It is another fine morning. Even for the time of year, the morning air is still cool.
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This day has arrived quicker than Pon expects. Never in all his life has a week passed by so quickly. He has been living this day for the last month and it feels like he is bursting out of his skin.
It makes him giddy, just to think of it. Luckily Krit, his wife, doesn't even know, because there would be hell to pay, when she does. Of that he is sure.
Yesterday he told her that he needed to cycle down to the village to buy a replacement part for the old water pump that he uses in the field. But he went past the shop selling machine parts and waved to Nit, the Chinese owner.
At the corner there is a big green bank, decorated with very funny figures of people in weird costumes, like comics that his son reads. What they have to do with a bank, except to frighten some one like him, he could not work out. Anyway, these advertising people must know best.
Pon's hand trembled as he wrote the withdrawal amount. It's probably not very much money, but it was a big chunk out of the money that has been saving for a long time. Again, it's a good thing Krit doesn't use the bank. He just gives her any money that she needs and usually that is to buy clothes or sandals for the kids.
Pon came away quickly from the counter with a thin wad of 1,000 baht notes, wrapping his hand around them as if they were something to hide. He went back to the stand where he wrote and signed his withdrawal form, looked around to see that no one was looking, and carefully counted his money. He had not handled this much money for some time, maybe never.
The bundle sat nicely deep in the pocket of his work shorts as he rode home, feeling rather light-headed and somehow elated. Still in the pocket of the folded shorts, it slept with him under his pillow in his own bed last night.
Pon now plants his little sprouts of garlic this morning, one of his favourite activities. He likes the smell of the plants and to see them standing up neatly close to each other. In no time at all the little bulbs will form handsome heads of pink and white garlic, pushing themselves out of the dark brown earth.
Then it would be a happy time when he comes along to easily pull out each bulb, again breathing in their therapeutic aroma as he piles the weighty bulbs under the tree in the corner of his field. And as he watches his handiwork, now stacked high in the back of a pick-up truck bound for market, he gives thanks to the King and the spirits of the field.
Pon now sees the little van approaching on the dirt road, trailing swirling thick dust behind, as he hurries along to meet it. He hands his money over to the driver and collects a heavy box that wobbles in his arms.
The young driver smiles.
"Good luck with it, Uncle," he says.
Pon is in a hurry now. He has rehearsed this step many times in his head. It is quite a climb now with his heavy box. He follows a sparkling stream of clear water, gurgling as it rushes down hill from a big pond that he has dug all by himself over many months , according to specifications.
This has become the best place on his land. The big pond is surrounded by steep hills, even now still green with a teak forest regrowth, from which flow the purest water that he has ever seen, that seems to just gush out of the ground in many places towards the summit.
The water in the pond is now clear, placid and pale green. At the end of his long working day, Pon treats himself to a swim in the refreshing water, quickly stripping and slipping in, always feeling guilty about his own dirt and sweat contaminating the water. Not many people know about this place and he wants to keep it that way.
Pon now takes his box, carefully tears the top open and quickly pours the water inside into the pond. Again he thinks of the King whose program of subsidy and encouragement has made this little secret of his possible.
The glassy surface of the pond closes over again and he saw nothing of what he has just emptied into it. They are on their own now, the little things.
Daily now, Pon makes his climb to his secret place and before having his swim, he scatters big handfuls of pellets into the middle of the pond. It is with immense satisfaction now to see the silvery and pink shapes that break the surface to meet food raining down.
They are big now, having grown much quicker than he expects. He must reread of the last chapters of the little instruction brochure that came with their box and their food.
Krit sees straightaway that something is up with her husband. First of all, his face is lit up with that silly grin that can be seen far down the pathway to their cottage. Then he announces that she is to leave the kitchen as he is going to cook dinner.
Now Krit knows from experience that they are in trouble.
