Mae got her smile back
I got my camera out to take a photo of the latest addition to this family's ever increasing population and hadn't yet switched it back off when I asked Mae if she'd like to share some salted sea bass and sticky rice with me and she smiled for the first time in many weeks. To me Mae was a happy chubby grandma figure who derived great pleasure just from the presence of her offspring. If I asked her if she was happy or content she was as natural as is Thai and would smile. But the day Por died so did the sparkle in her eye along with the smile. I was relieved to see its return because this was the Mae I knew.
Sadly it didn't last because while we had been driving home, and I use the term loosely because Waan was controlling the truck, of a sorts, the school run song thao driver had lost control of his taxi and driven into the drainage ditch rolling the vehicle on to its roof leaving half a dozen schoolgirls strewn across the highway. A song thao is a pick up truck converted into a five baht taxi ride along a fixed route. A sort of mini mini-bus. It has a bench either side of the pick up hence song thao, two benches, although the proper name is ruud song thao. I want to throttle the driver but I learned a long time ago to stay out of Thai affairs because that is the spokesman's job and whatever action I take will be wrong. It'll be wrong because I do not know how to negotiate when wronged because I was brought up to know wrong is wrong. Not in Thailand. Wrong means a resolution is required. The song thao owner/driver is going to suffer by their own rules and will have to financially compensate the children's parents. But that doesn't make me feel any less angry because we all know damn well how it has happened. On rural roads you see them all the time with about 20 children on a ten capacity bus and when he was going fast enough he could no longer control the vehicle with the front tyres no longer in contact with the road surface. This wasn't the first time it had happened and he was willing to risk childrens safety out of greed. They squeeze as many on as they can and drive as fast as they can so they can do another run. I suppose the Police are to blame because they don't do anything about it.
Several children had to be taken by ambulance to Kut Chap hospital. Three girls who are all Waan's nieces by different sisters didn't want to go to the hospital and a couple of older and somewhat wiser than me village women were preparing a medication for them. I asked Waan what sort of leaves were being gathered as I was asked to bring a bamboo bed over the rough part of the la biang where two more women were starting a fire but she didn't know. Although that often translates into can't be bothered to remember. It isn't only my partner, all Thai women are like that, they don't want to tell you the Thai word and they don't know the English so they tell you they don't know or they forget!
They look like bamboo leaves but there is a large bush in the front garden that was also being pruned. It was generating a lot of smoke and yet more leaves were being placed on top of the bed base to lie on. The three girls only lay on it for half an hour or so and then Waan told her son to get on it and dry out some of his wounds that were now four days old and yet still raw and weeping.
Typically when I photographed Ouan he was smiling and happy despite being in considerable pain but while waiting to see the outcome of this unconventional treatment his mum was telling Mae about the roller shutters behind him that she wanted to replace them and would get a quote tomorrow morning. I thought they were sensible and you could drive the motorbike into the house for lock up, I could even get the truck in there, but Waan said they were 'mai suay'. I suspect now Por Jon is gone she wants her mum to have a nice house instead of Jon's practicalities. In typical fashion all I can hear is the rustle of notes going out of my wallet but I know it looks like a retail outlet and not someone's home.
You could watch in real-time Ouan's abrasions drying out. I wouldn't describe it as a revelation or some kind of miracle cure. I expect the leaves have an antiseptic property and smoke would certainly have a dry cure effect both of which can be obtained, with a much smaller lesion, by wrapping a cobweb of any spider breed over it which would congeal the blood and sterilise the trauma. We learned this in the army only for one poor soul in Madagascar to get bitten by a Sac spider and have to go to hospital and have his fingertip amputated. Which is pretty much what I expect Ouan to have to do.
As the sun went down and women were saying goodnigh rish while uncle Joy doesn't even try and merely waves as he staggers off; he isn't alcoholic or anything; he just always looks it; I'm not tired and have nothing to do. It is six o'clock in the evening and the day is done but not for me so I have a stroll round to Kwaang's shop and empty out a couple of large beer bottles. Still not ready to call it quits but bored I buy some Lao Khao and more beer and walk through the rice fields and small copse to the back of what I thought was my mate Lert's house. It wasn't and despite some startled looks from the residents and a mentally deranged dog that woke the street it wasn't the first time I had wandered through this particular back yard. I nod and apologise just like last time and yell at the dog attached to my foot to **** off knowing that if I turn left out the front of their garden the next house is Lert's. I wish Sony would invent the forehead message display so you could read people's minds. I'm sure the smiling old lady's would read 'oh not to worry, it's only that idiot falang that belongs to Waan, who doesn't understand the meaning of private property again'.
