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Sugarcane.

From the machine that squeezes the canes flows cool light-green juice filling a glass to brim, so sweet to the taste. Oye lately has thought of her name and how appropriate it seems for her. She feels like that juice. Whoever drinks her will find her pleasing. Of that she is sure.

The sun is almost behind the trees around her village. After another blazing hot day, the birds are singing in a loud cacophony rejoicing in the evening�s coolness and fading light. Oye is at her usual place by the village"s large lake, where a thick growth of reeds shelters her from the houses of her village on the opposite side of the pond.

Oye stands next to a tree and let her sarong slip to the dusty ground then picks it up quickly to drape on a convenient branch. She feels the warm sun on her bare body and sees patches of sunlight painted on her shiny smooth skin, same colour as the rich mud under her feet.

Glancing quickly around, she sees the trees looking at her nakedness. She knows that some village youngsters, friends of Noy, her brother, and maybe her brother himself, are probably at their usual hidden viewing spot in the shrubs over to the right. Some of the older village men may be there as well for all she knows.

Oye used to be very shy. But the thought of stripping for this hidden audience each evening makes her flesh tingle. It is the highlight of her day. She takes her time now, stepping slowly to the water�s edge, then feels her body accepted by the water�s coolness.

A good swimmer who taught herself, Oye strokes the surface easily to the middle, avoiding a big raft of big lotus leaves and beautiful magenta bulbs of flowers standing elegantly in the water. She dives deep then gushes up, a new pink lotus flower is flowering.

This is her place on earth. She was born here in the house on legs that she can sees now. Will she have the heart to leave it?

At dinner, Oye looks at her father. His good looks that she is so proud of is pleasing every time she sees him. His hair is thinning now and much more grey. His eyes grow more peaceful and wise with the slow passing of the years. He moves some plates of food to her mother.

Oye's own beauty comes from her mother and she is so thankful about that. What a pair her parents are. When she marries, she wants her marriage to be like theirs.

Everyone is quieter than usual tonight. Insects are chirping away in the trees all around the balcony where the family sits on the mat to eat. Oye thinks of getting on the bus tomorrow and the farewell before that.

It's a warm night but a light breeze spring up later. Oye is wakeful while her brother breathes evenly in his corner of the room.

She has grown up in this bed. It's a young woman's body that is in it now. She has been feeling of late that this body of hers is a bus ticket to another place, her salvation.

Her school days in the local temple are over. There was a tearful graduation and farewell ceremony when most of the teachers and students cried.

Oye does miss the long days there which started with the students standing at attention to salute the Thai flag, being slowly hoisted by two proud students, one boy and one girl, chosen especially for the job each morning.

Many of those mornings were freezing with the school ground covered by thick mist, even with her hats and gloves knitted by Grandma. But she loves such weather.

Most of what she had learned was taught by repeating what the teachers recited. She felt that most of her teachers learned this way too. So she and her friends thought the same way on most things about the King, religion and their duties to their parents and their country.

But for Oye that was never all. In her brain, she saw plenty more she thought than most of her friends. There is more to this life.

Oye sits now on the little bus. She looks for the final time at her nest, the dusty ground of the village. Her brother was there standing next to his bicycle. She is sure that somehow he knows what she is doing. She has said goodbye to her parents. She is to be away to nearby Chiangmai to see Suay, a village school friend, coming up from Bangkok to meet her.

The bus starts. On its way out, Oye sees the village pond through the big green leaves of the teak trees. She clutches the bag with her belongings in it. The familiar bamboos and the banana trees now form an escort on either side of the road winding though her mountains and valleys.

She needs to be strong.

When Oye sees Suay at the central bus station, she drops her bag and has to hug her school friend. Suay seems to understand and they embrace for long moments, ignoring the stares all around.

That night in a cheap hotel room, they share the double bed as they sometimes did in their teens when staying over at each other's houses, squashing together and giggling on narrow and creaking bamboo beds.

She doubts whether she can be as free and at ease with any man as she can with Suay.

There must be 50 girls in this funny large room designed like a stage with steps on which Oye, Suay and the other girls are seated in three rows, each higher than the other so that they can all be seen from the front. Each girl wears a large number.

