Sumalee rested her head against the boat and watched the swallows fly over the stilt houses in the klong (canal). The rainy season was over for a few months and it was a beautiful day. But even that did not make Sumalee happy.
“Why are you so sad?” her brother, Pote, asked as he paddled down the klong. “I was very excited the first day I took the vegetables to market,” he said.
Sumalee did not answer.
“Smile, little one,” Pote encouraged.
“I cannot,” Sumalee stammered. “I am afraid.”
“Afraid!” Pote laughed.
“Do not shame me,” Sumalee whispered.
“I am sorry, little one. I did you dishonor. But why should you be afraid?”
“I do not like to talk to strangers. I cannot sell vegetables.”
“Is that all?” Pote asked. “Well, then I will teach you.”
Pote told Sumalee everything she must know, but hearing it all only made her more frightened.
“Please, my brother,” Sumalee interrupted, “could you not sell the vegetables today?”
“You already know I cannot. I have business to be about.”
Sumalee knew it was useless. She had tried everything, but still she was on her way to the market.
“Here we are!” Pote handed Sumalee the paddle. “I must get out here. It is only for one day. Just do as I told you. And remember, your family depends upon you.”
“Please, my brother. …” But Pote jumped from the boat.
“You will do fine, my sister,” he shouted over his shoulder and then disappeared into the crowds of people.
Sumalee wanted to cry. She stared at all the people and then at the children swimming under the stilt houses. More than anything Sumalee loved to swim. Then suddenly she had an idea. I will take the boat to the other shore and swim with the children until Pote is finished, she decided. I can tell him no one would buy and I could even eat a piece of the sugarcane myself!
Then she remembered Pote’s words, “Your family depends upon you.”
Sumalee’s frown returned. She knew they depended upon her. The family’s only money came from selling their vegetables.
Slowly Sumalee took the paddle and started down the river. There is no other way, she thought, I must sell the vegetables. Her heart pounded violently inside her as she maneuvered the small vegetable boat into the klong bank.
“Corn … vegetables … sugarcane,” Sumalee whispered. But of course no one heard.
“Vegetables … sugarcane … corn …” she said a little louder.
Still no one stopped. No one even looked at her.
“Please buy!” Sumalee tried again. “Vegetables! Corn! Good fresh vegetables!”
Her face felt hot, her hands were sweaty, and her voice was shaky. “Please buy! Vegetables, fresh vegetables. Buy my vegetables.”
A lady peered cautiously into the boat. Sumalee’s words froze inside her mouth.
“Fresh? You are sure?” the lady asked.
Sumalee could not speak. She nodded.
“I’ll take these.” The woman gave Sumalee the money and went on.
Sumalee breathed deeply, but before she could think about how frightened she was three other customers crowded close, feeling and smelling the vegetables.
“You are sure they are good?” they asked.
“My father is a man of honor. He makes sure they are good,” Sumalee answered slowly and with a shaky voice.
Each woman loaded her shopping bag and went on, and other customers came.
Sumalee’s heart still pounded, but she was too busy to notice. She kept on selling vegetables until they were all gone. Then she paddled back down the klong to get Pote.
“Here, Sumalee, over here!” Pote waved his arms. Sumalee steered the boat toward him.
“There now,” he said as he climbed aboard, “we will sell the rest of the vegetables to the houses along the klong as we go home.”
“But there are no more vegetables, my brother.”
“No more?” Pote glanced quickly around the boat and then frowned. “Sumalee, you did not throw the vegetables into the water?”
Sumalee didn’t answer. She just held up the money pouch.
Pote laughed. “You must not have been as frightened as you believed, little one! Even I do not sell all the vegetables at the marketplace!”
“But I was afraid! The women at the market just seemed to like our vegetables better than those of the others.”
“I think maybe they trust a little one more!” Pote said.
“Whatever, my brother. But I was afraid and I’m very glad it is over.”
“You did fine, little one,” Pote complimented her. “Our parents will be proud.”
For the first time Sumalee thought about how nice it was to have helped her family. She felt good inside, even better than when she went swimming under the stilt house or when she had a piece of sugarcane to munch on. She gave a big sigh of relief.
“Next time it will be easier and you will not be so frightened,” Pote told her.
“Next time?” Sumalee straightened up and stared at her brother.
“Don’t worry,” Pote laughed. “It will be awhile before you must do this daily.”
Sumalee smiled. “After I have learned how not to be frightened?” she asked, a little relieved.
“Yes, after awhile you will only remember the good, helpful feeling. Then you will be ready.”
Sumalee leaned against the boat. “Yes, I will concentrate on the good feeling,” she said and smiled up at the swallows.