Prissana – 02A

translated by Tulachandra

Chapter 02A

The New Daughter

Seated on Anong’s bed, Mrs. Samorn eyed her four daughters with pride and contentment. How pretty they all looked – Ubol sitting on the stool at the dressing table with her back to the mirror, Siri standing behind a chair, her hands resting on its back, Anong nice and prim on the rug in front of the bed, with her feet neatly tucked behind. And there on the floor in the middle of the room was Prisna, sitting cross-legged, playing with her nephew and talking gaily to her mother and sisters at the same time.

Mrs. Samorn could not have been more pleased with this youngest daughter of hers. Prisna did not wear heavy make-up, did not put on the sort of deliberately sophisticated air which she would have found distasteful. She was, to her delight, everything you could ask for in a girl of nineteen: lovely, lively, unselfconscious and unspoiled. And her manners? Well, naturally, they were a little different from those of most Siamese girls – not as shy and modest for one thing, but all the same just as charming in their own way. She thought of that morning and smiled. There, in front of the crowds, Prisna had rushed to her and asked her excitedly, “Do you recognize me, mother?” And, without waiting for an answer, had thrown her arms around her neck and given her a long, affectionate kiss. Then, unaware that she was drawing the attention of an increasing number of strangers, she had turned her round for a more comprehensive look and exclaimed, “Why, mother, you’re marvelous. You haven’t changed a bit!” She was just as demonstrative with her sisters, giving each of them a hug and a kiss. She then patted her nephew on the head and gave his father Somsak a friendly hand-shake, talking to him in an easy way as if she had known him for a long time.

Looking at Prisna, Mrs. Samorn’s thoughts turned to her husband. Were he alive today, how happy he would be. Prisna was born six months after Phra Vinij’s death. Six months. These two words brought other memories, this time not so very pleasant. Six months was a lapse of time which had been made much of by her uncharitable mother-in-law.

It all came back to her now. When Prisna was ten months old, Mrs. Samorn took her to see Chao Khun and Khun Ying Dev, with the intention of asking Chao Khun to give the child a name, just as he had done for her three other girls. But Khun Ying Dev took one look at Prisna and cried out in anguish, “This can’t be my son’s child. Look at those curls! And that face! Impossible! How can you do this to me, Samorn, bringing this creature here? Do you want to torture me? Have you no decency left?”

Then, feeling that the scene she was creating deserved a wider audience, Khun Ying Dev sent for her three daughters, and as soon as these three meek souls came into the room, their mother burst out once more, “Will all of you please take a look at that! Can that be your brother’s child? Can you bring yourselves to believe that it is?”

Mrs. Samorn left without saying goodbye, and never gone back since. Even when Chao Khun Dev died, she could not make herself go to that house to assist in the funeral ceremonies, although she went into mourning for him for one whole year.

All that seemed only yesterday, and yet it had been nearly nineteen years since she received that nice letter from her husband’s younger brother Viraj. “Congratulations,” he had written. “Three lovely daughters, and now another one! I do envy you, I’ve thought a lot about this and am writing to ask if you would consider letting me have the pleasure of helping you bring up this fourth daughter. I know she’s too little to leave home now, but when she’s older I’d like her to come and live here in America with me. I’ll see to it that she gets a good education, and when she has finished school I’ll send her back to you. Then you’ll be astonished how a bachelor like me could have made out so wonderfully as a guardian! The girl hasn’t got any name yet, has she? May I then have the honour of naming her? What do you think of Prisna?”

The letter came after her last meeting with her mother-in-law, and Mrs. Samorn, who was still suffering from the insult, immediately wrote back, agreeing to Viraj’s proposal. It gave her no small pleasure, that what Viraj was doing amounted to a challenge to his mother’s accusation of her.

When Prisna was seven, Viraj (whose full title now read Luang Viraj Rajkich) came back to Bangkok on home leave, and when the time came for him to return to America, he took Prisna with him.

Now Prisna was home again. Viraj had kept his promise and sent her back after she had left school. But it was not the wish to abide by the original agreement that had made him act so promptly. There were some other considerations. In the letter telling Mrs. Samorn of Prisna’s coming home, Viraj said, “… It is difficult to find a suitable job for her here, but even if it weren’t I should still prefer to see her doing some useful work in our own country… And another thing, she’s very pretty, very popular. If she stays on over here, it’s not too unlikely that she might one day fall in love with one of her American admirers. And, nice fellows though they are, I know you don’t think it’s quite the proper thing. So, for her sake and yours, I’m sending her home. I have to do it, because I love her more than anything else in the world…”

Lost in her own thoughts, Samorn was suddenly startled by the sound of Prisna’s voice.

