the judgment CHART KORBJITTI
the judgment TRANSLATED FROM THE THAI BY MARCEL BARANG AND PHONGDEIT JIANGPHATTHANAKIT
© THAI MODERN CLASSICS Internet eBook edition 2008 | All rights reserved Original Thai edition, Khamphipharksa, 1981
CHART KORBJITTI | THE JUDGMENT
prologue This is the story of a young man who took as his wife a widow who was slightly deranged. (The story would probably have ended there had the widow not been his father’s wife.) And as the affair happened to take place in a small rural community, it grew into a major scandal which shook the morals of nearly everyone in the village and set one and all gossiping and passing judgment on the basis of whatever opinion each had formed about this abnormal relationship. Rumour had it that, less than a month after his father died Fak had taken his stepmother as his wife. Some went so far as to claim that the two of them had cuckolded Old Foo even before his body had been laid to rest in his coffin. Just look at Somsong, so bucked up these days, and look at Fak, skinny as a bag of bones– The rumour started with Young Lamai, the boiledpeanut seller at the twelfth-month temple fair, which, that year, also celebrated the sixtieth birthday of the temple’s abbot. In the morning the villagers had made THE JUDGMENT | CHART KORBJITTI
4 merit by offering food to the monks and in the evening dedicated temple-goers had organised all kinds of entertainment to keep the whole community in high spirits. That evening, during the likei∗ performance, the villagers crowded before the stage, some sitting, some standing, the latecomers watching from beyond the covered area. Behind the multicoloured lights that shone at the front of the stage, the leading actor was singing his lines and dancing his part. His costume glittered and shimmered and his every move sent flashes of silver and gold. The backdrop was a throne hall drawn in perspective which seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see, hypnotising the audience and transporting it right into the palace and its wonder. Young Lamai sat beside the stage selling boiled peanuts from a basket placed on a table next to a kerosene lamp. Young men kept dropping by to treat themselves to some peanuts and to chat and flirt with the young vendor, who was filling them all with the hope that she might treat them to something else altogether some day. As Fak was passing by with his stepmother, the widow Somsong, Young Lamai called to him with the familiarity of those who have known each other all their lives. At the time, two or three youngsters were munching their peanuts next to the table. ‘Fak, aren’t you going to buy some?’ she asked, flashing him an enticing smile. ∗ Open-air folk opera
CHART KORBJITTI | THE JUDGMENT
5 ‘I’ve already eaten.’ Fak came to a stop and stood there, smiling back. ‘Oh, come on, a handful or two won’t hurt you. All right, if you won’t buy ’m, you can have ’m for free. Here!’ Young Lamai wasn’t letting up and she went on teasing Fak, but the widow Somsong didn’t take this as a joke at all. She was clearly possessive over Fak as she glared at the young vendor. ‘You leave my man alone, you hear!’ Young Lamai turned red in the face and shot back a volley of abuse. There and then, the area before the kerosene lamp would have turned into a battlefield had not Fak dragged his stepmother away, the young vendor screaming in their back: ‘Sure, Fak don’t like to eat peanuts, but his mouth isn’t big enough to munch yours, you bitch!’ It was on this night, then, that the announcement was made that stepson and stepmother had become man and wife. The revelation was relayed by Young Lamai, who was seething with anger, and let no one ignore that as everybody knew, this happened to be the twelfth month, during which, as she didn’t fail to point out, nobody got married because it was the month in which only dogs were in heat. The temple fair had been over for many days and with it the visual entertainment, but the entertainment derived from gossip was only just beginning and it looked as though it would get juicier in coming days. THE JUDGMENT | CHART KORBJITTI
6 The temple was the centre of activity for the villagers. When a child was born, it was taken to the temple to be given an auspicious name by the abbot according to the date of its birth. Those who had offspring of ordination age would have them ordained in the temple, where they remained for the duration of the Buddhist Lent. Of course, when someone died, the body would be brought to the temple to be cremated. Whenever people wanted to meet and talk, or whenever the community leader sought to convene a meeting of all the villagers, they did so at the temple. When district officials came to issue identity cards, it was there, too, that they interviewed the villagers. The doctors who gave immunisation shots had everyone line up at the temple. The elderly regularly went there to make merit and renew their vows. Officers from the police station investigating a crime or looking for a suspect would stop at the temple to ask questions. Individually and collectively, everybody relied on the temple. Fak himself had his hut behind the temple, built on monastery grounds. So some people, when they came to the temple, kept their eyes and ears open in the hope of finding out a little more about the disgusting affair between Fak and his stepmother. Sometimes, they took back home a bit of gossip to feed the rumour. Fak worked as school janitor, a job he had inherited from his father. It was rather like a legacy his father had bequeathed to him before he had drawn his last breath. CHART KORBJITTI | THE JUDGMENT
7 But some people sneered at Fak behind his back, saying: ‘He sure has made a clean sweep of his father’s property, wife included.’ ‘A pity all the time he spent studying as a novice is now wasted.’ He thus became in their eyes an ungrateful person who showed no respect for the memory of his father. His friends began to desert him one after the other and even the monks refused to sit and chat with him for hours on end as they had used to do. He had almost become an outcast in the village, but not quite, because there were still occasions when it was necessary to exchange a few words with him. With every passing day, Fak’s world became more desolate as if he lived all alone in the village. To other people, he was a target of ridicule and contempt. Every word that reached his ears sounded harsh and coarse as if the speaker was unwilling to talk. Sarcasm lay behind every joke. Work was like a friend to him, the only thing that soothed him and prevented his thoughts from running wild. He passed his days lost in work, but his nights were protracted battles to find sleep as they stretched out in a turmoil of thought. As time went by, Fak became increasingly tormented by his suspicion and dread of the people around him. During the day he wore himself out, but at night he couldn’t sleep. As he became thinner and thinner, the villagers began to call him a bag of bones.
