Myth Of A Poem (Part 1)
From where I was standing, one could see the mountain range stretching up to the horizon leaving a narrow gray patch of sky between the silhouette and the top of the window frame. The whole nature was breathless in expectation of rain. The columns of smoke rose from the earthen ovens from nearby villages were still in this heavy moist air like the Buddhist nuns in meditation. Various shades of green, patches of rice fields created a collage by an unknown painter on this gray canvas. The moving black dots on a faraway mountain pick were the active Thai soldiers on the border. Beyond that, there lays an intriguing land called Myanmar with all its beauty and savagery.
There was no trace of a civilized world. Sometimes the soldiers from the border camp came down like mad dogs and hovered around the school campus. Their shapeless body covered in green striped oil cloth and with a big dangling hat as if it had a life of its own only could be compared with the dark soul of a wolf. I saw death in their eyes; I saw an intense fire of repressed passion of a very long sexless life in their short intolerant breath. The teachers were scared of them although they never did anything wrong to them.
Nobody bothered to give any name to these mountains or to the roads winding around them like a snake in hibernation. They only pointed out to the direction they wanted to show when needed. Once in a month we rented a truck to go to Chiang-Rai city to buy food for the whole month that too also during rainy season was impossible since the landslide and thick mud used to swipe away all the traces of the narrow dirt roads. Then we had to eat with our neighbors, the Karen immigrants in the hill tribe village. For more than three months any trace of civilization, glimpse of a city remained in our reverie. Sometimes rain continued for a week and so intensely that we could not even see the tall lightning struck half-burnt palm tree at the edge of the school campus which was barely two meters away from our teacher’s quarter or the big yellow brass Buddha statue placed near the national flag adjacent to the student’s dormitory. And even after the rain ceased the thick fog so solid that you could touch it or cut it with a knife would engulf the whole universe.
Trapped in that tiny circle of visibility you would feel as if you were the only one exists in this world and the feeling of aloneness it brought was very scary. But still you could hear the sounds of cowbell from the nearby villages, voices of people and sound of shelling. That was the only way to get some perception about the place where you were stranded because you knew well that there was no village on your east side and from the edge of the slope the narrow earth road climbed up steeply on the mountain up to the soldier’s camp and on the west the slope ended in a small valley with clusters of several hill tribe villages. The north was boundless starting at the end of the teacher’s quarter after a small gorge and a stream with a flow hindered by small smoothly polished stones the pathless jungle grew thicker in the nameless multitudes of picks. Nobody knew at least the people who I knew here what lays there, who lived there, where this madness of nature ended. And in south our only hope of connection to a known world was a narrow dirt road went downhill to Chiang Rai city starting from the school’s main gate.
North always reminded me of a story I had ever heard from my wife about a Karen boy who had gone to the jungle in search of his buffalo. His mother had cried for many nights but couldn’t dare to go to the jungle to find her baby because she had still three more babies to take care. After many months one day a Karen hunter found a small spare skeleton half merged in the earth sleeping peacefully in the embrace of a cobra, their love was so strong that even in the face of death they couldn’t leave each other.
Often we woke up in the darkest of the dark nights at the crackling roar of gunfire and saw the deadly flash which appeared as the lightning and thunder of an approaching storm. Inside our small room in teacher’s quarter we knew under the shield of moonless night man was fighting against man and searching for the devil that was inside him. Some nights, my son cried loudly and her mother sang a lullaby to appease his fear. On the tin roof the rattle of rats appeared like sound of rainfall. After the baby sleeps she came near me, her warm breath touched my face and being nestled in her arms I heard a soft endearing voice “Are you sleeping?”
“I don’t know why I can not sleep tonight. May be it is very dark here.”
“Are you scared?”
“Not scared. It just reminds me of the nights I spent in this same room alone after Nuer’s father died. At that time I was a sad lonely pregnant lady and in night like this I used to keep all of his cloths near me so that I can hug his cloths when I would feel lonely and scared.”
“And what do you feel now?”
“I feel warm because I have my fat man near me.”
Some days we came out to the back yard and threaded through the happy and sad memories of our life seating on the rocks smooth like a surface of a turtle shell and together we heard the bubbly rapture of waves on the smoothly polished stones on the riverbed. And my wife clasped my arm at the hoot of a night owl in that frowning darkness. On other days we made love in the room. And my wife whispered “Hush, they will know.”
“They know we are husband wife.” Her request went in vein as I heard the sound of a man’s moan and laughter vibrating in the room while the baby continued to sleep peacefully unaware of our agony and ecstasy of love.
Every morning had a different smell a different shade of light and brought a different feeling along with it as it revealed the memory of the night before in my thoughts. The only window in the room had a makeshift curtain from her old torn peacock blue sarong with colorful prints of Ramakyan allowed the tender sunlight of dawn mixed with the color of myth it had to touch my eyes and the wind cool or hot took the same route to break into my dreams.
Then in that half-awake state from the hurried soft foot steps on the floor I knew that he had done playing with the puppies that were living in a wooden box just in front of our door and also I knew that the soft bubble of intense energy would soon burst on me to absorb all the dullness of a broken dream. And I could hear the sounds of cooking from the back of the room and rich smell of them in the bowl.
