(Written a few days ago)
We are at our second home again, sleeping high on the hillside in the little wooden hut surrounded by giant creaking bamboo, banana and papaya plants, and the lychee grove. Last night it rained: the clouds split open overhead and sky screamed and wailed and cracked and wept and the bamboo thrashed at the air and the ground. Today the earth bleeds sticky red clay, treacherous and slick underfoot, and the sun is pale and weak in the distance, not welcome in this restless atmosphere.
What news of Thaton?
Let us start with the boys from youngest to oldest.
Ume is gone, vanished for good they think, and likely to be dead by now. Snatched up by someone or something, and dumped in the darkness. The drug trade, the sex trade, the begging trade: who knows what becomes of lost little boys here? It is no surprise, but a disappointment nonetheless.
Shu is back, permanently I hope, and is still the reliable and gentle one. He has now seen the benefits of working here at the Sanctuary, rather than working for a pittance herding cows up in the mountains somewhere. Unlike practically all the other kids around here, he still does not drink, or smoke, or take drugs, or have any tattoos. He merely spends far too much time talking on the phone to various girls.
Shu-Ai is still here and as subversive as every, but he has a nice smile when he deigns to employ it.
On comes and goes, comes and goes. When he comes he needs money, and when he goes he uses it to binge on opium or alcohol or both. Another bitter disappointment, worse than knowing that Ume is gone forever because On was smart once.
Now for the village boys we have only known in passing... and too many have passed on.
Jet, whom we met last time when Susan cut his hair, and who was lovely and popular and generous, was caught by the 'special police' a few months ago mid drug-deal with four other boys. He and one other were filled with bullets from behind when they tried to run. Another was shot in the shoulder but survived. Miraculously the other two managed to get away and slunk over the border into Burma, too terrified to come home for a month. Yuki had to go and pick up the two bodies from the hospital and tried to return them to their families in the hills. It was too expensive for anyone else to collect them apparently - 5000THB (about $170) which is masses of money in this poor area, unless you're heavily involved in the drug trade. It was the wet season and the road was too bad for the car, so they cut bamboo and tied it into a raft of sorts and dragged the bodies to the village that way. the village fell into a grieving heap. One of the boys, although only young, had a wife, a small child in school already, and a newborn.
Recently there was some sort of fight over something and another boy vanished, only to bob up in the middle of the lake a week later. Now, no one will fish in the lake because they think the fish would have been eating the body, and the people have stopped using the little white paddle boats to cruise about in there; such a lot of drama for such a little village.
We are immune to all this in middle-class Australia. I look at my child and I know that almost certainly she'll never be mixed up in anything like this. I will never have to worry that she'll deal drugs, or be murdered or accidentally killed, or die from tuberculosis or malaria. When we come here and hear about all these things I feel almost blase about the deaths and the drugs; everyone is so matter-of-fact about them. Dylan feels it harder than I do. Perhaps I have a thicker skin.
The monkeys now number 24. A few we knew have gone, and there are a couple of others we are yet to know. This environment is brutal, taking the people and animals to grisly ends on a regular basis. The only animals that are increasing without losing any along the way are the cats, who now number seven. The latest is Gin - short for Ginger - whom Yuki rescued from the side of the road, half dead, and who then staged a fabulous recovery. Gin is sleek and skinny, the end of his tail is bent into a complete spiral. He is a bit skittish. but we have made friends now and he likes to come and sit on the desk between my hands as I type.
Yuki is as laid back as ever, and Susan bubbles over with that effervescent and manic energy now so familiar and dear to us. Probably all those Vitamin B12 shots...
In other words, this place continues the same.