Extract: The cottonfield

Phlai Kaeo (later Khun Phaen) and Phim (later Wanthong) were childhood friends. They meet again when she is 15 and he is 17 and a novice. He arranges with Saithong, her maid-cum-companion, for them to meet in a cottonfield. The passage comes from chapter 4, pp. 92-98 in our translation. Asterisked words are explained at the end of the post.

Near the place, he detoured to avoid some thorns, and crept through a gap in the thick foliage, coming upon his darling Phim.

She was sitting plaiting a flower garland. Her whole body seemed to bloom. She looked like a beautiful angel dancing gracefully on air.

Love surged in his chest, and he wanted to greet her, but was nervous because he had never done this before. Thinking what to say made his mouth tremble and his heart shrink. He moved his lips but was overcome with nerves.

Love triumphed over fear. He moved gingerly to sit near her, and greeted her with a smile. She started, and her body stiffened with shyness.

“Did you come from home a long time ago? It’s a pity you have to come for the cotton picking. You have masses of servants. It’s a burden to have to follow along with them.

I fear the strong wind and fierce sun will spoil your fair face. You must be stiff and weary from walking. How good of you to make all this effort.

I followed you here because I love you. Did Saithong tell you that? Since the day of the recitation, I’ve been missing you and moping without any relief.

At night my eyes are awake through all four watches. I feel a fire is licking after me, and I can’t escape. I’m sick with desolation and yearning. How is it with you?”

Phim’s chest shook with shock and consternation. She turned her face away, shy and dumbfounded. She had never had such a conversation.

She shifted farther apart. Her face trembled. She glanced this way and that without meeting his eyes. She spoke not a single word.

“What’s this, my eye’s jewel? You don’t say anything. Are you cross? Have you forgotten, my beauty? Please think back to the past.

When we were little children, we played together in all sorts of ways, and loved each other very much. Remember playing ‘bridal house’? I took you and ran away from Khun Chang.

He followed, picked a fight with me, and hit you by mistake so you cried. Why are you shy with me now? Please say just a couple of words in friendship.

It’s a waste of effort to hope Saithong could convey my message to you. Why are you afraid? I won’t do anything rough to hurt you, believe me.”

Phim knew that Phlai Kaeo’s words about the past were all true. She turned to look at his face.

Because they had once been close neighbors, the sound of his voice came back to her. Her fear receded and her trembling heart calmed. She replied, “Honestly, I’d forgotten you,

though I recognized you on the day of the recitation. But I’m a woman. I couldn’t greet you first. That doesn’t mean I dislike you. I’m just worried that people will gossip.

I know you complained to Saithong that I didn’t greet you. Were you so angry that now you want to complain to my face? Look, why have you disrobed? What brings you through the forest to our field?

Have you finished your study and disrobed to go home? Or have you fallen in love with Saithong? Look for her over there, by the big matong tree.”

After listening, Phlai Kaeo replied, “I came here for a reason. I ran away from the abbot because I knew you would come here.

If I go back and get found out, I’m not concerned, not afraid of being punished. Let me tell you the whole story, from then until now, clearly and honestly.

Some merit made me think of looking for you, and then I couldn’t stay with my mother. I was unhappy, incredibly unhappy, like being burned by a blazing bonfire.

I had the idea of leaving my mother and being ordained. As quick as I could, I moved away to another wat*. It’s a long way to Suphan, at least a night’s travel. I had to make the journey on my own.

I met Phim, but no smile, no greeting, so I became even more unhappy. I ran into Saithong and that gave me a channel, so I sent a message to my eye’s jewel to ease my heart.

We came face to face when you gave alms, but you were still very nervous and wouldn’t greet me. Today we meet with nobody around. I want to offer my love to gentle Phim.

I’m not spinning a story to get my way. In truth my mind’s made up a million times over. Let me be your partner and cherish you. This isn’t a passion that will pass once we part.”

“It’s a pity you talk like all the others. You see the face of an old playmate, and show no restraint. The way you’re going will ruin any friendship. If I object, you’ll take offense.

