Negotiations had dragged on for days, wearying each of us, so we were permitted a brief holiday. In the back of my mind as I sat at the table was the thought that this was going nowhere. Where was the significance in any of our sea treaty discussions? What difference would they truly make?
I set out early the next morning to walk along the river, which winds sinuously through the ancient city. I hoped to find inspiration for a new book I wanted to write, a passion I like to pursue in any spare time I can find.
Rising all around me were the ancient Buddhist temples with their pointed spires, reflecting the rays of sunrise and looking like exotic jewels. Strangely, yet not looking strange at all, were modern skyscrapers alongside. And lush tropical greenery was everywhere. Having had little opportunity to explore I ogled at the beauty of Bangkok like any tourist, snapping pictures to take home.
My steps took me toward a district filled with shops and other businesses. I stepped through a doorway to escape the rising heat and humidity and to find something to eat and to drink.
As my eyes adjusted to the dim light I saw what appeared to be a bar at the back of the place. Colorful though dirty lanterns hung suspended from a high ceiling, ineffective to illuminate the place. Worn wooden tables, also in faded colors, probably once bright, made the place look somewhat more festive than it felt. Flies buzzed through an open doorway to a patio area to one side.
The small boy appeared out of the shadows, wearing only a yellow t-shirt. I judged him to be about three or four years of age. His face wore a solemnity that seemed inappropriate to his age and he was thin.
He approached me tentatively, looking behind him several times. The man seated at the table said something in Thai that sounded imperative and the child came right up to me and touched my leg, looking up with ancient dark eyes. I smiled down at him, but his countenance remained expressionless.
Almost shyly, he moved his hand up my leg toward my knee.
I froze then, my skin prickling and my mouth going dry, as if the small hand were a snake climbing my leg. I sprang back from him and gaped, my mouth hanging open. It was the specter of an evil about which I had read, bizarrely embodied by a tiny tot.
Mark 10:16 came to mind: “And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.”
Coming to myself, I knelt down to his eye level. The child looked both puzzled and frightened. Guttural grunts were coming from the man behind him. The child's plight tugged painfully at my heart.
I had no idea whether the man spoke any English at all. “How much?” I said.
The owner of the place stepped forward and translated to the other man. A low chuckle accompanied the flash of yellowed teeth. The seated man lit a cigarette and leaned back in the chair. A thin gray wisp of smoke rose toward the ceiling. More guttural sounds.
“He say, one-t'ousan Thai baht one hour – about t'irty dollar American” the proprietor spat.
A tear rolled down the little one's cheek which he rubbed away quickly with a fist. My own control was scarcely better. I swatted at a fly to cover.
The proprietor had turned away, presuming the deal done.
“Wait”, I called out. “How much to buy?” I heard myself say.
Another translation and both men laughed. The child's expression was guarded.
“He say, American want buy all boys? Make offer.”
For all my professional negotiator's training, my face doubtless reflected the dreadful thudding of my heart.
Refusing to be baited however, I replied “This one for now...only this one.”
I paid his price without flinching. Taking the child by the hand I led him away and out of that life.
Back at the hotel my new charge slept fitfully. After calling my understanding and agreeing wife, I followed my heart and knelt in prayer, knowing that there was much work to do. Nevertheless, I was barely able to constrain the fire being ignited in my mind to start writing chapter one of a book I hoped would make a difference - one that I prayed would help shed light on a tragic evil.
Scripture reference Mark 10:16 NIV
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