Stickman Readers' Submissions February 7th, 2006

Iewung’s Inheritance!


The village where Iewung was born and raised is small, well frankly minute as Moobaans (villages) go, so small in fact that few new of its existence. It doesn’t have a name, unless you wish to call Moo X a name. The nearest big town is Nakon Phanom, the significance of which is its proximity of the mighty Mekong River and to the Lao town of Muang Ta Kaek on the oppositer side of the Mekong. Nakon Phanom is home to the Phra Tat Phanom, a sacred monument to both Thai and Lao people, many of which make pilgrimages to this part of the Isan, which is very cross cultured, Thai with Lao. Either language might get you by here.

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As Iewung left the court she was smiling broadly. When the ruling of the court was handed
down, it was momentous. She’d peed in her pants with excitement. Iewung was uncomfortable now, physically that is, yet ecstatically happy. Her Lawyer caught her up. Finding the smile on his clients face highly inappropriate, he caught hold of her arm to caution her. Breathless from the haste of getting to her before any other, he spoke as softly as he could. She ignored him. It had been barely six months since she had been acquitted of murder and now at the age of twenty-nine she is a millionaire. Incredible! Pained by the noi-jai (being ignored) her lawyer growled at her; ‘Be in my office by 9am tomorrow!’ ‘Why should I be upset, he mussed to himself, my cut of this deal is handsome enough. It was easy money too. Not like her wretched murder trial that nearly cost me my marriage and for which I was paid a pittance!’

The story looks back at Iewung’s mother’s life and the influence of her grandparents on her mum. Chenda, Iewung’s father was a freedom fighter running a communist cell fighting for the independence of the Isan during the mid sixties. This in turn had an impact on family life. The Americans never did succeed in killing him, and so he lived on to father Iewung and her brother Parsuk. Om; Iewung’s mum had a colorful past. Songchai, Om’s brother does his best to recant Om’s story as she told it to him.

Chapter One – Iewung is Born

As I ride the sixty kilometers to Moo X, I pass through the many valleys defined by seemingly endless rolling hills. I turn off the main highway. I stop and buy some sun-dried tomatoes and some Pla-Ra (preserved fish), highly favored delicacies in this part if the I-san. The road ahead is very poor, pot holes every where. Progress is slow now. The Honda is very hot. Snaking my way through the hilly terrain is taking its toll on me and the brakes. I’m getting very tired. I’ll stop over there and refresh myself under that water fall. Amazing, I’ve not been to my sisters’ place for many years; last time I came I’m sure this waterfall wasn’t here. Mind you the rains have been very heavy and persistent lately. In just two minutes I’m out of the water shaking with cold. I feel much better. I’m not worried about the motorbike anymore. The engine seems much cooler and quieter. I’ll knock off the last few kilometers in no time at all.

As I crest the last hill I can see the grubby collection of houses that make up my sister’s village. It really is a hell hole. Well never mind, here I am at Om’s place. It doesn’t have a number. It doesn’t need one. God, it looks even more dilapidated than before. The vertical timbers are parting with age. You know, warping and rotting and all that. I can see a glimmer of a light through the cracks. One gap is so wide that a child might get through it. I can also see flecks of light emanating through rust perforations in the roof. I’m shivering. It’s getting dark. It’s so cold in the hills during the rainy season. I can hear the stream behind Om’s house. Normally a trickle, it sounds more like a torrent now. I can’t tell. It’s so misty. Why am I waiting outside? It’s beginning to rain again. I’ll be warmer inside. Oh yes, him. I’ve never liked him. I was against the marriage from the start, just like mum, but it didn’t do any good. These guys that swim the Mekong, they have no papers, no identity card, nothing!

I knew back then that he’s no good. I’ll not change my mind just because they’re having another baby.

The door opens. Great they have a door now! Om is standing in the doorway beaming at me. I can feel myself welling up, mustn’t let her see me cry. Om is slim. You could say even skinny. But she is beautiful and kind. She can see the question in my eyes; ‘Oh! Songchai, you are too late my baby was born yesterday’; Om added quietly; ‘We have named her Iewung!’ Damn; I thought, the bastard made her give it a Lao name.

The bastard, Chenda, was sitting on his haunches at the back of the room. In the yellowness of the twenty watt lamp he looked more pathetic than he would in daylight. His smelly pullover, matted with drippings from a hastily gorged meal, hung as if wet. His jeans, thread bare at the knees, ankles and posterior, looked as tired as did Chenda himself. His face looked akin to a dried prune, black and wrinkled, eyes rolled up toward his eyebrows, as one bewitched. In his left hand, a bottle of Chang beer. The cigarette in his right hand was burning his fingers, he couldn’t feel the pain. The combination of the alcohol, ya ba (amphetamine) and the pain killers, to which he is addicted, saw to that.

Om made me as comfortable as she could in her hovel. We are quite alike in moderate temperament, which is perhaps the only vestige of our similarity to our parents. We were raised in very privileged circumstances, in a large mansion house overlooking the Mekong River, which streams by just a forty feet below the west perimeter of our the grounds. Our parents are widely regarded as an odd couple, though with huge face. Dad is a Sikh which is an ancient religion that arrived in Thailand from India. Dad told me that his bother Sikhs make up one of the smallest religious minorities in all of Thailand, some twenty-thousand souls in all. He is manager of the Bank in a nearby town. He is also a life long enthusiast of the work done by the Sikh school in Bangkok, to which he sends money anonymously, and which offers a free education to poor children. However, he grudgingly admits that the Hindus have a similar school operating within the Thai education system. After his marriage to a catholic girl he had drifted away from his Sikh brethren though he continues to follow the twelve tenets of Sikhism. ‘Ek Onkar, One God, Reincarnation Karma and Salvation, Remember God, Humanity, Brotherhood, Uphold Moral Values, Personal Sacrifice, Many Paths Lead to God, Positive Attitude Toward Life, Disciplined Life, No Special Worship Days, Conquer the Five Thieves, Attack with Five Weapons. If you know these tenets then you pretty much know our Dad.

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As for our mum, she’s a devout catholic. Throughout our childhood mum provided us with scary books, with horrible pictures depicting the Devil and the hell fie into which we would be cast if we didn’t abide by her whimsical ideas of how good children should behave. Mum’s strange ideas of good and evil were reflected in every aspect of our strict upbringing. No late nights for us, no escape from the numbing routine of communion, confession, Sunday school and the dreary stall keeping at church bazaars. Mum runs a gold shop in the city. Her shop is just across the road from Dad’s bank. From her window she observes all that is important to her; who is using the bank, when dad comes and goes and more than anything the posture of her approaching customers as they approach the shop.

She can tell if a visitor is going to buy gold even before they open the shop door. To some she is almost frightening; as she peers over the top of her piz nez it seems that she is looking right into your soul. Although Catholic she has an almost Mormon
appetite for doing God’s work in going forth and multiplying, Baht in her case.

When she was fourteen Om ran away from home. Dad was heartbroken and I missed her terribly. As for mum, when it was clear that Om would not be back any time soon, well she just went inside herself. She prayed a lot. Though she never said
if she was praying for Om, or not. I did, I prayed that the stories circulating in the village were untrue. The stories imagined Om had gone to Cambodia to be a singer in a sing-a-song bar. I worried too. I knew what the singers got up to when
the show is over. Mum seemed angry so I guess she knew too. Or, perhaps, she was angry because her years of Christian devotion hadn’t had a desirable effect on Om.

Stickman's thoughts:

It will be interesting to see where this one goes.

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