Because we’re old friends you believe you can snag me as a lover. I don’t know what I should think. You seem to imagine we’ve been in love forever. You’re fantasizing, no doubt about it.

It’s not proper, and I forbid it, Phlai Kaeo. This time let it go but don’t do it again. We’ve been sitting too long. The servants will come back. I’ll say goodbye.” She stood up immediately.

Phlai Kaeo got up and calmly tried to pacify her. “Your coolness is based on a misunderstanding. Please think again, sit down, and don’t rush off. I’m not making things up to seduce you.

I’m deeply in love and I’m terribly miserable. I feel there’s a great mountain weighing on my chest. I’ve prayed to Brahma, Indra, the moon, the whole lot of them, everything in the heavens.

If they don’t turn to give me some help, I’ll surely die. I’ve got no thoughts for anyone except you, my gentle heartmate. You alone can ease the burden.”

“You speak eloquently, pouring out your heart. If I were naive, I’d be carried away by your words. Such pleading can befuddle someone. You thought out what you were going to say here, didn’t you?

This is just the beginning of love, and you can already die for it. You’re telling me you’ll never desert me until your dying day. You braved the forest because of love. You live in constant melancholy.

Human beings are too full of greed. We shouldn’t be led by desire. It’s like with food, there’s never enough. We always have to find something else, salty or sour,

boiled, curried, fried, grilled, raw, or cooked—any and every way. We get tired of anything we eat too often.

Just think. You yourself couldn’t bear eating one thing alone. Lovemaking is thrilling. When a love is brand new, you want to entrust your lives to each other.

It’s the same with the clothes we wear. We like something newly bought because it looks splendid. If times are hard, we have to wear the same thing, day in, day out.

Then when we get something new for a change, we put it on and strut around. This new cloth makes us feel good, and we wear it to show off all the time.

That love meant to be eternal is the same. Once it’s old, you can’t drag yourself to look at it. If you do look, you turn away every time. It’s become like an old cloth used for bathing.

Wash and wash, bash and bash, until it’s shreds, rags for wiping, nothing left. Even sewing the bits together wouldn’t make the fabric as it was before.

In the same way, a man and a woman say they’ll die together, but how long does that feeling last? Tongue and teeth are together all the time but sometimes they get in each other’s way.

You’ve come to pour out your heart. You’re talking in the hope I’ll soften up. I think I do care for you a little so I won’t reject your feelings completely.

Go to my mother and ask for my hand. If she’s kind enough to fall in with your intentions, I’ll consent without any objection. If another man asked for me,

and Mother gave me over to him but he wasn’t to my liking, I’d tell her to kill me rather than force me against my will. I wouldn’t beg for mercy.

If you ask my mother and she agrees, I’ll be happy to have you as husband. But chasing after me to be your lover frightens me. People will gossip about our wrongdoing, and I won’t be happy with that.

You’ve come after me because of love. I know that clearly now. So why waste time carrying on this conversation?

Another thing, the servants will see us, and weave a story to repeat in the future. When it suits you, on whatever day, come and ask for my hand in the proper way.

The sun is going down, and evening is approaching. Please return to the wat and I’ll go home. Don’t delay until evening comes, or I’ll be annoyed. If you have any further fantasies, I’ll be shamed.”

“What a pity, my eye’s jewel. Why rush to chase me away so easily? I love you enough to beat myself to death. The only reason I didn’t do it today was because I was meeting you.

To go away until I can come and ask for your hand, still not knowing whether we’ll be a couple—and what if your mother doesn’t consent?—every day apart from you I’ll fade from your memory.

With days passing and so many other diversions, you’ll forget me, my beauty. Were we to run into each other in the middle of a road, things would be different and you’d probably be irritated.

If you’ve definitely decided to love me, don’t run away from it. Let me entrust my heart to you. Please be merciful. Just this once, don’t be stubborn.

You made a comparison about the human heart—that desire is limitless, just like our hunger for different kinds of food is endless. That’s the nature of people in general.

It’s a bit of this and a bit of that that makes the taste delicious. But take the example of rice. It’s always there—like passion’s turmoil, the impatience inflamed by love.

