Prissana – 04

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Chapter 04

It's a Small World

Another day was done. Prisna and Siri came straight home from their perspective jobs. Seeing their mother and Anong together, Prisna put down her briefcase on the floor and planted herself on it.

How do you address a member of the Royal Family, mother?” she asked. “You have to use a special kind of language with them, don't you?”

You're so full of questions, Prisna,” said Mrs. Samorn. “Have you met any member of the Royal Family?”

Yes, one of my pupils is a Tan Ying – Mom Chao Ying Ratanavadi.”

Isn't she Tan Chai Bojnaprija's sister?” asked Siri.

How should I know whose sister she is?” Prisna said. “She wears two long pigtails.”

Never mind the pigtails,” said Siri. “Is she pretty?”

I don't know. I guess so. Oh, mother. I wish you could have been there today. They were so funny – my wonderful, naughty pupils. It was all I could do to keep a straight face.”

Come and sit over here, Prisna,” Mrs. Samorn said. “You'll only ruin that nice briefcase, sitting on it like that. Why were they so funny?”

Prisna crossed over and took a seat beside her mother. Laughing softly, she said, “That white hair net started it all. I wore it yesterday because Anong said I should do something with my hair. It was messy, undignified; it looked 'unteacher-like', she said. So what do you think happened this morning when I walked into the classroom? Well, I entered, and there in front of me was a sea of white hair nets. They were all wearing them – oh, with maybe a few exceptions – and they were looking at me so innocently!”

Everyone laughed. Anong seemed to be the most responsive of all. She went on laughing long after the others had stopped. Then Prisna continued, “It's a good thing I didn't wear mine today. We could have made quite a spectacle, wouldn't we? Those girls, what will they think of next, I wonder? And you know, I think Tan Ying Ratana is the leader of the gang.”

How old is she, by the way?” Mrs. Samorn asked.

About fifteen. She seems to be the youngest in the class. There's another girl, Vimol. She and Tan Ying are inseparable. I found out that she was the one who raised the money for the nets. Tan Ying did the buying because she's the only one who isn't a boarder. You should have seen her – Tan Ying, I mean. Those two long pigtails hanging down from the crooked net. Too funny for words… Oh, Anong, are you free this afternoon?”

Yes. What can I do for you?”

Oh, you are a sweetheart. Thank you ever so much. Would you come upstairs with me? I'll have a quick bath and then I'll tell you about it.”

Prisna lifted the stack of exercise books which had been standing on the desk and dumped them in her sister's lap. “Khun Sak asked me to play tennis with him this afternoon. He's coming for me at five. It's wonderful of you to help me out like this.”

But what is it!” Anong asked. “What exactly do you want me to do?”

Oh, sorry, I haven't explained to you. This is the homework I gave the girls to do yesterday.”

Anong flipped open one of the books. “But it's in English,” she said. “If you want me to correct their English, I'm not sure –“

No, you don't have to. All I want you to do is to read them. Now, don't be alarmed. I don't mean to have you read every word. Skip as much as you like. The idea is to see whether these essays have anything to do with the material in these pages.” She showed Anong the book she had used in class the previous day. “I've marked out the pages for you. It won't take long. Thanks again, Anong!”

You're welcome. Who are you playing tennis with besides Khun Sak?”

Two friends of his. I can't think of their names just now. We're going to play doubles this afternoon. Khun Sak plays quite a good game, you know, and if we pair up I think we're going to beat them.”

How can you be sure? You haven't even met your opponents.”

But I've seen them play. Oh, I think one of them is called Chao, and the other is Prachit, or something. I'm afraid Chao is a poor player.”

What about you?”

Me? Don't you know, Anong? Your sister is a champion! You don't believe me? Very well, I'll show you.” Prisna knelt down on the floor and dragged out a suitcase from under the bed. This was the case which their mother had wanted removed with the others to the luggage room under the stairs, and Anong had sometimes wondered why her sister should have insisted that it remain under the bed.

Prisna opened the case, and its contents – a gleaming collection of cups, medals, and shields – immediately drew forth an amazed “Oh!” from Anong. “You've won all those playing tennis?” she asked.

No, some of them are prizes for swimming. We were quite a sports-minded team in Washington, uncle and I. He's won all sorts of prizes too in amateur golf tournaments.”

Anong looked at her sister and said, “You might as well tell me now about your other accomplishments, so I won't have to be surprised any more. Do you play any musical instrument?”

No,” Prisna laughed. “I'm absolutely unmusical. And my singing, or attempt to sing, is so bad that uncle says it hurts his ears.”

Anong laughed with her. “Uncle is a good pianist, isn't he? But come on, Prisna, don't be modest, I want to hear about your accomplishments. All of them.”

I'm not sure if 'accomplishment' is the right word for them. They are fun to do: tennis, swimming, driving. Incidentally, when I get my salary, I'm going to apply for a driving license. No, Anong, yours are the real accomplishments: your work around the house, your sewing and all. As I said before, if I were a man I'd propose to you. I'd pick you every time. Oh, that's Khun Sak down there! I'm off. So long, darling.”

