Carta Visa: Table of Contents

This story is about the chaotic life of a fashion photographer like me, who one day had the bright idea to set out for a certain ‘iron curtain’ country as a means of gaining new and peculiar life experiences. However, God decided to grace me with an enemy unmatched in good looks and ferociousness, Alexey, a mafia gangster in disguise as a civil servant. Not to mention, he was not by himself. Bringing along three particularly brutal bodyguards, the mundane life of a commoner like me was flipped upside-down by an expensive and fatal life lesson that I never dreamed of facing.

118655440Volume 1
1st Round
2nd Round
3rd Round
4th Round
5th Round
6th Round
7th Round
8th Round
9th Round
10th Round
11th Round
12th Round
13th Round
14th Round
15th Round
16th Round
17th Round
18th Round
19th Round
20th Round

eh8diek
Volume 2
21st Round
22nd Round

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Translator’s Opinion
Despite there being an (over) abundance of BL novels in Thailand, Carta Visa has always stood out to me as being the most enjoyable novel in a long time coming. Guaranteed to give you a Jolly Good Time™, this story is full of humour which tastefully does not put off from the romantic heartfelt moments. The dynamics between Petch and Alexey is a delight to read. They clash like water and fire but in the most hilarious of ways. Petch is such a loveable character, and Alexey–I’ve got to give it to him–he’s way too hot *fans self*. Spanning five thick volumes, our main characters are in for an adventure, suspense but also a bit of mystery.

Title: Carta Visa
Author: Lingbahh
Language: Thai
Genre: BL, Romance, Comedy
RAWS

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Carta Visa: 22nd Round

Bold: The characters are speaking in English.


Dear Hummer… are you aware that P’Petch has… gosh, how embarrassing… well, P’Petch has admired you for a long time now… Although a Hummer like you may appear super manly and super masculine, a cutesy guy like P’Petch has secretly fallen in love with you ever since he saw you stop at the red light by Arun Amarin intersection.

Dear Hummer… although you may look strong and burly enough to protect a frail man like P’Petch, P’Petch has never realized how soft and comfortable your seats are to his butt before.

Oh Hummer… Hummer… although you may make P’Petch look like he’s riding on the shoulders of Godzilla, P’Petch is willing to offer up his body and soul in order to make you his. That said, how much dowry is your mother demanding?

“Quit making those dreamy eyes Petch, you look like an idiot.”

“Hummer, P’Petch has to leave this world of dreams now… a Kazakhstan Godzilla is calling him.

“Who might you be referring to?” And then I cleared my throat as if nothing had happened; discreetly using the back of my hand to wipe the saliva drooling from my mouth. Hua… talk about getting in the way of my love life.

“Don’t just get on the car and do nothing, have you brought all of your belongings with you? Over there, go help Jessica carry her chest of clothes too.”

“Yes sir, yes sir.” I remarked with a hint of sarcasm. Good grief… couldn’t he let me have my moment of happiness for even a little bit?

As I walked away, I heard his voice in the distance say: “Don’t forget to go say goodbye to Jerry too.”

Jerry…? Huh? I thought that cow had been turned into a steak already. Upon approaching for closer inspection, the reddish-brown dairy cow greeted me by flapping its ears and swinging its tail. I wondered why this Danish breed of cow was so exceptionally smart? Despite drinking imported Danish milk all my life, it hasn’t made me noticeably any smarter. Perhaps the important nutrients responsible for nurturing the brain was destroyed during the shipping process? In any case, I waved bye-bye at Jerry. To which, of course, it flapped its ears back in response. Being this smart… if I asked for its hand, it would probably obey. After all… it could even speak Thai with me, hahaha.

Recalling Jerry, I held onto the optimistic thought that Alexey was maybe worried about me to some extent as well. If not, why would he have gone out to search for me so late at night?

At first, I was about to start sulking again, however, after thinking it over… it was better if I didn’t. I mean, he did placate me with a Hummer and its cushiony seats which were a blessing on my ass. Ah… Alexey was going to drive? He can’t, I should be the one driving. Come sit in the back this instant. Don’t you know that a young master should sit in the backseat while a servant sits in the front? Come, come, sit down obediently now.

Naturally, he stared daggers at me.

“Over there, your car is that one.”

He pointed towards my BMW convertible, but I stubbornly held my ground with a glare, adamant on staying on the Hummer. Eventually, Viktar was the one to halt our brewing conflict by offering to drive my car back in my stead. Thus, I wound up sat with a face-splitting smile at the front of the Hummer… despite not being the driver, getting to sit upfront was nice as well.

“You can stop smiling now Petch, your mouth is about to split up to your ears.”

Jessica’s voice rang out from the backseat. I turned to give her a glare but… I  really couldn’t stop smiling, my jaw was stuck since last night.

This was due to… no one other than this hottie. Last night, he agreed to risk his life on the line by letting me–who had never driven a car larger than a Honda Jazz before–sit behind the wheel of a Hummer for the first time in my life. With just my feet touching the gas pedal, my limbs trembled and sweat profusely. Was I craving a Hummer or amphetamines? I couldn’t tell. Alexey instructed me step by step on the correct way to drive the car, it was the most patient I’ve seen him be since getting to know him. Despite the clunky start, eventually, the large vehicle brought the two of us to the top of the highest hill in the area as we waited together for the sun to set.

Wait, don’t puke just yet… it’s not as romantic as you think it is. Except, well… well it was pretty nice… We weren’t being overly sweet or lovey-dovey with each other–as if someone like that hottie would do something like that, no way, no way–but he gave me the answer to a question which had been lingering inside my heart.

All of you have viewed sunsets in beautiful and impressive places before right? Me too… Sure, it was beautiful, however, this gorgeous sight came with a feeling of inexplicable loneliness. I felt adrift like the round circle which was slowly disappearing into the horizon.

“Hey, don’t you have work to do? Why decide to bring me out for a drive?”

“Mm, I’m taking a few days off for vacation.”

“Taking a vacation with me? Have you thought this through? There’s probably someone waiting for you in Astana, don’t you think?”

Truthfully… it was bugging me, it was bugging me a lot actually. If that man was so special to him, why wasn’t he there looking after him?

“There are hundreds of people waiting for me in Astana, I’m used it by now. Which person are you specifically referring to?” Grey eyes stared at me mischievously. Hmph… drop the clueless act.

I wasn’t ready to give up though… quickly choosing a photo in my camera for him to see, it was a photo of both of them hugging at the party.

“This person.”

“…”

“…” I went silent as well. As I expected, this person had some sort of influence on Alexey.

“…”

“If he’s… your important person, then there’s no need for you to be wasting your time here with me.” I fought against my feelings to say these words out loud. But for what reason…? I was probably lonely. I was only an arm’s reach away from him, yet it felt so much farther apart. “You’ve given me too much of your time, if I were him, I would be feeling displeased.”

“He has no right to be displeased at me.”

“Does this mean that I also have no right to be displeased at you too?” I was in a good mood just seconds ago, why did bringing up this topic cause my voice to tremble…? I didn’t think I was such a weak person.

“Ethan is your model, there’s nothing more important than that.”

“He may be my model, but what is he to you?”

Good grief… this question was too vague wasn’t it? If this hottie answers by saying that they’re Facebook friends who play Farmville and Hay Day together, I wouldn’t know what to follow up my question with.

“We used to be friends… we were born on the same year, shared the same godfather, studied together, ate together, slept together, attended the same university together, had our clothes cut by the same tailor and shoes fitted at the same same store, oh… and we had the same president. Except, now we’re not even friends. We only see each other out of necessity, anything else you want to know?”

“Really? Then… do you guys also wear the same size of underwear?”

The hottie smacked my head. “Cheeky kid.” But he had a smile on his face. “You’re very curious today.”

Alright… feel free to accuse me of being gullible but I believed him… Whether it was due to the large hand which held onto mine all throughout our short date, or the scarf that was wrapped around my neck as he patted my head, I didn’t want to be finicky about relationship stuff. Although I felt confused and a bit lost, let’s just say that I believed him for now. As for whether what he said was true or not, that can be proved later.

 

Our car was passing through so many mountains that I was starting to feel drowsy. Suddenly, I heard Jessica produce a squealing sound from the back. Ahh! Petch, there’s a sheep farm too, how cute. Alexey dear, can we stop to get some photos with these small sheep, pretty please? Her pleading voice came with the fluttering of her eyelashes, each strand curled seventy-five percent of the way with a Dior mascara.

Seeing as the owner of the car gave his permission… alright then. I slung my camera over one shoulder and attached my trusty lens, except, before I could get to work, the hottie walked over and nudged me.

“What are you in a hurry for? Go play with them first.”

Hua… what grade do you think I’m in?”

However… upon merely climbing over the fence, the flock of sheep dispersed in a panic, crying ‘baa baa’ as they ran up the hills. They were sheep but they ran very fast, it would be a lot of trouble to capture even one of them. As for the person who initially had good intentions, he was laughing his stomach stiff near the edge of the fence. What are you laughing for!?

I brushed away the strands of grass stuck to my body before turning to meet, bang… Jessica lovingly kissing the forehead of a small pure white sheep as she beckoned me over. “Petch dear, the owner of the farm has given us permission to take photos with the sheep, come quick.”

I stared at the creature that was crying ‘baa baa’ in my arms. Ew… how could Jessica kiss this sheep, it smelled horrible. What kind of sheep looked cute but also so foul to kiss? It turns out, in the instant when the owner of the farm turned around to see me holding his sheep, he quickly grabbed his rake and swung it at me as if to shoo me away. As if I would obediently stay still to get hit. Hurriedly, I began to run away with the sheep still in tow, only realizing later that the more I ran, the angrier he became. I reluctantly let go of the sheep and held my hands up in surrender, almost afraid to turn back and look…

Eh…? Why did the yelling from earlier suddenly die down? I gradually twisted my neck to look behind me, discovering that… um… Your Excellency, the civil servant was… uh… using the same rake to… uh… take care of his citizens and keep them peaceful by beating them into unconsciousness.

“Uh… Alexey… wasn’t that a bit too violent?” I asked sheepishly. However, if he hadn’t used this method, my head would have likely been cracked open by now.

Your Excellency… shrugged his shoulder, making a slightly sorry face.

“Then… let’s run away, I don’t want to be interrogated on the basis of having assaulted my own citizens.”

My fear was forgotten, replaced instead by a sharp headache…

So are you going to be a civil servant who serves their country and protects their citizens’ rights, or a cold-blooded mafia gangster? Just chose one already, please!

“Now I can’t take photos with Mr. Sheep anymore, this is all your fault.”

I whined under my breath, trying to act nonchalant despite wanting throw Alexey out of the car.

Tch! If it wasn’t for the fact that I was riding my darling Hummer, I would be protesting a lot more… For now, I needed to be good, otherwise this hottie might take back my car!

 

 

Bangkok, Thailand.

 

This morning… Pun took two paracetamol pills and reckoned that he would have to take another one as a result of the silly kitty grinning next to him… Since arriving at the office today, Haru had caused nothing but chaos by prompting nearly half of the office to melt from a combination of his exuberant voice and bright smile; especially Mild who was prepared to buy out an entire shipment of cat food in order to raise this kitty. The boy was very endearing. Even when he accidentally spilled coffee on Pun’s MacBook keyboard… he couldn’t bring himself to be angry at him.

“Pun.”

Pun put a pause on his attempt to clean the keyboard that was covered in coffee. Who the hell was bothering him now? He was currently having a headache, did they want to be bitten?

“Pun…”

Glancing up, he hurriedly clasped his hands together to make an elegant greeting. “Hello P’Chid.”

“What’s wrong, are you not feeling well?”

“It’s nothing, I’m just a bit depressed because of the coffee spill.”

P’Chid nodded knowingly.

“Oh, has no one provided a desk for Haru yet? If he causes a mess on Petch’s workstation, it’ll be a problem if that monkey comes back to find his things missing, we’ll be hearing an earful.” Editor Chid turned to call someone over for help, but Meuk intervened first.

“P’Petch? Big or small, there’s nothing he doesn’t fuss over. Even if it’s something as insignificant as bird poop falling on his free ice cream, you’ll still be hearing a complaint about it.”

“Good point Meuk, I hate people who complain, therefore you should be the one to organize a table for Haru, just have him sit beside Pun. Oh hey… Pun, why are you frozen still? Clear your messy belongings out of the way, this is a workplace, not a storage room.” He wondered if P’Chid ingested something bad this morning. “Also, to whoever’s BMW that’s currently parked blocking the CEO’s parking spot, you need move that too.”

Pun flinched then immediately sprinted downstairs… P’Chid must have definitely ingested something bad near Sasha’s luxury car!

Haru used his round eyes to survey the situation and mumbled quiveringly. “Boss is so stern these days~ It’s like he’s always in a sour mood.” His hands were fumbling around with Punnaphob’s belongings, that was, until his gaze tripped on a stack of polaroid photos with a post-it note stuck to the top, it read: ‘Vol. 12’. As a result of his eager curiosity, Haru couldn’t resist examining the photos…

“Eh!!!”

His cry which resembled that of a cat being poured with hot water chimed simultaneously as the polaroid photos fell from his hands and scattered onto the floor.

Everyone’s eyes turned to focus on him.

Pun, who had just coincidentally emerged back into the office, was unprepared to have his body yanked, Haru asking with a trembling voice:

“P’Pun! P’Pun do you know this person too? P’Pun, answer Haru.”

A polaroid photo was stuffed in front of his face, his nose almost touching it. Once Pun managed to gather his thoughts, he quickly pushed both the kitty and the photo out of his space.

“Wait, wait, what photo?” Upon clearly seeing the photo, he… turned around to confront the person who was suspensefully waiting to hear his answer. Pun’s brain, which was already muddled from seeing this guy’s face, was now straining harder.

“Uh… he’s a model… uh… well not really, he’s more like a special guest Haru.”

“I really want to meet him.” His alarmed voice evolved to sound almost imploring as he bowed and bowed again in deference. “Okay P’Pun? Please help me, I’m begging you.”

“He’s not easy to track down you know.” For the first time in many months, Pun lied. “He… really is a special guest, I don’t know how much I’ll be able to help you.”

Pun spoke evasively. However, in the end, he couldn’t bear the boy’s pitiful gaze. Damn… why did he have to make those ‘Please take me home and raise me, I’ve been abandoned’ eyes!? His attitude was like Petch’s to a T!

“P’Pun, your face is a tell-tale sign that you have Sasha’s phone number for sure… can Haru have it?”

As the end of that sentence was followed by a wide grin which displayed a bit of the kitty’s fangs, hua… oh Punnaphob, you truly are weak when it comes to adorable cats and dogs…

“So how do you know him?”

“That’s a secret ❤ ❤ ❤” The kitty teased, saving the phone number into his iPhone with an expression of overwhelming happiness.

But wait, that sentence just now… what do those three hearts mean Haru!?

“P’Pun… arigato.”

Ugh, his head hurt! Somebody… send help.

 

 

Didn’t he say he was going to Vienna…?

Why wasn’t he picking up his phone? Making international calls from Thailand was expensive, didn’t Sasha know? No matter the provider, they all charged ridiculous prices.

You’ve run away to Mars haven’t you?! Answer the phone!

Punnaphob was so angry that his face was contorted. Hanging up the tiny phone which he had borrowed from his younger brother in frustration, he fumbled around with the keypad for a long while, typing and erasing over and over again.

Haru, who was ordered to clean the cameras, could only watch, round eyes blinking rapidly. Even a chatterbox like Haru could tell that P’Pun was very frustrated, therefore, he decided to shut up obediently.

During midday when he went downstairs to eat lunch with P’Meuk and P’Mild, he was able to observe as the two of them gossiped wildly about P’Pun. As such, Haru had managed to glean a brief understanding of what was happening. First, P’Chid was currently displeased at P’Pun for being distracted at work. Typically, P’Pun was not the type to be overly attached to his lover, with the exception of one person… whose name was Sasha.

As for P’Pun? The man in question hadn’t yet realized that he was being monitored closely by his supervisor. Yeah, Haru didn’t want to poke his nose into other people’s business, but he reckoned that Sasha still hasn’t changed, that man was still a charming playboy who flitted around like usual. In any case, P’Pun was much more deserving of sympathy, who knows when he would be kicked aside?

But regardless of how thrilling Sasha’s love life was, and regardless of how genuine or lighthearted P’Pun’s affection was, the most important point was that… if Sasha was here, was Eisbär, Haru’s Mr. Polar Bear whom he revered as a god somewhere around here as well…?

 

 

Frankfurt, Germany. Three hours before departing to Vienna.

 

The BlackBerry phone which had been functioning for four years now was currently in a crisis for the first time in its life since exiting out of the production factory in Mexico… oh… this is bad… don’t… don’t shake me, what were these two devil brats planning to do to my life!!!

No, no.

Nooooooooooooo, don’t throw meeee, I beg of you pleaseeeeeeeeee.

“Hey, catch! Nikolai.” Brat number one was called Nikolai.

“Send it over!” As for brat number two with the glasses, his name was…

“Super awesome, Kiril.” The bespectacled kid was called Kiril.

What are you thinking of playing? This ain’t baseball woiiii, I’m just a regular BlackBerry, not a baseball. No need to throw me so high, I don’t want to score a homerunnn.

Ah!!! Over there, a giant human has come to my rescue! Help, help, help me pleaseeee!

“Isakovvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv.”

Huak!!! The two brats sprinted towards the giant scar-faced human, flinging me into the air as I then landed on the grass hard. The ferocious man lifted up brat number one, Nikolai, and gave his bottom a light smack before turning to smack the bespectacled kid’s head, his glasses nearly falling off.

“You’ve been naughty, both you, Nikolai! Kiril!”

“Isakov, carry me too.” Kiril yanked at Nikolai’s dangling feet stubbornly, leaping up and down as if wanting to be held in the man’s arms as well.

Afraid that these devil brats were going to beat each other to death first, the extremely sturdy giant human therefore decided to hoist the both of them up onto his shoulders, smacking their heads once more to teach them a lesson before crouching down to pick me up from the grass. Look, look, look. Do you see, do you see? I have a bump on my head now.

“Who’s calling…? Whatever.”

Hey, answer the call! The ringtone’s loud, my insides feel like it’s about to burst.

I heard the voice of my owner in the distance say, ‘Has anyone seen my phone?’. Here, here. Come on, I’m here!!

The giant scar-faced man sighed, then disconnected the call and turned me off before throwing me back onto the exact same patch of grass… Hey, where are you going? Come back, hey!

However… heaven still had a watchful eye on me. My charming, handsome owner had returned. I’m here on the floor, here!

“Isakov, have you seen my BlackBerry?”

“Who knows. Since you can’t find it, you might as well change your flight, I can look after Vivian on my own.”

My handsome Sasha glared back sternly. “I’ve divorced her already.”

The scar-faced man made an irritating smile, then walked away. As for the hottie… who was blind as a bat, I’m right here, don’t step on me… don’t…

Noooooooooooooooooooooooo.

 

Crackkk…

 

The last image I saw was of Isakov carrying both twins over to Vivian so she could kiss them farewell. However, unlike everyone else, Vivian did not give the scar-faced man a farewell hug.

Nevertheless, Isakov still gave her a tender smile… like always.

 

“Oh, there you are. Those twins are really infuriating!” The man himself stepped and broke me under his feet yet blamed it on his children. Eh…? But it was all because of those devil brats that I ended up in this unfortunate state.

It’s too late now… goodbye owner… hopefully I can serve you again when I am reborn in my next life, that is, unless you switch to using an iPhone first, huu…

Carta Visa: 21st Round

Bold: The characters are speaking in English.


Good grief! Why was I walking around in this freezing eight degrees weather with an expressionless-looking red cow by my side when the other guy got to sit in a posh Benz car equipped with a heater? This was not fair at all!

“Hey Alexey, aren’t you a bit too cruel?”

The owner of the Benz cast his eyes at me, the irritation in them apparent as usual. “Well isn’t it crueler if you abandoned Jerry here?”

“Who the hell is Jerry?”

“The cow beside you of course.”

“Let’s tie him to a nearby post first, we can come back and collect him tomorrow can’t we? I’m cold woi.”

The Benz which was moving slowly came to an immediate halt. “Get on then.”

I grinned up to my ears before pausing upon hearing his next sentence.

“However, this breed of cow is considerably expensive. Did you know that they were imported from Denmark…? So if one of them happens to disappear…”

This guy was psychologically attacking me again! Even though it was this late already, he was still in the mood to bully me, this hottie was clearly abnormal.

“So what if it disappears?”

“Then it will become a very delicious steak. Come on, get in the car.”

He had me stunned for two seconds before I burst into laughter, quickly tying the cow to a post on the side of the road and hopping into the gorgeous car.

 

The following day’s lunch… I actually got to eat steak. But hm… I wonder, could it have been Jerry?

 

 

“Hey model! Stop fidgeting, I’m not responsible if your fake eyelashes look crooked woi

“It’s your fault Petch, you suck at attaching fake eyelashes. Look, look, this is how it’s done–aah! The glue’s dripping all over!”

Jessica’s sharp grating voice transmitted relentlessly throughout the entire afternoon from the moment I tried to reconcile with her when she was washing the dishes. I promised to improve myself, starting by respecting her as a normal person, respecting her as a friend, but also as a model.

Have a guess as to what Jessica’s reaction was. She glanced me from corner of her eyes and sent me a disgusted look like one of those soap opera villains from Channel 7 who always stared daggers at the poor female protagonist (me?).

“Do you realize Petch, this is the two hundred and seventy-seventh time you’ve promised me that you’ll improve yourself. However, for the past two hundred and seventy-six times, you have proven to me that I shouldn’t forgive you. Your terrible attitude is too late for fixing.”

From simply this, I wanted to crawl back into the barn and hug Jerry, sobbing and crying before hanging myself to let everything be over and done with. However, the following sentence unexpectedly made my heart flourish.

“But you have never promised to treat me with respect before, therefore I will give you another chance, being the kind and Miss Universe level beauty that I am.” Miss Universe said. “This is your last chance Petch.”

A shiver shot down my spine from hearing this ultimatum. But I already swore to myself that I would try my best. Therefore… I could probably do it right? In any case, if I were to make a mistake again, it would be to Jessica’s benefit since she would finally be rid of a despicable guy like me.

“Hey Mr. Photographer, I’m finished with my makeup.”

I looked at her once more and reached for a cheek brush, brushing a bit more of the shimmering gold Bobbi Brown bronzer onto her cheekbones. “Yeah, this will do. Wait… let’s do it like this…”

 

Me, Jessica, and Viktar (our baggage boy) stepped outside to discuss the concept of the photograph. Today was sunny, a complete mismatch to yesterday’s weather. As such, I was able to take in the smell and color of the verdant grass dusting every small and large hill in the distance. Trying my best, I focused all my mental faculties on recalling my past experiences as a fashion photographer, in case it could be applied to the landscape photography that I was not accustomed with.