I could see everything without looking at them. From the sound of splash I knew she had done cooking and taking shower and then from the scent of lavender the fragrance of soap she had used for shower that a pair of curiously loving eyes now looking at me very closely with water dripping across her smooth porcelain like face from her zed black uncombed hair. Then a soft moist touch on my eyes “I will go to attend the Morning Prayer with students so you have to feed him and feed yourself.”
“You can bring him to my class and you can do your work.”
“What is my work?” I laughed.
“If you don’t have any work then you can clean room, wash cloths and iron our dress.” she laughed “I am joking. You can do whatever you want to do, may be you can go for a trek up to soldier’s camp.” then I saw a shadow of worry in her eyes “But you should take somebody with you – may be a student because if they suspect you ask you any question and if you can not answer properly then they can arrest you.”
“I don’t want to spend a single night without you tirak.”
“Hush, you speak too loud. You have to understand I am a teacher here. All the students respect me.”
“But you are also a lover, a wife so everybody should know sometime we will talk sweet and dirty.”
“Yes we will but softly, I don’t want others to hear what we are talking. Then other teachers will start gossip about this.”
“Understand.” I sighed.
“What do we have for breakfast?”
“Rice and fish curry.”
On a cool October evening when first time I had entered this room I was amazed by the shocking simplicity of their living condition. Through the only window of the room, in the last rays of setting sun I could see a mattress big enough for one person on one corner of the room and on its left side a hammock hanging from a wooden frame was swinging gently like a pendulum. I felt the coolness of the tiled floor and saw numerous trails of foot prints of some strange animal on the thin layer of dust on the wall. Pointing towards them I asked “What are those?”
“Rats. We have too many mountain rats here and they create so much trouble. So I keep all the cloths inside plastic box. They even bite the electric cables so many times I had to change the power cables of my computer, freeze.”
Then I noticed stacks of transparent plastic boxes were kept against the wall in one side of the room; even the computer, monitor and the freeze was wrapped in plastic cover. In that twilight it looked like a small store room of an ancient derelict castle. Through the open door the breeze from the corn and cabbage field brought a strange unknown feeling of loneliness which told me that the life I would be leading here would be very different, it would bring an experience still unknown to me.
I opened the narrow back door of the room connecting to a very small covered shadowy passage to the backyard where I saw a rusted gas stove, black smoked bamboo baskets for sticky rice and bunch of dry gingers with roots like curly long uncombed hair of a homeless man hanging from hooks on the wall.
“This is our kitchen and on that side is the bathroom.” she introduced me.
Then through the perforation of spanning cobwebs I saw a small bottle of vegetable cooking oil, bottle of fish sauce and jars of various spices unknown to me on a wooden rack. As I approached the rack a strong rancid odor shook my senses, made my head heavy and instinctively I covered my nose with hand.
“Pla Ra.” she laughed “It is a kind of dried fish we eat in Isaan. I brought from home when I went back to Udon last Songkran. It does not spoil easily so in a place like this when I don’t have anything I can just eat that with sticky rice.”
“It does not smell good I know now but how does it taste?”
“Arroy mak mak” a naughty smile was shining in her eyes.
Then we came to the small back yard where a nylon rope was tied across several bamboo sticks to create one nonlinear locus probably used for drying cloths. Two black granite stones rose side by side from soft green earth as if they were waiting for two lovers to seat on them to enjoy their intimate whisper in this quietness of nature.
Pointing towards them I told “Sometimes we can seat there and talk.”
“We can do that but I usually don’t come here often at night.”
“I scare; snake scorpion can come from the jungle.”
Standing there I could see the small flat grass land gradually sloped down to the rubbly bank of the river where confused tiny waves were reflecting the approaching darkness along with the last rays of setting sun. And beyond that in the lower sky where nameless picks were loosing their colors amidst still golden feather like clouds I saw a hesitant moon was rising slowly with a welcoming smile.
“Where is Nuer?”
“He is playing with my students in teacher’s room.”
“What is teacher’s room?”
“That is our meeting room where head master and all the teachers seat in between classes. Also in that room some day we all eat dinner together and sing Karaoke.”
“Life is very quiet here in the evening especially after class when students are gone.”
“Yes, after class there is nothing much to do here except cooking dinner, clean room and play with my son. We are going to share our life together so I wanted to show you where I work and live so that you can feel my life. And you will know through living here with us what we can give you. It is not money as you can see how we live; our life is very simple we don’t have much to share except true feelings of love and happiness.”
I didn’t notice when the last ray of setting sun drifted behind those mountains but n the embrace of the darkness the soft murmur of river like hymn of nature, the fresh smell of earth appeared very familiar to me as if they were part of a childhood memory or from a place I had known in my last life.
I said “Yes it will be a very new experience for me but I don’t know why everything here seems strangely familiar to me. It is not about the place which is familiar but the feeling it brings is very familiar may be this is what I was looking for my whole life a simple caring life without steep demand in the name of love and family.”
“He is coming. Let’s go I have cook for my two kids” she laughed. Only I could see a faint wavering yellow light of lantern was slowly approaching us from the direction of the football ground.
I felt that the silence was so intense that it could freeze my thoughts and at that moment I remembered once a monk in a monastery at the foot hills of Himalaya in Nepal had told me “Thoughts prevent us from touching life deeply.”
Looking forward to part 2.