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          Khunthong You Will Return at Dawn
                                        -Ussiri Thammachote

    
     Ever since the first rain of Lent was expected they have been
saying that Khunthong would be coming home. Yes, they have been
saying that he would become a law-abiding citizen again. Not a drop
of rain has fallen and the fields are parched but Mother's once barren 
heart blooms with hope.
     Mother busies herself with preparations for Khunthong's
return.
     Khunthong had left home since last year's Lent rains. A cloth
bag slung over his shoulder, he went without telling a soul - not even
his own mother. Neighbours who saw him said Khunthong was
fighting tears as he went bare-handed into the wild, lonely jungle.
     ``Aren't you taking sword?' someone asked.
     ``I can find one later-.'' Khunthong had said.


     Mother's boat moves against the current of the klong that
flows slowly as it tired and disheartened. The water is low from the
lack of seasonal rain. Nether is traveling to the pavilion that the
authorities have set up in the town center to greet the return of her
Khunthong and other like him. How can she not be eager, how can
she not look forward to seeing her son's face when she hasn't seen
it for so long. It must be a year now, since he has gone. She orders
the servant to quicken the strokes of his paddle.
     "What if he doesn't come," asks the servant.
     ``Of course he will come ...he misses his mother. I know how
he feels.'' Mother's voice is full of conviction her face is touched
with uncertainty.
     What if he doesn't come... the words strike a dark lingering
note. The darkness grew as she thinks back and sees, once again,
Khunthong weeping on that terrible day. It was the day before he
went away; the boy had wept late into the night.
     Mother knew he was angry...and hurt ... but who or what
caused him the hurt and the anger she did not know. Was the pain
so bad that he had to leave his village, his mother? Was it so bad
that he could leave the coimforts of home to live as an outlaw in the
jungle?
        ``It can't be....it can't be that bad,'' she denies in her heart.
  
  
      It was getting light. The horizon that stretched beyond the
canal was touched with the faint gleam of dawn. Bushes and trees
on the banks peer out from a pall of sadness. Huts. houses and
barns sheltered by leafy branches looked empty and deserted. From
the bushes on the darks banks , Khunthong's voice rings clear in
Mother's mind,
     ``I know that I can beat them with these two bare hands.''
     ``Who are `them'?
     She remembers that he did net tell her but showed so much
anger that she was annoyed. ``Well, as long as you don't kill
anyone'' Khunthong laughed, his eyes bright with the vitality of
youth.
     It was beyond her to imagine that death and blood would soon
be part of the life he chose -- living out in the jungle with a sword in
his hand. After all, she was used to seeing him with his book, never
knives or swords.

     
     The chirping of birds recalls her to the present. The sky has
become so light that she can see white smoke curling up from
behind the distant trees.... dim white smoke against the glimmering
sky.
    ``Did you say he might not come back?'' Mother asks the
servant who was paddling away like a dunb robot.
    ``And what do you think?'' he asks
     "He will come back... I'm sure of it!''
      The servant nods and paddles faster ...
      Khunthong had been gone since last year's Lent. leaving
sadness to keep his mother's company for so long.
      Now Mother can only believe that he will come hack to the
warmth of his home and the unchanging love of his mother.
However deep the anger, it surely must fade with the changing time.
Memories of past happiness are sure to make Khunthong come home,
It is impossible that Khunthong will not be back this dawn.
      Mother has brought with her a piece of cotton string that has
been blessed. She will tie it around her son's wrist to give him good
luck. She has also brought many other things for him from home,
      Skillfully the servant guides the boat to the landing as the
morning sunlight dances on the rippling wafer. The mistress and the
servant hurry towards the pavilion at the town centre.
      ``He is dead,'' a youth of Khunthong 's age tells her.
      Mother sobs ... her son is dead !
      ``Did you see his corpse?'' Mother asks.
      "No, not his corpse. I met him, and he asked me to tell you
that he is dead.''
      ``Who is he staying with?'' she asks again.
      "With his sword....the sword that is stained with blood and
hate'' says the young man.
       The sun glares from the mid-day sky as Mother's boat makes
its way homeward with all the stuff that she had prepared for Khun-
thong. Who is it that has made her gentle boy so angry? Who is it
that has made him decide to die away from his mother and his
home. She could not find an answer.


     Sounds of the paddle rhythmically dipping in the water
punctuate the silence. Then Mother begins to weep again as she
thinks of the loneliness awaiting her in the house.....the house
where there has not been even a shadow of her Khunthong for
nearly a year.

							(1977)
			Translated by Chamnongsri Ratanin
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