COLD ENTERS THE HEART by Suwannee Sukhontha
The expanse of water at that bend is quiet and peaceful,
cold with mist and dew vapour at dawn. Once in a while
a passing boat stirs up wavelets, making the timber rafts
moored along the bank heave ponderously.
Small clumps of morning glory are woken to a stir along
with them. Their slender shoots rise high as if in pride of
their perfection. Some droop down to water level and
you can see their light green shimmer as they move in
the turbid red water.
Those clumps are strung with wires attached to a rotting
stake long immersed but still good enough to prevent
them from floating away with the current.
Long scrawny legs wade through the mud-coloured
water, past the edge of the bank into deeper water,
waist-high, chest-high, head-high. After a moment their
owner shoots back up, the coveted treasure in hand,
waits to recover breath on a raft for a while and can’t
help looking at the beautiful small fish swimming around
at the head of the logs. Even though the water is so
turbid it looks like red mud, the small light-blue-streaked
purplish fish can be seen glistening in the current. As
soon as the person on the logs moves, the startled small
fry flee for cover.
The water dripping from the hair blurs all vision
momentarily. The owner of the face raises an arm to
wipe the blur away for a second before the water ripples
down the same grooves.
Filmy mist still loiters over the water but then slowly drifts
and evaporates in a lingering way like intimations of love
whispered before parting.
The sky is bright and clear. A bevy of seagulls dash out
of the water when a train clunks over the bridge at full
speed. Dust from the bridge falls like sand through the
mist and vapour onto the calm stretch of water.
After waiting for the train to disappear from sight with the
fleeting glimpses of pallid faces in the carriages, the
owner of the long limp hair lets herself down into the
water, spreading wavelets around. The water is full of
mud mixed with sand. Before long, she surfaces,
clinging to a log as if to rest for a while.
A tiger perch, yellow with black dots, tail flapping,
scurries by within reach. An instant later it squirts water
plumes, hunting some unlucky insect.
A big boat triggers waves that make logs knock on logs
and the small fry scamper in every direction.
The one sitting with his feet in the water grips the logs
tightly, stares without blinking, almost holds his breath
like the one who has disappeared into the water. It is
only when she resurfaces that he too discreetly draws a
“Come back up, sis’. Let me do it.”
“It’s cold, you know.” The one in the water, clinging to
the wires that tie the logs together, looks up. A pale sun
lurks on the horizon but doesn’t give relief from the biting
The wires tying the logs are what brother and sister are
after. They are not diving for pearls, for sure. The two of
them and their little brother who live in a hut by the
Rama VI bridge rely on what looks worthless to sell and
thus draw out their living.
“Let’s go back first in case he’s woken up.”
“All right then.”
The white tense bony hands grip the logs firmly. The arm
joints seem hardly able to pull the body up, looking as
thin and fragile as reeds as they do.
The cold makes her shiver but she can’t help splashing
water playfully before she comes up. She jumps from log
to log until she reaches the bank and past the clumps of
morning glory grabs a handful of white, plump young
Their father and mother are dead. Father died in that
hut. As for Mother, she went to die in hospital, leaving
her with two little brothers who know nothing but hunger,
hunger and hunger.
The Chinaman who buys old wire gives them a low
price, sometimes just enough for a bottle of fish sauce.
At least their mother’s death has led them to know the
“The doctor said that if mum hadn’t been operated on
she’d have died anyway,” she consoled her brothers
when their mother too passed away. The three of them
sat dejected in the seedy house. The small oil lamp was
on its last dregs. A star would send a stronger light,
when compared to the brightness from the nearby power
station fed by the Bhumibol dam.
Father had stomach ulcers, so it wasn’t surprising
Mother died of the same ailment. The doctor looked at
the three little lives not knowing what to do when he
found that they weren’t even able to take the body out of
hospital to what those three urchins called home.
A messy, musty wooden floor; holes in the roof patched
with various materials.
The word “materials” to an architect might mean newly
made pricey items, but here the word “materials” meant
bits of corrugated iron, old canvas falling apart, the odd
In here he almost refused to breathe, but five lives had
used the place to eat and sleep. The people in this
house didn’t even know what they died of. Good health
was something they never knew, because even a single
meal was hard for them to scrape together.
From the bridge, he had seen this mess of huts. Such an
eyesore should have been got rid of.
“This is my home,” the patient had said by way of
But there was no place for him to sit in this house.
The picture of the patient dead on the operating table
came back to haunt him again. In such patients’
background were things like these he saw with his own
eyes in almost all cases. Tuberculosis festered among
the poor, those living in congested places, those who
were in a condition where they couldn’t help themselves.
The three little faces were staring at him as if they
expected loving kindness. How could he have the heart
to leave without thinking of those children?
There weren’t only those three faces but hundreds and
thousands of them hidden here and there.
“In Thailand the weather is conducive to tuberculosis, so
it is no wonder that the statistics on lung-disease
patients here keep growing every day, and now their
number in this town is at an all-time high – the highest in
the world as a matter of fact.”
The doctor ends his speech thus. A ladies’ society has
invited him to talk in order to raise funds for a foundation
for lung-disease patients.
