Story: Ussiri Thamachote
English Translated: Chamnongsri Rutnin
The fiery heat of the sun bakes the small laterite road that leads to the village. The roadside shrubs droop in the heat, their leaves so weighed down by the dry red dust that they hang unmovable in the wind. The sun rides high in the bright empty sky. Its hard, hot rays stream down onto the rough laterite road that is deserted by animals and wayfarers this midsummer noon.
In the distance where the road winds down the small rise in the dry ground, a small black speck comes jigging into view. As it moves, it takes the shape of a four-legged animal heading straight toward the village……
It is a dark brown dog, terribly thin, covered with dry red dust. Something invisible needles it into a consistent state of fear, for it runs at an even pace, neither fast nor slow, never seeming to tire.
Its eyes are opened wide -- empty and staring, like the eyes of a sinful, aimless, unhappy human being.
In a house by the side of that road, a rough and simple house like those of all, the villagers, a thin old man glares furiously at his young wife. The hair on his head is wispy and scarce, its black strands outnumbered by silvery grey ones. It sticks up haphazardly, catching the meagre sunlight that shines through the slits in the
bamboo walls. His pathetic skeleton-like body is bare above the checkered sarong that he usually wears when in the house.
Is she in love with another man? Suspicion grows as he looks at his young wife who half reclined on the bed. Though she has borne him two children, not a man in the village would refuse the lushness of a body like hers If she offered it. Maybe she has, Lately, she has always been reluctant when he wants to make love to her.
"What's the matter? The children aren't home,” he tries to suppress the tremble in his voice.
"I'm bored with It. You take so long each time,'' she makes a move to open the shutters.
''What d'you expect, I'm not a young man, Don't you open those shutters!'' he says menacingly.
''Then act like an old man!'' she throws back at him, “Why do it in the daytime. It's darned hot!''
''Eh, eh!" he cries, ''It hasn't always been like this. Who have you been playing around with? Who's been f.....ing you that's made you so bored with me? I'll kill you If I catch you at it!'' He jabs his finger at her face, literally jumping around in jealous fury.
''You've gone mad! Sex has made you mad,'' she shouts and steadies herself as he charges at her.
A sharp push at his bony chest makes him stagger back. And as she rises to her feet, he hits her on the mouth with the veined and boney back of his hand, It is strong enough to make her fall back into her former position.
She touches her bleeding lips with her slim hand, looking up at his glittering eyes as he looms over her.
''This is what you're good at, isn't it,'' she sneers, her full breast heaving under panung(1) that is wrapped around it. As she looks at his awkward, corpse-like body, she thinks of the day, long ago, when she eloped with him, leaving her father's home, to live with him here in this house by the laterite road.
He was handsome and as strong as an elephant. His love-making was forceful, and yet gentle: as soft as the wind and as unyielding as a rock. All those qualities have been sapped by time. His journey has been longer than hers -- much longer. Sexuality in him has grown sick and decrepit. It is no longer under his control.
He has changed into another man -- pathetically filled with lust and jealousy.
To her, this state of things is agonizing and unbearable.
''You are going mad,'' she says out of bitterness rather than intention.
''Yes, mad. You unfaithful bitch!'' he screeches, his clawlike hands aiming at her throat.
She throws herself at him with an unexpected force that throws him against the bamboo wall of the hut. She hears him swearing and cursing as she races out of the door. The young woman runs towards the laterite road, one hand holding the knot of the panung above her breast, the other pulling its hem above her knees. Looking back, she sees him right behind her.
As she is just about to cross the road to the paddy field on the other side, she hears his frantic call,
"Rabid dog! Stop, stop. Don't cross the road, that dog has rabies.”
She stops and feels her knees turning to water so that she has to sit down in the dust beside the road. The deathly thin dog covered with red dust passes in front of her.
It turns its empty eyes on her, snarls, and runs straight ahead on the empty road, never changing its pace. It runs on steadily at the same unchanging pace. Its tail hangs stiffly between its hind legs.
She remains sitting in a heap on the ground, sobbing with fear and anger.
''The dog has rabies,'' he is standing behind her. ''Lucky it didn't bite you.''
Still breathing hard, he bends down to touch her bare shoulder and says in a slow, lingering tone.
''If it had bitten you, you would have died like Ai Pan last year. Remember how he wailed and howled like a dog before he died? Come on, let's go home. I'm not angry anymore.''
On the bed in the dim light of the tightly shuttered house, the elderly man toils over his wife's body. He tries again and again to retrieve the virility of his youthful years, to have it at his beck and call as it once used to be. It feels to him like trying to climb a steep hill with aching legs that oppose his will at every step. Something in him has become either treacherous or crippled beyond recall.
The young woman lets her old husband move on her body without much expectation. She knows that his efforts are futile without some great miracle. With the light that seeps into the house, she can see the sweat bath his wrinkled face. Their breathing, his and hers, sounds loud against the breath of the wind outside.
She looks into the depth of his eyes. They are staring aimlessly, empty of thought, but filled with senseless pain -- like the eyes of the rabid dog! She thinks of the dog that ran past her on the laterite road....
