Carta Visa: 27th Round

Bold: The characters are speaking in English.


Feet trampled down on the green grassy turf in a heated frenzy, the tense atmosphere akin to Liverpool attempting to tie up with Man U… A certain person was running short of breath as he tried to steal the ball away from Wayne Rooney… no, this was just an illusion. Punnaphob, who managed to gain possession of the ball, had a serious expression on his face, as though about to win his team the UEFA Champions League cup. Haru’s cute and adorable P’Pun… his kind senior… with a beautiful smile, struck the ball into the net of the goal with such a ruthlessly powerful kick that the goalie didn’t have the guts to block it.

The yelling and clamour from the other side of the field could be heard… “Hey goalie, why didn’t you block the ball?”

The person standing in front of the net alternated between looking at the ball rolling away and the face of the kicker… “The kick was powerful.”

Hua, retard… this is football, not a game of ring toss, of course it has to be powerful.”

“That’s not what I mean…”

P’Pun let out a frustrated sigh, shouting abruptly that he was calling it quits despite not even half an hour passing.

His senior’s mood was unusually volatile… not like his normal caring self who frequently offered to give Haru a lift back home. Haru silently observed from the edge of the field… and subconsciously sighed.

This afternoon, after P’Pun had dragged Sasha the troublemaker out of the office, P’Chid’s face was straining with fury. Not because his words had no effect on P’Pun, but rather, he was furious that P’Pun had carelessly abandoned his work despite knowing that there was an interview scheduled at half past five. The interview was with an up-and-coming singer, and not even that far from their office, just a restaurant blocks away. P’Chid, who was furious to the point of that his face turned grey, ordered Haru to tag along with another team and take the photographs instead of P’Pun.

Of course, Haru was terribly apprehensive about this. Haru didn’t like taking portraits, nor did he like fashion photography too… It was already stressful enough last time when he had to substitute in for P’Pun, now P’Chid was the one to entrust him with another burden. Huu… how depressing.

Except, at thirty-one minutes past five, P’Pun’s Nissan car parked right in front of the restaurant with a resounding screech of the braking wheels. With a camera bag slung over his shoulder, the man in question walked straight towards the interviewer, his expression stony like cement.

The pair of eyes glanced at Haru from the corners… ingrained with a mix of anger and hurt.

Allow Haru to stress once more… that he had no clue about the things P’Chid had said, however, now didn’t seem like the appropriate time to try and correct himself.

When his senior, who was currently baring his fangs, opened his mouth to chase Haru off, Haru’s mouth was faster and asked the interviewer if he could observe P’Pun work behind the excuse that P’Chid had told him to learn the ropes from P’Pun. In truth, Haru did not need to provide such a lengthy explanation. However, he wanted P’Pun to know that he had entered this office with pure intentions, and not because he was seeking to climb up somebody else’s leg. Haru could only silently pray that… his message got through to P’Pun.

But he was blatantly ignored…

His senior wasn’t even willing to look him in the face….

Nevertheless, Haru was even willing to become shameless stalker. He stayed glued to P’Pun’s (love) life by following the Nissan in a taxi after his senior had quickly driven away without a single word of farewell. Upon passing merely two intersections, suddenly, the owner of the Nissan who was frustrated beyond repair made a head-lurching brake. He yanked Haru out of the taxi, shoved him into his usual seat beside the driver, stuffed a one-hundred baht note into the taxi driver’s hand, and got on the car to continue driving without saying a single word, from the Arun Amarin intersection in front of the office, to the highway, and all the way to the Asok Montri intersection.

“P’Pun, where are we going?”

P’Pun swung the car into the campus of a famous university in the area, parking the car next to a football field and opening the trunk to grab his belongings.

“I’m going to play football, as for you, you can go wherever you want. Since you wanted to follow me so badly, I brought you with me.”

It’s because Haru was worried that Haru followed you! Haru wanted to protest out loud, yet remained silent… It wasn’t like wanted to be a flea latched onto P’Pun.

 

“Oh… Pun, is that your junior? Never seen his face before.”

Someone’s voice called out from the back. P’Pun, who was stood taking large gulps of his electrolyte drink, shifted his gaze towards Haru and said nothing.

“What… you’re heading back already? Talk about quitting earlier. I just arrived, let’s play a bit more, you rarely show up too.”

P’Pun waved a hand dismissively. “No thanks, my knee hurts today.” The other party therefore gave in and walked away onto the field.

