In the Land of the Free

 

I.
Moo plonked himself down on the step outside the 7/11. Still no sight of the song tao. He sucked on his slurpy. Extra strong! Just like him. Not fat like his family said, Moo! Pig! Always shoving food into your snout!
Mæ had kicked him out early this morning. She shoved his books and jumper into his bag and barked at him.
“I have to take Pim to the doctor, she has a fever. You take yourself to school. Here’s 50 baht – get something healthy. Krun Pi has soup noodles. It’s enough for the song tao. Go.”
And rolling over his protests and fleshy resistance, she pushed him out the door.
Pim. Always perfect little Pim. Moo knew he should be the favourite – not that fussy, prissy, school-loving, Mæ-hogging, always-telling-on-him, stupid princess. He was the boy. One day he would be a man. Then she would see how the world really worked.
A red tuk tuk went past on the other side of the road. Mæ and Pim were sitting in the back, on the far side, facing him. Mæ was talking to someone he couldn’t see, but Pim saw him. She looked pointedly at the slurpy in his hand and then boldly at him. He gave her the tall falang finger. So rude, but it was up and out before he could stop it, and this was when Mæ glanced over in his direction, her eyes soft and smiling. They landed on him and sharpened into cold razors. Pim grinned. As the tuk tuk turned the corner, Mæ turned to talk again to the person he couldn’t see.
The maroon song tao trundled towards him from the other direction. He sucked hurriedly. As the heavy vehicle slowed, he slammed the empty slurpy cup down on the step, shouldered his bag and ran out to the road. He dropped 15 baht into the hand jutting out the passenger window as it passed him.
He leapt on while the vehicle was still moving, landing among the jeering, cheering boys who hung off the open back. They grabbed his arms to help him up and moved to accommodate his bulk.
The diesel engine roared. The song tao lurched off and belched thick black exhaust past his face. He stood, bold and triumphant against the heavy sky, his face serene in the wind. The image of his mother’s sharpening eyes lay abandoned, like the slowly rocking plastic slurpy cup.
II.
Chilli smoke poked John in the eyes. It grabbed his throat. The reek of fish sauce snaked past his nostrils like an eel underfoot. Tables of people ignored him or else gestured at him with their heads, talking loudly. He knew enough now to catch some words, but to his ears most blundered over one another like the turtles at the fish market. Others were half heard and buried down in the mud of his mind like catfish where they fed on the debris of his insecurity.
Why was he here?
A horse of thought crashed through the barriers in his mind, racing through. The women back home. Their coarse white thighs below pink, crusted lips pursed up primly. No, not like that. Do that. Don’t do that at all. The hanging slack of others, loose like the lips of a grouper, gobbing at any who swam too close, their laxness belying a suction that would drown a man. He reined his mind in to the loveliness of Png. Her passive eyes. Her long honeyed legs spread on the bed, her hands clutched in his hair. The dirt brown creases of her putang; slightly pungent, a faint under scent of garbage mixed with something sweet, like ylang ylang or the smell of a tom cat’s head, musky with a hint of caramel.
There was no imperative with her to do, to be, no must, don’t, ask, stay, touch, don’t, love, keep, hold – with her he only had to have. What made for lack at home was enough here to raise him up as king: Demigod. Man. Lover.
Why would he go home?
His leather flip-flop slid under a piece of broken pavement. He stumbled, embarrassed. People laughed. A small rage built inside him, coiled in his blood like a cobra, ready to spit. He jerked his head towards the crowing, eyes jabbing but they were kind, open faces. Smiling, not malicious.
Mai pen rai bounced out across the street, and then one or two more. His blood dropped. He shrugged and threw his hands up in the air. Smiles of several kinds rolled out from under the awning. They nestled in his palms like small birds.

 

 

 

 

About the Author

Katinka Smit is an Australian author. She writes primarily shorter works of fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry, but is currently planning her first novel. Her work has appeared in Australia in Westerly Magazine and Stringybark Press’ Beneath the Wattle, and in America at The Fictional Cafe. She has work forthcoming in both countries. She lives in the bush, aka ‘Wallaby World’, with her husband and their large, dog-like cat. You can find her at https://talesbytink.wordpress.com.