In a public place and in accordance with the law – Phaithoon Thanya
17/06/2011 § Leave a comment
“I’ve been raped!” She wanted to shout out these words to let the world know that those people had abused her, had ganged up on her and torn off her clothes. Their vile and filthy hands had groped her body all over, forced themselves into her most secret recesses and then turned them inside out as they would have pig guts. Those people had feasted on her greedily. Once full, they had scampered at once, leaving her prostrate in utter solitude.
“In utter solitude…” she moaned, adrift. Once, she had mocked a girl next door who had dragged herself up to her with her clothes in tatters. She had urged her to report to the police, to tell the officers truthfully what those sex maniacs had done to her, but the girl wouldn’t go and wouldn’t talk any longer, just kept on crying. Was she stupid or crazed? Why wouldn’t she tell them she had been raped? Those bastards had violated her body and her soul. Crying and sobbing, what would that get her?
But now she understood. She had just realised why women who have been raped do not want to talk about it: they do not want to be raped a second time around. Once was more than enough. But, for all that, they still could consider themselves lucky to some extent.
That’s right – a lot luckier than she was. To them it would happen in the darkness of night, down some secluded alley or else in some underbrush. Apart from the rapists, there would be no prying eyes around, and there could be just two or three of them, or even one – that’s all.
But what had happened to her, how would you call that?
Those people looked dignified, dressed conservatively and wrapped themselves in thick layers of compassion. Even their words were brimming with solicitude, sympathy, and resentment at what she had been through.
Those people said that for the sake of the thousands of fellow human beings that might at some point in the future suffer the same fate as she had, they merely asked her to promise to do them the honour of taking part in their show. Everything would go smoothly. There wouldn’t be any problems. Let her case be a caveat for fellow human beings. Let her testimony be like a sharp sword cutting through the feelings of greedy capitalists so that the whole thing would lead to a demand for self-consciousness and a sense of responsibility in their hearts.
One of them told her she should do it for the sake of righteousness, but there were some among them who said she was lucky in her misfortune. They said she was the first to be invited to the show, a show with the highest ratings in the country, a show on which many important people in this land would like to appear even for a short time, but most unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity. But in her case an exception had been made specially, to fit the event and situation in hand.
“We must beat the iron while it’s hot,” one of them said, and they all nodded their heads, even the man she loved.
“You must go, darling,” he whispered to her. “It’s a great honour, you know, and you’re very lucky. Few are given the chance you are. More importantly, you’ll reveal everything that happened. At least those black-hearted capitalists might feel some shame.”
He spoke and smiled at her gently. He was always gentle and rational, and that’s why he was always in her heart – always, even in the life-and-death ordeal she had gone through only days before.
“I’ll go and keep you company,” he promised as he squeezed her hand so hard it hurt. After that, she no longer remembered what it was exactly she had told those people. All she remembered was feeling the hand of the man she loved that squeezed hers slowly withdraw. They all smiled, bowed to her, made the appointment and left their name cards behind while promising to come and fetch her at the hospital three days hence.
Everybody said she was lucky. The patients on the next beds were excited. They tried to raise their hands even though they were cast in thick plaster. Someone, she wasn’t sure whether a nurse or an auxiliary, shouted she’d watch her on TV.
And then those people came and helped her shuffle to the car, her lover close behind her. She felt secure beyond words, secure even though she still dreaded what she was about to face.
Like so many girls, she had always entertained dreams in secret. She had dreamt of being a glamorous star. She wanted to appear on the small screen of the world of illusion, just like those goddesses she followed in the various programmes, but then what she had never dreamt would happen to her suddenly had: she was about to feature in a television show, her picture and her story would reach viewers all over the country…
She couldn’t help feeling excited.
“You have nothing to fear.” It was as though he could read her feelings like an open book. He drew closer, giving her courage with his smiles and his words. “There’s nothing difficult or scary. In any case, you’ve already gone through scarier than this.”
“I’ll try,” she told him, feeling the dissonance in her own heart.
After that, everything started and proceeded as those people had told her beforehand. She was taken to a recording studio to tape the film for the show and made to sit in front of a handsome presenter and his beautiful female assistant she had long secretly admired.