Mind you, that's not half as amusing as the time I parked Lert's truck in her driveway.
Waan is getting quite good at driving. Well, when I say good I mean she no longer terrifies me by meandering along the lane aiming at the left drainage ditch when another motorist overtakes and the right drainage ditch when she decides to overtake. The truck is an old Isuzu D-Max and many a time I wondered if the steering was broken or I was pissed due to its disagreement with what science would deem a straight line. She is also brave enough to try fourth gear now though as her passenger I'm not certain I am as courageous. There also still remains a degree of female language barrier. You know, I say take the next right, she says which way is rye while holding up her left hand, I say nee ao kwah, she says bai nie kwah mai, both of which mean the same and proves she doesn't know her leff from her rye. Then again she doesn't posses a driving licence either and is how road worthiness functions in Thailand. There is a road traffic authority responsible for licensing and vehicle safety testing but if you don't pass you pay someone and if you don't go for the test no one will ever know. Waan is the latter just like everyone else in our village.
I showed a couple of villagers my driving license once and they were fascinated because they'd never seen one before and yet despite the laxity of regulation Thailand's roads are no more dangerous than anywhere else. Then again the statistical analysis is almost as bad as the regulatory control. The song thao driver's negligence will go on the record while Ouan's sudden lapse of concentration will not and one of the women chose the human kipper moment to mention her brother had been killed by a drunk driver on Thursday night. He lived in a slum suburb of Bangkok and was run over in one of the maze of narrow single lane alleyways from which there would have been no escape and yet the driver could not be found. This will not go on the record because of too many assumptions. They do not know it was a drunk, they don't know he was driving, they don't even know if it was a motoring incident. Accidents are only added to the statistics on conviction or compensatory settlement.
Last month I read in The Nation an article about a politician who had killed a motorcyclist late at night while under the influence and with two call girls in the car with him. The article claimed there had been a cover up by the Police and the investigation had been buried or deleted from the record. I'm not a fan of conspiracies. They rely heavily on more than one person keeping the secret and theorists are inclined to ignore the fact that humans are incapable of doing such. But what struck me was how carefully the story had been written. Missing from the story was the name of the victim, where the accident happened, when it happened, the names of the call girls, the politician, the car he was driving, or indeed whether he was the driver, the Police station, incident report number, attending officers, and who called them because defamation and libel are criminal offences and carry jail terms. All media is state controlled including news agencies, broadcasters, and the Internet while newspapers are the only free press in Thailand. Most press reporters claim they are victimised and intimidated by the state but really because they have no censorship they are walking on eggshells.
Hearing Pui say her brother died under mysterious circumstances two days ago reminded me of the news story. It is likely in a drunken stupor he fell off his balcony or if the Police did an autopsy, which is a legal requirement in Thailand, and decided it was a vehicle impact he may well have upset a few local Chao Pho who beat him half to death and threw him out the window. When the Chao Pho Han dish out punishment there is never any witnesses because there is no protection. More likely of course, and with or without conspiracy, is that the same unrequited end came to the victim in The Nation as her brother. They were killed by a drunk driver who will never be found and it will not be added to the statistics.
Lert decided to put Khaptan to bed so he could enjoy his Lao Khao but was stuck hovering with baby in arm and trying to shoo something in the bed away. I wasn't surprised to find a cobra fast asleep under the blanket when I went to see what the fuss was about but the tiny size of it was out of place. If this baby is here then where the blazes is its mother? I suggested we best check the house but he didn't seem at all bothered as I picked it up between finger and thumb by the throat and waking it from its slumber. I had no intention of loosening the grip or not pointing its head away toward the floor. I know little about snakes but I suspect this little blighter could still injure you. My fingers were aching like buggery by the time Lert took it off me and put it in a bottle of pickling vinegar but by then it also appeared to be dead. Being semi-intoxicated I found it funny but on reflection I don't feel the same. Maybe it could have been made a pet or given to the local hospital for venom collection but the bottom line is it would have grown up to be a killer not a family pet. Putting Khaptan on top of it doesn't bear thinking about but at his age you're not scared of the dark so he went to sleep.
Then we got drunk.