ขบวนการล่างู : ชมัยภร แสงกระจ่าง
Bangkokpost / section: Outlook
Published: 5/07/2010 at 12:00 AM
I retired from the civil service just last month. Life doesn’t feel quite right yet. I wonder at myself a lot suddenly waking up in the morning without having to go through the torment of travelling first on a motorcycle, then by bus and then in a minibus any longer. Oh, I forgot to tell you that I’m a woman, and unattached. Now that I’m retired, I have nothing to do, really, so I just water the plants and clean the house, and it’s now that I’m sixty that I find out the house I’ve bought on the National Housing Authority’s instalment plan all my life is rather overgrown. The various medicinal plants my mother planted before she died are thriving in green profusion all over the house, especially the spiky blepharis creeper she had girdled the fence with as a would-be protection against snakes.
My mother died when she was eighty years old, so I hope I’ll live at least as long as she did, and deep down I hope to be surrounded by love as I noticed my mother was when she was with her neighbours, maybe because she was talkative. Now that I’m retired, I talk to people more, almost to the point you could say I have to greet whoever walks by, even little schoolchildren whom I ask, “Where is your school, child?” “What do your parents do?” – so much so that one day I got ticked off, because their mother scowled and hissed loud enough for me to hear, “None of her business!”, so I kept away from them the following days.
One morning it started drizzling just as the same two schoolchildren were walking past my house. Seeing they had no umbrella, I ran out to offer them one. This time I saw a little smile dawn on their mother’s face. “I’ll return it this evening,” she said, which made me feel better. Later that morning, the food-selling van drove by, shouting his usual “Foodstuffs, folks, foodstuffs!” I had signalled for it to stop several times before, but the seafood wasn’t as fresh as advertised, so today I let it drive away without reacting. I put the TV on and watched a funny programme just to kill time and when I had enough of that went to lie down. This time I had quite a snooze. When I woke up again, it was midday. I walked over to the grocery at the entrance to the street to buy food made to order for lunch. When she saw me, the shop owner greeted me with, “Aunt Som! Isn’t it nice being retired?”
I nodded and smiled. As I walked back to the house and was about midway, I heard footsteps hurrying behind me. Alarmed, I didn’t dare turn around to have a look. Just then, there were shouts of “Aunt Som! Aunt Som, wait!” I turned round and saw it was my nephew, my younger sister’s son and a cross-dresser, tilting as he strutted on his stiletto heels coming towards me.
“I almost died trying to catch up with you, Auntie.”
“Why are you here, Boy?” I asked brusquely.
“I’m going to stay with you,” my nephew said with a bland face. Besides, he had a small travel bag with him. “Mum told me to, to keep you company.”
I didn’t like this much, because this nephew likes to have male friends of the same persuasion come and see him and their shrieks and shouts prevent me from sleeping, but what I answered him was, “All right.”
In the afternoon, my nephew went to some friend’s house and came back late in the evening. It was as if I was alone. I couldn’t quite eat nor sleep, TV was no fun – why it was no fun I had no idea. In the evening, my sister called to find out how I was. When I told her her son had come back late, she had me call him over and berated him on the phone. Their noisy quarrel added to my headache, and on top of that she had me back on the phone to tell me in the end, “From now on, don’t let him go out. I went to the trouble of sending him over to keep you company and there’s this nonsense again…” I put down the phone and felt tired beyond words. Why should it be my duty to look after my nephew? Thinking about it, I felt like telling him to leave my house right now, but it was just a thought.
The evening news was all about mass demonstrations building up. A colleague at my former workplace called to grumble and mutter on the theme of “Get out! Get out!” I told her to calm down: we didn’t know yet what he had done wrong, then I put the phone down.
I drifted into sleep for a while and woke up again because I needed to pee. I slowly opened the door of my room and had a look at my nephew’s room, which was on the same floor, and saw that it was closed and quiet, so I walked down the stairs to the bathroom. There was no light on the ground floor. Usually I left a light on in the kitchen, enough to see my way, because I was afraid to fall in the stairs. My nephew probably didn’t know, so I had to go down in the dark. When I reached the bathroom, I pressed the light switch. The dazzle made me squint. I raised my nightdress and stooped to sit down on the toilet seat. Something black was stuck inside the white bowl. I looked hard. That black thing was twitching. “Eh! It’s a…” Thinking only this far, I sprung up and away automatically. Forget about peeing. I stared at the black creature once again. It changed from a dark mass into a long line that coiled upon itself as in a cartoon animation on TV.