For the first thirty photos, both Jessica and I still felt out of place. We were unsure of what we were doing, getting on a cow at first, then a horse, then her boots became dirtied with mud, it was all a mess. But after fifty photos, our work process began to smoothen out. Although the model was an amateur, my friend Jessica quickly picked up the camera angles, she also knew what angle her of her face looked most photogenic.

I had to admit… having a model while also trying to focus on the landscape was surprisingly fun. Out of habit, I have always observed the model first. However, once able to detach my gaze from that center of attention, I began to notice the other beautiful things around me, from beauty in the texture of the ground to the natural lighting.

By working as a team, I felt refreshed to see everyone diligently doing their jobs. No one was slacking or disturbing others, and like today… I felt happy to see Jessica–who blazed with anger yesterday–pacified, showing her full willingness to cooperate with me. Be it changing clothes, fixing the hairstyle or doing the makeup, my friend helped me just like the stylists at my workplace. She thought of what clothes to wear, which pair of shoes matched, and what hairstyle would complement the setting of the photoshoot. The chest of clothes which she hauled from Germany to Kazakhstan, not a single piece laid unused.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the other person. Alexey had vanished to who knows where since early in the morning but returned with a new car… bro, is your house a car dealership? And this car was…

Uaaaaa! Oh my goddddd… this was… It was a flame red 2007 Hummer H3. Allow me to scream in excitement again, oh godddddddd…. this was the car of my dreams!

….And to switch from a Benz to a Hummer, was he planning on raiding a jungle or something?

Alexey exited the car with a small suitcase that Viktar hurriedly took off his hands.

“The matter that I assigned you, is it dealt with?”

“Yes sir, a helicopter will be waiting for you at six o’clock sharp.”

“Good.”

Thus ended the extremely short conversation between these two people. The hottie walked over to greet Jessica first, giving her an aggravating kiss on the cheek before walking back to me. “How’s it going?”

“It’s… good.” Don’t take your sunglasses off so close to my face, move that handsome face away, and quit making that caring voice. You wouldn’t have pampered me if it wasn’t drunk, I know alright! “That car… is it yours?” Ugh, the close proximity made my knees weak… I was referring to the Hummer okay?

“Yeah, there’s more where that came from.”

Heuk… I wanted to try riding on one too. So damn awesome…”

However… Alexey switched conversation topics all of a sudden. “How is work going? Have you been naughty today?”

I crumpled my face, stuffing the camera into his hands. “That’s all I managed to get today…” I wanted to touch the Hummer… how pretty.

Alexey took the camera out of my hands and studied the photos, leaving my heart to pound thunderously inside my chest. Wh… why was he smiling…? My photos were inferior to his, so of course he was sneering at me… What was he smiling for? Let the cat out of the bag already…

“Not bad.” It was a only a short praise… but it came with the keys to the Hummer which left me dumbfounded. I clutched at his shirt tight. “… you’re joking.”

“I’m lending it to you. Don’t come back late, you’ll get lost, and bring Viktar with you too.”

I couldn’t stop smiling… my jaws were stiff. Good god, I felt like I could fly without needing to rely on a menstrual pad equipped wings. That said… I didn’t really want to go with Viktar.

(TN: Petch thinks of the strangest things honestly)

“…and are you not free to go with me…?”

Who the hell did this voice belong to!? It was pleading sweetly as well, hey! I wasn’t the one saying these words, really, it wasn’t meeeee…

Alexey smiled… he smiled tenderly at me for the first time in what seemed like eight million years.

Thank you God. Oh, and thank you Jessica too.

It’s solely because of you… good fortune is looking down on me today because of you.

 

 

Bangkok, Thailand.

 

“Oh woah, you call at five but arrive at eight, since when did you become a young master? Come, get inside.” P’Chid boisterously greeted Pun with open delight (but also dismay) when he noticed the charming man standing at the entrance of the pub which was just a block away from their editorial department’s office. The tall figure strode over and greeted all of the familiar faces before meeting eyes with the unfamiliar bright-eyed foreign man. Pun smiled and greeted him first out of good manners. The other party bowed slightly. Upon seeing his face clearly, the man was likely Japanese.

“Sit, sit, have you eaten yet?”

The newly arrived person made a tormented face. “I’m dying of hunger P’Chid, do you have anything to eat?” He inquired despite his hand already chucking salt roasted cashews into his mouth while receiving a large pint of beer from the other party. “Ah… that’s really hits the spot. It’s sweltering outside P’Chid.”

“Just look at you whining, were you actually born in Alaska P’Pun?” Meuk couldn’t resist butting in.

Hua, you’re suspicions are too exaggerated.”

P’Chid switched seats from an armchair to right beside him. “How did you get here? I didn’t see your car, did you take a taxi?”

“Oh… it’s parked over there.” He tipped the beer into his mouth, taking a large gulp and accidentally using the back of his hand to wipe at his mouth; this was a habit of his.

“Where? There’s only a BMW parked there.” Editor Chid leaned over to look but was taken aback. “Oh…”

“What do you mean by ‘Oh’ P’Chid?” Mild, who was busy playing on the Blackberry phone slung around her neck asked, eyes still plastered to the screen as her fingers–which were as large as her breasts–punched the tiny keypad without rest.

“Nowadays… there’s no such thing as a Nissan in his books anymore. A handsome rich man like Punnaphob has to have a luxurious ride like a BMW waiting at his beck and call instead.”

Meuk replied to Mild with a voice louder than necessary, causing the man in question to quickly intervene.

“What are you guys on about? My car has an oil leak so I’m borrowing somebody else’s car in the meantime.”

The response from his drinking circle was a resounding ‘sureeeeeeeee’ that wasn’t quite genuine. Realizing he was in a bad spot, Pun hurriedly shouted for another two jugs of beer and switched topics. “So P’Chid… why did you call me out today?”

“Oh, I almost forgot.” Editor Chid nudged the young man sitting beside him. “Pun, this is Haru, he’s going to be interning as a photographer at our office. In these three weeks before you head to Uzbekistan, I want you to take care of him and teach him the ropes. When we get closer to the date, I’ll find someone to replace you as his supervisor alright? Haru, this is P’Pun, he’ll be guiding you through your work.”

“That’s right, Petch isn’t back yet.” Pun turned to face the Japanese boy and studied him closely. “Can you speak Thai? I’m not proficient with English just so you know.”

“Oh, not to worry, he can speak several languages.” P’chid answered in his stead before taking the opportunity when Haru wasn’t looking to whisper quietly into his ear. “He’s the son of the director… his father, Mr. Yoshimitsu entrusted him to us. As for your job… just treat the boy endearingly like how you you treat Petch.”

Pun nodded, using this opportunity to introduce himself. “You can call me P’Pun, I’ve worked with P’Chid for several years now so… feel free to ask me anything, I won’t bite.”

The Japanese boy smiled, eyes squinting as two canine teeths poked out from his mouth like a cat’s. He introduced himself fluently in Thai, and although his accent wasn’t very clear, it caused Mild to completely forget about the phone in her hands, her expression dreamy like she had been charmed by a love potion.

“My name is… Haru, I’m Thai, not Japanese. I speak Thai with my father everyday and I love taking photos very much. Actually, when I was studying at a university in Frankfurt, I was so obsessed with taking photos that it made my father angry–ah… I’m speaking too much again… gomen… in any case… what’s the word in Thai again… um, yoroshiku onegai…”

Haru finished his introductions and smiled, eyes squinting again.

…Yeah, this guy was admittedly pretty endearing. But first… it seems like Pun would need to have his ears tuned first so he could fathom Haru’s language. Otherwise, he was going to have a large headache!

“P’Pun.” The mention of his name came accompanied by the palm of a large chubby hand with leopard print nails belonging to Mild. Accented and curled with mascara, her eyes glared intimidatingly at him as she publicly announced to the entire pub: “P’Pun… since you’ve already swiped both the owner of that BMW and P’Petch, this man belongs to me!”

Mild seems to have been watching too many soap operas lately. To say such a shameless sentence without flinching in the slightest… “Hey Mild, if you want someone then catch them yourself, don’t blame it on me.”

“It’s because of the abundance of guys like you P’Pun. You’re catching male fish with not only two hands, but two feet, the good men on this earth are all taken now. Just look at me, I still can’t find a husband!”

P’Chid choked on his beer. From the people in their drinking circle to the other customers and the bartender, everyone turned to look; including Haru who sat there with bright round eyes like a curious kitten. “What are you talking about? Haru doesn’t understand.”

Not only that, the innocent boy turned to Meuk and pleaded him to elaborate on Mild’s words. Pun wanted to split the earth and disappear underground with embarrassment. Never did he expect that teasing Petch at the office would lead to such a terrible impact on his reputation as a handsome, appetizing, and korean-looking man.

Furthermore, Mild was exaggerating, after all, he had never agreed to date Sasha. He was this old already and wasn’t on the lookout for a relationship. Occasionally having dinners together, staying over, and caring for one another, he hadn’t done a disservice to anyone…

Forget about his actions, the intention was what’s important! Punnaphob was definitely still single!

“I’m heading back first then, I only waited to discuss work with Pun.” Suddenly, P’Chid who was enjoying his beer moments ago interrupted the silence, causing confusion to fall on the entire table.

“How are you getting back P’Chid? Do you want me to send you home? I haven’t drunk yet so I can drive.” Pun quickly offered. He knew that P’Chid hated driving in Bangkok, especially when it was eight in the evening on a weekday, the roads were still jampacked traffic.

Editor Chid placed his money on the table before waving dismissively at the invitation. “No thanks, I don’t want to sit on a stranger’s car.”

Pun was reminded of the key to the BMW in his shirt pocket. True, this was Sasha’s car. But it wouldn’t hurt to drive P’Chid back to his house. However, before he could insist, Haru’s bewildered face caused him to lose concentration. Upon turning back, P’Chid had already gotten on a taxi.

Was he being hated? But for what reason? He didn’t understand it at all.

Then again, today had been a truly strange day. This morning when he called Sasha, a woman picked up the phone instead, informing him that Sasha was busy. As noon approached, his Nissan car sported an oil leakage so he was forced to call an auto-mechanic. Later in the day… a service center called to inform about the iPhone he had sent in for repairs, whereby after inspection by a technician it was discovered that his phone’s memory board was broken. However, as the center did not have the necessary spare parts yet, he would have to wait in the meantime. Thus, once evening fell… he felt happy to be invited out for drinks, looking forward to sipping beer and chatting with his friends as he unwound. But who would have guessed? His senior fled in the blink of an eye, leaving behind a curious kitten for him to raise. As his luck was this already terrible, if he called Petch tonight, he would likely be listening to the puppy complain about some ridiculous problem until his ears turned numb. No more woi, it was better to head back home and sleep it off.

A pair of eyes with corners as sharp as cat’s stared at Pun, it was… um… cute wasn’t the right word, nor was it necessarily begging for sympathy. “P’Pun, you see, how do I… get back to Asok from here?”

All in all, he still ended up as a chauffeur. As for the passenger, it was a certain curious kitten who constantly kept asking questions throughout the entire ride… He even asked why Mild accused P’Pun of catching men.

“And isn’t catching men normally used in regards to women? I’ve heard them say it on TV before.”

Punnaphob desperately needed two packs of paracetamol, now!

 

 

Ever since becoming a photographer, he had met a number of camera fanatics. However, he had never met someone who was crazy, rich, and passionate about photography as much as this guy before. Haru, I think you’re a super fanatic, not just a normal person who loves taking photographs.

Haru’s studio was the size of two bedrooms and situated in the center of Asok. Pun wasn’t sure of the exact price but the cheapest property had to be at least four or five million baht. The entire room was filled with… photo, photos, and more photos. Except, it was strange that every photo had an identical symbol adorning their right corner. What was even stranger was that the storytelling in these photographs were not amateur-level at all. Each photo conveyed a tale of a journey from one continent to another. A journey… belonging to someone. Regardless of whose journey this was, the person who took these photos was beyond a professional. Their camera lens was not a mere camera lens, but the eyes of someone deep in thought and loaded with emotions…

Oh woah… who was the person that took these photos? Their skill was not ordinary in the slightest.

While he was being entranced by the photos which decorated the room, the owner of the room was smiling with squinted eyes as he handed him a cup of tea. “Have a seat P’Pun, wait here while I go find my panorama lens. I moved back to Bangkok just a few days ago so it’s been so hectic.”

It was true. Haru still hadn’t even finished unpacking the belongings which he hauled all the way from Germany, some boxes were still sealed tight. Instead, he chose to mount these photographs to the walls first.

“Haru thinks P’Pun should take a telephoto lens as well.”

“I have one already. It’s only the wide lens that I’m missing since I lent mine to P’Petch for his Kazakhstan trip.”

The person who was rummaging messily through his own belongings turned to look with wide eyes before making a highly excited voice that made Pun curious. “Huaaa…! How nice, Haru wants to go there too.” And then sighed. “But even if Haru went, it’s likely that Haru won’t be able to find them…”

“What are you hoping to find?”

“All of these photos are pieces that Haru won from a photographer’s auction in Germany.” The owner of the room explained. “This photographer is like a God to Haru. Initially they refused to put their photos up for sale, no matter how much Haru pleaded they were absolutely adamant about it. Not to mention, they refused to accept any apprentices or assistants either. Even when Haru offered to work for free as a baggage boy, they still refused. Isn’t this person super mean? Then one day, suddenly an auction was opened up, they were selling off all of their photos before… vanishing into thin air. The only thing that Haru could do was beg father for an early monthly allowance so that Haru could collect these photos before anyone else got their hands of them. But it’s a shame, Haru still didn’t have enough money to gather every piece.” The kitty’s face resembled that of someone after a rough break up.

“What are you making that expression for? You’re heartbroken because of a photographer?”

“Beyond heartbroken, Haru was extremely shocked at the time and even stalked their friend’s apartment for several days until the guy gave in and told Haru where that person had disappeared off to.”

“So where did they go?” Pun asked, beginning to feel intrigued.

“He said that photographer was traveling to the Silk Road.”

“Hah? The Silk Road? I think they’ve breathed their last then Haru.”

“No, Haru was actually tricked, they didn’t really travel to the Silk Road… Oh, and they had assistants too, except all of them vanished too, Haru never heard news of them again.” Haru explained, simultaneously handing the box containing the panorama lens to Pun. “Haru hasn’t had a chance to use this at all. It was originally meant for when Haru would go on trips with ‘that person’ but it’s hopeless now. Take it P’Pun, Haru will let you borrow it.”

“That’s really funny Haru! You poured everything into becoming the baggage boy for a photographer who has never seen your worth?” When Pun accidentally let out this question, the boy went silent, sending a shy smile back instead. Pun shook his head.

“Look… Haru, are you planning on following your true love to the Silk Road? Who do you think you are? King Napoleon leading his army from France to Siberia?”

Punnaphob received the brand new lens and hugged it to his chest… He felt happy, but not extremely happy, it was an inexplicable feeling. To be honest, he wanted another pack of paracetamol as well. Why was his life full of nothing but strange people!?

 

After Haru treated him to an extra beer or two, the kitty proudly showed off his own collection of photographs that he had taken during his time in Germany… They were not bad at all. In fact, Haru might even be more skilled than Petch. This was especially apparent in the landscape photos which Haru took during his travels across Europe from the north to the far reaches of the south, they were fantastic, be it the technique, the lighting arrangement, or the mood and tone.

The kitty smiled, eyes squinting. “I’m looking forward to working with you P’Pun.”

 

His strangeness could be probably tolerated… the kid was endearing after all.

 

 

Till Pun returned to room 1206, it was already very late at night. Something was bugging him all throughout the day to the point where he wanted to consult the matter with someone else. He glanced at the clock which was soon approaching the number twelve. Inside, he reminded himself that it was only early in the evening in Germany, so calling Sasha now shouldn’t pose much of a problem. But he was scared all of a sudden.  If he called, would there be a woman to pick up the phone again? Was she his secretary? If so, why did he leave his phone with her? Sasha was normally so protective over the device.

Pun pondered this curiously. Sasha might have some business that he doesn’t want him involved in. The man had claimed that work was piling up recently, frequently having to attend several behind-the-curtain negotiations as well. Hence, Pun thought better than to overstep his boundaries and probe too much.

In the end, he decided against calling Sasha. He washed up, turned on the television to keep him company, pondered a few things briefly, then turned off the lamp on his bedstand, thinking to himself that today would be the final night that he would be staying over here. He was not going to come back to this condo anymore until the true owner of this room returned.

There would be no car for him to use… but it was better to leave this BMW here. Taking a taxi to work should be fine if it’s only for a week.

Pun took no less than five minutes to fall soundly asleep from exhaustion.

 

 

Sasha downed a cup of rich espresso as he sat beside his family’s lawyer. The woman who was sitting opposite to him possessed a pair of mysterious grey eyes which exactly resembled her brother’s. Her face was expressionless, there was no visible sign of happiness or sadness. Beside her was a lawyer dispatched from a law firm most well-renowned in Europe for dealing with cases of divorce. Aside from this, the man who despised him the most in the world was listening silently on the other side of Vivian.

The sound of two knocks on the door was accompanied by the figures of two little boys, one wearing a bright red dungaree while the other–whose face was identical down to every single detail–wore a tartan-patterned shirt, both of them loudly demanding attention from the aforementioned man.  This was followed by the voice of their babysitter, a plump woman in her late forties who quickly led the little kids away.

This brief meeting was a painful moment. Not just for him, but for her, her elder brother, their two sons, and her elder brother’s bodyguard… Isakov.

This man loved Vivian from instant she opened her eyes for the first time and set it upon this world. He was someone who would go to any lengths to make her happy, all without hoping for anything in return. And he was probably the man most pained by the situation which played out.

Isakov had never forgiven him… and there will never be a day when he would too.

The sound of paper being tapped into a neat stack sounded alongside the creak of the chairs as they were being moved. Vivian’s lawyer promised to handle the detailed proceedings of the divorce so it could happen as smoothly as possible and without any problems.

Vivian sighed, color returning to her face. It was perhaps because she had finally overcome one clump of fog which tainted her life.

This clump of fog being… he himself. Sasha knew he could not undo the past. But he could make the future better. So if this decision of his brought his former wife happiness, he was glad to go through with it.

“Vivian, if you have something to talk to him about, you best do so now. I’ll go see how the kids are doing for you.”

Isakov said and left the room. Watching through the glass window, Sasha saw the man’s strained expression dissipate, replaced instead by a wide smile as he playfully hoisted up the small boy in the red dungaree. As for the other boy, he was leaping up and down, wanting to get a view from that high vantage point as well. He watched as the tall large figure lovingly led the twins by their little hands… He should be relieved right? Regardless of all else, he could be rest assured that these two twins would be showered in unconditional love from everyone around them.

Sasha rubbed the back of his own hand, pursing his mouth and closing his eyes, using this final second to say farewell. He slowly and carefully removed his wedding ring from his left ring finger. The second when the cold metal freed itself from his finger, he felt relieved. It was finally over, this heavy burden…

Vivian carefully removed the same object and returned it to him, her smile as tender as always.

Although Sasha was unable to love her as a wife, he knew that he still loved her as a sister, as family, and as a woman who was worthy of being admired till the end of time.

“Thank you very much, Sasha… for granting me freedom.”

Thank you as well, dear sister… Vivian Nazarbayev.

And thank you from the bottom of his heart for being a splendid mother to Nikolai and Kiril Gilliseva, the two sons which he did not have the right to raise but still loved as their ‘father’; and everyone desired it to be such.

 

 

‘I’ll be flying to Vienna today for business. Probably won’t be able to call you, sorry.’

 

Pun read the message over and over again as he brushed his teeth upon waking up. The smell of his mama’s red rice porridge and minced pork omelette wafted up to his bedroom on the second floor of the house. He heard his mama’s voice in the distance calling him down to eat breakfast before heading off to work.

He hadn’t had a meal with his parents for a quite a long time now. When was the last time? He couldn’t remember despite originally being someone very attached to their home. He liked going home to watch television with Pa. He also liked Mama’s special Sunday dinners very much.

What was wrong with him…? Pun didn’t understand himself. Not only did he feel not quite like himself, he even felt like time was missing despite there being the same twenty-four hours everyday. Not only this, he felt impatient and agitated, lacking concentration to work properly. He had truly become strange.

Pun had an itching feeling that P’Chid was displeased with his current himself, but for what reason? He wasn’t quite sure. What was certain though, was that this entire matter was related to Sasha.

He typed in his response. To be honest he was feeling lonely… but he didn’t exactly want the other party to know about it. Pun had dated several girls before, so he understood how irritating it was to have someone trying to tie you down, or demand countless requests from you.

‘Go wherever you want. Tell me when you reach Mars.’

Not even two minutes later, he received a reply.

‘When that time comes I’ll take you with me. They’re making the final call now / love you.’

The thoughts he was having just moments ago… he forgot everything immediately… Pun grinned up to his ears. Ditching his plan of taking a taxi to work, he grabbed the keys to the luxurious car which Sasha had left for him to use, slung his camera bag over one shoulder and exited the room.

 

 

Far off in Central Asia, one of the most handsomest man in the country was knitting his brows together, staring at the message shining on the screen of both his phone and the sleepy monkey’s who still refused to get out of bed.

His Russian blackberry iPhone displayed the following Cyrillic script:

 

‘I’m accompanying Vivian to a performance in Vienna. Order your bodyguard to stay in Frankfurt, I beg of you, he’s been sticking to me like a flea.’

 

It wasn’t wrong to say that he was displeased that his favourite bodyguard was being insulted. But he was also entertained because he understood Isakov’s ‘bite and won’t let go’ attitude very well. The issue was not with the message that Sasha had sent to him, but more importantly, the message which appeared on the monkey’s crappy mobile phone.

 

‘In a few more days we’ll finally get to see each other. Astana won’t lose out to my hometown Tashkent! Take care, my baby / Sasha.’

 

Which ‘baby’ of yours exactly!?

Alexey boldly deleted the message without even asking permission from the owner of the device who was still sleeping with drool dripping out of his mouth next to him. Typically, he wasn’t one to involve himself in personal matters such as these, however in this instance, no, when it came to this person, he really couldn’t allow it.

 

Don’t dream of getting a taste Sasha, because this wild monkey belongs to me!

Carta Visa: 20th Round

Bold: The characters are speaking in English.


A fragrant alluring scent which beckoned digestive juices to start working wafted out from a small victorian vine-patterned kitchen of a little cottage house on a hill, far from the barn by only a couple of ten meters.

