Wednesday, 24 September 2008 15:08

Six years old, calls himself Ohh. Says his momma gave him that name: her only legacy to her only son.He tells how his mom woke him up late that final morning - kissed him, maybe ten-hundred times, crying, hugging him so tight he couldn't breathe, promising she'd come back someday, but now she had to run for her life.

Ohh's father, her husband, didn't have the machete handy, the one he kept in his pickup truck, so he had used his fists that previous night. Bruised, one eye-swollen shut, Ohh's momma was absolutely certain that in his next booze/drug rant, he would kill her.

The reason? She was Burmese without documents and couldn't get a minimum-wage job. She was fired from her last job a few days before, and they wouldn't pay her any back-wages. Her job? Cleaning toilets and garbage cans.

It happens all the time in Bangkok town: hire illegals to work clandestinely for a while; then don't pay them. Just throw them out and tell them if they squeal you'll call the cops.
All of that meant no money to buy her husband booze. So he beat her up. Alone, there was no one to help her. Her neighbours were afraid they would be blamed too, you know, for helping an illegal. Any help she might have found was back home on the banks of the Salween River separating Thailand and Burma.

Her husband slept late in the mornings, a combo of nightly drinking and his supposedly staying awake all night as a watchman.

Mom tip-toed to where her son was sleeping, woke him, made him promise not to forget her. Then she was gone. Master Ohh thought it was a dream. That is, till his Dad woke up.
Seeing her clothing was gone, he blamed his son, cuffing him alongside the head. Dad did that a lot.

To jump ahead in our story

Full plaster-of-Paris casts, keeping both legs immovable, were set as high up as they could go to the top of Master Ohh's legs. The leg casts were yellowed, smelly and poop-soiled at the top because little boys have to go rather often and busy nurses in hospital charity wards sometimes can't keep up. Plus there were only two nice nurses. The others he thought stern. He was too ashamed and embarrassed to call for them to stick a bedpan under his bottom. The old lady in the bed next to him complained all the time about the urine-poop smell. Told him he was an orphan brat. He didn't know what it meant, but figured it wasn't nice. Not something his momma would call him. All he could do was to cry, but that didn't help either; no one noticed. So he learned not to cry.

Spent over a week in the hospital, as the doctors were cautious and afraid of infections from machete wounds - especially afraid of bone infections where his booze/drug-crazed father had hacked at his five year old son's legs, just above his feet, cutting through bones on the right leg and nearly severing tendons on his left leg.

Here's how he ended up in the casts, according to police reports and social workers:

It was early evening. Master Ohh's night-watchman father had parked his pick-up at the condo where he drank whiskey through his shift till morning. Ever since his common law wife had bolted, he always took his son with him to work. If left alone, Dad was afraid the boy would run away, or worse, play with matches, and burn their slum shack down. So now, he took his son with him to his night watchman job.

Would leave him in the pickup, hot and stuffy with doors locked and windows closed. Made him pee in a plastic bag. Dad would threaten his son with the machete, said if he made a mess he would chop his legs off.

After work, most days, Dad wouldn't let the boy go to kindergarten and wouldn't even let him out of their shack, where he'd lock the door and sleep off the previous night's booze.

It had been two years since his wife ran for her life, leaving her son with the vague hope that she could sneak back some late morning when his dad was dead to the world from his morning coming-home double shot of booze, grab her son and run. But she was probably too terrified.

She never did love Ohh's dad. No, he didnt really buy her, but almost. Still in her teens, he'd grabbed her, used her, embarrassed her, then gave her a hundred baht as dowry. Any complaints, he'd report her to the authorities. And worse, she was born on the Burmese side of the Salween River. But she had no Burmese papers either.

One night he drove the pickup to the condo and began his usual drinking. Counting his money, he was short ten baht for his cigarettes for the night: three smokes for ten baht. So he accused his son of stealing the ten baht to play an hour's worth of computer games.

Master Ohh bolted, but Dad caught him, held the boy down, sitting on him. Then using his machete, he began to chop his legs just above his feet.

The neighbours said it was horrible. Dad shouting, cursing, the boy screaming in fear and pain. Someone called the police, and for once, they answered immediately.

A Very Close Call

It looked like buckets of blood, but Master Ohh's guardian angels were working double/triple overtime. The hacking missed the big arteries; otherwise, Master Ohh would have bled to death on the spot.

I'll tell you part of the ending right now: Ohh laughs and smiles and is a happy kid. The other part of the ending is cool also. But later for that.

