Short Story: Statues Of The South
(Your feedback, favourable or otherwise, is very much appreciated and will help me to further refine and develop this story and those that I write in the future. Thank you in anticipation. J.C.)
Copyright © 2012 by J. C. Phalene
Statues of the South
In the south of
traffic queued. England
Then moved, in fits and starts, joining the A-road that funnelled through the
village; the stilted flow slower than usual that morning behind a trundling double-decker bus. Sussex
Beth sighed as she crossed the road between starts, both pleased and disappointed she was not part of the working throng. She, a middle aged upper-middle-class English woman, who, with time on her hands, was shopping in the high street of her
South Downs village.
She was not sure why. She had almost everything she could want: detached Tudor-style house; manicured lawns and a garden of rhubarb, rocket and runner beans, bordered by heather hedges and dotted with scented roses; a German motor vehicle; a brace of children -- both attending grammar schools with crest and Latin motto -- and a husband who earned a salary far more handsome than himself. He enunciated his vowels clearly and peppered his monologues with French and Latin quips which always succeeded in impressing, no matter how hard he tried not to. Yet, she felt her life somehow lacking.
The day was fine, in a grey English way, the sun almost shining… if it weren’t for the clouds. It was spring but it felt more like autumn to her. Beth wandered in and out of the book shops and antiquities stores surrounding the village green, until a little curio shop drew her eye, specifically, a jade statue of a Buddha in the window. She perused and purchased, and took the statue home and placed in on her night stand.
As she sat on her bed a tear formed, and slipped almost unnoticed over her lower lid to roll down her cheek. She was not interested in the statue for any religious reason -- they were Church of England, though they only attended at Christmas -- the exoticism of this thing from the southern hemisphere appealed to her for reasons she could not fully comprehend.
Maybe the fact it would cause her husband to frown when he saw it, suspicious of the foreignness of the thing, in the same way he was suspicious of continental Europeans and their unsavoury appetites. Perhaps it was her unsatisfied desire, need, to travel to South East Asia, to
. The place her father had gone on a business trip when she was seven and not returned from -- the post card with the reclining Buddha on the front the last she ever heard of him -- a place far too hot and humid for anyone with her husband’s temperament and constitution to contemplate visiting. Maybe it was all of the above. Thailand
Beth sat moist eyed and staring as pallid sunlight refracted through her double glazed bedroom window. The expression on her face suggested she knew the story behind the jade Buddha and how it came to be where she found it.
It had belonged to a small girl who lived in a village in southern
. Her village survived, barely, through farming and producing textiles of some quality. The surrounding hillsides a patchwork of small rice paddies. The sky vast and blue and all around the tropical climate laid out a lush carpet of green. The nearby forest had a pungent smell; redolent with decay yet sweetly scented. Life and death intermingled. Thailand
The first thing that struck any foreign visitor to the village was the poverty the villagers lived in, the second was how often the villagers smiled. This girl smiled as well; in fact she smiled more than anyone in her village, though her smile was a mask. She smiled out of hope rather than happiness.
Her family was poor, her mother and herself. She had lost her father when she was seven years old. A policeman, who worked in the city, he was shot one night while off duty trying to stop two men from dragging a teenage girl into a car. He was left on the roadside with a bullet in his chest. Before he died he lay in his warm blood, grasping for the handle of the whip he wore on his belt. The whip he’d made himself from the tail of a sting ray -- the wounds from which take a long time to heal -- and would have provided him with some strange comfort at that time. A warrior seeking his weapon to take to the afterlife.
It was the same whip he had sometimes used on his wife. It occurred to him as he lay there how many times his wife had lay at his feet in her own blood. Before he lost consciousness he briefly considered the world from her viewpoint.
The small girl was distraught at learning of her father’s death, and as she observed the mixture of terror and relief in her mother’s eyes, she determined then and there to fix her resolve on providing for herself and her mother as best she could. Her efforts began when, after seeing the green papayas that lay beneath a tree in the garden of an elderly man in her village, she steeled herself and asked him if she might pick up the fallen fruit to make deserts. Such deserts were prized in the village and beyond and she promised the man that she would provide him with a quantity of them should he grant her this request. Which, after some consideration, he did.
The girl spent many nights making deserts and fewer days selling them in the dirt streets of the village. She made a small profit and then returned to the elderly man to make good her promise. He, knowing her history and feeling his age and the growing need to demonstrate compassion, gave her the same jade statue of Buddha.
The girl needing food more than sentiment or spirituality sold it to a Farang backpacker on his way south to Penang, who subsequently travelled home to
. The statue passed through many hands before arriving at the aforementioned curio shop in the South Downs Sussex village, and being sold for the same amount of pounds that little girl had received in Baht for it. Britain
As Beth sat observing the jade Buddha she frowned at the injustice, the secret sadness of life, and at her unrealized hopes and dreams.
Copyright © 2012 by J. C. Phalene