From Starry Heavens

            Immediately on arrival at LekNaruk Inc, she summoned Nok.
            “Come here, Nok,” she said in English. “You will become me.”
            “What?” said Nok in Thai.
            “From now on you speak only English,” said Suk. “Or you don’t eat.”
            “What?” said Nok still in Thai.
            “Come with me to the forest tomorrow,” said Suk, speaking in Thai.
            “Yes, elder sister,” said Nok with enthusiasm. She was bored with her role as general functionary at LekNaruk Inc which was not so dissimilar from being back with her family in the village, except that there were more men with whom she could flirt.
            So Nok underwent the same course in forest instruction, much of it to do with birds, that Tank had inflicted on Suk years before. She took Nok on the standard soft forest walk that she had been conducting for years. Nok followed her around much as Suk had done Tank but whereas Suk had been full of impatience and sometimes sarcasm, a potentially explosive mix, Nok was calmer, if still ironic and mischievous. Physically, Nok was quite like Suk, relatively dark-skinned and not much taller but better built than Suk had been at her age. Her hair was flatter and less wavy than Suk’s because she did not have Suk’s sprinkling of exotic genes.
            Suk started instructing Nok in English.
            “This is a pig-tailed macaque,” she said.
            “Piteylmak-ka,” said Nok dutifully.
            “You must be able to distinguish it from the stump-tailed macaque,” said Suk and then recited the differences between the two species.
            “Stumteylmak-ka,” said Nok, catching the key phrase but nothing else.
            “Which is this species?” said Suk.
            “Speesh?” said Nok. Suk gave up English and instructed her in Thai, retaining only the names of animals in English.
            “What is the English name of this animal?” said Suk, pointing at the pig-tailed macaques feeding in the trees.
            “It’s a just a monkey,” said Nok, “but you called it a piteylmak-ka.”
            Suk realized that Nok did not understand the individual words, macaque, tail or pig.
            “A macaque is a monkey,” she said.
            “Why call it a mak-ka then?” said her student.
            “There are different types of monkey,” said Suk. “You must learn them all.” She explained what pig and tail meant.
            “If it’s a monkey, why call it a pig?” said Nok.
            “It’s the shape of the tail,” said Suk.
            “Are there monkey-tailed pigs?” asked Nok. Suk seized her ear and twisted it. “Concentrate, younger sister, or I’ll smack your own tail.”
            Nonetheless, macaques were registered more or less successfully and also hornbills. Suk told Nok that there were at least four types in the park, all of which she must know along with hundreds of other species of birds. Nok’s name itself approximated to the word for bird in Thai so that was a good omen but Nok made faces. “It’s like being at school,” she said.
            Suk twisted her other ear.
            They continued on down through the forest, along the standard trail past the clouded leopard and sun bear claw-marks on their respective trees. Suk showed Nok their pictures in her guide, explaining why the clouded leopard was termed clouded.
            “The marks do not look like clouds,” complained Nok. “More like blotches. Why is the bear called a sun bear?”  Suk did not know.
            “It’s usually called a honey bear,” she said, “because it’s very fond of honey.”
            “Make up your mind, elder sister,” said Nok and had her ears twisted again.
            At the end of the tour trail, Suk rested Nok briefly and then took her back in reverse. They then repeated the whole process.
            “We’re not going back until you’re word perfect,” said Suk. “So concentrate.”
            Nok was independent-minded, intelligent and sharp. She could accompany Suk on her next standard tour and observe how Suk handled the tourists and very quickly be able to take out her own groups, providing they did not include specialized ornithologists. Nok’s lack of English was a problem but Suk thought that she could remedy that quite quickly.
            “If you don’t know something,” Suk told her, “don’t pretend. Just say your English isn’t very good or that you’re still learning birds yourself. Be honest. They’ll forgive you because you are a young girl.”
            “Yes,” said Nok. “They’ll be nicer than you.”
            On the way back in the evening they stopped at a roadside eating place and Suk treated Nok and Yorn. She brought them both beer.
            “You don’t drink when you’re out on a tour except in the evening,” she instructed Nok. “You can drink with your clients then. Many of them want you to drink with them but you mustn’t get drunk.” Yorn said that he had seen Suk drunk on occasion. “No more beer for you,” said Suk. “You have to learn how to drink without being drunk,” she said to Nok.
            Nok said that she did not mind that part of her training. Suk told Nok that when she took out her own group they would split the fee between them for the first year in recompense for her training. Suk also told her that she must speak English all the time to her employer and honorary elder sister and when speaking to Korn at LekNaruk Inc. Nok must also help Korn in his little tourist office to pick up more of the language.
            Nok would have preferred to have learnt her language skills from a heterosexual and said so. Suk told her she must always use condoms with men, especially foreigners who might be riddled with anything and everything, and launched into a detailed account of the folly of catching disease or becoming pregnant.
            “Yes, elder sister,” said Nok immediately. “I shall follow your example in everything.”

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