Richard Constable

All is never what it seems (part 2)

When life takes an unexpected and tragic turn

Continued from part one .....

"I, so sorry, Greg," apologetically "my water come now." 

"Thank, God!" relieved, "I thought something awful had happened," still shaken. 

Her waters had broken, and her shorts were saturated.

"You not hav to miss work," anxious "I get motorcye to hospital," she said irrationally. 

"Are you crazy?" concerned "You can't go on the back of a motorcycle and I wanna be there!" 

"We-hav-to-get-rea-dy-for-her, Greg." obviously overcome and crying now "I not wan you lose the money," she was scared. 

"I'll call in sick," trying to calm her down "don't worry we won't lose the money," I said reassuringly.  

My concern was only for her health and that of our unborn child. At that moment I felt as if I wanted them to be cocooned in my love - in safety for always. 

By the time we got to the hospital she was having contractions, it was happening all to quickly - you didn't have to be a doctor to know there something was wrong. 

At first, it was difficult to get the full attention of anyone at the hospital, where we were waiting in a typical cold clinical and hopefully sterile foyer at the reception. Then after we had, the staff never revealed any sense of urgency. Tangmo was patiently looking to the nurses for help, she spoke very little, she appeared concerned but not too stressed. 

The legendary lethargic disposition of the native medical workers was something to behold. It wasn't just the apparent fact they didn't seem to know what they were supposed to be doing, it was their apathy - they just didn't seem to care. 

I watched helplessly, in my mind praying to a God I didn't even feel existed or if he ever had - had deserted me a long time ago. 

The two female nurses finally moved us into A&E, they placed Tangmo on a medical bed with wheels. Where they were having a lot of difficulties simply finding a vein with a needle to insert a drip, they said that Tangmo had very small veins. I understood the 'lek mark' (very small) - part of what they were communicating, over and over. 

They were now being assisted by a male nurse who was trying to hasten them by repeating 'jai mai dee' (her heart isn't strong.) I was vowing in my mind that, if mother and baby both came out of this okay I'd do whatever I needed to do to get them back to the USA, where they would at least be taken care of by a first world professional health service. 

The nurses finally found a vein and placed a drip - we were moving now - out A&E - back into the foyer - entering a large steel elevator - up to the third floor - we were moving out nowhere in the labor and delivery ward's hall - they told me to stop! 

While I watched - two medical workers pushed her away as a third attended to the drip - neither of us spoke - as they rolled her down the hall - the looks we gave each other were enough to communicate - as she disappeared from sight - what we needed to know.

That was the last time I were ever to see her alive - sometime later the physician came to tell me that Tangmo's blood had been weak, that it was a problem with people from her area. This had caused problems, she died in delivery, they weren't able to save the baby. He was talking like this was the most likely outcome, he wasn't taking any responsibility, they never do. It's something to do with their religion and a firm belief in the next life, a natural chain of events, a semi preordained process. 

All I knew was that I'd never see her like again and our baby would never know how much she was loved and that I had to go to Sisaket to tell to Tangmo's parents what had happened. I would go back to our apartment, pack a change of clothes, and go to Mor Chit Bus Station (Bangkok's Northeastern Terminal) to buy a ticket, next I'd get on a bus - hopefully there would be someone in the village who could speak a little English. 

Many hours later, while traveling on an overnight coach I had an aspiration, or possibly no more than a dream - of which I'm not sure. Nevertheless, it was as real to me as day or night. It was Tangmo - she told me that she was pleased that she gave birth to our baby, because she was a very pretty baby and that she had her mouth and my eyes. Most of all, she told me not to be troubled by her and the baby as they were fine. I told her that, I didn't understand how she could be fine because I was anything but fine. 

'Oh, Greg,' she enlightened me softly, 'you hav to learn trust, we'll be together in new life, you, me and baby'. She sounded more certain of that than she'd been of anything when she was alive. Yet, of course, she was desperately worried about her parents as they were old and they had no-one to help them now. 

After she went from me again, I must've fallen asleep because the next thing I knew we were in the Sisaket - from here I would take a motorcycle taxi to the village.

