The King Bows to No One
“The King of Thailand bows to no one.” That phrase danced in my mind as I skipped along a brick sidewalk looking forward to meeting with my playmate. At the tender age of 2, I knew that my purpose in life was to play. I don’t recall the first time I realized how much my playmate meant to me, but as time progressed, I remember the warm feeling of expecting to see her every time I descended the elevator in the condominium, which was owned by my Aunt and Uncle. The garage was theirs also and it became my favorite place to play since that’s where I would always find her.
My arm suddenly jerked to my right and I found myself pressed against the maid who has been with me since birth. A motorcycle putters by and after pulling me to safety, she screams at me from above. I am so close and she is so loud that I don’t even understand her words, I only know that she is upset because of me. We walk on and I think nothing of it. She continues her reprimand, but this time I hear something else besides her, the sound of me crying.
I don’t fully understand why I’m wailing away, but just know I did something bad. We approach the familiar gate that leads to home. She tells me to wipe my face so the dogs don’t come t lick my tears. I don’t like the dogs and she knows that. She calls over the wall and the gate rolls back, clicking and clanging along the way. The guard performs Wai to me; the customary gesture of putting one’s hands together as in prayer and bowing with reverence. I am only 2, but I have known from the countless times going in and out that I do not Wai to him. I only receive it because, “That’s the way it is”, they always said.
I feel a welling of more tears as I expect the maid to tell my parents, Aunt, and Uncle of what I did wrong today, but as sudden as it emerged, it melted away with the sound of “Joe! Where have you been?” The sound of my playmate, come to greet me. I escape from the maid to grab my playmate’s hand and we run. The maid shouts after us, but her words are drowned in laughter. My playmate and I sneak behind the condominium and we both talk as quickly as possible about the day’s events while playing a hand slapping game.
I find that one of the dogs is sick with fever and she learns how I nearly “died” as the maid claims, by not walking properly on the sidewalk. At that moment, she is the best person, thing, experience, whatever you want to call it, in my life. We hear the maid approaching and since it’s dangerous for her to come behind the building, we emerge from the underbrush. My playmate’s father, the gate guard, firmly calls to her and we separate. I rise up in the elevator and she stays below.
Later that night, the maid had told my entire family, not about the motorcycle, but about my playmate and me. My mother, Aunt, and Uncle sit around me in an almost overbearing manner explaining that I cannot play with her anymore. I ask question after question of “Why not”, “Why can’t we be”, and “Can’t things change?” They crush all my hopes of friendship with the only person whom I can relate with. For some reason, my father is not involved in the conversation and I would learn later that it is because he is not Thai, but Chinese.
The last thing I hear from my family is that I am never to speak with her unless to ask for a service and I am never to Wai or bow to her. Only her to me because that’s the way it is, “Just like how the King bows to no one, you don’t bow to her.” They continue on through the night as they describe how I am raised better than peasants. They give the analogy of the living situation, of how we live up in the condominium and they live in the garage below. We’re at a different level and don’t mix with our servants. I try to go to bed that night, but I feel only anger and heartache. I cry myself to sleep, forcing myself to believe that nothing will change between us.
During breakfast, my family reminds me of last night’s events and that what I am going through is normal for everyone. I politely nod as I finish my meal. I ask to leave early to wait in the car with the driver, explaining that I am excited for school because of some project. They agree and I am down the elevator. In the garage, I run past the driver who is eating breakfast. I find my playmate near the gate and she promptly performs Wai to me. I grab her hands and whisper in her ear that I can outwardly follow my family’s wishes, but in my heart, I will never change. Little did I know that nothing lasts forever, except for the fact that the King bows to no one.