An old cloth, already sadly the worse for wear, shouldn’t be washed again and again until it’s threadbare and torn. Take an attractive golden yok, worth cherishing, not just something with a peeled-lotus and sesame-seed pattern.

Such a cloth is not easy to make. Before it can be worn, a lot of money and effort has been spent. Even when it’s old, we try to take care of it for lasting enjoyment.

We store it carefully in a fragrant chest. When there’s a suitable occasion like a big festival, we take it out and unfold it so the cloth can be admired, and the fragrance is pleasing too.

Even though we have many other new cloths, we don’t treat them with the same care. Let me say goodbye. It’s nearly evening. I won’t force you even though I’m reluctant to be parted from you.”

He stroked and kissed the end of her sabai*. “Let me enjoy this a bit. Don’t be upset. It’s very pretty, and suits your fair complexion. Did you weave it yourself or buy it somewhere?”

She tugged the sabai away from him. “Don’t waste your praise. Mother gave it to me. You’re acting like a bully with no consideration. What is this, Kaeo? It’s not proper.

You love me and want some result. Because we’re in the middle of nowhere, are you going to force yourself on me? You don’t want to marry so you’ll risk creating a scandal. You’re selfish and in too much of a hurry.

If you get your satisfaction by making me miserable, then you won’t find love. I might very well lose out to you, Kaeo, but don’t fool yourself you’ll get me this way.

It’s like being so hungry that you eat uncooked rice even though it’s still hard and not tasty at all. Please drop it. If you insist on annoying me, we’re finished.”

“Gentle Phim, have a care. You’re cutting off my love at the first try. Please calm down and stop accusing me.” He kissed her, saying, “Don’t take offense, precious.

I love you honestly with a heart of love. I’m not forcing myself on you.” With passion rising at the thought of parting, he pushed her hand away and pulled the end of the sabai.

“Stop punishing me, please, for merit’s sake. Don’t be so angry and protective. Your breast curves beautifully like molten silver. Let me caress you a little. Don’t take offense.”

He embraced her and lifted her onto his lap. “Why are you pushing and trying to slip away?” He tried to peel away her uppercloth but she hung on with a firm grip.

“It’s a pity you don’t listen. Are you going to kill me here in this field? Making love to me in the open will make people talk. I don’t think this is loving me.

It’s wrong because we’re not married. You should make it official, arrange a bridal house for me, then I’ll consent and drop my objections.

My body is not something that’s for sale, something to be laid out in the middle of nowhere. Please consider what’s fitting first. Go home, Kaeo.

You die from no food, you don’t die from no lovemaking.” She lowered her face onto her knees and wai-ed him, pleading to be let down.

He tenderly kissed and stroked her hair, then admired her face. “You’re so lovely. Your skin is so fair, so soft. Your eyes are brimming with tears. Please give me a little smile, heartmate.

I’m touched by your pleading to let you go but I love you so much I don’t want to be apart. Lugging my love away from here will be torture.”

He picked up her hand and pressed it to his chest. “See, my heart is bursting. Take note of this. In the evening I’ll come to the house to find you.”

He lifted her chin, kissed her, and hugged her tightly to his body, feeling her full, firm breasts budding against him. He caressed every part of her body.

He took her hand and looked at her fingers. “So beautiful, these ten fingers, so lovely.” She bent her face over her lap and said nothing. “I’ll say farewell, Phim. Please turn your face towards me.”

At that moment, with the sun dropping and the light fading, I-Tao-Hap, I-Phlap, and I-Pli returned from picking cotton with baskets well stuffed, singing songs as they came.

Saithong was keeping watch on the path. Seeing the servants, she cried out twice to warn the couple, “Let’s go, let’s go, it’s almost evening.”

Phim prostrated and wai-ed Phlai Kaeo. “They’re coming! Please go. They’ll see us. Do you want to kill me? Have mercy and go quickly!”

Phlai Kaeo embraced her on his lap, still reluctant to let her down. But as the sound of the servants came close, he was forced to stand up, hide behind a tree, and slip away.


wat — a Buddhist temple

sabai — an uppercloth

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