If someone failed to restrain themselves and unintentionally peered inside, they would perhaps be intrigued to see the tall large figures of two men bending up and down in front of the refrigerator and kitchen counter. It was the fragrant smell of fried potatoes sauteed together with bacon and spices. Alexey dipped his finger into a silver bowl which housed the delicious-smelling fried potatoes and knitted his beautifully arched eyebrows together. Handing it over to his close underling, Viktar took the bowl and proceeded to do the same. In spite of his stony expression, Viktar was seemingly curious.

“I think it’s strange.”

“Is that so sir… but I think it tastes pretty normal to me.”

“I don’t know. It tastes strange, like it’s missing some kind of flavour. Then again… I haven’t made Bratkartoffelns in such a long time as well. Maybe my skill is getting rusty haha.”

Despite making a serious expression, often times Alexey’s mood was not as dark as most people thought. Viktar and all of his other bodyguards knew full well about this. Even Jessica, Erlbaum’s wife, knew.

“Hand me the salt… actually no, not the salt…”

It must seem humorous that someone with countless matters to think and worry about on a daily basis–be it private events, official events, overground and underground businesses, etc–was standing here with a difficult frown on his face because he didn’t know what flavour was missing from the fried potatoes and bacon that he himself had made.

“What time is it now?”

“Eight-thirty sir.”

“The time in Thailand would be seven-thirty then.” The grey pair of eyes stared up at the spice rack. “He must be dying of hunger by now, perhaps taking out his frustration on the cows as we speak, who knows.”

Viktar did not reply… but he had just come to understand why his boss was so preoccupied with the missing flavour in spite of not being a picky eater. He could even eat those ‘on the go’ lunch boxes if it came down to it (albeit while still displeased with how they tasted).

He handed two things to his boss. On the left was a jar of sugar. On the right was a jar of honey. Alexey asked with a hum in his throat but took both without saying anything.

“I’ll go and prepare the rest… that said, where will you be having your dinner sir?”

The person who was hesitating on the jar of honey cast his gaze after his own bodyguard. “I’m not hungry.”

“Yes sir.”

“Viktar.”

The bodyguard’s feet halted. “Yes?”

“Call Leof and tell him that, if Ethan wants to go somewhere tomorrow, let him go… but make sure to follow him.” Alexey paused for a brief second before continuing. “When this side is ready he’ll be notified.”

“Yes sir. However, I’m afraid that guy will want to come… around this area instead.” Despite being his underling, sometimes, Viktar couldn’t resist poking fun at his boss. “He still doesn’t know that you plan to have Petch be the cameraman.”

“It’s good that he doesn’t know… that guy needs to be taught a lesson too, about how it’s impossible for some things to go as intended.”

Viktar pictured the person in question. If that man were to hear these words, he definitely would have gone on a rampage at Leof for days. Thankfully though, apart from Leof, no one else could put up with the attitude of a spoiled brat. Yet, Viktar also somewhat empathize with Ethan who once upon a time stood at the apex of his life, too far above for anyone else to reach. However, suddenly life was flipped upside-down and the palm of the hand became the back of the hand, the main cause being his own undoing… As for Viktar’s boss, he had merely been a factor to speed up the process in the initial stages, as well as someone who held the upper hand ever since making the decision to return to Kazakhstan; returning to where he was meant to be, and doing what he was meant to do.

…A fairy tale that ends happily does not exist, at least not for these two people.

“Mm… adding honey really improves the taste…” He heard his boss’ voice in the distance. “He probably won’t be too impatient to throw it away…”

The person who impatiently threw his perfect life away… was Ethan.

Hopefully, the next person won’t be… the guy currently dying of hunger in a barn…

 

 

It was almost eight when I grabbed my trusty camera and climbed down from the hay bedding on the second floor of the barn, scratching my body all over as a result of the unfamiliar living conditions. The old wooden barn which stood on top of this tall hill functioned as a shelter for twenty-two healthy dairy cows owned by a kind elderly couple, supposedly distant relatives of Isakov. The barn was constructed out of wood and seemingly several decades old judging from the machine gun bullets which bored holes into a few planks of timber, as well as the faded remains of a propaganda poster from the Stalin Era. Not far from the barn, a tiny shed storing various farming equipment was locked up tight with an aged padlock. I circled around, seeing a tall ladder leaning against the roof of the barn and decided to climb up. Despite being a bit reckless, it felt pretty safe.

The elderly couple’s small cottage house was situated not too far away. It was tiny and quaint like the gingerbread house in Hansel and Gretel. A fragrant smell of food wafted along the air, causing my digestive juices to riot a little. Meanwhile, the glow of lights from each window made me feel helplessly depressed. Everyone was enjoying their piping hot dinner by a warm fireplace, chatting merrily to each other in a cozy room while I… who was supposed to be there… was here instead.

I never thought I could create such a horrible situation for myself. My best friend hated me and I had nobody to confide in. No one would ever know about my feelings, I was alone and could only lick my own wounds.

I shook these depressing thoughts out of my head, sitting there hugging my knees as I stared at a photo of the small gingerbread house mournfully. To be honest, although my stomach had started to growl violently, I wasn’t in the mood to look for something to eat. Unknown as to where this wave of inspiration hit me from, I picked up my camera and saved this photo… I sat there studying it and began to vaguely understand P’Pun’s past explanation about landscape photography.

…A palpable warmth and the sound of laughter…

Going back to see the photos I was so proud of this morning, I sighed… Even an amateur like Alexey was capable of taking a photo that was a hundred times better than mine. I was a professional… but why were my skills so awful? Was I lacking something? I wanted to know.

My tiny mobile phone rang suddenly, disrupting my thoughts. The screen displayed the words ‘Unknown number’ but I quickly picked it up. “Hello, Petch speaking.”

The signal delayed for two seconds. “Petch, it’s Pa, have you arrived yet? Why haven’t you called home at all?” The sound of Pa’s voice was clearly angry so I quickly apologised profusely. Pa only made some ‘umming’ noises in return. “Your mother is awfully worried… how are you doing? Are you eating and sleeping well?”

In this world, there was only Pa, Ma and P’Pun who would ask me such questions. Suddenly, tears began to well in my eyes; I wasn’t trying to be dramatic okay…? “Remember to call your Ma, she’s barely eating or sleeping even though I’ve tried to remind her that you’re travelling, not gone to war with someone.”

Hu… Pa it’s too late, I’ve already been pummelled into the ground in an equivalent manner to the Iraqi battlefield.

“Can I speak to Ma then?”

How unfortunate. Pa said Ma had already gone to bed, but he made sure to send my regards. I heard the sound of a door opening and Pa exclaiming:

Uwa, Phai, what are you doing here?”

It was my comrade and brother in arms. Phai’s cheerful voice could be heard at the other end of the line. “Hello Uncle, I’ve brought you some dim sum.”

“Uncle has been eating your family’s dim sum his entire life, it’d be nice if you brought some shark fin soup instead.” Pa teased, albeit not refusing them. After all, Phai was his first and favourite nephew. Pa loved and endeared Phai just as much as he loved and endeared me.

“Phai whined in an endearing voice. “Oh come on… I especially came over to let you try them. I made it all myself, from kneading the dough to making the soup and filling. Ma even says it tastes delicious.”

Pa used something to hit Phai’s head with a loud smack. “She’s your mother so of course she would praise you. Leave it there, Uncle will eat them later. Oh, I happen to have Petch on the phone, would you like to speak to him?”

“Petchhhh, how are you? Are you having fun?” Phai’s cheerful attitude was certainly second to none.

“Yeah, I’m well.”

Hua… the hell. Petch, you sound like an abandoned puppy. Be more cheerful, you’re overseas you know.”

“Hooray.” I answered back in an unenthusiastic tone despite trying sound more cheerful. So as to not disappoint this cheerful cousin of mine, I recounted these past few days for him to hear briefly; as well as the story about being hired as a paparazzi too. Phai oohed and aahed. Honestly, what did he find so exciting? It wasn’t like I was cast into a James Bond movie alright?

“So to conclude, you’re really sleeping in a barn tonight?”

“Yup… I’m sitting on the roof right now, a small mistake and I’ll fall right off.”

“That’s awesome… I’ve never been overseas before in my life. Anyways don’t think too much about it Petch, about that… what’s his damned name…” Having to sleep in a barn with cows as your only company and a temperature that was eight degrees celsius, in what way was this ‘awesome’? Rather, the putrid smell of cow dung was record-breaking. I really didn’t understand Phai, this was a dreadful and arduous trip to a dairy farm, not a trip climbing Mount Everest, there was nothing exciting about it.

“His name is Alexey.”

“Yeah, just let that guy do whatever he wants. Think about it, you get to travel to a foreign country that other people rarely get a chance to go to like Kazakhstan, you have some pocket money, you have someone to guide you around for free, plus you even get to speak Thai, no other trip is this awesome.”

I listened and my mouth began to itch. I hadn’t yet told him about the fact that I was mentally abused throughout the entire trip.

Enough. I no longer wanted to listen to Phai’s excitement when it contrasted so heavily with my own feelings. “Just now, I heard you say that you made your own dim sum… what’s happening?”

“Ohhh…” Phai draws his voice out. I could imagine his expression, right now he was probably smiling so wide that his eyes squinted, chest stuck out with unmitigated pride. “My Pa is planning to expand the store to Surawong road and wants me to look after it. I’ll be the chef and also the manager. It’s super hectic right now, but also fun. I get to do everything by myself.”

“Isn’t practicing how to make dim sum when the new store is about to open a little too late?”

Huu… don’t underestimate me. I’ve been acting as my Pa’s sous chef for several months now. Ma even praised my har gao for being more delicious than his.” I heard this and couldn’t believe my ears. But Phai wasn’t finished. “The store will open right around when you return, it’s currently being decorated.”

“Nice bragging Phai, as if someone who wakes up late like you would drag their body out of bed early in the morning to become third uncle’s kitchen helper.” I said, unable to resist teasing him. As for third uncle, this was referring to Phai’s father. Among five siblings, his Pa was the third son while my Pa was the eldest.

“Yeah, it’s so exhausting for someone like me. It’s tiring and hot as hell, not to mention having to open the store at seven every morning then working straight till one in the afternoon. I realize now how tiring it must feel for my parents everyday. At first it was torture, but after doing it for awhile, well… I don’t happen dislike it so I’m willing to give it a shot myself. Afterwards, everyone will know that someone like Phai isn’t a pushover.”

“Uhuh.” This reply was not because I was bored. Rather, I was shocked to know that this amazingly lazy and childish idiot who typically woke up at eleven in the morning was dedicated to his work to this extent. “How did you reach this decision?”

“Well… it’s difficult finding a job these days. Moreover, slaving away under someone while they get rich and throw some chump change salary at you… Just look at Pao, second uncle’s kid. After entering that large company, his flesh and blood has been sucked dry to the point where he looks possessed by a ghost. The monthly salary may be good but it’s not worth the exhaustion… Instead, by helping the family business I can take matters into my own hands and develop my skills, plus get rich with my own abilities, not to mention lessening my parent’s burdens.”

He had a point. “Hearing this makes me want to resign.” I said casually. However, I had to admit that listening to Phai made me feel better… as if I could now see a flickering light at the end this tunnel which seemed to stretch on for five million light years. “But is your Pa not afraid that you’ll ruin the business? It’s a new store you know.”

Phai snickered. “My Pa taught me this… people who run businesses have all experienced failure–if not, near failure before. However, if you dedicate your energy into thinking and working it out little by little, rest assured, you will be prepared for any future obstacles. Cool words of wisdom right?”

 

 

Despite having ended the call, my conversation with Phai still lingered in my thoughts. Allow me to shamelessly admit that I felt a little bit jealous. A newly-graduated kid with a bright face and clueless eyes had already discovered what he wanted to do with his life, as well as the path he would need to take to reach his goal. Compared to that, I on the other hand…

What did I… get to this far for…?

I thought about calling P’Pun… I wanted to tell P’Pun, my kind big brother, about everything. I missed the times when P’Pun would listen to my problems and smile till his cheeks dimpled. He would constantly offer solutions or give me good advice. I discussed almost everything with P’Pun, except for one thing: My train-wreck life starting from the moment Alexey stepped into it. But maybe, P’Pun might have already found out… perhaps he knew even better than me why a person who held himself higher than an angel such as this hottie was loitering around in the life of a common-folk who walked the earth and ate instant noodles like me.

“Petch…”

A voice in the distance reached my ears. I turned left and right, almost falling off the roof of the barn. With trembling hands which hastily clutched the ladder tight, I looked down to find Viktar smiling faintly below.

“I’ve brought you your dinner.”

Upon hearing the word ‘dinner’, I immediately forgot about my fear and quickly climbed down the ladder like a monkey.

 

The site of my extremely romantic dinner was… on the hood of the Benz car… This was no joke… Viktar said there was no reason to be cooped up in the barn when the weather was this good. And so I believed him, forgetting how biting eight degrees supposedly felt. Nonetheless, I didn’t complain, not wanting to ruin the mood.

I scooped the final spoonful of fried potatoes and bacon into my mouth with happiness. The fragrant smell of the fried potatoes which coalesced with the slightly sweet and fatty bacon was delicious. “…This is pretty delicious, what is it called? Is it a local dish?”

Viktar stared at the empty plate and smiled.

“Bratkartoffeln, it’s a German dish. Do you like it?”

I nod rapidly.

“It’s the best meal I’ve had since coming here. This one is also delicious.” I point to another empty plate which used to contain sweet and sour udon noodles stir fried with vegetables.

“That’s called laghman.” The way these Russians enunciated their L’s was very strong.

“Hah? Laghman?”

(TN: Strangely enough, ‘laghman’ in Thai is spelled exactly like the words for ‘love you’. I wonder if this was intentional)

“Yup, it’s a modified version of a Japanese dish. The people here call it laghman, do you like it?”

I grinned wide up to my ears. “It’s delishhhhh~ all of it.”

Viktar made a move as if to say something but chose stay silent in the end. However, I didn’t find this strange, after all, Viktar was someone who naturally spoke very little. All in all, he only spoke if the situation demanded it of him; and I was very thankful for this. It felt relaxing to have this guy as my company since I could freely be myself in his presence. But honestly, how did a nice guy like him end up working as an underling for a despicable man like Alexey? I really didn’t understand it.

 

 

Four shots of vodka… and a standstill had been reached.

The mouth which complained and cursed at his boss was now quiet.

Bodyguard number two stared at the person who had crashed on top of the hood of the Benz with his usual emotionless expression, before downing a can of beer in one go and placing it beside him.

“Like I said, this beer is for your while that vodka is mine. You still foolishly drank it so it can’t be helped that you got knocked out in the first round… you really are a kid.”

Isakov phoned him just as he was attempting to drag the drunk monkey off of the car. He was at the airport and about to board the plane to Frankfurt as per his boss’ orders.

As Viktar hauled the utterly drunk person up onto one shoulder and delivered him to the barn, his mind recalled an identical situation that had occurred several years before. But forget it, ‘that’ was no longer an important matter.

“Viktaa…” The drunkard murmured and began shuffling around on the hay bedding. “Give me ‘nother shot kay?” Another shot? This drunkard had no idea of his own limits, hua.

The bodyguard sat at the edge of the bed covered in darkness, panning his eyes across the entire barn before coming back to look at Petch who was sleeping soundly. He shook his head exasperatedly.

In his opinion… sending this guy to a barn was not an effective method of getting him to self-reflect. Anyhow, his boss will think up other methods to fix his attitude soon enough.

Viktar dimmed the lantern and placed it on a window frame. He closed the barn doors, leaving behind the dark silhouettes of the hay, the cows, and… a monkey…

Except… just twenty minutes after, the sleeping monkey sat up to rub his eyes drowsily, yawning wide. Instead of going back to sleep, he scurried out of the barn and into the darkness, together with one friend… Hm? Yes, you did not read that wrong.

 

 

“Has he fallen asleep yet Viktar?”

His boss spoke up as he was spacing out about something else. Alexey massaged his temples while giving him a sidelong glance, waiting for an answer. “Did you hear me?”

“Yes sir, he got drunk and crashed as usual. I told him that the bottle of vodka was mine but he didn’t listen.”

In the dim room, the light at the end of a cigarette butt flared. He could see an entertained glint projected in his boss’ grey eyes. “I figured as much. Things like drinking and getting drunk, he has never once paced himself. What did that monkey say? I bet he complained a lot.”

“My ears went numb from listening to him sir.” Could this be considered as complaining to the boss?

His boss smiled. “I anticipated that too. What did he complain about?”

“It was full of nothing but nonsense sir. He kept talking in circles and before even reaching the main point he fell asleep. Not to mention, oh… but…”  He had told his boss only half the story, hesitant on whether to tell the rest or not.

While gingerly sipping on the third shot of vodka, Petch stopped talking suddenly… staying silent for a moment before unexpectedly changing the topic. ‘Just now, I was talking with my relative on the phone….’

Petch recounted the story from start to finish before concluding with a bitter voice. ‘I don’t know what I’m feeling… is this what you call jealousy…?’

For Viktar, he thought the word jealousy was too nice… because truthfully it was a little bit… worse than that. So he decided to tell his boss.

Alexey listened as he smoked his cigarette. Although it seemed like he was not paying attention, this beast’s ears caught every single word without mistake.

“Accepting defeat… but not knowing how to carry on. He acts like he doesn’t care… fooling himself into thinking that everything’s fine already… good enough now… poor thing.”

Certainly, despite being beyond true, Petch would be blazing with anger if he heard these words coming out of Alexey’s mouth.

“I’ll go take a look… Viktar, get my coat and car keys. As for you, you can stay here if you want, I’ll go by myself.”

“I’ll accompany you.” He quickly offered.

“Are you beginning to feel worried for him? A hardy guy like him is going to be fine, trust me. At most, he’ll cause a bit of trouble.” His boss replied as he buckled the belt of his winter coat. “You’ve lost a lot of sleep these past few days, take a rest on that bed over there, I’ll be back soon. Oh, and get me a blanket too…”

“I’m fairly certain that he’s asleep already.”

Grey eyes stared at him playfully. “Don’t worry so much… It’s very cold outside so I’m bringing the monkey an extra blanket, that’s all.”

Viktar, who rarely showed any emotion, couldn’t help but frown. Despite being certain that this area was safe and no one could harm his boss, Viktar felt strange every time his boss ordered him to stay behind…

Resigning, he helplessly handed over the car keys.

In the distance, the sound of Alexey’s footsteps grew quieter and quieter. Viktar peered out of the second floor window, however, upon chasing his eyes after the car which departed and headed towards the barn, he was curious to find… that the light of the lantern inside had vanished.

 

 

The creak of the barn doors echoed sonorously, causing the sleeping cows inside their stalls to flick their ears and open their drowsy eyes as they observed the stranger with curiosity. A tall figure dressed in a warm winter coat slotted his body past the opening quietly, barely producing any footstep noises. In one hand, he carried along a thick blanket.

However… on the pile of hay which had sunken into the shape of a person, it was empty.

Hm? This was late already and the temperature was only eight degrees.

“Petch… where are you?”

Initially, he thought the monkey was playing a children’s game of hide and seek. However, upon searching everywhere, there was no sign of him and Alexey began to feel strange.

Although there was no snow tonight, the visibility was fairly poor as a result of the descending thick fog. He rummaged through the trunk of the car for a flashlight and thought to thank Viktar for always keeping check of the inventory so that no necessities were missing. His dark surroundings turned a shade greyer as the light of the flashlight, as well as the car headlights, shone outwards.

Where did he go… that sulky monkey.

Now was not the time to be joking around… nor was it the time to be doing anything else!

The bright illumination of the flashlight cast down towards the floor. Only upon closer inspection did he spot the messy footprints belonging to a person and… um… what were these round footprints dragging along the floor? Honestly, what was that monkey up to…?

The extravagant Mercedes-Benz moved along at a slow pace to ensure that it was following the trail of footsteps accurately. Alexey placed his phone next to his ear, hearing the signal of an unanswered call. His eyes lay fixed on the dirt trail before him as darkness seemingly crept closer and closer, enveloping nearly everything in sight.

Petch… where did you disappear off to?

 

 

 

 

The posh car braked gently, but not because he had found the person he was searching for. Rather, it was because path had branched into three and the footsteps were gone…

Placing the phone against his ear, he listens to the dialing signal as a muddy feeling began to churn inside.

“…Halloooooo Alexxxx.”

An extremely cheerful voice rang from the other end of the call, making him nearly snap. But Petch was faster. Laughing and giggling, he began to sing Alexey a song about heartbreaks and breakups. Hey, hey… this was not the time to be acting dramatic. “Petch, where are you?”

“Dunno~” Accompanied by the sound of laughter. “But it’s warm Alexxxx… come sleep with me, it’s way better than that crazy barn.”

At first he was going to scold Petch until he sobered up. However, upon recalling that this guy had drunk four shots of vodka–and miraculously still walked fine–even if he were to chant a mantra, Petch would probably be unable to comprehend anything. “Oh, and how do I get there? Tell me the directions and I’ll come sleep with you.”

When he finds this troublemaker, he was going to devour him until sober!

“A three-way crossroaaaad? How come I can’t remember it at alllll.” Petch said before turning to speak with the person beside him. “Hey Jerry, did we even come across a three-way crossroad?”

“…”

“Oh, is that so?”

Alexey pricked his ears up and listened patiently. “So which path do I take?”

“Jerry says it’s dark, can’t remember.”

Thoroughly inspecting the crossroad, he noticed a strange mark that made a long stretching imprint on the ground.

“Hm, mind if I speak to Jerry?”

“Jerry.” The drunken voice at the other end of the call addressed the mysterious stranger. “Jerry’s gone to sleep already. Alex, just come quickly okay~?”

Alexey scratched his neck in irritation. Woi! Straight ahead it is then… at least the dead end was a potato field. More importantly, how did that monkey Petch walk without making a single footprint? There was only a cow’s footprint which treaded here and there.

Or did he?

…That’s ridiculous.

 

 

Alexey didn’t know whether to be relieved or angry upon seeing the not-too-big and not-too-small figure of a Thai man riding on the back of a cow while cheerfully and drunkenly singing songs about heartbreak.

The car headlights made the drunken monkey come to his senses, turning to look with round eyes before waving him over with a big smile that resembled that of a child.

“Alexxx…” Crashhhhh!!!

Stunned with fright, he abandoned the steering wheel, running over to cradle the person who had badly tumbled off the back of the cow in his arms. “Petch… Petch.”

The person who had somersaulted down to eat dirt on the ground opened his eyes wide, lifting up two fingers to make the peace sign.

P-Petch, are you alright? Are you hurt anywhere?”

Round eyes lowered halfway, rubbing the concussed area of his head and smiling sheepishly. “A liiittle~” Then nudging him and pointing to the side. “Hey, can you carry me onto Jerry? He says he’s going to take me on a tour.”

“But Jerry is a cow Petch.”

