Read The Half-Child Online

Authors: Angela Savage

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The Half-Child

PRAISE FOR
ANGELA SAVAGE
AND
BEHIND THE NIGHT BAZAAR

‘Taut, edgy and vividly realised,
Night Bazaar
delivers the ironies and moral complexities
of the best crime thrillers.'

GARRY DISHER

‘Keeney emerges as an appealing character,
emotional and yet capable of cold-eyed action.
She smokes too much, speaks Thai fluently and
likes a drink and a shag…I'm looking forward
to the next instalment.'

Age

‘Coolly elegant with a lovely sense of place, Savage
directs her authorial tuk-tuk into the literary
precinct without sacrificing the requisite violence,
corrupt police, edgy social commentary and the
need for her heroine to become a lonely social
crusader in the best hard-boiled tradition.'

Weekend Australian

‘Like her heroine, Jayne Keeney, author
Angela Savage has made an impressive
debut in her first novel.'

Courier-Mail

‘Angela Savage's debut novel explores the seedy
underbelly of Thailand's northern city through the
eyes of a vibrant, appealing character.'

City Weekly

Also by the author
Behind the Night Bazaar

Angela Savage travelled to Laos on a six-month scholarship in 1992 and ended up staying in Asia for six years. She was based in Vientiane, then Hanoi and Bangkok where she set up and headed the Australian Red Cross HIV/AIDS subregional program. Her love affair with Asia continues and she has returned many times since, most recently spending 2008 in Cambodia with her partner and their young daughter. Her first book,
Behind the Night Bazaar
, published by Text in 2006, won the 2004 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for unpublished manuscript. Angela lives in Melbourne.

The Half-Child
ANGELA
SAVAGE

The paper used in this book is manufactured only from wood grown
in sustainable regrowth forests.

The Text Publishing Company
Swann House
22 William Street
Melbourne Victoria 3000
Australia
textpublishing.com.au

Copyright © Angela Savage 2010

“Can't Fight This Feeling”
(Kevin Cronin)
© 1984 Fate Music (ASCAP)
International Copyright Secured. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

Every effort has been made to trace copyright holders and obtain permission
for the use of copyright material. The publisher apologises for any errors or
omissions and would be grateful if notified of any corrections that should be
incorporated in future reprints or editions of this book.

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright above, no
part of this publication shall be reproduced, stored in or introduced into
a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior
permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.

First published in Australia by The Text Publishing Company, 2010

Design by Susan Miller
Typeset by J&M Typesetting
Printed and bound in Australia by Griffin Press

National Library of Australia
Cataloguing-in-Publication entry

Savage, Angela, 1966-
The half-child / Angela Savage.

ISBN 9781921656545 (pbk.)

A823.4

For Olgamary Savage, née Whelan
Much has she loved

Contents

Prologue

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

32

33

34

35

36

37

38

39

40

41

42

43

Acknowledgments

PROLOGUE

P
ornthip heaved herself up on her elbows to look at the baby.

‘
Look ying
,' the nurse said.

She held the squirming newborn aloft, tilting her so Pornthip could see. A bloodied cord dangled like rope from the baby's belly, sticky white cream smeared on her skin.

The nurse dabbed at the mess with a cloth.

Pornthip had wanted a son, someone to grow up and look after her, but it was not her fate. She'd given birth to a baby girl, another body to protect. She forced herself to sit up.

‘Please give her to me.'

The nurse hesitated, looked to the other woman in the room.
Asian but not Thai
, Pornthip realised. The woman also wore a nurse's uniform, but the medical equipment around her neck and her manner denoted seniority. She mouthed something to the Thai nurse and shook her head.

Pornthip lunged towards the baby. ‘Give her to me!'

Shocked, the Thai nurse handed over the baby. Pornthip eased herself back down on to the pillow and laid her daughter on the papery gown covering her chest. The baby, eyes squeezed shut, opened and closed her mouth like a little bird.

‘
Nok noi
,' Pornthip whispered, adding in a louder voice, ‘She looks like a baby bird.'

Nok—that would be her
cheu len
, her nickname.

‘Would you like to try and feed her?' the nurse asked.

The foreigner protested, using words Pornthip didn't understand, and moved to pick up the baby.

‘Let her be,' Pornthip said. She tried to tighten her hold on her daughter, but the outburst had drained her last reserves of strength. ‘Why is she here?' she asked the nurse, nodding at the
farang
. ‘I don't understand.'

