Bold: The characters are speaking in English.
I carried my traumatized body and mind back to room 1204 with the help of Isakov; even though the room was only a few meters away.
Enough, I wanted to vomit. To put it shortly:
…I was shocked…
I’ve been scolded countless times before, but never by a person who could tear me apart so viciously and mercilessly.
I sunk down onto my bed. Admittedly, I sat there for nearly half an hour not doing anything at all, simply staring at the hand which had punched Alexey, feeling confused. It was satisfying in the moment, an acceptable reaction to his affronting words. Yet subsequently, his following words made me feel like I had been slapped back.
Most painful of all… I agreed that his words were correct… it was as if he had known me all his life. His cold gaze saw through me transparently. Even the blind spot which I intentionally kept hidden for no one else to see… he dared to uncover the truth about what kind of person I actually was… not to mention, he spoke it out loud. The shame I felt was unbearable.
This man was both ruthless… and scary…
“How long are you going to sit there despondent for?”
A peculiar Thai accent startled me from my reverie. Turning back, I was met with a ferocious-looking bodyguard standing legs spread in front my travel suitcase.
“What are you doing!” I snapped.
“Pack your bags. You’re travelling in four days and haven’t done anything.”
So that hottie still had some good intentions, sending a maid (?) to look after me.
Isakov stared pointedly at me with reprimanding eyes and folded up his sleeves. Blue-green tattoos coiled around both of his arms. I swallowed my saliva stiffly upon seeing the edge of Virgin Mary’s feet resting on a skull-shaped cloud. Clearly, faith flows thick in the blood of the Russian mafia.
The bodyguard seemed to realize I was staring so he tucked it higher for me to see in full. Aiyah… scary.
“Why are you sitting still? Your hands aren’t rowing and your feet is dragging in the water Petch, hurry up and start helping.”
(TN: Hands not rowing and feet dragging in the water – An expression referring to a person who refuses to work and is also a nuisance)
I quickly slid off the bed. Umm… I’m scared of your tattoos sir…
“How many days are you going for?”
“Whereabouts?” His tone reminded me exactly of a teacher trying to interrogate their elementary school student.
I frowned. Why did he want to know about where I was going?
As soon as I opened my mouth to argue, the maidyguard (Maidyguard (noun): A combination of Maid + Bodyguard) made a difficult expression at my already-packed travel suitcase.
With swagger, he carefully uses the tip of his fingers to pinch out a t-shirt before flinging it onto the floor. “Useless.”
Next was a turtleneck shirt made out of cotton which had been worn for a total of seven years.
“This is also useless.”
The third piece was a pair of bleached jeans with its ankles frayed slightly, giving it a certain edginess.
He looks at my face as if to ask for permission, then went ahead and emptied out the entire suitcase, giving me no chance to speak, hua! My belongings lay tipped over in a disorderly fashion. In the end, Isakov selected a total of three pieces from the mountain of clothes. As for the rest… he stuffed them into a black bag, tied the bag tight, and used a pen to write in crooked Thai letters: ‘For Donation’.
“Hey, are you crazy?” I quickly swiped the black bag, hugging it close to my chest, before throwing it inside the closet. “All that stuff amounts to roughly ten-thousand baht woi!”
My maid seemed puzzled. “Those clothes are better off given to the temple.”
Such a charitable heart you have!
I leapt up to grab the Nike shoes which Isakov was preparing to toss down the twelfth floor. “Hey! Can you not at least dispose of trash properly? What if it falls and hits someone’s head? Who’s going to take responsibility then?”
“Shoes that are a size too small, are you keeping it to scratch a lottery ticket or something?”
As expected of someone who used to have a Thai wife (though she’s moved-in with the gravekeeper now), Isakov used a comparison that was very fitting with Thai culture, he had my respect! “Probably.”
(TN: Thai people love playing the lottery. Some have weird rituals they go through before scratching the lottery.)
Isakov seized my Nike’s back and threw them into another black bag. “Hand me those pair of shoes hiding underneath your bed too.”
I flinched. Was this guy a bodyguard or a spy from the KGB? He knew exactly what I had hidden and where. “There’s nothing there.”
“You’re not fooling anyone.”
A tall large figure with a white band-aid taped at the corner of his mouth–the result of my punch from earlier–grumbled as he walked into the room. Alexey bent down to snatch the hidden pair of shoes and flung it accurately to his underling. The corners of his eyes were staring at me with admonishment.
“Have you come to receive another free punch?” I took up a guarding stance, ready for a fight.
The other party merely shrugged as if this matter was so insignificant that he didn’t clutter his brain with it. He turned to speak a few sentences to Isakov, before switching to Thai. “Finish taking care of this trash.”
My mouth was itching to ask about ‘who was dealing with who’ and what ‘trash’ he was referring to. But I didn’t want to get thrashed again so I shut my mouth and looked away with disregard.
“Mr. Petch… Oops, Alexey, what a surprise to see you here.” The bright cheerful voice which belonged to Sasha summoned the attention of every pair of eyes. The Uzbekistan man with blue eyes sent a smile in my direction. “Everyone’s all present here… ah… you too Isakov…?”
“I’m doing my job.” The bodyguard swept his frigid eyes at the new arrival, unfurling another black bag and turning to speak to me. “Take only thick clothing. Where are your socks? Do you have a scarf?”
To conclude, he wasn’t a bodyguard or a maid, but rather a direct clone of my mama!
Sasha squeezed himself into the room. With three large men and me, the room was starting to feel cramped and suffocating. Sasha sat down beside me and made conversation with Alexey, talking leisurely despite the cold expression on the other man’s face.
