The Isaan Girl, The Young Yank, Rain And Ping Pong Balls
Many things influence our path through life. There is a six year old Isaan girl. She is happy, inquisitive, bright, surrounded by her family and community. She doesn’t know her family is poor, doesn’t know she lives in a third world country. She is loved, she plays, she learns. She is a good girl, maybe an old soul.
When it rains and she splashes about in the puddles, laughing and running, she doesn’t understand that because the rain doesn’t stop and flooding ruins the crops, it could change her life. When she plays in the dirt and the dust, she doesn’t notice that it hasn’t rained in months; she doesn’t understand that if it doesn’t rain, it could change her life.
In the next ten to twelve years, this Isaan girl becomes a young woman, goes to school, she helps her parents, and she learns about life in her world and has hopes, plans and dreams for her future. She is a good girl with a kind heart for whom life has its own plans.
Many things influence our path through life. There is a six year old Yank boy. He is happy, inquisitive, bright, surrounded by his family and community. He watches “Leave it to Beaver”, “Our Gang”, “Bonanza” and “Combat” on television. He is loved, he plays, he learns. He is a good boy, a bit mischievous and maybe an old soul.
When it rains and he splashes about in the puddles, laughing and running, he has no worries. He doesn’t understand that dominoes, Dien Bien Phu and ping pong balls could change his life. When he plays in the dirt and the dust, he doesn’t notice that his father has given no thought to him receiving a college education or that it could change his life.
In the next ten to twelve years, this Yank boy becomes a young man, goes to school, buys a car, pursues his first piece of ass and learns about life in his world and has hopes, plans and dreams for his future. He is a good boy with a kind heart for whom life has its own plans.
Before the Yank boy has a clue who Ho Chi Minh is or of the ping pong balls in his immediate future, the Isaan girl has married a local boy and is sure they can grow enough rice to live and raise a family. It doesn’t rain, her father’s buffalo is sick and rumors of many rich American soldiers coming to Thailand are passing around the village.
The young Yank leans against his nineteen fifty-eight Chevy and tells his best friend about his first time. They also talk about their plans to buy an old sailboat, fix it up and maybe sail around the world before coming back to work at the same plant their fathers work at.
The Isaan girl’s sister had left many months ago to find work in Bangkok. She is home to visit and has brought presents for everyone. She is very beautiful and so happy. Her clothes are new and she wears a necklace, bracelet and ring made of real gold. All the neighbors are at the house drinking the beer and whiskey she bought and gathering around the buffalo she surprised her father with. Her sister is like a God to her.
It was only five months ago; the young Yank with his buddy, crowded around the TV with his oldest brother and his best friend. They were both already working at the plant and had more money than they knew what to do with. His brother gave them both a beer, but told them to shut up. The young Yank didn’t understand it. An old man in a suit, a big crowd, flash bulbs going off and there was a clear barrel full of ping pong balls…each had a number. What the hell are we watching? His brother’s friend started to cry and ran from the house. They called it a lottery. His brother’s birthday was number twenty-four; his best friend’s birthday was number thirty-seven.
The young Yank’s brother was home on leave. All the neighbors were over drinking beer and grilling steaks, they gathered around him, shaking his hand, admiring his uniform. His brother is like a God to him.
The Isaan girl is a mother now. Her husband had been gone for six months. She hasn’t seen her sister for almost a year, but she sends letters sometimes to her mother, always with money. Before the baby, many of the young men of the village visited, even when her husband was in town. Now, no one comes to visit and there will be no rice. She wanted her father to help her, but he paid little attention to his own crop, preferring to drink whiskey.
The young Isaan girl leaves her daughter with her mother and goes to Bangkok to find her sister.
The young Yank’s oldest brother was already dead before it was time for his birthday lottery. He did not wait. One month after his broken family buried his brother; he was on Camp Pendleton screaming “Kill a Gook for God!” “Kill a Commie for Christ!” along with the rest of his platoon. His drill instructor promised to make him a killing machine. He had never thought about killing anyone…He thought about it all the time now. His father watched and saw, but never told anyone that his young son’s birthday ping pong ball was number three hundred fifty-six.
