Noot's husband had left her as soon as he had drunk all the money they had borrowed against the small piece of land her mother had left her. It's a common story in Thailand where no system exists to care for penniless single mothers or to ensure fathers contribute to the care of their children. He had left her with a small child and nothing to live on save what she could grow on her land. What little she could sell was never enough to cover her mortgage payments and it would not be long before she lost her land to the bank. When that happened she would probably have to move to Bangkok to find work and the generations of family history that ended with her and her son would be swallowed up in the dirt and noise and heat of the city.
She's a fighter though. She often tells herself that she's not trash like the girls from the north and north east who try to escape their poverty in the sex industry of the tourist towns like Phuket. She does think sometimes of how much better her life might be if she had a "farang" man like the daughter of the local shop owner who married a man from Australia and now has a new house and a new car and her two children at a good school. But that lady can speak English and use a computer. It makes so much difference.
The local shop owner has let her run up a tab for basics like rice but without some income that can only last as long as the shop owner's family can tolerate their own financial woes. The local community is suffering from a terrible drought that is destroying the rice crops and what rice does survive to harvest will fetch far less income than years past because of the Thai governments rice subsidy policy has collapsed leaving everyone in debt and the country sitting on top of a mountain of over-priced rice that is likely to end up rotting away leaving the country even more in debt.
Recently she had nothing to feed her and her boy but a little rice at a time when he was suffering from dengue fever. One night a few weeks ago, in desperation, she crept behind one of the small farms in the village to steal a few pumpkins. In years past pumpkins had always been expensive because they were not a traditional mainstay of the Thai diet but this year has seen many impoverished rice farmers turn to growing them. It's become a typical boom-bust situation. Where not so long ago a farmer could sell them for 20 baht a kilo (about 65 cents American) they are now lucky to get 5 baht and usually it's 3 baht (about 9c US). There are farms in the district that have many tons of them sitting by the roadside unsold - waiting in hope that a local supermarket will come buy them all.
The pumpkins she stole that night were probably worth about 2 US dollars. They lasted her a week and her son's health improved.
She decided that she might try stealing more so that she might sell some on the rode-side outsider her house. Nobody would know that she had not grown them because many local people grew them.
One night she and her son who is ten years old took her old motor cycle and side car out again. The side car bikes in Thailand are basically a step-through scooter with a welded frame and 3rd wheel attached. They are very commonly used here because they are cheap and they are easy to maintain though they are slow and dangerous. Her bike was so under-maintained that the tires where worn to the tubes and held together with masking tape and old cloths. They pushed the trike the last few meters then they quietly gathered pumpkins until the side-car was as full as the poor old motor of the bike could manage. Then they struggled and struggled to push it away far enough to start it without being heard.
She sold the pumpkins for 5 baht per kilo on her road-side stand. 5 baht is wholesale price so she sold them easily and she ended up with 1,500 baht. Riches. It was enough to pay off some of her debt to the local shop owner and to pay a little off her mortgage. She had not earned such an amount of money ever.
The poor farmer she had stolen the pumpkins from had not missed that he had been robbed and though they were worth barely more than the money he had spent to grow them he was very angry. Every baht is important when you are poor and stealing from the poor is a terrible crime. His wife growled at him it was because he did not have a dog but he did not like to have dogs because he had been badly bitten as a child and did not want his own children to be bitten. His only option then was to sleep out by the pumkins and try to catch the thief.
A few nights later when there was only a sliver of a moon Noot and her son set out to repeat their crime. Everything went fine until they were carrying their first load of pumpkins to the bike. Suddenly a large shadow emerged from the darkness screaming and shouting and the next thing Noot knew she was lying on the ground after having been hit by a heavy length of wood. She heard her son cry out as he was also struck and fell. Then she was dragged by one arm to where her son lay and a torch was turned on.
The pumpkin grower looked down at the skinny woman and frail boy that lay at his feet in the pool of light from his torch. His anger evaporated. He knew them of course - everybody knew everybody in the village. He wanted to hate them for what they had done but he could not. How could he? They were so much poorer even than he. And now they lay crying pitifully in the dirt. Her with a nasty bump on her head and the boy in pain from the whack on his back.
He knelt down and helped them to their feet apologizing for his stupidity and cruelty.
The village talked about it for a day or two before moving on to talk about other events.
It's tough here.