“Jerry can speak. He can even speak Thai, believe me.” Petch insisted stubbornly as he pushed himself up off the dusty dirt path, stumbling back to clamber onto the female cow, a reddish-brown red dane with the name Jerry forced upon itself. “Alex, follow me, follow me, let’s go take some photos. Come on, come on, Jerry’s hungry.”

What are you going to take photos of this late at night?” Dspite complaining under his breath, Alexey acquiesced and walked along the dirt path that was nearly pitch black.

“Jerry says there’s a pretty place around here.” Is that so Jerry?!

“Jerry also says you should be familiar with it.” You seem to be going a bit nuts!

“Lead the way okay?”

“Fine, fine.” Don’t judge the crazy, don’t scold the drunk. Petch was crazy and drunk so he indulged him.

“Don’t walk too fast.”

“Fine.”

“Alex.”

“What?”

“The sky sure is pretty tonight.”

The pair of big round eyes stared up at the sky, forcing him to look as well. The clear sky was decorated with an array of dazzling and glittering stars…

“I want to capture this sight…” The light in these eyes dimmed. “But no matter how many photos I take… it never comes out the way I want…”

Alexey could only see the left side of his face, seeing his smooth white complexion reflect the pale moonlight.

…Crying?

“Therefore, you need to photograph it for me instead! This is an order that you can’t reject Alexxx.”

Hua!

Now he was crying for real!

“Heuk…”

Hey, what are you crying for, you drunk monkey?

“Alexxxx…” The overflowing tears came with a pair of trembling hands as they clutched his shirt collar. He accidentally deflected the hands away forcibly, making the monkey almost topple off the cow. “You… huu… you’re joking righttttt?”

What ‘joking’ was he on about?

“Cause… it’s… it’s so beautiful… it’s… really, really… beautiful.”

Large beads of tears rolled down his face, droplet by droplet. Alexey quickly wiped these tears away from the damp cheeks. However, it seemed like the more he did so, the harder Petch cried.

“Petch… Petch, honey… what made you cry… honey…” Carrying him down to cradle against his chest. “Listen to me… dear boy… Petch…”

“It’s so beautiful… but I can’t do it… heuk… no matter how much I try, there’s no way that I can do it… I’m bitter… I’m bitter that I lost to someone like you!”

In this minute, he was beyond certain that Petch was at least half sober. He was conscious enough to speak aloud his true feelings… in the form of tears…

“Petch…”

The hand which was gently wiping away tears was brushed away.

“No need to feel sorry for a loser like me.”

Alexey sighed, implying in a soft voice. “The more you underestimate yourself, the more defeated you’ll feel…”

“Can you not rub it in? You’re so caring to everyone else, while to me, you act like I’m detestable.” Petch used the back of his hand to wipe away the final drops of tears before wiping it against his shirt like a child.

 

 

“You’re imagining things, when have I ever treated someone special?” This was Alexey’s reply.

“Take Jessica for example, you pamper her so much…” I protested.

“I’m not a man who’s crude with women.”

But you’re so uncharitable with other men woi, do you even realize this? “Jessica’s a guy woi.”

“For me… Jessica is the wife of my closest friend, I don’t care what gender she used to be in the past. However, right now she’s a woman with a family and a dignity similar to other women. Therefore, it’s expected that I give respect to the wife of my friend in the same way that I give respect to my own friends.” The hottie’s reply was not diluted with any emotion. These grey eyes stared intensely into mine, as if they had the power to make me immovable. “The way I treat Jessica is not an excuse that someone else can use to assault her feelings, do you understand what I am saying?”

“But…” True, Alexey wasn’t scolding me… he was simply explaining things for me to understand. Nonetheless, my cheeks felt numb to the point where I couldn’t feel anything. “I never knew, that you’re friends with ‘Baum. I also never knew you two were close.”

“And the things that you don’t know, does Jessica have to take responsibility for it?”

“No.”

“So then why does Jessica deserve to be emotionally abused by you?”

“Says the guy who’s doing the same thing to me.”

“That’s a different story… but do you think it’s fair for her to be persecuted by you?” Alexey’s voice was still tranquil and void of emotion. He asked and waited patiently for an answer. Each minute passed slowly… because I could not provide an answer…

“Who are you Petch…? You’re her friend correct?”

Yes.

“And she’s your friend correct?”

Yes.

“So how are you two different from each other?”

“She’s a kathoey while I’m not.” I wanted to slap my own mouth, what a ridiculously dumb reply.

“If for example, Jessica was a man and she cut her hair short, wore pants, had a girlfriend and a decent job, how would you treat her?”

“Probably like a normal guy friend.”

Alexey sighed. His eyes showed disappointment… but he still maintained a consoling smile.

“Petch… this word ‘friend’ of yours… what do you measure it by? The ‘you’ that I know is someone who’s prepared to punch the mouth of anyone who mocks Jessica on her wedding day… I have never forgotten about that person named ‘Petch’… But your answers today Petch… your friend… is it not Jessica anymore?”

For me… these words were beyond an uppercut that could knock me unconscious onto the floor. Alexey’s eyes were hopeful and disappointed at the same time.

I was stunned for a long while… a very long while. I didn’t know what answer was correct. What words should I use to appease these ears?

“I… don’t know… I really don’t know…” I heard my own voice drain down my throat.

“Then let me ask you one more question. Do you know that for her, you’re the friend she treasures most?”

I knew…

Of course I knew…

I knew very well too…

It was not because she was a kathoey that nobody befriended me…

But because I was this kind of person… that nobody befriended me…

The fact that Jessica loved me very much…

I was extremely moved… that she tried her best to always put up with me.

When I failed my first university entrance exam, she cancelled her own enrolment to keep me company.

When I job hunted, she went scouring around with me.

When I got into a serious fight, she even went and begged her father for money to bail me out; despite my own Pa wanting to let me swat mosquitos at the police station for at least one night.

When she was going to undergo her breast implant surgery, she asked me to stay overnight with her at the hospital. But I didn’t…

When she was going to get married roughly four years ago, she pleaded until her tears nearly became rivers of blood before I agreed to be her bridesman.

But I was not a good bridesman. I picked up my camera and dashed off to take photos instead–not to mention, getting into a fistfight with the waiter of the Hua Hin hotel as well. It was because the waiter had a rotten mouth, ridiculing the bride for being a transgender woman. I heard this and seethed with rage that some stranger had the audacity to insult my friend despite not knowing anything about her in the first place. In honesty, I tried to grit my teeth and bear it, thinking to let it pass. But in the end, I still couldn’t help myself. Hence, gracing this foul-mouthed waiter with my fists I wound up throwing the wedding into chaos.

Yet, in spite of causing trouble, did you know that when Jessica tended my injuries afterwards, she said: Petch… the wedding day photo that I took for her, that photo, she has never looked so beautiful in her entire life, thank you… for coming to help with her wedding.

At that time, I felt so moved that I almost cried… truly overwhelmed that regardless of how nice or horrible I was, Jessica still loved me from start to finish.

It was this very incident which made me realize that… I liked taking portrait photos… Jessica’s words of praise added with the short time I had spent with Mr. Yeti… the photographer of my dreams, they melded together to become my motivation, pushing me to train until I finally became a fashion photographer. But I have never told anyone about this story. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone that my source of inspiration was a kathoey friend. A kathoey who loved me wholeheartedly and unchangingly for over twenty years.

As for right now, I was beginning to understand a few things.

Kathoeys, women, or men, were they still important?

Why was I unable to take good photographs…

Because the model was a gender that I didn’t approve of?

Or because my heart was too narrow and cloudy?

Tomorrow… I will wipe the lens… in my heart clean… and give it a second shot.

 

Let me start again… once more, please?

 

END OF VOLUME 1


The first volume just flew by but there are still so many unanswered questions. In any case, thank you for sticking around thus far. I will skip the extra chapter (and save it for later) since I assume most of you will want the continuation of this instead. Here’s the cover of volume 2 in case you haven’t seen it, featuring Sasha and Pun:
eh8diek

As a response to the previous chapter’s comments, although Alexey’s words were definitely too harsh, they weren’t uncalled for in my opinion. He wants to help Petch improve as a photographer (as per his promise to him), and his advice would not have gotten through to Petch if he didn’t give him the ‘whip’; after all, Jessica did point out that Petch is not quite a mindful person, he doesn’t listen if spoken to properly and nicely so being blunt is the only option left. Alexey isn’t unpredictable if you consider his actions as ‘tough love’, but that’s just my own thoughts, maybe I’m siding too much with this asshole?

Carta Visa: 19th Round

Bold: The characters are speaking in English.


Morning arrived and I had a chance to rest by peacefully enjoying breakfast alone in my room. I ate while watching TV and despite not knowing the language, I found the brief respite to be pleasant.

Today’s big news pertained to the convening of the Kazakhstan parliament on the basis of some sort of urgent agenda. The TV continued to repeatedly display images of the president yet I still couldn’t grasp what his name was–in any case his surname felt familiar to my ears…. Apart from that, posh cars belonging to members of the political party appeared onscreen as they arrived to the conference.

This country was amazing dear readers. Kazakhstan functioned on a democratic system yet it had no opposing parties whatsoever. As to why this was the case, I would need to investigate and explain it to you some other time. Aside from news of the convening parliament, the following political news nearly lulled me to sleep when… Hey! Mr. Alexander Nazarbayev, what are you doing on TV!?

Projected on the TV screen was a gigantic building called KazmunayGas (КазМунайГаз). Upon it, the hottie was announcing something towards a conference of twenty people. The atmosphere was dark, each of them arguing with one another to the point where their faces had turned black and red. Honestly it would be no surprise if a fight erupted in the middle of the conference room. The majority of people attending the conference had Russian name tags, save for a few who had English ones with names of big oil companies labelled beside it. The image then cut to when the conference was finished as an army of reporters ran over to surround Alexey before being tucked back by his booming voice and intimidating gaze which forced them to retreat. Not retreating would be crazy actually. I saw this and felt pity. Hey Mr. Hottie you’re not a reporter so you don’t understand how us media people make a living. Of course… you’re just a gangster in disguise as a civil servant after all, what would you care…?

Upon completely demolishing my pickled cucumbers, the entertainment news started to air on TV–and what story could it be other than… a shot of Alicia exiting out of her posh Bentley car with four bodyguards as they were surrounded by a mass of bloodthirsty reporters who bombarded with questions about last night’s incident. A photo which I had secretly taken from behind the curtains was enlarged until it covered the entire screen, accompanied also by rapid commentary. Alicia then made a frustrated noise before vanishing into the luxurious hotel which she was staying at.

I was shocked… The conversation I had heard last night in my sleep… I really wasn’t imagining things. Alexey was willing to use every method possible in order to get rid of whatever it was that obstructed his eyesight… Matters such as ruining a famous model’s career was insignificant when compared to the impact it would have on the husband who was currently running around lobbying his position in the cabinet…

By now, Alexey was probably puffing his hazy cigarette smoke and laughing to his heart’s content inside his office…

Continually pressing the remote, I eventually found an English version of the local news and came to an understanding. As it turns out, the cabinet was undergoing a number of changes. Significantly, several important positions were being reshuffled: The assistant minister of defense, the minister of finance, and–eh? …What was this position? The minister of energy? As a result of my extremely slow reading, I still couldn’t grasp the entire story. Following this news was–ah! There it was again. KazmunayGas turned out to be a large state-owned enterprise that had opened negotiations about excavating oil and natural gasses in collaboration with other private companies. And by extension of this, I became a little more acquainted with Alexey as well. From the information provided by this channel, Alexey was cited as a civil servant working under the minister of energy. Eh? But since when were civil servants such a high-earning profession…?

The news segment on this channel was slightly longer than the previous one so I ended up seeing Alexey give a short English interview. However… as expected of someone who belonged to the mafia: “This country’s resources belong to the people, if companies refuse to pay the concession fee imposed by the government, then find somewhere else to drill oil from.”

“And how much is this government-issued concession fee sir?”

“That’s your duty as a journalist to find out for yourself.” The female reporter was taken aback…

My god!!! Alexey must be having an identity crisis, he’s mixed up his roles between being a civil servant and being a mafia gangster! As if giving an interview like this was acceptable.

The sound of knocking could be heard from my front door and I walked over to open it without any thought.

“Petch dear~ I miss youuuu.

An abnormally high-pitched voice, a powerful hug, and two silicone lumps which shoved and pushed against my chest until my lungs nearly concaved. Jessica was smooching my cheeks so vigorously that I didn’t get a chance to defend myself. However, after struggling desperately for a while, I managed to escape death in the end. Facing forward, I saw Isakov stood staring apathetically along with the hottie who had just entered the room to do the same.

“Hey, how’d you get here Pae–I mean, Jessica.”

“Well… Alexey said you needed a model for your work so I offered to help.” Jessica puckered her lips together, her expression full of haughtiness. “He also said a face like mine would make your photos more dignified.”

“*****” Sorry for my vulgarity. “I never said that, and never would I want a kathoey for a model, it ruins my eyesight.”

Only upon seeing my kathoey friend’s somber expression did I realize that my words were too harsh. “But… if you have time, going out for a drive with me… would be pretty fun, arguing with you makes life more colorful.”

Round eyes thick with mascara like peacock feathers blinked rapidly. She nodded energetically, then sauntered over to fawn on Isakov who had been listening to our conversation. Isakov nodded before dragging Jessica’s three-person thick suitcase into the room. Taking the key and opening her suitcase, Jessica pulled out several sets of clothes which had already been washed and ironed, depositing them into a separate smaller bag. I was left puzzled. “What are you doing? Why are leaving your belongings in my room?”

“I prepared a lot of gorgeous outfits in case you needed them for your work… but… since your camera is far too superior for a lady like me, I’ll just walk around and show off these beautiful clothes while you take photographs of some other redhead or blondie instead, doesn’t that sound like fun?” Despite showing an expression of indifference, I could sense that she was sulking. Haah… consoling girls was already a hard task but consoling kathoeys was proving to be several times more difficult.

Jessica took out a mink fur hat, patted it into shape, and posed gleefully in front of the mirror, changing her sunglasses, necklace, ring, purse, and shoes until my head began to spin. Eventually I had to give her a nudge and convince her that she was already beautiful, only then was she satisfied and walked arm in arm with Isakov as they led the way forward. Upon seeing my red BMW convertible, she let out several squeals and screeches at its classic design before requesting that I take a few shots of her with it. I was beginning to wonder though, was I going to get any work done today?

 

“It’s cold as sh*t today Petch.” Jessica muttered as I drove my car after Isakov who was leading the way. “My lips are dry, they’re not luscious and kissable like Megan Fox’s at all.”

Megan Fox, really? You must be barking to an airplane! It would already be fortunate if your face looked at least a tenth as attractive as Megan Fox’s.

“Use the lipsticks that you went to the effort of hauling with you in that cosmetics chests then woi.” I wasn’t exaggerating. Jessica who agreed to accompany me on this drive had hauled along a chestful of cosmetics, three hats, and four sunglasses (I wanted to know, was she hiding her other eyes or something?) I had no desire to know what was in that enigmatic chest of hers. And she only had a single damned face as well, why did she need all that makeup for just a simple drive?

“I’m only complaining. Honestly, you don’t understand a beautiful lady like me at all, it’s such a waste of your life to choose to become a fashion photographer.”

Sure, I’m the one who’s wrong… I grumbled internally before deciding to ignore Jessica, leaving her to chatter on by herself. Jessica was someone who loved to talk. Her talking was relentless whereby even if I drove from Kazakhstan to the borders of Afghanistan, she would still have a story to tell throughout the entire trip.

 

 

I forgot to mention our destination. Admittedly I didn’t manage to catch the name of the town, however, it was a town that was relatively rural, far from Astana by one and a half hours. The roads in Kazakhstan were much better than the ones in Bangkok. Even though they weren’t very wide, they were at least entirely covered in asphalt. The people who drove also had compassionate hearts. Most exemplary of all were the bus drivers who even possessed a good semblance of standards, it was so admirable that it nearly brought tears to my eyes.

Despite not having much chance to chat with Viktar today, he still made sure to secretly observe me from afar as I walked around taking photos casually. On one occasion, Viktar directed my attention to the view of a farming valley. The tilled fields had been leveled into steps which alternated between high and low. Atop the peaks of each tall hill stood a couple of aged wooden houses and a number of large bulky dairy cows which strolled together in a herd.

Viktar informed me in a hushed voice that these fields belonged to Isakov’s grandparents. Furthermore, if I drove another fifteen miles past this valley, a large dairy farm created as a pastime by the elderly couple could be seen–and it was here where I would meet that hottie and his thuggish underling again.

Let me confess, I didn’t really like landscape photography all that much. It’s not that I wasn’t skilled at it. Rather… it just didn’t impress or inspire me. As such, it couldn’t be helped that I became bored of this town after two hours. Yet Isakov wasn’t discouraged, going so far as to lead the way by car so I could get a glimpse the dairy farm and also a horse racing farm (that Viktar refused to disclose the owner of, only smiling.) I managed to obtain several nice photos of the well-bred horses but upon seeing Jessica implore the hottie for a horse ride, my good mood started to sour once again. Why? Because she was being noisy. Furthermore, my Alexey had the nerve to agree to Jessica’s request. As her butt met the horse, she made such a piercing artificial screech to get off that the hottie had to carry her down gently…. If I were to act like that however, I would instantly be kicked off the horse and break my neck in the fall.

The underhanded allure kathoey’s possessed was honestly tiresome, good grief.

 

It was four in the afternoon now. Currently I was strolling through a farmer’s market where various vendors had laid out their goods for sale in the middle of the bustling square. Jessica’s sickeningly sweet voice buzzed close to my ears. Every time I turned to look, I would see her walking arm in arm with Alexey, buying and tasting things along the way merrily. Moreover, she was even feeding him. The hottie played along obediently too, receiving what was held up to his mouth with a radiant and relaxed expression on his face. From a cursory glance, without knowing that Jessica was a man, one would assume that these two were a normal unsuspecting pair of lovers. As for me, I could only watch them from afar, taking photographs occasionally from time to time. Eventually we settled down to rest at the entrance to one of the old nearby houses. Seeing fallen orange and yellow leaves clutter the street, I couldn’t help but release a sigh. My heart felt inexplicably vacant for some reason.

“You’re tired already?”

The hottie who had fallen to a kathoey’s allure sat down beside me, lighting his cigarette. “What’s up?”

“I’m… fine.” I replied reluctantly as I bent over to look at my photos. “Do you want to see them? After all, you went to the effort of bringing me on this eye-opening trip.”

Alexey took the camera, silently looking at my photos for a moment. When I turned back to look however, I was met with a mischievous smile.

“Even a preschooler is capable of taking photos like yours.”

It was like I was struck by lightning. My face felt numb like it had been slapped. “What did you say?”

“A preschooler equipped with a similar camera can take the exact same photos. Do you only think to rely on the camera’s abilities but not your own whatsoever…?” His lips were curled into a smile but his eyes stared cruel and mercilessly. “Bringing you on this trip and asking for Jessica’s help didn’t make you any smarter at all… what a disappointment.”

Hit with this single uppercut, I was instantly dizzy. Pangs of hurt flooded my chest to the point where I couldn’t suppress my desire to lash back at the man. I latched onto his arm before he could walk away.

“Don’t just insult me. If you’re serious then please be so kind as to explain to an idiot like me how the professionals do it.”

“And prior to this, have you never acted like a professional before? Just work like you do everyday except do it smarter, that’s all there is to it.” The gangster steeled his voice. He took the camera out of my hands and showed me the final few photos. “Fine, in case it brings any merit let me tell you… that I’ve never met a professional photographer anywhere who takes landscape photos as terrible as you. Your photos are flat, dull and boring.”

“Well that’s because your country is boring. You took me sightseeing on a farm so of course there would be nothing to photograph except for some farmhouses–as if it would come out looking extravagant like a royal palace.”

A palm struck my mouth with a loud thwack. “Petch, quit barking!”

I was beyond shocked at being slapped, but also at being addressed so humiliatingly. “You…”

“How about it, would you like to hear it again? …In case that tiny brain of yours has gotten smarter now. If not… then shut up, listen to me speak and use that tiny lump of brain to work out a way to solve this problem!” The tone he used… was icy frigid, as if hurting my feelings didn’t make him feel bad in any way. “You’ve been working for several years now, can you not differentiate between what photos are good and what photos are inadequate…hm? Tell me… look at the photos you’ve taken… and tell me how these photos are better than an amatuer with a camera.”

 

This question stabbed directly into my heart…

P’Chid himself… had said the same thing to me… it was one of the reasons why he was ever so adamant about assigning me fashion photography work instead of sending me off on trips to photograph skies, mountains, stars and oceans like all the other photographers.

‘You, do you not know how to take landscape photos?’ P’Pun questioned me as well.

‘There’s nothing interesting about it P’Pun. Photographing the scenery, anyone can do that.’

‘Well it’s you who can’t.’

‘How are they even different? Photographing people is much more interesting since you have to transform the subject into the embodiment of a concept.

‘Landscape you see… I think it’s difficult… it’s difficult to express the emotions of non-living things to others. Viewers expect to sense emotions, feelings, mood… everything from a single landscape picture… Just admit it Petch, you can’t do it. But I can teach you if you want.’

Except this was during a period where I was starting to make a name for myself. As work was beginning to pile up, I refused P’Pun’s generous offer without a second thought, simply thinking that if I became skilled at taking portraits, edited photos like an expert, and earned a lot of money, it would be more than enough.

“I’m the person who asked Jessica to help you… don’t just assume that she’s here to model for fun.” Alexey pushed the camera into my hands. “Tell Isakov to start the car, we’re going back to the same location. If you don’t have a good photo by the end of the day… you’re sleeping in a barn tonight.”

“Do you think using threats will scare me?”

I shoved Alexey, his back hitting the ascending stairs with a loud resounding crash; even I was surprised. Isakov sprinted towards us, however, in that chaotic moment the person who had just fallen yanked my body off the ground and hurled me at his own bodyguard. Isakov staggered back a few steps after catching me so my head wouldn’t end up smacked against the floor. Alarmed, the townsfolk were gathering one by one to observe the ruckus.

But the well-intentioned man did not care, merely shrugging his shoulders as he concealed his face with a pair of sunglasses. He beckoned Jessica over from a stand selling vegetables and we got on our cars to return together.

 

“What were you arguing about Petch?”

“That guy was the one who provoked me first, he deserved it.” Tailing the car in front of me, I stepped on the gas pedal. Currently I had no means of escape. In front was Isakov leading the way, my car trailed after in second place, and as for the back, a posh carmine Benz tied off our small procession of cars–the chauffeur being Viktar and the passenger… none other than Alexey. “F*ck, what right did he have to lecture other people? I doubt he even knows how to remove a memory card from a camera.”