I shut off my ears, not interested in listening to their conversation. Only moments later, Sasha exited with the menacing hottie (who probably already forgot about the purpose of his visit).
Isakov sneered as he followed my gaze. It reminded me of the day when the police officer came to do interrogations and a curious question surfaced in my mind. My mouth shot him this question…
“Why do you look at him like that? Isn’t he your boss’ friend?”
“They’ve been friends for a long time… perhaps a little too long actually. It sometimes causes one to forget: Each person has their own duty to attend to and shouldn’t place their burden onto someone else.”
“How long have you worked with him for?” I thought of that wicked Dobby all of a sudden and decided to continue prodding.
Isakov met my eyes. “My great-grandfather served his great-grandfather as a small soldier to his general. My grandfather worked for his grandfather who was the prime minister at the time. My father supported his family in seizing control of the government. What do you think, have I worked with him for a long time?”
“So why don’t you make him into another prime minister too… He’s already oh-so perfect, it wouldn’t be difficult. What is he doing in a small cramped embassy?” Hardening my voice unintentionally.
“He’s doing his job. No one can be big and powerful without having to do small miniscule tasks, be it an insignificant civil servant or Vladimir Putin.” Isakov explained with patience while tying the mouth of the bag containing items to be donated. I stared at it woefully. “You’re serious about this…? That shirt has only been worn fourteen times and although those Nike’s are a bit small…”
“So what if he becomes the prime minister? Are you going to gladly throw away these things and leech off of him? Buy a Lamborghini and drive it around to kill time? Use a dollar bill to roll up a joint of weed?” Although Isakov had a smile on his face, his eyes were deadly piercing.
“Are you insane!?” I hastily retorted.
“Then what do you want to know for?”
Indeed, although I welcomed the idea of P’Pun treating me to meals and buying me snacks, if this hottie were to do the same… umm… just lending me two overcoats from Burberry and Alexander McQueen without setting an interest rate already had me hesitant…
…The fact that we ‘make love’ doesn’t mean that I’m obligated to do anything for you…
…Doing nothing but take, doing nothing but ask, a lazy bum like you. Don’t even hope to gain anything from me…
The hottie’s words inserted itself into my dizzying mind. Combined with Isakov’s grating remark… I think I was beginning to understand Alexey around two millimeters more, shortening the twelve kilometer distance… which existed between us…
“I didn’t mean to ask, it just popped up into my mind that’s all… And also, some things can’t be bought with money.” I cut our conversation short, turning back to look at my room with half of its belongings gone and sighed. I decided that ceasing fire with Isakov was a wise choice. “I’m going out to buy gloves, socks, uhh… a scarf…. and… umm… instant noodles… thermal underwear… what else? Help me think.”
“Food seasoning.” Isakov said, simultaneously writing it down on the same sticky note.
“1 US Dollar is around 120 Tenge.”
Eh? What currency is that… Tenge? “Never heard of it before.”
“Let’s just say, food is three times more expensive than in Thailand, save for alcohol, cigarettes, milk, bread and cheese. Gasoline isn’t included in the cost of the car rental and using the heater isn’t included in the apartment rent. With that plain and clumsy appearance of yours, you’ll likely starve to death because 99.99% of people there can’t speak English.”
Hua! My travel guidebook didn’t tell me about any of these things (actually I hadn’t finish reading the book yet).
I fell into a state of shock. With the little funds and possessions that I had, what was I thinking, staying in this guy’s country for a whole two months? And was I going to make it back to Thailand alive…?
I grabbed another wallet containing the cash I had withdrawn from the bank–hoping to use it exclusively as pocket money–and began counting… the thought made my sweat drop.
“I understand now.” Isakov glanced at the cash in the wallet… then studied me from head to toe…
“Can you not look at me like that!?” The intense stare of disdain was an exact replica of his boss’. Being subjected to it was irritating like always.
“So what if I do?”
I replied with a polite smile. “Maybe I’m embarrassed, you assho–” Yet inside, I was deep in thought. If my funds run out halfway through this trip… I bit my thumb and ruminated… it won’t be pretty. Also, asking to borrow money from Pa would be…
Isakov handed me a sticky note, deliberately stuffing it into my hand and grabbing my car keys. “Wait by the car, you have five minutes.”
“Hua, why the hurry?” I protested, eyes glued to my car keys. “And… what? You’re coming? I can handle a small matter like this on my own, I’m not a kid anymore.”
“Oh, sure, a small matter.” Isakov shrugged. My eyes followed him until he exited the room. I was feeling better… but I still couldn’t put my finger on it. There was an odd feeling inside my chest and it was excruciatingly tight…
Scanning over Isakov’s handwriting, I almost thought it was written in Russian. His Thai penmanship was thick and slanted to the right in an orderly fashion. Moreover, every letter was immaculately spaced out and even. On each sentence listed the items I needed, as well as some other things which I completely forgot about too.
Copy of passport and visa x 2
Photo ID x 2
AC adapter (I forgot)
Name card (This one too)
Give accommodation address + travel insurance documents to parents (Does he think I’m in elementary school or something?)
Print e-ticket x 2
I read it once more. Oh… right, e-ticket, I completely forgot. Despite punching that hottie out of anger, e-tickets could always be printed again from my email, couldn’t they?
So why did I punch that hottie just nowwww!?
Uu, why did I have to act so uncouth? I was like a thug!
The devil in my head whispered beside my ear, insistently telling me that the hottie deserved it. One punch didn’t even suffice when comparing everything the other man had done to me. But incidentally, something beside my other ear was telling to me to be ashamed of my actions, for being unable to control myself.