I thought I’d shout at the top of my voice but what came out of my throat was a stifled groan.
The long black line undulated back and forth. This time I knew for sure what that black line must be. I forced myself to look again. I saw the head which was bigger than the rest of it. I saw the two small black dots of its eyes as well. I closed the bathroom door gently as if afraid that thing would take fright, ran up the stairs four at a time and hammered against the door calling out at my nephew, “Boy! Boy! Boy! Boy!” My heart was beating with fright as I pummelled. I thought that if I’d sat on the toilet seat and been bitten, what would have happened? Right in that spot, too! Oh my! The very thought gave me the creeps. Oh my! Oh my! I hammered on the door all the harder. Finally, it worked. My nephew, whom I had been reluctant to take in for the night, sprung a sour-looking face out of the room.
“What’s wrong, Aunt Som?”
“A snake! A snake! A snake!” I told him tremulously. “There’s a snake in the bathroom!”
I’d hardly said this when my nephew Boy stepped back and slammed the door in my face.
“Eek! No way!”
I stood dumbfounded in front of the door. The fear that had me shaking slowly left me, only to be replaced by anger. It was like hot water poured into cold water: after a while the cold water that hasn’t splashed out mixes with the hot. I felt in a state of utter confusion.
Finally, I moved and went down the stairs slowly, meaning to chase my nephew called Boy out of my house first thing tomorrow. “He is a man, isn’t he?” I thought. At least he was born so. I had gone to see him. It was a boy. And his name is Boy too, Boy, Boy!
As I stepped down the stairs and was coming to the last step, there was the sound of a door opening and then of feet rushing down the stairs, seemingly about to overtake me. “I’m leaving, Aunt Som. Snakes scare me.” Those were my nephew’s high-pitched words. That wasn’t all. He turned to tell me further, “Open the gate for me please, Auntie, I’m leaving now,” and without bothering to ask anything at all flew straight to stand by the gate, ready to leave the house. I walked to the table by the window, picked up the key, walked out to the gate, and without looking at my nephew, as I mumbled in my heart, “Sure, get out of here, you”, opened the gate and looked at that ungainly body skipping out of my house, feeling hurt.
“Goodbye, Aunt Som,” my nephew found it in his heart to add.
A writer for all seasons
I went back into the house. The mixture of hot and cold water inside me began to boil over again. I went to stand by the phone, meaning to have a row with my sister about her son, but found myself without strength, my legs too weak to carry me another step. Finally, as I stood by the phone, I remembered what I was faced with. I felt so weak at the knees I had to sit down on the sofa. I closed my eyes. The number 191 popped up in my head. I opened my eyes again. The phone was almost floating before me. I collected myself, lifted the handset and then pressed one, nine and one.
“One-nine-one. How can I help you?”
“A snake, a snake,” I managed those words first, and then began to tell what happened confusedly until I got a grip on myself and began to explain where the snake was. “In the bathroom,” I told the police. “Come right away, please.”
The officer was silent for a moment and then said, “It’s two in the morning, you know?”
“That’s right,” I confirmed.
“Let’s say tomorrow morning…”
“No way!” I told him harshly. “I haven’t even peed yet.”
The officer was silent for a longer while before answering in a meek voice, “Use another bathroom.”
“I can’t,” I fumed. “I’ve only one bathroom.”
“Oh?” the officer acknowledged meekly. “We’ll be right over.”
I was dozing off when there was the sound of a car stopping in front of the house. I turned on the light, went to take a peek by the window. When I was sure it was a police van, I opened the door and went out. As I came out, I was startled to see a whole crowd standing in front of the gate. Most of them were dressed casually. Only two wore a police uniform.