THE JUDGMENT | CHART KORBJITTI
8 As far back as he could remember, he had never seen his mother’s face, not even on a photograph. All that his father had told him was ‘Your mum died a long time ago’. His dad was all Fak had ever had. They lived together on the stage of the small open theatre in the temple grounds. Whenever the likei was to perform, they had to look for another place to sleep, either in the monks’ quarters or in the basement of the prayer hall, and take along with them their mat, mosquito net and pillows, as well as the few clothes they possessed. But it wasn’t often that there would be a fair with a likei, and even though he had to move, Fak was always excited when it came. He liked to sit in front of the stage and would watch the whole performance without ever feeling sleepy. The morning after the fair, he and his dad and the temple boys would pick up all the rubbish, sweep the ground and tidy up the lawn. Fak liked to do this just as much, because he sometimes found a few coins people had dropped during the night. Fak’s father was employed by the temple. He was there to wait on the monks and do any work that required physical strength, such as digging, laying out concrete, doing carpentry, cutting grass or gardening. He didn’t receive any payment for his labour other than being fed by the temple: father and son didn’t have to worry about finding enough to eat. Whenever he had nothing to do at the temple, he hired himself out for odd jobs: cutting the grass in coconut groves, clearing the CHART KORBJITTI | THE JUDGMENT
9 forest, chopping firewood, turning over the soil – in short, anything anyone asked him to do. When Fak was a little boy, he always went out with his dad. At that time in his life, Fak’s closest friends were the temple boys. In the morning and at lunchtime, he would help in the monastery, bringing the food to the monks and waiting on them while they ate. He carried out his duties just like any other temple boy; the only difference was that at night he didn’t sleep with the rest of them. He went back to sleep with his dad on the small stage. His life as a child revolved around the temple, the monks and the other boys, and was filled with the smell of incense, the sound of chanting and the sight of the heavens and hells of Buddhist mythology and the lives of the Buddha depicted on the rows of paintings that hung on the walls in the basement of the prayer hall. These things were like precious ornaments that kept his heart warm. He never grieved for not having a mother, maybe because he had never had one, and besides, the other temple boys were not allowed to have their mothers sleep with them either. He never felt wanting in having only his father with him. Having his dad was enough for him. As Fak turned eleven, the temple began to build a school, and when it was finished, his father’s responsibilities increased. He had to look after the building, open and close windows and doors, do the cleaning and sweep and mop the floors. At first the work wasn’t too THE JUDGMENT | CHART KORBJITTI
10 heavy and Fak would give his dad a hand. It was in this very school that the young Fak finished Grade Four. Later, when education began to gain prominence in the village and the number of students and teachers increased, his father became the full-time janitor and drew a monthly salary from the administration. As it seemed that there was more work in the school than in the temple, Fak’s father thought it wouldn’t look good if he continued to live and eat at the temple; besides, he was afraid of criticism from the villagers. So, he decided to move from the open theatre and built himself a hut behind the temple, but he didn’t cut himself off from the temple altogether. He still found time to drop by and chat with the monks, and if any work needed to be done, he could always be relied upon to do it. Sometimes he would eat at the temple as he used to, but not every day as he did before. After Fak had finished Grade Four, he decided to be ordained as a novice. He thought in the wisdom of his age that he could do well in the church. He planned to go through the three levels of theology examinations to follow in the footsteps of the abbot, who was highly respected by everybody in the village. Fak the novice immersed himself in religious studies, reciting the scriptures over and over and earning himself a solid reputation for his outstanding abilities, and finally fulfilled the highest expectations of the villagers when he passed the three levels of theology exams over a period of just three CHART KORBJITTI | THE JUDGMENT
