Myth Of A Poem Part 2
Standing on the school football ground I saw the gentle rays of sunlight started brushing every pick against a sky of varnished blue with liquid gold, a soft mildness in the air floated like a feeling of happiness, and in the valley on the west side, cluster of huts, trees were still cozened to sleep by the trapped quickly fading darkness of a bygone night. The smell of wet grass brought the freshness of the morning through my breath. The nature was so pristine as if time had turned around and we were back at the beginning of civilization. On that particular morning I didn’t know why I felt the irrepressible urge to take the U shaped trail which threaded through grass land, bamboo bushes and thick tropical forest had split wedge tracks of deer and slithering tracks of serpents on its soft due-damp earth, to connect our school with the soldier’s camp at the border. Although the school and the camp at the border were at two high points of the U, the school was situated at a much lower altitude than the camp.
That was not the first time I was intrigued and drawn by those men at the border, who were probably by now not a man any more, only a soldier who had the same soul of that lighting struck half burnt palm tree at the edge of the school campus withered, decayed but still grounded firmly in fiercest sun and rain may be for a bird one day to build her nest over it, but I had withdrawn myself from such a venture so far only because of repeated warnings from my wife “You can go to any other place but please do not go to soldier’s camp. I will never allow you to go there. The headmaster also told me if they do something to you nobody can do anything here in this border area”
But this urge of adventure, to experience the new, to meet the strangers and to know the unknowns like a life long disease lived in my blood ever since first time I ran out of my home on one spring afternoon to catch a butterfly. From then on without any reason from time to time I felt a churn in my stomach and stamps of thousand horses in my heart beat. My father had told “It is the disease of age, over time, experience and responsibility will cure this itch” At that time I thought my old man had experienced the same and with age his wisdom cured his fever but even at this age when the call of the wild brings a restlessness, a shudder in my body I realized it is the child within me who never died like one of life’s greatest epiphany.
The dusty trail textured with shadow and sunshine gently wound across the valley up to the heights of mountain where now I could see them gathered near the barbed fence looking down at me. From here they looked like small cheap plastic soldiers I bought for my son, faces hidden under the shadow of their hat. The trail formed itself through the beating of earth by soldiers coming to the school or villages on the other side of the school, and the buffalo boys taking their hoards to the pastures in the valley.
Although the sun was mild and the reluctant wind had the morning chill, I was sweating from the exhaustion of the steep descend, during which sometime I had to crawl holding the tree roots or bamboo bushes and had to watch my steps carefully as not to twist my ankle. Along with dust, grass and dry leaves I realized couple of unfriendly red ants found their way inside my T-shirt from their sting. This was not the first time I was bitten by red ants but I thought there was something here in the soil which made their poison more powerful which caused considerable amount of more pain than the ones I saw else where but also I was lucky as not to be bitten by their more poisonous friends like scorpion or black cobra. To get rid off those tiny creatures I took off my T-shirt and jerked it vigorously and at that very moment I noticed two curious little eyes watching me from the shade of a bush and then a sound of laughter probably at the sight of my bare hairy chest for which my wife sometimes lovingly calls me “Hairy or Harry”. I thought I saw the little girl before in school, probably she was a student stayed in hill tribe village on the other side of the school whose smile was as innocent as her heart probably came here to catch snails or land crabs. I waved at her “Hello”
“How are you?” I asked.
“Good night” she giggled, as if a gurgling brook, “My name is Toi”
For a moment I was speechless and thoroughly bewildered, scratching my head I was trying to correlate my question and her prompt inappropriate answer and then realized that she had just recited them like a parrot from her memory without any understanding of the context, and may be a strange playful act of nature had reshuffled whatever she had been taught in school in a chaotic order. But there was no shame; her small brown face was sparkling in joy and excitement which slowly started permeating my spirit. We both broke into a wild laughter which hung in the morning air for a while then drifted away towards mountain across the valley. How marvelously beautiful was this communication, words were exchanged but their relevance didn’t matter, they didn’t come in our way with the burden of understanding, and at the end both of our soul levitated in pure joy which mattered most.
“See you in school” then suddenly realizing that this time may be she would come up with another of her wild amusing answer, I just waved at her “Bye”.
She smiled, then like a squirrel skittered away behind a bush in her little feet and I continued my journey.
While high up on the mountain top our school bathed in sunshine, the valley was still shrouded in thin mist and being here it was as if you are looking at a picture through a smoked glass. But as the retiring fog slowly revealed the landscape I saw a hut in front almost half way between me and the camp standing in solitude under the shade of a teak tree, from there, after an arch the path climbed up steeply to enter the jungle and to reappear again just before reaching the camp. From the very structure and position of it I assumed it was a security check post before the camp. The thatched roof was holding itself on top of four uneven bamboo polls in a crazy balancing act which gave the structure the same tragic appearance of a stooped old man and as I came near it saw hay stacks and wood piles covered by green canvas were scattered around amidst a sullen ferny smell of dampness. Inside the hut, there was a low stool probably used by the soldier on duty, who nowhere to be seen at this moment, but his presence was felt in the odor of smoke from smoldering ashes of last night’s fire.
