Street-born Baby Tack has a grandmother who adores him and a junkie mother who loves him even more than she loves drugs
By Father Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
He's 10 months old now, Master Tack. Happy, good-natured, smiles a lot, not afraid of stray cats and scavenger dogs. They like him; he likes them. It all works out. At night he doesn't cry. You'd love him. A great baby. Well, not totally "great" just yet, but give him time. He will grow up to be one of Klong Toey's finest. Just watch.
Already he has come a long way from his asphalt roots. Born right on the side of our main Klong Toey street. The old beggar guy, a familiar Klong Toey face with a dodgy leg, caught Tack's mum before she hit the ground -- snagged her just as she was collapsing and moved her to safety.
The beggar guy rents a junk-collecting cart for 10 baht per day and was perfectly positioned for the catch. Khun Gal-long, Klong Toey's oldest Down's syndrome guy at 50 years of age, happened to be helping the beggar guy push his three-wheeled cart. He got the assist. He blew his whistle non-stop.
The collapsing pregnant woman's name is Miss Bua Lueng, which means "Temple Lotus". The name is significant because her own mum, an orphan and slum urchin, had abandoned her at birth. Ran from the hospital. Asked a girlfriend to bring her street clothes, and then waited for the new night shift nurse to come on duty. She told the nurse she was going to the bathroom. She changed into her street clothes, combed her hair and slipped out a side door.
According to custom, hospitals automatically name unregistered newborns. So, 17 years before giving birth in the middle of a street, the pregnant mum had been blessed with the beautiful name Miss Bua Lueng.
The only prayer her mum could halfway recite was the Catholic "Hail Mary" learned from a girlfriend. She liked the words -- at least the ones she could remember. So she whispered them and proceeded to ask the Virgin Mary to please understand her difficulties and "please, please, please find someone to care for my baby. I'll be back. I promise."
She kept her word. After a long and lonely year, she found herself. Time and maturity can do that when firing on all cylinders. Mum deeply regretted running away from her child, and during that long year she had teamed up with two old girlfriends, got a job and moved into a rented flat in Klong Toey. That's when word got back to her that her one-year-old baby was in the children's ward with Public Welfare.
Although she had been an orphan mum, she had the required documents and agreed to a DNA test that together proved her maternity. Several visits later she had fallen head over heels in love again with her daughter. Public Welfare agreed to give her back her daughter but with these stern warnings: Raise her with love and care. Do not abandon her again. Ever.
And so it was. Mum never remarried and was afraid to do so. The thought that a man might be cruel to her child was an unthinkable compromise. So she raised her solo, as best as she could. The two of them survived on her cleaning lady's salary and occasional money from washing dishes at a local noodle shop. Although Mum was Klong Toey poor, she was a decent parent with a wealth of love to give.
Daughter Miss Bua Lueng attended a local government school, and she did well enough in her grades. Well enough, that is, until drugs nearly destroyed her. She had met this scum of a boy who beguiled her with promises and flattery. Fell head over heels in love with him -- maybe puppy love but love nevertheless. She would leave home each morning in her school uniform, but then skip all her classes to hang out with this scum and his friends.
She was nearly 18 but not yet streetwise enough to see the lies of the scum boy. He convinced her that her mum was dumb. "Dok Train" as we say in Thai, meaning she had "fallen off the train". So she became embarrassed of her lowly cleaning lady mum and eventually refused her authority. No "Dok Train" mum should treat her like a child.
The scum boy sweet-talked Miss Bua Lueng into trying drugs. And he told her that if they had a baby together, she could sell the baby without ever having to care for it. As if that was the easy and best thing for her. He even bought her the expensive mobile phone that "Dok Train" mum could never afford. But he made her promise to pay him back. Easy payments, he said.
No cash. Just some black market employment. Illegal and dangerous, but cash free. Told her she was pretty and could be "for sale -- a gun for hire". She liked the sound of that. Thought it was a funny joke.
She left her mum's rented shack and moved in with this scum and a couple of his cronies. They all promised her that none of them had HIV-Aids. After she got pregnant, they said she was stupid for getting pregnant and scum boy gave her money to buy abortion pills. Called her water buffalo. He wanted little to do with her.
She never took those abortion pills. Instead she tried to eat food that she thought her baby in her tummy would like. The scum told her to get out, she had no more value to him.
