How lucky, I would think in envy. But not all girls were nice to him.
"You, watch out now," one girl would say to him on sight.
"Hey, what's up, girl? Should I just tell everything to everyone in the village, eh?"
"At his reply she would get more mad.
"You dare! You just dare! I'll get you!"
She was the only one who really looked daggers at him, this young Ma Hla Aye, niece of the Head of Ten House- holds U Thudaw.
I became curious as to why Ko Khant, loved by all, should be on such bad terms with this girl so I asked him. He just chuckled sheepishly and refused to answer: "Aw, you don't want to know."
That only piqued my interest.
"C'mon, Elder Brother Khant, lets hear some enlightening words."
He would keep on laughing slyly.
"Its nothing, boy, I don't want to tell you. One word will unravel the whole thing."
"What whole thing? Please, please, tell me. Let me in on the secret."
He still refused to say anything but kept laughing as we walked on.1 kept begging him so much that he finally said,
"Oh well, if you want to know so badly I suppose I'd have to break my promise and tell you."
He paused to light his pipe and then we both sat down under the shade of I Thabye trees growing in a circle.
"It happened last Thingyan , y'know," he began.
He gave a few puffs on his pipe. I waited patiently.
"So, during Thingyan as you know all the villagers went to the monasteries to fast and keep the Buddhist precepts. Some mediated, some counted pray beads on the rest houses, So no one's really left in the village. We, y'know, us lads, we'd go from one monastery to the other as if we were deeply religious but we'd get all the goodies from the monks and the donators, and we'd choose a shady Spot to take a nice nap after stuffing ourselves.
"Well, last year, mother went off to the monastery early So I Cooked and brought over her lunch. Afterwards, I felt too lazy to lug the box back home So I thought I'd just nap at the rest house there. I couldn't sleep with all these people around So I thought I would borrow a smooth mat from the monk and take it to a shady Spot to sleep. When he saw me the monk thought I had Come to keep the fast and first he was happy about it but not when I asked for a mat. He said to me, he said, So you're going to sleep like the dead, hey? No hope, yoU go and sit and count prayer beads. If I saw you asleep I'd thrash you.
Well! What could I do? I said I wanted to but had for- gotten by own beads at home So could I borrow his?
"He gave it willingly, quite pleased that I was being good. If I couldn't get the mat, why, I'm not about to make him mad and get a thrashing So I slipped the beads around my neck and walked away. I had to find a spot far from the monastery; if that monk saw me sleeping he would thrash me, he's known me since I was a kid and I wasn't about to risk anything. So I kept walking and walking and came to the pond on the southeast of the monastery, you know that pond, right?
"You remember how thickly the Thabye trees grow on the banks and how their branches lean over the waters. I thought I'd sleep under the tree but thought I saw a glimpse of yellow4 so I climbed up on a large branch hanging over the water. I couldn't easily be seen in the spreading branches."
"I leant back against the tree trunk, hung up my new shirt on a branch, not wanting it to get wrinkled, and I tucked up my brand new 10ngyiS up over my thighs. Phew! The breeze was so cool. "I did try to count the beads but I didn't want to doze off and drop it so I placed it around my neck. Then, feeling good and comfy I was just about to..."
At that moment Ma Hla Aye came back for another haul of water and went past us stomping her feet hard on the ground and glaring at Ko Khant. He stared after her, murmuring, "I'd like to clip the ear of that little chit," and laughing softly to himself.
"Go on, Elder Brother, what next?" I urged.
"Well, I was just beginning to doze off when I heard someone walking into the pond," he said. "So I looked down and there she was, who else, Ma Hla Aye...heh heh"
He puffed at his pipe, heard the gurgle of spit in it, held it closed with his palm and swung the stem. He soon had it going.
"So, this "girl, thought she was alone and came to bathe.." He began to chuckle and not knowing anything I joined in.
"Are people allowed to bathe here? Isn't that the monastery pond?" I asked him.
"No, this is another one that people can come to bathe, it's just that everyone's away so it was deserted that day. The monastery pond is nearer the compound, its another one."
"So, so, go on," I said.