Anong was alone in the house that evening. Their mother and Siri had gone shopping and visiting friends, and Prisna had not returned from the club. Anong herself had been keeping her grandmother company at the little bungalow until she remembered about Prisna's homework. Back in the house, she brought the exercise books down to the living room and began going over them.

About seven o'clock, a car entered the drive. It came to a stop in front of the house and then the sound of two voices engaged in a pleasant conversation floated to where Anong was sitting. Then the engine hummed again and the car drove away. Prisna walked in, face shining and eyes glowing, a blue sweater draped casually over her shoulders and in her hand a racquet.

Well, did you beat them?” Anong asked.

Of course, 6-4, 6-2. I see you're reading those essays. How are they?”

Don't ask me! All I can make out is that your students have chosen different subjects to write about. It seems to me that they just closed their eyes and pulled subjects out of a bag, and only a couple of them used the material in your book…”

Anong didn't have the chance to finish her report because just then Prisna was suddenly seized with a fit of laughter. At last she wiped the tears from her eyes saying to Anong, “I'm not laughing at you, dear, it's those girls. I should have know… forget about the homework, Anong. Thanks a million for helping me.”

Anong had given up trying to follow her sister's thoughts, but she couldn't help being puzzled from time to time.

I'll take care of those girls tomorrow,” Prisna said, in answer to her sister's questioning look. “Thanks again, Anong. That was all I wanted to know: whether they've used the material in the book or not. Let's talk about something else. Do you know who brought me home?”

Didn't you come with Khun Sak?”

No, Khun Sak and Ubol had to leave early, so this person brought me.”

And who is this person?”

A smart-looking young lad in an M.G. sports car. My partner in the doubles this afternoon. We beat them all right.”

And then?”

And then what? That's all. Oh, his name is Pravij, not Prachit or Pranit.”

What did you say his name was? Say it again.”

Pravij. What's the matter, Anong? Why are you so pale?”

I'm not. You're seeing things. Go on and have your bath, Prisna. Mother's coming home soon.”

That same evening at the White Marble Palace…

Do you happen to know where your brother is, Your Serene Highness?” Pravij asked. He had been tramping all over the large compound searching for Tan Chai, and had just emerged from the garage when he came upon Tan Ying Ratanavadi romping around with Napoleon the Great Dane.

I haven't seen him either,” Tan Ying replied. “I wish he'd come home sooner. I wanted him to take me to the movies.”

I'll take you, Your Serene Highness.”

No, thanks, it's too late. It's about eight o'clock, isn't it?”

We can still make the late show.”

Still, no thanks. I have to go to school in the morning, don't forget. What about tomorrow?”

I can't do tomorrow, Your Serene Highness.”

Tomorrow's the last day. It's all right, I'll get my brother to take me, or Aunt Soy.”

Pravij did not seem to hear her. It was evident that something was troubling him, making him restless and nervous. Then, apropos of nothing at all, he said, “I want to ask you something, Your Serene Highness. Do you like Vimol very much?”

What a funny question to ask! She's my best friend. Everyone knows that.”

Would you like to have her here, living here with you?”

What?” the girl cried. “Do you mean it? Oh, that would be wonderful! When is she coming, Pravij?”

I don't know. I don't even know if she'd be able to come at all. So don't tell anything about it yet.”

I won't… I'm hungry, let's go and have dinner now, Pravij.”

You go ahead. I'll wait for Tan Chai here.”

Tan Chai did not come back until after nine. Pravij had been pacing the front lawn in the meantime, and Napoleon, sensing the young man's state of mind, trotted quietly after him. Then Tan Chai's car glided in to a stop. Pravij's face lighted up, and he rushed forward to open the door for him.

Why are you staying home tonight?” Tan Chai asked. “I didn't expect to see you.”

I've been staying home for many nights in succession now,” Pravij said moodily. “But where have you been? I waited for ou so that we can have dinner together.”

Emergency operation.” He looked at Pravij thoughtfully. “Why did you wait? Have you got something on your mind? Well, come upstairs and tell me about it. I must have a bath first, though. I'm exhausted.”

But now that the opportunity had come to air his problem, Pravij found himself tongue-tied for some reason. He sat quietly while Tan Chai got dressed. The latter did not question him further, and Pravij had a feeling that he was waiting for him to speak first. The silence was broken by the valet's entrance.

Well, Sone?”

Dinner is ready, Your Serene Highness.”

Dinner? I don't feel like eating at home tonight. Shall we go to Rajavongs, Pravij?”

As you like.”

Then let's go. Sone, you can clear the table, and tell Samboon to put the small car in the garage and bring the big one out.” Then he turned to Pravij. “After opening up a man's stomach I don't feel like driving. We'll have Somboon drive so that we can relax and talk.”

Let's take my car, Your Serene Highness. I'll drive. Sone, there's no need to tell Somboon now.”

It was a beautiful night for driving and Pravij took it slowly. The cool air and the act of driving had a soothing effect on his nerves, and now he felt sufficiently calm to start talking. He was on the point of doing so when he heard Tan Chai's voice beside him talking about some poor man.

What man, Your Serene Highness?”

