Atchara was returning from the market, walking to the end of the street where the motorcycle taxis wait, when she heard crying. Deep, heart-broken sobbing, coming from somewhere nearby.
Curious, she turned into a side street. She was going in the right direction, though now, strangely, the crying sounded further away. The street had a dog-leg turn in it, and as she passed the angle, she heard it again, this time coming from somewhere to her right.
Across the street there was an alley or sub-soi, with washing lines full of clothes strung across it at third floor level, from window to window, shading the street. The clothes seemed to muffle the crying voice, but Atchara went forward, through stripes of sunlight and shadow. At her feet she saw the silhouetted flutter of children’s clothes, and looking down at them she heard the sobbing again — and the well of deep, inconsolable grief in those wretched, choking cries.
At the end of the soi was an iron gate, and through the bars she saw a courtyard, quite large, with a stone urn in the middle of it from which water swelled from a fountain shaped like a pho leaf. Beyond the courtyard there was a tree-shaded garden and the facade of a house of spare, clean lines and golden proportions, with shady, trellised balconies and a beautiful Thai roof.
For some reason, it struck her as the most beautiful house she had ever seen. Her dream house.
Before she could take in the fine ratios of that house or absorb all its detail, her eye was caught by a movement in the ground floor window — a movement of hands, skilfully arranging flowers in an elegant vase, but she couldn’t see the face of the woman, which was in shadow, or hidden by reflections.
Intrigued, Atchara quietly pushed open the gate, gently leaned her bag of vegetables against the wall, and entered the garden, treading softly. At the side of the house a door stood open. Atchara slipped off her shoes and entered.
Inside, she was again struck by the balance of modern and traditional styles. In some parts the floors were of teak, and in others, softly shining white tiles. The rooms were high, white and airy, like rooms in an art gallery. Again she thought, How beautiful! Exactly as I would design it, if I had the money to build such a house, such a beautiful house.
The crying was softer now, as if the worst had passed. She followed the sound into the next room. A woman stood with her back to her at a table of dark wood, bending over the flowers and watering them with her tears. Elegantly dressed, with glints of gold at her wrists and her long black hair gleaming in the light of the window, she was obviously the lady of the house.
She turned, lifting her sad eyes to meet Atchara’s curious gaze, her cheeks glistening wet, and her hands still full of flowers. Standing in the cool, bright room, Atchara realised, with a shock of recognition, who it was.
She was looking at herself.