11 years. Some monks had been sitting for the same exams for years! The little novice became the delight of the village, loved and admired by monks and laity alike. When the elderly, who came to take their vows on holy days at the temple, listened to Fak delivering a sermon, they were captivated by his expert delivery as he read from the palm-leaf texts. The villagers fully expected that, one day, when the young novice would be ordained a monk, they would have another great teacher at the temple. Some went as far as to call him, seriously or in jest, Arjarn Fak – Reverend Fak. But the people’s expectations were shattered when the novice requested to disrobe just as he was about to reach the age of ordination. The abbot tried to dissuade him by reminding him that the world of man moves between extremes, is full of trouble and uncertainty, and lacks the serenity of religious life. He bullied him with the gentleness of a loving father, but Fak the novice remained adamant he wanted to disrobe. As the old saying goes, ‘Rain will come, shit will out, children will be born and monks will disrobe: these four events no man can prevent.’ And Fak had his reasons. Even though he still wanted to remain in the shade of religion as one of the Buddha’s disciples, he couldn’t help feeling concerned every time he looked at his father. How could he go on chanting prayers, reciting the scriptures and basking in the comTHE JUDGMENT | CHART KORBJITTI
12 fort of religious life when his father had to struggle to earn his living day after day? His father had brought him up all by himself; he had neither brother nor sister nor other relatives; so, who, if not him alone, could help his father when he would be too old to work? Each time he saw his father, whenever he spoke with him, he no longer found himself at peace. His father had never asked him to disrobe, far from it. It was his own decision; it was his own mind which was demanding that he forsake the comfort he alone could enjoy, as enjoying it was like deserting his father and leaving him to cope alone with the pain and sorrow of the secular world. He had to show his gratitude now and look after his dad while the old man was still alive, not wait to go through the rituals and pray for his soul to rest in peace after he had gone. What if he asked his dad to stop working and share the food he collected on his morning alms round? But his dad wouldnâ€™t stand for it; he was afraid of what people would say. The novice pondered for months, searching for the right answer. Finally, he made up his mind to disrobe, and no amount of argument could counter his determination. He disrobed and went to live with his father in the hut. He would help him at the school and when the work was over, go to the temple to wait on the abbot, massaging his legs or, maybe, making him some tea. His CHART KORBJITTI | THE JUDGMENT
13 world at that time revolved around his father and the temple. When he was done with the one, he would go back to the other. Fak never even thought of taking a trip to town like the other guys of his age, who liked to visit the prostitutes behind the marketplace – not because travelling to town was difficult then, but because his world was full and had no room for women; and in any case, he had never felt the need to taste of the feasts of love. He had vivid dreams about it once in a while, but when he woke, felt repulsed by the fishy smell and stickiness of the sperm and quickly went out in the dark to wash away the telltale stains. To Fak, these thoughts were something to be ashamed of. During term vacations, he would do casual labour, chopping firewood, cutting grass or tending orchards, depending on who had hired him. Any money he earned he would give to his dad. It could be said that his behaviour at that time made him a prime example of what a young man ought to be in the eye of the community. The villagers were wont to reprimand their children by saying, ‘Why can’t you be like Fak? If you was half as good as he is I wouldn’t have to worry any more.’ When the time came for him to be conscripted, he went into town for the draft. Unfortunately, he drew a red chit and had to go, leaving his dad alone for two years. He did come to visit on weekends, but not every week. He had just been conscripted when the news spread that a road was going to be built through the THE JUDGMENT | CHART KORBJITTI
14 province. It would run from Bangkok through yet another province and would pass right behind the temple. Everyone in the village began to feel excited by the progress that was to come. When the recruits were sorted out, Fak was sent to a unit stationed in the South, and he could no longer return home often. He would get to see his dad maybe every three or four months, but he never failed to write, and also sent his dad the money he received for sentry duty together with his monthly allowance. He never needed anything: board and lodging was enough for someone as easygoing as he was. Fak had no way of knowing how his father spent the money during his visits to town. He had no way of knowing that the new road had taken his dad to the back of the market, where he had resumed some activities he had given up a long, long time ago. When he came to know about it later, he didn’t say a word, because that was his dad’s business and it brought him a happiness Fak himself was unable to provide. After his discharge from the army and his return to the village, he couldn’t help wondering why there was a woman living in the hut. He was told the woman was living there as his father’s wife. She wasn’t bad looking, if a bit on the skinny side; she had a fair complexion and couldn’t be more than thirty. His father was past fifty, and Fak would often hear villagers remark, ‘Your dad’s got his lust for life back again.’ (Three years later, the CHART KORBJITTI | THE JUDGMENT
