I am sure she’ll be Ok. She has to be Ok. I tell myself over and over, “She’ll be fine!”
The image still floods my mind though, of Phi-Linn, slim and beautiful, in the home of that man; that ugly, deformed creature. She’ll be warm, she’ll be fed and she’ll have nice things, but she is a captive, trapped in that beautiful house, in its gated compound, security guards at the entrance. And it’s all my fault.
It’s hard for her, but she must know it’s all my fault, I am sure she blames me, though she would say she doesn’t. She will be keeping her thoughts to herself, staying calm and controlled. I have tried to visit her, ask her forgiveness, I am not allowed past the security guards. I will try again next month. I hope she doesn’t see that I am growing old and tired.
It’s not easy for a man, a poor country man, like me. Having seven daughters has been my burden, the hardest part of my life. The birth of my youngest child, Phi-Linn, saw the death of her mother. She bled, she didn’t have a chance. If we had lived in the city, who knows what could have happened. But here we are, in a country town, miles from the city, miles from the hospital. I don’t know if people like me would have been given the treatment anyway, I’ll always wonder.
And what daughters they were. The first three, who had been old enough to remember their mother’s love, were kind and helpful. They showed love to their little sisters and helped me on the farm and in the house. Like all the girls in the village, they left for work in Bangkok. I knew they would be good girls; they’d work in hotels or offices and live in the crowded streets below the railway, close to the water. They’d work hard and send money home.
The people of the village watched my face for signs that they had gone off the rails, gone to dance in sleazy bars or sleep with tourists for gifts and money. My face never showed any of the shame they sought. I felt sure they would be fine, they had been good girls all their lives.
With money coming in from them, and the good advice of my brother, I managed to keep the rest of the girls at home. But what a life I led. The next three are cross and spoiled. I must have lavished too much love on them when my dear wife died. Bringing up girls and making them into decent women is not a man’s job. I was always looking for a wife for myself, but the fathers of the girls I looked at thought about a life with all those daughters and sent my prospective wives away.
My brother helped me invest my money in some land close to the capital. This would give the dowries needed for these daughters of mine to begin an independent life. But the land failed, it was swamp; it was occupied for many months by anti-government demonstrations. My money was lost. My daughters grew greedy. They wanted fancy foods and fine clothes. I was beaten down by their spirits. My brother said my best bet was to marry them off to foreign husbands. According to him, there was a market for “Thai brides.” The phrase disgusted me. I would keep them here and suffer their scornful tyranny.
The youngest of my daughters was not like the others. She did not have the humility of the eldest three; she did not have the selfishness of the others. She had a grace and charm, so like her mother. She had an independent spirit, but no arrogance or pride. I knew, if any one of my daughters would help me in my old age, it would be her. But now, tears fill my eyes. My sadness is a beast within my chest. I tell myself she’ll sail and soar above the incarceration I have made for her.
Again, it was my brother who came up with the scheme. There was a man, a rich investor; he lived in the suburbs of Bangkok. He would buy the useless land from me, save my sorry shame of bad investment. Pay for my daughters’ lifestyles till I could marry them off. A trip was planned; as I left, the girls demanded gifts from the capital: watches and phones, silk for dresses, face creams. Phi-Linn did not ask for anything, I asked her if she’d like a gift on my return, she gazed into the air, as if to say there was nothing she desired. I pressed her for a reply, she said, wistfully, ”Dragon fruit, father, it does not grow so well round here. Please bring me dragon fruit.”
We visited the man in his home, behind the gates and fences. His home was luxurious, shaded by trees and guarded by jade statues. The man himself, seated in a plush office, was a hideous sight. His face has been burned, was scarred and furrowed. One eye was shrouded; hair grew like scrubland on his scalded head. He looked at us like dirt but offered a withered hand for us to shake. Our business was completed easily, he robbed us, but we had no choice. He asked about my daughters, he’d heard I was in the market for husbands for them. I resisted; told him they were not for sale. He laughed, his corroded vocal chords made his voice a shriek. “Everyone’s for sale in Bangkok,” he ridiculed, “I just have to find the right price.”
As we left, I shuddered at the man’s inhuman appearance and air. Heading for the gates where we had parked my brother’s truck, I noticed the fruit on the trees. My girl, my little bird had asked for dragon fruit: I picked some from the laden branches and stuffed them inside my jacket.
We drove to the gates, waiting to be dismissed from this world of plenty. The security guards were slow to leave their hut. I could see them pointing at the screen of a TV monitor. One came to me, another reached for the phone. In that moment, I realised what a foolish thing I’d done. My clothes were searched, my jacket torn like a rag from my quaking back. We were bundled into a jeep and taken straight back to the rich man’s house.
I saw him smugly grinning like a little Buddha. He had me now, and hours passed as he goaded and humiliated me. It all came down to one thing, though. I had a choice, off to the police and prison now, and leave my girls at the mercy of any one; or bring one of my daughters to be a companion for him. I resisted, an iron statue in the face of his prevailing storm. My brother slapped my face and told me to see sense. This way I’d have my freedom and get one of the girls off my hands. I knew only one would comply; only one had the affection for me to save my life, and I’d lose the favourite of my bosom, the child of my heart.
I will never forget her face as I let her go from me. My brother took her from our home. Her sisters did not show themselves, hiding in their rooms. She held her head up high and told me she’d be fine. No tear grazed her cheek, no anger entered her voice.
Somewhere in the garden where she’s confined, I hope she can reach above her head and take the dragon fruit. Somewhere in the ugly face of her captor, I hope she finds some affection and respect.
I am sure she’ll be Ok. She has to be Ok. I tell myself over and over, “She’ll be fine!” SLQ
Dragon Fruit by Eithne Cullen was commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Short Story Competition November 2014