April · blossom · Liz's stories

What’s in a Name?

By Liz Parkes

ดอก·

MONDAY April 25th

This is a cold place. The rain runs and gurgles into the drains as I gather the washing from the line, hastily pulling shirts, boiler suits, underpants and mother’s aprons into the basket. My hair clings to my face and dribbles icy droplets down my neck. My hands are too cold to work and pegs spray the floor, confetti of bright plastic, like blossom.

I should have seen the clouds darkening. I should have brought the washing in long ago when it jumped and danced on the windy line. She will tell Graham. ‘She’s been on that computer again talking away.’ She would have had the clothes in and pressed by now, when her Jim was alive.

Mother has shut the door against the draught, and me, leaving me in the overgrown garden. The plants bend under the weight of the water soaking my trousers up to the knee and my feet slip on the slimy paving of the path. I feel her disapproval.

Graham calls as he opens the door, ‘Julie’. It is her name, the other woman that Mother disapproves of. My Thai name is Nutcha but Graham only called me by that in the three emails he sent before we met. I am Julie now, the woman whose photograph Graham keeps upstairs in the rooms that Mother cannot reach with her arthritic knees; the woman whose clothes he asks me to wear when we are alone.

Mother is telling him that I have been talking to my family again. The happiness of those moments drains out of me.

Tuesday May 24th

I have a small piece of the garden dug over and planted. In the warm weather these vegetables will grow strong. Mother cannot stand in the kitchen to watch me cook but she tells me what to do from her chair. Her food is strange and slimes my tongue.

I love the garden, even the wild places. They remind me of the swamp forests of Sarakham and the picnics before Father got sick. We grew fresh food and herbs there but they were not enough. His cancer needed medicines from the clinic a long ride away on my put-put bike with him so weak he had to be tied to me.

A robin keeps me company as I dig. He is modest in colour and sweet in voice. I know the names of all the gaudy, noisy birds that fill the skies at home but here only this one bird is brave enough to come close enough to be my friend.

Wednesday June 22nd

Today I am happy. My sister has started school. Father tells me she has a uniform and books like the other children. He is stronger now he has medicine and joy. He tells me that he thanks the Suwan Mali Buddha for Graham and our good fortune. He has sent a silk scarf from Ban Nong for Mother.

The delivery man from Tesco asks me my name. Mother is sleeping and I am full of home thoughts. “I am Nutcha.” I say but he forgets and calls me Blossom.

Thursday July 21st

The sun is shining outside and Mother has the curtains drawn – for her eyes. She does not like wasps so the windows must be closed and everything is hot and still in her room. Everywhere smells of age and dust.

My garden is beautiful. Lines of feathery topped carrots, potatoes in their ridges, tomato plants taller than the bamboo canes lean against the wall, soon I will be able to cook my food. I think of home and the rain sparkling from the leaves as my sister goes to school. It is the rainy season and she will have her red umbrella. She will work hard at her study in the evening in the sultry kitchen while our mother cooks. I see it each night in my dreams.

The silk scarf from Ban Nong arrived carrying the scent of home. I inhaled it secretly before I took it in to Mother. She has not worn the scarf she says she does not go out so it is ridiculous. One day I shall take it and wear it for my parents who spent a week’s wages on it.

Friday August 19th

“ Getting some strange things here, Blossom.” The delivery man from Tesco has unloaded my boxes. He knows the shopping habits of all his customers and notes the change. Mother has the same things every week which I order on line but this week she is in hospital.

Graham comes back from his hospital visit with fish and chips. In Sarakham there are a hundred different varieties of fish and a hundred ways of preparing each of them. Tomorrow I will cook for him.

Julie’s clothes hang on me. Mother’s sewing machine is older than the one at home but is still in working order. The clothes fit well now. I do not like it but will ask no questions. It is the deal, I care for my family, I please Graham.

Saturday September  24th

Today the wind blows from the north carrying the first hint of winter to come. Mother is never out of bed now. She has a lady called Mary to wash her in the morning and the evening. Mary told me that there are other Thai girls close by and she brought me a contact number.

The girl answered the phone so quickly I was not prepared. “ I am Nutcha.” Her English voice disappeared into a flood of familiar chatter, meetings arranged, information exchanged and talk of home, so much talk of home.

My garden is so bursting with vegetables that I can give them to the houses down the street. I know the family with the barking dog; the old man who lives by himself; the lady with the sports car who sings and the one with the dirty windows.  Graham is surprised at how much I know about everybody.

Sunday October 30th

The leaves are falling in drifts. My garden is tidy for the winter frosts. The robin has raised his young and is getting fat on the grubs I expose.

My friends and I talk of this season at home when the rains have stopped and the dry times of sunshine and socialising begin. We meet in suburban brick houses where girls have made small islands of Thailand.

My parents have the scan of my baby sent through. My mother has never seen anything like this.

Graham had taken the day off last Friday. The nurse had been kind. She had called Graham ‘Dad’ with a question in her voice. He is not too old to enjoy his child.  Mother hardly seems to understand what he is telling her when he shows her the grainy photo on his phone.

Monday November 21st

The children going to school are wrapped up in scarves and heavy coats. I think of my sister running to school in the sunshine, her hair neatly plaited. I am happy that my husband pays her fees buys her books, it is my bride price.

My father is well enough to watch her grow strong, to see her learning so much, that is also my bride price.

Graham is tired when he comes home but when I put his hand on my belly and tell him the child moves, he laughs.

Tuesday December 13th.

The air is cold enough to make me breathless. In the garden everything is black and white.

The Tesco deliveries are now my own and I cook as I was taught. Graham only gets fish and chips when he thinks I am tired. I eat it to please him.

Julie’s clothes no longer fit across my belly and Graham took me out to buy new clothes. I send my parents a photo of their smart daughter with her fat belly.

Mother eats soup without comment. I prepare for her the foods my own mother made for father when he was sick. Mary sometimes tries some, she calls it ‘awesome.’

Wednesday January 18th

Graham can see the child move. She is doing well the nurses say.

The cold winds reach into the corners of the house and Mother seems to shrink into her bed. Mary has the doctor come to see her.

Thursday 23rd February

The weak winter sun shows the streaks as I clean windows forced open after years of remaining shut. The heaps of clothing on Mother’s bed are sorted into charity shop and bin bags. At the back of her wardrobe I found the silk scarf from Ban Nong still in its tissue paper.

At Mother’s funeral there were a few strange people that I had never seen before. Graham introduced cousins who smiled and turned away embarrassed or others that talked at me too slowly and loudly trying not to look at my pregnancy.

In Thailand the harvest is in, the goddess of rice honoured. Father has survived to see another year.

Friday 10th March

The first daffodils are opening in my garden. I have sent Graham to buy the seed packets.

Our daughter sleeps in her nursery , mother’s old room painted pale yellow with cherry blossom borders.  I stitched the silk scarf into her cot bumpers, she will wake to the smell and colours of Thailand.  Her English name and Thai name stand together on her birth certificate and Nursery door.

Julie’s clothes went with Mother’s to the charity shops. One photograph of her stands on the coffee table, the others are filed away.

My father is happy to have such good fortune in his daughters, he says he will die a happy man.

Graham stops at the bank to make a transfer and then comes home with another little gift for our daughter. He is a good man. He calls to me as he comes in, “Nutcha.”

© Liz Parkes 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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