An Unknown Future
Huddled in an Alcove
There was a time I would pass Noi almost daily as I walked along Changklan Road in Chiang Mai, Thailand. If she were not awkwardly lugging the colorful bags used to store the Hmong Hill Tribe textiles she would attempt to sell wherever she could, I would see her huddled in an abandoned alcove near Anusarn Market sleeping. Everything about her exuded cheer - except her face. Perhaps her bright clothes and storage bags were an attempt to conceal her inner angst.
I saw her recently for the first time since the outbreak of Covid-19 sleeping in one of her preferred alcoves, unfortunately looking more stressed than ever. Although the black mask covers most of her face, her tightly shut eyes and furrowed brow tell a story she can not hide. And I feel her pain.
I remember a time when she would immediately wake up as I passed and start unpacking her bags to display some textiles. I would always stop and take a look and, more often than not, purchase something. Her items were exquisite. One by one, my collection grew.
This past time, she remains asleep as I pass. This is also the first time she is not alone. There is a little girl nestled behind her against the wall. I doubt she is her daughter - but perhaps is her granddaughter? In any case, she is protecting her. My imagination soars. And I am uncomfortable with my concern. I have nothing to leave for them. This disturbs me even more. I don't know when I will see them again.
Down the street is the fruit vendor who knows me. I attempt to explain the situation - but fail. I locate someone nearby who can translate for me. The vendor smiles and hands me a bag filled with cut fruit. I thank her and promise to pay. She shakes her head no. But I know I will.
I return to the alcove and place the bag between them. I hope they wake up soon. As I walk away, I hear a rustle and turn around and see they discovered the fruit.
This morning I wake up to a message from a Thai friend: "Be careful. Covid is spreading around Changklan Road and Nong Hoi." Of course, I immediately think about Noi and hope she can keep them both safe. My heart breaks for so many souls wandering the streets of Chiang Mai. We are all at risk, and the elusive vaccine remains a mystery - we live in the unknown and wait.