The person sitting beside me cleared her throat reprimandingly. “Petch, I know you’re angry but have no right to judge him. You don’t even know him that well yet.”

“Either way I’m a f*cking idiot for letting him make a mess of my life.”

“Yeah, I think you’re an idiot too. All of my friends are smart except for you who chooses to eat grass instead of rice.”

(TN: Implying that Petch is as dumb as a water buffalo, an animal that eats grass as its main diet.)

Hua… to even rub it in. I sent Jessica a warning glare but it wasn’t like this kathoey cared.

“You carelessly let a guy who you know nothing about into your life… that’s the first stupid thing. Moreover, you didn’t even try to study him… this is stupid times two… not to mention instead of realizing that…”

“You *** Jessica.”

“You’re going to what? I’m speaking Petch.” Jessica growled back in a stern masculine voice. “You’re angry aren’t you? Take your anger out on me until you’re satisfied. Yell at me as much as you want if it makes you any smarter. Does taking your anger out on me make you happy? …No. Does it make you smarter? …Even more no. Does it make you work better? …Well there doesn’t seem to be any improvement. If you have a brain then try using it for once. Even Alexey who’s not a professional photographer could tell that your work was terrible, and he gave you his honest opinion as well. But you couldn’t accept it, so what do you do instead? You start lashing out at everyone.”

“Jessica, are you my friend or are we going to stop being friends right this instant? Decide.” I raised my voice, battling the loud torrents of wind outside. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was driving, I would have punched her already.

“Then stop the car, I’d gladly not be your friend anymore!”

Fury overwhelmed my thoughts and the little patience which I had remaining, braking the car abruptly!

 

 

My emotions were strung taut with anger and hurt, sulking that Jessica was now blatantly ignoring me. Alexey didn’t bother to speak to me either, merely shooting me his psychopathic gaze as an added pressure to get work done, if not, I would have to go sleep in a barn with the cows.

Jessica didn’t even glimpse at me. She refused to meet my eyes for even a single second unless it was when posing for the camera.

It was the end of autumn. Strong biting winds signalled to people that winter was soon approaching. As I stared up at the dusky orange and red sky, it made me feel inexplicably vacant and lonely. In truth, the sunlight and shade created by the clouds casting light and dark onto the grassy fields looked impressively beautiful. But it was my heart which was muddy like a dirty camera lens. I couldn’t take any good photographs.

“Even if I work until my camera breaks, the photos won’t end up any damned better.” I complain audibly, intending to make Jessica angry as said person was fixing up her makeup not too far away. Isakov who helped set up the lights glanced my way without saying anything. As for Alexey, he had already walked off to take a phone call.

It wasn’t as I anticipated. Rather than yelling back to annoy my ears, Jessica’s silence had me at a loss. Not to mention, it made me want to slap my own mouth.

“Is the model ready…?” Since she was acting cold, I made sure to instil my voice with indifference as well. Jessica posed according to all of my directions… and I began to take decent photographs according to my fashion photographer’s instinct… however… the photos displayed on my camera were cold and emotionless, no different from our current mood. Nevertheless, I was determined to prove that I could do it. I had to refute that cocky guy’s criticism.

“I guess this is the most… kathoeys are f*cking capable of, it taints my camera.” I didn’t want to say these words at all, but I hated the silence.

And it worked as Jessica hurled her high heels narrowly past my head before letting out a scream. Everyone was stunned at Jessica who now exploded into a loud mess of crying noises. I quickly collected her high heels and went up to her.

“Hey Jessica… I… uh…. I…”

“Don’t touch me! If you hate me that much then don’t bother showing your face in front of me ever again.” Jessica yelled in her sharp high-pitched voice, alarming a nearby herd of cows immediately. “I’m not good enough to be your friend is it? Then what angel out there is willing to lower themselves to be your friend Petch!? Do you think I flew from Frankfurt to see you so you could insult me? Do you despise me that much? And am I not the only friend who can put up with you?”

Jessica fumed amidst her sobbing, tears soaking both of her cheeks. “With just me being a kathoey, wanting to dress pretty, have long hair, and wear high heels like all the other girls, how does it debase me as a human being to the point where you feel its necessary to attack my feelings? Ask yourself, have I ever been the one to make you sad before? And is it not you who has made me cry since five years old up until this day?”

Jessica’s words made me feel helpless… and guilty for the first time in my life since we became friends.

“The littlest things make you angry. I speak seriously and it makes you angry. I give you advice but it never reaches your ears. Does your head exist only to partition your ears!?” Although it hurt, her words spoke true. I was too speechless to argue back.

Jessica accepted the tissues from Isakov then handed it back to him. “Huu, I don’t want these, it’ll ruin my face. Give me my makeup wipes, huu… Isakov… Jessica’s heartbroken.” Despite being heartbroken, she was still concerned about her beauty. “…Jessie doesn’t want to help Petch with his work anymore. We’re not friends anymore so I don’t want to help him, huu…”

Jessica burst into another wave of tears, this time with Alexey helping to console her, rubbing her back and shoulders while gently wiping away her tears. Upon seeing this, my nasty emotions took a dive. I felt like I had reached the lowest of the low and it caused tears to well up in both of my eyes. Unable to bear it any longer, I turned my back to everyone, burying my feeling of defeat deep inside my heart.

Jessica was correct about a lot of things… no, she was correct about everything. Be it my stupidity, my bad temper, my sulky attitude, my self-centeredness, my foul insensitive mouth, or the fact that I was a sore loser with pathetic skills… it described me immaculately.

But I was human too… I felt anguished at what had happened.

And I…

Wanted to be encouraged to fix this problem… as well.

“Petch, where are you going?”

A familiar voice halted my feet. I took a deep breath and assumed an expression of indifference. This way, nobody would have any idea… what I was thinking.

“I’m going to find a barn to sleep in… as for you… go back and rest at the InterContinental, it’s more befitting of your status after all.

 

Never before in my life… did I hate myself as much as I did this day.


MFW when I come back from vacation to see this chapter.

Carta Visa: 18th Round

Bold: The characters are speaking in English


Astana, Kazakhstan.

I staggered out of the BMW convertible with a sick feeling in my stomach, head dizzy like I was about to pass out. Even tiger balm didn’t help to lessen my torment, I swerved uncontrollably side to side like a person high on drugs, slumping against one of the large mosque pillars as Viktar eyed me with… um… worry (possibly).

I realized now what that hottie was going to warn me about in regards to Viktar. Initially, I assumed that bodyguard number two would be sharp-tongued and sarcastic like Isakov but who knew… Viktar was a man of little words… so little in fact that… I still couldn’t recall what his voice sounded like. Was he afraid of startling the trees or something? Moreover, he liked to make a dot dot expression, do you understand me? A ‘dot dot’ expression meant he thought neither good or bad about a single thing on this planet. Be it driving at the speed of light or freaking me out by cutting in front of a truck, followed by barely whiffing a granny selling flowers on the side of the road, Viktar still maintained his ‘…’ face. There was no trace of emotion on his face, in his eyes, or behind his words. Even with me nearly kneeling and begging for him to ease those feet of his, the guy simply answered:

“Mm.”

Before proceeding to lower the speed to two hundred and twenty miles per hour, yeah sure, thanks a lot man…

If he didn’t claim to be ‘His Excellency’s’ bodyguard, I would have thought he was a cross country race car driver instead (by this I mean crossing from this lifetime into the next).

The dot dot guy patted my shoulder and shifted his gaze towards the inside of the mosque.

“The ceremony is about is to start, go on.”

I took a deep breath, fine… hopefully God won’t punish me if I wind up puking in the middle of the mosque.

As part of Kazakhstan tradition, wedding ceremonies involved Islamic rituals and practices, this one proceeding smoothly and without a hitch. In fact it was fairly unceremonious, the number of guests attending the event was no small crowd either. Seeing the bride’s face glow with happiness I couldn’t resist smiling along. She wore a traditional Kazakhstan dress weaved with elegant silks and a cone-shaped hat with tufts of animal fur lining the edges–for those having difficulty picturing it, it basically looked like a party hat meant for a five year old; except this was their tradition. As for the groom, he merely wore a clean white shirt and matching white pants, layering on top a waistcoat stitched in silk and a short cylinder hat.

I can’t explain anymore than this but putting it briefly… the bride’s parents send her off, the elders give their blessing, and everyone prays together. In the meantime I was panning my eyes across the room, failing to find the woman in the red dress anywhere and so decided to continue reading the bride and groom’s background information which I had translated using Google Translate. Wading through the broken and disjointed translation–anyone familiar with using this service can probably relate–the bride’s history turned out to be nothing major. She was a regular girl from Ukraine who one day was given the chance to work in Kazakhstan’s ministry of foreign affairs, being assigned to a small position in the government. From there, the story of romance between the two of them blossomed like the fairytail Cinderella. A plain common girl found love with a man of high status. Now, she was wearing matching wedding rings with the son of the minister of foreign affairs, their story seems to have reached a happy ending.

Once the religious part of the wedding ceremony was over, everyone moved to the InterContinental Hotel on Abaya Avenue, changing their outfits in preparation to welcome the rest of the guests which trickled in to attend the evening celebrations.

The dot dot guy and I concealed ourselves among the group of thirty or so reporters which had come to get a scoop of the famous wedding couple. I tried to speak as little as possible to avoid drawing attention to myself since I had no idea who I was supposed to tail. Why did I have to tail her and was I really going to receive money in return? (this point was very important). In the end, the woman in question still hadn’t shown herself. The dot dot guy sat silently without any sign of being restless or frustrated, but as for me, I was starting to feel stressed. Frantic that this assignment was going to go on for much longer and make me miss my chance to go travelling, I secretly whispered a question at last.

Viktar merely shrugged his shoulders. “She’s not here yet so keep waiting, you should be accustomed to waiting.”

“But I don’t have a lot of time.”

“Whoever hires you to work for them becomes the owner of your time… If you aren’t patient, you won’t get hired.”

Oh, Viktar had a point. When I first started out as a photographer, I was used to waiting for several hours on end as I was still very new at the time. I didn’t have the words nor skill to bargain with anyone so I waited patiently and waited long. However, as I continued to work and as people began to recognize me more, my reputation in the circle of people whom I worked with was pushed to a higher level. I received jobs and praises so often that it began to feel normal, causing me to sometimes forget how to wait and have patience.

After all, if you want to take a photo of the rising sun, you’ll have to wake up earlier and wait for it…

 

A loud buzz of chatter emerged from the elegant red carpet at the entrance to the party. I relied on my thinner frame to duck into the crowd of reporters and appear again on the other side in front of the carpet. I instinctively hold up my camera to eye-level. The door to the lavish Bentley car opened wide along with the appearance of a long slender leg belonging to… oh my god!

I pressed the shutter subconsciously as the blinding flashes of several other cameras clashed against one another in a show of lights. A nameless woman in a long vermilion backless evening gown stepped down onto the carpet. Her skin was porcelain white like it was actually glowing. Blue eyes beneath the elegantly curled eyelashes shined bright like jewels… hey, what the hell was going on… was I seeing things or experiencing double vision, oh my god!

The person following closely behind was a drop-dead handsome young man with brilliant blue eyes capable of making hearts melt. The man exited the car in a Tom Ford suit (I don’t know why I knew, but I knew!–because it made Daniel Craig the current 007 James Bond look two times hotter than he deserved to be.) and waved at the reporters with a small smile. When the nameless woman and nameless man stood beside each other to have their photos taken, their blinding aura turned my eyes blurry, pressing the shutter by mistake several times. As for the reporters behind me, they were nearly clambering onto my shoulders in order to get shots of their own. Fortunately, the dot dot guy manoeuvred his way in, gathered my waist, and pulled me out just in time before I ended up getting trampled to death.

I was in such absolute shock that I couldn’t speak for two to three minutes; my eyes were still blurry as well. “Those two people, who are they? Why are they…”

“The elder twin used to be a supermodel in Russia, now she’s married to an old fart of a billionaire. Though currently, I think… she’s trying to get back into the entertainment industry with a breakthrough in Europe. As for the younger twin… you’ll find out soon enough.”

Twins!!! This fact was something which shocked me greatly. Importantly, what kind of pregnancy did their mother have to be able to give birth to a son and daughter with heavenly good looks such as this?

“What our eyes see… is often not the truth, remember this well. Go on, follow her…”

 

The evening party was lavish and grandiose to the point where I almost mistook it for the Academy Awards. Be it the horse-drawn carriage delivering guests, the celebration, or the location, everything looked luxuriously blown out of proportion, so much so that the bride appeared to be more flustered and excited than the groom who was welcoming guests with expertise.

However, when I glimpsed over at the relatives of the groom and bride… I saw only worry projected on these people’s faces. Each pair of eyes was fixed on the beautiful women in the red dress with strange unease.

The little bride… wasn’t only flustered now, she was holding in her sobs… What was going on…? Why did the appearance of one single person turn the romantic atmosphere so glum?

Or was she sad at the fact that her wedding had become a regular social gathering? An event for guests to discuss business, debate about politics and pit their wealth against each other? …Or was I over-exaggerating things…?

The entrance to the party went abuzz once more. From seeing the blinding lights of several camera flashes go off, I presumed that it was probably another high-profile person arriving. But since my gaze was still insistently following the woman in the red dress, I didn’t have a chance to take in the new arrival.

My ears twitched when I heard someone speaking Russian off in the distance say the word: Nazarbayev. Hastily I craned my head to look, finding the newly arrived guest to be none other than the lord almighty Alexey Nazarbayev exiting from a luxurious car costing several ten million baht. Wearing a sharp black suit, his figure looked even more dignified as he stood talking in a hushed tone with a nameless young man. Though Alexey’s mouth spoke to one person, his gaze was fixed to another. I had no idea what they were talking about but the distance between them… they were virtually hugging at this point…

The beautiful pair of lips which whispered something into that slim ear… unfolded into a smile… and then laughter… and from laughter back into a smile… did he find something funny or what? They didn’t have to stand so close to each other.

Alexey turned around and looked at me, his mouth pausing. The previously cheerful expression on his face now molded into cold displeasure as his glaring eyes said: Go do your assignment…

For a brief moment, my entire face went numb… unable to look away in time… Get a hold of yourself Petch, that nameless man’s identity and how chummy they were acting with each other isn’t any of your business…

I focused my attention back to the woman in the red dress while repeating in my head: two thousand dollars, two thousand dollars, two thousand dollars…

I heard people call her name from time to time and thus came to know that her name was Alicia; what a pretty name. However… the issue was, after stalking her like a paparazzi for half an hour I was starting to notice something strange. Why was she going to the toilet so often? And… that powder stuck to her nose…

“Do you have a better lens?” The dot dot guy asked all of a sudden. “Can you zoom in anymore?”

“The photo’s shaky…” I reply softly. “Actually I think my hand is what’s shaky…”

“Have you enabled IS yet?”

Oh yeah, I forgot…

I adjusted my camera lens and held it up against my eye once more, but she had vanished again… Haah, I was getting tired of this, might as well take a toilet break. It was cold as hell here and the party was so hectic that I forgot to pee, at this rate I was probably going to contract a UTI.

The dressing room of the wedding couple was off to the side, separated from the great hall and complete with a small personal balcony of its own. I briefly caught sight of a familiar shadow and hastily chased it down, except… the situation behind the slightly ajar closed curtains caused me to press the shutter in a hurry like my life depended on it.

The gorgeous Alicia didn’t seem very gorgeous right now. She was sufficiently high on cocaine and had begun causing trouble by invading into the wedding couple’s dressing room. Picking up the bride’s spare wedding veil–used in case the actual one got torn–she placed it lopsidedly on her head and started to prance around, blowing cigarette smoke into the faces of the various servants who were charged with preparing the room. With no men around she became even more brazen, yanking this and that off, shredding clothing into pieces before scattering them into the air. Her cheery laugh was like that of a psycho.

“What are you doing here!”

A scolding voice along with a large hand made me jump. It was Viktar. I quickly motion for him to see and we both conspired together to observe the situation for a long while until someone had summoned three giant bodyguards over to carry Alicia out of the party. The beautiful woman agreed to leave quietly and obediently after a single uppercut swing to the chin… it was really a fantastic method of dealing with troublesome problems.

I showed the secretly taken photos to Viktar, holding up two fingers with pride. The dot dot guy stared at it with a nonchalant expression as usual. “Let me see them closely.”

I was reluctant to hand over my camera since I was afraid Viktar would drop it. However, he took it gently, holding it in the proper way as well. After inspecting the photos for a moment, he spoke up. “A 17/55mm lens would have been more suitable.”

“You like taking photos too?”

“Nope. You took nice shots though.”

“Really?” I’ve heard such praises far too frequently, but never from these people before.

The dot dot guy didn’t answer, however a smile escaped when he looked at some of the photos (What are you smiling about? They’re paparazzi photos.). Viktar turned the screen back for me to see. “Especially this photo.”

The thing which appeared on the camera screen was a photo of two men stood talking with each other in a flirty manner. Alexey’s hand was brushing the strands hair which had fallen on the forehead of that nameless man, his grey eyes gleaming with warmth, likewise to the faint smile on his face.

Actually I had unintentionally taken this photo. Yet the outcome was a scene which almost looked dream-like… the warm atmosphere created by the orange tone of the photo seemed so real that it felt almost tangible.

“…”

“Not going to boast about it?”

Let’s change topics, I didn’t want to talk about this. “Why did you hire me to take her photo?”

“Because of the way she is when you saw her earlier. Sir Alexey needed to take care of matters, concerning her, and also her husband”

‘Take care of’ were words which sounded very frightening.

“And the younger twin?”

Viktar’s cheeks twitched. He returned the camera to me. “Are you hungry?”

“You didn’t answered my question.” I demanded.

The faithful bodyguard sighed. “Some things are better off not knowing about. How about it, are you going back inside the party to find something to eat?”
Should I go back…?

If I went back… I would probably be too distracted by trying to find a certain someone… I feared for myself that I was going to pick up my camera and take a photo… take, take, take… remember, remember, remember… bury it deep into my brain until I’m unable to sleep… especially seeing that smile of his… there will be sleepless nights where I won’t be able to force my eyes shut.

Viktar stared at me, not saying anything like usual but instead messing up my hair in a somewhat consoling manner. “I’ll treat you to something delicious nearby, can you… um… eat mutton?”

“Hm… hua! Are you crazy? Why would anybody eat cotton? People here eat that as well? That’s super weird.”

Viktar made a confused face. What…? Did I say something wrong? “Well… you said cotton didn’t you? It’s the thing written on pillow labels!”

Viktar smiled wide. “This blockhead monkey. I said mutton… you know, ‘lamb’?”

I pull a wry face, he was teasing me again. “Fine, be it pig, dog, crow, chicken or whatever meat, I’ll eat it all, bring it on.”

“I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.” Viktar cocked an eyebrow. “Oh, Sir Alexey also ordered me to find a gun for you, in case you need it for self-defence. Are you familiar with guns? Hopefully you know how to load bullets.”

“Sorry to say Viktar, other than loading photos into a memory card, I can only load food into my stomach.”

The bodyguard shook his head with exasperation.

 

 

The things I remembered in bits and pieces were the green and brown Irish pub, the fragrant wafting smell of the mashed potatoes, tobacco, delicious juicy steaks, and the sound of people cheering for football…

It was great and entirely worth the sweat and tears I expended in today’s work, I really love Viktar.

“Haah, completely wasted… this little monkey.”

Someone’s voice rang loudly next to me. If this was a normal situation, I would have known who the voice belonged to, however, after knocking back two bottles of Corona Extra and another four shots of vodka, not falling off my seat was fortunate in and of itself.

I felt my body being swept up, floating in midair, up and down, up and down, before my back hit something soft. And then I floated…

The sound of conversation in some alien language echoed closeby. Mm… it sounds just like Viktar… there was a smell of cologne too… mm… the smell was really familiar… eh…? Quit playing with the back of my ear, I’m ticklish… Hm? Something velvety and warm touched my forehead, it was soft.

Someone’s hand was touching my cheek as well. Uu… don’t pinch it woi! That’s a person’s cheek, not a meat bun. Pinching wasn’t enough, my cheek was slapped too. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was drunk to the point where I couldn’t open my eyes, I would have pinched them back.

“Viktar, where’s his camera?”

“Over there Your Excellency.” Your Excellency, who’s this guy? Do I know him? What a long name. Ugh… Viktar can you quit shuffling around? I’m sleepy, and also full from the lamb. By now the two kilo piece of lamb which I had eaten was probably swimming happily in a sea of alcohol… splish splash, splish splash, it sounds fun just thinking about it.

Hm, how curious, my English comprehension improved when I was drunk…

“Braver than I thought… what do you think Viktar?”

“Are you talking about ‘her’ Your Excellency?”

The car made a sharp right turn which nearly caused it to drift off the road. Viktar was the person driving for sure.

“I think… both of them look odd. That pathetic old man is constantly admitting himself into the hospital while letting his wife attend parties day in and day out. Normally she’s more cautious than this.”

“That old man may be ill but his ambition isn’t, he still wishes to sit in the prime minister’s chair one day before dying. I really hate this thought, how disgusting…. Regardless, it’s a small problem when compared to Alicia who shamelessly came to today’s party without having been invited–to add, acting as disgusting as usual.”

“Your friend is far too polite to chase her out sir.”

“I’ll make it so that she won’t dare to show her face anywhere ever again.”

“However Your Excellency… I don’t see why you had to come down and involve yourself in insignificant matters like this.”

“It’s pretty fun is it not…? Think of this as taking the little monkey on an eye-opening field trip, with the added bonus of some snack money.”

“But I think…”

“Who do you think I am? A politician with clean hands? I don’t need to play by the rules… I dictate the rules for other people to play… Interesting matters like this… intimidation won’t cut it, only scalding water can scare a pig…”

Viktar laughed. “Yes sir… I’ll handle it.”

“And don’t dawdle, I still have a lot things that need to be taken care of… especially… Ethan.”

A voice this ferocious could belong to no one other than Alexander Nazarbayev. I startle right out of my sleep, collecting my thoughts and… oh… I thought I heard that hottie’s voice earlier, he’s wasn’t here…?

“Are you awake? We’ve arrived at the hotel.”

“Just now, was I dreaming?”

“Hm?”

“I thought I heard Alexey’s voice.”

“He’s still at the party.”

O-oh… really? Was I hallucinating in my sleep…?

 

 

When I arrived at the room, the lamb which was swimming splish splash a moment ago wanted to get out of its swimming pool so suddenly that I couldn’t adjust in time. Stepping into the room, I flung myself and embraced the toilet seat like it was an old friend that I hadn’t seen for a long time before puking exactly like Jessica when she drank until she looked three months pregnant.

The dot dot guy who supported me up to the room stood speculating for a moment before coming to sit next to me, rubbing my back and shoulders until I felt better.

