I never had any luck, perhaps because I never thought of it, and it probably didn’t think of me. Yet something now lay at my feet. That it had to show up there was no mere contingency. I could have easily stepped over it or veered to the side. Somebody whisking about in the vicinity would have picked it up; he probably would have grinned and chalked it up to his lucky day. But I hadn’t moved aside, and as long as I stood in place and glanced calmly at it down by my feet, others could only steal a wistful glimpse. Some might have regretted walking a tad too fast; if they had been slower, they could have become its possessor. Some might have reasoned, siding with themselves, that they spotted it even before I did, but they were a step too slow. Regardless, I picked up the money, without concluding as of yet whether it was my luck or not.
That evening at the tail end of the monsoon season, I happened to walk by a crowded bus stop even though it was not on my way home and I had no purpose for taking that route. The money lay fallen behind a bus. When I bent down to pick it up, the hot air from the exhaust pipe spurted onto my face as I unfurled myself back to standing. A pair of eyes darted at me. Its owner walked toward me with a face painted with an uncertain smile. I knew his intentions immediately. While I myself was unsure of my status in relation to the money at that instant, one thing of which I was absolutely certain was: the man approaching was not the owner of the money—but he wanted to be.
I didn’t wait for him to initiate the conversation; instead, I turned to ask a pair of university students, “Did either of you drop this?” The girls shook their heads. The man looked embarrassed and turned evasively toward the students and told them to board the bus. He turned out to be the conductor.
And the owner of the money? Where had he gone? He might be standing in that crowd without realizing that he’d dropped his money. Or he could be sitting on the bus that remained parked right there. Or he might have departed on the one before. It could also be that he happened to be passing through, as I was doing. I clutched the money in my hand and stood hesitating for a long while. Those who found money—what did they do? People looked at me, but no one else assumed the posture of the money’s owner. They simply looked at me because I was the object of attention. I had become the most interesting thing at that moment. Those who found money, they probably tried to extract themselves as quickly as possible from the site of serendipity. But what about the owners? They probably wandered around in search. The cash that I stumbled upon, the owner dropped it only a moment ago. If I would wait a little longer, he’d probably realize that his money was missing and turn around to look for it. After I returned it to him, he’d probably thank me happily. I would say to him: you don’t owe me any gratitude; the money remained yours all the time.
I sought out a corner away from prying eyes and counted the sum—hundred-baht, ten-baht and twenty-baht notes folded together: in all three hundred and eighty baht. If someone came to claim it, I should first ask how much money he’d lost, because someone might masquerade as the owner, and I would trust only the person who knew the amount. But what if the owner didn’t know or couldn’t remember how much money he had left in his pockets? I myself never kept track of the amount in mine. But he was not I. He could probably recall.
I waited… The bus slowly set off. The conductor turned back to look at me once more before disappearing into the coach. Had it been right for me to judge him? Everybody wanted to be the lucky finder of money. If I didn’t have my designs on it, why didn’t I step aside? The two students, too—had they spotted it, they’d probably have the same “finders keepers” attitude as the conductor. Naturally, anyone would be happy to come into money. My excuse to them was, I wasn’t hoping to keep the cash; I’d wait for its owner. But if he didn’t return, the money would belong to me anyway. But wasn’t it luck? Luck was chance that could befall anyone. That it happened to me this one time was nothing strange. The conductor came with the bus every day. The students and the other people waited for the bus daily as well. But what else could have inspired me to pass by this way, if not chance?
I felt more at ease after I came up with a worthy reason why I deserved to find the money: because I was presently awaiting its owner—the money had an owner, and surely he didn’t get it for nothing.
It was a bunch of old bills stacked together. It might be all the money that its owner had. I felt surer that he would return, even if he had no hope of recovering it, but because we humans had limited options, the choice to do something that bore almost no hope must be taken by those who refused to abandon hope. When he returned to discover that the money was still waiting for him, he would undoubtedly be surprised, but probably be even more thrilled.
The evening sky appeared softer as the sun faded. One after the next, buses pulled in and funneled away; one after another, people departed with the buses. I had never had to wait for anybody this way. Maybe I had, but long ago. When I was regularly employed and led a life to which others were connected, there were people who had to wait for me, and I for them. But that was a thing of the distant past. I had even nearly forgotten how I once lived amid causes and consequences. And was it for that reason that we were able to endure life without feeling too much of its void? The life where one woke up each morning assured that things were waiting to be accomplished in the hours ahead? People in the city were that way: they knew by the prior evening when they would wake up the next day. When they rose out of bed, they knew how much time they would spend on their morning routines. Once ready, they knew, too, what kind of transport they must take, the color of the vehicle, where to descend. Making their way through the growing city that never kept still, a city devoid of tenderness and loaded with dog-eat-dog ambition, they had to know even more than that, to know what their paths demanded in the next days, weeks and months.
I was unemployed at this time. This might have been one reason behind my luck. Others headed to the stop to board their bus home. The roads they pursued had a purpose. This was another reason why I deserved to find the money. I had plenty of time to wait for the owner to return for it. Out of nowhere, someone like me, someone with no aim in life like others had, wound up tasked with holding a sum of money and waiting for a person I had never known—an unfortunate individual who dropped his money.
