On the occasion of his 40th birthday, Jimmy Narong held a lavish celebration at the Golden Lotus Room, Bangkok, deciding it was the ideal place to announce his forthcoming marriage.
Surrounded by close friends, and his 7 younger brothers, Jimmy, who was well known for his heavy drinking and womanizing, was cheered and applauded by his all male entourage. Cigars were passed around as the graceful hostess in her floor length ruby dress, glided through the smoke like a silken doll, to deliver a tray of Mekong whiskey.
His brothers, marveling at Jimmy’s decision, secretly tried to add up in their heads how much this would cost him and how on earth he could possibly afford to accomplish it all. It was 1951, they deliberated, and Thailand’s post war economy was something to contend with.
The festivities continued well into the evening, until one by one the revellers went home, buoyant and buzzed by the celebrations. Stepping out into the humid night, Jimmy looked up at the moon, almost full, and purred at this sign of imminent prosperity. Climbing into a newly motorised tuk tuk, he smiled with satisfaction.
“Sukhumvit Soi 24,” he instructed the driver, spreading his arms out across the seat like a jacana bird. He would show them what he was made of. Slightly rich but getting richer by the day, he commanded an ever-growing respect in the community. This marriage would elevate his status. He settled back into the seat, sated and puffed with his own importance, and closed his eyes.
Sunee sat barefoot on a straw mat by the front door waiting for her master’s return. The old house was quiet now, only the sound of traffic droned, accompanied by the hum of cicadas. Beside her, a ewer of water, a basin and towels were positioned for the day’s final task. She would wash Jimmy’s fat face and feet before he fell drunk, into bed.
She had already swept and prepared the bedroom. The carved wooden window shutters, were now fastened shut, and the lamp had been lit by the canopied bed. Intensified by the night, the frangipani tree outside, stole its heady fragrance into the room, wafting around ominously like a snake.
She looked down at the tessellated entrance. How many times had she knelt here, waiting to serve, before she could finally go to bed? Countless times in her fifteen years of service, she had supervised the girls scrubbing this very floor. Now a woman of 38, she was tired of waiting on Jimmy Narong. Eyes closed, she was already thinking of the cooking awaiting her and the others in the morning.
Maybe Mrs Davis from the British Embassy would visit with her Bible again. Last week she had talked about Jesus, a Lord, but also a servant who washed feet, and performed miracles. Why would a Lord, serve the people lower than him? Sunee wanted to know more about Jesus the servant and King.
He was happy tonight. She could hear him making his way to the front door, singing and shushing himself in turns. Opening the door she reached out to help him, offering her hand.
“My Sunee,” he slurred. “….news for you”.
“You can tell me later,” she said, settling him onto a low stool, and kneeling at his feet. Placing them in the basin, she gently poured the warm water, allowing his feet to soak while she wet a towel and washed his face.
“Mmm … feet,” he droned, eyes shut. “Like….. poem.”
“What are you mumbling?” she said, lifting his feet to place them in her lap already spread with a towel.
“A poem my father knew...years ago, about good Thai wives.
‘Every night…… crouch at his feet …and pay him homage.’ ”
He nodded, continuing. “All wives …..should pay homage.” He burped loudly, surprising himself.
Used to his midnight ramblings, she began to fold the towels.
“Sleep time now” she spoke wearily.
Looking at Sunee’s careworn face he suddenly remembered something.
“You’re old and tired.” He stopped to hiccup. “I have decided to take a second wife. You are still the first wife, but next month I will marry Phi Ganda. She will be my minor wife. Maybe give me a son. Tomorrow you … plan for her arrival. We will have … banquet…drink…”
He swayed, then slumped onto the bed.
Watching him silently, she wept.
She had known this day would come.
He had promised years ago.
From now on she would sleep with their daughters.
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