The Ungrateful Girl
maybe possibly, slightly true.
Lek was always a quiet, studious sort of child. When others
would go out and have adventures in the village, she would stay
at home, preferring to read a book. Her mother said that
sometimes her thoughts would drift away, and it was like she was
in another world. You could call her name, and she wouldn’t even
hear. At school, the teachers were charmed by her quiet
concentration, and always encouraged her. If she wasn’t
the cleverest girl in class, she was certainly the most sincere.
But her quiet nature shouldn’t be confused with a passive one.
From an early age, she had an unusual strength of character.
She refused to join the gangs of kids that smoked behind the
school, and was horrified to hear tales of classmates’ sexual
explorations with boys.
Her family was poor, and her
parents worked long hard hours in the fields to provide for the
children. Lek felt and understood their burden, and
it became her burden too. As she grew older, the
pensive, thoughtful look on her face sometimes also betrayed
deeper feelings of worry, stress, and anguish. Perhaps it
was the mental pressures on her that also affected her health.
She was never a strong child, always the first to catch any cold
or cough going around. Her stomach was constantly in
knots, and she confounded the village doctors, who most often
prescribed a tonic and rest.
Perhaps there wasn’t a lot
of time for fun in little Lek’s life, but I wouldn’t want you to
think that she didn’t have a streak of adventure in her.
One day, her friend Waan convinced her to skip school and go
into the local town. The thrill, the danger, the sheer
naughtiness of it overcame Lek, and they spent a day touring the
malls, and seeing the sights of the town. It was so out of
character that her parents could hardly believe it, and could
barely bring themselves to scold her.
Her quiet, shy nature tended
to put off many of the boys in the school, who preferred the
flirty girls with short skirts and a mischievous gleam in their
eye. But in her time at school, there were a few suitors –
the sort of boys who read books and liked animals and didn’t
care to smoke – and they were enchanted by Lek. They could see
that beneath the timid surface there was something much stronger
waiting to be discovered. They would turn up at her parent’s
house bearing fruit, flowers, small handicrafts that they had
made for Lek. But Lek showed almost no interest at
Again, I wouldn’t want you
to think that Lek was stand-offish. She certainly had
friends, but she was always more comfortable in the company of
one or two best friends rather than with a large group.
Her friend Waan was the first to leave the village to go to
since there are no secrets in an Isaan village, Lek soon heard
that Waan was working in a gogo bar. She was horrified
that her friend would make such a decision, and when she failed
in her attempts to dissuade Waan from this career choice,
couldn’t bring herself to talk to Waan ever again.
Lek’s parents continued to
work hard, but luck always seemed against them. They started a
small business, but didn’t realize that they needed a license,
and had to shut down, losing their savings. Their elder
daughter, who had a good job in the city, was also having a hard
time, and was unable to help them financially. Lek dreamed
that when she finished school she might go to university.
She saw a university degree as a key not only to her future, but
to the future of her parents and the village. She became
frustrated by the corruption and injustice of local politics,
which squandered and stole the meager resources and failed to
help those who most needed help. And that’s when she met
John had known her sister for a few
years, and first met Lek when she visited her sister in Bangkok. Lek was so shy to meet a
‘farang’ that she could barely look John in the eye, wai’ing
politely and responding to any questions with nods of the head.
How they kept in touch, and how John fell in love with Lek is
another story. I want you to know only that it was a chaste
romance, and that in three years, John and Lek barely engaged in
more daring activities than the holding of hands.
She was only a child, but
John could not help himself. He loved her. Lek
didn’t really know what love was, and initially she found it odd
that this small middle-aged Canadian was so enchanted by her.
But he was kind and gentle, and he was good to her family, and
after a while she started to look forward to his visits to the
village, where he would arrive in a rental car bearing coffee
for her father and sweets for her sisters. Although he was
clearly not poor, Lek seldom asked anything of John. She
didn’t have to. John could see for himself the hardships
that her family faced daily, he could see her threadbare
clothes, and he worried about how thin she was. The little money
that he sent her meant nothing to him, but a big difference to
Three years passed since
they first met, and a lot changed in John’s life. But his love
for Lek was a constant. Lek’s dreams of university
remained, but with her sister’s business in decline and with
barely enough money to put food on the table, it seemed unlikely
that she would attain her dream. When she was 18, Lek
finished her final school year, and had to think about her
future. John had to think about his future as well.
John wanted Lek to find her dream, he wanted to be with her, and
since she had become an attractive young woman, he also wanted
her in his bed. But it was not an easy decision. He
had enjoyed the freedom of bachelor life for many years, and he
wondered if he could change his lifestyle, which – it must be
admitted – mostly involved booze and go-go bars. Was he
ready for a real girlfriend? And more importantly was Lek
ready for a real boyfriend? She was terrified by the idea
of sex. Sex had taken away her friend Waan, and it had
caused pregnant schoolmates to have to quit school. It was
something nasty and dangerous that could give you AIDS and ruin
She did love John – at least
she thought maybe she did. He wanted to look after her,
and surely she could love him for that. It was with hesitance
and caution on both their parts that John carried Lek’s bags
into his house in Bangkok one hot, humid day. Initially,
there was a certain awkwardness between them. Although they had
known each other for three years, they had never spent this much
time together. And certainly there was irritation.