Upon exiting my room, I saw the other man stood smoking a cigarette on the smoking balcony near the elevator. Our eyes met for a second and I decided to turn left, bounding down the fire exit stairs even though the elevator doors were already open and waiting. My ears picked up Sasha’s voice in the distance however I pretended not to hear it.
Between those twelve floors, I secretly hoped, deep inside… that he would come chasing after me…
The phone in my pocket started ringing. Jessica was calling. I disconnected her.
Dear friend… I love you, but today I’m in no mood to talk…
“What were you doing? Tch, so slow.” Isakov complained while using a shoe to crush his cigarette into smithereens. It had been smoked till only the dull yellow filter remained.
“And aren’t you supposed to be attending your boss?”
“Leof and Viktar is with him, everything’s sorted. Hurry up and get on the car.”
Isakov lit another cigarette, content to ignore my whining, then pulled out his ALDO sunglasses. The entire mafia look was complete…
“Get on, and if you start making a fuss, I won’t spare you. I’m not as soft on you like my boss is.”
“Then please inform your boss for me, thank you for being oh-so very soft.”
“Would it kill you to shut up for ten minutes Phachara!” Isakov glared at me. “My boss has to sport an injury to the wedding of the ambassador’s daughter now… want to try having a black eye while you go shopping? Get on the car now! And if you speak one more word, you can bet your ass that I won’t treat you to a meal.”
I saw the ferociousness in his eyes and shrunk with fear… hastily and obediently getting on the car without saying a single word. Fine! If don’t make it back alive to the condo tonight, hopefully the police will end up finding the suspect’s fingerprints on the black temple donation bags.
Sasha received a glass of crimson champagne from the waiter and took a sip. His gaze was focused on the bride and groom standing ten meters away. They suited each other ‘like a golden branch with jade leaves’. At first, he thought to stand closer to the front, but upon seeing the Kazakhstan embassy’s consultant of politics and foreign affairs, his close friend and also love rival (some of the time) standing with a grimace to one corner, he walked over to join the other man.
(TN: Like a golden branch with jade leaves – An expression to compare two things that look impeccably good together.)
“You should have tagged along in my car, Mr. Oil Baron. Although you’re rich, what’s wrong with trying to prevent a bit of global warming?” His mouth chattered away but his eyes stared at the bruising red injury on the other’s face knowingly. An irritating smile decorated the Uzbekistan man’s face.
Alexey placed his champagne glass down on the table, grey eyes looking at the person who greeted him like it was unavoidable, not to mention answering back in German. “I don’t want to be hit by a stray bullet in case someone is waiting in ambush to shoot you, are you not afraid?”
“You’re really concerned for me? Hearing this makes me strangely pleased.”
“If you want to know how I obtained ‘this’ then hurry up and ask.” He spoke of the bruising red injury with a band-aid plastered over it expressionlessly, as if talking about a mosquito bite.
The curious person burst out in laughter, playfully clapping Alexey’s back and shoulder. “So how did you go about getting that?”
“I merely slaughtered a chicken for a little monkey to see. The emotional little monkey was unimpressed so he threw a banana at me.” He was amused at his own words. Alexey finally laughed, shaking his head with exasperation. “So difficult to deal with.”
Sasha roared. “Are you really interested him?” He asked, trying to contain his laughter. However, he was serious.
Alexey stared into his friend’s eyes with an expression that was difficult to read. “If you’re able to care for a little monkey, it’s best that you care for yourself first. Has Vivian’s lawyer called yet?”
“Don’t ignore my question, answer first whether you’re serious about ‘him’ or not.”
“Those two brats, next Saturday is their birthday. I hope… she gets to see your face in Frankfurt.” The person with a band-aid plastered over the corner of his mouth lowered his voice. “Give my regards to her and the kids as well.”
“Alexey!” Sasha made his voice stern with displeasure. However, he didn’t dare to raise his voice as they were still in the middle of the wedding ceremony. “I warned you before to not get involved in this matter.”
“I’m their godfather.” Grey eyes flashed, equally refusing to back down. “And I’m also the brother of your legally-wedded wife! Even if we weren’t friends, I’d still be your brother-in-law.”
Some of the wedding attendees standing nearby whirled around to look, then quickly turned back as if nothing happened.
Sasha clenched his fist tight….
“What I think of him is my business… and what he thinks of you, I won’t interfere in…” Although Alexey spoke in a soft whisper, the word ‘brother-in-law’ echoed deafeningly in both of his ears.
“I’ll come over to hand you the gifts tonight. Tell the kids sorry on my behalf, for not being able to go visit.”
“I never said I was going.” Sasha impatiently seized the chance to speak. In his heart, he was thinking of something else, a certain someone whom he wanted to spend time with…
“Are you going to let the kids have their birthday party with their father missing? Are you insane Sasha?”
The gaze which Alexey sent his direction made his cheeks feel almost numb. Grey eyes pointedly stared daggers at him. They were so identical to Vivian’s eyes. In spite of their relationship, he loathed these pair of eyes which saw through everything as much as he loathed having to lie to himself. He loathed these grating words which seemingly intended to cut him, drench him in blood, and pour disinfectant over his raw wounds.
Nothing could escape Alexey. This guy knew everything, regardless of whether he was supposed to know it or not. Certainly, sometimes it came in handy (Sasha didn’t need to give long-winded explanations), yet sometimes… he loathed this trait. Be it who he slept with while studying in university, who he escorted to dinners during his troublesome years in Germany, or even what presents he bought for who, it was guaranteed to reach Alexey’s ears.