The nurse said something in a low voice. The foreigner turned on her heel and left the room.

Nok snuffled like a piglet. The nurse gestured for Pornthip to raise her head, untied the strings of the hospital gown and tugged at the neckline to uncover Pornthip's breasts. Nok latched on to Pornthip's nipple and began sucking noisily.

Mae Yai's voice came back from across the years, warning Pornthip's mother not to put the baby on the breast before the milk came in. Pornthip couldn't remember which of her eight siblings, all born at home, her grandmother had been referring to, or why the first milk wasn't good for the baby.

‘Don't worry,' the Thai nurse reassured her. ‘It's good for the baby.'

Pornthip felt a stab of pain followed by a wave of pleasure, and sank back against the bed. If her mother was still alive, she'd have taken charge. Pornthip would be confined to the house to lie with the baby in a heated room for thirty days while her relatives tended to them. Her body would have had time to recover from the birth.

Instead, she was alone with her daughter in a strange place. She had no money, no job, no idea who the baby's father was—not that it would make any difference. In the months leading up to the birth, she'd slept rough on the beach or streets. Eventually a security guard took pity and let her doze in his sentry box for a few hours in exchange for a nightly blow-job. No place for a baby girl.

When she'd gone into labour at twilight on the beach, she'd panicked. She'd only ended up at the hospital because a farang woman found her, bundled her into a
songthaew
, and paid to have her admitted. But the foreigner had gone away, and Pornthip had no idea what to do next.

Her mouth was dry and her body ached with exhaustion and hunger. After months on the street, she was nothing but skin, bones and distended belly. What Nok found to suck from her underfed body Pornthip did not know, though the baby seemed content shuffling from one nipple to the other.

When at last she broke away, Nok lay on Pornthip's chest, opened her eyes and met her mother's gaze with a look that might have been wonder.

‘
Sawadee Nok
,' Pornthip said.

The baby frowned and opened her mouth.

‘Don't ask me,' Pornthip whispered. ‘I don't know what we're going to do.'

At that moment the door to the delivery room opened and the boss-nurse reappeared with a white man in tow.

Pornthip blanched, hastened to cover her exposed breasts. The abrupt movement upset Nok, who started to cry. To her surprise, the farang man took a white towel and draped it over mother and baby like a blanket.

‘She'll be feeling cold,' he said in Thai, rubbing the baby's back through the cotton.

Nok stopped crying and fell asleep.

Pornthip stared at him. He had blotchy skin and a huge nose. Wiry grey-brown hair sprouted from inside his nostrils and ears, like tufts of grass from rock. He looked like the buffoon in a village
talok
troupe.

‘Hello little sister, I'm
Khun
Frank,' the man said.

‘Connie here—' he tilted his head at the boss nurse ‘—tells me your name's Pornthip.'

She nodded, kept one hand on the small of Nok's back, raised the other in a half-
wai
.

‘And you've just had a beautiful baby girl,' Frank continued. ‘Congratulations.'

Pornthip tried to speak but her mouth was too dry.

‘You need a drink?'

The Thai nurse approached but Frank dismissed her with a wave. Pornthip thought she choked back a cry as she scuttled out of the room.

Frank gestured at Connie, who came forward with water. He held the glass so Pornthip could drink through the straw.

‘
Khop khun na ka
,' she said, lying back down again.

‘So tell me, Pornthip, how do you plan to care for the baby?'

Pornthip's eyes filled with hot tears. Could he read her mind? Was another farang about to come to her rescue?

‘
Mai roo
! I don't know.'

Connie handed Frank a clipboard.

‘That's okay,' he said. ‘You've been through so much.

And it says here—' he leafed through some papers ‘—that you're only sixteen. Is that right?'

Pornthip nodded.

‘You're exhausted. You should rest. Connie here will give you something to take away the pain and help you sleep.'

He might look like a clown but his voice was calm and serious. Pornthip watched the farang nurse prepare a needle.

‘Just relax,' Khun Frank said. ‘We'll take care of everything. We know you want what's best for the baby and so do we.'

Pornthip nodded.

‘Family?' he asked.

‘Brothers and sisters in Kalasin,' she said. ‘Mother and father dead.'

‘Would you like us to help you go home to Kalasin?'

The prospect brought on a fresh wave of tears.

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