The S.E.A. Write Award 1981
Collection : Khunthong, You Will Return at Dawn
Translated: Chamnongsri Rutnin
จาก เรื่อง เธอยังมีชีวิตอยู่ อย่างน้อยก็ในใจฉัน ในรวมเรื่องสั้นชุด ขุนทองเจ้าจะกลับเมื่อฟ้าสาง
ผลงานรางวัลวรรณกรรมสร้างสรรค์ยอดเยี่ยมแห่งอาเซียน ปี 2524 ของ อัศศิริ ธรรมโชติ
The political situation had been growing more and more critical since the end of September. People were saying that October was the month of bad omens, that it would bring endless turmoil and an inevitable eruption of violence. Everyone was predicting and discussing the situation the way they predict a downpour when dark clouds thicken the sky.
In that period of budding democracy, various activist and pressure groups were vibrant with movements and expectancy. My own feelings were different. I saw dejection in the faces of passersby, and sensed depression in the air around me.
The beginning of October signaled the end of the rainy season, but the air was stifling, as if an invisible fire was raging all around. Rain fell like drops of tears sliding down a young girl’s cheek, adding to the atmosphere of desolation and sadness.
I rolled a couple of sheets of paper, stuck them in my pocket, walked out of my rented house, which was not much bigger than the charcoal burner that my cat used as its den, and strode purposely forward, like a man with a job to tackle. I had been assigned to cover the movement of people who had gathered at a university campus – a sizeable number. I had to be there in the morning and monitor the crowd’s movements, note its size – whether it had grown bigger or smaller, take note of what the protestors said, what their next move would be, what statements they would announce to the opponents of the protest. I had to report all this information hourly to my office.
“Let’s hope it won’t be like the last time. Whatever will happen, let it be better than the last time,” the friend who shared the rented house with me had said before I left that morning.
“That’s what everyone hopes… except for a few,” I told him.
The usually deserted soi that led from my house to the main road was as long and narrow as a railroad. It had no buses like other sois, so I – like all the others who lived in it - had to walk down it to get to the main road. Despite its length, there were few houses. Most of these few stood in the middle of orchards and vegetable gardens. Four or five, as small as a cat’s den like mine, were rented out.
Thoughts of the ominous situation ran through my mind as I walked towards the main road. But, suddenly jolted into the present by sounds of running feet, I looked up and stopped in my track.
A girl, young and slender, ran towards me. She was clearly frightened.
She stopped in front of me, breathing hard. There was nobody behind her, but her fear transmitted itself to me.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. She looked first at me, then behind her and said. “Some people were chasing me.”
“But there’s nobody behind you. Perhaps they’ve lost you,” I said, wondering what was going on. I took a good look at her.
Her right hand, beautifully shaped, was sticky with glue. A thick wad of printed sheets was tightly held between her left arm and her body. The face, bare of make-up, shone above the black shirt that she wore over a pair of stained jeans. A cloth bag slung over one of her shoulders, and she wore a pair of dirty white sneakers.
I gave her a friendly smile and asked to see the posters under her arm. With an embarrassed smile, she handed a few of them to me.
The face of a former politician, bordered in black, was printed on them. Under the picture, angry words were splashed – sentences full of jargons of that period of ‘democracy’. They were posters calling on the people to expel this once-powerful former politician from the country.
“Now I know who has been chasing you! They don’t want those posters on the walls,” I said as her trouble became clear to me.
“They have been hired to stop us putting up the posters. They were beating us with cudgels, so we scattered and ran,” she said, on the verge of tears.
“It’s all right now. Come with me, but…”. I looked at the posters. “Leave those in that pile of garbage, so you won’t get into trouble again.”
She nodded and threw away the whole sheaf.
The morning seemed normal and quiet as we walked towards the main road from which she had run to escape her pursuer. I asked her about the state of things at the university campus which was the centre of the protest against the repatriation of the former politician. She explained the situation to me, expressing her views of the current condition of the country in a clear, concise and logical manner. Here confidence in her convictions was as clear as her sincerity in expressing it.
“Are you a student there?” I meant of the university where the protesters gathered.
She gave a bright smile showing white teeth. “And you? Where do you work?”
“I am an ordinary citizen. Not at all important,” I made it sound like a joke.
She smiled again….. “No. You are ‘the people’.”
I saw her off at the bus stop. She put her palms together in a gesture of respect and thanked me; and before her slim form disappeared into the crowded bus, she gave me her name as if it were a souvenir of her appreciation for my small favor. I walked into my customary coffee shop, sat down and wrote her name on one of my sheets of paper. I memorized her words -- such ordinary words:
“We must help create righteousness and justice in our country!”
A few days later, I was assigned to office duty at the news desk. Reports that foreshadowed the end of democracy came in one by one. Conflicts within the government sounded the first notes of the finale. Certain elements of the mass media joined in. The cacophony crescendoed with voices of the numerous pressure groups. The protest against the repatriation of the former strongman was drowned out by the echoes of matters that concerned the national institution, echoes that sparked indignation in the majority of the people. The finale was swelling towards a climax.
It was unfortunate that our government at that time was plagued with indecision. It deepened the shadow thrown over our democracy. As the situation deteriorated, the original cause was swallowed up by the confusion which ballooned out of all proportion.
I no longer wanted to interest myself in the election government of that time, nor in the various pressure groups, not even in the mass media of which I was a part. I wanted to wipe them clean from my thoughts….. I kept thinking of the slender hands sticky with glue, the fresh young face above the black shirt and faded old jeans, of the movements that showed genuine look of fear. I thought back to our chance meeting on the empty soi that morning. I wondered if she knew what the future held in store for her…..
It was like the breaking of a storm – furious, merciless - after the portent of black brooding clouds. It was like raging flames that burnt to cinders everything in the path of its wrath. The reports I received that morning reeked of death and tears in every line!
It was several days after the return to normalcy that I received the list of those who died in those two days of anarchy. Her name was on it -- the girl with the sheaf of posters who had stopped in front of me one morning not so long ago in the quiet soi that was as long and narrow as a railroad.
The girl who uttered those simple words, “We must help create righteousness and justice in our country.”
She was about the same age as my youngest sister. Her crime lay in the strength of her idealism. It had proved fatal.
I am not in a position to make judgment on her actions, but I shall always believe the sincerity of her thoughts. With certainty, I know that they were as pure and guileless as her gestures and smiles that morning.
I felt a morbid urge to go to the hospital morgue where her body lay to see for myself where she was wounded….to see whether her body was still clad in the black shirt and those faded jeans, or if she had changed into something else….to see whether her graceful hands were still stained with glue, and whether the left arm that had held the sheaf of posters was unmarked, or was it broken and marred beyond recognition…..
And to see whether the bright smiling face, void of make-up, was it marked with pain and fear? These were the things I wanted to know!
But I could only sit there, staring at the name I had written down that morning in the coffee shop. The piece of paper was crumbled but still white and clean.
I inked a red line across her name, but wrote after it the words, “She is still alive, at least in my heart.”
A reporter like me was too much of a coward, too ashamed, to do anything more than that.