Despite this being a critical moment… I was secretly peering over at Viktar from a close distance. This… although his face looked a bit droopy, when he smiled it was a hell of a thing. Haah, if I wasn’t puking, I probably would have asked him for a photo and then recommend him to Editor Chid as a potential model.

“Are you okay? Do you feel better yet?”

I rinsed my mouth clean while looking at bodyguard number two stand arms crossed leaning against the doorframe. He had two gun holsters strapped to his waist. “Uu, ank ew”

“Hm?”

I spit out the water and reply clearly. “Thank you.”

The dot dot guy smiled. “See you tomorrow.”

Although it was through the mirror… I could see that Viktar genuinely smiling at me, his blue eyes also curving into two smiley arches… he really looked good when his smiled.

After Viktar had gone back… I sat in a dizzy trance on the bed, still exhausted from puking earlier… Reaching for my camera, I decided to browse through the photos which I had taken today… though someone had definitely tampered with the photos in my camera, if not, why were half of the photos missing? Specifically the photos of the incident in the dressing room–and it was probably the work of no one other than Viktar following his boss’ order. The final remaining photo in my camera was the one which that guy had used to tease me with.

Yeah… I don’t mean to praise myself but this photo was truly beautiful, from the two models to the lighting, colours, and composition… Yet for me, looking at it made me feel a sort of lonely emptiness…

Who was this guy…? He wore a Tom Ford suit too, it was stunning… oh, hey…
I hastily squinted my eyes, zooming closer into the photo. I must still be drunk, this was Kazakhstan, not the Academy Awards, who else in the party would be wearing a Tom Ford suit!? The person which the hottie had his arms wrapped around was the exact same person as Alicia’s younger twin, moreover he resembled…

I blink rapidly…

The younger twin… bright blue eyes, brown freckles decorating a prominent nose, and a smooth egg-shaped face.

There was definitely something wrong with my vision because this guy was–! They resembled each other more than two sheeps. No, no, two sheeps still had their differences. They were exact copies of each other, clones even!!! Oh my godddddd!

The realization which flashed into my mind rendered me completely sober. All of this was the same person… the man on the airplane… the ‘special person’ that a certain someone around here was… carefully looking after … attentively and meticulously… no wayyyyyyyy.

The door to room knocked softly. I yell out a response by accident.

“It’s me, open the door.”

He really didn’t die off easily… this thick-skinned hottie…

“Guests aren’t welcome tonight.”

“They aren’t welcome? Have you discussed it with Mama-san yet?”

(TN: Mama-san – slang for a woman who manages a prostitution shop)

“You idiot.”

“I’ve brought snack money as payment like promised.”

He was in a good mood… was he still not satisfied after spending time with that special someone?

“You can pay me some other day, I’m drunk right now and can’t count the money properly.”

“Then I’m here… to see the state of a drunk person. Also if you don’t take the money, I’m going to use it to roll a blunt.”

Underneath the door a paper envelope slotted through, complete with two large wads of cash causing me to jump straight of the bed and yank the door open. Hugging the money envelop close to my chest, I shouted. “Are you crazy! Money doesn’t grow on trees woi!”

“I know, after all you haven’t paid for my car’s paint repair.”

Hu… even digging up my debt from a century ago! “What are you worried about, it’s just a single car. You have several other Benz’s that you can use to pick up and send off a certain special someone from.

Alexey’s expression turned hostile, making me realize what I had just said out loud. The hottie pushed me into the room before locking the door. “Petch, don’t speak without thinking.”

“You’re right, I have a loose mouth… that wasn’t something I should have said, I overstepped my boundaries.”

I walk away to the bathroom, violently splashing cold water on my face so as to call back my senses.

“Don’t worry, I won’t spread any rumours about you, oh and don’t worry… I’m not jealous or anything.” Really? This is you being ‘not jealous’ Petch…? “I don’t need any special treatment… you sent me a convertible car when it was nearly below zero degrees and even made me risk my life with a truck, just this much has me thrilled. And I really wanted to sleep… but you sent me off to do an assignment across the entire city, plus forced me into accepting paparazzi work, having me chase after someone I know nothing about… Do you think I flew all the way over the ocean to participate in a triathlon? If you really think so then let me kneel and thank you deeply, I’m so touched that you see me as someone with superhuman toughness.”

“Are you being sarcastic?”

This was the first time I heard this hottie ask something stupid. Maybe I’m complimenting you, you f*cking… you… you… how should I curse him… you f*cking communist (was this even insulting?)

“Not at all… I’m really impressed. Also don’t send one of your followers after me tomorrow. I guarantee, regardless of what kind of trouble I end up in, I absolutely won’t call your name–here… want a beer?”

“Mm.”

“Ninety tenge, pay up, I’m not letting you drink for free.” I was nearly diving into the refrigerator for god’s sake. I didn’t want to see his face… I wanted to cry so badly… Was there any way to make this idiot leave the room?

“Haah… you’re misunderstanding things… when are you going to grow up?” A large body pressed up against me from behind, along with a strong embrace which left my body warm all over. “Let’s see… what beer do you have.” Your eyes should be looking inside the refrigerator woi, not staring at my face. “I don’t really drink local beer, which one’s good, recommend me one.”

“Well go ask… ask… ask your underling. Viktar knows a lot of good pubs– uu… get your face away from me… wawawawawa…” My body floated uncontrollably in mid air, slung over Alexey’s shoulder before ‘whoosh!’ I landed on top of the bed, seeing Sir Alexander the Great grin a mischievous grin over me.

“Ninety tenge for the beer… I can even give you one hundred times more than that.”

“As payment for what? I don’t want it woi, ninety is enough, they say greed is a sin.”

Grey eyes smiled endearingly at my whining. I hadn’t lashed out enough for being depressed the entire day to be worth it yet.

“Well I want to pay… for the hard work of a sulking little monkey.”

Hmph… his gaze had a gleam of playfulness to it, at the same time hugging me extremely tight. I won’t forgive you, you need to make up for hurting my feelings!!!

Uuuuu, don’t rub your nose in my neck you idiot!

 

Allow me to reinforce this point in case somebody hasn’t figured it out yet… I really hated this hottie, especially when he used various tricks to capture a masculine man like me.

Sweet saccharine grey eyes lured me into a deep intoxicating kiss. My consciousness was tossed to the side by the bizarre exercise which squeezed every drop of sweat from my body and transformed it into… do I really have to say this out loud? How embarrassing… into… um… a turbocharged engine that was powerful and easy to start, rubbing it here and there… woi! This is getting too obscene, I’ll be censored at this rate.

Once finished playing with my body and battered feelings, he cajoled me with sweet gentle words.

What I remembered before falling asleep was a soft tender kiss that trailed from my shoulder to my hip before returning back up to my ear, tickling me playfully.

“I think I’m crazy.”

“You just realized?” I made a sulky voice. “You’re a freak, plus a pervert who loves to create trouble for other people.”

“No, I mean I’m crazy to be here.”

If you weren’t hugging me here… who were you going to find and hug instead…? This was just my inner thoughts so I didn’t say it out loud.

However, he probably read what I was thinking since he started hugging me tighter… warmer… so closely together that I felt the rhythm of his beating heart… “But I think… here’s the right place to be.”

Look at this guy trying to cajole me… was this the most sentimental a man like him could get?

“So are you going to tell me…? Who is that guy?”

“Ask again and I’ll make you pass out on this bed.”

“Dodge the question and I’ll call the police and tell them that I was raped by a Kazakhstani civil servant.”

“The police here can’t speak English, sorry to say.” Alexey scrunched his brows together coupled with an expression of sympathy. “But fine, given that you’ve been bullied the entire day today.”

“More like bullied this entire lifetime.” I quickly correct him with the truth.

“Come on. Since you’ve been so obedient and endearing lately I’ll tell you… Ethan… mm… he will be your teacher and… will grant you many new experiences by working together.”

“Sounds grand.”

“That’s what I can do.” His large hand patted my head gently. “Go to sleep little monkey.”

Despite knowing that this hottie was intentionally evading my question, I was too exhausted to press on…

I wonder if I… will ever catch up to him one day…

 

And when I awoke next morning, Alexey had vanished as usual, leaving behind only a body which ached slightly and a heart that felt more refreshed; mine.

Wait! Wipe that grin of your face. I was feeling good because I finally got enough sleep, not because someone lulled me to sleep okay?

Glancing at the camera sitting nearby, I picked it up to play around with it casually. However, when I turned it on, my interest was piqued when I saw a photo of myself appear in the camera. My light skin contrasted against the soft thick duvet, sleeping soundly with a smile on my face like a child. Gentle sunlight peeked in through the room’s window blinds which was damp with condensation. The photo was like inside a dream… or rather like heaven on earth.

If looking from a photographer’s point of view… the photo was worthy of being offered and sold to a popular magazine. Everything from its clarity, lighting, shadow, composition, and mood was… perfect like the work of a professional.

But if looking from my point of view… I could do nothing but smile… hugging the camera against my chest… grinning and smiling gleefully to myself.

 

Oh… and have I told you yet… that I was starting to feel good about this vicious foul-mouthed gangster too.


Hello everyone, I hope you’ve enjoyed this chapter. Sorry that it’s a bit unpolished this time but I wanted to release it as soon as possible before my trip. I’ll be travelling for the next 11 days and won’t be able to work on Carta Visa so there will be a short break in updates.

In the meantime I hope you have a great week, and thank you to the people who comment regularly (you know who you are!), your words are a pleasure to read.

Carta Visa: 17th Round

Bold: The characters are speaking in English.


“Please keef your key very well.” …Please keep your key very well…

An antique-looking copper key was stuffed into my hand as Granny Svetlana beamed me a warm smile.

“Your want breakfas now?” …Would you like your breakfast now?…

“Yes please.” I smiled dryly and waved her farewell, seeing Granny wobble past the stairs in the corner of the room to the kitchen.

I didn’t know whether god was blessing or punishing me but after forcefully insisting Granny for several minutes, she eventually complied to speaking English with me. Thank god… Granny, what are you being shy for? I can’t even recite all twenty-six letters of the English alphabet okay? You can’t be much worse than me.

I carefully push the door to my room open. Muddy sunlight poured onto the grey carpet which shifted gradually into a carmine red then orange color; similar to the interior furniture which gradually shifted from dusky grey into its original color. The decorations in the room were telltale sign of age, seemingly ancient relics from the Soviet era and essentially several decades old. I deposited my travel suitcase in one corner and flopped down onto the bed, waiting until Granny Svetlana had placed my breakfast on the floor in front of my room. I demolished the meal in less than ten minutes and reverted back to lying down again, patting my full belly.

What should I do next…?

Prior to coming here I had been excited, confused and anxious, all at the same time. The one hundred and eighty or so things on my checklist which I hoped to accomplish in these eight weeks while in central asia trickled into my mind one by one. Yet once arriving here… I was at a lost of what to do first.

To add, the discovery that there would be no one I could hold a decent conversation with filled me with dread. If I had that hottie or one of his ruthless bodyguards to accompany me, this trip would definitely be more enjoyable…

Hm… that’s not a bad idea, actually it’s a brilliant idea.

Then again… I should call to annoy him too. With this in mind, I didn’t hesitate to quickly dial his phone number, waiting for a few seconds with bated breath. Is this considered ‘giving in’, if I’m the one who calls first?

“Hello? It’s me. What do you want, hurry up and speak.” How come his voice sounded so stern…?

“Uh… it’s me.”

“Me? Oh, you…”  I heard somebody else’s voice travel through the other end of call, it echoed slightly as if in a conference room of some sort… “I’m in a meeting right now but tonight I’ll be flying to Astana, keep your phone near you.”

Was he planning on not giving me a chance to speak at all? “Uh… are you coming to see me?”

“I don’t think so… but you can think of it that way.” Well which is it… “So what do you want?”

The thought of what I was about to say had me grinning cheek to cheek. I inhaled deep into my lungs, readying myself for battle.

“Oh… I don’t really mean to bother you but I want a guide… this travel guidebook is a piece of crap and Google isn’t being helpful either… I don’t necessarily mean you though… I know you’re extremely busy, plus quick-tempered as hell. You’re high and mighty, not to mention perfect in every way, so you obviously can’t risk even a glance at me–and even if you lowered yourself to my level, you would probably get sick of me in the first fifteen minutes… so… to conclude… may I borrow Isakov, your favourite underling… for around… two months… please…? But let me warn you first, I don’t have any money to pay for that guy’s salary so think of this as a donation alright?”

I swear, normally I don’t act this shameless, and never to this extent.

If I had to guess… by now the vein on Alexey’s forehead was probably throbbing as he ground his teeth in anger. He was probably going to retaliate along the lines of: ‘Who do you think you are little puppy’, or something like that.

“Sorry to say but Isakov has to fly to Frankfurt tonight.” The tone of his voice wasn’t as horrible as I thought. Hmm, or did he have a hidden motive? “And how very smart of you for understanding that between us, we’re like the back of a hand and the dust behind the sole of one’s feet–so try being more modest next time when you ask for something Petch.”

Huu, it hurts…

“But since you were brave enough to ask, I’m brave enough to give. And I can even give you a hundred times more than this, but drill these words into that thick skull of yours Petch… always think before you speak…”

Alexey’s voice was frigid… he didn’t need to finish his sentence for me to know that a disaster was soon approaching.

“As it so happens, Viktar is flying back this afternoon. He’ll finish the task I assigned him and contact you afterwards.”

“And… will you have a bodyguard to use in the meantime?”

“Don’t worry… I have an entire army.” Despite his words obviously being an overstatement, the sky high confidence in his voice made me to believe him completely. “Let me warn you about one thing though… hm, actually no, I won’t warn you, you’ll figure it out by yourself anyways.”

Hua…

 

 

Not even minutes later I received a text on my phone, the notification sound startling me out of my absentminded state… It was from Viktar.

 

‘Buy a box of cigars near the town hall and a bouquet of flowers. Bring them to Eeyore at Eeyore’s Cafe at 2PM sharp and collect the press pass from him. Prepare yourself and your equipment, wear a tuxedo too, I’ll have someone deliver you to the hotel.’

 

Ha…?

A second text arrived not even thirty seconds later.

 

‘Tail the woman in the red dress, don’t pay attention to the events in the ceremony. Receive 2,000 dollars in cash and meet me at the mosque…’

 

A third text trailed behind closely, this time it was from… hm? It was an unknown sender.

 

‘Since you’re brave enough to ask, I’m brave enough to give… tonight V. will show you around.’

 

Uh… I only asked for a city tour guide, not James Bond and his national-security top secret mission dude.

 

 

After spending significant time mulling it over, on one hand I was scared of getting tricked. However, on the other hand, doing something strange once in awhile didn’t sound like a bad idea; I was also the one who called him after all. Five minutes definitely wasn’t enough time to conjure up a bullying scheme for a little monkey like me, right…?

Fine, whatever happens, happens…  I might as well write a column on it for Editor Chid too, brandish it into one of those thriller mafia novels, surely I won’t be accused of being delusional, no not at all~

I start preparing, donning the Burberry overcoat (Which nearly moved me to tears because it was my once in a lifetime chance to wear a forty thousand baht coat. To add, I looked damned good in it. Even with my chinatown-esque appearance it suited me perfectly. If that hottie were to wear it though… I’d probably faint due to his unbearably handsome appearance), a full set of winter gear, and my camera bag. Studying myself in the mirror, I looked oddly like a giant snowman. Moreover, as soon as I opened the door and encountered my nextdoor neighbour wearing a single pair of jeans and showing off his six pack, I couldn’t help but feel bashful. I removed a few pieces of clothing with pity before staring into the mirror again… Whatever, I’d rather be cold than not look handsome.

After having walked for roughly half a kilometer… where in the world was I…? Regardless, a giddy feeling was starting to bubble in my stomach. I unfolded a map which I had bought from a nearby newspaper stand–the labels fortunately in both English and Russian so I managed to scrape by–as well as resorting to asking directions from passersby… I felt a little timid at first, but after five or so people I had managed to get the hang of it; it was beginning to feel enjoyable too. The final person said I was not too far from my destination, merely instructing me to turn left into a small alleyway. I thanked him and prepared to cross the road. Looking around, the cigar shop happened to be situated right beside the town hall so I peered at my watch and decided to drop by the government building first, stealing a couple of good shots in the process.

A hunchbacked granny in a brown outfit and a thick skirt trailing the floor pushed a flower cart past. The scene was no different than in Thailand, save for the fact that as Granny pushed her cart along, one of her frail-looking hands grasped a cigarette. With every five steps, she would stop to take a puff of her cigarette, exhaling the thick smoke before starting her walk again… at this rate, when was she ever going to reach her final destination? I shout for her to stop. Granny turned to look and adjusted her sunglasses, inspecting me as if I was a strange creature from some other planet. Although I hadn’t yet opened my mouth to order a bouquet of flowers, she was already waving a hand dismissively. “English nyet nyet.”

For god’s sake, I was rejected before I even got to say a single word! But I wasn’t going to give up here. I sprint over to block the front of Granny’s cart, however, when she spotted the camera hanging from my neck: She started screaming.

“Camera nyet!!!” No idea as to where she mustered the strength from, Granny spun her cart around fast and stubbornly fled… leaving me totally confused in front the town hall by myself.

Only later did I learn that people here really disliked having their photo taken (even if you ask nicely, they won’t allow it), partly you could call it a fear of strangers. Either way, I’ll try to remember it for next time.

Turning two more corners, I was beginning to fear that I might be lost when all of a sudden, another cart selling flowers popped into view; the vendor this time as ‘ancient’ as the first. Having learnt my lesson now, I packed my camera back into my bag before approaching the cart.

The vendor sold around ten different varieties of flowers but this just made me feel reluctant, I didn’t know which to choose. I had no clue who the recipient of these flowers was either. Was it Eeyore? That didn’t sound right, Eeyore was a man’s name after all. The vendor herself wasn’t making this any easier too, recommending each and every one of them all the same; if I owned an acre of land, I would gladly buy the entire cart Granny.

Finally, I decided on a random flower, it was white and bunched together in clusters. When arranged into a bouquet it looked fairly cute–and this granny was cute as well, she went to the effort of tying a bright red bow for me too. This time I tried asking very politely for a photo but the reaction was no different, Granny started to flee immediately, hastily pushing her cart away at top speed. So I sprinted after her according to my instincts and forcibly stuffed roughly one hundred tenge (around thirty baht) into her hand, causing her to brake fast, body nearly doubling over. Granny beamed a big smile for me, showing off her set of golden teeth… I quickly press the shutter as fast as humanly possible before Granny could decide to up the price. All in all… adding a footnote to my previous lesson about taking photos of people in Kazakhstan: ‘One hundred tenge and you won’t be disappointed’.

 

 

The streets in Astana were fairly wide and extremely clean; the only clutter being the dry fallen leaves of the autumn trees. These large trees lined the sidewalk, their trunks so wide that I could barely fit my arms around one, it was a cool and pleasant sight for the eyes. The number of cars in this vicinity was negligible and the weather was good (according to the people here). Nearly every car which drove past had their windows rolled down to let cool air flow inside, rendering air conditioners unnecessary. As I was about to cross the road, I spotted a frail grandma leading her two grandchildren by the hand across the road… A luxurious car darting straight ahead slowed down to a stop, the driver also waving happily at the two children. Oh how I really wished for my own city, Bangkok, to be as beautiful and endearing as this place.

It was fifteen minutes to two in the afternoon. To be honest I felt unbearably hungry, but if I arrived late to this meeting with Eeyore I was definitely going to get chopped up into pieces by either that hottie or Viktar. Thus, I decided to go on an empty stomach for now and follow the directions of my map. ‘Eeyore’s Cafe’ stood on a small nameless street covered in yellow-orange leaves of the elm trees lining the entire walkway. The building I stood in front of was right beside the ministry of defence, it was a partly old and partly new tenement which seemed to be freshly repainted with a mustard color not too long ago. The windows of every room on the second and third floor had ivy clinging to them, the green tendrils circling around the laundry which was set out to dry in the sun. ‘Eeyore’s Cafe’ wasn’t difficult to find even without a large sign on display since I was able to hazard a guess from the number of men sitting and sipping coffee outside, each of them blowing thick smoke out of their mouths like a tobacco factory. Entering the shop, my appearance made several heads turn and all conversations come to a halt, so naturally I beamed them a world famous ‘Thai Smile’. “I’m… here to see Eeyore.”

(TN: Thai Smile – Thailand is known as ‘The land of smiles’, apparently to foreigners we smile a lot!)

Obviously no one in this shop could speak English but someone was kind enough to call Eeyore at the top of their lungs for me. A man whose features seemed to be a mix between Caucasian and Chinese appeared on the other side of the window, his hands busy wiping a plate dry.

“Who’s he?” I assumed this was what he said–and it seemed to be the case as he switched to speaking German before eventually English. “Oh, you’re related to that guy who called me earlier aren’t you…? Have a seat, yes outside, the weather’s nice today.”

I do as he says. Eeyore yelled something to his wife, ordering her before limping over to me. I glanced down and noticed that his left ankle was a silver color… it really was silver. Eeyore walked with a limp because he had a prosthetic leg.

“It’s about time for lunch, you might as well eat here, my wife’s cooking is delicious.” His wife brought out a large bowl of potato salad and placed it down in front of me, coupled with a fragrant cup of Turkish coffee. The word ‘modest’ never existed in my brain since the beginning so I demolished the meal, leaving behind two slices of tomato which I couldn’t fit into my stomach anymore. As for Eeyore, he was silently smoking a cigarette next to me, not bothering to ask me any questions at all. I glanced at him… looking from the side, Eeyore extremely resembled Alexey’s most favourite bodyguard.

“Thank you very much for the meal.” Remembering my assignment, I hand the item which Viktar had specified over to the other man. Eeyore made a difficult expression, “That guy told you to buy this for me as a gift?”

I look at the object in my hand–hua, this is the wrong one! I hastily correct myself by hiding the bouquet behind my back and handing him the box of cigars instead. Eeyore saw both items and bursted out in laughter.

“Yeah… though white lilacs don’t suit my wife much, she’d be grateful either way.” He turned the box of cigars back and forth before lighting one right away. “Thanks for the cigars, you chose good stuff.”

I scratch my head bashfully. My, my, I have an eye for good cigars? The seller had a huge discount on this particular one so that’s why I wound up buying it.

“I’ve never seen you before, are you that guy’s friend?”

Uh… not exactly.

“He’s still working for His Excellency right? No, actually that’s a stupid thing to ask, what I mean to ask is…” Suddenly Eeyore flinched, his expression becoming hesitant. “Are you his underling?”

“Wait, wait. Who is who’s underling?”

“Well… you’re Viktar’s underling… are you not? Don’t tell me you’re His Excellency’s underling.” Why is his face so pale all of a sudden!