Alexey side-eyed him while giving an appreciating applause to the joyous wedding couple on stage. This guy knew he was drunk that day (no one could be blamed for this matter as everyone was dead drunk) and when Sasha woke up the next morning, he found himself in bed with Vivian, his best friend’s little sister who had come travelling in Europe. Three months later, as you could probably guess… she was pregnant…
And that was also the first time he witnessed Alexey frozen in shock. After collecting his senses, he hurriedly called home to inform that Vivian had decided to continue staying in Germany for an extended period of time. While the youngest Nazarbayev did nothing but cry insistently on keeping those tiny cells, the big brother was left to handle everything else, finally deciding to tell their family the truth on the day the twins released cries which echoed through the labour room.
The person registered as the father of the kids was him. Of course… if not… he’d surely be dead at the bottom of some river in Germany by now.
“I never imagined I would hear such god-awful words coming out of your mouth…” Grey eyes flashed with rage, yet he was still able to control his voice. “As your friend… let me warn you once again… take responsibility and do what is expected of you, and also don’t trade your future with… you know who. If it reaches a certain someone’s ears, you won’t be sitting comfortably in that chair.”
“Are you concerned for me or possessive of Mr. Petch, which is it?”
Alexey inspected him from head to toe. “I didn’t realise you Uzbekistan’s had such low IQ. Next time I’m in Frankfurt, I better bring the kids to get their IQs measured.” He sneered from the corners of his mouth. “Afraid they might be stupid like their father.”
If he punches the consultant of the Kazakhstan embassy and avoids getting reported back to the ministry in Tashkent… Alexey won’t be enjoying his beer for weeks to come!
One step… he was still looking at the shelf filled with foreign newspapers.
Two steps… he started to attentively read with interest.
Three steps… he flipped the pages over and studied the politics column.
“Petch… trying to escape from me in the supermarket won’t be that easy. Are you done picking out groceries? We still have other places to go to.”
Isakov’s weary tone transfixed my two legs, halting them so suddenly that my head nearly lurched forward. I turned to bare my fangs.
“Who’s running away? I was just going to stop by that aisle over there.”
Jessica phoned in by chance, however I hurriedly press to disconnect the call because the brute in front of me seemed more important.
Isakov heaved a sigh, yanking the shopping list from my hand to see for himself. He returned some items onto the shelf and dragged me by the neck into the ready-to-eat meals section.
“You’re taking forever to decide on which lotion to buy, every bottle is the same, trust me, none of them will absorb into that thick skin of yours.” Isakov grumbled.
“But it’s cold isn’t it! How can I not apply lotion? Do you know how difficult it was for my parents to give birth to a handsome child like me?” I argued, snatching back the shopping list and grabbing one can of Pepsi instead. “And quit acting like a stingy housewife already, this is my money and life.”
“Just keep on drinking those sodas, drink them until your bones become riddled with holes.”
I scratched my head. It felt like we were a husband and wife couple, quarrelling about what groceries to buy into our home. “Alright, fine mom. What else would you like me to buy mom?”
The Russian slapped my head with a loud smack! Putting me in a dizzy spell for thirty seconds. “Am I your playmate?” Isakov bared his fangs at me. He resembled the Rottweiler–his grey-eyed boss–closely. “There, seasoning packets. Whichever one your brain thinks it’s capable of cooking, get them.”
I grinded my teeth hard with resentment. And why was I complying to this brutish-looking bodyguard? I hadn’t a clue. Either way I complied, good grief. I yanked him down to squat next to me so that we could choose together. “I don’t know what to choose. You’re the one who needs to help me.”
I shut my eyes and ears, managing to grab one packet. It was seasoning for minced pork and basil stir fry. Reading the back of the packet, the instructions seemed pretty easy so I took two more. On a nearby shelf were ready-made meals, minced meat salad, pork panaeng curry and chicken curry, yeah… I might as well take everything. “Isakov, go grab one bundle of basil leaves.”
“You’re cooking today?” His expression was of surprise mixed oddly with suspicion.
“If you quit dawdling around here, maybe I’ll make you some for you too!”
Hmph… he really went over to select a bundle of basil leaves. Ah… marinated pork, garlic and fresh chilli… this guy had an unexpectedly good knowledge of Thai food.
Then again, I wonder if I should warn him to buy anti-diarrhea medication just in case…
“So why exactly are we going to your house?” Isakov asked, turning the car around. “To ask your parents for money?” He looks at his watch. Hua… his watch was even more expensive than my SLR camera.
“What does your family do?”
“We sell the best grilled goose and chicken in Chinatown.”
“Yet you made instant noodles for Sir. Alexey?”
“Yeah, what’s wrong with that? It’s instant noodles, not dog food.” I jutted out my bottom lip. What was so difficult? I had seasoning, basil leaves, garlic and chilli. As for meat, my family definitely had some… Just you wait you hottie, I’ll survive this trip and not die of hunger too, hmph!
“Распиздяй!!!” Russian swearing echoed loud from the red Honda Jazz which made a head-lurching brake in front of a popular grilled goose and chicken shop in Chinatown, beckoning the eyes of everyone inside to look this way. Isakov beeped the horn as loudly as my tiny Honda car could manage, poking his head out of the driver seat window and pointed at Phai, my younger cousin who cut in front of the mafia with his Fino motorcycle. “Moron! What manner of driving is this!?”
My eyes bulged. I hurriedly opened the door and dragged Phai who had fallen into a state of shock from being scolded by a foreigner inside the house, simultaneously raising my hand to greet Pa, Ma, Gramps, the employees and the customers, circling around the shop like a boxer entering the ring.