Miss Bua Lueng knew she could go back to her mum, but she never did. Too embarrassed. And she suspected her mum would be ashamed of her. She couldn't sleep at the bus stops because the authorities would see that she was pregnant and take her to a government home. She didn't want that. Was too proud. And so she was homeless with nowhere safe to lay her head for a long while.
At least until that afternoon on Klong Toey's main street.
She was begging from the old beggar guy with the three-wheeled push cart, asking him to buy her a 12-baht bowl of instant noodles. She told him that the baby in her tummy liked instant noodles. That's when the world began to look fuzzy. She moaned and cried loudly in birth pain. Her water broke.
She grabbed the side of his rickety cart and collapsed like a cheap folding chair. Beggar guy caught her, carried her a couple of steps from the traffic, and lowered her gently to the ground.
Not in a million years should she have been there. She should have been in a nice clean hospital bed. Or at least in her rented flat with Mum. But those days were all but gone now.
The only person on the planet she had was her mum, but they weren't on speaking terms. Although they saw each other occasionally, they hadn't talked in months. Mum silently cried to herself each time she saw her daughter. But she thought saying anything would only make matters worse.
You see, early in her pregnancy, Miss Bua Lueng had gone to prison for three months. She'd taken the rap for scum boy's drugs. Confessed that she was the owner of the drugs. Even though the police knew she was innocent, what could they do? She had the drugs and offered up a confession.
Pregnant Miss Bua Lueng had not seen her mum during the month that she had been free from prison.
Mum didn't know for sure that her daughter was pregnant, but she suspected. That afternoon, coming home from her cleaning job and stepping off the baht bus in front of the ice factory, she heard the cries of a familiar voice. She rushed towards a gathering crowd. And there she saw her. Miss Bua Lueng, her daughter. Giving birth right there in the street.
Instinct took over. She joined the other women. In no time Master Tack was born, healthy and strong. Mum rode with the ambulance and her daughter and new grandson to the hospital. Meanwhile, some of the ladies lit joss sticks for the spirits, and then cleaned the area, shooing away the stray dogs.
They took what was left over and all that was revered as sacred, and they buried it piously under a nearby large tree.
At the hospital the ambulance guy (who was well known there in the emergency room) vouched for everyone: baby, mother and grandmother. The ambulance guy said the grandma was a cleaning lady who lived in Klong Toey and this was her family.
There is so much more of this story to tell you, but in short ...
The police caught the lying boyfriend and the cronies who had used, abused, dumped and, in effect, convinced Miss Bua Lueng to take the rap for them. The police caught them with a sack full of drugs.
They will be in prison for many years. Our Klong Toey police do not like these lowlifes who use women. They say it gives the slum a bad name.
The beggar man still pushes his three-wheeled cart. The Down's Syndrome man still blows his whistle, directing traffic all ways. Or whenever he feels his whistle is needed.
Some say it wasn't fair to Master Tack, being born that way. No dignity.
But sometimes you need to look twice. Reconsider everything you've witnessed. Maybe there was great dignity in all of it. Women there knew what to do. They did not let anyone near the birthing mum. They protected the area and delivered new life unto Klong Toey. They were fierce loyal, the closest thing to "snarling" you could imagine. Stay away, don't interfere.
No one dared to cross them.
Someone brought clothing. Someone else brought bottles of drinking water. They made a birthing room right there on the street. Used Miss Bua Lueng's flip-flops for a pillow and delivered the baby outside of harm's way. They cleaned Master Tack with bottled water and swaddling him in borrowed clothes.
That's what you do in the slums. You make do with what you have. Sometimes it works.
Today the grandma is still a cleaning lady, but she has been promoted.
Daughter Bua Lueng was doing well. Then she slipped. Drugs. Not every day, but whenever she could hustle some cash. She dumped this new guy. Drugs also. No regular job. Nobody wants to hire someone covered with prison tattoos and a known drug history.
So it's her mum who takes her for her prenatal check-ups as Bua Lueng is pregnant again.
Street-born Baby Tack is great. He's got a granny who loves him, and a mum, who has moved back in with her mum and helping with her cleaning job, and is trying to stop drugs. She loves her son, more even than drugs.
Tack will grow up to be one of Klong Toey's finest. I know it. Give him time. Just watch.