A Transaction MAG

By Sarah V., Cleburne, TX

     Pattaya, Thailand was like nothing I’d ever seen. Open storefronts crowded together with silk robes, fake Rolexes and Levis spilling out into the road. Gas wafted up from open sewers below the sidewalks. Old women roasted rat-sized creatures on dirty rotisseries. Tired-looking prostitutes called from the stoops and bars to every man who passed, and junkies stood crowded together in alleys. We stopped at Nancy Won’s fish grill, a circular sidewalk restaurant under a huge orange tarp. I ordered Sing Ha and was presented with a huge plate of raw squid. After looking at it for about five seconds I got up slowly, so as not to be disrespectful of the cook, and walked outside. For the next three hours I was so sick I wanted to die. As the day wore on, we wandered the street and stopped at dozens of markets to look at the thousands of trinkets. Every once in a while we haggled with street vendors over the prices of scarves, blankets and watches. From time to time we ran into other people from our church’s mission group and greeted them like friends we hadn’t seen in years.

A little before dark, Alice and I and a couple of guys from our trip were sitting around a large fountain talking about our day and drinking Evian water. It was time to call it a night but some were still shopping. In the corner of the market I spied a beautiful scarf that I fell in love with. I whispered to Alice that I would be right back and went to purchase it from a nice old woman. I was walking back to the group when I heard a commotion 50 yards down the alley. A man on a moped was arguing with a woman whose little girl, maybe three years old, was crying and clinging to her neck. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but the woman kept pointing at something the man held. Suddenly, the man reached out and grabbed the little girl’s elbow. Just as quickly, the mother pulled her away. The man said something and held his hand up to the woman’s face. Head down she reached out and took what he held - it was money.

I watched the man grab the little girl by the waist and pry her from her mother. The girl was hysterical. Making no move to stop him, the mother began to weep. The man plopped the girl into a basket attached to his handlebars and began to ride away. The little girl reached back toward her mother, grabbing handfuls of air and screaming. She began to shrink as the moped picked up speed.

Then I dropped my water bottle in shock - the little girl had thrown herself out of the basket, hitting the ground hard and rolling across the street. She got up and ran toward her mother on wobbly legs. The mother began to run too, waving the money in the air and shaking her head.

Wheeling his moped around, the man raced back toward them. The girl and her mother were feet apart. Stumbling, the mother was trying to make her arms and fingers somehow longer to reach the child and save her, to undo what she had done. The man on the moped was gaining. With tears in her eyes, the mother bent to scoop the girl up, but the man got there first. Zooming up from behind, he grabbed the girl and yanked her like a doll onto his lap. He wheeled the moped around, gunned the engine and roared off, disappearing in a cloud of dust and blue smoke. The mother collapsed, the money that had been so dear a moment before floating all around her.

I stood there blinking. My entire outlook on life changed, all in that moment.

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