Pa jerked his hand back from slicing a goose’s neck. He rested his cleaver down on the chopping board and wiped his hands with the cloth tied around his 44.25 inch tummy. “Is that a friend of yours Petch? You rarely visit but cause a ruckus every time.”
“Hu, Pa, I’ll deal with it alright?” I said, voice pleading. Yanking the keys to the Fino from Phai’s hand, I quickly dashed to park the motorcycle before a certain Mr. Bodyguard decides to go on a rampage.
Isakov clicked his tongue with irritation before delicately reversing the car into a parking spot, it contrasted to his earlier outburst. I hastily clung to the rolled-down window, vexed. “Why’d you have to go and make a ruckus! Look at all these startled customers.”
“Hurry up, you have five minutes. I have business to attend to with my boss.”
“Just go wherever you want to go, shoo shoo!”
“Four minutes and fifty-three seconds left.”
“I’m getting my mom to teach me how to make minced pork and basil stir fry, the pork won’t even be cooked yet in five minutes!” I protested.
“Perhaps you should start by learning how to make regular instant noodles first.”
“Petch, did you bring a friend with you son?” Mama appeared out from the back along with the smell of grilled goose clinging to her body; a result of toiling work (grilling goose) since five in the morning. It was already eight-thirty at night and the smell of grilled goose hadn’t yet faded. I should really open a business selling grilled goose and chicken perfume, sounds like a good idea doesn’t it? “Bring your friend inside the house Petch.”
Isakov got out of the driver seat, clasped his hands together and greeted my mom, it was unexpectedly polite for an ill-mannered foreigner like him. My mom received his greeting with a beaming smile (I think her smile got wider by 28% when Isakov removed his sunglasses, revealing a set of green eyes and a smile lining the corners of his mouth… it pulled at the heart-strings of the middle-aged woman. If he didn’t exit from a Honda Jazz, he probably would’ve been as handsome as the current 007, Daniel Craig. I dragged Isakov to greet my Pa and he obediently followed without any complaints. Seeing this, Pa’s face relaxed a little.
“Have you eaten yet Petch?” Mama asked.
“No Ma, I just dropped by to get a couple of things.”
“And when are you going overseas Petch?” Pa shouted a question from the goose chopping board, yet his eyes were fixed on Isakov.
Pa grabbed a goose wing, chopping it up before throwing it on a plate. “Okay, carry this over to your friend–wot is yua name?” Pa raised a question out of nowhere. I was taken aback. Never in my life had I heard Pa speak English before. Even when there were foreign customers in the shop, he had always sent his employees to randomly gesture out the menu.
Isakov smiled. I saw him truly smile for the first time; his fangs slightly peeking out too. “Isakov sir.”
Hearing the foreigner speak Thai, Pa’s expression turned delighted instantly. “Are you friends with Petch? Where do you work? How about your house?”
It was typical old people talk… he was determined to wring out every single detail.
“He’s a bodyguard for the mafia.” I answer thoughtlessly.
Pa’s cleaver made a loud impact on the chopping board. The customers in the shop turned their heads to look. “Petch, don’t you go falsely accusing others! Carry this food to the back of the house and serve your guest some water too.”
This world is so unfair. Isakov was shouting curses at Phai just moments ago, but when he went inside, his polite greeting and small utterance of Thai was enough to make Pa overjoyed, hmph!
“He really is a bodyguard for the mafia. If you don’t believe me, who else are you going to believe then? A pesky street dog?”
“Even the mutt next door is more credible than you.”
To be compared like this… hurts a damn lot.
At the circular dining table, I handed over a list of items which Isakov ordered me not to buy, telling me to show it to my mom instead. “Here Ma, can you find these things for me? I don’t know if you have them stored or not.”
“Let me see clearly.” My mom pulled on her pair of reading glasses, staring attentively at the small slip of paper. “You handwriting hasn’t improved much since second grade Petch.”
The chopsticks which were about to stuff a piece of goose into my mouth flinched. I smiled from ear to ear.
“It’s this guy’s handwriting, not mine.”
Mama’s face went red, smiling as she met Isakov who replied with his own smiley eyes. My mom seemed to turn into a sixteen year old girl all of sudden. Hu… who knows what would happen if she meets that hottie during one of his good moods…
My mama tried to resolve the awkward tension but slurping her tea loudly like a true Chinese person.
(TN: A large majority of Thai people have Chinese ancestry due to endorsement of Chinese immigration and trade by the Thai king during the 18th century warring period.)
“No wonder it seemed slightly more beautiful than Petch’s in second grade.”
Mama! You’re siding too much with that foreigner, I can be angry too you know. “Here, these are the things I need but this nagging guy wouldn’t allow me to buy them.”
“Well our house already has all of these things, I’ve got Pa’s gloves and scarf too. What’s the use in buying them, it’s a waste of money.” She spoke while her chopsticks grabbed a large piece of grilled goose and placed it on the plate of the two-faced bodyguard; I was aiming for that piece too, hmph! “Thanks for looking after my mischievous monkey dear, he just doesn’t know when to grow up.”
Isakov looks at my face and cocks an annoying eyebrow, mouth chewing heartily on a piece of goose wing. He seemed to be enjoying himself to the fullest. “He’s very stubborn isn’t he?”
“Stubborn like a donkey, wild like a monkey this son of mine.” This uninvited opinion was accompanied by a playful slap to Isakov’s shoulder. I saw him use the corners of his eyes to stare at my Pa’s hand. If this were an ordinary situation, my Pa would have had his arm chopped off by this mafioso already. “So how did you two become friends? It’s rare to see Petch bring home a friend. Other than Pun, no one else seems to want to befriend him.”