“I’m… a photographer… like, His Excellency sent me here to train so Viktar is looking after–hua… I mean giving me work to do.” I answered, tripping over my words slightly.

“Oh.” Eeyore’s face eased. “That’s a relief.”

(What do you mean by that!)

 

When I later asked Viktar about this strange conversation, he turned to me and exploded in laughter, tears and snot running down his face.

Dammit… as it turns out Eeyore was Isakov’s childhood friend, plus he had previously served as one of the hottie’s bodyguards. However, due to an unfortunate accident which caused him lose his left foot, he was forced to lay this career to rest, transferring into the intelligence unit instead. Therefore when he saw my clueless face earlier he had misunderstood me to be a new bodyguard, explaining then his worried expression…

But I wanted to argue back though… don’t you dare underestimate me woi!

 

 

Bangkok, Thailand.

“I wonder how that puppy is doing~” A familiar voice spoke up amidst the sound of several typing keyboards. “He didn’t cause trouble and get kicked off of the plane by an air hostess right?”

The office which had been fairly peaceful due to the absence of Petch became noisy in an instant. “P’Pun, now’s not the time to worry about your little boy. P’Petch just took off yesterday, it hasn’t even been twenty-four hours yet and you already miss him?”

Editor Chid who had been sitting in ambush behind a ‘The Post’ newspaper lowered his reading material… It was Meuk speaking, he figured as much.

“Hey you, he’s my mistress so of course I have to worry, a sugar daddy like me dedicates his love to one person and one person only.”

Lookchid secretly chuckled. Pun was really something, he was very comfortable to play along whenever somebody teased him. Not limited to this office alone, it was common knowledge to everyone in this building that this charming dimpled-smile man had ‘something’ going on with a certain noisy pouty-cheeked chinatown boy.  Whenever Petch wanted something from Pun, he would begin pleading like a puppy, flirting and buttering up to his senior without any shame.

“I think P’Pun is more like a fretful wife.” Cup E Mild, the residential hardcore Y girl interjected. “P’Pun you coddle P’Petch too much, he’s on the verge of becoming cripple already. Leave him to explore the world for once, this way he can come back as a normal responsible adult like the rest of us.”

(TN: Y girl – Thai slang for fujoshi, a girl who likes yaoi)

It was unknown as to a how a whiny kid in a grown man’s body managed to enable Pun’s paternal (or was it maternal?) instincts. Pun adored him more than anything, who knows how many girlfriends he ended up breaking up with because he was too busy pampering Petch. Moreover, the number one hit dialogue was: ‘P’Pun, if you’re going to choose P’Petch over me, let’s break up immediately.’

Of course… someone as manly as Punnaphob would obviously answer: ‘I choose Petch, if you’re displeased then let’s part ways.’ Look at him, to say such a thing! No girl would endure such ridiculous words.

And what was so good about Petch…? Lookchid had been his boss for over three years now but still had no idea. Petch had talent but it wasn’t outstanding by any means. His personality was good though sloppy and self-centered at times, and while he was a responsible worker, he was more concerned about his personal leisure. As for his looks… well… when Mild first joined this company she had fallen head over heels in love Petch, however after working together for roughly six months, she claimed that she would only take Petch as her husband if no other man was left on this planet… meaning that the quality of his looks did nothing to help his character.

As for Pun… this guy wasn’t any better. As of late he barely showed up to the office; and even if he did, he was unable to concentrate. His phone rang constantly despite him previously never being the social butterfly type and as for the quality of his work… haah… Lookchid was beginning to regret giving him permission for a summer holiday in Uzbekistan, he really wanted to drag Pun back and enroll him in an amateur’s course covering basic camera techniques instead.

Not to mention calling in sick once every week as well. The man had the shamelessness to say, ‘might as well use up the vacation days from last year’ too, you’d be stupid to believe that innocent face of his. Really, what kind of boss would be fooled by two troublesome employees like Pun and Petch? And Pun seemed absolutely fine, there was no sign of him being sick. If there was anything actually wrong with him, it was that he was heartsick, his mind occupied by a certain clingy but handsome foreigner. An undercover spy concerning all matters Y like Mild had been constantly giving Lookchid semi-daily reports about spotting the R-rated couple in several lovey dovey situations; that is, on the days when Pun actually came in to work. Even worse, one of the HR people from the ninth floor had come to report to him in person once, saying: ‘P’Chid, I saw your employee, the handsome-looking one with glasses kissing a foreigner in the elevator’. To have an outsider inform him about this, he really felt ashamed to be Pun’s editor.

“I don’t really want to get involved or anything, but…” Mild frowned. “P’Pun, if you catch fish with two hands like this… won’t all the good looking men be gone at this rate? You should think to be more considerate and save some for me, honestly what a waste of resources.”

(TN: Catching fish with two hands – An expression which warns against greed. If you aim to catch more than one fish at a time, you are likely to catch neither, it’s better to concentrate a catch one with both hands.)

“You idiot.” Pun knocked the female editor’s head with a loud ‘pok!’. “I only have one mistress.”

“But you have your own sugar daddy too… haah… I guess my beauty will wilt away meaninglessly then, it’s too late, the good men have all turned gay.”

The person who was secretly listening shook his head with exasperation, really, was he making a fashion magazine or a stand-up comedy one instead?

“Stop it, enough is enough.” Suddenly Pun’s voice hardened, his eyes also glancing over to meet Chid’s. The raised voice now toned down slightly. “Joking around for fun is fine, but I’m not pleased when you keep repeating it over and over again.”

The eyes beneath those glasses glanced to look at him once more. Editor Chid flipped the page of his newspaper and continued to read the business analysis column…

Suddenly he felt the sofa dip down… Pun had come over to sit beside him. “Uh, P’Chid… can I talk to you about something for a bit?”

“What’s this ‘something’?”

Pun smiled, his canine teeth peeking out slightly as he adjusts the glasses on his face. “Oh, I want your opinion on selling insurance.”

Chid blinked rapidly, did he mistakenly see a glimmering boyband aura around the corners of his vision? This guy was unnecessarily handsome. “You idiot, can’t get enough of irritating me can you? Come, whatever you want to talk about, let’s do it inside.”

Pun followed him into the office. Yet once the door closed, he said nothing. The room fell into a momentary silence until Chid couldn’t bear it any longer and cleared his throat loudly. “Want a cigarette?”

“Sure.” He accepted the cigarette, lit it, and smoked it quietly.

“Okay, so what do you want to talk about?”

Haah…

Pun’s issue wasn’t anything major (yet why did he have to make such a worried expression?). To put it simply, Mr. Punnaphob here was going through an identity crisis between being an ordinary man and being either bi or gay. Of course, no matter what he was, they all had their own problems. For example, as an ordinary man he had to be at the beck and call of a demanding girlfriend, follow celebrity news, obsess over shopping, tune in to after hours soap operas, and most bizarre of all, straight guys had to play football in the middle of the night. In terms of being bi… um… there wasn’t as many problems but life would certainly be more hectic. As for being gay (the likes of which Pun was beginning to wonder if he himself was one)…

“Ha? And what about you and Petch?”

Pun rolled his eyes. “There’s nothing between us really. Petch is fun to tease that’s all.”

“Then there’s nothing to think so hard about. So long as you don’t go doing something unseemingly in public with that blue-eyed handsome fellow then there’s no problem. Just explain it to your Pa and Ma and that’ll be the end of that.” Lookchid tried to answer neutrally but his heart felt strangely frustrated, he was surprised at himself.

“As if I would risk getting cut from the family inheritance.”

“Suddenly worrying about your possessions out of nowhere, your Pa would be proud if he knew.”

“I don’t mean it like that… look… I really don’t know but I… uh…uhh… li… uhh… nevermind.” His fair skin was beginning to turn a faint shade of pink. “Uhh… he and I… we go together pretty… um… well.”

“And does he think… the same as you?” Chid inquired, the tone of his voice muddy and unclear. It turns out, these words made his conversation partner nearly want to duck underneath the carpet.

“Uhh…” Pun nodded, his pink face turning bright red like a tomato. Seeing this, Chid wanted to roar out in laughter, this troubled man made a face like the world was about to end despite it being just a simple love problem. “The problem is… uhh… uhh… you… uhh…”

The other problem was that Pun currently felt restrained in his everyday life. Even though he wanted to resist, he was always defeated by the other man’s pleading voice and warm embrace. When Pun took the roundabout way of explaining things up to this point… a close person of his was in love, but Chid didn’t feel happy at all…

“I feel like I’m living a married life.” Pun pouted. “It’s not that he’s no good… rather, he’s good in every way. He’s so good that… I sometimes wonder whether I’m dreaming or not. My life is full of many wonderful things but why do I feel so oppressed?”

The fear of being tied down was a common problem faced by single men, Chid himself understood this well. He should be happy that Pun confided in him, but he didn’t like what he was seeing nor hearing… not in the least. Perhaps because Chid was feeling a little displeased at the quality of Pun’s work lately, he saw his interactions with that blond man as an annoyance; meaning that it had nothing to do with how his junior was in love.

Lookchid pulled himself out of his thoughts to face the matter at hand. He was supposed to be a good listener, not a judge, it was only appropriate to separate his personal feelings from what the other had come to discuss.

“How about trying to live like you used to before that guy’s appearance? …You can come over for drinks at my house, go play football with Petch, accompany your parents to the temple, or wake up at 3 AM and drive out to the countryside, disappear for a week like you used to do if you want. You can come back to see that guy whenever you feel ready.”

“But he…” Pun sighed. “-that’ll be difficult to do P’Chid…”

Editor Chid thought so too. Pun had already fallen hard, head over heels for the other man… letting go was difficult at this point.

“But thanks a lot P’Chid, I’ll think over your words.” Pun extinguished the cigarette. He was about to leave the room but jerked his feet back. “Uh… P’Chid.”

“Hm?”

“How did you happen to know about me and… Sasha?”

Chid cocked an eyebrow. “Well you’re working in mass communications aren’t you?”

Pun made a shocked face before opting to laugh boisterously as a means to hide his embarrassment, walking out of the room without looking back. Yet in doing so, he missed seeing Lookchid crumple his carton of cigarettes, the man hurriedly striding out to the balcony to smoke his cigarette with a feeling of annoyance that he himself didn’t know the cause of.

 

 

As he arrived at room 1206, he saw the owner of the room packing their clothes into a twenty-four inch travel suitcase. When those clear blue eyes lifted up to meet Pun’s, Sasha smiled, abandoning his suitcase and coming in for a hug… his smile, embrace, and gentle kiss… it was impossible for Pun to withstand it all.

“How was your day?”

“Not much happened. I didn’t have to leave the office for work today so it’s been relaxing.” Pun removed his shoes and placed it on the rack, staring at the clothes which lay strewn all over the floor by the bed. “Where you packing your bags to?”

“To Frankfurt, I have urgent business to attend to.” The answer came with a heavy kiss to the base of his neck. Pun retracted his neck, giggling at the warm breaths which tickled his skin. The large hands wrapped around his waist slithered up to hook the edge of his pants. “It’s just for three or four days, please wait for me sweetheart.”

Uu…” He had questions but lacked the chance to ask them, too preoccupied with warding off the handsome face which was trying to come closer. “No… don’t kiss–you leave marks every time, it’s embarrassing.”

“Embarrassing for who?” The owner of the blond hair and blue eyes tilted his neck to the side. Pun’s doubtful face was so adorable that he wanted to push him down and eat him up to his heart’s content. “Embarassing… embarassing for the folks who will see it of course. Tonight I’m going to go play football… with… with… Meuk, it’s hot during the day.” Meuk’s house was in Bangkok Noi, what reason would he have to come all the way to Phetchaburi to play football? Pun couldn’t think up a name so he used his co-worker instead. Sorry Meuk, Pun didn’t intend to get him involved.

“We’re lovers so leaving a few marks here and there is expected, or does Meuk not understand?”

“Who exactly is your lover?”

“You of course.”

“I never agreed to this, don’t just assume things on your own.”

The owner of the room made a pouty face. “Oh… is that so…?” With that said, he loosened his hold and returned to packing his bags until finished, as if nothing occurred just moments ago. It made the person who had come to visit him unsure of what to do next.

Fifteen minutes passed, but Sasha still said nothing. To add, he walked back and forth past Pun as if he wasn’t standing there at all. Pun observed the items in the suitcase, feeling surprised to find several things which seemed out of place given that the suitcase belonged to a bachelor. For example, there was a set of adorable toys from Japan,  a set of figurines from the movie Toy Story 3, as well as a brand new nintendo Wii which they had just bought together the other day.

“Hua? …You’re going to bring the game console with you?”

“Mm.” The short blunt reply indicated Sasha’s sudden strangeness, but since Pun didn’t catch this sign, he could only let out a sigh. Haah… so it was a gift for someone else. He had been gearing up to play it, even going out to buy games for the console… oh well, he could always buy a new one.

“So… you called me over to watch you pack, really?”

“You can go play football if you want, it’s not like I mind, you’re single after all”

Good lord… would it hurt to tell Pun that he was going through his menopause? This way he wouldn’t have rushed over from Thonburi to watch a man pack his bags…

“I just wanted to us to spend some time together, but it’s no big deal if you’re not free.”

Sasha had a penchant for acting like this… wearing a sulky expression while his eyes pleaded like an abandoned puppy. He would instantly sulk from the slightest lecture and wag his tail side by side from the slightest praise. With an adorable personality like this, how could Pun bear to disappoint the other man…?

“I never said I would be going right now… it’s fine if I’m a little late to the football game.”

The sulking person beamed a huge smile, gathering Pun up in a hug, kissing, caressing, and devouring him till his skin bruised.

…And it was because it was like this that Pun ended up unable to go anywhere. He couldn’t play football and wound up missing the motor show, even the friends in his drinking circle were calling to ask whether he had turned over a new leaf now since he never showed up these days…

Or was this punishment for failing to keep his promise to Petch about not drinking during Buddhist Lent!

 

 

After devouring the adorable man to his heart’s content for one round, Sasha bade farewell and strolled out of condo happily. He had planned to head straight to Suvarnabhumi Airport and spend his time waiting for the flight in the VIP lounge, however, someone had decided to dial into his phone and disrupt his mood. The officer assigned to the case of the nameless Russian man who was murdered and thrown off the building the other day was calling him, so Sasha was forced to tell his chauffeur to switch destinations immediately.

These insects were really such a nuisance, be it the person at the top giving the orders or the person cluelessly chasing after a false lead at the bottom trading their sweat and tears for a meagre policeman’s salary. Don’t these Thai people know better than to stick their heads between a brawl among the mafia? Blood is washed with blood and life is traded with life, they were going to cause unnecessary trouble.

Those who rushed headstrong into conflict with any member of the Nazarbayev family were looking to get themselves killed as fast as possible. Sasha was in the dark about current underworld tensions but their aim was probably not Alexey. It was perhaps Clement instead, the naughtiest troublemaker and youngest of the Nazarbayev’s.

Regardless, the authoritarian older brother had thrown this burden onto Sasha instead. Although he wasn’t entirely willing, he complied anyhow. It wasn’t difficult to avert the police’s attention after all, he only needed to tangle their leads and confuse their train of thought. It was just a waiting game now to see when they would reach a dead end.

He smiled at the call from the police officer who was trying to do his work dutifully. The man had unfortunate luck, being assigned to a case which was impossible to win.

“Did you call me because you wanted to hear my voice? Or would you also like to see my face too Mr. Officer?”

“Ha?” The person on the other end of the call made a surprised noise.

“Hm? Isn’t it normal for people to call each other when they miss them? If you’re free, would you like to meet me at the airport? I want to treat you to a good cup of coffee.”

“Are you trying to flee the country?”

“Fleeing the radius of you charm is way more difficult than fleeing the country Mr. Officer.”

No one could remain still when met with such straightforward flirting, Sasha presumed the other man was curling up from embarrassment by now. When it came to courting men, he excelled at it the most  and was nearly unmatched.

“Mr. Sasha Gilliseva, don’t try to stray from the topic, please drop by to give your testimony at our station in Huai Khwang district.”

A tough voice travelled through the other end of the call. The officer was trying to threaten Sasha to the best of his abilities yet he only managed to resemble a tiny barking chihuahua. For someone like Sasha… at this stage what was there to be scared of? His best friend from room 1202 was several leagues more menacing than this innocent-faced rookie policeman.

“I’ll be waiting for you at the Starbucks in Asok, in the Grammy building.”

“The station in Huai Khwang!”

“Allow me to reinforce our meeting place again: The Starbucks beneath the Grammy building. If not, then you’ll just have to wait till I return from Europe.”

“You have no right to go anywhere.”

Woof woof, bark bark, this puppy really had a sharp voice. Sasha distanced the phone from his ear and strode over to the front counter, studying the pastries behind the clear display window while smiling at the staff. He liked to handle small little things by himself instead of having someone to service him, things like shopping or ordering coffee for example. However, if it were those Nazarbayev’s, they only resorted to acting like commoners when in Germany. Once their life was sorted, a gangster in the mafia can never return to being an ordinary person ever again.

Sasha ordered his coffee and cleared his throat. “Guatemala Antigua coffee beans aren’t bad at all. Mr. Officer, you should sacrifice some of your time to come try it out. And as for preventing a witness from going overseas, that’s a little out of the ordinary. If you firmly believe that I am a suspect then please go ahead and issue me the subpoena… but think about it carefully first, because this will impact our diplomatic relationship.” Sasha smiled at the Starbucks barista. “Let me end our conversation with this, being able to drink good coffee with an adorable person is one thing I find pleasant about my life.”

He then disconnected the call immediately, knowing full well that the other party would be agonizing over it and eventually concede to Sasha’s suggestion.

The wait wasn’t long at all.. a white motorcycle pulled over next to the curb of the sidewalk (parking in the red-white indications too, it would be no surprise if its wheels got locked) along with a young policeman who walked into the coffee shop wearing a pout. “Tell me why I had to chase you all the way here in order to collect your testimony, the coffee’s expensive too.”

“Have a drink first.”

“It’s expensive.” The police officer complained, to which Sasha himself understood. The police in the crime suppression division toiled hard but received a humiliatingly meagre pay in return, it was wise to refrain from forcing the man into drinking Starbucks.

“It’s my treat then, just calm down okay? I’ll even promise to confess every single detail about what I saw that day.” Sasha leaned over and whispered next to the man’s ear. “Guaranteed, you’ll be able to picture it so clearly, to the point where you’d be tempted to try it yourself.”

The smooth cheeks of the crime suppression police officer turned red like cherries, both of his ears also turning a shade pinker… Sasha wanted to nip them, he could barely resist.

“You’re obstructing my duties Mr. Sasha.”

“I’ll be more than happy to reenact my testimony for you, if you want… what do you say?”

Sasha nearly fell to the floor laughing when he saw the officer’s nose start bleeding, blood trickling down the face of the young man in front of him. The man in question wasn’t aware of it at all until the red liquid had begun dripping onto the table, causing such a loud ruckus that every Starbucks employee in the shop went into a panic mode.

As for the real troublemaker… he stood there laughing and bent over in tears.

Okay, okay, he’ll give his testimony properly now; but it will just lead to a dead end alright?

 

 

“Pun… Pun… hey… what the hell is wrong with you?” The forceful elbow nudge from a friend in his football circle made Pun flinch. “What do you want to order? The staff is waiting.”

Pun turned back to look at the menu on the blackboard of the Starbucks shop and ordered a coffee listlessly. “I’ll get… anything is fine… an espresso frappe I guess.”

“Would you like whipped cream?”

“Small, medium or large?”

“Pun… Pun… what size do you want?”

But Pun heard nothing at all. What he saw before him was in fact the man who claimed to be ‘flying to Frankfurt tonight’ wiping the face of a young policeman with a deep-set look of concern.

Initially, he thought he was seeing things. He removed his glasses to wipe it clean yet the picture in front of him remained unchanged. The familiar owner of those bright blue eyes sent a sweet charming smile to the unknown stranger; not to mention also whispering into the other’s ear.

Pun didn’t need to stand any closer to know that Sasha was planning to ‘eat’, the innocent-looking golden retriever had grown a set of fangs and claws, turning into a wolf that was ready to ‘hunt’ its prey.

“What are you looking at… oh… isn’t that your boyfriend?”

Normally, Pun would instantly dismiss the man as his boyfriend, but in this second, he couldn’t speak, engrossed in staring at the scene before him with puzzlement.

He figured that his face was probably pale, the color in it drained. As his friend saw the situation turn south, he hurriedly prodded Pun’s back, forcing him out of the establishment.

Except, they weren’t as fast as the wolf… who managed to pull back his arm. “Pun…”

Pun pursed his lips tight, trying to repress his emotions. He didn’t want to quarrel with Sasha in public, it was humiliating enough as is. “I thought you were going straight to the airport…”

“I was, the flight is at 9.30 PM.”

“I didn’t know you had to go say goodbye to other people too… how many more are there, do you want me to send you off at their house?” Pun never knew he had this sassiness in him before. Yet his heart felt like it had been crushed, like it bursted with a loud ‘pop!’ …so loud that he felt embarrassed, unsure of whether the man in front of him heard the sound of his feelings breaking or not.

“Pun, I’m having a conversation with the police… can you see? He’s writing down my testimony.”

“But there’s no reason to be so close to each other.”

’The police stays close to the people, serving them like family and friend’, have you not heard of this slogan before Pun? I see it all the time when I’m stuck in traffic.”

Look at his ridiculous excuses! Pun clenched his fist tight. If Sasha spoke another word, he swore he was going to punch him.

“Mr. Gilliseva, are you ready to continue providing your testimony?” The hardened voice of a little puppy sounded from behind Sasha. Seeing a young police officer whose cheeks and ears were red, accessorized with a bloody tissue that was stuffed up his nose, Pun nearly dropped his coffee.

“What’s this all about?”

Sasha Gilliseva, the master of pleading for attention, love and endearment turned to look at Pun with eyes which caused his heart to melt, lifting up his chin and pressing a soft light kiss on his lips amidst the eyes of everyone in the coffee shop before explaining gently:

“I was simply trying to explain to the police officer that… on the night of the incident, I was too preoccupied with an adorable person moaning sweetly on my bed like you, and so I didn’t have time to pay attention to a man jumping off the building. This police officer didn’t believe me, so I was planning to convince him with a practical lesson, would you like to help demonstrate it together with me Pun?” Finishing off his words with a wink.

It was in this second that Pun had a revelation in his head that this man was the most insincere smooth-talker in all of the three realms. Pun was going to forgive him this time since it involved a serious problem, but if he catches this happening again: Daddy is going collar and muzzle you so you won’t go flirting around with anyone else ever again!

Sasha Gilliseva!