‘Knee hurts’ as if. Rather, it’s your heart that hurts… Haru thought.

“And are you going to head home or what?” P’Pun questioned with a steely voice upon seeing Haru stood waiting in the same spot.

Haru lifted his face, this caring person was asking such mean things today!

“I’m waiting for you, P’Pun.”

“Why are you waiting for me?”

“Waiting so you can calm down and listen to Haru explain.”

P’Pun was shocked at the words coming out of Haru’s mouth. “What do you have to say?”

Haru pursed his lips tight… deliberating on whether or not to reveal the matter about Sasha. He think he understood now… why the other party had left P’Pun to wait for his phone calls for weeks and not call back at all, why he let the person on the other side wait for him until he lost his motivation to go to work.

This matter was none of Haru’s business… but the side effects had completely fallen onto him.

Sasha… it’s all because of you!

“P’Chid didn’t actually mean what he said, Haru knows.”

P’Pun straightened his face. “So what? You know this because you’re the son of the director?”

“No, because Haru is a biophysicist who loves taking photos as a hobby. Haru has no desire to steal your job P’Pun, do you understand?”

He stilled… as if he had begun to accept it now. But even if he couldn’t accept it, he had to.

“If you keep getting involved with a horrible character like Sasha, I will take care of you myself P’Pun.”

Dunno, however these words should produce at least one outcome: That P’Pun would revert back to working like a proper human being again. As for the consequences… will Sasha turn over a new leaf and take his relationship seriously with this cute beautiful-smiling person, or will Haru have to look after P’Pun according to his words…? That didn’t seem difficult though.

After all, Haru had even helped raise Sasha’s twin sons before.

Taking care of P’Pun as well didn’t seem difficult whatsoever. Sasha, if you don’t love, Haru will claim!

 

 

“If you keep getting involved with a horrible character like Sasha, I will take care of you myself P’Pun.”

 

Hah?

What did Haru just say…? And what did he mean by it?

“Do you understand what Haru is saying P’Pun?”

Pun shook his head rapidly, imagining that he himself probably looked extremely pitiful, like a deaf puppy.

“I don’t get what you mean… and I… uh… I… don’t have anything to do with Sasha… we aren’t anything together… uh…”

In spite of these very words, he felt his face flush with heat. Furthermore, his chest even felt like it had been clutched by a mysterious hand, squeezing him so tightly that it hurt…. we aren’t anything together…?

On the one hand… he had been the person to deny it… not willing to accept a relationship beyond being friends.

On the other hand… Sasha had been the one to initiate and pin him down, barring him from escape.

Before him, Pun thought he saw the image of the boy with his arms crossed, his serious expression slipping off his face and replaced instead with annoyance. Pun hastily removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes to ensure they were working fine.

“You don’t understand?” Haru pushed the hair falling on his forehead back in irritation. “Fine, Haru will repeat it again. First… Haru does not want your position, regardless of what P’Chid says. And second… P’Pun please listen carefully,  I… will take care of you myself.”

Hua, I’m not a helpless child that needs taking care of.”

“Your age might not match… but your behaviour is identical to one.”

“What right do you have to speak to me like this?” Equally shocked and fuming on the inside, Pun felt he had been insulted.

“You can go back and reflect on it as much as you want, Haru will send you home.”

Hm?

Upon coming to his senses again, the key to his Nissan was in the hands of the feline face before him. Haru grinned, fangs poking out slightly. “Get in the car quick, the university gates might shut soon.”

Don’t try and play tricks! Pun had been playing football here for years, the university gates never shut.

“Look Haru, you’ve joked around enough, give me the key and I’ll send you home.” Pun commanded, projecting an angry voice.

“Nooooooooooo.” Not only defying his orders, the kitty had a stubborn pout on his face as well. In the end, Pun was forced to cave in, sitting with a sour expression in the passenger seat of his own car. Haru started the engine and turned to remind him with concern: “Are you not going to wear your seatbelt P’Pun?”

“Don’t worry about me.”

The person in the middle of buckling his own seatbelt paused, and before Pun realized… two arms had already encircled him in a hug. A faint scent of cologne wafted up to touch the tip of his nose. He did not recognize this smell despite the fact that they regularly spent the significant majority their days together.

The white and seemingly soft palms… contained more strength than he imagined. Pun wasn’t sure whether he was unable to move because of the shock, or because of the strength concealed behind the adorable appearance of this fussy kitty.