“I’m the one who chose not to befriend others Pa!” I argued next to him, face grimacing. “And P’Pun isn’t available today.”
“You guys are basically joined at the hip, it’s eventually going to make other people suspicious. People these days are mentally abnormal too, imagining all sorts of sick things.” Pa received a cup of tea from Mama, took a sip, then let out a loud belch. I really respected the foreigner in front of me for managing to maintain his composure. He showed no signs of surprise whatsoever at the ‘polite’ manners of a Chinese family like mine.
Mama chased one employee to close up the front of the shop, shouted to call my dear cousin Phai down for dinner, and ordered Xiao Yu to tidy up and clean the kitchen. Pa was about to squeeze Isakov for details but the sound of a phone started ringing.
Isakov’s bodyguard demeanor returned to its original place. Pa hurriedly shifted to sit near me. “Petch, your friend, what does he do for a living?”
I stared at Pa, fed up. “Like I said, he’s a bodyguard for the mafia.”
“Nonsense, why would he come with you then?”
“That’s cause I had an argument with his mafia boss Pa! Are you going to believe me yet?”
“Где…? Silom…? Да… Okay…”
(TN: Silom – a sub-district in Bangkok)
Isakov ended the call, turning to stare at me, eyes unblinking.
“Two minutes.” Isakov informed, but Pa didn’t catch his words. I was intent on sluggishly taking my time. This was my house after all, there was nothing he could do about it…
My mom came downstairs with a large bag of items and the bodyguard took hold of it promptly; I didn’t even have to open my mouth and ask.
“Petch, Ma managed to get everything on that list, do you want anything else son?”
Uh… I had something else I wanted, yet was too ashamed to ask.
Pa lowered his eyes at me. “How many days are you going for?”
“Two months Pa.”
It appears my Pa had understood. “And how much money do you have?”
“Uh, well… thirty-thousand baht and another two credit cards.”
He lowered his eyes further. Pa didn’t seem angry, however he didn’t seem pleased either. “And your company, how much are they paying?”
I became reluctant. Shit… when I first told Pa about the trip, it was under the premise of my company sending me out for work.
Pa heaved a sigh, walking to the cash register in front of the shop and the safe. He selected three stacks of one-thousand baht notes.
“You’re an adult now Petch.” Pa said simply and lit a cigarette, filling the room with smoke.
I stared at the three stacks of one-thousand baht notes on the dining table and looked around the shop with a feeling of shame… I felt guilty to the point where I didn’t have the guts to look at my parents’ face.
I was reminded a conversation prior to this…
“Where are we going next…?” Isakov asked as we drove out of the supermarket.
“My house in Chinatown.” I gazed outside the window. I was so hungry that my intestines were in a twist, however, being as stingy as I was, I didn’t want to go to a restaurant. The additional charges which I just found out about had me stressed. If I started saving from today onwards (even though it may be a little too late now), I should probably have enough for the food expenses.
“Boss has the rest of the stuff in his storage, if you ask nicely…”
“I don’t want to use your boss’ possessions woi.” I protested, face contorting. “Expensive brand name stuff… I can’t use them. They give me rashes, I’m allergic to the upper-class.
“What crazy disease is that?”
“Upper-class allergy, it’s a disease that rich people can’t contract, now you know.”
Speaking of Isakov’s suggestion, he wasn’t considerate of my heart at all! I really wondered what remaining self-esteem I had left to ask and borrow from a person who saw me as nothing but a scruffy loser.
“Suit yourself…” He replied. “That said, how is going back home to ask your parents for money a more respectable option?”
His words were correct…
I pushed the stacks of one-thousand baht notes back to Pa and made a face like nothing happened.
“Stupid, I didn’t come to ask for money from you Pa. I stopped by to give you a few documents that’s all, in case something happens you can still track me down.”
Honestly, beyond the money, I wanted Ma to teach me how to cook food for my survival, but how was I to bring this up? This family sold eat-and-takeaway food in Chinatown but their dearest son could only make instant noodles and egg dishes.
Pa raised his eyebrows high and looked at the documents laid out the table. It consisted of a book detailing my travel insurance policies, a copy of my E-ticket (the source of my argument with that hottie), and several different phone numbers my family could use to contact me during the two months. Pa said nothing, but Mama looked genuinely impressed. They hurriedly picked up the documents and started flipping it over.
“My, how nice. I thought I wouldn’t be able to contact you at all in these two months.”
Actually, concerning the travel insurance, the agency insisted that I apply for one. Do I seem like someone who would think to get insurance for myself? Yet when I saw Mama’s relieved face, the small sum of money I had spent seemed worth it now.
“There’s compensation for airplane delays over six hours, lost bags and passport books too, it sounds pretty decent Pa.” Fortunately or unfortunately, my mom’s approval called Pa’s attention over to the travel insurance as she blurted out in a thrilled voice: “Oh my, dying gets us five million baht? This means if you kick the bucket, it’ll be worth it son.”
What a peculiar-sounding sentence. How would it be worth it if I end up dying!
“Ridiculous, I can’t die Ma…” I said weakly. Glancing at Isakov, he was peering at his watch for the third time.
Isakov interjected suddenly. I myself was puzzled at the direction of his words. He proceeded to grab me by the scruff of my neck, using his other hand to push the money back to Pa along with a ferocious smile.
“This guy is heavily in debt to my boss… both damaging his body and possessions… Pa, your unbridled son definitely won’t be able to pay you back. It’s best you hold onto that money, this guy is nothing but a kid sucking on his thumb, never knowing when to grow up.” Green eyes glinted bright and the fangs he bared were sharp and pointed. “Say your farewells already, let’s go, I’m in a hurry!”