The conversation began sluggishly. The audience in the studio was dead quiet. In her inexperience, she hardly knew how to behave. It was oppressive and scary, as if she had no idea how things would turn out, thus in no way different from what she had felt when she found herself caught beneath the rubble of that accursed building only a few days ago.
The young anchorman always performed well. That day he began the conversation in a way quite unlike his usual approach. His sharp clean-shaven face which had spinsters and widows swooning all over town looked sad. His usually cheerful voice was low-pitched and shaky. The female star who acted as his assistant was the same. Those people made her feel burning hot round the eyelids. Their greetings made her feel even more sorry for herself.
The young presenter told her to relate in detail what had happened to her during her four days in the anteroom of hell that time, how she had coped and how come she had survived when hundreds of others had to die inside the collapsed building. He’d like her answers to be like surrogates to the shouts of those unfortunate victims.
They hoped that the talk show that day would trigger self-awareness and a sense of responsibility among the people involved, be they the group of capitalists concerned by the event or the state machinery.
She began slowly and haltingly, to the point of feeling frustrated with herself. All the cameras and all eyes in the brightly lit room made her feel lonely and confused and she forgot even the recommendation of the anchorman before the start of the show to look straight at the camera for the picture that would come out to look most natural.
He had told her to act normally to relate the terrible and most terrifying event of her life. Everyone was absorbed in her story. All the cameras were recording her picture and her words, and in a few days they would be broadcast all over the country.
Actually, she hardly remembered what she had said during the long recording session. She only knew that she had lost her identity. Everything took place as they had planned and wanted it to be – until a few days later when the show went on the air, and then she saw.
On the narrow screen she saw herself sitting there, round-shouldered and looking pitiful. She spoke slowly, repeating herself at first. It was such a shame! Such a shame that at times she had to turn away from the picture she saw.
She heard her own voice coming out of the television set. It began with ordinary events as every other day. She had left her house to go to work on time, clocked in and then gone to her workstation. By then it was ten in the morning. The coffee shop in the hotel where she worked had just opened. The staff were preparing the food and cleaning. Everything was going on as usual. The kitchen supervisor told them to get the snacks ready for the guests attending the seminar being held on the next floor up.
That day the hotel was especially busy. Several seminars were being held in the various meeting rooms. There was a bustle of people coming and going – hotel employees, customers who came to eat, guests who came to stay, delivery boys, repairmen who came to fix the air-con ducts, and many other people she didn’t know. At the time everybody was busy with his or her own duties. She walked up to the floor where the meeting was being held. And then…
Everything she saw in front of her and around her suddenly vanished, vanished as did the five-storey hotel which collapsed as if sucked into the ground. There had been no portent. There was no warning. There was nothing.
Those people were clearly excited. The anchorwoman brought her hand to her chest as if she could see the event taking place right before her eyes. There were mutterings from the audience in the studio. The young presenter promptly intervened. He asked about what she had felt as soon as she became aware of what happened. He’d like her to show what she had felt then.
She saw herself force a smile, close her eyes and stay still as if deep in recollection, but then she just shook her head. Indeed … even today she still couldn’t think how she had felt at the time.
The anchorman smiled at her as if he didn’t mind. He showed understanding and acted as if he could read her feelings through and through. He changed his question in a few words and ended by saying that when she was stuck inside the collapsed building she wasn’t alone but she had company, didn’t she?
“How many persons?”
“Only one,” she answered.
“Man or woman?”
She answered, a man. He asked forthwith whether she knew him before and how come he happened to find himself with her.
“Please tell us about this in detail,” the female assistant added, leaning forward as if what she was about to hear from her was especially important. “That is, everyone wants to know what happened to you then. Where you were stuck was rather deep down, as we know, and there was almost no one else left around. Please tell us in your own words.”
“I’d never met him before,” she heard herself answering the question. “He was a young man, about my own age. He told me he was a guest in the hotel. When the building collapsed, he was coming out of his room to go downstairs but then the building came tumbling down, the floor I was on gave in and I found myself thrown together with him.”
“It’s very strange, isn’t it, that the two of you were thrown together with no one else there,” the young anchor remarked. “But then, anything can happen, right?”
“I don’t know either how it happened.”
“And then?” the assistant pressed.
