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Khamtai sat in the corner of the room, legs crossed, unsure of what to do next. He could hear the violent pit pat of the monsoon rains. The humidity clung , tickling his feeble arms, floating over where his younger sister clutched. His mother sat across from him with his brother, Lothay, on her lap. A stray lightning bolt, followed by the crackling of wood sent a warm shiver through his body. Khamtai eyed the pitch-black room. There were about twenty other villagers crowded in the local school's classroom. The monsoon was nothing new to the Malaythongs; however, floods were a different story. The village of Sang Ha never saw winds as fierce as that day. Nor were they expecting it; the seasonal rains were often the signal of a new beginning, a new cycle.
When the rains stopped and the sun found the courage to shine once again, the Malaythongs returned to Sang Ha. They crept along on toes to avoid the wooden splinters lying about. The children had it the easiest; they hitched rides on the back of the eldest brother, laughing delightfully. They were surprised when they came to the location of their hut. There was not a single trace of their former life; cattle, chicken, bamboo swept away.
Khamtai's tears fell as the rains that caused them. His retreating pride suffocated the tears. Three hundred people were left, penniless, homeless and unemployed. The Malaythongs were but one of them.
Khamtai had not eaten since the day the rains started, yet he was not hungry. He trotted slowly, head down, scraping his bare soles against the cold, muddy ground. The Malaythong children screamed wildly as they raced from shattered bamboo plank to plank. He soon reached the river that had swallowed what little he had.
Its funny, wondered Khamtai. Water allows life to live, yet it was water that took his life away. So many thoughts swirled in his head. What will his family eat, drink? Where will they live, how will his brother get married now?
When darkness settled, the Malaythongs bunked in the open, with neither blanket nor roof. The grumble of his family's stomachs stabbed Khamtai with pangs of guilt. He knew something had to be done.
In the morning, Khamtai walked his family to their aunt's hut; it was one of the few still intact. He knew they would be supported. Goodbyes were said, hugs were had. Stone-faced, Khamtai promised his family he would earn them a new home. A bigger hut, bigger cattle. They would never have to fear hunger so long as he supported them.
Mother Malaythong held her chest as her son walked off. He was a man now, no longer bound by childish ideologies. As stern as she seemed, she longed for the care-free boy she once had.
Khamtai's bus arrived after mid-noon. It was a bright, clear day, hot as ever. He boarded the bus to the capital, Vientiane, to a new life; a better life.
Half finished cigarettes fell to the ground, followed by silent stomps.
Khamtai and three others crept quietly in the eerie alleys, stalking their foreign prey. There was only one of them - easy target.
It's his fault for carrying so much opium on himself, thought Khamtai.
The stalkers gripped their knives until their knuckles turned white. They stood still, waiting for their signal. As if after an eternity, Khamtai charged stealthily, blade back and ready to lunge. He tackled the stranger from the side. Sensing remote victory, he pounced on his victim, slashing wildly. Blood, black as night, spilled to the ground.
Life left Khamtai's lungs. He fell to his knees, trying to suck in more air, any air. A thin dagger stuck out of his belly. He twisted back looking for his friends, trying to call for help. Corpses stared back.
What went wrong? When Khamtai came to the city, he intended to work in a factory and send the money back to his family. He worked odd jobs for a few months, until he reached the age of eighteen. Trying his best to avoid compulsory military service, he went into hiding. Pick pocketing and theft helped sustain his income.
Months wore on until Khamtai's break came; he was recruited into the Phanya Khut gang as a common street thug. They dealt in theft, assault and illegal drug trade. It was a good life, yet, what went wrong?
What went wrong. Was it the flood? Or the decision to move here? Was it karma; repercussions for a past life?
Khamtai sighed heavily. No use contemplating what happened. Hey, at least it's almost time for my brother to get married, he thought. I'll return to the village. Pick him the most beautiful bride I can find. The thought of his younger brother with his arms around a woman made Khamtai chuckle, followed by a blood filled cough.
Perhaps things will be better in the next life. Perhaps we will no longer have to struggle in the next life. The next life.