By Kevin Murphy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
When walking along Phetchakasem Road, it becomes obvious that each beggar in Hua Hin has his or her own style. One man without a leg, stump aggressively displayed, is always positioned on the street side of the sidewalk, in far enough so as to require each passer-by to angle slightly away toward the buildings. He bows repeatedly, head to the ground, while moving his red plastic cup out and back, out and back, like a man harvesting imaginary mana. His rhythms risk the tread of the errant farang foot, but his is a quiet, graceful desperation.
Another man, his face and body horribly deformed, merely sits—further away from pedestrian traffic on the street side—in stolid dignity, legs tucked under him, a shallow plate just in front. When he receives alms, he bows medium depth and murmurs. Even the ambulatory beggars move with grace. Once, I was eating dinner in a restaurant with open windows facing the street, and a man approached and, with a single, practiced movement, pulled back his shirt to show the stump of an arm, let go and brought his palm up, ready to receive.
But my beggar woman is gone. For several weeks she has lain on the curb, just at the corner of Naretdamri and Damnoenkasam streets. For the first few weeks here I ignored her as I have ignored hundreds of beggars on four continents. But about three weeks ago I started giving her twenty baht each time I passed her, I don’t know why. Each time I gave I looked at her more closely, poverty voyeur, drawn somehow to this one woman. I guessed her age at seventy, but it could have been only forty-five hard years on her face.
She was always within a few meters of the corner, sometimes on the curb and sometimes the sidewalk, and she lacked any vestige of the deep bow of the more agile beggars, who bob from the waist like hello-kitty arms to each passing farang. Instead, she simply grunted and thrust out her hand at seeming random intervals. Very un-Thai. Somehow it was hard to tell where her clothes started and her skin stopped. She was misshapen, a formless mass under filthy clothes that made her look like part of the dank and mushy floor of a leafy, sunlit forest. Somehow she gave the impression of being limbless, and sometimes I thought if she moved, a leggedy thing might crawl out from under her bulk. The phloem of passing tourists was always green and bright around her stump.
Her face was very round and three shades of brown, from sun dried to barky sienna to a driveway oil stain, and her hair unwashed for a millennium. I only ever saw two of her teeth. Her eyes were coal black behind tiny slits. When I gave to her, she always waied me and made inarticulate sounds of gratitude, raspy notes over raised and clasped hands.
Interested in seeing how the interaction with the beggar woman ends? Find the rest in the Spring 2011 Elixir Publication!