I suddenly realized something else: my good fortune resulted from another’s misfortune. Someone suffered bad luck in order to give someone else good luck. Must everything in the world be a zero-sum game?
In reality, I shouldn’t agonize over it. There was no good or bad luck. I was waiting for the owner to come claim his money. In a moment all this fuss would come to an end. The owner might be realizing now that his money was missing – he was thinking about where he might have lost it. Give him a little time to mull it over….Soon the places where he might have dropped it will occur to him. He might have to retrace his steps elsewhere as well. It was conceivable he would come back here last. No matter how long it took, I would wait. I didn’t have any duties to attend to, no wife and children to hurry back to. It was a blessing that my life regained some semblance of purpose. For a long time now I hadn’t known what I would do in the coming minutes and days. It was a welcome development for me to resume a life intertwined with others’, even if ever so slightly. No matter who the owner of the money was, he was bound to be happy since he couldn’t possibly imagine that his money would still be waiting for him. He’d probably feel touched by my actions. He and I might become a little bit acquainted, and if he didn’t have any pressing tasks, we might walk together and chat, perhaps have a meal together. He’d probably ask me why I was still waiting, why I didn’t pocket the money for myself. I already had an answer ready.
As for me, if he returned, what would I ask him? I should ask him, “Why did you return? Why did you believe that your money would still be there?”
It seemed the story began and ended with the money, the sum of three hundred eighty baht. But what was I really waiting for? I was waiting for someone, a person I believed would come back to look for his money. Why was I convinced that he would return? Was I hoping he would have faith in people’s integrity, even though the whole time I’d been thinking how it was by chance that I found the money? And the owner? Would he believe in that chance? The chance that the finder of his money was not in a hurry to go anywhere and was waiting for him? The chance that the finder was more cognizant of others’ misfortune than his own good luck?
The evening air didn’t cool me off. On the contrary, I was simmering with anxiety. There was, in fact, no reason for me to feel that way. He, he who lost the money, was probably flustered and rushing back to try to recover it. But a long time had passed. I asked myself how much longer I should wait when there was no sign of anyone searching for his money.
I questioned myself anew: what was I truly waiting for? No, not merely waiting, what was I hoping for? Was it too much to expect? I was still waiting here because I believed that if I were the one to lose the money, I would return to look for it. Even I didn’t find it, even if no one was waiting, I would still return. I should have some faith in the goodness of people, shouldn’t I, even if it depended upon chance?
What if he didn’t return? Why would he not return? Because he felt certain that he wouldn’t find the money? My heart sank. Why? Why did he not place hope in people? Despite the fact that this money might have been hard earned, that it might be the last sum for this month or until the next paycheck, that he might need it to feed his family, that a sick loved one might need it for treatment, that it might be tied to the promise to buy his children gifts, despite all this he was willing to relinquish hope and surrender to cruel destiny? Who could help tell him that I was still waiting for him? There was only he, who must tell himself – not that the money was still waiting, but that he should have faith in people…even if just a little.
Darkness was returning. How long could dusk last when our world was but a lightless planet? Everyone knows the evening hours must dissipate, and our world must succumb to the night. I, too…How much longer could I persevere in waiting for something in which one held only faint hopes, when perseverance only walks the path towards its own demise?
I continued to ponder: why did I have to wait with perseverance? Why not wait with ease of mind? Why not wait with joy? Alas, I could only raise questions. Only reality could answer, and I couldn’t twist my own feelings and turn them into something other than the response that I was persevering in my wait.
I was now confronting another question: why did I persist in waiting? Was it so that my hope would come to fruition? Of course I was hoping – and it was hope placed in others. Or, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say I was wishing that another person be as I imagined. Oh…what was I trying to accomplish? Did I in fact want to return the three hundred and eighty baht to its owner, or was I seeking something from that individual? Unanswered pleas to another or unfulfilled hopes in him, those were what made me endure the wait.
The bus stop was deserted. My eyes scaled the tall buildings up to the stars speckling the sky. We coexisted in close proximity on this planet. Nonetheless, we led a solitary existence; we were good or evil all alone. What right did a person have to demand something of others?
My perseverance had come to an end. And my hope in somebody else and entreaty to him had ceased as well. This minute, I was merely someone who found three hundred and eighty baht and wished to restore the money to its owner, nothing more.
Finally, I decided to leave the bus stop after I was able to persuade myself that the money’s owner probably would not return. Only at the same time, I found that, in truth, I was still waiting.
Duanwad Pimwana (b. 1969) is consistently regarded as an important female voice in contemporary Thai literature. She won the S.E.A. Write Award in 2003 for her novel Changsamran (meaning “joyful”) after making her name on the local literary circuit as a short-story writer. With a social realist bent, her work sings of human resilience, and her female characters show themselves to be resourceful and tough-minded. The author often draws inspiration from the fishing and farming communities of her native Chonburi, a seaside province on the Thai east coast, where she now lives.
Mui Poopoksakul is Asymptote’s Thailand Editor-at-Large. A lawyer-turned-translator, she holds an M.A. in cultural translation from the American University of Paris and studied literature as an undergraduate at Harvard. Now based in Germany, She is working to promote Thai literature through translation and writing.