Trouble is, ten days in the hospital isn't exactly enough legal-wise: you need to put someone in a hospital for fifteen days, as stated by existing law, to be charged with a major felony. Or the wounds must be considered life threatening. That's what you need to sentence the bad guy for a long time for something like attempted murder. The courts were lenient to the father of the injured child. Perhaps they reasoned that it was only temporary insanity, and time would heal the natural bond. In any case, that didn't happen, there was no bond to heal.

But the judge had no way of knowing.

After ten days in the Hospital Charity Ward, Master Ohh was released and came to us, stiff legged in his casts, sprawled in the back seat of what may be the oldest surviving taxicab in Bangkok. The disgruntled driver charged an extra 30 baht because, even keeping the windows open, he was afraid the urine smell would linger in his cab and drive away customers.

Our best House mom, Auntie Whee, and Ms Dhao from our Legal Aid team, met Master Ohh at the taxi with a wheelchair and a bowl of ice cream. After Ohh gulped down the ice cream, they wheeled him up our ramp to the second floor, where Cookie Crumb James and Superman Awt, plus some other kids of his own age, were waiting to greet him. They presented Ohh with his new school uniform, gave him some books, and told him that he was a schoolboy now.

Later, they put Master Ohh - now in uniform with schoolbooks in hand - in a red toy wagon and pulled him around the playroom. Master Ohh had come home!

Ice cream, school uniforms, and a ride in a red toy wagon made all the difference. Plus, he'd already met and trusted Ms Dhao, who had been at the hospital dealing with another child abuse case when Master Ohh was carried into the emergency room. From her daily work in Child and Family Court and police stations, she is a familiar face among the police. She said we could look after the boy if the courts allowed it. He had nowhere else to go.

Auntie Whee, helped by the children, cleaned up Master Ohh real good, getting rid of most of the odor, cutting away the most soiled part of the cast where it came up to his hips. That took care of everything that day except the nightmares in the evening and his midnight screams for help, crying for his momma. Auntie Whee sat him up, held him, cradled him all night that first night, and when dawn came, it was better.

That was six months ago plus a few weeks. Until very recently, Master Ohh said he was a five-year-old, even though he was six, because he hadn't yet figured out that once you run out of fingers on one hand, it's totally proper that you can continue on the other hand. He's getting there, though. Wears his school uniform shirt everywhere. Tells everyone he can read and write his name - almost.

Last week, we went through a rough patch.

Saturday morning, and Master Ohh was eating second breakfast. Our guards phoned to the second floor. A man outside was demanding to see Master Ohh. A man with nasty manners and nasty language. Master Ohh ran to Auntie Whee, jumping into her arms. Shaking, heart beating, he started to cry softly like a whipped puppy or, in actual truth, like a very real boy who has been terribly wounded and damaged. Holding him worked; he focused. But then he looked at his legs, said they hurt again, where the machete had chopped him.

His buddies gathered round to defend him: Cookie Crumb James found a vehicle, a fast get-away car, like in the movies. In truth it was a broom handle he could ride Ohh away on. Another buddy, Master Awt, ran and put on his superman cape. One of the girls, Miss Aht, took off the religious medal given to her by her granny and put it around Master Ohh's neck to protect him. He sobbed and gulped and said he wanted to eat ice cream; and with the mention of ice cream, we knew the bad patch would pass.

The nasty man downstairs was the machete-hacker. He'd done his six months in prison. He wanted to see Master Ohh. Said he wanted ah-kaht (revenge).He blamed his own son, his own flesh and blood, for sending him to prison. We don't believe in revenge. However, we did flag down a child-friendly policeman who happened to be here in Klong Toey. He whispered something to Master Ohh's father.

They had a conversation. No one actually heard what was said, but the child-friendly policeman was frowning as only a long-time slum-experienced policeman can frown. Also he kept patting his police pistol and rattling his handcuffs. The nasty machete man walked away quickly.

Master Ohh is safe. He's jumped from first to third kindergarten. He can count on both hands now. He's growing like a weed so we had to get him a bigger school uniform. Three months now out of his leg casts, he walks better, almost perfect.

He does his homework together with his buddies, Cookie Crumb James with his magic broom, Master Awt with his superman cape and Miss Aht, who gave him her sacred medal. Their whole gang will begin first grade together next school year. Every morning, he looks out to the street, seeing if his mom is there, waiting for him as she promised.

She hasn't come yet, but we're all sure she will.