Written by Mutita Ubekka
Translated by Sudarat Musikawong
Cover image credit: Todd Phillips/Instagram
The Sufferers Association of Thailand currently has 65 million members out of the country’s total population of 66 million.
This short story was prompted in 2020 by a national creative writing contest in support of mental health under the theme วันทุกข์ที่ผ่านพ้น (“Cry Day That Passed,” if you will, as the Thai plays on a homophone for “Friday”), as part of the project อ่านยาใจ (“Read to Heal the Heart”) co-organized by the Rajanukul Institute, Department of Mental Health. Taking a critical look at the positivity-focused theme, “the Sound of Laughter” puts a suicidal woman in a room with a well-meaning friend and a therapist. Laughter can mean many things, and in this story it encompasses relief and desperation, enlightenment and misunderstanding, awkwardness and mockery. The laughter of a madwoman versus the laughter of her friend versus the laughter of the therapist—are any of them the same laughter?
The Sound of Laughter
When I come to again, both of my feet are jutting precariously over the edge of the building. With just a slight miscalculation in the movement, my body will lose its balance and free-fall under gravity. There’s nothing to grab here. A strong gust of wind blows on this rooftop on the 14th floor, blows whoo whoo without stopping as if this was the beach. Why is it that when I was walking down there, I never felt the wind like this? All I’ve ever felt is the stuffy humidity that makes you sweat.
Looking down, there’s a small garden next to the building. No people. No cars. Only multicolor trash bins all filled with unsorted garbage. The distance from my eyes to the ground creates a strong queasy feeling in my stomach. My legs seem to tremble a little, even though I don’t feel scared. I see my red toenails claw into the cement edge. Why are they clenched so tight? So tense that the tendons are clearly visible even though I don’t feel stressed. Or is that someone else’s toes?
When I come to again, the sun has already shifted to the other side. The shadows have begun to change direction. The crowd on the sidewalk all the way over there on the left side has begun to thicken. Cars have begun to be stuck in long lines of traffic. The queasiness in the stomach is gone. Same as the tension in the toes.
An alarmingly high-pitched voice calls out. With difficulty, I slowly turn my torso to look at the source of the voice. If the feet move at the wrong angle, the body will immediately fall off.
It’s Lukkade. She is standing several meters away, too scared to come closer. Her face is ashen, tears running down her cheeks. Her words hardly comprehensible, apart from “I love you, ok?” I watch her a long while. Lukkade inches closer, little by little. She slowly reaches out a hand…
I decide at that moment to jump from the edge and land right next to Lukkade. She looks a little confused before throwing herself into my arms, bawling.
That night Lukkade won’t go home. She sleeps over with me at the condo.
The next day, Lukkade takes me to meet someone. A man with a thin mustache above his lips. Cleanly dressed, he smiles easily, looks friendly, and is in a good mood. We sit chatting on big white sofa chairs. They stand out because all the other chairs are brown and smaller-sized.
Lukkade tries to outline to him all the shit in life that the person she brought with her has gone through.
Her father has been imprisoned for many years in a case related to freedom of expression. Relatives have disowned them because they can’t accept the ideological differences. Neighbors shun her. Friends taunt her. Her mother, after years of taking care of the kids, finally remarried last year after the youngest graduated from university. Her best friend fled the country due to politics after the coup. Her brother’s family has just gone bankrupt because of the economic downturn. Her brother’s wife is clinically depressed and keeps trying to kill herself. As if that’s not enough, most recently her lover was disappeared because of politics. Mere months before that, an activist friend of her lover who was more radical was disappeared and later found to be brutally killed, etc. etc.
By her standards, Lukkade told the story quite succinctly. Although she may have made a few mistakes and missed some important details, it is incredible how much attention she has paid to the personal life of someone in her friend group.
Actually, given Lukkade’s background, she and Waew are unlikely friends. Lukkade is a sheltered child, born into a very wealthy family. Her father is a top-rank general rumored to be linked to the deaths of political fugitives. Her mother is an heiress to the country’s largest food business. Lukkade has always been an optimist. No matter who accuses her of being childish or fake, a rich girl like her still sympathizes with the poor although she doesn’t know poverty at all and hasn’t done anything more than offering her sympathy.
After everything that happened, my desire to talk to people continues to dwindle. Lukkade is always encouraging me to look for the beauty in life.
“At least we are still alive. We get to see the sun rise every day, Waew. Look, that light!”
I look at the sunrise as she suggested. The golden light for someone who has everything versus the golden light for someone who’s lost everything—is it the same golden light?
The young man sitting across from us inadvertently frowns from time and time as he listens to the story from Lukkade. He doesn’t seem to understand much but turns to smile at me and makes small talk to fish for an answer. But after a few failed attempts, it effectively becomes a dialogue between him and Lukkade. The listener is listening to the speaker speaking about the other person in the room. Even funnier is the fact that the speaker’s advice is being given to the listener on what that other person should do. What can be more confusing than this?
His advice goes something like, each person has value in themselves; we must start from loving ourselves; if we face troubles, we should talk to someone we’re comfortable with or come to talk to me here—and if he were to finish that sentence, he would have to say “…at 1,000 baht an hour.”
Lukkade listens to all that advice with a grateful expression. Just a bit more, and she’ll be bursting into tears.
Underneath all those beautiful, gentle, tender, long-winded words of encouragement, the core is much simpler: self-help.
“Everything depends on our mind.”
Is Father guilty? Who disappeared Lover? How was Lover’s Friend brutally murdered? Does Brother’s bankruptcy have something to do with the government’s economic mismanagement? And if Sister-in-law commits suicide one of these days overwhelmed by debts, does it just mean she’s too weak?
All these questions are not really real. The only real thing is me.
The more they comfort me, the more suggestions they give on how to relieve my suffering, the more weight they put on my shoulders. No one is guilty. Nothing has to be dealt with. There is nothing to fix, except me.
The Sufferers Association of Thailand currently has 65 million members out of the country’s total population of 66 million. They receive this kind of advice from many individuals and organizations. To them, it seems like the world is full of “Lukkades.”
In the middle of the ongoing back-and-forth of encouragement, I suddenly burst out in raucous laughter….
The conversation comes to a screeching stop. A moment of silence ensues. We look at each other. And then, without prompting, all of us laugh.
“I’m so happy you can laugh,” says Lukkade.
3 thoughts on “The Sound of Laughter”
Wow! This reminds me of an experience when I had just joined the Thai prodemocracy movement. All I was doing was editing English-language letters and statements into better English. A line in one letter set out the injustices and claimed many in Thailand had gone to jail, many were forced to flee the country, and many went crazy. That last complaint was a new one for me, so I asked the author, “Who went crazy?” They answered, “My mother waiting for my father to get out of jail.”
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