A Thailand Alley
The following featured entry was originally published on the weblog Woman in the Window. The author is a wife, a mother of two, an accumulation of all that came before and all that will come after, plus loads of baked goods and gobs of grease. She's returned to her roots to live simply and to feed her family tree.
We all have these little stories that make us us. A handful of pebbles thrown from the hand to reveal our image, a few charms on a bracelet from 1972 that reflect a history. I've a handful, a pocket full, an old dusty box full. I wonder how many more memories will find their way into that box during my life's story? They sneak in on their own volition, pop a corner up and filter in without me noticing, without disturbing the dust. Here is one of my stories.
The streets are a blaze in a cacophony of afternoon light. It's a tight jumble of steady moving people, many dark, but too many white. How did all of these foreigners find their way to these Thailand streets? So many legs in Guatemalan stripes. Not the locals though. They're in cheap T-shirts made in China, clothes worn paper thin. Is it possible for so many of us to have the same dreams of anonymity? I frown, I'm ripped off. In our multiplicity I've lost my anonymity, a multitude of blond and fair in a country that's supposed to be a brown like the bottom of a deep puddle. There are too many of us for any of us to be special.
I'm alone on the busy streets, inconspicuous in my long flowing pants, long sleeves, my body covered so to not draw attention or offend, but yet in my singularity I am a draw. No one else is alone here. Everyone's a part of the bustle, paired up with strangers, friends, day to day interjections. I'm pleased to be this way, though - alone. I work at it constantly so that I might be far enough removed to see what's going on around me.
Ironically, I don't see a thing. I feel it. Someone lifts my hand from the crowd like a magician lifting a scarf from the air. He touches me lightly but yet he instantly has authority over me. He leads me through a series of narrow alleys that I'd have never noticed. We squeeze out into a back alley as though we're being born into quiet. I've followed him here silently, without reservation, but as we emerge into the still courtyard the words WTF, you stupid foreigner, pass by my periphery. He might rape you now, or rob you, and there won't be a single witness. But this passes quickly and only like a shadow I almost saw. He pats the hard ground and sits down cross legged. I do the same because what else could I do? Nothing else occurs to me.
I'm going to tell you your future, he says, matter of factly, like that is exactly what every foreigner in Thailand wants to know. I will tell you your future and your past, so that you will see.
What will I see, I wonder? How could this help me? I don't want to know my future, I tell him. No, no, I shake my hand at him as though this might help him understand that I'm different. I'm not like them. I don't want to know. I don't want a lark. I don't want to play.
I threaten to get up but he says No very firmly and holds my hand tightly, with purpose. NO, he tells my legs, I will tell you your past then.
He holds my hand between us as though it might hold the answers. He doesn't look at it, but only feels it. Then he gives me a small white blank piece of paper and tells me to fold it, hold it in my hand between us for our talk, lock it in and on itself, and it will tell me my past when we are done. Then I will see that he is telling me the truth.
I do what he says. I fold the common white paper into a tiny accordion and hold it tightly in my palm. I sweat around it.
We begin. He tells me of an ache a long time ago when I was only a girl. He tells me of a loss that has never been filled. He tells me of my life, my loves, my not quite loves and of my meandering. I wonder if someone can read this much from just watching a foreigner wander streets. He gets very specific but yet vague enough that he could be guessing well. And then he breaks his promise. He tells me my future. I'm caught in a hypnotic light. I don't struggle against it anymore. I simply sit there and let it come at me, a humming truth that he says I'll live. I feel surrounded by bees. I sweat some more, all around that paper in my hand that itches but I don't move.
I will have three distinct jobs. He says jobs, not careers. I note this. (So far I have had two and I feel on the verge of my third one.) He tells me I will marry a foreigner, someone from a country that starts with an A. I think Australia because there is a smooth and sultry Australian that has just arrived in Taiwan where I am teaching. I sweat a little more at the notion that it might be him. (It turns out years later that I would meet my husband in a series of events that struggled not to happen. He is American.) And then he tells me one more thing that has stayed in my mind ever since but that I refuse to let out for fear that it might have some validity. I'll smother that away in my box forever, I hope.
All these years later I remember being amazed over and over again. I remember the paradoxical feeling of being heavy in that cross-leggedness but yet light in the freedom of his story, caught in the cadence of his words, his insights. I remember a three appearing on my hand at one point, the hand that he held. And it didn't kind of appear, a faint sort of three, a could be three. Rather it appeared as though drawn by a pencil, then disappeared like an apparition. It had relevance, I just can't remember what, all these years later.
And then I remember this. I remember him releasing me and prompting me to open that other hand, the hand that I'd kept closed for the twenty minutes or so that we sat under the hot unforgiving Thailand sun. I unwrapped the paper's infinite folds like I was unfolding a tiny book penned by a fairy. It seemed illuminated. The paper seemed thinner than it had been, transparent now because of all the sweat, and there in the middle of the paper was scrawled a word that was supposed to prove to me this man's ability to see, to show to me one word that encapsulated my past. It was my father's name. One word. An uncommon name. A name I hadn't uttered the whole time we'd sat there. A name I hadn't spoken in decades really. My father's name. The key to me.
My mind raced at possibilities. Wondered if someone had broken into my hostel room and read my diary, the diary that didn't have that name on one page. I wondered at the Internet which was relatively new then. I imagined CIA or secret agent behaviour from a poor man on a street in Thailand. How did he hack into International files and find out who I am? There had to be a way, a method, a scam.
He rested a photo of a large group of dark skinned smiling people between us where our hands had been holding one another. This is my family, he said, in India. I send them money. I tell fortunes for money and then I send it to them to help them. Will you help them?
I was crying but trying hard not to. I was confused. My mind had been metaphorically raped somehow and I felt violated. But there were so many of them and they were so happy. What else could I do? What was money to me anyway? He could have taken everything I had on me. Instead he asked. I answered.
He led me out through that series of alleys and pushed a pocket for me to enter back onto the horn honking, steady feet moving street. I met the noise and commotion like meeting a wind. I swear, my hair lifted off my face in my entrance. No one noticed me enter the street. No one had noticed me leave it. I was, in fact, alone.
My past, Leowen.
What would my future be?