The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
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“Ut, you idiot, you. Smile, damn it! Can’t you see the white men walking by?”
I am Ut. Today is my birthday. I don’t feel like smiling today.
I think Mama-san has the world’s most diligent, carping tongue. I hate her. She was the one who told us that we can’t get AIDS because we are female, and only homosexuals and white people get AIDS. Thousands of red pox chewed away Pong’s face, bit by bit. Red pox also drank her blood, in sips. I am glad Pong is with Buddha now. I hate Mama-san. She insists that Pong died because she peed on some tree gods somewhere. And she still insists on us using no condoms if the men don’t want to. We ask, “What about us?” She says, “No business, no us.” Shrugs her shoulders and walks away. I hate Mama-san. But then, all Mama-sans are alike. At least this Mama-san gives us an herb drink every other day to protect us from AIDS. “Just in case,” she says. She drinks it, too. I hope this herb drink is Buddha-sent and works. Everyone drinks it now. Still, I hate Mama-san very much.
“Sawadeekah. I am Ut. Number 32.” I have been saying this for two years now. Two longlonglong years. Enough to grow a callus in my private part.
Today feels like a day of nine suns. Beads of sweat smile at me from the tip of my nose. Today is Tuesday. It has been a slow day. I like it this way. I can dream and talk. There are so many beautiful things outside under the sun. Among them, I pick a different listener every day. I am very picky about whom I pick. She or he has to feel right to me. I talked to a passing gray-bottom cloud once. She was great. And the old, peeling fire hydrant sitting outside our display window reminds me of my father. I call him Mr. Fire Eater. He has a pair of loyal ears. I can talk to him anytime I want to. He is always here.
But today I am talking to you. Yes, you, the fly with green-red eyes. You are one of us. You are caught in the display window, too. Can I call you Noi? How are you today, Noi? You are my lucky listener of the day. You are especially lucky, because today is my birthday.
You know, Noi, I love to daydream about my flower cart. I have been saving twenty baht a week for two years now. This saving is for me and me only. I want my flower cart to be as big as a cow cart.
Noi, do you know why I am mute outside? I am especially mute toward Mama-san. I am afraid if I open my mouth to talk to her, I might accidentally spit in her face. That is not wise. I will wait until the day I buy my flower cart. That will be the day I cough out vomit into her face. Take a good look at her face. That is the face of a donkey next life. I assure you of that.
Since Pong died, I have no more sister-friends. We used to go to temple three times a week. We shared everything, like real blood-sisters. We used to talk and talk and talk. Sometime with our eyes. Sometime with our mouths. To tell you the truth, Noi, I felt that we talked better with our eyes. Sitting in this box window, we didn’t like to talk with our mouths. Like now.
I am Ut. I am also Number 32. Today is my birthday. I turn fourteen today. How old are you, Noi? You know, I still sleep in a fetus way. Nobody believes that I remember my mama’s womb, but I do. She was warm like a bowl of jasmine rice. Do you believe me? I hope you do. I always wish that I can tell the customers: “Please let me lie on my right side, please.” I curl up on my right side. I can’t sleep any other way. I love my straw mat at home. It is homey and close to earth. When I am here lying on a bed, I try to think of my straw mat at home and my mama’s face and the warm jasmine pudding she made.
You know, Noi, my mama had pure Chinese blood in her, even though she looked like a pure Thai. She was our village’s best massager. She had a pair of potato-thumbs that could squeeze the sickest wind out of the deepest nook inside the oldest man. But when Mama fell ill, there were no other equally gifted thumbs to flatten the sick knots inside her. Her stomach grew to the size of a table. A dark stone table. It was as if my mama was cursed with nine babies and then some. But she died with a smile. She said she was paying all of the debts from her last life, and her children’s debts, as well.
I am Ut. Ut is my first name. I don’t have a family name, I say. People will spit on my family name if I tell it. I don’t want that to happen. But you look like you really want to know. Well, my last name is Bangkok. Yes, Bangkok. I gave it to myself on my twelfth birthday. I am Bangkok Ut. Number 32.
Westerners have a funny way to say things. They call Bangkok the Angel City. They say we are angels. I don’t see how. Don’t all angels have long blond hair, big blue eyes, and sand white skin? Angels hold a stick with a yellow star on it. I saw an angel once when I was small, in my sister’s schoolbook. The angel pointed her stick at the earth, and the earth started to spit out loaves and loaves of bread for a poor girl to bring home. I am Thai. I don’t look like an angel. I don’t eat bread. I don’t hold a stick with a yellow star on it. This American guy? He paid me to be his Thai wife for two weeks. He called me “honey sugar angel bun.” White men must like angels very, very much.