In front of them is large mirror covering the length of the room, into which the girls are forever gazing and adjusting their hair or clothes. They forget that it is actually a one-way mirror behind which male customers are sitting and selecting which girls they will order to private massage rooms.

The girls are wearing their best clothes with blouses so close-fitting that the buttons are struggling to hold their bosoms in. The skirts too are so short that it's a real struggle for the girls to keep their legs and thighs closed together. Wherever she looks, Oye can see what kind of underpants the girls are wearing and what colour.

The faces of most of the girls came as a shock to Oye when she first arrived. The pretty faces are spoiled by make-up much too overdone, so that some of the girls look like the painted heroines in a Chinese opera. And the way they screech when they speak, they would be at home in those plays.

Many of the masseuses come from the north also but the majority came directly from the arid villages in the northeast and use different words and sounds to her and Suay.

Oye looks at Suay, seated demurely next to her. She is really beautiful, true to her name. She has been working here for a year now and has made good money.

On top of her small monthly retainer that this big massage parlour gives her, Suay gets paid extra when she is chosen by a client, which she is at least once or twice a day, more often than Oye.

Yet the work has not changed her. She is still her loving childhood friend, and now lover. They share a room in a old wooden house run by a smiling old grandmother in one of the maze of lanes nearby. To the folks at home, they tell them that they are both working in a factory making soap. Both send money back to their parents.

Oye is happy to spend the day without being chosen. With her heart pounding, Oye sat in the fish bowl for the first time. And within half an hour, her number was called on the intercom. She was shown her way for the first time to one of the dozens of private rooms in the maze of the big building.

A balding, podgy man with a black mustache was sitting in the armchair, drinking whisky and smoking. He had paid the top rate for three hours with her for a hot soapy bath, massage and "added extras".

Oye had been trained well by the wife of the owner, in massaging techniques which were new to her. She had never massaged a man before, not even her father who hated people making a fuss of him and touching his body.

He had better things to do with his time, like planting rice and vegetables for their table, and feeding the water buffaloes used to till the earth.

But these rather hopeless city men are soft and flabby and mostly demanding the attention that they have prepaid for. Strangely for Oye, she finds the work easy. Being friendly and charming comes easy to her and she can entertain these men for the few hours in their secluded luxury rooms.

These lonely men respond to her immediately and ask for her again next time. But sometimes when they are too drunk, they become coarse and aggressive. It's her job to also try to please these, as do the geishas in Japan whom she has read about.

She finds out later from some of the girls that there is a hidden video camera in each of the rooms. Who are watching or what the tapes are used for, none of the girls knows. Oye doesn't care anyway.

As they sat each day displaying their numbers, both Suay and Oye wait, day after day, night after night. One day a nice rich Thai man, or more likely a foreign tourist, will be waiting in their private rooms, with their plane tickets to a new life.

Some of the farang clients are getting on in years but the girls realise that they are not in a position to choose.

Oye and Suay hold each other's hands discreetly behind their backs as they sit. Ahead may be life in foreign places very far from their home villages.



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Comments

The following comments are for "Oye's choice"
by Norachai

Beautiful
Hi Norachai. This really is a beautifully written piece which explains the usually long sad plight of many an Isaan woman. I thought your descriptions of her home town and going to work in a massage parlour to be very good.

"...so that some of the girls look like the painted heroines in a Chinese opera..."

is one piece that comes to mind. This piece also echoed of hope and optimism, both Qye and Suay witing for someone to take them away.

The title brought up another issue, that of choice' which in most cases isn't really a factor in the lives of these women (girls).

There were a few technical errors such as

She had never massage a man before (massaged)

"Oye stands next to a tree and let her sarong slip to the dusty ground then pick it" (subject verb agreement) but those were minimal and certainly don't reflect on how well this was written.

( Posted by: Emlyn [Member] On: February 15, 2008 )

Thanks
Thanks for the encouraging comment, Emlyn. Yes, choice or no choice?
Am fixing the proof-reading slips too.
Happy writing.

( Posted by: Norachai [Member] On: February 15, 2008 )





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