Along the way as a pillion passenger, on a long dark winding deserted road, I decided I was going to provide some basic food supplies, tea, sugar, salt, soy sauce, dried noodles, various nuts, for Tangmo's parents. I was going to pay for these from the fifty-five thousand baht that Tamgmo and I'd saved - for the baby. If only we'd used this money to go to a decent hospital and had Tangmo checked by a specialist. Then possibly, she and the baby would still be alive today, it made me feel sick to think about it. Apart from, a little that I needed myself, I'd give to them as a parting gift. 

I had been to the village once before, it consisted of a number of so-called farms, the largest being of no more than 10 acres. The land is extremely level and there are very few trees, it is a bland, bare and monotonous landscape of rice fields with dividing dikes, and hand dug catfish ponds. The Northeast is probably, flora and fauna wise the least attractive area of Thailand. Most of the people who live there - their families have some land. 

There are far fewer than a hundred dwellings, varying from rusting corrugated shacks (like Tangmo's parents,) Thai traditional wooden, concrete rendered self-builds, to the relatively conventional - but never quite. There's a quaint little old school made out of corrugated steel and hand painted dark green - it has a limited playground. It's not far away from a small mom and pop shop that sells basic products, and of course, there is a temple. The temple is modest, concrete in addition to rendering, whitewashed facades, with a high sloped orange clay tiled tradition Thai roof, with mildly decorative golden fascias as well as bargeboards. 

It stands on about half an acre of ground in the opposite corner to the monks living accommodation which is built in the same style and is encompassed by a high matching wall which has two huge black iron gates at its front center - adjacent to a concrete road. Here Tangmo hoped we would be married sometime in October, in the mid-semester school break. Now she would be laid to rest, possibly alongside our baby, in the small morgue standing next to the monks quarters. There is where her uncle's body lay before we attended his cremation. 

As I wandered around a little ahead of daybreak, the sun was just about to come into view, enjoying the cool, calm stillness, prior to the rising of the inhabitants. I thought about how Tangmo was born and brought up in this village. How she went to school and loved to learn, how she played in its playground. Ran in the fields with the other local children. Went to the temple to worship, to pay her respects and more to get a merit. 

How pitiful that the poor little girl that she had been, finally having found a little security and looking forward to having a future with her own family - should so tragically lose everything she hoped for. I had to convince myself that it was somehow meant to be and to do like she told me on the coach - to trust - if I didn't I could easily become very bitter and that wouldn't help at all. 

It wouldn't help Tangmo's parents who could hopefully find comfort in their faith. I began to see for the first time, what a great asset having a firm religious belief, truly was at times like these. If there is no faith, nothing, but being afraid, upset, confused - we have to try to make some sense of the situation or remain in the same state of hopelessness. 

At dawn, four tangerine robed monks each bearing a gold painted circular wicker basket over their shoulders assisted by roped straps came out of the temple's compound, where I was standing waiting opposite the gates. On seeing me the head monk, a thickset man with a broad friendly face and a high heavily furrowed forehead, whom I recalled could speak a little English, greeted me with, "Hello Gleg," while striding over the road "Why you come here?" stopping in front of me. 

"Tangmo?" he said "She not!" while looking questionably into my eyes.

He stopped before he said another word, I was nodding my head, tears began to run down my face, for the first time since they'd died, I cried. 

He then told me how the morning before, when Tangmo's mother came to the temple to pray she was extremely worried and tired as she'd been afraid to go back to sleep, after having a terrible dream in the night. In the dream, an old monk from the village who'd died many years previously came to tell her that Tangmo was ready to go the next life. He said that she'd always been a good girl and she'd been tested many times and had passed - she'd be rewarded in the next life.

I still hadn't spoken at all. I watched as the furrows in his forehead deepened even further, before he asked me about the baby, again I just shook my head. He looked shocked and deeply sadden and said, "We not know about baby, we want she be okay," he then began to cry. 

After that emotional confrontation with the truth, still not being able to voice what had happened. We took a short stroll to her parents humble home, they answered the door together fully clothed, a frail gray couple looking much older than their years. They had been waiting intently, expecting, hoping against hope - it hadn't prepared them for the shock. 

When the monk told them, they both collapsed, howling, grasping each other, it was harrowing to witness. I had never seen human beings in such a state of total emotional distress, these people love their family's so much, they don't have much else - they grieve unashamedly. It was worse than I'd imagined, I began to think I'd made a mistake in coming, when Tangmo's mother looked up at me and said, "Thank you," in English. She spoke again, this time in Laotian-Thai, I could make out only the word 'rak,' meaning love. 