What’s wrong, mother?” the girl was asking. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

Sorry,” Mrs. Samorn said, and her face broke into a slow smile. “I just couldn’t take my eyes off you. I didn’t imagine my baby would be so big and tall.”

Prisna laughed and came over to sit beside her mother on the bed.

Am I too tall? That’s what uncle always says anyway – that I’m very tall for a Siamese girl.”

You’re the tallest one in our family now,” Ubol said. “But tell us, Prisna, why is your Siamese so good? We all thought you had forgotten it.”

I did forget it the first few years. I was in a boarding school then and there was no other Siamese girl besides me, and when I came home during vacations, uncle also spoke to me in English. But later on, when I was older, uncle started to teach me Siamese and spoke to me in Siamese. I can read and write, too – when it’s not too difficult.” She paused before changing the subject. “When are we going to have lunch, by the way? Is our brother-in-law coming to eat with us, Ubol? Is Tieng still with us, mother? Just think, it’s been twelve years since I last ate a meal cooked by Tieng!”

You’ve got a good memory,” Siri remarked. “Yes, Tieng is still with us, and so’s her husband Choom. He still drives our car. Do you remember him?”

I certainly do,” Prisna replied, getting up from the bed and pulling her mother’s hands gently so that she too had to rise.

Let’s go downstairs; lunch is ready,” someone announced. Everybody then trooped out of the room led by Mrs. Samorn.

Prisna woke up early and looked around the room with wonder. How strange it was to find hereself in her own home at last – so far away from the States and uncle, and all that had been dear and familiar to her for many years. But she did not allow herself to dwell too long on them. Moving quickly and lightly, she got out of the bed, glanced at the clock and was surprrised to see that it was only six o’clock. Anong was still sleeping peacefully in the other bed. Prisna looked at her and smiled with affection before crossing over to where her overnight bag stood. Making as little noice as possible, she opened it, rummaged around, took out the things she wanted, and walked softly out of the room.

But Anong was also an early riser. Prisna had not been gone five minutes when she, too, opened her eyes. The first thought that came to her head was about her sister, so she turned around to see if she was still asleep. The empty bed met her eyes, and also the open bag, its contents spilled out in the most hectic manner.

Just as soon as Anong had finished re-arranging the bag and putting it neatly away, Prisna came back. The older girl looked up and thought she had never seen anyone so beautiful. Her gown was bright, her hair wet and disheveled, her face scrubbed and shining, and her cheeks were the loveliest shade of pink. And her smile as fresh and radiant as the morning itself, Anong thought.

Hello, Anong,” Prisna said. “Did I wake you up?”

On, no, I always get up early. Did you have a nice sleep?”

Uh-huh, very nice… Is mother awake, I wonder?… Look here, Anong, I don’t know what you’re going to say about this, but I’ve brought very few clothes with me. The rest are coming by boat from Singapore. It will probably be days before they get here.”

Anong could think of no suggestion to make at the moment. It was time that she, too, should start getting dressed, and picking up a towel, she sailed out of the room, leaving Prisna to decide for herself what to wear.

Coming back from her morning bath, Anong found her younger sister already dressed in a pair of white shorts – they were very short. Anong thought, shorter than any she had ever seen before – and a blue shirt-blouse. The socks were also blue, setting off nicely the white of the tennis shoes, the kind that had not yet been imported to Bangkok.

Prisna was combing her hair in front of the mirror, and as Anong walked in, she turned around and asked, “Have you got any ribbon or anything that would keep my hair in place? Look at it, it’s a mess.”

I haven’t got anything, sorry. You have to go to Siri’s room and ask her.”

Prisna flew out of the room, and after only a few moments had passed, flew in again, holding a big paper box which once had evidently contained chocolates.

Siri’s awake,” she told Anong, “but still in bed – all smiles, she was. She told me to get the ribbon myself. So here I am with a whole box of them.” She opened the box, took out a piece and tied her hair with it without looking into the mirror.

Well, I’m really off this time,” she announced.

Have you powdered your face?” Anong asked.

I never use powder, except once in a while when I go out at night. What time do we have breakfast, Anong?”

Seven-thirty. Why?”

Oh, I think I’ll go out for a little walk.”

In those shorts?”

Why not? Goodbye, darling. See you at breakfast!”

Her mother and sisters were already seated around the breakfast table when Prisna came back from her walk. The girl looked at them, looked at her wristwatch and exclaimed, “But I am not late! It’s only twenty past seven!”

Who said you were late?” Mrs. Samorn said. “It’s just that today we got up earlier than usual. Did you get very far?”

Not very, mother,” Prisna replied, sitting down on a vacant chair and placing the napkin on her lap.

I took the road in front of the house, and went a little way. I wish I had a bicycle. How far does the road go, by the way?”

