Thick clouds hung just above the mountains. The rain was going to start again soon. It was late Tuesday afternoon and I was flying out of my sleepy provincial airport that hosted only one airplane, with flights twice daily to and from Bangkok. The plane rose north along the coast of the Andaman Sea and I could see the southern tip of Myanmar out the window as the sun was going down through a break in the clouds far to the West. We swung east over the mountains and flew over my village on the way out. I gaped at the scarred mountaintops, the open porcelain mines, encircling the town as I leaned into the window to see if I could figure out which house had been mine.
I quickly found the roof of the house I had just said goodbye to two hours before. I pictured the comfortable green plastic chair on the patio I lazily lounged in every morning sipping coffee and reading the electronic news feeds on my laptop. I could see my landlady washing out the vases for the spirit houses in the front yard and I briefly pictured her back across the road at her house climbing the rambutan tree in her front yard hacking off branches of the reddening fruit to share with me. I thought of the white dog that had adopted me and claimed my porch as her own and how I took to sweeping the eleven puppies she was nursing off my patio when they started to explore. I followed the road from my house down past the hall at the back of the temple where most of the village funerals took place. I thought of all the food that was shared as merit for the dead: the bags of warm rice, the too-spicy red curry, the bony fish, the sautéed greens, the omelets, and the soups. I continued down the road past the orange-robed monks sweeping leaves from the plaza in front of the temple where the huge fat Buddha loomed on the hillside above. I passed the stray dogs and cats comatose in the tropic sun and heat. As I crossed the bridge in front of the temple I looked down at the young boys swimming naked in the dammed up river dragging up turtles and frogs to take home for dinner. My mind’s eye remembered the little girl who ran up to me every afternoon confidently shouting, “Good Morning, Good Morning” despite my repeated attempts to teach her “Good Afternoon.” My eyes spied the school grounds and I thought of the chalk dust and the school uniforms and the holes in the students’ white socks. I remembered how the kids stared at me my first few weeks there, taking in all that was so different about me and how we eventually became familiar and almost comfortable with each other. How they smiled and laughed when I allowed myself to be goofy and less guarded.
I followed the road along the back side of the village where a farm sprang up unannounced one week, a bamboo and palm frond shack rising from the ground providing shelter and home for a pair of men who worked this patch of land, hoeing and planting, watering and tending the greens that grew and were harvested so quickly. I spied the bike shop at the intersection that was always teeming with motorbikes and young Burmese men squatting by the roadside eyeing me with suspicion. I traced the road quickly around the village past the soccer field, past the weekly market, past the vendors in the middle of town where I bought bananas and watermelon, garlic, okra and eggs, past the municipal building and the clinic and all the colorful houses I had become so familiar with during my short fourteen months as resident.
I smiled and silently nodded goodbye to my barber with his tattoos, to the mailman on his scooter, to the young Muslim woman at the market I bought fried chicken from each week, to the wiry little man whose name I never learned who delivered my 20 liter jug of water, to An-Wa the bearded roti vendor, to Jai who crushed extra garlic into my som tom, to the teachers at the school and all the kids who were patient with my abysmal Thai and who enjoyed making me laugh. I beamed thinking of Dtarn and Bingo, Wamin, Bank, Om Noi, Mii, Sari, A, Abdul, Goi, Mr. Green, and all the others who looked after me and made me feel safe. I bowed my head in thanks to all of those simple, unconscious acts of kindness that were afforded me so freely.
My village disappeared behind the clouds as we ascended and before I had a chance to visit one last time the reservoir and the canyon further up the mountain. I closed my eyes. I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. When I opened my eyes again the clouds had disappeared. We had crossed the peninsula and were now over the Gulf of Thailand. I looked down at the green lights shining from the squid boats off the coast. My village was behind me, a memory.