Mama’s face went ashen. As for Pa, his trembling hand was pointed at Isakov’s face. “What did you say?”
“Your monkey of a son already told you that I’m a mafia bodyguard did he not? And he’s currently having a quarrel with my boss. Pa, you don’t know how to listen. Your ears, are they for decoration!?”
Hit with this first blow, Pa nearly fell out of his chair, breaking out in sweat. “You… you aren’t friends with Petch?”
“Nope/Nope.” We both answer in chorus.
Pa looks at my face with alarm. It seemed apparent in his eyes now that this guy was with the mafia.
“Hey, let me go woi.”
“You’ve wasted far enough time, I said five minutes did I not!? You tarry around like you don’t know what it means to be punctual, how did you survive this far?” Isakov lashed viciously, yanking me till I nearly fell out of my chair.
I tried flicking his hand away but Isakov had the scruff of my neck pinched tight. If he twisted his wrist a bit more, my neck would surely break right off.
Pa was pale-faced and shaking. To grab his cleaver and chop this foreigner’s arm off was tempting, but the chopping board was slightly too far away. “And… and, why did you force Petch to come here? You want money right? However much you want, just take it.”
“I’m the mafia woi, not a bank robber!!”
Ah, Isakov had a point.
“Blame your son for being an idiot. He could have ran in to get the items while I waited in the car but no, instead, dragging me inside the house to eat geese and chicken. This is good in a way though. If your son causes trouble for my boss again in Kazakhstan… I at least know the correct house to deliver his bones back to.”
Mama fainted. I hurriedly shook off Isakov’s hold to support her, meeting a devastating kick from the uncle of the goose chopping board.
“To bring a criminal into our house, this gou zhong!”
(TN: Gou Zhong – An insult used to call someone a dog. The word is specifically Hokkien dialect, spoken by a large majority of those who have immigrated from China to Thailand.)
“Hua. Pa, you’re wrong, I didn’t….”
Pa bared his fangs, placed a hand on his hip and started rattling out curses in Chinese like a machine gun. Isakov seized this chance to pick me up by my shirt collar and throw me back onto the car without any warning. He even had the nerve to clasp his hands together and give Pa a farewell, his ability to irritate others was second to none.
I was unlucky in every way. And didn’t I come home to ask Ma how to make minced pork and basil stirfry…?
Starving… I had only eaten two mouthfuls of goose.
My pocket money hadn’t increase by a single penny…
Pa’s brutal scolding crushed my feelings…
P’Pun wasn’t answering his phone… he wasn’t replying to my messages either…
Moreover, Isakov decided to don the spirit of a speeding chauffeur, darting from Chinatown to a luxurious hotel in the Bang Rak district within the span of four minutes and twenty-five seconds, rushing to pick up his boss who sat down beside me, smoking a cigarette. As for the person clinging to his seat, body almost flying off… my insides were jumbled like it had been put through a fruit blender. Did my liver and heart swap places? I had no clue. I glanced at the hottie and edged over to the other corner.
“Why were you gone for so long Isakov?” His mouth questioned yet his eyes stared at me as if knowing well the answer. I made a wry face, hugging the scarf bag which Mama had given me. “I never had to wait before.”
“My apologies sir.” The person driving answered flatly.
I squinted, having anticipated that this bodyguard was going to pass the blame onto me. However, Isakov said nothing after that.
Alexey looked at me. I pretended not to notice, turning my face away.
“Have you finished sorting out everything?”
His enquiring voice was starkly different from the time he ripped my airplane ticket in half (slaughtered a chicken for me to see). Right now, he seemed to have more humanity… more gentleness…
Do you want to apologize to me? Come on, hurry up and say it…
Yet even after a long time, he said nothing. So I was forced to break the silence myself.
“You left with Leof and what’s his name? Viktar, did you not? Why wait for Isakov to pick you up?”
Grey eyes stared at me, lips raised in an oddly annoying smile. My emotions were smouldering inside. “Try having a guess.”
“I’m not here to play games with you.”
“Me either. Using several cars is a waste of gas.”
Alas my good man! Now of all times, you think to save energy and reduce global warming?
I opened my mouth to snap back at the other man but my troublesome stomach had to go and make a resounding growl. The goose which I nibbled on at Pa’s house had been completely digested, none of it remained in my tummy.
“This is your fault, you jerk.” I complained loud, trying to hide my embarrassment.
The hottie raised his eyebrows and smiled knowingly. Seeing me send a look of displeasure, he turned his face away.
It was unknown as to when we returned back at the condo. I hurriedly grabbed all of my belongings and carried them down from the car on my own; even though the heavy weight nearly dislocated my shoulders. Leof and Viktar were already waiting downstairs, their faces blank with indifference. With a displeased and annoyed expression, I nod a greeting to the two men and walked past to the elevator.
While I fumbled with the elevator button, both hands occupied with stuff, the person I had tried to walk away from closed in, body brushing up against mine.
“Do you know… being punctual is one of the first traits that a professional needs to have.” His mouth lectured yet his hands tugged, helping to carry two bags. Are you scolding or being a gentleman? Choose one and stick with it.
Hearing these words made me even more irritable. And what right did he have to teach me a lesson? I replied with a disdainful gaze, meeting Alexey who was waiting with a frigid smile on his face.
“Isakov probably told you from the start yes? About how much time was remaining. You should know how to manage it well.”
“Quit messing with my life already! You may be skilled and capable but that’s because you’re you. Sorry but, I can’t scramble up to your level.”
“Okay, it’s my fault… for setting such high standards.”
