Kannika loved buffalos almost as much as she loved ice cream. Her father chastised her for this. “Buffalos are stupid and stubborn,” he said, “only good for hard work and keeping the grass down.” Kannika paid him no attention when he said things like that. She knew better, so she just smiled.
And more than once, he told her, “there’s no way I’m going to give away my hard-earned money to buy something as decadent as ice cream.” Once again, she smiled, paying him no attention.
“No good will ever come from buffalo’s and ice cream,” he scolded, but what did he know?
Her favourite Buffalo was a cow she named Lamai. Kannika loved spending time with Lamai, and Lamai loved spending time with Kannika, graciously allowing her to ride on her back for hours, transporting her on unlimited trips all over her father’s farm. Kannika spent so much time on Lamai’s back that the local storks became jealous and would flap about nervously whenever they saw her approach. They didn’t like being redundant; it was their job to ride the buffalos! Kannika just smiled at their arrogance and irritation.
It was Thursday afternoon. As usual for this time of year, the day was hot and sticky. Kannika and Lamai were resting under the shade of a Tualang tree. This was their favourite spot. Resting in the shade was a ritual enjoyed almost exclusively on Thursday afternoons. It’s where they waited for the highlight of the week – the arrival of Mr Pangthong and his Tuk Tuk, which he drove out from town every Thursday.
The Tualang tree stood the tallest amongst a thick glade of spindly grass, flowering shrubs and smaller fruit trees. Hundreds of geckos made this glade their home, and Kannika spent hours trying to befriend and play with these multicoloured and long-tailed good luck charms. She liked the Gecko’s because they were always smiling – just like her.
The glade sat alongside a beautiful cool stream, dancing seductively and meandering playfully Li-khe-like across the farm. The stream was the boundary between her father’s farm and their neighbour Mr Saetang. Mr Saetang was a short stocky man with a fiery temper. It was said that he could even frighten the snakes when he was angry. Kannika wasn’t sure about that – he never scared her. For as long as Kannika could remember, Mr Saetang and her father had been enemies. She didn’t know the whole story but knew Mr Saetang coveted her father’s farm and wife. He disgusted her. The thought of him anywhere near her, her mother, or her father’s farm made her feel sick.
So, Kannika was startled and alarmed when she looked up and saw Mr Saetang approaching the stream.
Why would he be coming to the stream?
She silently crept forward, ducking behind a clump of tall grass, She didn’t want to be seen. Then watched in worry as he waded across the ankle-deep stream, ruddy face, sweaty brow, intention unknown.
Why would he be coming onto our farm?
“How dare he,” she gasped almost silently, turning toward Lamai, who remained lazing and grazing under the tree. “He can’t do that!”
Mr Saetang was within ten metres of her when he stopped and started picking the fruit off the Mango and Banana trees.
“The thief,” Kannika exclaimed, “that fruit is ours, Lamai; we can’t let him steal our fruit!”
She pulled out the slingshot secreted in her sarong. She had deadly aim, as boys at school discovered if they ever crossed her. When she was younger, her brother Mee Noi had taught her how to make the best slingshots in the entire district. Which wood was the best, then how to get the best tension and lastly, which shaped stones made the best projectiles.
She searched the ground around her and quickly found what she was looking for, a pebble, not too heavy, not too light. Rounded, but with a flattened end so it would have maximum contact with the rubber pouch. She stretched the sling back carefully, gaining maximum resistance. She aimed, ready to release. She didn’t aim for his big, bald, sweaty head. That would have been too easy! Instead, she aimed for the back of his knee. She wanted to confuse him, make him fall over.
She released and scored a bullseye. Mr Saetang stiffened, screamed and fell over as Kannika hoped he would. As he fell, she saw him reach around to behind his knee, obviously confused with what had just happened.
Roosting birds instantly took flight. All laughing noisily, wings flapping, beaks chattering, flying high and away to tell the world of Mr Saetang’s misfortune.
Kannika laughed loudly as she watched him regain his feet. He had landed in a buffalo pat and was covered waist to head in buffalo dung.
“Oh Lamai, what have you done?” she giggled.
Lamai grunted her approval and delight.