My patient, the man I operated on this evening, Khun Bejra. What a big family he has, must have been close on a dozen. And they were all hysterical, weeping and bawling all over the place. His wife was the chief bawler. His appendix was about ready to burst when they brought him to the hospital, and for a while I had an awful feeling he was going to die on me. His heart wasn't any too strong either. I hope he's not going to have a relapse.”

After that, Pravij changed his mind about discussing his problem with Tan Chai. That could wait. They continued in silence for somet ime, then Tan Chai spoke again. “My worrying won't help him. I've done my best…” He sighed, and abruptly jumped to another subject. “I saw the new Rileys at Edgar Brothers today. Marvelous cars. I've been thinking of getting one, but then I've got two cars already and I don't want to sell either of them. It's just a little bit too extravagant for a man to own three cars. But I've got an idea. I'll buy this Riley for Ratanavadi, have it registered in her name. Do you think I can ease my conscience that way? And then when I want to use it I'll borrow it from her. Well, that's settled! Would you do it for me tomorrow, Pravij? Would you drop in at Edgar Brothers and tell them to deliver the black one with red upholstery to our place. I'll take care of the rest.”

Pravij nodded. They had now arrived at Rajavongs and, after slowing down, he pulled in at one of the restaurants there. A group of young men who had been standing beside a large car near-by glanced up at them and, seeing who they were, waved and came over to join them.

What is this?” Tan Chai asked smilingly. “Some sort of a meeting? Where did you all come from?”

One of the men, who was called Vichit, answered for the group. “We have been at Prasit's. His wife was away and he had us for drinks and poker. When the party broke up we thought we'd get something to eat.”

We haven't seen you around the club for a long time, Your Serene Highness,” another young man said. “And why weren't you at Prasit's house tonight, Pravij?”

Pravij turned from the Chinese waiter who had been receiving his order. “Hello, Pan. I didn't know about it, to tell you the truth. Anyway, I was playing tennis with Chao and Somsak. Then I had to call on my sister afterwards.”

Another young man in the group who had up until then been concentrating on the ice cream now looked up and said, “Speaking of Somsak, have any of you seen his sister-in-law? A genuine beauty, you can take my word for it!”

Pravij turned to him and demanded sharply, “Where did you see her, Samer?”

She was with Somsak. I haven't met her myself, but my brother has. They came back from the Philippines on the same ship.”

So she's educated in the Philippines,” said Vichit. “Then she must have known Ratee.”

Oh, they know each other all right. But Prisna didn't go to school in the Philippines. She was educated in the States.”

Prisna?” Mom Chao Bojnaprija repeated. “Do you mean to say that's really her name?”

Samer nodded. “Yes Prisna's he rname, and Santi said she was a prisna – a riddle – to him when he first saw her on the boat. He couldn't make out what nationality she was. Then one day, while he was sitting on the deck with Ratee, Prisna happened to pass by wearing a bathing suit. Santi made a remark in Siamese about her figure – admiring it, you know – and nearly jumped overboard when she turned to thank him distinctly in Siamese. You see, he and Ratee had been discussing her in Siamese several times before within her hearing.”

Everyone laughed and Samer went on, “They had thought she might be Spanish or Italian. You can imagine their embarrassment for not having recognized one of their own fellow countrywomen.”

But it's hard to believe,” said Pan, who liked to be thorough in all things, “that anyone can mistake a Siamese girl for a European.”

There are any number of Spanish and Italian girls who have dark complexion, dark hair and dark eyes,” said Samer.

Was she traveling alone?” someone asked.

No, Santi told me she was chaperoned by an old farang and his wife.”

I'm greatly relieved to hear that,” said Vichit. “It is my belief that a beautiful girl should not travel alone.”

The others laughed at his mock seriousness. After that the conversation became general and went on until Mom Chao Bojnaprija finished his meal. Then the three young men said goodbye and returned to their own car.

Half way back to the palace, Mom Chao Bojnaprija glanced at his friend and said, “Why are you so quiet, Pravij?” And then in an attempt to tease him back to his customary joviality: “Are you by any chance thinking about a girl named Prisna? If she's a beautiful as they say, it is only your duty to try and get an introduction.”

I've met her, Your Serene Highness,” Pravij said quietly.

Really? You are quick, I must say. What about the lady with the perfect legs yesterday? Have you forgotten all about her?”

Prisna is the girl with the perfect legs, Your Serene Highness. Her tennis is also first-rate. I played with her today.”

Again His Serene Highness remarked, “Really?” then posed another question: “And have you fallen in love with her?”

Pravij let that one go unanswered. “I took her home after the game.”

Taking her home already?”

When I offered to and she said yes, I thought it was a little strange. Most Siamese girls wouldn't. I didn't know then that she'd been to America. That explains a lot about her manners. Graceful, you know, but more self-assured than we usually see around her. It also explains her special brand of Siamese.”

His Serene Highness did not appear interested in pursuing this subject any further, so Pravij put a stop to his flow of information. They made the rest of the journey in silence. The thought of his tennis partner made Pravij smile to himself, but the smile lasted only a few moments before it was obliterated by the intrusion of another thought. Pravij gave a deep sigh. His friend noticed it but chose to say nothing.