The S.E.A. Write Award 1981
Collection : Khunthong, You Will Return at Dawn
Translated: Chamnongsri Rutnin
จาก เรื่อง เช้าวันต้นฤดูฝน ในรวมเรื่องสั้นชุด ขุนทองเจ้าจะกลับเมื่อฟ้าสาง
ผลงานรางวัลวรรณกรรมสร้างสรรค์ยอดเยี่ยมแห่งอาเซียน ปี 2524 ของ อัศศิริ ธรรมโชติ
Illustration : Indigo
It had been raining ceaselessly ..... persistently, and as the rain-swollen water brimmed over the edge of the pond in front of the hut, Buarum thought of the return of her mate with a trembling heart. Her heart .... she could feel it trembling like the ripples of light on the surface of water ruffled by falling rain.
''Praying for him to go somewhere far away? You are wishing that he knew. You hope he won't come home'' The hoarse gritty voice of the person squatting by her side broke into her thought.
Buarum looked in the general direction of the speaker, then down at the sleeping baby on her breast. Giving no answer, she sighed and gazed dully across drenched paddy fields through the soft misty rain.
The rain came down lightly in white thread-like lines, blown by the paddy wind into luminous curves against the grey backdrop of the sky. Its vapours captured the morning's fugitive sunbeams and refracted them into exquisite rainbow colours visible only from afar.
The gentle rain made a dull symphony of low monotonous sounds on the leaves of nearby trees, the blades of grass around the hut and the palm-leaved eaves above Buarum's head. The man beside her drew up both his knees and rested his rifle on them.
“ I know how you feel, It's natural with husbands and wives. I understand it, you know,'' the man spoke again, this time keeping his eyes lowered as if studying the weapon that lay hard and unfeeling across his knees. And this time Buarum really turned her face away from the lonely fields to scrutinize the man in wonder, echoing
his word doubtfully,
'The man smiled at her.
''My wife has a baby. Like you,'' he said, laughing softly.
''I left home only a few days ago and I already miss them ....yes, really
Buarum found herself laughing along with him--a short, wry mirthless laugh. She sank back into her own thoughts while her eyes watched the fragile windblown threads of rain swaying out there in the lonely space between the sky and the fields. Her thoughts went back to the day They arrived, heralded by the sound of horses hooves on the damp earth of the dyke that separated adjacent fields. It seemed
to her that the first drops of this soft persistent rain had brought them, for suddenly there they were in front of her little hut.
"Sain is a criminal. We're here to arrest him for robberies and murders,'' said one of the four horsemen in a loud voice.
She could see that they were dressed in khaki uniforms with pakhaoma(1) cloths tied around their waists and rifles slung behind their backs.
"He isn't here!'' Fear had made her shout back at them.
"We know he isn't here, but we can wait for him'', retorted the horseman and, motioning his hand at the wailing baby in her arms, he went on telling her - as if she didn't already know -
''He'll come back to you and the baby.''
''Are you going to kill Sain? Are you?'' Already, on that very first day, her tears had been right there, ready to flow.
''Come, come. It won't be that bad,'' the same man had said to her in reply. The other three had been as silent as mutes.
"We only want to arrest him, not kill him.''
Reliving that morning up to this point, Buarum knew she couldn't believe anything They said. She knew that her man would be shot down like an animal the moment he came within their rifle range.
The man sitting beside her was right, she was praying with all her soul for Sain to know and to go away, far away....she was praying with all her love for her husband, praying for him not to come to her to be trapped and killed before her very eyes.
“You've been worrying about him every moment since we got here,'' the man beside her was speaking again.
Buarum's train of thought came to a jolt. She turned to ask him, curiously,
“Are the four of you going to wait here until he comes?"
"Don't know,'' he shook his head.
"It's up to Chief. When Chief says leave, we leave."'
''Which one is Chief?"
' 'The one who spoke to you on the day we arrived. That's Chief. He's an officer, I'm just....a policeman. I do what he tells me to do."
"Where are the three of them now?'' She asked with a curiosity mixed a sense of growing friendliness toward this uniformed stranger.
"Somewhere in this village, but I can't tell you where,"' he smiled kindly at her.
''My job is just to see that you don't go outside the village - that's my job, you know."
"Will Sain die?'' The question escaped while her heart beat with an unbearable dread, her gaze fixed on the face whose sunburnt smoothness betrayed the fact that its owner could not have been much older than she.
The policeman's young face clouded as he looked out on the rain that was desolately caressing the empty fields. He said after a while,
''Didn't you pray for him to keep away?" Slowly, Buarum shook her head, '' It won't work. I know...and you know ....he will come."