"I peeped through the leaves, and she looked as if she did not bring an extra longyi," he said.
"Oh dear! So? Then...?"
"Well its not so difficult, you just pull your longyi up gradually as you sink down into the water and as you sink up to your shoulders you pull your longyi up over your head so its kept dry," he said. "Then you toss it onto a branch. She thought she was alone so she did just that and swam around a bit. I was afraid she would see me and tried to kept still but a red ant got me on the leg!"
" Aha! You've had it!"
"I tried to rub out the ant but somehow I let go and I fell into the water. My longyi got caught in a branch and I fell without wearing anything."
I gave shouts of laughter. "You've had it!".
"I've had it all right, she couldn't move from where she was and I couldn't climb out."
"So how did you manage it in the end?"
"Oh my god. ..I told her to keep her head under water and I would climb out to get my longyi but she said she couldn't hold her breath that long. When I told her I would keep my head underwater while she fetch her 10ngyi she didn't trust me not to look. Actually, I really didn't want to keep my head down, y'know."
"So what could you do?"
"Then I heard the monk scolding some kids not far away and I got scared, in case he came upon us..."
He relit his pipe carefully.
"Then she started to accuse me of climbing the tree to watch her bathe, 'though I said I was there first. She shrieked at me, that little chit, although I explained and explained, and I was standing there with the prayer beads around my neck, I wanted to laugh at myself but dared not. I was wondering how to get my new shirt and new 10ngyi and when I made to move away to let her get her 10ngyi she shrieked to me to stay still.... So I dared not move."
Just then Ma Hla Aye came back with her pot full of water. I had no idea if she knew we were talking about her but I wanted to laugh So much I had to turn my face away and started to snicker. A quarrel broke out between the two.
"No at all, we're talking of something else," Ko Khant protested when she accused him.
"You swore you wouldn't tell! You'll be cursed with what you swore! Snakes will bite ya and lightening will hit ya!" Ma Hla Aye screamed.
Ma Hla Aye, looking So pretty with Thanakha plastered on her face became So embarrassed she lost her footing and her pot fell from her head. She got really mad at that and began to throw pot shards at us So we both ran for our lives.
But as Soon as I got home, my aunt showed me the letter from my mother saying I must Come back home at once as my Grand Uncle and Aunt had arrived from Mandalay.1 packed as I had to leave immediately for the railway station 5 miles away, I wanted to ask Ko Khant to drive me to the station in his cart so that he could tell me the rest of the story but he said, "Iater" So I left the village feeling rather dissatisfied. After that I hardly saw him again and when last year Ko Khant came to my town on business and I asked him, "Please, tell me how you got out of that pond," he was talking to my parents so he just smiled and said, "You still remember that! What a memory!" but told me nothing more.
So I am left with this unsolved problem of Ko Khant and Ma Hla Aye still waiting in the water and if I should die before I heard the ending, it sure won't be an easy death.
1 Religious festival of lights
2 One rank below the village headman
3 Water Festival preceding the New Year, in April. 4 The yellow of a monk's robe
5 Waist garment sewn like a tube
6 Traditional make up paste grind from Thankha tree bark
(The above short story was translated by MTG)
Htin Lin (1919- 1996)
The well-known writer Htin Lin has been writing since the time of WWII.
He received bachelor degrees in both Arts and Law from Rangoon University and worked as a staff writer in the Myanmar Translation Society, as a sub editor in the Rangoon university Translation and Publication Department and as a tutor in the English Department of Rangoon Arts and Science University.
He published the prestigious Ngwe Tar Yi Magazine with his friend, writer Min Yu Wayand Htin Lin became the Chief Editor. He studied magazine publishing in the United States in 1960.
He wrote many short stories and articles in both English and Burmese and translated 12 novels including works by Albert Camus. He received the National Literary Award in 1974 for translation with Kipling's "The Mawgli Stories." In 1991, he again received the National Literary Award for his novel "Return from the fields."He wrote four novels of which two, "Return to the fresh green heart" and "Return from the fields" are considered classics.
He is considered one of the best short story writers of the country.