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Kunthong, You Will Return at Dawn

Ussiri Thamachote

The S.E.A. Write Award 1981

Collection : Khunthong, You Will Return at Dawn

Translated: Chamnongsri Rutnin

จาก เรื่อง ขุนทองเจ้าจะกลับเมื่อฟ้าสาง ในรวมเรื่องสั้นชุด ขุนทองเจ้าจะกลับเมื่อฟ้าสาง

ผลงานรางวัลวรรณกรรมสร้างสรรค์ยอดเยี่ยมแห่งอาเซียน ปี 2524 ของ อัศศิริ ธรรมโชติ

Illustration : Indigo

Ever since the first rain of Lent was expected, they have been saying that Kunthong would be coming home. Yes, they have been saying that he would become a law-abiding citizen again. Not a drop of rain has fallen and the fields are parched but Mother's once barren heart blooms with hope.

Mother busies herself with preparations for Kunthong's return.

Kunthong had left home since last year's Lent rains. A cloth bag slung over his shoulder, he went without telling a soul - not even his own mother. Neighbours who saw him said Kunthong was fighting tears as he went bare-handed into the wild, lonely jungle.

"Aren't you taking a sword?'' someone asked.

''I can find one later," Kunthong had said.

Mother's boat moves against the current of the klong that flows slowly as if tired and disheartened. The water is low from the lack of seasonal rain. Mother is traveling to the pavilion that the authorities have set up in the town center to greet the return of her Kunthong and others like him. How can she not be eager, how can she not look forward to seeing her son's face when she hasn't seen it for so long, It must be a year now, since he has gone. She orders the servant to quicken the strokes of his paddle

''What if he doesn't come," asks the servant

"Of course, he will come, he misses his mother, I know how he feels," Mother's voice is full of conviction but her face is touched with uncertainty.

What if he doesn't come,.the words strike a dark lingering note. The darkness grew as she thinks back and sees, once again, Khuntong weeping on that terrible day. It was the day before he went away; her boy had wept late into the night.

Mother knew he was angry, and hurt ... but who or what caused him the hurt and the anger she did not know. Was the pain so bad that he had to leave his village, his mother? Was it so bad that he could leave the comforts of home to live as an outlaw in the jungle?

"It can't can't be that bad," she denies in her heart.

It was getting light. The horizon that stretched beyond the canal was touched with the faint gleam of dawn. Bushes and trees on the banks peer out from a pall of sadness. Huts, houses and barns sheltered by leafy branches looked empty and deserted. From the bushes on the darks banks, Kunthong's voice rings clear in Mother's mind,

''I know that I can beat them with these two bare hands."

"Who are 'them'?''

She remembers that he did not tell her but showed so much anger that she was annoyed.

''Well, as long as you don't kill anyone!'' Kunthong laughed, his eyes bright with the vitality of youth.

It was beyond her to imagine that death and blood would soon be part of the life he chose -- living out in the jungle with a sword in his hand. After all, she was used to seeing him with his books, never knives or swords.

The chirping of birds recalls her to the present. The sky has become so light that she can see white smoke curling up from behind the distant trees.... dim white smoke against the glimmering sky.

“Did you say he might not come back?" Mother asks the servant who was paddling away like a dumb robot.

''And what do you think?" he asks.

“He will come back... I'm sure of it!" The servant nods and paddles faster…….

Khunthong had been gone since last year's Lent, leaving sadness to keep his mother's company for so long.

Now Mother can only believe that he will come back to the warmth of his home and the unchanging love of his mother. However deep the anger, it surely must fade with the changing time. Memories of past happiness are sure to make Kunthong come home. It is impossible that Kunthong will not be back this dawn.

Mother has brought with her a piece of cotton string that has been blessed. She will tie it around her son’s wrist to give him good luck. She has also brought many other things for him from home.

Skillfully the servant guides the boat to the landing as the morning sunlight dances on the rippling water. The mistress and the servant hurry towards the pavilion at the town center.

"He is dead,'' a youth of Kunthong's age tells her.

Mother sobs ... her son is dead!

''Did you see his corpse?'' Mother asks.

''No, not his corpse, I met him, and he asked me to tell you

that he is dead.''

''Who is he staying with?'' she asks again.

''With his sword....the sword that is stained with blood and

hate!'' says the young man.

The sun glares from the midday sky as Mother's boat makes its way homeward with all the stuff that she had prepared for Kunthong, Who is it that has made her gentle boy so angry? Who is it that has made him decide to die away from his mother and his home? She could not find an answer.

Sounds of the paddle rhythmically dipping in the water punctuate the silence. Then Mother begins to weep again as she thinks of the loneliness awaiting her in the house.....the house where there has not been even a shadow of her Kunthong for nearly a year.


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