I was angry, annoyed and agitated. My heart hurt to the point where I wanted to cry and let it all out. His short meagre words, why were they keeping me awake? Eventually I got up to sit, blinking aimlessly in the middle of the night even though I was exhausted and dispirited, heart wrenched to its breaking point.
P’Pun had replied to my message. He finished packing and wondered if I needed help since he was currently free. As for the file which came attached… it was a photo of a certain super chill coffee shop in the Thonglor neighbourhood… as well as the handsome face of a golden retriever grinning in the top righthand corner.
I let out a sigh, feeling inexplicably empty… not knowing whether I was jealous of P’Pun who these days stayed stuck to the wolf in golden retriever’s clothing like a chinese doughnut, or… just lonely… having truly realized that for a certain someone… I never existed in his eyesight…
The words he intended to hurt me with, I knew… to scramble up to his level wasn’t beyond my capabilities… but I simply wondered….
In that spot up above, would there be anyone waiting for me?
The sound of the landline phone in my room started ringing, however, I was too lazy to walk over and pick it up. When thirty seconds went by, the voice recording machine kicked in.
“Petch… this is Jessica, what happened to your phone? I can’t call you, did you drop it in the toilet hm? …I was hoping to invite you to dinner at the Oriental Hotel. You missed all the great food, it serves you right. Sir Alexander the Great went too–what an unbelievably cute man he is, sneaking out of the ambassador’s daughter’s wedding to attend a romantic dinner with…”
I hurriedly reached for the receiver. “Hey! Pae, don’t even try and lure me with men, especially not that idiot and his high standards”
“What are you talking about?” Jessica abandoned her soft sweet-sounding voice. It was now full-on manly, a tone she often used when scolding me. “Let’s talk about you instead hm? You had the nerve to bruise my darling’s handsome face.”
“Uhuh, did he come complaining to you?” My voice pitched higher. Hmph, how pathetic. I barely injured him and yet he went complaining to this kathoey.
“His face is enough of a tell-tale sign. Nice people don’t go around punching good-looking faces, therefore only someone insane, crazy and a dolt like you would dare to touch a drop-dead handsome man. Precious things like him deserve to be stored in the ministry of fine arts.”
How unnecessarily greedy. “You called for this reason? I’m hanging up then.”
“Can’t you take a joke? This sensitive monkey. I’m calling to ask about when you’re flying.”
“The day after tomorrow.”
Jessica said she was going to help me pack my bags. Plus, she had an important and exciting surprise.
“Can’t you tell me now? I stopped being surprised a long time ago since a certain human went to court for swindling the country out of good faith.”
(TN: Low-key talking about the politician Taksin again)
Jessica guffawed at my grating words. “Nevermind if you don’t want to know, wait until you see it in Astana then.”
Hm? What did you say? “Hey, wait! Don’t tell me that you guys joined hands to bully me. Is little Petch going to be left all alone in Kazakhstan? Frozen to death without a single caring person in sight?”
“That’s absurd Petch!” Jessica was laughing nonstop. “Are you having sweet dreams about my darling? He’ll pick you up in a chariot, let you stay at the InterContinental Hotel, take you drinking with the president, and invite you golfing with Vladimir Putin, Stalin and Yuri Gagarin?”
“You’re the one who’s ridiculous. Okay, spill it.”
“Here’s the deal… I’m going too! Surpriseeeeee~?”
I could imagine her face. Right now, her eyes would be open wide to the size of goose eggs, lashes curled with mascara fluttering as she blinked rapidly. From some angles she would look pretty. From some angles she would look like a siamese giant carp. I made a monotonous voice. “Okay, I guess I’ll be excited. I’m so so so surprised.”
“Idiot.” Jessica retorted, but then adjusted her voice to sound overly cajoling. “Okay, my husband is back. See you there. Goodnight.”
“Shit, I think I’m having a nightmare.” I said in a fit of laughter and hung up the call. In spite of my mouth, I felt happy to the point where my skin danced.
Jessica’s going too! Who said my tastes deviated? Although I’ll be accompanying a kathoey overseas, this trip was guaranteed to be fun. Oh, where was my spare memory card, my other battery, and my precious tripod? Come, come, into this bag you go, daddy is going to take you travelling~
Whatever that hottie had in store for me wasn’t important. Right now I desperately wanted to go travelling.
I hummed a cheerful tune while opening up the refrigerator, stomach making a loud echoing growl. My eyes glanced at the ready-made minced pork and basil stir fry seasoning which I intended to store away for later.
Fine… let’s give it a try, what could go wrong?
The smell of minced pork and basil stirfry…
Eh? Was it…? Why did it smell oddly burnt…?
The man detached his eyes from the legal document in front of him and swivelled to look around his luxurious living quarters. A burnt and acrid smell causing his nose to itch filtered in through the bulletproof windowpane located nearest to the neighbouring room.
Alexey swept his hand over the finger scanning console. The locks released with a click and he couldn’t resist smiling at the first sound he heard.
~Ahhhhhhhhhhk, don’t spread my child!!! Daddy doesn’t have the money to plead in court for a burntdown condo!!!
The smell of burnt basil leaves wafted to greet him for a second time.
“Is something wrong sir?”
Viktar asked from behind. His bodyguards were always circling nearby regardless of whether he required their service or not. He was used to it.
“That guy is making a ruckus again, can you tell him to be quiet?”
“It will be difficult sir… Isakov thinks so.”
“I think so too.”
But I will never miss an opportunity to teach you a lesson: To transform you from a pathetic dolt into the number one photographer like you’ve always dreamed… this is the promise I made to you… even though you don’t remember it.
I’m going all out this trip, prepare yourself!
Alexey = The extreme definition of tough love.