Hearing her laugh, surprised, Mr Saetang turned, then raised and shook a clenched fist. “I will get you for this, you evil child. You will pay – just wait.”
“Get back to your land, Mr Saetang”, she responded, “or I will set Lamai onto you!”
He spun around and ran back to his side of the stream, then stopped to try to wash off Lamai’s lunch.
The nearby frogs suddenly went quiet, astounded that this man would be so reckless and uncaring to sully their homes with buffalo shit. What would the fish think? They sucked in air and puffed their cheeks out in defiance.
How dare he, they mouthed silently, eyes bulging angrily.
After Mr Saetang left, Kannika picked up the basket she always brought along on Thursdays.
“Come on, Lamai, let’s pick the fruit for Mr Pangthong.”
Smiling at nature’s bounty, Kannika wandered through the glade, collecting a handful of bananas, some Paw Paw, Mango and Papaya. She overlooked the Custard Apples, the last time she tried to collect these, she fell out of the tree.
“That will do, Lamai; let’s go to the road; it must nearly be time.”
Lamai didn’t hesitate; she loved Thursdays as much as Kannika did. Most buffalos nonchalantly stand by, aloof and unhelpful when humans try to mount their backs. Not Lamai; while she had never been trained, she had learnt to crouch so Kannika could easily climb on. With basket and girl safely on board, Lamai didn’t need any instruction; she knew exactly where to go. Off she trotted down the track beside the stream. The track connecting the farm with the road where they would meet Mr Pangthong.
Kannika sang as they waddled along.
ช้าง ช้าง ช้าง ช้าง ช้าง
น้อง เคย เห็น ช้าง หรือ เปล่า
ช้าง มัน ตัว โต ไม่ เบา
จ มูก ยาวๆ เรียก ว่า “งวง”
มี เขี้ยว ใต้ งวง เรียก ว่า “งา”
มี หู มี ตา หาง ยาว
Elephant elephant elephant elephant elephant
Have you ever seen an elephant?
The elephant’s body is very big.
With a long nose called a trunk.
It has fangs beneath the trunk called tusks.
It has ears, eyes and a long tail.
Kannika spied a wild bee’s nest hinged to a low-hanging branch. She instructed Lamai to stop while she looked up and studied it carefully. If she could somehow obtain a piece of honeycomb, it would be the sweetest prize of all. Mr Pangthong would be over the moon. Whacking the nest down with a stick or fallen branch would be easy enough. She was strong; years of ploughing fields had made her tough too. She was also brave; Mee Noi had told her she was braver than any boy he knew. She had been stung many times before, so it wasn’t the fear of being stung or lack of strength that stopped her.
No, as she watched the bees fly in and out, she felt an immediate affinity with them. They worked hard, just as she did. They never seemed to rest, flying in and out, tickling the flowers with their hairy legs, then depositing the sweetness collected from the land into their overflowing pannier bags. Kannika smiled as she imagined their frenetic wings flapping in time to a summer song, their little legs dancing vigorously in joy. No, they did not deserve to have their home destroyed just for a sweet tooth and an extravagant treat.
So rather than upset the bees, Kannika decided to pick some Mawatha hanging next to the bee’s nest.
While Kannika and Lamai topped up their basket, Mr Saetang skulked back to the stream. Then he turned right along the track, away from the road, toward the fields. He knew with Kannika resting by the stream; there would be no one to mind the rest of the buffalo herd. As he approached their enclosure, the lazy storks turned their heads, paying the intruder no interest or fear; sensing trouble, they didn’t want to know.
Mr Saetang laughed as he undid the wire holding the enclosure’s gate shut.
“This will teach the little brat! Go on – get out of here – go,” he yelled, chasing the buffalos out of their pen.
He smirked, knowing the trouble Kannika would get into with her father; allowing nineteen buffalos to wander freely on the farm, destroying crops and fields.
Feeling very pleased, he turned and walked back along the stream track.
Kannika and Lamai soon arrived where the stream and track intersected with the road into town. They just had to wait now. Girl, buffalo and basket sitting on the side of a pot-holed road waiting for Mr Pangthong. Five minutes later, they heard the unmistakable put-put of his tuk-tuk approaching the bend. Lamai stood, mumbled her approval and excitement.