Her husband is a good worker and provider but he is definitely not a cook. She makes a lot of noise protesting, but the silly man would not take any notice. When she tries to push him out of her kitchen, the man even gives her a hug and tries to plant a clumsy kiss on her cheek, which she avoids as best she can.
Now she is sure that there is trouble ahead. She thinks up a menu that she can quickly get ready at the last minute and goes to water her vegetables in the back. What is the old fool up to now in her kitchen? She half expects to see smoke and fire coming out of its window any minute now.
It is dark when Pon calls the family to dinner. They all warily approach the table in the middle of the kitchen. Krit saw straight off that the rice that her husband has cooked freshly is overdone, too gluey. But the five big fish in the middle of the table are well fried, the skin crispy but probably moist inside.
But what fish are these? Their scales are so tiny, so that the rather delicious skin can be eaten without scaling. And the flesh is thick, plump and tender underneath. The flesh is pinkish and has a very pleasing taste, just eaten this fresh on its own with out any sauce. The amazing thing also is that there are hardly any bones, and the bones that are there are so soft that they are edible.
"Come on, tell us what this fish is, dad," the children cry.
Dad just sits there with a smug grin on his silly face.
"It's called trout," he says eventually. "The King brings it from Australia to give to me."
"Trout. The King? You are crazy, dad," say the children. "Why would the King give it to you?"
"Because he wants us all to try to grow them," says Pon.
Her husband brings the fish home often now in plastic bags. They are shiny and fresh, with their round eyes clear and beautiful. Krit has discovered many ways to cook them but knows that it is best not to deep-fry them overdone as she tends to do most fish.
Pon himself has been making a strange oven, just shaped out of wet earth in the back of the kitchen. When the oven was ready, he brings to it dry shavings of wood, lights them up to make mostly smoke and then puts the big fresh fish into it for some hours without burning them. Again, the first time he puts these smoked fish on the table for the family to try, everyone was dubious.
But Krit was no longer doubtful about her husband who now seems to know some strange new skills, miraculously learned from somewhere, although she sees no one teaching him. An old dog can be taught new tricks after all. There is hope for this hopeless husband of hers yet.
And the smoked fish came to be the family's favourite. Their friends in the village too now come by often to buy these fish, which like the salted ones, can be kept for some time without spoiling.
At the weekend, Krit and Pon can be seen sitting in a little make-shift stall by the main road near the village, their golden-brown smoked fish hanging from the stall�s roof like some strange prizes.
Pon insisted on charging 80 baht per fish, which Krit thought far too expensive. And she appeared to be right, as not many people were stopping to buy. Then they put wrote a sign with a picture of the fish as best that they could draw.
"Pon's smoked trout 80 baht," it said.
Now many people pull up in their new cars, buying a lot so that they often run out of fish half way through the afternoon. Some make special trips just to come from Chiangmai and Chiangrai, and more tourist buses stop to let their passengers buy as well.
Pon announced to Krit one day at home that a very posh car had stopped by the stall. Smartly-dressed man and woman came out and bought all the fish that he had. Then they said that they will send a pick-up truck to take all the smoked fish that Pon could produce each week.
They said that they were going to supply them to restaurants and supermarkets, each wrapped in plastic with a label "Pon�s smoked trout."
It is cool this morning as Pon cycles to the village on his brand new bicycle. He looks at the people's faces and sees that they notice his new bike. He waves and smiles to Nit as he rides past. The tall Chinese man has been getting a lot more of his business and he is a happy man.
Pon parks his bike next to the manager's car. As he climbs the steps to the green bank, the front door is opened for him by the security guard, who salutes him sharply. Pon salutes him back, as always.
Pon thinks of his canvas lounge on the grass by his secret pond, which is not all that secret any more. But for him, it is his own corner, the very best that life can offer him after his hard struggles.
Under the placid surface of the pond, he sees his silver and brown fish, bright-eyed with their tails wagging slowly, looking back at him. He silently thanks his King and the spirits of the land, which he now owns.