My name is Thura and I live in the same Burmese village and house where I was born thirty-three years ago. Yesterday my wife, Sanda, called me while I was cleaning the weeds from the rice fields and told me that a European had arrived who wanted to see me. I was surprised because it is rare for a tourist to be dropped by our isolated population. I hastily groomed myself and went to meet him.
He was an older man with gray hair and greeted me by name saying, “How much you’ve changed!
Although I have a good memory, I couldn’t remember him until he showed me this picture of our house that he had taken when I was still a kid. I’m the first one on the left and I did the clowning of covering my face. Next are my little brother Zeya and my sisters Hayma and Thiri. The other three, Thanda, Wunna and Thiha, were from the neighbourhood, but they also seemed to belong to our family because they were always in our house.
My memory woke up when I saw the picture. The European who photographed us was called Bill and he was a young Scot who travelled around our country with a backpack on his back.
When I heard him speak, my mother stopped what she was doing and went out to see what was going on. She laughed when Bill asked her if there was a boarding house in our village, and she replied, “Because there are no shops here, and if we need anything we have to go and buy it in the next town, where they have a hostel.
At that moment a thunderstorm broke out and it immediately started to rain. My mother invited Bill into the house and made him a cup of tea. It is worth noting that she had to overcome the embarrassment of showing him our simple home, because it consisted of a single room, which served as kitchen, dining room and bedroom and its only piece of furniture was a chipped wardrobe, and stank like the nearby pigsty in the backyard along with the latrine.
Mom wanted to know why Bill spoke our language, and he explained that he studied oriental languages at Cambridge University.
The seven children watched and listened to Bill reverentially as if he were the ambassador of Great Britain until, leaving the cup of tea, he played a few hand games, such as making a coin disappear which then reappeared behind the ear of the surprised Zeya: then we began to believe that it was a being coming from another planet.
Shortly after, my water-soaked father arrived. Although he was astonished at first and didn’t know what to say when he saw Bill, then he uninhibited when Bill thanked him warmly for his hospitality, and they ended up chatting like two compadres.warning that it was getting dark quickly without the rain subsiding, Dad proposed to Bill that if he didn’t mind sleeping on the floor with a mat like us, he could spend the night in our house. He thought it was wonderful and explained that he had slept in all sorts of places.
Bill ended up spending a couple of days at home. When he left he had already become a good friend of the family and during the following years he sent us postcards periodically from places like Hoi An, Luang Prabang or Kyoto.
Two decades had passed, but I was still a poor peasant like my late father. The only thing that had improved since then was that, when I invited Bill for tea, I was able to offer him a chair so he wouldn’t have to sit on the floor.
He wanted to know how many children I had and told me that he had remained single.
About that old photo he said that we looked like the magnificent seven, but I didn’t understand what he meant. Then, pointing to those of us who appeared in it, she asked me what had become of one another. I told him that some had gone on to higher education and had become successful professionals. I also told him that they were all happily married and lived with their families in different surrounding villages.
When I saw Bill leaving on his way to the bus station I thought that even though people should not be deceived, sometimes it was better to tell a pious lie; as a servant had done by not explaining to my Scottish friend that I was the only survivor of those supposedly magnificent seven in which diseases had been bred in some cases, like my brother Zeva who died while still a child, in others accidents, and a couple of them who were victims of the repression of the Military Junta.
DIVERGENT STORY, by Nando Baba