“P’Pun… when you were sick… and collapsed in the middle of the photoshoot like that, Haru was worried to death…”

The boy’s voice was trembling slightly… Pun could sense the sincerity behind his words… along with the feeling of concern which swooped in to stir his parched heart…

“You only worry about him… why don’t you worry about yourself at all…? Don’t do this again… please.”

“Haru…”

He couldn’t stay angry… upon peering into these pleading brown eyes…. although he wanted to scream and yell out in frustration… he couldn’t bring himself to do it…

A pair of soft lips brushed against his ear, coupled with a ticklish hot breath.

“In a few more days you won’t be here anymore. But in the meantime… let Haru take care of you, okay P’Pun?”

Oddly enough… the strength that was initially resisting the embrace… eased up.

 

 

Haru peered out through the window of the car, watching as the tall slender figure who was hastily trying to open the door to his house drop his keys again and again. The man straightened his body up and inhaled deeply, however, he still did not go inside.

Upon shining the car headlights at him, Haru saw the cheeks which were normally so fair turn a reddish hue, the flush crawling up to his two ears. The owner of the house narrowed his eyes and quickly waved a hand to shoo Haru away, go home already.

But the person sitting behind the steering wheel simply grinned… inwardly amused that P’Pun had forgotten already, that he had yet to return the car…

“What are you doing wiping your glasses in front of your house, it’s dark. If you don’t go inside properly, Haru won’t go back.”

“Quickly go back.” P’Pun spun arround to narrow his eyes at him again, face frowning.

Though he wasn’t smiling, this expression was quite cute as well…

Naturally, Sasha fancied this type…

Cute… shy… and inept at hiding their emotions…

The more they were teased, the more it made people want to eat them up.

He had known several guys who dated Sasha… one by one, they arrived with a smile… and left in tears… Haru felt lucky that Sasha was not his type… otherwise, he might have had to change his status from mandatory babysitter to… semi-willing partner of the owner of the house instead… after all, those blue eyes never missed an opportunity.

Suddenly, he was reminded of… that certain someone again… how did he refer to Sasha… ah yes, golden retriever… a wolf in golden retriever’s clothing… this nickname was truly suitable.

Although they liked to quarrel… they were close friends.

And although he liked to speak in a way which hurt other people’s feelings… no that wasn’t it… rather, he spoke in a way that never gave consideration to other people’s feelings in the first place, Haru still worshiped him a lot…

Remembering him caused Haru to feel sad again… the sadness was eating at his heart to the point where he had to find a way to relieve it by doing something… about the current uncomfortable situation.

Unbelievable…

He was dead.

 

Haru hadn’t asked for much, he simply wanted to meet him one more time… just one more time so he could take a look at Haru’s photos…

 

 

“Pun already left early this morning dear.” His mom said with a surprised expression, no different than Sasha who was also very surprised, needing to recite her words once over.

“He’s gone to work?”

“Yes.”

She was likely at a lost of what face to make and Sasha himself felt somewhat bad as well for ringing the doorbell to Pun’s house, finding that the person he was searching for had already left. Sasha smiled politely.

“A car from the office came to pick him up? How strange, he didn’t tell me.”

“Oh, no dear. Pun’s friend came to pick him up.”

All this time, there has never been anyone to pick Pun up and send him to work other than him. Why all of sudden…?

“It was the Japanese-looking boy with the cute face, he drove here in Pun’s Nissan.” His mom had a sparkle of endearment in her eyes. “He ran over the two plant pots in the front of the house over there, I was planning on coming to clean it up later… probably a junior at his workplace.”

Sasha still maintained a smile in spite of his bubbling emotions, begging farewell to her and quickly driving away in his favourite car. He glimpsed at the luxurious Maurice Lacroix watch on his wrist, frustrated at the unexpected turn of events. Although he wanted to solve this problem right this instant, work had to come first. He did not wish to ruin his work with personal matters.

Kitty, I warned you before, to not mess with Pun!

 

The deadline for the manuscript was in the following forty-eight hours. As such, the condition of the editorial department resembled a war zone. Be it the sound of the telephone ringing non-stop, the sound of the fax machine, the Mac computers which had been running for a whole sixteen hours and on the verge of overheating, or the graphic design team almost going insane from the abrupt demands to modify the advertising pages by their clients.