Carta Visa: 16th Round

Bold: The characteres are speaking in English


The sky outside was cast entirely in darkness. It was dark navy, as if made out of a velvet material, seemingly serene and peaceful. But in reality, the violent gales outside caused the airplane windows to shake incessantly. The cheek I subconsciously pressed up against a window turned numb to the point where pinching it didn’t even hurt. Looking over at the bald Japanese man whistling happily next to me, only then did I notice that his legs were missing… I wasn’t seeing things, he really had nothing past his knees.

The realization that he was a disabled person travelling alone troubled me greatly. How do I treat him? Do I call over an air hostess? Tell them to look after him carefully, not to bring up his missing legs, and have a special wheelchair prepared for him?

I’ve witnessed people whose disabilities have rendered them weak and feeble, their bodies in a near vegetative state. These people needed the attention of several caretakers, be it to carry, lift, or push them even though they clearly had the strength to handle certain matters by themselves. Rather, what lay at the heart of their problem was a lack of willpower. But at the same time, I’ve also seen skilled and brave people with disabilities; people more competent than any average guy. These people were capable of doing everything by themselves, refusing to let someone care for them scrupulously like a small child.

That said, which group did this uncle fall into?

“I don’t have any legs, but it’s okay, I can take care of myself.” His Thai sounded slightly off but he was capable of constructing proper sentences. I jump in my seat, face red as I had been accidentally staring at his missing legs. The man beamed a friendly smile at me.

“My name… Suzuki Taro… you can call me Uncle Taro, everyone calls me by this.” He hands me his name card which had three languages on it. On the name card was a disability symbol and a picture of himself smiling gleefully in a pink wheelchair.

“You… you can speak Thai as well Uncle Taro?”

“Yes, yes… my house is in Muang Thong”

“I guess you watch a lot of AF on television then.”

(TN: Muang Thong Thani – A large housing district one hour away from Bangkok. It has one of the largest stadiums in Thailand where ‘AF’, a popular singing reality TV show hosts its competition live every Saturday.)

“Yeah, but I like ASTV more” Uncle Taro laughed. “I’m a sales representative for ASTV fertilizer you know? Would you like some? It stimulates a large harvest, helps plants grow quick, and repels pests too.”

Your ASTV fertilizer even has an overseas dealer? How cool… hua! We’re getting off topic. “And… what is your name?” He asked.

“It’s Petch.”

“Pei-san?” I shake my head.

“Paae-san?” This one was too pitiful…

(TN: Paae means goat in Thai)

“Petch.”

“Pecchi-san?” He was getting close, Uncle Taro you can do it!

I was about to repeat myself again but recalled that the Japanese language didn’t have final consonants (according to my understanding that is). “It’s Pha-cha-ra.”

“Ah, Phachara-san, nice to meet you.”

I enquired as to who was picking him up but Uncle Taro told me not to worry. It turns out that Uncle Taro had come here according to an invitation by the Kazakhstan government who requested his help in a currently stagnating project for the disabled.

The airplane came to a complete stop in the middle of the runway, far from the airport building by roughly five hundred meters. Darkness encased the surroundings, leaving barely the orange lights lining the runway visible. It was motionless outside, as if the world stood still. A cold gust of wind which nearly turned my cheeks into solid ice slipped in through the now open airplane doors. Seeing a truck tow out a stainless steel staircase, it pulled over close to the entrance of the aircraft even though the seatbelt sign had yet to dim. Meanwhile, the voice of the flight’s captain blared out through the intercom. I witness as a beautiful air hostess started to yell viciously when one of the passengers tried to get up and open the upper storage compartment, intending to retrieve their belongings before anyone else.

What was up with them? The gangways adjoined to the building were unoccupied so there was no need to park in the middle of the runway… I thought to myself… were they mentally challenged?

Car headlights shone from a dark corner of the airport, the light composing of three police cars, a champagne SLK-Class Mercedes-Benz, followed by another three police motorcycles.

A short-haired man in full suit attire–seemingly the person in charge–exited out from the luxurious Benz car as the staircase gradually aligned to door of the aircraft. I crane my head up, seeing the air hostess by the business class exit compose herself stiffly polite.

Who were they coming to pick up? It definitely must be a VIP guest.

The air hostess motioned her hand towards the seats in my direction and the man in the black suit, resembling that of a bodyguard, strided over. He was coming closer… and closer… past the business class seats… the air hostess and large bodyguard spoke to each other in a low voice. Of course I had no idea what they were saying but I managed to catch one word… a very familiar word.

Nazarbayev…

Who else could it be other than Alexander Nazarbayev…

‘…Don’t worry, I won’t abandon you… a VIP car will be waiting at the Astana airport, keep your phone turned on as well. See you then.’

Alexey’s voice echoed in my ears… I have never felt so touched by his kindness before… My cheeks seared with heat, complete with a big smile which I was unable to control. My heart inflated like a balloon… Despite discarding and tossing around me like a toy, Alexey had organized a procession of vehicles to pick me up in true VIP style. I’ll love you forever you hottie!

Vrrrr… vrrrr…

I jump in my seat as my phone began to vibrate. Quickly pressing to pick up the call, I used a hand to cover my mouth, head ducking into my knees so as to not get scolded by the air hostesses and humiliated in public.

“He… hello…?”

“This is Isakov speaking… the car coming to pick you is experiencing a bit of delay, just wait in the arrivals lobby alright?”

Hua!!! Isn’t this the car?”

This car my ass… what are you talking about?”

“Well… this luxurious champagne SLK-Class Mercedes-Benz right here. It’s here, parked down below waiting for me. This is amazing, for the first time in my life is my butt going to experience such luxury.”

“A champagne SLK-Class… oh… that car isn’t for you, don’t dream of the impossible little monkey.”

“But… but I heard them say… Alexey sent the car to pick me up.” Saying this caused me to feel disheartened. So he really didn’t send this car to pick me up? My heart which inflated earlier now wilted like a leaking balloon.

“In your dreams.”

“Surely there aren’t many Nazarbayev’s out there.”

Isakov went silent… so silent that I felt anxious.

My gaze shifted up… seeing the black suited man come to a halt in the front of the economy class seats. He was speaking with a man who had obviously just woken up from a long nap. Though I couldn’t see the other’s face clearly, he seemed inexplicably familiar… tea-colored Armani shades concealed half of the man’s round egg-shaped face…

My fashion photographer’s intuition told me: This guy had to be a model… not just any ordinary model, but a professional one since he was capable of looking attractive no matter from what angle. The drowsy man removed the glasses fastened to his cocoa brown hair, magnetizing bright blue eyes on the egg-shaped face leaving me unable to pull my gaze away. He had a prominent nose with brown freckles decorating it faintly. As for the lips, they were a ripe color, set in a tiny smile at the corners.

If I had my camera in hand, I’d pay anything to get some photos of this man.

Eventually adjusting my eyes, the initial man in the black suit nearly made me fall out of my seat. He wasn’t a stranger, it was Leof! Didn’t he get off the plane at Almaty along with Alexey? Leof was staring at the stunning man with a blank gaze, his eyes void of any emotion.

“The car is waiting downstairs.”

The slender figure leaned over to look outside through the window, vibrant blue eyes sliding back to glare at Leof in anger. “What right do you have using that car? That car is mine.”

It was yours.” Leof corrected. He turns to me, our eyes coincidentally meeting before an irritating wink was sent my way.

“Keep your mouth shut and act obedient. Unless you want every taxpayer on this plane to get up and beat you to death for your father’s political corruption… shut up.

I swallow my saliva stiffly. Leof and I, even though we’ve never spoken to each other before, he smiled easiest among the three bodyguards. However, the Leof that I became acquainted to in this second was menacing and cold-blooded, no different from his boss.

“Petch, are you listening?”

“Sorry, what did you say?”

Isakov cleared his throat before selecting his words carefully.

“I said you’re half-correct, there aren’t many Nazarbayev’s out there… regardless that Benz isn’t there to pick you up…”

The owner of those blue eyes panned his gaze over the surroundings before turning back, exiting first out of the aircraft. I saw him duck into the beautiful Benz car, and then the entire procession rolled away gracefully from the runway..

…I didn’t know what I was feeling… maybe a bit dejected… only a tiny bit dejected, really…

…and was I stupid to hope for the impossible…?

“Phachara-san. Phachara-san, daijoubu desu ka?” (Are you okay?) It was only when Uncle Taro nudged me considerately did I realize what kind of expression I was wearing. Quickly, I revert back to my cheery self, though it was somewhat forced.

“Daijoubu, daijoubu.” (I’m fine.)

 

‘Daijoubu’, I think.

Astana… I was beginning to feel homesick…

 

 

Phachara-san, Phachara-san, is there someone coming to pick you up? You can come with Uncle if you want.”

Uncle Taro spoke up while we waited for other passengers to collect their belongings from the overhead compartment. The boisterous noise of people chatting here and there could rival a farmers’ market. I saw an airport bus pull over near the exit of the aircraft, but I couldn’t disembark yet. According to Uncle Taro, normally, the airline will wait until all passengers have filed off the aircraft before bringing out the disabled person’s wheelchair. Hearing this, I didn’t know what to feel. Pity maybe? Thus, I decided to keep Uncle Taro company until his vehicle (a cabin wheelchair) arrives to pick him up.

“Can you make it?”

Uncle Taro lifted up two fingers to confirm that he was okay. Although he was aging, bald, legless, and missing a tooth, Uncle Taro looked oddly adorable. So adorable that I wanted to pull out my camera and take a picture of him for keepsake. Next thing I realized, the final passenger had exited the aircraft. I hastily ran over to call one of the air hostesses.

“Miss, Miss, eck-cuse me… where is caebin wheelchair for my friend.” I didn’t know whether Uncle wanted to be friends with me or not but I already considered him one since earlier on.

The air hostess made a puzzled face, then exclaimed an ‘oh’ to conclude that she had forgotten, hurriedly apologising to me over and over again. “Please wait ten minutes.”

In the meantime, her other air hostess friends gradually filtered out of the aircraft. Even the captain and captain’s assistant left us to sit despondent on the airplane alone.

“There’s no cabin wheelchair.”

“Den… how can he…” get down… how do I say this word in English? “He, down duh plane.”

I thought there had to be something in between the words ‘he’ and ‘down’ but whatever, it’s probably all the same!

“He can walk.”

I was astounded when faced with this reply. And then I lost it. English suddenly poured out from my mouth. “Hey you, if you have eyes den see. Do you see? He has only knees! Knees, knees! Do you know dis word? Tell me how a person wit only knees can walk down. I don’t know how but you haf to find wheelchair for my friend.”

“Shut up! How dare you scold a lady!”

A reprimanding voice from behind made my jump, face whipping back, I saw… five really Russian-looking (why was I repeating this, of course they look Russian, I’m in Kazakhstan!) soldiers, each holding a rifle! The man with the most menacing face pressed his gun against my chest, shouting again, now in the local language. I broke out in sweat, retreating backwards my body hit the walls of the aircraft. “Uh, don’t misunderstand me. I jus… uhh… I jus want…”

“Who gave you permission to speak? If you don’t have any business here then get off, what are you loitering around for?” He didn’t simply chase me out, the soldier used the barrel-end of his gun to nudge me as well. As for the other four people, they slotted their huge bodies past me to Uncle Taro’s seat, the Japanese man was currently in an undeniable state of confusion. I heard him ask the whereabouts of his cabin wheelchair.

“Woiiiiiiiiiiii… dame, dame, dame, dame!!!”

(TN: Dame = ‘No’ in Japanese)

“Hey, what are you waiting for? Walk.”

The last thing I saw before the gun pressed hard against my back forced me away was a terrifying picture of four soldiers trying to carry a disabled person off the aircraft in a way akin to a sacrificial ritual. One person grabbed the left arm, one person the right arm, another the left leg (amputated), and the final person the right leg (also amputated). They lifted Uncle Taro up onto their shoulders, the hapless man laid face up staring at the ceiling of the airplane, shouting up a storm in Japanese before disappearing near the tail end of the airplane. My chest trembled, I was scared out of my wits. These Kazakhstan people solved a cabin wheelchair issue in the most barbaric way ever. Do I report this to the ‘Human Rights Watch’ NGO?

The other passengers had already gone ahead. Now I was the only person left, following the path to the passport inspection checkpoint. The more I walked, the more I realized how far it actually was. I didn’t walk, but fly to Kazakhstan right? Why wasn’t there a single person in sight…? I pressed my phone and dialed Isakov but there was no answer from the other end. Looking out the window, it was pitch black. The only thing which could been seen was a faint silhouette of the airplane and…

Hey… what’s that…?

An ambulance rushed over and pulled up beneath the airplane, along with two airport authorities and a man in a large coat pushing out a wheelchair. I stop to watch for a moment, seeing the same four soldiers slump the pitiful Uncle Taro down in the wheelchair like a sack of rice. From there, the entire wheelchair was lifted onto the car… the ambulance doors shut, then drove off, vanishing into the darkness… It was like a horror movie scene where somebody would get kidnapped to be slaughtered. Then again… umm… wasn’t Uncle Taro a guest invited by the government…? Can’t they treat him more like a VIP? Or was this already considered VIP treatment in this country?

I was beginning to fear what that hottie had sent to pick me up…

“Are you Mr. Phachara (Paa-shaa-ra)?”

In front of me stood one of the airport authorities, a dainty girl with a lovely face. She was wearing a wind resistant coat with animal fur decorating the rim of the hood. Next to her was also a large towering man, her partner perhaps. Although I wanted to argue that my name was Phachara–pronounced with short vowels–and not ‘Paashaara’, I still hadn’t gotten over the initial fear of having a gun pointed at me. It was better to shut up for now. “Yes ma’am.”

“Please show me your passport.”

I hand it over.

“What’s ya name?”

“Phachara Tanawisuthikul” You’ve got my passport so read it sister.

“Where was your visa issued?”

“Bangkok.” It was a bloodbath before managing to get here.

“How long are you planning to stay here for?”

“Two month.”

“I suggest you go home immediately after your business finishes.”

Hua! Why should I hurry back? The airplane tickets were expensive you know? With that price, I could have gone to Japan instead.

“His Excellency Alexander Nazarbayev has sent a VIP car to pick you up.” The girl continued to speak.

Overall, despite having a person of high and mighty status send a VIP car to pick me up, I still had to have my passport inspected. However, what bugged me more was the title in front of his name, the words: ‘His Excellency’. From my understanding, wasn’t this word used to refer to someone of very very high status, like a member of the senate, a prime minister, or a president? So why was this hottie–a consultant of politics and foreign affairs for a mousehole embassy–so highly respected…? Wasn’t he merely handsome and rich? Oh, and his personality was horrible too, he was evil, foul-mouthed, haughty, and greedy. Worst of all, he nailed and bailed (as if I would ever forget).

Or do the countrymen here grant this title to the mafia as well? If so, it would be no different from our neighbouring country’s government who gave away their consultant position to a twitter prisoner.

(TN: Twitter prisoner – After being driven out of the country, the politician Thaksin resorted to using Twitter in order to garner sympathy from the public, one of which was through a twitter conversation of Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of Cambodia)

Eh? But wait. Other than Hun Sen’s government, surely no one would allow an evil person into their ranks.

…Or was my judgement of that hottie too low… maybe he was an upstanding civil servant on stage but a weapons trafficking mafia behind the scenes. Hu… my imagination started to run wild just thinking about it.

“…Are you listening? Please exit this backdoor, a car will be waiting to take you to the VIP room.”

And then the duo disappeared in the blink of an eye. I turn back, faced with a door which read: ‘No Entry, Personnel Only’

 

A freezing gust of wind slashed against my face, causing a biting sting. I was devastated at the discovery of the personnel door locking automatically from the inside, it meant that I was stuck outside in the vast emptiness of the airport grounds…

I turn left, right, front, and back…

There was no one in sight…

There was nothing waiting for me, be it a car, a two-wheeled cart, an elephant, a horse, a cow, or a water buffalo…

On the left-hand side was a fence lined with barbed wire dividing the silent runway and the walkway.

Behind was a spotlight. However, barely anything was visible from where I stood at.

Every time the winds sailed past, I could feel a chill creep deeper and deeper into my bones… I could hardly take a step forward.

And more importantly… realizing only now… I didn’t know the name of the girl who sauntered off with my passport. I didn’t have any other documents on hand to confirm my identity too…

 

My heart dropped to the floor… If something happens to me in the middle of my journey to the VIP room… who was going to save me?

 

 

I still haven’t reached it… Was I walking to the VIP room or participating in the marathon world championships? It was damned cold. I pinched my own hand, failing to feel any pain. How many degrees was it right now? I didn’t even want to think about it. “Sh*t… when the hell am I going to get there?”

I cursed as I walked. Pinching my hand wasn’t painful so I started pinching my ears instead. Both of my ears were so numb that I nearly assumed they were fake ears. Were they going to shrink because of the cold? I had no idea. From my hand to my ears, from my ears to my…

Another gust of wind rushed past. It was extremely cold, like it had invaded into every fiber of my body. It was becoming increasingly difficult to move my feet forward. There was no one in front of me, there was no one behind me. If someone appeared right now…

“Ahkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk!!!”

My surprise almost made me pee myself (even if I really peed myself, it would have frozen into ice before coming out to greet the outside world). Suddenly, two soldiers appeared out of a dark corner! One person pointed a gun at my waist while the other seemed slightly surprised at my surprise. Seeing my face clearly, they then managed to confirm that I was human.

“What are you screaming for!”

I bore my eyes at them as if to say: ‘Who do you think decided to appear out of the darkness without making any sound then?’.

“The car’s waiting in that corner over there.” Can’t you be more polite? And put that gun away already!

…The corner he indicated meant that I had to marathon walk another hundred meters.

As I studied the car, I thought I was in a fever dream. This reason being: It was a BMW 507 Roadster, a luxurious classic car produced in 1959 and importantly… it was a convertible…

Driving a convertible in a temperature under ten celsius, as if this was appropriate!

That retard’s brain was definitely wired wrong! I cursed the hottie nonstop under my breath while peering inside to look at the front seats, finding my own passport resting still and undisturbed. As for Uncle Taro, he was sitting warm and comfortable inside the VIP room with his hot cocoa and personal pink wheelchair… I motion to walk towards Uncle Taro first, but the man in khaki-colors shifted the rifle aimed at my back over to the front, obstructing my path.

“That’s a guest of the government, you aren’t one.”

“And what did ‘His Excellency’ say?”

“No clue. His men simply gave orders to hurry you out of here… and for me to also turn a blind eye at the fact that you don’t possess an international driving permit.”

Uhuh… I’m so moved that my nose is running… aaaaachooo!!!

 

 

A VIP car… this refers to a car that arrives at the airport to pick you up… However, that hottie failed to inform me that there would be no chauffeur… was he right in his mind…?

“Just you wait… brrrrr… it’s so cold.”

I sat, teeth clenched and body freezing as I tried to direct the car slowly and steadily according to a google earth map that I had prepared before take off. Ugh… what four-way intersection? I couldn’t find it… and even if I found it, I wouldn’t be able recognize it since I couldn’t read the road signs. Google you liar, why is your map in English when the actual signs are in Russian woi!

There was also the fact that I was driving on an unfamiliar road at five-thirty in the morning. I wouldn’t even notice if a truck suddenly swerves into a utility pole on the side of the road. What should I do… should I call Alexey…?

‘You’re stupid.’ He was most likely going to scold me with a reprimanding voice and pair of sneering eyes, there was no doubt about it.

But Alexey… well… he probably wasn’t mean enough to leave me lost on my own… hopefully? Since he went to the effort of sending me a car (minus a useful Russian-speaking chauffeur), he surely didn’t want to get summoned to the police station to look at the corpse of a Thai man that had driven a convertible into a ditch and died… I made the decision to park the car on the side of the road and rummage through every compartment…  The entire vehicle produced only two pieces of paper.

The first piece was a phone number of the tourist police; the handwriting was unfamiliar.

The second piece was a faxed map of Astana, a very adorable-looking one too. Alexey’s neat and meticulous English handwriting filled in the space between each Russian sentence… Flipping it over, there was a sticky note attached to the back. The message was in Thai and seemingly printed from an e-mail.

 

I figured you’d need this. Don’t lose it.

Sincerely… me.

 

You have a lot of time on your hands don’t you? This sadistic hottie!

Admittedly it was cute, yet at the same time I wanted to drop kick Alexey… Regardless, this map was the sole reason why I managed to get to the rental apartment within twenty-five minutes time; coupled with a body temperature that was nearly in the negatives.

I lean over to look at the sign in front of the entrance, comparing it to a pamphlet I had printed out from the internet… In it detailed the following: This apartment was the equivalent of a three star hotel, a lavishly designed one at that. It featured a heater, hot water, breakfast, room service, English-speaking staff, and a beautiful lakeside view. Not to mention, it was located not far off from the civic center and several tourist attractions.

I stare at the establishment in front of me… umm… well they weren’t wrong… but… wasn’t this an advert from thirty years ago!!! The building I saw in front of me deserved to be registered as a UNESCO world heritage site. The lavish architecture translated to a ‘Soviet’ design to put it simply. It was a cardboard box with holes. Instead of windows, steel lattices mounted the walls. The exterior decoration consisted of several cracks all throughout the entire building. It was as if the building still stood standing because someone stuck superglue on it as a temporary measure. It was still dark out so I couldn’t see the aforementioned lake–but was that dome-shaped building on the other side a gigantic pool table or a stylish civic center? There was one thing left… English-speaking staff. I prayed for this point at least to be true!

Fine, so be it. I already paid the deposit, what else could I do…? I push the heavy wooden door of the apartment open. The window on the door was a muddy yellow color, to add, there was a crack on the bottom left corner. I saw my good friend, the spider, sleeping comfortably just a bit above my head…

“Hello… anybody here? Check-in please…”

Now that I mention it, actually, the interior of the building didn’t look too awful. Furniture from the Soviet era organized themselves neatly in front of a warm fireplace. There was also a black and white television set (which still seemed to be functioning), and a transistor radio. In another corner of the room was a small check-in counter decorated with photos of grim, serious-faced Soviet soldiers, Khrushchev the leader of Russia, and Yuri Gagarin stepping on the moon. Hua, did I time travel into the seventies?

The sound of someone’s feet dragging in a steady rhythm could be heard, along with a round circular silhouette… An amiable old woman in roughly her late seventies appeared out from the back. She smiles after seeing my face, showing off the golden tooth caps lining her entire mouth. “Hello, good morning.”

What a relief. I returned her smile.

“You can speak English? I want to check-in. My name is Pha…”

The old woman waves her hand dismissively as if trying to chase away a fly, before sending me an honest smile.

“English? Nyet, nyet. Вы говорить по-русски? *#$@*^$#@*”

 

I want to cry.

Can I sue the Kazakhstan ministry of tourism for deceiving a tourist? Huu….