The morning sun was only an orange lump on the horizon when the monks caught a glimpse of the white man. He was pink and pale like the meat of a guava. He stood on the edge of the road with a large plate full of something brown.
They plodded along in a line down the path like a train of marigolds floating down a dusty river. They were collecting food for breakfast in small wooden bowls. It was the same thing they had been doing for years.
The people at the market stalls knotted plastic bags filled with rice, vegetables and fish. As the monks passed by, the donators would approach respectfully and place the bags into the monk’s bowls. None of the monks were paying much attention, though, because of the spectacle the white man was making up ahead.
There was a smile stretched across his gleaming teeth. Every jerky movement he made emanated exuberance.
“What is he doing?” said Sah as they approached him slowly.
“He looks like a monkey with that big grin on his face,” said Dek.
The man was taking the brown things and placing them in the monks’ tin bowls enthusiastically. Some of them nodded, pretending to be appreciative.
“What’s he got? What is he putting in the bowls?” Sah said as they moved closer. No one seemed to know.
Sah and Dek were younger than the others. They were in the back of the line. They grew impatient as they waited for the older monks to continue on slowly. They were eager to talk to the white man and find out what he was going to give them.
Finally their turn came. Up close, they could see that he was wearing plaid shorts and rubber flip-flops. A muscle shirt was pulled taut across his thick hairy chest. Dek covered his mouth with his bowl. He couldn’t help but laugh.
The man stabbed his fork into a big flat brown circle and flopped it in to Sah’s bowl. Then he looked up and widened his smile. Sah stopped and examined the thing that was lying in his bowl. He picked it up timidly with his thumb and forefinger and let it wobble in front of his face. The white man only nodded excitedly.
Curiosity overcame Sah and he took a tiny bite of the thing. He chewed it for a minute and then swallowed. He furrowed his brow as he tried to interpret the taste.
“Well,” said Dek, “what is it?”
“Just a big piece of bread. Circle bread.” The floppy brown pancake hung in his hand limply.
“Namaste,” said the white man.
“What are we supposed to do with the circle bread?” Sah asked. He said the words slow and loud as if to force their meaning into the white man’s brain.
“I don’t think he understands,” commented Dek.
“I think he’s crazy,” said Sah.
The white man dropped a pancake into Dek’s bowl. “Tank ee-oo” said Dek, trying his best to speak English. The other monks around him snickered. They all continued plodding along, letting the pancakes flop into their bowls like dead fish.
When they got back to the temple, they sat down to their meals quietly. Dek watched a few of the others take timid bites of the pieces of white man’s bread. Eventually, though, most of the bread ended up in the garbage. If the silly white man had been trying to make merit, he would be making it with the rats living in the dumpster.
Dek was young enough to feel sorry for the man, so he ate his pancake. It actually tasted pretty good. He found a few others who weren’t eating theirs and he ate them as well. If no one else would appreciate what the foreigner was doing, he would. Sah laughed at him and told him he was being a kwai. A buffalo. Dek endured the ridicule, thinking it would surely benefit him in his next life.
The ridicule proved light, however, compared to the diarrhea he had for the rest of the week.
About the Author
Benjamin Winship graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in English. His work has appeared in several places including Underground Voices, The Absent Willow Review, and Lowestoft Chronicle. You can read more of his work at benjaminwinship.weebly.com. Benjamin currently teaches English in Thailand with his wife.