15 terms ‘lust’ and ‘young wife’ would be used readily to explain his father’s death.) From what he could observe of his father’s wife, Fak got the impression that she wasn’t quite all there. She was always collecting things like coconut shells, flowers, broken combs, old newspapers and the like, and hoarding them in the hut. Every now and then Fak would discreetly throw the whole lot out. But she never made any trouble for anybody, never hurt anyone, except for making eyes or smiling at any male she happened to see, including the occasional young monk. His dad had told him that he had met her at the bus terminal in town one evening. They had chatted about this and that until they had noticed it was getting late. She had nowhere to go, so they had rented a room in a hotel. After they had slept together, she had asked whether she could live with him. His dad was lonely and felt sorry for her. She had told him she had run away from Bangkok and had no relatives. If he sent her away, she’d probably just wander about, and who knows what trouble she might end up in. Many people complained to Fak that his father was only making trouble for himself, but Fak never thought so. He merely thought that his dad had brought him up and that he had the right to do whatever gave him happiness so long as it didn’t harm anyone. That was all Fak thought. Two years later, a new building was added to the THE JUDGMENT | CHART KORBJITTI
16 school. The education programme was extended. The number of students in the village increased, and children from surrounding villages came to sit through grades five to seven in this school as well. The road at the back of the temple was completed and regular minibuses went into town and on to Bangkok. Progress kept on coming. The latest rumour was that before long, electricity would be connected to the village. Some of the monks’ quarters were demolished and new ones were being built in the traditional Thai style. Now that there were convenient communications to the village, people from Bangkok had begun to come to the temple to make offerings and participate in its ceremonies. The work at the school increased, and Fak had to help his father more than ever – but there was still only one salary. Teachers would ask him to buy this or do that for them and occasionally he had to help with odd jobs in their homes as well during the weekend. As Fak didn’t want his father to work hard, it wasn’t long before most of the work became his responsibility. Towards the end of the following year, his father died. It was the greatest loss Fak had experienced in his life. Then, in the twelfth month of the same year, on the night of the temple fair mentioned at the beginning, Fak began to lose his reputation.
CHART KORBJITTI | THE JUDGMENT
part one THE ENTANGLEMENT
1 Inside a dimly lit, rectangular room. As the first window was being opened wide, paleyellow rays flooded in, revealing the shapes of desks arranged in rows. With the opening of the second window, the light increased, enhancing the various colours in the room. Written in white in the top corner of the rectangular, green blackboard that faced the room were the words: ‘Day – Month – Year –’ In the black groove at the bottom of the board, bits of chalk lay in white dust. The light in the room intensified as the third window came ajar. The teacher’s table stood to the right of the blackboard, a chair neatly placed behind it. On the table were a khaki chalk box and a red glass vase, which was filled with dark-red gerberas∗. The flowers had begun to ∗ Originally an African plant of the composite family, with basal rosettes of leaves and single flower heads with numerous long, narrow ray flowers in white, pink, orange, salmon or violet
THE JUDGMENT | CHART KORBJITTI
18 wilt and their petals drooped and leaned against one another in the middle of the vase. More light flooded the room, adding a reddish hue to the shadow of the vase that stretched across the table. In a back corner of the room silently stood a wastepaper basket, a broom and a dustpan, and above them the last window was about to be opened. In came the sound of a violin, not a smooth melody, but a rising and falling whine, as if the player was practising for the first time. The sound came from the teachers’ quarters. In the stillness of the morning, the shriek of the violin drifted far...
Chart Korbjitti, born 1954, is a highly successful, self‐publishing Thai novelist and short story writer with a wide range of styles. Both The judgment and Time, 1993, received the SEA Write Award and were translated into French, English and other languages. They can be download‐ ed from thaifiction.com, along with Mad dogs & co, 1988, and his best novellas and short stories. The Judgment, serial‐ ised for television in the 1990s, was turned into a happy‐ending [!] movie, Ai Fak, in 2004.
CHART KORBJITTI | THE JUDGMENT