Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad

Pitchaya Sudbanthad (c) Christine Suewon Lee.jpg
Bangkok Wakes to Rain.jpg

From BANGKOK WAKES TO RAIN by Pitchaya Sudbanthad. Published by arrangement with Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2019 by Pitchaya Sudbanthad.

It was morning, and the breeze blowing from the direction of Osanbashi Pier smelled faintly of the bay. Nok and her husband were clearing airborne sting of chopped chilies through the restaurant’s front door when a familiar white van pulled up at the curb— the ingredients supplier, but two days earlier than scheduled. Instead of the usual Japanese man who sweated like he’d stepped out of a hot spring, Khun Ubol walked in with the pushcart. He’d come himself, he explained, because he had decided to pack it up and return to Krungthep. 

“Don’t worry, Khun Nok, Khun Maru,” he said. “You’ll soon see this cart, as full as it is today.”

Nok knew too well the easy assurances of her countrymen. Maru, born here in Yokohama and accustomed to fulfilled obligations, didn’t understand her doubts, not until he talked to Khun Ubol’s successors. From them they learned that their deliveries would cease while very specific import licenses were being transferred. This meant the licenses would enter the backlog at the customs office, a month could pass before shipments resumed, and none of the other importers in Chinatown would deal with orders as small as their restaurant’s.

This was 1983. Thai food wasn’t very well known then. They’d be lucky if the Chinese grocers stocked enough Thai fish to last a week. Khun Ubol was the supplier for those places, too.

“First, we’ll run out of galangal,” Nok said to after Khun Ubol left. “This is the end of tom kha gai.”

“This isn’t the end of anything. We’re find another supplier. Close your eyes for a minute and breathe.”

The door chime rang. Nok pushed Maru back into the dining area, so he could greet the arriving customer. It was Khun Chahtchai, one of the regulars. He was a Thai man his sixties who came to the restaurant every week for an lunch right when they opened and left well before other customers arrived. As usual, Khun Chahtchai seated himself at the next to the corner window. As usual, Maru greeted him in rudimentary Thai but with a customary Japanese half bow.

Before Chahtchai could get a good look at her, Nok went into the kitchen and brushed away tears. Unlike with Maru, she couldn’t make problems go away by closing her eyes and believing the best would happen. Instead, her worst fears tended to become more and more vivid. She saw their menu at Erawan— basically a photocopied page inside a plastic sleeve— with half the dishes crossed out, the remaining clinging on like animals on an endangered species list, begging for survival.

Pitchaya Sudbanthad grew up in Thailand, Saudi Arabia, and the American South. He's a contributing writer at The Morning News and has received fellowships in fiction writing from the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) and the MacDowell Colony. Bangkok Wakes to Rain is his first novel, and he currently splits his time between Bangkok and Brooklyn.