December 2005-Art Camp
The T-shirts we’ve all been given at the Art Camp I’ve helped to set up at a resort in Thailand for children with HIV and their caregivers are printed with the weekend’s battle cry: ‘rakai’, which is Thai for long live life.
Rakai is also printed on Siriporn’s cap. She’s turned up the brim at a coquettish angle. Around her wrist are three braided bracelets, exactly like those worn by many girls of her age in Amsterdam, London and Barcelona. Focusing all her attention, she applies coral blue and yellow paint to her piece of batik cloth: a slender mermaid washed up on the beach in Pattaya.
A doctor who has come here especially from Bangkok will tell her this evening that what she was admitted for in hospital a month ago was not an allergy as she was told but the same virus that her mother fought against in vain.
Her grandfather doesn’t let her out of his sight for a minute. He keeps his red jacket on all day, as if despite the tropical heat he’s cold. He briefly rests his hand on her shoulder. Is it to let her know he’s still there, or to convince himself that she hasn’t left yet?
We’ve got an assignment to paint a heart containing eight things that are important to us.
I have to think for a while, but the children go right away to work. They paint red, green, and bright orange hearts with laughing faces, a fish, a car, a house, a flower, a star, a doctor, a cat, and a palm tree.
A little boy paints a heart with yellow prison bars, then quickly throws a blob of paint over it so that only a dark spot remains.
A twelve-year-old boy called Jeeranak paints a big purple heart, inside it he paints his father, his mother, and his oldest brother. They’re all gone. A little while later he goes to sit beside a low wall with his back to the others, staring at the sea. I want to walk over and bump fists with him, as we did earlier today, but a certain reticence holds me back; he clearly wants to be left alone and I don’t know if I have the right to interrupt his privacy however much I want to put my arm around him.
There are certain decisions in my life I still regret, and this is one of them.