As far as Paknam,” Siri gave the answer.

Really? That’s wonderful. I must attempt it some day.” She looked thoughtful and went on, “I don’t know why those people should have stared at me – everyone of them. I don’t think I’m as strange-looking as all that.”

You are not,” Anong’s voice was affectionate and sarcastic at the same time, “but those shorts are.”

Oh?” Prisna’s eyes opened wide with wonder. “Do you mean to say shorts are not worn here?”

Of course they are, but they’re longer shorts than yours, and they’re worn on certain occasions only.”

This is not America,” Siri continued where Anong had left off.

Mrs. Samorn listened to her three daughters with amusement. There was a brief pause while food was being attended to, and then Prisna said, “I’ve brought a couple of these shorts with me, and a few shirts like this. I haven’t got anything else to wear. They’re all on the boat. You’re not taking me to see anyone important today, are you, mother?”

You won’t have to go out at all if you don’t want to, my dear.”

Oh, but I do. I’m dying to see what Bangkok’s really like. I’m mad at myself now for leaving those behind. I should have brought them with me on the plane. And those lovely gifts for you – for all of you. Oh, well!”

But why did you change your mind and take the plane in the first place?” Siri asked.

One reason was because I wanted to get home in a hurry.”

If I were you,” Mrs. Samorn said, “I’d have stayed on a few more days in Singapore.”

There was another reason, mother. I got tired of traveling on the same boat with some people.”

What people?” Siri asked. “The American missionaries that Uncle Viraj asked to look after you?”

Oh, no, those two are marvelous – both the husband and the wife. And their daughter is also a good friend of mine. Actually, I shouldn’t have said ‘people,’ because there was only one person who got on my nerves. It isn’t very important, really. I’ll tell you about it some other time. Those Americans missionaries are coming to Bangkok, by the way. They’ll probably get here the same time as my things.”

Tell us about your trip, Prisna – the boat trip,” Anong said in her quiet voice.

I’ll tell you about the boat first. It’s huge and it’s got everything: swimming pool, movie theatre, bars, shops. I bought these shoes from one of the shops. And there were all sorts of games you’d want to play.”

And I suppose everyone wore lovely clothes,” Siri chimed in.

Practically everyone. Sometimes it looked as if there was a perpetual fashion show going on.”

And what did you wear?”

Oh, shorts and shirt – like this – in the daytime, then evening dress for dinner.”

Did they have dances on the boat?”

Of course, every Wednesday and Saturday. Do you like dancing?”

M’m, I adore it,” Siri’s eyes were dreamy. “Don’t you like it too?”

Yes, I do, but I prefer tennis and swimming.” Then, turning to Anong, Prisna asked, “Do you like to dance too?”

Don’t talk to her about dancing,” Siri made a face. “We’ve been trying to get her to learn, but she won’t. Last time Khun Sak tried, she just got up and ran out of the room.”

Ah,” Prisna smiled at her sister, “I’ll teach you how to dance, Anong. I won’t let you run away from me. You wait and see.”

Anong had been contented with the role of listener, but was not at all happy to become the subject under discussion. She sighed with relief when the sound of an automobile horn came from the front of the house.

That’s Khun Sak,” Anong said, “Hurry up, Siri. He doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”

Just when I’m enjoying myself, too,” Siri complained, but stood up quickly. “Goodbye, mother. ‘Bye, you two!” She ran out to the waiting car, stopping only to pick up a large bag from the table in the living room.

Where is she going in such a hurry?” Prisna asked.

To work,” Anong replied.

Where? What does she do?”

She works at a dressmaker’s shop. It’s on Khun Sak’s way to his Ministry, so he stops here for her every morning.”

So Siri’s a dressmaker,” Prisna said thoughtfully. “That’s wonderful. I wish I could find a job.” She paused, for at that moment Mrs. Samorn was leaving the table. “But where are you going, mother? Can I come with you? I haven’t got anything to do.”

I’m going to the little house,” Mrs. Samorn said, meaning, of course, her mother’s house. “You don’t have to come today; your grandmother’s not feeling very well and you’d only tire her. Why don’t you stay here and help Anong?” Then another instruction to Anong, “I think the two cabinets I ordered for Prisna are coming today. Would you tell the men where to put them?”

With everybody occupied but herself, Prisna started out on an inspection tour of the place. In the servants’ quarters, she found Tieng the cook and her husband Choom; andn with them she reminisced about her childhood days, while little Chub, their daughter, hovered about with an expression that clearly showed how pleased she was with this new mistress. But these good people also had their work to do, so Prisna went back into the house, in and out of all the rooms, giving each of them a critical eye. Upstairs, she thought Siri’s room the most modern and sumptuously decorated of all, while her mother’s room was the coolest. She looked at her own and Anong’s room, the biggest and also the barest, and began to improve it in her mind. The new furniture would certainly be welcome… and when her own things arrived… and if the beds were shifted just so…

Neither was she entirely satisfied with the living room downstairs. It looked too formal. She made a mental note to ask her mother if she wouldn’t want to enliven it a little with bits and pieces here and there.