They had to get used to each other’s annoying habits.
But after a few days they became more comfortable in each
other’s company, and Lek seemed to relax. If one has known
only worry and poverty, it takes a long time before one can
start to trust and enjoy security. But with every day she
became a little more comfortable.
John booked Lek into an
English school, and started to make plans for the future.
They took a short holiday to Laos, and John
introduced her to great French food. She was still a
virgin, even though they shared a bed. Lek could see that
John wanted to make love to her, and sometimes his hand strayed
across the bed, and she had to gently push it away. She
spoke to her sister about it. What was sex like? Would it
hurt? Was she strange for not wanting it? What could
Her sister advised her that
at some point she was going to have to take the leap.
However understanding John might be of her innocence and
naiveté, he was still a man, and it was her sister’s considered
opinion that ultimately all men whether Thai or farang
are ultimately dogs, who need only one thing, and sooner or
later if they don’t get it, they will move on. But Lek
thought that she could wait a little longer. Things were
fine. Lek had food in her stomach. Her school fees were
paid, and her dream looked as if it would come true. She was
seeing places, eating food, doing things that she had never
thought she would experience in her lifetime. It was
almost as if she was Cinderella, and she was indeed at the ball.
But she couldn’t get the
thoughts of her parents’ poverty out of her head. Every
time John took her for a meal, she silently calculated how many
days her family could have lived on that money. Every time
they hopped in a taxi, she thought about her mother walking five
kilometers to market, even though her legs were weak and gave
her agony. Every time John took her shopping for clothes,
she would think about her sisters clothes, washed so many times
the colors were dim. Every time she watered the little
garden in front of John’s house, she thought about her father
planting rice in the midday sun.
Thus it was that in about
the third week, John found her crying. He wanted to know
what was wrong, and she couldn’t tell him. How could she
tell him that every minute she stayed with him only reminded her
of her family’s suffering? And then the rainy season came.
And news came from home that the old corrugated iron roof that
had covered their little shack for over fifteen years was so
rusted that no amount of buckets could catch the rain coming
through. It needed to be changed. But it was worse than
that. When father climbed up to take a look, with the
family watching worriedly from below, he found that the
supporting wooden beams were so rotten that he could pull pieces
off with his bare hands. If he had bought decent
wood fifteen years ago, they wouldn’t have to be replaced, but
fifteen years ago they were no richer than today. The
family was already over 40,000 Baht in debt. That was from
the collapse of the tapioca market after they had spent a year
growing the stuff.
Lek also knew, even though her father
didn’t, that her mother had pawned all her jewellery for another
10,000 Baht, and unless she made the monthly payments, she would
lose it all. The staggering sum of all these small and big
costs came to over 100,000 Baht – over two year’s salary for a
rural farmer. The cloud that recently seemed to have
raised a little above her head now enveloped her utterly.
John could see that there was something wrong, and he tried to
find out what was wrong.
But how could Lek tell him that the
6,000 Baht he sent home to her family each month was now nowhere
near enough? Then one night, John took Lek out to meet
some friends. They met at a trendy bar in a high-rise
building that make Lek feel out of place and awkward. The
friends ordered some strange-smelling farang food, but
John said that he had already eaten, even though she knew he
hadn’t. They talked English, and Lek was bored. When they
finally left, Lek asked John why he hadn’t eaten with his
friends. John told her that the food at that restaurant
was really expensive – over 400 Baht for one plate of food.
He explained that his business was not doing well at the moment,
and that they would have to be careful how they spent money.
Lek’s heart sank.
Later that night, she phoned her old friend Waan. When
John came back from a meeting the next day, Lek had gone.
She switched off the mobile phone he had given her, and realized
that she might never see him again. But she did see him
again. Two weeks later, John and two friends walked into a
bar on Soi Cowboy. It wan’t John who saw her dancing on
the stage wearing only a bra and mini-skirt and no knickers.
It was his friend who saw her – one of the two friends she had
been with at the expensive restaurant. She saw the look of
surprise on his face, and the delight with which he called out
to John. She turned away. She could feel them
staring at her. She could feel John’s embarrassment, his
shock, his disappointment.
When the song ended, she
raced from the stage, and told the mamasan she was feeling ill,
and in spite of a telling off and a fine, she got out.
John would never understand. John never did understand.
Sometimes late at night, when he was already drunk, he would
tell the story to friends, bargirls, or anyone who would listen.