press buttons? Before leaving she decided to check her purse. The money was gone.
* * *
So she had waited in the bushes by the stream. The hammer heavy in her hand. The mosquitoes hadn’t bothered her. Nothing could penetrate her anger. Soon her drunken brother would come staggering across the bridge.
She couldn’t tell how much time passed. Perhaps several hours. The sound of the stream rippling over rocks and past the fish traps was soothing. She loved the water. She had spent many happy hours there as a child, making toy boats, splashing around and just watching phee sua…butterflies…flit among the bamboo stems. How could life change so much, so quickly? How could it go from happiness to this…waiting in the dark to kill her own brother…in such a short time? But perhaps she was being too hasty. It was not good to make decisions when your heart was boiling over. Perhaps there was a better way…
* * *
She was sweeping the yard when the police arrived. Three of them in a truck. She had a brother named Boon? Yes? Well not anymore. He died instantly when his motorbike ran into the back of a truck on the road to Fang.
Motorbike? She hadn’t known he had one. Had he borrowed it?
Oh it was his bike all right the ugly policeman said, pretty new one too, he just bought it from someone in the village.
Narm looked at the ground and said nothing. Pak phit. It was the only way to deal with them. Boon was dead then. But why was the policeman acting so hostile? Accidents were common on that road but they seemed more interested in the bike than her dead brother.
Your name is Narm? The other policeman asked. He seemed kinder than the ugly one. Sorry about your brother Narm. Did you have any trouble with him recently? Any arguments?
No nothing really. Well look Narm we are going back to Chiang Dao now. If there’s anything you think we should know you come and tell us OK? She nodded. Then the ugly one took something out of his pocket and showed it to her. You know what that is? It looked like a piece of wire. That’s brake cable Narm. See here? It’s been partially cut.
And that was it. There was nothing more to say. They hitched their tight brown pants up and got back into the truck. Narm watched them drive away.