Nik’s brown eyes sparkled with excitement as he thought about the trip that he and his father would take to Chiang Mai that evening.
There were many parasol makers in Thailand, and Nik’s father was the best in his village. Someday Nik would be a parasol maker too. He was already helping his father make parasols, and he’d practiced painting on some. And just last week his father had promised that one day soon Nik could paint some parasols to sell in the market.
“Tonight we will see loy krathong (a festival) in Chiang Mai,” Nik said, as he carefully opened an unpainted parasol for his father.
“That’s right. Tonight in the city you will see thousands of decorations with small candles on them floating down the river. It is a sight you will never forget.”
“I can hardly wait!” Nik said.
“You catch some fish for our lunch while I paint these parasols,” Nik’s father said. “A buyer is coming to see them late this afternoon. Then we will leave for the festival. Maybe we will see someone there making merit.”
“What does it mean to make merit?” Nik asked.
“To make merit is to do something good for the right reason,” Nik’s father explained.
“Do you think I will make merit?”
“You do already, Nik, and when you are a man, I am sure you will make much merit.”
“I saw a woman who bought a cage of birds and then let them fly free. She said she was making merit.”
“Each one must make merit in his own way.”
“I want to make much merit,” Nik said.
Nik’s father smiled. “You run along now and fish, or I will not get these parasols painted.”
Nik picked up his fishing net and headed toward the river. He splashed his way through the edge of the rice field, dipped his net, and gazed into the yellow green waters. He tried to imagine the festival he would see that night.
Before long the sun was overhead. Nik checked his net. He could tell by his growling stomach that it was time to kin kow (eat). He gathered in five fish. They would be tasty as the gup kow (any dish served with rice) for lunch.
As Nik neared his home, he was surprised. He had expected to see a great number of freshly painted parasols drying outside. Instead, there were only three or four.
Nik broke into a run. As he burst into the house, he saw his father with his arm in a makeshift sling.
“I was reaching for a bundle of bamboo and fell off a ladder,” Nik’s father explained. “I think it’s only a sprained wrist, but I’m so slow and awkward with only one good hand that I’ll never finish the parasols before the buyer comes.”
“Don’t worry about that now, Father. I can help you.” Nik stirred the paints until they were smooth, then, with his father helping him hold some of the pieces, Nik finished assembling and painting the parasols. Some were a soft yellow. Some were as pink as a cloud at sunset. A few were blue and red. By midafternoon, a rainbow of parasols stood drying in the sun.
Luckily the buyer was a little late when he came, so all the parasols were dry. “These are fine, indeed,” he said. “I will take them all.”
Nik’s father smiled. “I will have more for you next time. I now have an assistant.”
“Excellent!” the buyer said, and he went his way.
“I’m sorry it’s too late for us to get into the city to see the festival tonight,” Nik’s father said apologetically.
Nik saw the sorrow and disappointment in his father’s face. Nik was disappointed, too, but he was glad that he had been able to help his father and that the buyer had liked the parasols. “We can have our own festival by the river,” Nik said.
Nik and his father each put a small, flat candle onto a strip of bamboo. Then they knelt on the riverbank and sent the candle-lit floats downriver.
Nik watched the candles bob and blink. How could the Chiang Mai festival be more wonderful than this? he thought.
“Today you have made much merit,” Nik’s father said.
Nik and his father smiled at each other. Under the full moon they sat watching until the flickering lights disappeared into the night.