The old lady squatted on the bare earth, weighed down by heavy silver jewellery. She didn't pause from her stitching when the foreigners dismounted the elephants and limped to the stalls. No doubt they'd be paying big money later for a traditional massage. Strange that they still haggled over five baat when buying her handwork. Still, the sales kept rice in their bowls.
Nainai didn't pause even when the strangers squatted in front of her with their little cameras, flashing them in her face. In fact, as she stitched, she looked up and flashed them a toothless grin.
Now that Dee was back from school, she used English to keep up a pleasant banter with the tourists. Nainai posed for pictures of ‘a traditional lady doing traditional handcrafts’. As a result, many tourists spent their precious baat at their stall rather than those of their neighbours. Finally the visitors clambered into the ox cart for the 'traditional cart ride' to their 'traditional lunch'. Not that they would enjoy traditional food, which is why it was cooked in a very foreign way for the guests.
Dee squatted by her grandmother.
"Grandma, I've been thinking...."
"Bad move, sweet Sawasdee. All that gets you is trouble."
"Grandma, your handcrafts are magnificent, but...."
“But it’s not like the rubbish they sell in the city.”
“No, Grandma, that is NOT what I was going to say. But we sell the same patterns as everybody else. If you stitch some western designs, I think we’d sell more. I ordered some patterns from the city. Look.”
Dee pulled a sheaf of papers from the traditional handcrafted bag hanging at her side. Nainai leafed through them. No sense in getting upset with the child. What do you expect when you send them away to school? All education does is give the young ones a notion that the old ways are no longer best. No. Nainai forced her voice to remain void of the rejection she felt.
“Sweet child, these pictures only copy life. Birds, flowers … what is interesting about that? If you want to admire a bird, look at a bird. Our traditional patterns have meaning, history, richness, depth. They’ve been good enough for our people for hundreds if not thousands of years.”
Dee’s shoulders and head dropped. “Very well, grandmother.”
Nainai rolled her eyes. She was a filial child, this granddaughter. But she was wrong. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to humour the girl.
“You know, Sawasdee, it’s high time you learned to stitch yourself. I see there is a cross amongst your designs there. I think we could incorporate a cross into a traditional design, don’t you? I’ll teach you the basics of our traditional embroidery. If you choose to mangle it with foreign pictures, so be it.”
Dee was a fast learner and before long, her own work was of a standard good enough to be sold. The funny foreigners who dismounted from the elephants did indeed like the crosses. They sold like cool coconuts on a hot day. Soon all the other women in the village were stitching similar designs.
One day, as Dee and her grandmother squatted by their stall, stitching and waiting for visitors, a tall man came around the bend. He was no tourist – that was clear by the way he walked. Dee suddenly leapt to her feet and ran down the dirt path. “Father!”
Nainai swallowed hard, determined not to cry, but the sight of her son was indeed making it difficult. The other handcraft sellers gathered around, eager to hear news of how their fellow villager was faring in the big city.
“I’m afraid I can only stay a day or so, but I have such exciting news, I had to come and tell you myself. What? I see I’ve been beaten to it!” The man’s face lit up with a broad smile, while the brows of the women who surrounded him furrowed in confusion. Dee’s father picked up one of the pieces of cloth embroidered with the shape of a cross, this one decorated with several flowers wound around it, all set against a backdrop of traditional design.
“The cross. That’s what I came to tell you about.”
Dee took the piece of cloth from her father’s soft city hands. “But Father, the cross is just a pattern. Do you have other patterns to share with us?”
The man’s eyes opened wide. “Mother, daughter, friends, the cross is far more than just a pretty picture. Let me explain….”
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