“One-nine-one, is it?” I asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” one of the officers answered. I looked at the dozen people standing there. “How come so many of you have come to catch a snake?”
The officer smiled and then said, “Oh, we weren’t out to catch a snake, ma’am. These are people I caught earlier in a gambling den. As we were taking them to the station, the boss radioed in saying there’s a snake in this house, so we stopped by to catch it.”
I stood speechless. Were these people crazy or what, taking that crowd along to stand in front of my house like this?
“Where’s the snake?” he asked, as though eager to do his duty.
I took him into the house, pointed at the closed bathroom door. “It’s in there,” I said. The officer opened the door cautiously. It was quiet for a while, then he shouted, “Where exactly is it, ma’am? I can’t see it.” I walked into the bathroom, looked at the toilet seat, pointed at the spot where I’d seen it, which by now was thoroughly white, without any trace of a black line or black blob or anything black at all. The officer raised the lid, flushed the toilet, lifted this, opened that – everything was safe.
“How big was it?” he asked.
“Not very big,” I answered. “But frightening.”
The police had come at three in the morning and went at four with their ten or so catch of the night without even a glimpse of the snake, leaving me to sit dozing off on the sofa until morning without having taken a pee.
All of the neighbours knew about the snake. They each came by to comfort me and trooped into the bathroom to look for the snake in the toilet seat. Several of them expressed their views on how to hunt and kill snakes. Strong bathroom detergent, washing powder, mosquito repellent, fish sauce, vinegar, boiling water, alcohol: whatever was suggested was poured into the toilet seat and flushed. The toilet cleansing mass movement was at it from dawn to dusk, at the whimsy of whomever.
“It’s dead and gone,” someone summarised. “Aunt Som, you can use your bathroom now.”
I thanked everybody. When it grew dark, as I turned on the TV to watch the news, I took a rag, wet it and set about wiping off the tracks of footprints in my house until the floor was clean and all the while kept hearing only the words “Get out! Get out!” As night fell, I began to feel hungry and realised I hadn’t eaten anything yet. Once I had, I developed stomach ache and needed to go to the loo. Peeing was nothing much, but number two… What would I do if the snake wasn’t dead after all?
“Get out, damn it!” I shouted all alone.
The bathroom smelled strange when I entered it around midnight and this time I saw it again, almost at the same place as the first time. It raised its head and made it a little bigger than the rest of its body as before. I didn’t relieve myself but ran out of the bathroom wildly. I was beginning to learn that it would soon disappear again. I kept pacing back and forth, pondering all sorts of things, all related to ways of killing that snake for good.
Finally, by two in the morning, I called the house of the handyman I’m familiar with. His wife, Oy, answered the call with a sleepy voice. “Who’s this? Aunt Som, is it? What’s the matter?” “A snake! There’s a snake in my house.” Oy uttered a shrill cry and then told me, “I’ll wake Pete’s Old Dad, Aunt Som. He’ll be there right away.”
Oy’s “right away” turned out to be four in the morning. I kept dozing off. From four to six in the morning, the handyman called Pete’s Old Dad removed the whole toilet piece by piece, thoroughly cleaned everything, put it all back together again and ended by pouring caustic soda into the bowl which went frothing and smoking.
“If you’re so smart, then come out!” Oy said. “Dead as a doornail, for sure.”
“Won’t even be any bones left. Caustic soda destroys everything,” the handyman added with a fervid look on his face.
I gave the man one thousand baht and went to sleep soundly for the first time in three days, then went into the bathroom and relieved myself gloriously.
The next day, quite a few people came around to make enquiries. I kept my answers short and didn’t allow anyone into the house. On television, it was still all about “Get out!”
On the fifth day, I saw it once again at three in the morning. When I first caught sight of it, I thought I was dreaming or fear was making me delirious, but after I stood looking for a moment, I was aware beyond any doubt that I wasn’t dreaming and that it really was here again.
“You snake,” I whispered to myself. This time I decided I wasn’t going to tell anyone about it.
‘Rueng-san Wannakam’, volume 6 (2007)
About the author
Writer: Short story by Chamaiporn Saengkrachang and translated by Marcel Barang