Many of the ladies on the committee are specialists in
their respective fields. They have invited the doctor to a
meal in his capacity as commentator, to congratulate
him or thank him or for whatever reason. So he is now
sitting in this restaurant.
Aperitif wine in the western fashion is served in fine
glasses, either dark red or off-white, depending on
On the table the crockery is spanking new; the silver
forks glitter; the tablecloth is the same dark colour as the
towels folded in the shape of blooming lotuses. The
melodious recorded music playing softly is exactly right
for this setting.
The doctor takes a sip from his glass. The taste is
smooth on tongue and throat. It is alcohol to trigger the
digestive juices to better enjoy the various dishes.
“You must have much experience with your patients,
doctor?” the lady sitting next to him invites him to chat
while waiting for the food.
He has a fleeting thought of the house by the Rama VI
“Tuberculosis is dreadful.” She shrinks her shoulders.
Long earrings dangle and sparkle in dazzling
competition with her tapering eyes which look like big
Her talkative mouth opens on pearl-like teeth.
“If I caught it, would you treat me?”
“Most willingly.” The doctor puts down his glass, looks
with pleasure at this beautiful picture of a woman.
“But…” He smiles sweetly. “You have nothing to fear
from tuberculosis, Khunying.” He calls her by her title as
he remembers it. She is the daughter of a second-rank
princess. “As I said, tuberculosis afflicts the poor or the
weak, the undernourished … but in your case…” He
ends his words with a last sip of the wine in his glass.
“Oh dear!” Her voice is as soft as breeze through foliage.
“What are you saying, doctor? I’m not rich at all. Quite
He sighs, merely rotates the empty glass in his hand
before him absent-mindedly. The sparkle of those gems
truly belies her words.
“You’re only talking with Khunying, Doctor,” the woman
across the table remonstrates in a sweet voice. “Talk to
us as well.”
The doctor looks up from his glass. Across from the
flower vase on the table, several pairs of eyes are
trained on him.
“Please excuse me,” he says under his breath.
“Won’t you order another glass, doctor?”
He does as he is told.
“I’ll be drunk before the food arrives,” he says with
laughter in his voice.
Each side observes perfect social manners at the dinner
table. The doctor smiles at this person, speaks with that
one, laughs with a third until the time for socialising is
over for the night.
A gorgeous lady offers to give him a lift.
“Why don’t you treat yourself to a car?” she asks as an
“I can’t drive.”
“And you don’t have time to learn,” she adds. “You must
be very busy, mustn’t you?”
The doctor smiles.
“I can’t afford one, actually.”
“Oh, I don’t believe you.”
“Well, you’d better.” He lights another cigarette. “Do you
mind if I smoke?”
“Not at all. Where shall I drop you, then?”
The doctor tells her.
“The food tonight wasn’t bad. I like to come here. It’s
quiet. There’s no crowd, even if it’s a bit pricey.”
“I seldom come here.”
“You must be too busy. When you’re free, please come
again. As my guest, this time.”
“The drinks too are good. The bartender is good at
mixing them. I’m told he keeps being offered raises in
salary if he goes with the big hotels … Bar owners,
people like that, are fighting over good bartenders.”
“Is that so, really?”
“I have a soft spot for him too. The khunying who sat
beside you likes it there very much. She likes soft
cocktails. She gave us several drink recipes but when I
try them they aren’t as good as his. I can only mix two
drinks, which are the ones I like.” She keeps a running
comment, then changes tack. “Your house is in the
same direction as mine.”
“I’m afraid to be an imposition,” the doctor apologises.
“Actually I can hail a cab. Tell me when you reach your
house. I’ll get off then. That way I can pretend I took you
“Never mind. I’ll drop you off first.”
“Please don’t insist. Tell me when you get there.”
“If I do, then you must favour me with staying for a drink.
Won’t you? A good turn deserves another…” Her eyes
glitter as she adds, “This way, I’ll show you how good I
am at mixing drinks.”
He hesitates for a while.
He nods in assent.
The expanse of water there is quiet and peaceful. The
rising sun chases the fog away. Two little children are
diving in and out of the water. A cursory glance would
make you think they are having fun playing in the water.
The Chinaman buying old stuff has again squeezed the
price of steel wire. Sometimes there isn’t enough to buy
even a bottle of fish sauce.
Those clumps of morning glory are still producing tender
shoots loyally. It’s the only thing you don’t need hard-to-
come-by money to get.
A dark shadow stretches across the timber rafts, stops
and stays still.
The cool morning breeze lightens the leaden feeling left
“Look, doctor’s come early!”
In haste the dripping little bodies get out of the water
“Did you bring us rice, doctor?”
Her eyes are deep black, fixing him as if to stop
breathing. Those eyes have more than a glimmer in
them. They sparkle in an indescribable way.
Even though the air is warmed by the sunrays in his
back, freezing cold enters his heart.
“NaoKhaoNaiHuajai” in NakKhianRueang San Dee
DeinWarraKhrop 100 Pee Rueang San Thai
(Outstanding writers during the first one hundred years
of Thai short stories), Khlet Thai Publishing, 1985