As I told you, Noi, today is my birthday. I am fourteen today. I went to the temple to talk to Buddha early this morning. I brought him eight clusters of yellow jasmine. Noi, have you flown into a temple before? It is a happy place. Do go. Buddha has a kind face and very long earlobes. My earlobes are short and slim; they explain why I am here. Did you know that fat earlobes can bring you good luck, and can fan bad luck off your path? Do you have a pair of earlobes, too? I mean, do flies have ears? How many ears? If so, I hope your earlobes are as big as my toes. Anyway, do go pay Buddha a visit sometime. I asked Buddha to give good grades to my younger sisters and brothers. Especially Nit, my youngest sister. She is smart, but she likes to cheat.
You know, Noi, I also asked Buddha if he gave my mama a good next life. Last night, I dreamt that Mama had a third eye. It sat between her brows. A tear rushed down from her third eye and curved around her nose into her mouth. The fortuneteller outside the temple explained to me that my mama is a people-buddha now. Her kind deeds in her massager life earned her a wise eye. I am glad. But the fortuneteller didn’t say why my mama’s wise eye cried. I hope Buddha has given my mama a good next life.
I also asked Buddha to cure my papa’s spine. A crooked wind lives in his back. His back trembles like an aged hammock, sometime weakly, sometime madly. But Papa insists on working, bicycling around sharpening scissors and knives of folks in nearby towns. I just spent four hundred baht on more anise bandages, but even these best bandages with anise mud have failed to pluck the vile wind off his spine. I am witless on this one, Noi. I am worried about my papa. I hope Buddha will help me soon.
Oh, damn, I forgot to ask Buddha to continue fanning off the two Arabs, one short and one tall, who punch my face when they can’t come. The first time they whacked my head, I was not at all prepared. Because, you see, other Arab men I have met were very gentle. These two, I am sure, were beaten often when they were boys. I will ask Buddha on Thursday to make them hate Bangkok and leave this city.
You know, Noi, sometime I actually feel very lucky. Lucky because I am not one of the performer girls next door. I don’t think I can live very long if I have to do “fire stick in pussy” show or “pussy smoke cigarette” show or “pussy with ping-pong ball” show or “pussy chop banana” show or “pussy writing with fountain pen” show or “pussy opening bottle of Coca-Cola” show. They even have a “pussy shooting darts” show. I don’t know why men cheer in ecstasy when seeing women in danger.
Mama-san once said that rooster fighting, kickboxing, and “pussy razor thrilling” show are all the same. She said it is human nature to pay a lot of money to taste danger and to see bloodshed. Not me. I know you agree with me, Noi. I think performer girl has it much, much worse than boxers or roosters. Roosters and boxers are heroes. People respect them very much. Especially the roosters.
Come to think of it, a flower cart is not good enough. I must tell Buddha that I want to be a man next life. Then I can open my own factory. I can hire boys and girls, train them, and pay them well. I will become rich and powerful and burn down all the brothels and build hundreds of schools. My schools will give free books, free shoes, free lunches. Of course, I must not forget to spit on Mama-san’s face if she remains her old self. I must ask Buddha for this on Thursday.
Today is my birthday. I am fourteen today.
Look at him, Noi. Yes, the white man wearing the green-yellow batik shirt. I have a feeling he is going to stop and come in. Yes, he stops. He turns. His eyeballs roll from left to right. His breath grows a tiny ball of fog on the outside of the window, between his eyes and us. He takes a step to the left. See his face, Noi? He has the who-the-hell-are-Jesus-Buddha-Mohammed-I-am-in-heaven-oh-oh-mama look. I have a feeling he may take a while to decide among the four of us girls in this window.
I think he is going to pick me. His eyes are drooling. His lips are saying, Number 32.
I’ll tell you a secret, Noi: Fly forward two yards, then go another three yards to your right, and you will see the door. You will be free. Outside. Outside the window. You will be right in the middle of Bangkok, under a sky of nine suns. There are many beautiful things under the sun. Outside the window, I mean. Now fly away as fast as you can. Bye, Noi. Bye, fly. I hope I won’t see you again in here. Sorry I forgot to listen to what you may have wanted to say about your life. I hope you don’t mind. Today is my birthday. I am fourteen today.
“Sawadeekah. I am Ut. Number 32.”