Mango Son Theen
The farang carries a typewriter in a case wherever he goes. He makes a show of it: picking a table on the terrace outside where any passersby will see him typing away. It weighs as much as an anvil and riddles the tabletops with bite marks Laksana must fill and wax and smooth away lest the big boss see and dock it from her pay. The other girls scatter when they see the farang come in day in and day out: they find him handsome, but he looks transparent to Laksana, like flimsy parchment touched by the last dregs of an artist’s watercolors. The pale yellow of his hair and the insipid blue of his eyes curdle her — Laksana knows a pii when she sees one.
But each morning he arrives in his linen shirt and the other servers hide, giggling behind their canna lily hands.
“You go, Nong Na,” they say, harrying her out the door. “You know his language.”
Laksana would never boast knowledge of the farang’s tongue. Hello, she might manage. Please to order, ka. Very hot today. Thank you. Yes. Too spicy, ka. Watermelon. Coffee. Thank you, ka. Thank you. Thank you.
He eats the same thing every day: khao pad moo and kai dao with a side of mild prik nam pla. He sips coffee until the morning drips hotly into the afternoon. When he begins to shuffle his typewriter about and count out his coins, sweat springing up along his hairline, that is Laksana’s cue to bring out fresh fruit for afters. Manna from heaven, he always says when she sets before him the peeled som-oh, the crisp champoo, the tender malakaw, the ripe sapparot or, once, some fragrant durian, just to see what he would do. Just to meet those ghostly eyes for one defiant moment.
He had smiled at her with one dimple. Forgive me, he had said, halting and toneless in Laksana’s language. Forgive me.
She replaced the durian with its saccharine cousin, khanun. Manna from heaven, he said, like clockwork. Perhaps, Laksana thought, this is like thank you,but only for fruit. What strange, precise customs these farangs have.
Today the kitchen overflows with mangkut. With the hot months comes mangkut season, and suddenly the whole city is awash in them, kilo upon kilo for a handful of baht. The thick skin, a dull and waxy purple, is cut delicately along the fruit’s equator to split neatly in two, revealing the rich white segments of flesh within, like pearls to be plucked from an oyster. Mangkut are Laksana’s favorite. She could gorge herself on them like a drunk. She could grow fat and happy slipping mangkut down her throat all her days.
The farang inspects it curiously when she sets the plate in front of him.
“This what?” he asks.
“Mangkut,” Laksana says.
“Mango — mm.” Laksana reaches for the word in his language. “Mango is mamuang.” She points to the mangkut and mimes splitting it apart. “Is mangkut.”
“It doesn’t look like a mango,” the farang says. The two hemispheres of his mangkut fall open at his prodding and he gasps in delight. “I’ve never seen a mango like this.”
“Forgive me, sir,” Laksana says. “No thank you mango, ka.” The farang looks up at her, stitches knitting between his brows. “Is mangkut.”
“Forgive me,” he echoes. “I don’t understand.”
Laksana bunches her fingers together and brings them to her mouth.
“Mae-na from hey-van,” she says. “Eat, ka.”
The farang laughs like clapping coconut halves.
“Mango from heaven,” he says, and spears one segment of fruit. She watches his eyes widen and then roll upward even as they flutter shut. The sound he makes brings heat to her cheeks. She turns to scurry back to the kitchen and hide her face away, but he strikes like a cobra and grasps her arm. She stills, watches him from the corner of her eye.
“What is this?” he says, squeezing her arm. He yanks her until she stumbles closer. “This what? Mango this?”
Laksana can smell the bitter tang of his sweat. She wants to wrench away and dart through the little sois and alleys to the copse of listing houses where no farang would never follow. Laksana wants to swipe his mangkut and hide beneath her grandmother’s skirts like a child, sucking the fruit from its skin. Gwoon son theen, she wants to say, wants to curse, wants to lob at his colorless head. Fucking sole of the foot. Fucking worthless dirt. Fucking low, dirty, unholy thing. Gwoon son theen.
“Mango son theen!” she says, too loud, too sharp, and the farang drops her arm. He sits back at stares at her with his terrible lynchee eyes. His mouth hangs open.
Laksana’s innards shrink from the borders of her body. The big boss will have her head.
“Mangosteen,” the farang says. “Hnh.” He turns away from her as if he never saw her at all. As if it is she who is the pii. He slams on the keys of his typewriter, loud so everyone knows the work he does. “Mangosteen,” he mutters to himself as he click clacks away. “Every day I wake in paradise, and every day a beautiful girl presents me with manna from heaven. Sometimes I think I could stay in the Land of Smiles the rest of my days and never exhaust her wonders.”
Laksana twitches one hand toward the plate. The farang is mesmerized by his own typing and does not see her tip half a mangkut into her palm. She scoops out the fruit and secrets all eight segments into her cheeks. She steps back, slow as prey, but holds again when he looks up at her. His smile is flat and empty — the kind used on strangers. He taps his mug.
“Coffee more?” he says.
It is Laksana’s job to smile. Mangkut falls from behind her teeth like offal.