I walked quietly across the floorboards, careful not to disturb the sole customer in Good Hope. Pi-Ian was dozing behind the counter, and Nan, the seventeen-year old mother, was sleeping beside her newborn on the floor. I grabbed a homemade yogurt from the refrigerator and turned away.
Suddenly Som was there, tugging my arm and beaming. “Sah-dah!” she said. “Come!”
If I have a Thai mother, she is Som. In the time I have been coming to Had Yuan, Som has fed me, employed me, mended my clothes and put a roof over my head. When I turned twenty-four, she cooked a feast: french fries, spring rolls, phad thai and bananas in coconut milk. She told me to invite all of my friends, and we had a party on the beach. She clucks over my brother when he parties in Had Rin too often, and she interrogates my sister about her Thai boyfriend. What does he do? she fires off in Thai. Why doesn’t he come to stay with us?
I followed her into the kitchen. She reached into a knit shopping bag and pulled out a beautiful red dress. She held it up to my body and murmured in Thai. Nan woke up on the floor and smiled at us with sleepy eyes. “Try, try!” Som urged, so I pulled the dress over my head. She helped arrange it on my body, twisting it here, tugging it there. Then she stepped back and folded her arms across her chest, beaming. It was then I realized she was giving it to me.
“Did you buy it in Surathani?” I asked, knowing she had been on the mainland. She nodded and gave me a sly smile. “Si khaw,” she said, stroking my arm. White. She loves my pale skin. “Suai,” she murmured. Beautiful.
“You are beautiful!” I told her, meaning it. “This gorgeous golden skin…”
“Uck,” she said. “Black…”
I promised that I would wear the dress for her tomorrow, and she nodded shyly. Then she patted me on the arm, and sent me off with my yogurt. I walked up the steps to my bungalow, right next door to the family, and was grateful to be here.