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?”
“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.”
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.
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.
(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.
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?
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.
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.”
“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.
“Therefore, you need to photograph it for me instead! This is an order that you can’t reject Alexxx.”
Now he was crying for real!
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…
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?”
“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?”
“And she’s your friend correct?”
“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?”
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:
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?