The Gift of Squid

This post was originally published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader.

Overview: Whenever I meet people for the first time in a new place, they assume I’m “on holiday.” Sometimes I have a hard time explaining that I’m not on holiday—that I live life on the road, and to do that I have to always be working. I’ve gotten a variety of reactions to this disclosure, but none quite like this…

Last night I was writing on my laptop, sitting cross legged on the floor of one of the wooden bungalows atop top of a cliff on an island somewhere in Thailand. I’ve been writing a novel and was deep in thought, when all of a sudden a little boy walked over and set a plate of squid on my table. I tried to tell him I didn’t order it, but he just smiled and ran away.

I looked around, confused. To my right I saw a table of heads looking at me from a across the deck. A shadowy hand waved. Then a woman got up and came over to me, I assumed to reclaim her misappropriated order, but then she explained it was for me.

“He want to give to you,” she happily articulated with carefully calculated English.

“He ask his mother: ‘why she so quiet?’ And his mother say: ‘because she working.’ And he said ‘ohh.’”

She made a forlorn face to signal the little boy’s contemplation about the matter.

“Then he say: ‘Can I take squid for her?’ and his mother said ‘yeaaaas, go.’ So he came to give squid to you.”

My jaded little heart just about exploded. I laughed and awww’d and thanked her. She motioned to the boy to come back over, and he came shyly with his father who said something to him in Thai. The little boy stuck out his right hand and looked at me, hopefully. I shook it heartily and said “kap kom khap,” thanking him in my best attempt at Thai.

He looked elated and bowed deeply, thanking me (for accepting the squid?) with his hands pressed together. He turned to run away again, overwhelmed, but his father spun him back around and readied his tablet cam. I posed for the picture, draping one arm around the little boy’s shoulders and making a peace sign with my other hand. (In Asia, there is no shame associated with the peace sign, unlike in US where it has become a sort of pasé hippies-only gesture.)

The three thanked me and went back to their sunset dinner, leaving me to my work.

I’ve never even really liked squid, but I ate that whole damn plate, except for the heads, which I discretely gave to the resident kitten who has taken a ferocious liking to me as well.

When I was done writing for the night, I went over to the family dinner table where the owner of this glorious place was also seated, and they all beamed at me. I thanked them again and asked the women to translate for the little boy that he made my happy night working even more happy. He smiled and hid in his father’s sleeve. I bowed to the table with my hands pressed together and told them all goodnight.

What a perfect gesture of childlike innocence and compassion, to attempt to improve my, what to him must appear to be a very odd and solitary way of life, with the gift of squid.

Of course I am quite happy here in my literary paradise, where I can explore nature and focus on my art undisturbed, and at the same time remain connected to the ones I love around the world via a pretty solid internet connection. How heartbreakingly funny that being quiet and working, the very things I have traveled so far to do, seem like the pits to a 10-year-old Thai boy used to seeing tourists in a temporary state of elation and excitement-seeking.

I considered that he may have had a point. I was already wearing my little black dress, so I put my computer away and walked down the hill with my Thai bartender friend to the beach bar where a band that covers Bob Marley and various other songs with beachy vibes plays every weekend, and watched the crazy French tourists dance until they were covered in sweat and falling over. It was arguably a better use of a Saturday night in paradise than sitting by myself and writing. Maybe if it weren’t for that plate of squid, I would have just gone to bed.

Thank you, little boy. I will never forget you.

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