THAIS BELIEVE THAT FREEING A LIFE BRINGS BENEFIT AND BLESSING. This one ancient and arcane belief holds within it the heart of mercy, the thing so obviously missing in our grab-it-all society. The reality is more mundane and questionable – on the banks of the river, plastic buckets hold fish, eels and turtles, caught to be released – floating, confused, with flowers on their heads.
My friend Hatti was much taken with the idea, and bought a sizeable turtle to lower carefully back into the water. The Chao Phraya was swollen with a heavy tide – churning brown and muscular in the sunlight. Not far now from Loi Krathong – when floating lights in their millions are offered to the water. Deep within the waves in the eyes of the watching Thai, Naga the holy snake is swimming, and siren voiced Pi Nam is a moment away from rising from the water.
As we walked along the pier to set free the bemused little creature I saw something out in the waves. I thought it was an otter or seal – black, low in the water, bobbing. A fisherman saw it too…
We realised together it was a woman – almost drowned, barely staying afloat with the last of her strength. I leapt over the pier fence and ran to dive in – the fisherman dived first so I looked around for a float or a rope. He got to her and pulled her in – she was not breathing now, head face down in the river. A tiny yellow fishing boat saw us shouting and moved over to help them. When they reached us she was breathing again – blueish white, shivering but alive. We lay her in the recovery position and called the harbour master/ambulance.
The Thai were clearly awed, whispering , smiling, hugging us – to our confusion. A Thai friend explained it was karma – Pi Nam the river goddess swopped the turtle’s life for the life of the woman – a fair exchange, he thought. Hatti was moved to tears… and the sense of joy at and for the life still breathing and beating on a too bright towel on the concrete floor reminded us all of what is it to be human – to care so deeply for a stanger, who in those moments was actually a sister, a mother, a beloved. Easy to discount it all as nonesense – Daydream Believing – but the wonder palpable in the people’s eyes… that is something I won’t quickly forget. —