For long minutes I stood there marveling at the sight of the majestic expanse of green ocean of grassland stretched up to the edge of the jungle from where the bluish green mountains rose undaunted contemplating the mystical silence of the valley. It was a perfect balmy morning. I brought the stool at the edge of trail and sat on it thinking about how life brought me from the shadowy trails of redwood forest to this nameless desolate path in Chiang-Rai. What lays ahead in time and space in our life, even our love doesn’t know, but there is depth in care, and religiousness in love. Ah, a promise of a new life in a new world, I felt an excitement, pulse of blood in my veins like warm wash of an oceanic wave.
Then I watched the little dusty ants scurrying in a steady unbroken flow like a plumb line. I playfully put my feet on their track, for a moment they scattered in chaos and confusion then gradually got their act together and started climbing up my feet to form their line again. A ticklish sensation on bare skin, I felt their movement. Soundless flutter of butterfly wings like a translucent colorful dream, fading jingles of cowbell from meadow and swirls of dry leaves in mildly playful midmorning air all were part of a quintessential peace.
Then I felt a change in the ambience around me, a sudden rush among ants as if they sensed something strange, an unknown smell of an animal rose like an ominous possibility; then a hush, a dark silence like a vacuum. Then a slow steady hissing like a slicing of a sickle in air from the scattered hay stacks and wood piles sent a pulse of death-like chillness almost paralyzing within me. I looked back, a creaking sound from the stool and within a flash I saw her hood wavering in a sinister suspension in front of me and a forked-tong flickering with hypnotic prowess. Her elliptical unblinking black-bead-eyes had a savage playfulness. I felt a trickle of cold sweat running down my spine making me numb. I kept my sight fixed towards her in a dizzy apprehension. I had seen her before in Snake Park with snake charmers or coiled lazily in slumber in glass case but this was the first time we were facing each other in the wilderness of nature with her unconstrained freedom. A fully grown adult King Cobra can be up to eighteen feet long but this one was smaller, not over ten feet with a color of wet sand.
May be now my wife had already gone for Morning Prayer, my son started playing with other students and once quite school campus had been filled with their voice. May be she would wait for my return till lunch break and then she would probably come this way to find my body here laying on grass as cold as this Cobra’s skin. My eyes were paining, and through the soft haze of accumulating tears I could only see a brown dusty image of hers quivering like a mirage. A hesitant dull emotion more like agony than fear has less to do with death itself with the fact that I would soon die, shrouded my senses like a sawdust cloud. Now the brown blurry rope like image got smudged as if somebody spilled water on a painting, then darkness, and I thought probably it was death. Ah, the darkness brought a cool comfort in my eyes, and I realized it was just that I had closed my eyes. I thought to myself let it bite, I wont open my eyes till death comes but moments passed and that eerie silence was broken by the thudding of foot steps coming from the direction of soldier’s camp. Then it stopped.
“Swadee khrap. Tham arai?”
Opening my eyes I saw a man grinning, and death more fresh and alive than life hung somewhere between my knowledge and wisdom.
“Here we have to help each other because nobody else will come and help us” one day my wife told me while coming back from Chiang-Rai city in the mist like rain in which you can not even see the overgrowth of bamboo bush from the adjacent mountain slope and to make things worse you are driving on a muddy road which will remind you of a freshly plowed rice field in the middle of a rainy season. The truck was struggling hard to move forward in that gravy-like-mud with a sharp loud groans of a tormented prehistoric animal and every time it took a sharp turn little protective Buddhas in various shapes, sizes and colors hanging from the rear view mirror clattered like my heart beat in fear which probably nauseated my wife enough to vomit right on my lap and from all of our sweat and rancid smell of that thrown up liquid the air inside the truck begun to turn mud.
And the moment came on a bend of the road with a steep upward climb when the truck first came to a screeching halt like a roller coaster on top of a loop just before a frightful descend with its tires gyrating madly throwing splashes of semi-liquid mud and then slowly it started moving down towards the edge of the gorge giving us only couple of a seconds to act responsibly for our lives. Suddenly a thread of cold sweat ran down through my spine but before I could think logically about the consequence of the events and what we should do an unbridled fear threw all of us out of that state of frozen immobility except the driver and within a blink of an eye we realized we were out of the truck standing in that pool of mud.
Then the hill tribe man who emerged from the thick mist and whom we picked up in our truck so that he would not have to walk five miles in this rain to go to his village promptly put two rocks at the back of the rear wheels to prevent any further descend and signaled me to push the truck up along with him. The road which was so marvelously beautiful enlivened my spirit the day I first went to her school appeared to be full of contradictory virtue, a diabolical trap at the center of its innocence and beauty at this moment. Our muscles and veins tautened, and eyeballs came out of the sockets with exertion of force against the beast which was overloaded with month’s supply of groceries. Then after couple of coming-downs, going-ups and nerve breaking moments finally it climbed up the slope and landed on a flatter track but even after resuming the journey on a relatively firm road I still felt the fear of death the event brought was pulsing in my senses.
