It is almost two years now, and I suppose it is time to record the actual true events before they fade or my memory decides to exclude such things that don’t fit with preconceived and taught ideas typical of someone raised in the rational and heartless late 60’s and 70’s. It also seems fitting as I sit once more where I did that day on the raised dot mypai with a pencil and cheap paper notebook feeling the breeze from the small green fan as the heat of the summer rises once more past body temperature.
My mother-in-law Reua had died in mid-June that year. I cannot without asking remember the exact date so lets keep it vague. And vague is a good starting point or reference for something that probably has no exactitude in it, or at least none beyond what I personally hold in my own head.
We had gone through the three-day ritual of the body being in the temple with most of the close family, including by marriage myself, spending the full three days there with nights spent under a mosquito net sleeping on the temple floor, and mornings in offering alms to monks and receiving throughout the day respects of visitors. But the details of this are not part of this story and are better recorded in the pieces Drinking Beer with a Gunman in a Temple at a Funeral and The Funeral.
Today, the day it happened, was the day of the cremation. The body had been taken to the crematorium and the mourners had paraded around the building before the body was burnt and ashes retrieved. Tears had flowed at the final moment when the body was ready to be burnt and was on display for the final time. Oddly enough among westerners living in the country the myth that funerals were happy events existed probably based on the drunkenness, gambling and eating associated with them. A myth though is what it was, and like in other cultures the time for the final farewell of body brought tears and sadness.
After the cremation, those remaining as was tradition headed for the house of Reua where food and alcohol were readied as a form of wake or thank you or celebration of the life of her, and while this was going on the house was cleaned and readied by the family for a visit of nine monks to bless the house and release the spirit. The preparations were led by the northern dialect speaking resident expert on Buddhist tradition, this being a northern rather than Thai family. Nine monks was the full amount from the temple and an auspicious number too. Originally my wife had planned on five but as with many family affairs irrelevant details or details that seemed irrelevant to me could change on a whim usually at the behest of an older family member.
The monks arrived and the chanting and splashing the house and congregation with water was completed as was the surrounding of the entire house with a single long thread of twine. I was cramped in and uncomfortably kneeling upstairs behind my wife and daughter in the kitchen area of the wooden house on traditional stilts. I could not see how so much weight from all the people crammed into he house could be supported or how so many kneeling people could escape the now creaking swaying structure. Such thoughts though were far from those used to such tradition and practice and the somber events progressed.
After the monks had completed the ritual and left, it was downstairs and to the food, locally and illicitly distilled rice liquor and beer. The family was mostly seated on the bamboo diases called dot mypai that people sat on to leave feet above the dry warm red dirt and under the rudely thatched straw and bamboo shelters that kept the sun from those below. Abutting th structure was the underside of my mother-in-laws house beneath which beyond a central open area lay another dias upon which lay a pile of wood chopped for use on the barbeque and of course the plethora of pieces of wood, bamboo and curved rusty and contradictory sharp and rusty chopping implements needed for whatever farmers used such things for.
As was tradition, or seemed so from experience of attending a multitude of such events, the men gravitated to an area and the women another area. I found myself on the outskirts of the male almost exclusively farming group. In the heat I found my desire for the alcohol and merriment they were enjoying was muted. Being on the edge made it easy to withdraw intercourse and I began to look around.
It was then that I heard the noise. A rhythmic noise of a traditional twig brush on the earthen dirt of the floor under the house. It was an enchanting sound to hear in its perfect following of its own beat and a sound that always reminded me fondly of times spent here. The warm, too warm airless atmosphere combined with what little alcohol I had consumed seemed to take me away from the banter on the dias, which now became another complimentary rhythm to the sweeping sound with words lost in a poetic or even musical progression. I felt light and heady, somehow removed from the others and at the same time ignored or even unnoticed by them. Time seemed impossible to gauge.
Within this atmosphere, for the first time my head turned to look towards the central open area where a saw the slight thin figure in a tradional earthen coloured sarong and silk shirt with open toed sandals sweeping the loose dirt from the packed mud under the house. My mother-in-law was cleaning up. It was a scene I had seen a multitude of times before, but this time it held my attention with a fascination in the sheer beauty of it in time to the surrounding rhythms. To see the small wisps of dust rise in time to the brush and the brush move in time to its own swish and the backing banter. Perfection. I don’t know how long I sat looking and watching or why I turned away breaking whatever spell or enchantment had me in its grip, but when I did turn the rhythm disappeared and the disjointed uneven cacophony of the partying came roaring back. On turning back to glance one more time at the central area nobody was there and the ground lay still and marked with the loose dust and cigarette butts discarded by the drinking smoking men.
There is little more to add beyond on enquiring of my wife and other family members and mentioning my story, I found that everyone knew that when Reua held a party or celebration in her house she would always be quick to take up the broom and sweep away the debris, not wanting guests to think that however modest was house that she kept a dirty one as she was a proud woman. Of course, this being the rural areas nobody questioned my story as they were used to such stories in these areas. Even though others had glanced in the same direction as I had at the same time, or at least some surely must have and yet they didn’t see what I saw and yet nobody doubted me.
I have often asked why is it me who doesn’t believe in ghosts who is destined to see them.