But pretending to be an interior decorator soon lost its appeal, and when Prisna found herself in the study, which was for all practical purposes another living room, she could not find any fault with it. Taking a book from the shelf, she lay down on the settee and read.

Anong had finished supervising in the kitchen and in other parts of the house was now about to embark on some sewing job of her own. Entering the study she had to cry out with amazement, “What is the matter, Prisna? Why are you crying?”

I feel so sad. She died!”

Who died?”

The girl in this story. I knew it was leading up to a sad ending. I shouldn’t have read it.” She closed the book with a decisive bang, stood up and stretched herself. “Give me something to do, Anong.”

You want to help me with this sewing?”

Heavens, no! Haven’t you got anything else?”

Nothing whatsoever,” Anong said, the needle in her hand working steadily now on the hem of the blouse. Prisna looked on in silence for a whlie, and then she let out a long appreciative whistle.

And what is the meaning of that?” Anong demanded, smiling at this quick change of mood in her sister. “I take it that you’re not sad any more.”

Prisna laughed, sat down again and said, “You know, Anong, if I were a man I’d propose to you this very moment.”

That also drew a laugh from her sister, but no comment, so Prisna continued, “I mean it. You are an angel, Anong. Oh, don’t tell me I haven’t ‘known’ you for very long, because what I’ve seen of you during these two days is enough to convince me. I can’t help noticing you’re always doing something or other for us. Tell me, don’t you ever get bored with all this work?”

It’s my duty. I have to do it.”

You don’t really have to , do you?”

I want mother to have a rest. All those years when we were small, she had to work so hard looking after us and the house. Ubol was a great help to her a year back, but after she got married mother had to do all the work again. Siri couldn’t help much, having a job, and being away from the house all day. So, after I’d finished school, I – well, I sort of took over some of the housekeeping from mother. We’re not awfully well-off, you know.”

The expression on Prisna’s face changed once more. This time it had become reflexive, almost solemn. Seeing that, Anong paused, and when she spoke again it was in a different tone about another matter. “We’re going out this evening, has mother told you? A sightseeing tour of the city, planned especially for your benefit, and Chinese dinner afterwards.”

Good,” Prisna said, but she was not through with asking questions.

Do you all go out often?” she asked.

Not very,” Anong replied, “but for me it’s quite enough. We go to the movies, to a few informal parties; we go visiting friends, or just driving around. Occasionally, Khun Sak and Ubol take Siri to the club where there’s a dance. I’ve never gone with them. I don’t care very much about going out.”

And I say that for a young and lovely girl like you to have that attitude is most unnatural. I can’t have a sister of mine behaving like this. Now, when I’ve earned some money I’m going to take you out. We’ll have a lot of fun, Anong. Oh, I can’t wait to get a job.”

What sort of a job do you have in mind?”

Secretarial, probably, seeing that I have a certificate to prove my having all the necessary qualifications.”

But you don’t know Siamese well enough,” said Anong in a timid tone.

I could work for a European,” said Prisna who was less timid. “And who says I don’t know Siamese well enough? I may not be able to teach Siamese grammar, but I can write Siamese, and make sense too, and I can translate English into Siamese and vice versa. My French is passable. My shorthand and typing are more than passable…”

All right, I believe you. You can get a job as a secretary.”

Of course I can.” But she also added, “I must. I’d go mad being a lady of leisure. But what good would it do if I get a job now, before my clothes arrive? Really, life is so difficult sometimes.” Another pause. “Is Ubol coming to see us today, Anong?”

I suppose so. She comes practically every day, and when she doesn’t we go over and see her. Her house is right behind ours.”

I like her husband very much, don’t you?” said Prisna. “He’s great fun. Ubol is more serious. Maybe that’s why they’ve chosen one another, huh?” There’s plenty of truth in what they say about ‘opposites attract’, I think. I like seeing them together – Khun Sak and Ubol – they’re so much in love with each other. Opposites not only attract but make for happiness in marriage as well, don’t you agree, Anong?”

Anong agreed. What she would have liked to discuss further, however, did not concern Sak and Ubol, but Prisna herself. She would have liked to say, for instance, that Prisnace fascinated her more and more and that she was proud to have her for a sister. So carefree and guileless. Anong thought as she listened to Prisna, and yet so very considerate and discerning at the same time.