“At first I knew nothing. I must have passed out for quite a while. When I came to, everything was totally dark. I tried to piece things together and then I just knew the hotel had collapsed. At the time he was pressed against me. It was cramped in there and it was hard to see anything.”
“He was pressed against you!” the anchorman broke in.
This is when she saw the young presenter turn to exchange glances with his assistant before turning to look at her briefly. After that he resumed his questioning.
“He – uh – what did he do to you?”
“What did he do?” she repeated the question, nonplussed.
“Uh – well, I mean, the two of you were alone, and then he was a young man. You yourself are a young woman and er – pretty too. Besides – I do beg your pardon, you were wearing the hotel uniform. That is, I don’t mean to imply – I understand that uniform is rather short and tight fitting and from the pictures we saw when people came to your rescue, your clothes were in tatters. That is, it’s something that…”
She smiled bashfully at his words but it seemed that she didn’t quite understand. The young anchorman reclined on the sofa as if to wait and give her time to speak. His eyes swept through the audience in the studio. The picture on the screen changed to a view of the viewers. They were all silent, peering intently ahead. Then the camera moved and framed the man she loved. He sat motionless, staring at her with frozen eyes, frozen but so unyielding she was the one to look away.
She had almost forgotten that he was there. He was like the other men: he wanted to know what had happened to her then. He had asked her before, when he kept her company as she recovered in hospital, but given her weariness and the shock she had received he hadn’t dared to insist.
The anchorman’s cough brought her back to the present. He asked again what that young man had done to her, he meant while they were alone under that accursed building, how they had got along.
She took a deep breath. “He was hurt.” And then she heard herself saying, “He must have hit something while the building collapsed, but it seemed it wasn’t too serious. He could still move. He told me not to cry, he wiped away my tears. At that time I only thought there was no way we could survive. The rubble pressed on us from all sides. We could see each other only blurredly. I wanted to die. I didn’t know what was the point of living any longer. No matter what, we had to die in there, because there was no way out. Breathing was difficult. There was nothing at all to give us hope of coming out alive. Actually I wasn’t seriously hurt, just a few grazes and bumps on my head. He was in a worse shape, but nevertheless he kept saying all the time that we had to survive, we mustn’t die…”
There was a moment of silence on the screen. The two anchors blinked away. She went on with her story.
“We tried to help each other find a way out by furrowing through the heaps of brick and cement, but nothing doing. The more we moved the more rubble piled up on us. Oppressive – it was really oppressive. Not enough air to breathe. Tired and short of breath, we finally had to lie and rest, lie looking at each other and await death…”
“But for all that you were still lucky,” the young anchorman observed. “At least you had a friend. When you felt hopeless, you still had a friend.”
“Yes … I still had a friend,” she said quietly.
“What kind of a person was he?”
“He was a good man,” she answered without having to think. “He was polite, helpful and very resilient.”
“He was very resilient, was he?” the young woman queried further. “You must have been very impressed with him.”
“Yes, I was very impressed with him.”
“Uh – could you tell us a little why you had such a feeling? That is, we just want to know what you felt deep inside. But if you’d rather not answer, we’ll understand.”
“Oh, I can answer that,” she said, her voice more assured than it had been so far. “We were together for the whole of four days, till death us do part. Even though we would die, we still felt we had a friend in each other, right? We were friends in need. It’s only now I understand the meaning of that expression. For four days we were together, in a cramped space, not knowing what to do, except vent our spleen and stare at each other, seeing only a glint in each other’s eyes, hearing each other’s sighs of hopelessness. When we were too tired, we slept; we slept only to find upon waking that everything was still as before. He told me to sleep and rest as much as I could to preserve my strength. He hoped someone would dig us out of there, so when I slept he didn’t, because if we slept at the same time, maybe we wouldn’t hear when they came.”
The anchorman turned to the audience. He repeated what she had said. He wanted the audience in the studio to see in what a pitiful situation she and the unfortunate young man had found themselves. He talked about human fate, nightmares and impossible choices.
“Let me ask you this: how much did you trust him?” The anchorwoman was the one to resume the questioning.
“Even if I hadn’t trusted him, what do you think I could have done? I had no choice.”
