Dana’s Fish Supper
Nom and I go to visit her parents in Essan. She tells me their names are Somchai and Fim. When we get to the village she seems unsure of which house she grew up in. Two elderly people wave at us from a porch. Nom says they are her parents and their names are Gorm and Loom.
What happened to Somchai and Fim? I spend three days smiling like a baboon with gas. On the bus back to Bangkok I turn to Nom and I say: "We will have a fish supper with Dana tonight!”
Nom’s mother Fim is a Sorceress! I can’t say whether she is technically a witch, a voodoo or hoodoo practitioner, or just a Pagan – not that it really matters much now. All Nom can tell me is that her mother dabbles in the dark arts and is viewed with a mixture of fear, loathing and superstitious dread by all in the village.
Nom’s father Somchai is a good looking and popular young man, just a couple of years older than Fim. Unlike many of the men in the village he is intelligent, adept and hard-working. Five years after completing his compulsory education, Somchai has already set up several small businesses. He is soon the largest employer in the village, comfortably able to support his family financially. Through Somchai’s efforts, all his older sisters are able to enjoy a university education, thus avoiding the fate of their less fortunate contemporaries. Most of the girls from families without means are expected to leave the village and “work bar” in Bangkok or Pattaya. The girls’ parents can always be relied upon to accept the money their daughters send them, never asking awkward or potentially embarrassing questions as to the source of their offspring’s income!
Unsurprisingly Somchai is never short of female company. Indeed, it is generally accepted that every eligible woman in the village wants him – mostly with the active encouragement of their parents. The whole village is stunned by the announcement of his betrothal and subsequent marriage to Fim at the age of 22.
Fim and her mother Noi live at the southernmost edge of the village in a small wooden shack with a rusty tin roof and an outside “Thai style” bathroom. Their property is sited next to the crematorium. Nobody lives nearby. In fact this area is avoided, especially at night when it is said that the ghosts of the departed can be seen sitting in the branches of some trees overhanging the road. The ghosts don’t seem to bother Fim and her mother. Indeed the solitude of their dwelling appears to suit them!
Fim’s mother dies shortly before her betrothal to Somchai. It soon becomes apparent that Fim has no family who can take care of her. Although he barely knows her, Somchai takes pity on Fim. He assists her in organising a simple funeral and provides the funding to pay for it.
Nobody in the village understands what attracted Somchai to Fim; an uneducated, plain and apparently simple girl. Some put it down to his altruistic nature, whilst others suggest that by helping her through her bereavement he is making merit for his next life. A few years later, after stories of Fim’s sorcery have spread throughout the village, there are rumours that she ensnared Somchai through some type of binding love magic. One elderly woman in the village tells me that a girl can bind a man in love by administering a “classic love potion”. She explains that a classic love potion consists of a single drop of menstrual blood donated by a girl to the object of her desire. The old woman whispers conspiratorially that such a potion is best concealed within a strong cup of coffee. Failing that, a glass of red wine is a good alternative. A tomato based sauce may also be used. I politely thank the old woman for this useful piece of information, later sharing it with Nom. We both laugh out loud!
Once they are married, Somchai builds a second family house on the land he owns in the centre of the village. Fim falls pregnant with Nom soon after the newlyweds move into their new house. At first the marriage appears happy, but it is not long before some of the villagers’ begin to gossip about Fim’s strange behaviour. There are rumours that Fim is engaging in black magic and talk of ghost and spirit sightings near the house. It is noticed that Somchai, usually immaculately turned out, has began to allow his appearance to slip. Soon the clothes he wears are seen to be dirty and clearly in need of repair or replacement. Slowly his personality changes from being open and outgoing to sullen and introspective. Somchai starts drinking heavily and getting into fights – behaviour that was totally alien to him before his marriage. Somchai’s family are unable to communicate with him, nor to determine the underlying cause of his unhappiness. They blame his wife – Fim. It is not long before his businesses begin to fail. On the third anniversary of his wedding, Somchai disappears. Two days later, his body is found hanging from a tree by the side of the road, near the crematorium.
Somchai’s family arranges the funeral. Everyone from the village pays their respects. The only villagers’ failing to attend any of the ceremonies are Fim and little Nom. They are not seen to leave the house during the seven days it takes to complete the funeral formalities.
After the funeral, the undercurrent of hostility towards Fim increases. She manages to eke out a meagre living by selling potions and herbal remedies to some of the old women in the village. Several men confront Fim whilst she is out collecting herbs. They make threats and demand she leaves the village. The following day when returning home from the rice fields, their pick-up truck comes off the road and overturns into a flooded ditch. They all drown. Nobody bothers Fim after that!
Fim pays little attention to her daughter. Nom is left to run wild and fend for herself in the village. Nom is a pretty child; intelligent, friendly and inquisitive. Unlike her mother, Nom soon has many friends in the village. The villagers’ look out for her, and take care of her as best they can. When she is hungry, Nom goes from house to house looking for food. Very few people turn Nom away empty handed! An elderly childless couple becomes especially attached to her. Gorm and Loom are retired school teachers and provide Nom with a basic education. In the afternoon, Nom is more often than not to be found at their house, sitting outside on the porch practicing her reading and writing. As she grows older, Nom spends less and less time at her mother’s house. By the age of 10, she returns home only to sleep at night!
One afternoon during the hot season Fim’s house catches fire and burns to the ground. Nom is with her new parents; Gorm and Loom. Nobody knows how Fim’s house caught fire, or conducts an investigation afterwards. At the age of 15, Nom becomes an orphan!
Nom receives many offers of help and acts of kindness from the villagers’. Gorm and Loom insist she stays with them, living as their adopted daughter. Although tempted to stay, Nom decides it is time for her to move on and make her own way in life. So Nom leaves the village to seek her fortune in the city. A week after arriving in Bangkok; Nom secures a fake ID, finds herself a shared apartment in which to live, loses her virginity and obtains a job working as a dancer in a Patpong gogo bar.
Sitting on the bus together, I ask Nom if she has anything I can drink. We were up late last night, reminiscing with Gorm and Loom. I need something to clear the stale taste of whisky from my throat. Nom passes me the big bottle of Coke she has been drinking since we left the village. It is too sweet for my taste! Rummaging in her bag, Nom produces half a bottle of tomato juice. I unscrew the top and gulp it down greedily.
“Do you love me”, Nom asks innocently?