The monk explained that the mother was saying, "Tangmo love you so much, you make she happy, they want you to know," he expressed these sentiments strongly. He then helped them to their feet as one, they did not relinquish their grip upon the other. I just about managed to tell the monk to tell them, how much she loved her parents before I embraced both of them - he told the inconsolable pair in their language and again through pitiful tears, they both gasped the words, "Thank, you!"

A few hours later, having been to the temple, Tangmo's grief-stricken parents back at home were slightly less distraught than earlier this morning. At that moment, a mud brown police vehicle parked outside their three roomed dwelling and two police officers got out. A male and a female, Tangmo's father opened the door before the policewoman had time to knock. The police basically told them, what I'd told the monk and what he'd been able to translate but with more detail. Also, that the hospital had arranged for their bodies to be brought from Bangkok by train. They were already being brought from the station in the nearest town and would be arriving anytime. 

Soon the police were on their way, having done their job, I knew I'd to do mine. I asked the ever helpful affable monk to convey to my once future in-laws what'd happened on my journey to Sisaket, how their recently departed daughter came to me, and exactly what she said. 

Neither the monk nor Tangmo's parents reacted to my account in the way that I'd expected them to - in fact they didn't react at all. 

I hadn't purchased anything with the savings as I'd intended, I had basically forgotten. So, I just knelt down on the concrete floor in front of them, waied, (a traditional gesture of respect) while lowering my head to the ground I presented them with fifty thousand baht. It was the last thing I could do for Tangmo, whatever the reality of the situation. This is what she would have wanted, it was the best that I could do. 

Finally, I reasoned that I'd be leaving before their bodies arrived - because the next time I saw Tangmo and our baby, would be in another life, where we'd be together. To my relief, and comfort, the three not only seemed in agreement that it was the right thing to do, they appeared to entirely understand. 

To be blatantly honest, unquestionably, the absolute last thing I would ever wish for is to view Chanrisa's corpse - when I paid my respects at her uncle's cremation, his coffin was open. I wanted to remember my sweet love the way she was - the last time I'd seen her at the hospital. Looking beautiful, concerned but not stressed and knowing that we sensed and understood each other's thoughts and feelings - that moment when - we both believed that we were soon going to be parents for the first time - to a precious and perfect baby girl.  


I can't begin to imagine what you went through. A tragic story, beautifully written. Made my eyes water.......................take care sir, I'll always remember this.

By john, uk (23rd August 2018)

A truly harrowing tale!

By chad chapman, USA (20th August 2018)


I don't have words to offer comfort. I only have the emotion that comes with reading, what you wrote. I admire how you were able to not only keep your cool with the clinic staff (because I certainly would not have) but how you were able to put all of this in words of meaning and reflection.

I have no cliches, or brick and mortar statements for you. However, my heart goes out to you and what you cherish.

All the best to you, man

By Joshua, Vietnam (11th August 2018)

Thanks for sharing.

By Dirk, Nong Han District (11th August 2018)

A deeply moving story depicting a simple culture and circumstances . The idea that a local girl will attach herself and bear a western mans child and dedicate her life is heart warming. Exhibiting pure humility and vulnerability . Sorry for your Tragic loss.

By adrian, AU (9th August 2018)

Heartbreaking story. Thank you for sharing.

By TE, Bangkok (8th August 2018)


By Jim, Chiang Mai (2nd August 2018)

This is beautifully written and deeply moving. I hope you find the strength in you to heal and I'm sure your compassion and understanding will make a difference to many other people

By Dan, BKK (2nd August 2018)

Oh Greg. My heart goes with you. You better go back to the US.

By Liz, Thailand (2nd August 2018)

You are, like your uncle, a gifted writer.

Such a tragic tale, sorry for your loss. You will get through this.

Much love from a former Ajarn now back in his native Scotland.

By Airconditioned, Scotland (2nd August 2018)

Devastatingly tragic! And I would want some clarity regarding what really happened at this hospital... So glad the author made a deep connection with the community.

By Chris, Northern Thailand (2nd August 2018)

Amazingly well written, tragic, sad but beautiful. Life is a journey where we never know where we shall end

By Nate, Sa Kaeo (1st August 2018)

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