And in one corner of the room… was a fair and bespectacled young man… eyes swollen from lack of sleep staring fixated on the screen of the MacBook like his life depended on it. His right hand and mouse had practically fused into one organ. Though expressionless as he worked, inwardly, he was grinding his teeth and cursing the agency of the popular actress featured on this issue’s front cover. They had ordered him to retouch her again, make her a bit more slimmer because she looked like a manatee… Lady, if your fat accumulates in your belly then go on a diet. If you rely solely on retouching, people will riot that the actual movie is a sham.

The desk beside him was no different. Unable to write Thai and also possessing the reading capabilities of a sixth grade elementary schooler, Haru was therefore entrusted to write an advertisement column for a soon to be published Japanese version of a free company giveaway book. The sound of the tapping keyboards which seemed to go on endlessly was coupled with muttered complaints at himself for being unable to write something to his liking.

The chime of the office doorbell could be heard once. Yet no one was generous enough with their time to lift their head up and look. Until eventually, the third chime passed, along with the sound of the rattling door. Mild was the first to lift her face up and peer through the glass door, followed by an exclamation… oh my, someone’s delivering sweets!

The word ‘sweets’ was like a magical spell which caused everyone pause in their tracks. The sound of several stomachs growling and the sound of the clock ticking informed them that it was one o’clock sharp. Everyone looked towards the door and saw that a motorcyclist for hire in the iconic neon orange vest had arrived with an oddly fancy pearl white envelope and two large boxes of cake from a famous bakery.

(TN: Motorcyclist for hire – Multi-purpose drivers who function as a taxi but also as messengers.)

“Cakes for Mr. Pun.” The motorcyclist carefully carried the boxes in and placed them on the counter. Mild unreservedly opened up the boxes and shrilly cried out: P’Punnnnnn… the cakes look super cute and tasty, hoping for the true owner of the cakes to open his mouth a say ‘go ahead and eat’ without taking a single glance.

“Please take this document as well.”

Pun accepted the pearl white envelopment from the messenger somewhat confusedly. Flipping it over front and back, the name of the sender was not apparent. However, when his gaze tripped on the cute petite cakes arranged inside the boxes, each box containing eight pieces, he spotted a small card which read:

 

Bon Appetit / Sasha G.

 

Mild picked the card up to study it… looking at Pun… then looking back at the card again before sighing.

“Why don’t I ever get any nice guys sending me luxurious tasty cakes like this?” She complained as she handed out forks to each person. “Okay P’Pun, cut the ribbon, everyone’s waiting to eat.”

Pun felt he could smile a little now. He chose the cake that he liked most and let the refreshing taste of the fruit tart permeate his mouth as he opened the envelope, turning speechless at the surprise.

Inside the envelope was only a few pieces of paper: Invitation tickets to attend an extravagant private car expo that was only exclusive to platinum members with the money to buy three or four luxurious several ten million baht cars in a row. Pun discovered news of this event at the end of last month and had even asked P’Chid to try and secure entry as the press. However, the organizer had turned them down nonchalantly… As such, the invitation tickets in his hands were causing his heart to beat erratically…

The first ticket was for a distinguished guest, specified with P’Chid’s surname on it. As for the second ticket, there was no name. Nevertheless, Pun was very surprised to see a invitation ticket meant for the press with his name and surname on it.

How did he know that Pun wanted to go…?

A small note was attached to it.

 

‘The organizer is a friend of mine. If you want to arrange an interview or discuss business matters, call him before three o’clock today.

Expecting to see you at the event / Sasha.’

 

“What kind of person… just knows everything?” He subconsciously muttered to himself before dashing into P’Chid’s office, albeit, with his hand still clutching the fruit tart.

It went as he had anticipated. Editor Chid stared perplexedly at the invitation tickets. “This one is mine?”

“Yeah.”

“And this one?”

“It’s up to you P’Chid.”

“How did you obtain these?”

Pun replied by rolling eyes across the room. In response, P’Chid narrowed his eyes at him before sighing. “And your ticket?”

Pun smiled till his dimples surfaced, presenting the press ticket with his surname written on it. P’Chid took one look then quickly grabbed the telephone. Hounding down the magazine editorial department in their network, he requested them to reserve a frame for the news column. To add, his mouth also ordered Mild to quickly fax a thank you letter to the organizer of the event immediately.

“He also mentioned as well that if we want to arrange an interview and discuss business matters, we need to contact the organizer before three o’ clock.”

