Story: Ussiri Thamachote
English Translated : Chamnongsri Rutnin
The woman reached the house in the orchard at sunset. The winter mist hung like a light veil over bushes and trees. A bird was chirping and the dog began to bark. She stopped at the gate and stood as still as a statue.
The sight of a bent old man tottering from beneath the house made her want to cry -- that, and the dog which had stopped barking and was now wagging its tail, scratching the gate and darting back and forth in an ecstatic welcome. The old man unlatched the gate with shaking hands.
She greeted the old man, her grandfather, with a voice as soft and light as the mist.
The old man's eyes took in her left hand holding a large suitcase, and the emptiness below the sleeve where the right one should have been. A breath of cold wind made the woman shiver. The old man held her in a shaky embrace, saying:
''What's gone is gone.''
A tear rolled down her face and fell on the old man's faded sweater which she remembered buying for him some three or four years ago.
"I've bought you a new sweater, '' she said as he took the suitcase out of her hand. ''You can throw this one away."'
With the dog trotting ahead, the old man led the young woman toward the house. Tears filled his eyes and ran down the wrinkles on his old face.
''It's a lot of money, we can't keep it in the house," her father said, his voice harsh and tight.
''We won't get much from a bank,'' her mother said in the same tone.
"The headman told me that banks give very little interest."
''Then let's buy what we need,'' her younger sister joined in,
''and ask the headman to keep the rest for us.''
The woman smiled -- a brief, faint smile, and turned her gaze back to the bonfire which Grandfather was busily stirring to keep the flames glowing, Wearing the new sweater with its grey and white stripes, he looked clean and fresh, but his expression was curiously bleak and sad.
"We can't trust the headman,'' her father said garrulously,
''He cheated Ai Kong last year -- all the money that Ai Kong kept with him.''
"Well, this is a lot of money...." her mother said her eyes shining with more than the reflection of the fire.
''We can buy things that we have never had. We can think of what's left later."
''Pay the carpenters to make a cart, buy an ox, and give what is left to her. It's her money,'' Grandfather spoke for the first time from his place by the fire. Tension rang in his thin old voice.
"That's a stupid idea. It's going to be dry this year and the crop is going to be bad. Why waste the money!'' her father retorted angrily.
''You're right," her mother nodded in agreement.
"It's cold. Shall we get a wireless?'' she turned to the silent woman.
" Your sister wants one.''
''Buy whatever you want, Mother. I give all the money to you and Father.''
Grandfather kept his gaze carefully fixed on the fire which he was busily poking and stirring.
''I want a gold chain. Only a small one,'' her sister said.
“All right, a short one for the wrist. I am going to town tomorrow And you,'' Mother turned to her,
"What do you want me to buy? Or have you got everything you want from Bangkok?''
"I've got everything, Mother."
“Good luck comes together with bad luck,'' her father said addressing no one in particular.
Grandfather's faded eyes were full of pity and understanding for the hurt in her heart.
''I'm going to bed,'' he said and left them to their bickering over the windfall.
Her father wanted to buy a gun. Her sister came up with the idea of earning interest on loans to farmers who needed money for the new planting season.
The dog began barking at the gate. Her father started, took an axe from the wall and held its handle tight in both hands. The woman looked at the fear on all their faces.
It was not until the dog stopped barking and they heard the voice of the visitor that the fear faded.
''The village headman,'' her mother whispered.
The headman had weathered the cold night wind to come and express his concern at the tragedy that had befallen her.
''I was the one who read the factory manager's letter to your father,'' he told her as he raised the right sleeve of her coat to reveal the pathetic stump below her elbow.
''They gave me ten thousand.''
''The whole village knows that,'' he laughed, then whispered to her father,
''That's why I'm here, It's dangerous. The money should be kept at my house tonight. Don't you trust me?''
Her parents were reluctant, but the headman finally carried the money away in a bag of rice.
"Why do you trust him!'' her mother scolded.
''The headman is honest. He wouldn't lie,'' her father answered uneasily.
''You said he cheated Ai Kong''
''Well... it's probably just a rumour,'' her father replied, without seeming to believe his own words.
''Still, I hope we won't lose the money.''
"The headman is an honest man. Everyone knows that.'' the woman cut in for the first time. Her voice was hard.
The two older people fell silent. Uneasiness crept into the night air. A sharp kick from her father made the affectionate dog at his feet yelp. The man strode angrily up into the house.
''Stupid'' her mother cried to his receding back.
