The Windup Girl
“No! I don’t want the mangosteen.” Anderson Lake leans forward,
Pointing. “I want that one, there. Kaw pollamai nee khap. The one with
The red skin and the green hairs.”
The peasant woman smiles, showing teeth blackened from chewing
Betel nut, and points to a pyramid of fruits stacked beside her. “Un
Nee chai mai kha?”
“Right. Those. Khap.” Anderson nods and makes himself smile.
“What are they called?”
“Ngaw.” She pronounces the word carefully for his foreign ear, and
Hands across a sample.
Anderson takes the fruit, frowning. “It’s new?”
“Kha.” She nods an affirmative.
Anderson turns the fruit in his hand, studying it. It’s more like
A gaudy sea anemone or a furry puffer fish than a fruit. Coarse green
Tendrils protrude from all sides, tickling his palm. The skin has the
Rust-red tinge of blister rust, but when he sniffs he doesn’t get any
Stink of decay. It seems perfectly healthy, despite its appearance.
“Ngaw,” the peasant woman says again, and then, as if reading his
Mind. “New. No blister rust.”
Anderson nods absently. Around him, the market soi bustles with
Bangkok ‘s morning shoppers. Mounds of durians fill the alley in
Reeking piles and water tubs splash with snakehead fish and red-fin
Plaa. Overhead, palm-oil polymer tarps sag under the blast furnace
Heat of the tropic sun, shading the market with hand-painted images of
Clipper ship trading companies and the face of the revered Child
Queen. A man jostles past, holding vermilion-combed chickens high as
They flap and squawk outrage on their way to slaughter, and women in
Brightly colored pha sin bargain and smile with the vendors, driving
Down the price of pirated U-Tex rice and new-variant tomatoes.
None of it touches Anderson.
” Ngaw,” the woman says again, seeking connection.
The fruit’s long hairs tickle his palm, challenging him to
Recognize its origin. Another Thai genehacking success, just like the
Tomatoes and eggplants and chiles that abound in the neighboring
Stalls. It’s as if the Grahamite Bible’s prophecies are coming to
Pass. As if Saint Francis himself stirs in his grave, restless,
Preparing to stride forth onto the land, bearing with him the bounty
Of history’s lost calories.
“And he shall come with trumpets, and Eden shall return…”
Anderson turns the strange hairy fruit in his hand. It carries no
Stink of cibiscosis. No scab of blister rust. No graffiti of genehack
Weevil engraves its skin. The world’s flowers and vegetables and trees
And fruits make up the geography of Anderson Lake ‘s mind, and yet
Nowhere does he find a helpful signpost that leads him to
Ngaw. A mystery.
He mimes that he would like to taste and the peasant woman takes
Back the fruit. Her brown thumb easily tears away the hairy rind,
Revealing a pale core. Translucent and veinous, it resembles nothing
So much as the pickled onions served in martinis at research clubs in
She hands back the fruit. Anderson sniffs tentatively. Inhales
Floral syrup. Ngaw. It shouldn’t exist. Yesterday, it didn’t.
Yesterday, not a single stall in Bangkok sold these fruits, and yet
Now they sit in pyramids, piled all around this grimy woman where she
Squats on the ground under the partial shading of her tarp. From
Around her neck, a gold glinting amulet of the martyr Phra Seub winks