Thong Proi the Rich Girl – Intermediate Level
Thong Proi was the youngest daughter in the large family of a couple running a business in Chao Ched. She was aware that she was very fortunate.
She never experienced the hurt which comes from being poor or not getting what you want. Thong Proi had received special attention from her parents and her older brothers and sisters from the day she was born. She had been so ill when she was little that her parents had thought she would die, but survived as if through a miracle. Her parents believed that their youngest daughter had brought good fortune to the family. Ever since her birth their business had grown very strongly. Now, they were thought to be the richest family in the district.
For these reasons, Thong Proi was born into a world full of people ready to do or give her anything she wanted. None of her older brothers or sisters ever opposed her. When she wanted something that was going to be expensive, her parents did not refuse. Instead they would say, “Let Proi have what she wants. We owe her our fortune, she brought it with her when she was born. She must have done many good things in her previous life. There’s no point worrying about the expense.”
No-one ever opposed any of Thong Proi’s demands in childhood. Whether it was food, toys or clothes, she only had to ask and it would be hers. She enjoyed a happy childhood, as her childish wants were easily satisfied. The family never let her ask twice for anything, and she was happy in the knowledge that all her wants would be met. Lying in bed under her mosquito net, she sometimes thought, as children do, about all the things she still wanted. She would make a mental note to tell her parents the next day. She would fall asleep then, secure in the certainty that she would have no problem getting them.
Had Thong Proi’s demands never gone beyond childish wants, she might never have had to suffer.
Thong Proi grew up to be one of the most beautiful young women in the district. Her parents took greater care of her than ever. Because of her family’s wealth, her natural beauty never needed to be spoiled by being out in the sun, wind or rain. Also, there was no need for her to do the jobs around the house that girls of her age usually had to do.
She was not only from a very rich family but also beautiful. Thong Proi should have been of interest to many young men. However, whenever the young men talked about her someone would say, “The likes of you or I wouldn’t be able to provide for her. That Proi’s parents didn’t bring her up like a normal girl. They’ve spoiled her since childhood. They’ve never criticized or got angry about anything she did. She’s always been given everything she wanted. She’s never done a bit of woman’s work. She couldn’t even so much as cook rice or boil soup! They’ve always been rich enough to employ servants for all that. When people like us marry, our wives have to help us earn a living. Imagine if you took a wife who did nothing but sleep and eat, and you had to do or give her whatever she wanted. It’d be like bringing somebody into the house simply to take command. Who could put up with that?”
Comments like this discouraged the young men. They wanted wives who would share their work as well as their leisure. None of the other important men in the village singled her out for a marriage proposal with their sons. None of the sons showed any interest in her.
As for Thong Proi herself, she was not interested in these matters. Although her needs had changed on becoming a woman, she had not yet felt the need for love and marriage. Her parents, too, had other plans for her. They wanted her to be better educated than themselves and to have a higher position in the world. One of her father’s cousins was a senior government official in Bangkok. She was sent to live with him to further her education. She was to learn the rules of behavior followed in ‘high society’, and meet and mix with people of name and fame.
Life in Bangkok did not excite Thong Proi as it should have done. From the time she could read, she had developed an interest in the world around her. She used her free time in the leisurely manner of the daughter of the richest man in the district. She read books and magazines from Bangkok, most of which, naturally, were about the city’s people, its life and atmosphere. Thong Proi knew more about Bangkok than anyone else in the district, and had built up an image of it in her mind. Even before she had ever been there she dressed and behaved as a Bangkok girl would. She knew this from what she had read and heard of from city visitors.
When she finally got there she was not greatly impressed, and even a little disappointed. The real Bangkok was not as grand and bright as the city of her imagination. Yet she was not greatly upset either. She had only to reach for a piece of paper and write a letter home. Her parents would send money by return mail for whatever it was she wanted. She hardly even needed to ask them.
Thong Proi possessed money, the most important means of leading a life of independence and luxury anywhere. However, she failed to realize its true value. The relatives she stayed with had children around her own age. They would join her in going about the town, eating the finest foods, and spending lots of money. She experienced everything she had ever heard existed in Bangkok – cinema, theater, shops, fairs and parties. But it was not long before these pleasures began to lose interest from being so familiar. Life in Bangkok, which should have meant so much to Thong Proi, soon became instead dull and boring.
Thong Proi had soon had enough of Bangkok. She saw life there as being as empty and meaningless as her life at home. The subjects her relatives suggested she study – home science and sewing – did not interest her. She saw no need to develop such skills. Why should she learn how to do things around the house, when there were others to do it for her? Why should she learn how to make dresses when she could always pay someone else to do it better?
Thong Proi began again to wish for a life free from boredom. Before she left home she had imagined she would find this in Bangkok. However, after living there she realized that this was not going to happen. Thong Proi was still too inexperienced to know that happiness and suffering go together. Too much happiness and always having her every wish met had, in the end, made her life lose its meaning.
The hopes of the poor or the luckless contain the possibility of being satisfied. But not so the feeling of depression deep inside the person who has everything. This is much harder to cure.
When Thong Proi finally gave up hope of of finding anything interesting to do in Bangkok, she decided to return home. The decision once made, she packed her belongings, said goodbye to her friends and relatives, and set off home by boat. She refused to let anyone change her mind. She did not know that her relatives had written to her parents. They complained bitterly of her selfishness and refusal to listen to their advice. However, her parents did not say or do anything. It had become their habit to let her have her own way.
On the boat trip back from Bangkok, Thong Proi became aware that the young man beside her was taking a strong interest in her. He was about her age, or not more than three years older, handsome, polite, and well dressed. She learned from the name tag on the large suitcase by his side that his name was San. She also saw that he was an assistant district officer of her own district. She guessed, both from his behavior and because she had never seen him before, that he must be traveling to take up duty.