The woman recalled that her mother's brown eyes had been as excited as her father's when she had opened her suitcase to reveal the bundle of money that gleamed red in the lamp's light. Her sister had not been able to hide the greedy delight that shone in her eyes.
As the night grew late, the wind grew colder. The woman could not sleep because of what Grandfather had said to her before she come to bed.
''hey are all crazy about the money,'' his frail hand stroked her hair.
"Well, people are like that.''
She lay coiled under the warm blanket, her eyes open. The oil lamp was turned down to a tiny flame that was the only spot of colour in the darkness of the room. The wind blew through the chinks in the wooden walls and made the light from the low flame dance on the ceiling and walls.
''Shadow of the Fiend,'' she cursed silently as she stroked the empty sleeve and wept.
''What's gone is gone,'' she consoled herself.
The chaotic noise of the factory engine roared in her memory like the laughter of derisive fiends. The machine severed her right wrist with its sharp claws, iron blades as sharp as a sword. Not sated with the blood, it sucked dry her feelings, her life, her soul. The bloodthirsty Fiend plundered everything.
She thought back to the days before she had lost her hand. The days when she had been innocent of the realities of life and human baseness. She had been able to find happiness as an ordinary, unimportant person who knew what it was to love and yearn for family and friends far away at home. She had possessed the will to face the problems of the world and, most of all, to bear the responsibilities of supporting her very poor family.
When the Fiend had severed her hand, she became a cripple who returned home with loneliness and defeat. Worse - the large sum of money that was the 'compensation' for her lost hand took away everything that she ever valued in her life. It was the shadow of the Fiend that had followed her home to destroy whatever was left. It wanted more than her hand ... the greedy Friend!
She closed her eyes and tried to sleep, listening to the song of a night bird that sang out in the cold air.
It was not the coldness of the small hours of the morning nor The barking of the dogs that startled her from sleep and made her sit up in fright. It was two gunshots that sounded close together, and the footsteps that made the whole house tremble.
Urgent knocking on the door was followed by her mother's quavering call.
"Open the door, quick!"
Her left hand fumbled at the latch. When the door opened she saw two men standing behind her parents and her sister. The rifles which shone black in their hands made her knees shake. She stumbled back against the wall.
They searched her suitcase, scattering her clothes on the floor, then looked up at each member of the family.
"I told you the money is with the headman. Go and rob his house. Go,'' sobbed her sister.
It was after the strangers had gone into the morning mist that a thought suddenly came into her head and she rushed down the steps.
On the small path that led to the gate, the bodies of Grandfather and the dog lay close together in a pool of blood. Grandfather's body was still warm though his eyes were closed. She put her arms around him and her head against his shoulder. ''Tears did not flow, except for one drop which fell on the grey-striped sweater and mixed with the redness of the blood.
The headman brought back the money in the rice bag and returned it in the presence of all the people who came to the house that morning. He advised her father to take it to the district bank accompanied by the police who had come to inspect Grandfather's corpse…
The dog was already buried. Grandfather would be cremated tomorrow.
“It was a good thing that the headman kept the money for us. Otherwise it would all be gone,'' her mother told the neighbours who had come to call. Her face was a little sadder than usual.
''Good luck and bad luck come at the same time,'' her father added. His face was a little sad, too.
''Mother promises to buy me a bracele.,'' she heard her sister's voice.
''You look really bad, not like the others,'' the headman said to her in a low voice.
“She loved her grandfather a lot,'' her mother overheard and answered for her
It was getting late, but the sun still looked like an orange in the whiteness of the mist. The paddy fields were white. The village was covered with a pall of clammy coldness. She sat watching the white mist that was slowly lifting over the distant line of trees. She saw in it a streak of redness. She thought of the colour of blood and of
that bundle of money.
She left the house in the orchard as the sun was setting in the haze of the winter air. The day's last bus with its yellow headlights drove on and on through the translucent mist. She wondered where she intended to go, but couldn't find the answer. She only knew that she wanted to go far away and never to return home.
Tears now flowed freely, tears that had been held back since her arrival yesterday at dusk.
Short Story from S.E.A. Write Award-Winning (1981) Collection : Khunthong, You Will Return at Dawn
ผลงานแปลจาก เรื่อง"เสียแล้ว เสียไป" ในรวมเรื่องสั้นรางวัลซีไรท์(2524) ขุนทองเจ้าจะกลับเมื่อฟ้าสางของ อัศศิริ ธรรมโชติ