“Ah…” P’Chid stopped thinking for no more than thirty seconds. “Tell Mild to call and arrange it, I’ll interview them myself. Ask Meuk if he’s finished organizing the pages yet and to reserve three pages for me, also uh… tell Mild to get in touch with Mr. Yoshimizu, Haru’s father, ask if he’d like to attend too… as for you, prepare yourself properly, do you understand?”

Pun nodded vigorously, relieved that P’Chid thought well of this event, and even more relieved when he heard the following words.

“Pun, send an email to thank ‘him’ as well… write it formally and CC it to me as well.”

He was happy to hear this. Moreover, he couldn’t help thinking that this oddly resembled a father beginning to warm up to his son-in-law…

 

 

His heart was fuller than his stomach…

Nothing felt fuller the being full of love…

P’Pun’s clouded face and listless eyes all throughout this past week now seemed like an illusion. The serum that healed his heart produced very potent results. His fair skin was radiant and shimmering, big eyes behind those glasses also emitting a vibrant gleam upon happily demolishing the ownerless braised pork leg over rice.

Just now, P’Pun had walked around asking the entire office about who the box of braised pork leg over rice lying on his work desk belonged to. However, it turns out that nobody knew. The owner of the desk therefore seized the chance to gobble it down his stomach. Only after having eaten half of it did he suddenly remember the moody kitty sitting beside him.

“Haru, have you eaten anything yet?” Glancing at the clock, it was fifteen minutes past one.

“I have.”

“Why didn’t you call me when you were going downstairs?”

“I went when you were enjoying your cake veeeeeeeeery much P’Pun.”

Did P’Pun realize that this word ‘very’ had way more E’s than necessary?

“It was really delicious though, why didn’t you stay to have some?”

“Haru likes eating street food fried rice more, there’s a good ton of pollution, be it air pollution, MSG, or the dirty plates, as long as there’s no emotional pollution… Haru can eat it.”

P’Pun was stunned for a brief moment, though he wasn’t sure whether his senior had understood him or not…

“It’s best you quickly get to work P’Pun, aren’t you in a hurry tonight?” Haru urged without meeting his senior’s eyes, solely interested in the Japanese characters on the screen of his MacBook as he leisurely tapped away at the keyboard. “Oh, and another thing, Haru doesn’t like sweets… sweet things make Haru’s throat sore.”

“Hey, come on don’t sulk.”

Mild and Meuk lifted their face from their own computer screens, along with several other co-workers in the office. P’Pun had not uttered these words for quite a while now, furthermore, he had never used it with anyone other than P’Petch before either.

“Don’t sulk, because I really don’t know how to console you. I can trick Petch with food but what do you want me to console you with Haru? Tell me quickly.”

The boy studied him over, then looked away towards some other direction.

“P’Pun being happy is a good thing is it not? Why would Haru be sulking?”

He asked cluelessly, eyes bright and innocent, head also tilting to the side a little… At a glance, one could probably see the overlapping image of a whiny little kitten that was begging for their owner’s attention by speaking in contradiction to their inner feelings.

In any case, P’Pun was clutching his head in pain, looking to be desperately in need of some paracetamol.

 

 

Pun was in a rush, he had been so absorbed in work that he nearly lost track of time. Hastily fetching his MacBook and slinging his camera bag over one shoulder, he raced down the fire escape stairs from the fourteenth floor. Yes… Pun hated elevators. He disliked confined spaces and the suffocating feeling that came with it. As such, he always parked his car on the seventh floor reserved for office workers and climbed the stairs to the fourteenth floor every day.

“P’Pun, wait for Haru too.” The sound of another set of footsteps was trailing behind Pun. He held the door of the fire escape stairs on the seventh floor open, stopping in his tracks as he peered at his own wristwatch. Shit… they had been working side by side all this time yet the boy failed to remind him, too preoccupied with sulking.

Having chased after him and finally closing the gap, Haru stuffed the key to the Nissan in his hand. “P’Pun you forgot your car key.”

“Oh thanks, I’m going then.”

However, the warm figure which pulled him into an embrace caused him such a surprise that his body turned rigid. “Ha… Haru.”

The boy tightened his arms around him. Pun could sense the scorching hot temperature of his body, not to mention his tongue felt completely frozen. He was unable to protest, nor did he dare to push Haru away.

