• Thammika Songkaeo

And The Ferry Sank

I don't normally share my writing casually—to do so would feel like to breathe my brain out of my nostrils onto someone's neck and force them to inhale until every squiggly line that used to be a unique part of my navigation system became theirs. My deepest fear is that my reader—any reader—would then use my words, never credit me with them (as has been done), and I, the mother who had handed over my child into the arms of a stranger I did not care to know, would then find myself regretting my loss. No birth is easy—of child, or words, as long as they are meant to be meaningful. But what is "normally" now, I wonder? My world has changed since last Thursday, when I went to the GP in my pajamas, making sure I checked it before 8:15 AM, to be one of the first in line.


A lump was in me, and I was prepared for the worst. The doctor couldn't order a mammogram because I had just gotten a Covid booster, and that would have interfered with the results. He said I would need to wait another four weeks to get a mammogram. I did not relay this to my team today, who, on a Sunday, met to talk about the concept of scarcity for an upcoming project, and asked me how I was, after which I punched out the words "okay" filled with air, as if I were answering with padding, on behalf of a stranger whose life I was only guessing I knew.


"It could be just an infection," the doctor had said, and I had gleefully agreed. The nurse had told me that "a lady doctor" would come, but not until nine or ten, and I wondered whether other women really cared about whether a male or a female doctor was touching their breast, if what they had was cancer. At the counter, I was given antibiotics, in case the lump was only an infection. The nurses repeated that I could come back on a Tuesday or Saturday if I wanted "a lady doctor." I asked them what the name was for the doctor I had just seen, and said I'd like to come back and see him next time, he was great.


Possibly just an infection, the lump still stirred me to say yes to my daughter when she asked that same afternoon, on Thursday, whether we could go to Switzerland. I, who was counting my savings and wondering how to increase them—scarcity—looked at her dark, innocent pupils and coughed up, "Yes, yes, we can go to Switzerland." Maybe my time was limited. Maybe this would be our first duo Europe trip and our last. There was not much time to think. A Thai has to make her travel plans early. She has to go through a visa application process that requires several supporting documents. A Thai who may have cancer has to hope that she'll get her visa before she dies. A Thai who makes decisions not knowing whether she has cancer may wind up on a trip there was no urgency for because she never actually had cancer.


A Thai never knows, but a Thai will always be anxious about getting a visa, as if it, too, were a medical situation.


This Thai said yes to her daughter on the spot, weakened by those cute, round eyes that didn't know the difference between a Swiss franc and a Thai baht (in which her mother earns, wishing they were francs). On Friday after school we went to the Singapore Airlines office, determined to use our credits to book the direct flights to Zurich. We left having no flights because the staff still had thirty customers to deal with and couldn't fit us in before closing time; however, we were able to buy them Royce after they turned us away, wishing them a less painful evening than whatever they might have been expecting, since flying opportunities were reopening and threatening to crush their ears and airways with words and breaths of previously pent-up customers.


We went with another airline, and that was why we ended up in the pool this afternoon, while it rained, the thunderstorm warnings from the nearby port just having stopped; slight thunder still thickened the air, my eyes constantly checked for lightning, whether any had zapped any of the eagles circling above us, as they do over the Singapore Strait regularly, reminding us that skies, not just skyscrapers, exist.


My daughter and I were the only ones in the pool, there for her to practice swimming: the tickets to Switzerland had been bought; our layover determined for Helsinki; a ferry to Suomenlinna was in the plans; I wanted to show my husband, for his peace of mind, that our daughter could swim, in case the ferry, as per his idiosyncratic imaginings, would eject her into the waters, determined to make its random kill.


"And The Ferry Sank!" was the name of the game, an imaginative, laughter-packed enactment of looming death and the survival instinct (whose manifestation, when it comes to my daughter, was as a frog, I learned watching her choice of the breaststroke). This is how it was played: we sat on the poolside, named the opposite poolside a destination, made up a story of why we had to get there, sat (denoting existence on a ferry seat), and one of us would yell "And the ferry sank!" after which we would need to do whatever it took to get to the opposite poolside.


In between her breaths, baby teeth shone through her smiles. I, who was ahead of her, imagined the Gulf of Helsinki as the backdrop, waves piling onto her back her as if they were in a game of tag. I don't think she would escape death in the real situation; death is too much of an expert; it knows what it's doing, and it is nothing that an amphibian-mimicking child thinner than check-in luggage would escape.


On one of our last trips, to "the other side," we found two rotting limes by the poolside, where there normally is bird poo, and decided to play a game of fetch. We took turns throwing and fetching, chasing after the browning balls, counting the seconds it took to victory. It felt like I had so much in life at the moment, that whatever lime I was chasing after, in a record nineteen seconds, was a ball of gold.

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