The Isaan girl found her sister. She works in a very large bar. Her sister hugged her and more pretty girls than she had ever seen in one place crowded around her smiling and laughing, welcoming her and telling her how pretty she was. The bar was also crowded with strange farang soldiers who called out things to her. The music was loud and strange, there were colorful lights that made things glow and it seemed people moved in slow motion. Her head was spinning. She thought maybe she was afraid, but was not sure. She did not know what to think.
She woke up on the floor in a big room, her sister stroking her hair. Other girls were sleeping on the floor and as the sun started to rise, many girls came into the room laughing and giggling. The Isaan girl listened, realizing what they did for money. She was both surprised and amazed as the girls showed off gold jewelry, fancy clothes, gifts and more money than she had ever seen. All from the strange farang soldiers.
The Isaan girl met all of her sister’s friends and was introduced to the Mamasan who said she could stay in the bar with her sister. She sat in the corner.
Well, this is fucked, the Yank thought to himself. He was soaking wet, his feet burned, his crotch itched, he didn’t have any idea where they were and it stunk. The whole fucking world stunk. He looked around at the rest of his squad; they looked like shit. He hunkered down against a tree.
Today the Isaan girl is beautiful. Her sister and her friends give her stunning, sexy clothes to wear. Her first day, the Mamasan had her doing lots of little jobs and errands around the bar. Today she sits alone at a table just behind the bar with a view of everything. The Mamasan and all the girls smile and grin at her when they walked by. It is early and not as crowded as yesterday. Her sister sits with a group of farang soldiers, they are all laughing. She watches the farangs dance. She has never seen anyone move like that, it mesmerized her. They are all so tall and appear to be very strong. Many are very dark, their skin darker than hers, some actually black. She thinks they are beautiful.
Her sister leads her over to her table and all the farangs jump up holding her hand for a moment, smiling and all talking at once. The pretty Isaan girl is a little scared, a little curious, but finds it all a little funny as she has no idea what they are saying to her. One of the farangs, who has the strangest eyes she has ever seen, blue like the sky, grabs her hand pulling her to the dance floor. She watches the other girls to see how to move, then stares at the farang as he spins them both in circles, this way and that as though he were crazy.
The Yank walks slow, probably way too slow. His guys will be on him if he doesn’t pick up the pace. This is his first time on point. He doesn’t like it and he is more than a little frightened. He has heard a thousand stories about the evil shit Charlie puts out here. How the fuck, are you supposed to see it? It is hot and humid, sweat runs off of him as fast as he can wipe it from his face.
The Yank hates spiders. They give him the creeps. Back in the world, if he walked into a room and there was a spider; he felt it, like it was looking at him. He would scan the room and invariably spot a spider which he dispatched with a rolled up newspaper and a feeling of revulsion. The Yank steps around some huge leafy plants and the spider feeling comes over him making him shiver. He looks up right at him; a Gook in a tree at the top of the rise. The Yank points his weapon and fires a burst without even aiming. He thinks the Gook has seen him, is watching him. The rounds run up his chest into his face which seems to explode.
All has gone quiet and the Yank doesn’t move, can’t move. One of his buddies runs up, grabs him and throws him into the bank just as everything erupts in ear-splitting explosions and smoke. The other squads off to the left and right of the Yank had gotten ahead of him and he had been about to walk into Charlie’s kill zone. They are blasting the area into oblivion. The Yank has been holding his breath and now can hardly catch it. His buddy keeps leaning forward to see what is going on and saying “Holy Fuck” over and over. The Yank remembers a night live fire exercise during ITR that was intended to show the fire power of a rifle squad. One rifleman started firing, the red tracers flashing every couple of seconds, and then the next started firing until the entire squad was firing flat out. It was awesome; he had wondered how anyone could withstand an onslaught like that and My God, this is worse. The entire jungle ahead of them is being shredded; the Yank can’t tell if Charlie is firing back, it goes on and on.
When the blue-eyed farang pulls the pretty Isaan girl back to the table, there are five drinks in front of her. She knows she is supposed to get the farangs to buy her drinks and knows she will get some money for each one. The Mamasan comes by the table with a huge smile and her sister is beaming at her as she sits on one of the farang's lap, stroking his chest and rubbing her face into his neck.
She watches intently as the blue-eyed farang and her sister talk back and forth, laughing and looking at her. The pretty Isaan girl shivers slightly when her sister whispers in her ear what she knew she was going to hear. Her sister takes her hand leading her to the stairs and the blue-eyed farang follows. As they climb the stairs, she can feel everyone’s eyes follow her. Her sister stops in front of a door, smiles, squeezes her hand and leaves her to go back to the bar.
