(Note: Below is another Burmese story by U Poe Kya that I translated into English. Enjoy!)
I used to take early morning walks and one morning, I headed towards Kyauk Myaung neighborhood in Rangoon. Suddenly,it started raining and I took shelter at a nearby store.
The store was small and narrow and on an old platform were laid cigars, cheroots, and some snacks. The store owner was only about fifteen or sixteen year old average looking girl. From her clothing and appearance, I could tell that she was hard up. However, I noticed that she had displayed her goods in an orderly manner.
When I entered the store, she greeted me with a smile and said, “Uncle, Are you taking shelter from the rain? Please have a seat. you may stay here and look around until the rain stopped.”
“Thank you. It was sunny earlier this morning and I didn’t even bring an umbrella with me.”
“Yes, though it was sunny, the sky wasn’t clear. Of course, it would rain, Uncle”, said the girl.
“Well, you are very observant”, said I, thinking she was quite smart. I noticed several old newspaper and four or five journals lying around. “Do you usually read newspaper?”
“Yes, I would say so. I didn’t buy them. I borrowed these from other people and I also didn’t get them regularly.”
“Well, reading is good. Do you read a lot?”
“When I was young, my father taught me how to read. We were poor and couldn’t afford school. My parents passed away four or five years ago I have two younger brothers. I kept on reading books whenever I can get my hands on them. I can read a lot better now.”
“Do you read newspaper because you are interested in politics?”
“Not necessarily. I love reading and I also gain knowledge from reading all kinds of articles.”
I further wanted to investigate and said, “Well, is there a direct correlation between reading these newspaper, or magazines and your ability in selling goods?”
“Not directly, uncle. But, just like the saying, ‘there’s not enough salt to eat because it mostly went into cooking’, reading increases my knowledge and my ability in tending the store and everything else.”
“Yes, it probably does. By the way, should women read newspapers and journals?”
“Definitely! We do, uncle. Haven’t you heard lately about women’s club? There are even women judges now. It’s better that both men and women become educated.”
“How do you and your brothers get by?”
“My younger brother goes to U Mya Bu school. He’s in third grade and he always passes his exams. I net about 25 pyas daily and that covers his schooling, food, clothing and everything else. Sometimes, I would like to buy new clothes or go to the cinema but I can’t afford them. I need to live frugally.”
“Sahdu! Sahdu! (Well done, well done). Well, the rain has stopped, and I must go now”, I said and left.
The next morning, I headed again to the same store and I brought with me five books that I’ve authored and believed to be suitable for the young girl to read; newspaper, ten old journals and a dozen notebooks.
It was about seven in the morning and the industrious girl had already opened her store. When I saw her, I greeted her and handed the bundle of books saying, “I brought you some books, journals and notebooks for your brothers. Here, enjoy!”. The girl was overjoyed and before she could say anything, I left hurriedly. That must be about four or five years ago.
Last month, I received a letter. The letter said, “Uncle, You left so quickly after you gave me the books and I couldn’t even thank you. I had read all your five books and I could even quote them by heart now. Thank you so very much. I even wrote in my diary the day I received the books from you. I was thinking of how to thank you and just recently, I realized that I could write to you through your publisher. Please come by my store sometime. Mae Myin.”
I suddenly remembered the young girl and without umbrella and shoes, and wearing short sleeved cotton shirt, I walked towards her store. The first thing I noticed was that in the place where her store once stood was a two storied house. On the first floor, there was a tobacco shop on one side, and the other side was a cafe with young waiters busily working. I was a bit confused, then I approached one waiter and asked for Mae Myin.
“You mean, Ma Ma Myin? Yes, she’s upstairs. I’ll let her know you are here.”
Almost immediately, I was served with tea and a variety of snacks and Mae Myin was saying how grateful she was for the books and that she had bound the five books that I had given her and brought it out from a cabinet. She also showed me a listing of the books and journals that she had received from me.
She continued and told me that how after reading my books, she gained not only knowledge but new ideas and that slowly, she was able to build a bigger store and a house. For about half an hour, she was lecturing me on why women should read, and live frugally and so on so forth.
Then her focus changed as she gazed at my attire and said, “Uncle, I really want to repay you for your kindness. The books and journals you gave me must cost 10 or 15 kyats. I would like you to at least accept the cost for your books.”
“I am not rich but I don’t think I should accept money for the books, because there’s a difference between giving and selling. Understand? If I accept your money, then you should also accept money for tea and snacks you just offered me.”
The ever intelligent girl just smiled and remained silent.