As her tears were about to brim over, the familiar picture of Sain rose up clearly, oh, so clearly, in her mind. The picture of Sain on horseback, galloping home - always during the first few rains of the monsoon each year, always with the large cotton bag slung behind him filled with the loot that he brought for her. How the sight
of her waiting for him in front of the hut would make joy leap and glow in his face!
"Enough for the rent and for renting the buffaloes'' he would say; and she would caution him, ''Take care, or they’ll catch you.”
The sun was now shining, soft and bright; and the rain looked like windblown dust barely visible against the clearing sky. The clouds rose, rapidly twisting and soaring higher and higher, revealing the mountains that stood grey and remote on the horizon. The air in front of the hut was fragrant with the perfumes of the grass
blooms and the wet earth.
“Before you came to live with him, did you know that Sain was a bandit?'' The young policeman asked with a sigh.
Buarum nodded simply.
''Have you tried to stop him?''
''No,'' she said. "We're poor."
''Others here are poor, too, but they work and bear it.....don’t they! They work on the fields during the rain season, and find other jobs when the season's over. They don't break the law, rob and kill, like your Sain.'' He glanced briefly at the baby and said,
''If he is arrested, you and the baby will be in for a hard time.''
"Then take him alive! Don't hurt him ... don't kill him,'' she pleaded and started to weep again.
''Who knows! Sain may resist arrest. He may fight us!'' The young man spoke in a rush of unreasonable anger.. against whom, he didn't quite know. He snatched the rifle from his knees and held it in his hands.
Buarum fell silent. She looked at the narrow path that led out from the small nearby woods. A passing cloud dimmed the sunlight, making the fields and the woods with its narrow path appear as dank and dejected as her own spirit this morning.
''You don't know,'' she said plaintively in the low murmuring voice of one whose thoughts were far away, ''how hard our lives have been. We suffered when we were children; we suffer now when we are grown. Our baby...its life will be hard, too. It will suffer..yes it will...it will.''
She looked down at the baby that had begun to stir from its sleep at its mother's breast and had started to cry softly. But the flow of words that had its source deep inside her would not be stopped.
“We've never known what comfort is. We've never owned anything--not these fields, not this hut. We aren't like you and your people. The last time that we had drought here, we had almost nothing to eat. Sain went into the city to work, but they cheated him--yes, they did, those city people.''
The young man sat motionless for a long moment before slowly letting out his breath. He laid down the rifle and stretched arms towards the baby, saying to Buarum:
“it won't stop crying. Come let me hold it for a bit.” The young policeman, in his brand new khaki uniform with pakhaoma cloth tied around his waist, gently rocked the crying baby in his arms.
''Child of a bandit!'' he said softly, briefly looking up at Buarum who managed to force out a smile despite the tear on her cheeks.
''I've been with the force only a few months....and here I am, ordered out here to catch a bandit,'' the man said. '' On the day I left, my wife cried and cried -- just like you. You see, that's why I understand.'' He laughed lightly, for all the world, as if there was a joke in what he was saying.
The baby finally went to sleep against the policeman's chest. After a while, the sun came out again. A small bird on the branch of a tree near the hut chirped a few clear, warbling notes. Then, came the distant sound of a horse's hooves striking the rain-sodden earth on the path deep in the heart of the woods. It rang rapidly nearer
and nearer in an urgent rhythm that betrayed the rider's impatience and yearning.
The young policeman shouted with all the power of his youthful lung, laid the startled baby on the ground, and tore off after Buarum, who was screaming to her husband in a voice that rended the moist air of the wide lonely fields, making it vibrate with his name. The young man caught her and pulled her back with all
his strength, while the sounds of rifle shots echoed through the woods and the fields - an ugly destructive anomaly of nature on this soft, rainy morning.
The body of the rider dropped from the saddle like a bird from a branch, scattering the wet earth under the indifferent rain that was again falling in white, curved threadlike lines. Fugitive sunbeams were still refracted by the vapours into exquisite rainbow colours visible only from afar.
Buarum threw herself on the ground in an abandonment of grief. Her heartbreaking repetitions of ''Sain didn't resist…..Sain didn't fight.....'' intermingled with the unknowing screams of the baby from the ground, beneath the eaves of the hut.
For a full numbing minute the young policeman stood as if frozen, then he walked to the edge of the brimming pond. The rippling water sparkled with a multitude of trembling lights like a star-cluttered sky. He shook his head to drive away the blurriness that had come over his vision and felt it best to wash away telltale
traces of the shameful weakness that betrayed his pitiful greenness….his newness to the profession. Yes, he had better wash them away before his chief and his comrades came near enough to see them on his face.
(1)long piece of cloth used for a variety of purposes - but mostly as waist-cloth