Daughter for Sale
After he gave his word to Yai Phloy, Lung Maa couldn't think of what to tell his daughter. His heart ached, knowing that the words Yai Phloy had uttered that day were outright lies. But what was he to have done? No matter what, he would have to let his daughter go with Yai Phloy. So what point would there have been in disagreeing with her, in forcing her to speak the truth? Wouldn't he only be degrading himself by admitting openly for everyone to hear that he was so destitute that he had to sell his daughter. Far better to let Yai Phloy go on with her eloquent deception. However wrong, he could then mumble that he had been tricked by Yai Phloy. In any event, a man is better branded as having been conned that branded as having sold his daughter into prostitution.
Yai Phloy's soliloquy was most pervasive. Anyone listening to it would have been seduced by it. Yai Phloy began by elucidating in great detail about how children's behavior these days was getting steadily worse and worse, especially city children, and especially in Bangkok. This was because their parents were so busy working, striving to get ahead, that they had not time to stay at home with their children. Instead, the children were ignored until they finally got into trouble. Hiring someone to take care of the children was extremely difficult. Some hired servants who, as soon as their employers weren't watching, absconded with everything in the house. Lost of them stole, even if just a little here and there. But the major problem was that servants were so unreliable. As soon as they were the least bit tired or were criticized or scolded in the least. They ran away back to their homes. Consequently, several of Bangkok's wealthy elite had requested Yai Phloy to find them dependable girls to be their servants. They paid good wages and, moreover, even paid money in advance. As many girls as she could get would be placed.
Even though Yai Phloy was not from his village, Lung Maa had known Yai Phloy since she had been a young girl. In those days, her beauty was known throughout the subdistrict. But before any of the local youths were able to compete for possession, Yai Phloy had already run off to Bangkok with someone who had passed through with the medicine show. Much, much later, when she finally came back, word had it that she had become thoroughly Bangkokian, with a haughty manner and pretentious lifestyles. She appeared to have become a lady of no insignificant wealth. Yai Phloy went back and forth to Bangkok often. Of the girls that went to Bangkok with her, some came back even poorer than before. And some disappeared completely.
Lung Maa knew perfectly well what kind of work the girls who went with Yai Phloy did in Bangkok, because one day he had gone to get an injection at the district health center. That day, the only too discreet doctor there had told him that two or three girls who had gone to Bangkok with Yai Phloy had come back with severe cases of gonorrhea, so severe that he had to send them into town for treatment.
Lung Maa heaved a deep sigh as he thought of his daughter who was soon to become one more in the ranks of unlucky girls. He wanted to talk with his daughter so she would understand and be as untroubled as possible. But he could think of nothing to say.
Paa Saeng, his partner through life, was lying sick in the hospital in the city, suffering from an intestinal problem. She was waiting for the money that would be used to pay for the blood and surgery needed to sustain her life. Her survival, though, would only continue her pain and suffering.
He couldn't borrow money from anyone else any more. His present debt totalled already about 10,000 baht. He'd been in debt for nearly ten years. In all those years, all his efforts had only succeeded in ensuring that his debts compounded interest slowly.
One year, the garlic price had been exceptionally good, which was why he found himself in his present state. The merchants that year had come directly to the village, buying at fourteen to fifteen baht a kilo. It meant that, for once, Lung Maa had enough money to think of working for a better life. So, he borrowed 10,000 baht. With that and the money he had saved previously, he bought another three rai of paddyfield. He was willing to pay the interest rate of 150 thang (Note: Thang [pronounced taang+ not thaang+] is a northern Thai version of bushel. During 1977, one thang of rice can be sold for 45-50 baht. Please note also that one rai [=1,600 sq. meters or 0.4 acre] of land yields 30-60 thang per crop.) of rice per year. He had planned to use the entire rice crop from the newly bought land to pay the interest and use the money from the dry season to pay off the original loan.
But he met with bad luck. The following year, the garlic prices dropped to between thirty and fifty satang (one 100th of baht) a kilo, despite his effort to appease the merchants by bringing the garlic directly to their warehouses and despite the fact that the seed he had bought had been very expensive, nearly fifty baht per kilo. He thought they were probably garlic seeds imported from China. That year began his downward cycle. No matter how he struggled by trying other crops, the profit he made was only enough to see his family through. One year, the price of rice dropped to five baht a thang, forcing him to give up his new plot of land to his creditor. But he was still left with debts worth more than the plot of land he had inherited from his parents. He debts kept steadily increasing. Now he was working his remaining four rai without getting anything himself, because the rice yield went to pay the interest on his debts. The hope that he would one day clear himself of his debts had faded.
As he thought of his past, his eyes brimmed with tears of bitterness at his fate, welling over as his thoughts turned to the future. In another tow or three days, his daughter, while still living, would be forced into hell in Bangkok. In two or three weeks, he would once again face the painful sight of his creditor callously coming to collect 200 thang of rice. This year there had not been enough water, so he was not sure if he would have enough rice to pay, and if there would be any left over. Agony tore his heart as he recalled the words of his creditor, echoing in his mind: "Maa, the money you've borrowed from me now amounts to more than the value of the land you mortgaged. What am I to do? If it keeps on like this, I'm afraid I's going to have to ask to claim your land and house. Next year my son is going abroad, so I'll be having a lot of expenses myself. So please try to pay me by then, if even only the interest."
So now his daughter had gone with Yai Phloy. He had controlled his tears. His parting words to his daughter had been to obey Yai Phloy without questions. If she had any problems, she should write a letter and let him know. He consoled her by saying if he had a chance, he would come to visit her. Of what he had prepared to tell her, nor a single word would come out.
The 2,500 baht he had received as an advance from Yai Phloy was barely enough to pay for Paa Saeng's hospital expenses. And when Paa Saeng returned home and learned that her daughter had gone off with Yai Phloy, she fainted instantly. When she recovered, she began sobbing and sobbing. She wouldn't talk to or even look Lung Maa in face, let alone any of her other five children who were standing around her. Lung Maa could think of nothing to say, so he sought silent refuge in making bamboo ties. (Note: About 2 feet long ties made of bamboo are to be used in binding the harvested rice stalks together)
Late that night, when all their children were asleep, Paa Saeng's voice, muffled with the sounds of weeping, whispered, "Phii Maa, didn't you know what Ee Phloy took our daughter to do?"
"Mother, I knew, but it was necessary. You know as well as I that we had no choice. When you were in hospital, if we didn't have the money to pay for the cost of medicine, the blood, the saline, and other expenses, the doctor wouldn't have been willing to treat you. They wouldn't let us go to the destitute ward. Are you angry with me?"
"No, I'm not angry. But I feel so sad. Ever since I was born, there's been nothing but suffering."
"Do you know Yai Phloy well?"
"Oh, the people in the market place know her only too well. She's taken several of their daughters to sell already. She gets paid 500 baht a head for some, 2-300 baht for others. She takes whatever she can get. She's been a prostitute herself, ever since she was young. When she was not longer able to sell herself, she began selling young girls instead. Her parents had a lot of debts then. Now things seem to be going better for them, but they still owe money."
"I worry about our daughter. I feel so sorry for her. Ever since she left, I don't sleep at night."
"Phii Maa, the matter has happened and nothing can be done, so we might as well let it pass. We'll help each other to share the burden of our demerit. It's just as if she has gone off and gotten a husband, only that she doesn't have a real husband...By the time she can earn the money to help her parents, I wonder how many husbands she will have to have..."