“Meaning that whatever would be would be, right?” the young man took over. “In a situation like that, I can understand that whatever happens we have to give in, that is, er – that is, I’d like to make a supposition of my own. Just suppose the young man who was with you suddenly thought of doing something crazy, er – that is, I think as any man would, right? If he felt like doing something bad to you…”
He stopped briefly and turned to look at the audience as if to convey a message of some kind, and then went on.
“That is, I think it’s entirely possible. You’re a young woman, there’s no way you can protect yourself, and in a secluded spot like that … That is, we can’t see at all, can we, what he thought deep down. Now, if he really felt like doing it, what would you do in this case? How would you get out of it?”
In the narrow rectangle of the television screen, she saw herself struck dumb. Her eyes opened wide as if in sudden terror and then she bowed her head and raised her hands to her face. The picture she was seeing was no longer of herself, but of someone she knew who was being trussed up to a large chopping block, at the end of her tether and unable to protect herself, while those people were eagerly taking her clothes off one by one in clever and expert ways before a row of expectant onlookers, before cameras that kept sweeping like as many demons’ eyes, all of them watching her in crude yearning.
By now the flesh of that young woman was bare, wide open. The honourable hands of those people were helping themselves, taking samples of her flesh and laying them out as exhibits, removing her internal organs, reaching through to the very bottom of her soul and leaving it without any secret whatsoever.
She didn’t know what happened after that. She was confused and hopeless, just as when she had been trapped in that stuffy space among the rubble. Everything still went on as it would. They still had some time left. The time that remained was valuable and they had to make use of it to the utmost.
Dazzling light still assaulted her eyes, questions still poured forth uninterruptedly, but she felt she was in the dark, couldn’t see anything any longer and didn’t hear even the wailing in her chest. She couldn’t see even the man she loved – he had got up and vacated his seat for good.
The programme ended that day with her feeling empty and lost, no different from the feeling of hopelessness when she had crashed into that dark recess of hell days ago. She went back home in utter loneliness and had no opportunity to see even the shadow of the man she loved in the days that ensued.
She had been well and truly abandoned. There was no one left in her life any longer. That was unlike the hell beneath the rubble into which she had been thrown. In the darkness and hopelessness there, she still had a friend – a friend in need that fate had thrown into the same hell as hers. In the dimness of that gap she had been given the opportunity to see the glimmer of friendship assert itself little by little. In the parchedness of life, she still had had the opportunity to savour the goodwill a fellow human being had bestowed on her.
Those people never found out what happened between her and that young man, because what those people wanted to know and kept asking about was not what she intended to tell, but what she wanted to tell, those people never asked.
Those people didn’t want to know how many times during those four days spent in the arms of the Great Reaper the friendly hands of that young man had yanked the rope of death off her neck.
Those people didn’t want to know how many times in those days of despair at still being alive his words had prompted her to force herself to breathe. Those people would never hear the comforting voice of that kind-hearted friend.
He had told her she must not die. As long as she still had faith in life, she would not die. She still had a man she loved: he stood waiting for her at the mouth of the pit of death. His love would be a strong rope reaching down for her to cling to. Love and hope in their splendour would pull her out into a new life.
Those people didn’t know and didn’t want to ask. Therefore those people didn’t have the opportunity to learn that that unfortunate young man was willing to die so that she could survive. On the last day of their wait he rallied the little strength he had left to fumble about and claw through the rubble in search of a way to communicate with the outside world. He succeeded. A beam of light entered that corner of hell. Fresh air came through for her to breathe lungful after lungful – in the same instant as a beam of concrete fell and crushed him to death before her very eyes.
Those people didn’t know, because that wasn’t what they wanted to know.
Before this she had always had nightmares. She used to dream foolishly that she was whirling down a mysterious, totally dark abyss, used to dream that sex maniacs ganged up on her and abused her crazily, and she used to dream with uneasy wariness that the man she loved had left her. But now everything that happened was no dream.
She still thought of the poor girl next door. She had mocked her for refusing to report to the police and tell them truthfully what had happened to her. Was she stupid or crazed?
But today it was at herself she was laughing. That girl had been raped in a deserted street, in the dark and without any prying eyes around.
Nai Thee Satharrana Lae Tooktong Tam Kotmai
in Tula-khom (October) 1994, Samnakphim Nakhorn, Bangkok