Haru nuzzled his face against Pun’s shoulder. Warm light breaths brushed over his nape, similarly to the ash brown hair that was as soft as kitten fur tickling his cheek. The cheek nuzzling his shoulder was incredibly soft, even regardless of the fact that the sensation was hindered by a cotton shirt.

“Wh… what’s… wrong?”

“Let Haru hug you for a bit.”

“No!”

“Why not?”

What Pun failed to see however, was the playful smirk the boy was sending to the other person who had just stepped out of the nearby elevator. The hand that was holding the BMW remote key clenched so tightly its muscles strained.

“Haru even kept you company for so many days when you were lonely. P’Pun… but since you are so insistent on going… let Haru hug you for a moment…”

The boy grumbled as if accusing him, nevertheless he loosened his arms… putting on a cute smile as always.

“Haru’s satisfied now… you should go P’Pun, aren’t you in a rush?”

“And you… you’re okay right…? Uh…”

“Take care P’Pun.”

Haru smiled… and Pun reluctantly admitted that this kitty was so cute that he didn’t have the heart to be angry at him.

 

“Dammit woi… whose car is this? Parking in front of my car, not to mention locking the wheels too.”

Pun exclaimed in defeat. What was up with today? He did not want to arrive late to the event, nor did he want to keep a certain person waiting, constantly craning their head while searching for him. Sasha would probably not like it if he were late.

The sound of a soft car horn could be heard from behind and Pun snapped his head to look, incensed. However, his expression transformed into utter surprise when he recognized the gorgeous BMW and the driving sitting behind the wheel.

“I’ve come to pick you up, get in the car.”

“Don’t want to leave the car at the office, I won’t have anything to drive to work in tomorrow.” Despite making a huge fuss about it, Pun still laid the bag containing his MacBook in the back seat. “Should have told me earlier if you were going to pick me up.”

Out of habit, Pun sat down in the seat beside the driver… having completely forgotten already that less than twenty four hours ago he was feeling angry and neglected to the point where he didn’t want to speak to the other man.

“If I told you beforehand, would I have known… that you were secretly raising an adorable kitty cat at work?”

!!!

“So absorbed with playing with the kitty that you were almost late it seems. Buckle your seatbelt so we can head out.”

“What are you trying to say?” Pun interrupted, voice weary. His heart was beating rapidly, but what could not be concealed was the fact that his cheeks and ears had turned a shade redder. Feeling helpless, he removed his glasses and wiped them awkwardly. “When a certain someone disappeared for a whole week… even I didn’t press them at all about who they were with and where they were going.”

“If you knew, would you be able to bear it? If you’re certain that you can bear it then I will explain it to you. But if you’re not ready, then you don’t need to know yet.” The menacing sidelong glance directed at Pun made him go dead silent.

Sasha had never spoken to him like this before… nor did he ever make those kind of eyes…

How foolish… for him to assume that two mere boxes of cakes and a few event invitation tickets… meant everything had gone back to normal…

As if!

 

 

Rama IX was a road that over the course of the entire year was in a perpetual traffic jam with the exception of three days… this being Songkran Day, Family Day and Elderly Day. Hence, it was no surprise for the elegant car to be stuck amidst the crowded road.

(TN: Songkran Day – Thai New Years celebrated on every April 13th.)

Aside from jazz music which filled the silence, the atmosphere inside the car was suffocating, like you couldn’t breathe very well. However, this was not due to Sasha, or at least the man did not intentionally make it so. It was only after a long period of silence whereby Pun realized that it was all in his head. He was getting angrier and more frustrated to the point where he found it unbearable being inside the car.

…Should he get off the car and call a taxi instead?

“Pun… you’re leaving the day after tomorrow right?” The person sitting behind the steering wheel questioned while still humming to the song, expression so at ease that Pun felt annoyed.

“Yeah.”

“Are you going to speak nicely with me or not…?” Out of nowhere, the topic switched so abruptly that he could not follow along.

“What?”

“I asked you what day you’re leaving on so I can organize my schedule.”

Being angry, everything sounded grating to his ears…

“All the things I’ve said in the past, were you not listening at all?”

“Answer the question Pun.”

“Yes, the day after tomorrow. If you’re not free then no need to send me off, I can look after myself.”

“I didn’t ask for that last sentence, but thank you for telling me.”

Pun gritted his teeth, trying to calm himself down… okay… he was capable of speaking nicely wasn’t he? He felt angry… and the complete cluelessness of this person made him even angrier. Pun thus tried to suppress his emotions to the best of his abilities… if not, he would have long smacked this guy unconscious with the camera bag in his lap.