Lamai loved Mr Pangthong, usually a night-time taxi driver in town; he moonlighted as an ice cream vendor during the day, converting his tuk-tuk into the best ice cream truck in the district. He would stop at the small bridge crossing the stream every Thursday, especially for Kannika and Lamai.
Kannika’s parents were poor, and her father was too stingy to give her any pocket money, so in exchange for fresh fruit, Mr Pangthong gladly gave the girl and buffalo a huge ice cream. Not a single, double or triple; no, they would each be given four scoops of their favourite flavour. Kannika loved banana, Lamai plain vanilla. Mr Pangthong’s ice creams were the creamiest and most popular in the entire province.
“Hey Kannika, nice to see you”, he called out, pulling up next to her. “How are you and Lamai today?”
Kannika replied, “Oh, Mr Pangthong, we are so bright we make the fireflies jealous!”
“Ha ha, well, you have certainly brightened my day! What’s in your basket of goodies today?”
“We have banana, mango, paw paw and papaya. Oh, and some Mawatha too. I thought of bringing you some honeycomb, but it would have meant destroying the bee’s home. I didn’t want to do that!”
“You were right, Kannika, Mr Pangthong replied; without the bees, we wouldn’t have all this luscious fruit.”
He took the fruit from the basket, placed it in a box at the back of his tuk-tuk.
“Right”– he slapped his hands, “ice cream time, my young friends! Same as usual?”
Lamai grunted; Kannika smiled.
Mr Panthong made two enormous ice creams, one in a double cone for Kannika, the other in a cardboard tub for Lamai. Handing the cone to Kannika, he walked toward Lamai with the tub, who started to drool and slurp greedily.
Mr Pangthong laughed, “I’ve never known a buffalo who likes ice cream as much as you do and makes such a mess!”
Five minutes later, Kannika started licking her ice cream-dripped fingers while watching Lamai try to lick her smeared milky face. Her tongue wasn’t long enough, and she had cream everywhere.
That’s when they heard the pounding of hoofs and felt the ground beneath them vibrate. They all looked up and were surprised to see nineteen buffalo running toward them along the stream track. Startled, Mr Pangthong ran to his tuk-tuk.
“It’s alright,” Kannika said, “they just want to see what’s going on? They get jealous of Lamai being able to wander around the farm with me. But goodness knows how they got out of the pen.”
Lamai coughed and snorted her greeting to her herd mates.
The herd immediately stopped before her.
Two Buffalo cautiously approached Lamai, barely recognising her under the foundation of vanilla ice cream. One of them sniffed, the other licked, then swished her tail and mumbled and grunted loudly to the others. In an instant, the entire herd tried to lick Lamai’s face.
“I think they like ice cream too,” Kannika laughed.
Mr Pangthong nodded in agreement, “how will you get them back into their pen,” he asked, worried the buffalo herd would charge his tuk-tuk seeking their own ice cream.
“Easy,” she answered, “I have a plan.”
A few minutes later, Kannika was back onboard Lamai, heading back down the stream track with an empty basket in one hand and another ice cream cone in the other. Trotting behind nineteen buffalo jostled and shimmied for position, trying to catch up and lick the ice cream held in Kannika’s outstretched hand.
As she approached the Mawatha Tree, she spied Mr Saetang stealing fruit again.
She dropped the basket, deftly pulled out the slingshot again. There was no time to search for a suitable pebble. Instead, she placed the ice cream cone in the rubber pouch. She aimed, this time aiming directly for his head.
“Hey, Mr Saetang,” she called before releasing, “you want an ice cream?”
He looked up, spying Kannika, Lamai and nineteen buffalo and then an ice cream hurtling toward his face!
It was a direct hit, right between the eyes! Then, to his horror, he heard the buffalos charge. He turned in fright but blinded by ice cream; he ran directly into the bee’s nest.
Infuriated by the intrusion, the bees flew out of the hive and then charged as well. Mr Saetang screamed and fled down the track as fast as possible, bees and buffalo in tow.
Kannika smiled and patted Lamai’s broad shoulders, “I guess father was wrong. There’s plenty of good to come from buffalo’s and ice cream!”