We’re well into fire season in Northern Thailand. The smoke is thick, now, like a filter over the whole world. My throat hurts in the morning. Everything is muted into grays, browns, and washed out greens and yellows. I feel filtered too, missing my husband and waiting for someone to come and invite me into a world of plenty. But there are so many beautiful things, even in this smoky season. The doves in the mornings and all the birds that call while we meditate at the garden. My jasmine tree is blooming. When I sit on the stairs in the evening I can breathe jasmine, think jasmine. I go to bed dreaming of it. It makes me think of my friend Leaf, the way she bought us jasmine on our retreat. It reminds me of my first, difficult moments in Goa, when I was pregnant with Solo, the longing I had for home, and the jasmine my husband bought me, wrapped in a banana leaf. It made me feel like perhaps I could stay.
Yesterday I drove to the pool with the kids. We still fit in the chariot, but just barely, and sometimes I can’t believe we are still driving everywhere in it. We passed dried, burned forests, the earth black at the feet of teak trees that have lost all their leaves. The hills were hidden behind the smoke. Tiny lizards sat in the road with heads and tails up and I prayed they would scurry away every time. They did. Our little motorbike with its sidecar bravely navigated the hills in first gear, rattling all the way.
The morning had gone well, with school and books and tea all around. I have successfully stopped adding sugar to my coffee and I don’t know if you can ever know just how huge an accomplishment it is for me, but I feel amazing. The heat grew and grew until it was nearly 40 degrees and time to drive to the pool.
We met for homeschool co-op and talked about the eclipse, which we missed by seven minutes, because the moon was still hiding behind the hills. Isaac taught himself to swim, wriggling back and forth between Kenya and I. When he swims he holds his hands to his sides and bobs up and down like a dolphin. He is slippery and cool in the water, a delight on a hot day. In the hotspring pool, I talked with an older French woman. “Your husband?” she asked, after we talked about all my children. “He’s away right now, in Hungary?” Her face changed. “He’s hangry with you?” She asked, horrified. “No, no!” I said. “The opposite. He’s very, very pleased with us. He’s in Hun-gah-ry.”
Sometimes people here ask me if I’m not afraid to have my husband far from me, that he will have another girlfriend. (Yes, people ask this and yes people talk about absolutely everything in Thailand. No subject is too difficult, except, perhaps, the royals.) And then I think of our trust, and the fact that marriage and the promises we have made make us more free than anything could. We can fly around the world, apart for a short while, knowing that we will always come back together, a true home to one another. Trust is the water, the life, the clearing away of smoke until everything shines like diamonds; the love Chinua holds for me, no matter where he is, the truth of it, the stark, effervescent joy. He is not angry. He is very pleased to think of us, his wife and children. We are his home. He comes back to us singing.
We drove home in the dark, rattling along in the thick air. The full moon shone red through the smoke and everyone watched it except for me, because I was watching the road, slowing down for the broken places, making sure the lizards got out of the way, admiring the way that life conquers even the driest places.