The thin, dust-covered dog runs straight ahead on the laterite road leading into the village. The sun has moved in the direction of the tall mountain range. Its heat has eased somewhat. The dog runs past the grass and shrubs whose leaves are weighed down by the heavy red dust from the laterite. It is running at a slower pace and a stiffer gait than before. It goes on running past roadside houses and barns that look benumbed by the depressing heat of the summer afternoon.
It lets out low painful cries. Its breathing is hard and loud. Sticky saliva trails from its stiff jaws………
The small boy watches his father searching the shelf with quick nervous movements for sometime before asking,
''What are you looking for?''
His father sharply.
''Mother's money? There isn't any,'' the boy says.
''How d'you know? Has she taken it all?'' the father asks, going on with his nervous search.
The boy smiles, starting to enjoy the situation.
''No, she put it somewhere else. She said if she kept it on the shelf, you'd take it all to buy drinks.''
''Ha, you know!'' the father bends down to smile sweetly at his son.
''Come on, tell me where she hides it.''
The boy looks up at the father whose breath stinks of alcohol and shakes his head in answer to the pleading in the man's eyes.
''Come on, when your mother comes back she'll give it to me anyway. Tell me where it is.''
''You're stubborn, just like your mother," the father turns to look around nervously, not knowing where to continue his search. An old photograph on the wall catches his eye.
The photograph is in a faded yellow frame. It has meant nothing to him for such a very long time. Now he studies it -- a full-length studio portrait of himself and his wife standing in front of a painted background, a make-believe scene of a bright blue sea, with a boat whose sail hides part of the grey mountains. Painted palms
with beautiful, curved trunks are leaden with coconuts.
Looking at the photograph, he laughs to himself -- the newly-wedded couple and their dream! That painted cardboard sea with the mountains, boat and coconut palm represented their dream. They had dreams of seeing a white beach and the wide sea once in their lives, of breathing the air from the boundless river that
stretched out until it touched the sky, of watching the beautiful people who laughed and played there.
For a brief moment laughter stirs in his withered heart. How crazy we were! Now we know that we shall never see the sea, not in our next ten lives.
Wave upon wave of nausea rises in his throat. He walks towards the framed photograph, but the watchful boy is quicker. The child leaps forward and draws a white envelope from the back of the frame.
“Heh, let me see how much there is,'' cries the thwarted father.
''What business it is of yours!''
''Mother told me to take care of it."
"I won't take it all. Just enough for a little drink -- I'm going to give up drinking soon.''
''Nope,'' the boy sidles towards the door.
"You'll get hurt if you don't give it to me,'' he scolds, trying to bar the door with his arm. His thought is full of the taste liquor that is to come in late afternoon drinking bout.
The boy darts out of the door with his father following close at his heels.
At that point of the laterite road, the village is very close by. The child bounds across the road right in front of the thin, dust-covered dog that is heading toward the village. The boy pays no attention to its snarl. He continues to run without hearing his father's
''Hey, stop. A rabid dog!"
The little boy does not look back.
The father lets out his breath in relief when his son manages to safely cross the track of the rabid animal. In his mind, he can see the agonizing death of Ai Pan, his neighbour. With his own eyes, he had seen Pan die from the bite of a rabid dog. The thought of it makes his skin crawl with fear and disgust. Rabid dogs! They are
horrible, dangerous beasts that everyone should avoid.
There it goes, breathing noisily, emitting low cries. Sticky saliva dribbles from its stiff jaws…….
Waves of nausea are rising again, one after another. It comes on suddenly. The longing for the clear, white liquid drives all other thoughts out of his head. The boy is already far down the paddy fields. He races after him, cursing with anger.
Running over rough, parched ground, together with his chronic alcoholism and a craving for the clear white liquor, causes a stiffening of his jaws.
As he chases his son for the money, saliva begins to dribble from his mouth, his swollen tongue appearing between his teeth. His breathing grows louder and he begins emitting low, animal-like cries …like the beast that has just passed out of sight...
The sun moves lower and is partially hidden by the mountain range. Its bright, copper rays suffuse the western sky. The laterite road that runs across the village looks dark against the glow of the sunset.
At this evening hour...the thin brown dog covered with dry red dust runs along the laterite road into the village......
......And falls down, dead.
Red dust sticks to the saliva around its mouth, its body stiff, its eyes open and its swollen tongue jammed between its jaws.
The sun drops behind the mountains. The copper redness at the hem of the sky dims. All visible things become deep shadows in the dimness. Dog, men and the laterite road -- all dissolve into the invisible flow of Time.
(1)The version of sarong, It is case the woman is wearing it up to her armpits covering her breast as she is not wearing a blouse. This is the way Thai women
wear panung for bathing.
Short Story from S.E.A. Write Award-Winning (1981) Collection : Khunthong, You Will Return at Dawn
ผลงานแปลจาก เรื่อง"บนเส้นทางของหมาบ้า" ในรวมเรื่องสั้นรางวัลซีไรท์(2524) ขุนทองเจ้าจะกลับเมื่อฟ้าสาง ของ อัศศิริ ธรรมโชติ