As the boat moved on, San frequently looked at Thong Proi. Seeing that she seemed agreeable to talking to him, he introduced himself before the boat reached the junction. By the time it had turned from the river into the canal and was moving past the rice fields, he had begun to tell her his life story. He told her he was from Bangkok, and that this was the first time he had been away from the city on an official posting. He felt very nervous, as well as excited, but had accepted because it meant a higher position. The two of them sat chatting on about various things. San agreed with whatever opinion she expressed.
By the time the boat reached Ban Phaen, Thong Proi knew that she wanted San to be her husband. It could not be said that Thong Proi’s feelings were those of love at first sight. It was also not a love borne of tenderness or a shared view of the world. All Thong Proi knew was that she wanted San to belong to her. Just as she had wanted, and got, possession of so many other things in the past. As his looks and manner of speaking were to her liking, she wanted him for these reasons. She was unaware that, at the same time, San had fallen hopelessly in love with her. Or that his love would only continue to grow no matter how badly she treated him.
With Thong Proi’s want, and San falling madly in love with her from their first meeting, it was not surprising that he was a frequent visitor. Over the next seven months, her parents organized a grand wedding for them. They also built a modern house near to their own for the young couple, full of every expensive item she happened to fancy. They also provided a large sum of money to start them off, without asking for anything in exchange from San.
Thong Proi experienced untold happiness in the first year of marriage. Her life was now full, as her husband had become the center of interest and desire she had not had before. She wanted nothing other than him, and he gave himself to her completely. He treated her a hundred times better than her parents. She wanted for nothing, and he carried out her every wish. He even did all the little things around the house that she should have done for him, as if he were one of the two servants she had employed. Everyone who saw Thong Proi’s marriage said that she was incredibly lucky and, for the first year, she agreed with them.
Unfortunately, this first year was so smooth and free from difficulties that she began to tire of her marriage. Just as she had of everything else before. Her husband’s readiness to grant her every wish would have been pleasing had it been something new. Nothing ever happened to change the even course of the marriage. San showed no sign of changing!
The more Thong Proi thought about her life, the more bored she became. And having once admitted that boredom she found that it gathered force with every passing day. Her life was like that of a caged bird with a keeper who did everything he could to make her happy. She wanted for nothing. She faced no dangers, felt no suffering, took no risks, and was without hopes or worries. She got everything she wanted, as she always had. San did everything she told him to. Life was becoming flat and uninteresting again. In other people, sadness and worries make times of happiness and freedom from care seem all the more brilliant by contrast. There was no sadness or worry in Thong Proi’s life.
Thong Proi spent most of her time sitting at the front of the house watching the boats pass up and down the canal. Poor couples went past, their faces burnt by the sun. They wore torn clothes and their faces were lined with the marks of a hard life. But they showed signs of a happiness which she never knew.
Sometimes river boats would spend the night tied to a tree near her house. Occasionally she heard the sounds of arguments and fights from the couples inside. This made her think that maybe disagreement between lovers was like a spice which added extra taste to an otherwise unchanging diet. But she was unable to add flavor to her own life in this way. San took no notice of the tricks she used to try to pick arguments with him. He would simply say sorry and try to make up in some way. She began to cry bitter tears over the loneliness and boring sameness of her life.
San had a group of friends, most of whom had been at school with him. All were young and handsome, and most did not have families of their own. Whenever one of them passed through the district he stayed with San, so Thong Proi came to know them too. She was a beautiful woman, and it was natural that some of the young men could not resist taking an interest in her. To add excitement to her life, she went out of her way to attract those who came to stay for any length of time. But far from becoming jealous or standing in her way, San pretended not to notice. At times he even seemed to encourage her to associate with other men. As time went on, his generosity of spirit made her increasingly angry at him. She came to regard her husband as of little importance, like an old piece of furniture which needed to be stored away. Still, because he was her husband in name at least, she had to patiently bear a life now totally without meaning.
Most people would have thought she had a perfect life. But life without love or suffering becomes dull and boring. Having always got everything she wanted, she began to long for the impossible. She wanted San to oppose her and take advantage of her, like men in stories she had read. But he did not, as it would have gone against his habit of granting her every wish.
In the third year of marriage, Thong Proi became very ill. San and her relatives took her to many doctors, but she showed no signs of improvement. The truth of the matter was, life contained nothing which made her wish to live longer. The mixture of happiness and sorrow that made up most people’s lives was not for Thong Proi. She had everything anyone could ever want – money, a house, and a loving husband. People could not imagine what more she could possibly want. She herself did not know the answer to this question. So it was that bit by bit she lost the will to go on living. Finally, San decided to take leave from his job and take his wife to Bangkok for treatment. He also thought that a change of scene and having more places to visit might help her get better.
Thong Proi sat silently in the boat with San. When it left Ban Phaen that evening she wasn’t thinking of anything in particular. She showed no signs of being worried as she listened to the sounds of the violent storm around her. San was speaking softly to her, but she was not listening. He was probably asking whether she wanted anything, so he could get it for her as he always did. However, Thong Proi now had a strong dislike of everything in her world. There was nothing more that she wanted.
No-one could say how many more years Thong Proi would have continued to accept her empty life had the boat not overturned. She was sitting looking into space as if only half sleeping when the boat rolled to one side and turned over. San was thrown in another direction and survived. When Thong Proi hit the surface of the water she let herself sink without making the slightest effort to save herself.
When the sun came up the next morning, the villagers raised her dead body from the river. San looked on the face of his lifeless wife. He noticed that her eyes were shut and there was a smile playing around her lips. It was the way she used to look whenever he brought her something she particularly wanted, or did exactly what she wished.