The Isaan girl and her farang go into the room. It is a small room with no window, not much light and the only furniture is a small bed, a big chair, a chest of drawers with towels and a pitcher of water on it. She looks up at the tall farang, he towers over her. She is glad when he sits in the big chair, he has brought a beer and has lighted a cigarette, smiling and staring at her. Her sister told her to remove her clothes and then to do what the farang wanted. She slowly gets undressed, watching him watch her, while he smokes and drinks his beer. He says a few things, but remembering that she does not understand a thing he says, he becomes quiet. He reaches for her hand and turns her around in circles to look at her. He then undoes his belt, pulls his trousers and shorts to his ankles and sits back in the chair. The Isaan girl just stares. He is very large and very hairy. He takes her hands pulling her forward and down until she is kneeling in front of him. She understands what he wants; she has done the same for her husband. She touches him lightly with her hands and he jumps a little. She starts to lick him with her tongue and he groans. He smells very bad, even worse than the beer and cigarette smell, but she continues, putting him into her mouth as far as she can, over and over again. The farang is making strange animal-like sounds, then abruptly pulls her head from his lap, looks into her eyes, takes her hands and stands, raising her up. He turns her around, bends her over the chair and enters her from behind. She stiffens and almost cries out from the pain. Her fingers are white as she grips the arms of the chair and her mind goes blank as he thrusts into her. Then he shudders, lets out a guttural cry and stops. He grips her hips, but does not move and the Isaan girl does not move. It has only been a few moments and now the pain has stopped as well.
The blue eyed farang draws himself from her and pulls up his shorts and trousers. The Isaan girl sits in the chair watching him get dressed. He smiles and laughs, saying something, and then he puts several bills on the arm of the chair, pats her head as though she were a dog and leaves the room.
The Isaan girl gets up, wets a towel to clean herself and gets dressed before she goes over and picks up the money. It is a lot of money. It only took a few minutes. She can do this.
Back at camp, the Yank is treated like a hero. The guys are all gathered around, talking fast about what had happened. The Yank listens intently as he sure as hell doesn’t know what happened. Apparently, he was leading his squad right into an ambush when he opened up on the Gook in the tree. He had been moving so slow, the other squads far out to the left and right had Charlie flanked between them when they heard the shots. They had taken out a shit load of the fuckers and not one of their guys even had a scratch. They were finding some pretty interesting and useful shit back there and everyone was excited. The Yank is hard-pressed to see what he had to do with it all, but all the guys keep coming over slapping him on the back, saying GaaaDamn and Fuck’in Aye. Most of them had not seen action like that and kept using the term “confirmed kill” when talking about the Gook that the Yank had wasted. The Captain comes by and congratulates the Yank, giving a little speech which only confuses him. All he remembers is the Captain saying he has earned himself a week in Thailand.
The Isaan girl descends the stairs, hears clapping and cheers, sees the other girls and some of the farangs gathered around. The bell over the bar is ringing and the blue-eyed farang hands her a real drink. Mamasan, smiling from ear to ear, walks over and pins a button to her dress. The Isaan girl is now number three hundred fifty six.
The Isaan girl lies on the floor in the dark, eyes open, thinking. She clutches the folded bills. She went up the stairs four more times after the blue-eyed farang and her body throbbed with a dull pain. They all had wanted to kiss her, which she did not like, but they were kind to her and gave her very much money. One very drunk farang lay on the bed holding her. She did not even get undressed. He held her tight and slept until Mamasan knocked on the door. He still gave her very much money.
The Isaan girl thought of her Mother and thought of her daughter. She wondered if it had rained at home. She rolled onto her side, closed her eyes to sleep and thought it doesn’t matter whether it rains or not.
The Yank laid on his cot in the dark, his eyes open. He had killed a man today. He tried to picture his brother’s face. He thought of the day they had watched the lottery, he could see the heavy-set, balding man with glasses, holding the ping pong balls, reading the numbers, clearer than he could see his brother’s face. He felt himself a fool. He knew now that his brother would not want him here. He was a killer. He knew he would kill again. He could do this. He was afraid for himself. He had to get the fuck out of here.
The Yank did not know exactly where Thailand was…but he hoped they had Priests there.
Life can be a bitch.