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.
“Pei-san?” I shake my head.
“Paae-san?” This one was too pitiful…
(TN: Paae means goat in Thai)
“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.
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!
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.
“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?”
“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…
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.
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….