For a while everything else blurred out of my sight as my mind like a single candle flame in a thick tar like darkness was focused on one thought of appreciation “Ah, I am still alive”. Then slowly the fear turned into a triumphant joy as I saw my wife was sobbing and mumbling a Buddhist chant closing her eyes and my son looking at me with his strangely wonderful eyes as if he was born again after the most fascinating experience of his life.
I told her “Oh, this road is a beast” then turning towards my son I asked “Are you OK?”
While my wife continued her sacred chant my son indicated that he wants to jump out of the truck again as if it was a great fun in some kind of kid’s theme park.
Through the window I saw the glimpse of velvety green mountains rose above the feather like low hanging clouds, cascading rice fields and splash of colors in a small valley of multicolored flowers, suddenly the rich texture of nature rushed in my spirit like a tidal wave and I told myself “Lets appreciate this life whatever is left of it, lets live happily from breath to breath”.
Then I saw the hill tribe man who almost saved our lives seating silently with a smile which had the expression “I am happy to help you today”. His face color of wet sand probably once was whitish but was burnt and washed over many years of fierce sun and rain had faint cracks of age. His eyes were the eyes of those rabbits I saw on the river bank small unflickering which had a strange curiosity and frivolity of a child. I felt ashamed of my inability to trust people not sure whether caused by the intense competition of a civilized world or a wounded soul from many broken trusts. My wife winked at me with a smile as if a penetrating lucidity permitted her to know all these course of events which reminded me that when she had told the driver to stop the truck in order to give this unknown man a ride up to his village I was horrified “You don’t know anything about this man. He can be a smuggler or a terrorist; god knows what his true identity is. We can not allow a complete stranger in our car and especially when you are with me”
“Don’t worry; here we have to help each other” she told.
“Don’t you think it is too risky?”
“Yes it is but still better than spending the whole night in this jungle if we face any problem, isn’t it? He can help us if we are stuck”
“I don’t know, none of the alternatives are good to me. I think me and the driver are enough to take care of such problem”
“Here we have to trust local people, we don’t have any choice. It is their land and they know what to do if we face any problem. I still remember one night when Nuer had very high fever and at that time he was only five months, I had to take him to a hospital far from here in a small town far from our village. It was raining and you know there is no light on the road. One of the tribe-man took us to that hospital in that rain through this muddy road in the darkness of the night in his motorbike. He knew very well that he could have died that night skidding into a gorge but still he helped us. So whenever possible I try to return them the favor once they gave me”
“But everybody is different. You knew that man well who helped you that night but this guy is a complete stranger” I argued.
“I am living here for so many years so I know well that they all live together very closely so they have similar thinking and values. It happened many times that I had to give them a ride to their village but never anybody did any harm. They are very quite and peace loving people” she tried to put off my doubts with her assurance.
“Well, if something happens then I have to act like a Robin Hood at that time” I threw the joke on her face.
“Yes that will be a good exercise for you unless you fall down in this mud and turn into a piggy” we both laughed.
Here trust is not a concept of Thai soap opera; it is your hope of survival in the very face of death. You don’t get a moment to think and doubt because your mind ceases like a sinking man trying to hold onto anything floating near him. But it works, may be trust makes people more responsible. When you rely completely and make yourself totally vulnerable then it makes people conscious and they loose all the devils to harm you.
And to my dismay one evening I saw a fat farang whom they call Christian Missionary was talking about faith and god in head master’s office. His right hand gripped tightly the ivory head of an ebony cane and his bloated body which had the bloodless pale hue, looked like a corpse submerged in motionless water for too long. I accidentally stepped into the room looking for my wife for a reason I can not remember now but she was there translating his verse into Thai because she was the only person who knew both English and Thai aptly qualified as an interpreter. I stood in the door frame till he came to a stumbling halt. Then he looked at me with his twinkling eyes which were almost lost in the fat ridges of his face and said in a dry cold voice “Hi”
Before I could introduce myself my wife said “My husband” then I smiled with a nod “Hi, I am Victor”.
“Glad to meet you. Are you living here for a long time?” the man said.
“Do you think these folks get anything what I say?”
“I don’t know their mind but at least they are now Christian” I replied.
“Yes beyond that I don’t know anything but may be over time they will get it right” the confusion came out from the depth of his withered heart. I thought for a moment whether to make up a reply to bolster his confidence or to tell the truth, truth being my understanding of their perception of religion and in the end I decided to tell the truth so that at least if he ever value my opinion then he can decide his course of action based on something which I truly believed.
“If your religion faith and god give them rice to eat, place to stay and more Mekong whiskey to keep them warm in winter nights then they don’t mind being Christian. And for some of them if it gives their son good education which means in future they will get money from their earning then they don’t mind either but I don’t think people like them who are fighting death every day take religion in any other way”
He nodded his head in despair and sat near the window. In the light behind him through that small window his motionless torso reminded me of an idol of hopelessness, a scene sort of tragic and serene. Maybe faith is the only thing he was robbed of and here in this land he would have to discover it all over again.