Young Dream once occupied a shared bedroom in his parents’ two-storey slum home, but no more.
When his elder cousin Dear took in a girlfriend, Dream, with whom he once shared the bedroom, found himself unceremoniously booted downstairs. He now sleeps on the floor.
‘’Dear is a mere guest in the home, but behaves as if he owns it,’’ Dream’s mum complained last night.
‘I stood up to him one night when he was complaining about something. His mother was present, and I told him in front of her that if he didn’t like it, he could leave.’
So far, so good. So why not boot him out of the upstairs bedroom, and force him to sleep downstairs instead?
Mum charges Dear 500 baht a month for his upkeep, which is hardly a princely sum.
The conversation deteriorated at this point into petty sniping about whether he buys his own washing powder. I suppose these things matter when money is short, but really, I think Dream’s mother just likes to complain.
So why not raise a few words of complaint on behalf of her son?
The men of the household last night retired to what I shall call the ‘sitting room’ – the spartan bottom-floor space of the house where Dream sleeps - to play cards.
It has a sofa, which I can see from the street when I walk past.
It’s also where the TV, fridge and toilet live, and a small cupboard for the cutlery and plates…the sort where Thais, oddly, also keep their opened food.
This home, being a slum home, has no table, and no chairs. Its occupants eat at a wooden table in front of their place.
This part of the slum alleyway is slightly wider than the rest, as they live at the head of it.
They keep a small coal fire out there, and wash their dishes outside too.
Inside, the men were smoking up large, oblivious to the fact that in a few hours, Dream would have to breathe their polluted air as he prepares to sleep.
When he closes the door to the world and douses the lights, does the place look any more comforting?
A thin duvet and pillow were folded up in one corner; these no doubt belong to Dream. If he wants to undress in privacy, he has to do it upstairs, and come down again.
I can barely fit in the toilet, which also doubles as a shower. Surely people can’t wash themselves in here?
A laundry basket containing the men’s underwear and a few other bits and pieces sits by the stairs. Wouldn’t you want that stuff kept in a private place?
I admire the ability of Thais to live in such appalling conditions and still carry on day by day.
But I can also understand why Dream – my new foster son, under arrangement with his family – is hardly ever at home.
I waited an hour for Dream to turn up. Aunty Lek and his mother were attentive hosts, as ever, though Lek argued with a woman friend at one point. I witnessed another argument at the table the night before, in which two men came to blows.
These rough scenes are not pleasant to witness, and make me doubt whether I really want to spend my time with these people.
Dream and his teen friends had gone out to play football.
Aunty Lek called their return on a noisy procession of at least half a dozen motorbikes.
The boys rode two to a bike. Everyone wore football gear, though none in the same colours.
‘Here they come!’ she said excitedly.
Dream jumped off the back of his bike athletically, and gave me a wai.
After a shower, he joined his father’s card game, as the women folk carried on gossiping outside.
Half an hour later, he had evidently tired of home life, and told us he was heading out to play computer games with a friend.
Dream, who had yet to eat, is fussy about his food.
‘He doesn’t eat vegetables, and rarely bothers with fruit,’ his mother said.
'The other night when you bought him khao pad krapao moo, he picked the peanuts out of it.'
As Dream prepared to take off with his friend, his mother announced: ‘You will have to find your own food tonight.’
Dream held my hand as he said goodbye, and said he’d be back in an hour or so. He looked worried, as if I wasn’t enjoying myself.
He’s right – I wasn’t. I don’t like the way his family has allowed him to be relegated to second-class status in his own home.
I don’t like the forlorn way he lives, sleeping on the dusty floor by the front door.
If I am to care for this young man, I reserve the right to ask for better.