Published in the Bangkok Post, Spectrum Section, July 25, 2010
RIP Khun Vinai, their daddy, dead from booze at 47. Husband of their momma Ms Dhang, five years now in prison for drug possession and distribution.
Four kids: Masters Thangh, Pop, Bawn plus Miss Gop. The children were together for a final re-union with their absent dad who dumped them with Granny.
Dead, said the autopsy people, of a heart attack, plus ailments not important enough to list. In slum trash talk, we say that he died from a "knock" - that is, overdosed on booze.
The four of them - his sons, eight and nine, and cousins Bawn, 10 and Miss Gop, in tears, holding hands.
Miss Gop, at seven years old, the bravest and youngest, acting as momma, tells the boys not to cry, as that would make RIP Uncle Vinai sad, and maybe make him want come back for a drink, and for sure take their school lunch money.
And that frightened them even more. She too fell apart and started to whimper. It wasn't actually a whimper; more a child's lament of four poor kids on the river, holding the remains of their dead father between them.
Their sound would make your hair stand on end - sorrow which only another child who has faced death and loss can fathom.
Sitting, facing each other, their knees touching. The white double-folded muslin cloth, formed into a sack in the boat between them. The four corners were tied at the top with the remains, collected, gathered together according to a cremation ritual determined by the temple.
They had arrived at the wharf on one of the smoke belching, big four-wheel, 40 year-old Klong Toey red buses, with it's trademark exhaust fumes and blown-out muffler.
The driver of the red bus, or baht bus as it is known, knew their daddy, and had occasionally picked him up, wandering drunk along the roadside.
RIP Vinai, with no women to drag him home, and with momma Dhang in prison, had no one. It was his kids who came looking for daddy. But that was yesterday.
Today, there at the wharf, out of respect for the children, the driver turned off the engine, got out of the cab and stood there in silence while the children and house mom climbed down from his Klong Toey red.
They carried daddy's ashes in the cloth for the two minute walk to the wharf from the bus. Our House Mom gave Miss Gop the normal 400 baht she needed to hire the long- tail boat.
Miss Gop gave the 400 baht to the fat lady in the kiosk for boat rent for the short trip to the channel and the deepest, most coolest and calmest part of the river.
A solemn procession of four children dressed in white. The colour of mourning and of purity to remind their guardian angels of the need to protect them - if there be any lurking mischievous spirits around, their angels would shoo them away.
Even the fat lady in the kiosk who rents the boats was polite and she hugged the children, hugged them and hugged them.
"I know your momma, we went to school together and I send her money in prison because the drugs weren't her fault and this hug is for her. So you don't cry now. We'll look out for you. You just be good boys. Gop, come and tell me if they are naughty, and I'll whomp 'um good."
Then she shouted a most delightful spicy remark at the boatman, not to "act smart" or rev up the boat engine because their momma in prison would be worried the boat might tip over or something.
RIP Vinai was a nasty mean drunk when he got into cheap ya dong mixed with lao kao - the 60 baht a bottle stuff. He would really get pian (go crazy). And she didn't want some unhappy ghost to flip a double spin of something nasty on her long-tail boat. RIP Vinai's last journey should be calm and peaceful - no goof-ups.
The demure boatman chug-chugged into the middle of the river, cut the engine and with the house mom helping, the children untied the corners of the muslin cloth to see the flowers petals together with daddy's bones.
The largest bone was a piece of his skull, so Miss Gop picked it up and they all touched it together - and gave a formal wai to show respect.
Then reverently lowering his remains into the water. A couple of the coins, normally laid out on the 32 body points of the cremated remains were also inside the muslin cloth.
It floated a bit on the current with the flower petals, finding its own place to sink, going to its own comfortable place in the depths.
Local lore says RIP Vinai still had a bit of merit left over from life, his earthly remains protected by the Holy Lady of the Waters. The boatman kept the engine off for a couple minutes lest by accident, the long-tail engine propeller strike the sinking bone remains.
The children folded their hands to ask their Guardian Angels, all Sacred Beings and Our Lady of the Waters to protect their dead daddy. After a couple minutes, the boatman nodded. He started the engine and took the boat back to the wharf.
Before Momma was carted off to prison, RIP Vinai wasn't being a dad at all. Momma, in despair, began dipping into the drugs. More and more in debt, on one of RIP Vinai's drunken nights, she hocked Vinai's second-hand motorcycle.
He had a part-time job delivering documents in the port. No motorcycle meant no job at all. Then Vinai begin drinking ya dong and lao kao.
Shortly after Momma sold the motorcycle, the uniforms trashed/searched granny's shack where they lived. Momma went down for a double-whammy conviction of possession with intent to sell, with a couple marked baht notes which someone said were used in the purchase.
They were someone else's drugs, but that doesn't count. The stash was found in Granny's rented shack. Granny told her daughter, "Girl, these are your drugs. You fess up. This time, you go to prison. When your babies were small, I did two years for you in prison so your babies could have a momma. Now you've dumped that drunken Vinai and another man has sweet talked you into holding his drugs."
Problem is, momma was poor, and the uniforms love that maximum sentence so it all added up to six years plus, for 10 pills. Street value something slightly less than 1,000 baht. But she had all the essential ingredients: possession, intent to sell, a record, and marked bills. She has two more years to go.
But Granny kept her word. She raised the children well - clean clothes, proper manners, school as much as they could, and cuffed them if they skipped.
But aches and pains and sorrow caught up with Granny quickly. She'd cared for the children for a full five years. That's a long time when you're old.
We cremated granny a few months ago. Lots of neighbours came top the temple. The local politicos even hired a Klong Toey red baht bus to take the community to the temple. Lots of neighbours there, even though it rained that day.
After Granny died, the neighbours brought the children to the police station and asked the police if they would phone us and have us look out for the kids, especially the girl.
Miss Gop. She's doing well. Third grade - sits up in the front row in school. Wants to learn everything as fast as she can.
Takes music lessons twice a week and oh boy, she's brave, but so innocent she's never been in a fight; doesn't even know how to make an angry fist.
Master Bawn missed a couple of school years during the troubles at home. He's now 12 and only in the 3rd grade, but catching up fast, also he is well coordinated, loves to play sports and has been accepted for a school soccer scholarship. Study, eat, sleep, play soccer. He's the happiest kid on the planet!
Master Pop - independent as can be. Helpful, gives away his lunch money to "poor" kids at school. Says when his momma gets out of prison, he wants to learn to know and love her. Promises to take care of her when he grows up and gets a good job and his momma is old.
Master Thang. Glasses keep falling off his nose and he loses them regularly, but the doctors say his eyes are getting better and soon, he won't have to wear glasses at all. He suffered the most through all of this, and was on medicine for a while to help him concentrate, but that's all over with now. When he grows up, he wants to become a monk, at least for a while to make merit for his dad.