He was aware on the scowl on his own face… and Sasha was a caring person… yet the man did not even attempt to console him… guys in general were roughly like this. It was the same when he dated his ex-girlfriend… he loved her but never liked having to console her… stop scowling, stop having a tantrum.

Until he came realize that his actions were exactly like what he firmly thought he despised: The type of person that was emotional, unstable, possessive, self-centered, and unreasonable… he had nearly ticked all of the boxes already.

Wow, thank god. We’re finally here.”

The car turned into the location of the event and braked smoothly. This was likely the first time today that Pun had properly looked at the other party’s face. The handsomely chiseled face was still in a good mood, bright blue eyes gleamed like marbles as a smile decorated his face… entirely unlike that moment earlier… giving Pun those stink eyes back then was uncalled for.

Pun failed to understand Sasha in the slightest. Why was he smiling again? Was he going to be angry or not? Pleased or displeased? Which pole was Sasha’s mood veering off into?

“Pun, if it’s not too much trouble, could you please stay till Sunday and go to Samui with me for a few days of vacation? I have someone important that I want you to meet.”

(TN: Samui – An island just off the east-coast of Thailand, plus a very popular tourist destination.)

“Who?”

Sasha made a difficult expression, tongue licking his lips, seemingly nervous. “I’m not ready to tell you as of yet, but if you choose to spend a few days in Samui with me… I will give you an explanation.”

“And why does it have to be Samui? Why can’t you just tell me right now?”

The other party let out a sigh. Pun had a fearful premonition about this… what was he intending on saying?

“Because… I’ve already promised them a long time ago…”

“And I’ve already arranged my schedule ages ago too.”

“I can’t refuse them… Pun, can you please go with me…? I’ll introduce you to them.”

“And what if I’m adamant on flying to Uzbekistan on the original date?”

“Then you won’t meet… and I probably won’t be able to fly together with you, we’ll probably end up meeting again in Tashkent.”

An uneasy feeling squeezed at his heart till it ached, cheeks scorching hot… seething with anger.

“So basically everything is important to you… except for my feelings.”

“What are you angry at me for Pun? I didn’t mean it like that, first things first, calm down.”

“You might not have meant it like that… but that is how it seems through the way you’re treating me.”

“When have I not treated you well?”

“You had me wait… wait, wait, wait, without telling me anything. How do you think I feel? Am I as interesting as this important person of yours?”

“…This matter is difficult to explain. Pun… I’m serious. Go to Samui with me. Listen, some things are very sensitive, it will affect several others too.”

“If it’s that troubling for you… then I don’t want to know, go and stay with that important person of yours for all I care!” Pun lashed out, no longer able to keep his emotions in check.

Upon realization again, he had gotten off the car without his belongings… his camera was still on the car, as well as his press invitation ticket. To say he was frantic, he was. This was not some regular event after all. But his ego was far too big that he couldn’t afford to turn around, open the car door, and retrieve his belongings.

He heard the sound of a car door being shut softly, along with a sigh.

“Okay… I won’t bother you with this matter again.”

Pun observed as the tall figure in the sharp luxury suit carried his camera bag and press invitation ticket over to the registration desk. Sasha’s face was beaming like nothing had occurred at all, entering the extravagant party with a cheerful mood.

Completely contrary to him…

 

Won’t bother again… because Sasha didn’t care about what he thought anymore, or because he was never in this man’s line of sight since the beginning?

 

 

The event was almost nearing its end. Pun felt that time had passed incredibly fast, unlike the suffocating feeling that was slowly gnawing at his chest. Pun knew he could barely contain his frustration, his hands were shaking… not to mention, his face muscles felt stiff and taut like a statue.

Concerned, P’Chid had approached him three times already to ask about his wellbeing. Nonetheless, Pun assured that he was fine, only having caught a minor headache that’s all. Although P’Chid’s gaze implied that he did not believe his words in the slightest, he did not press the matter.

“Go home and rest then if you have a headache.”

It was a good suggestion… Pun had wanted to go home from the instant he stepped foot into this event actually.

“But I’ll take it as you abandoning your work.”

Hua… how come?

Editor Chid was munching on a canapé catered by the luxurious hotel, his eyes provocative.

“Our company has no policy allowing heartbroken employees to do substandard work. If you don’t believe me, try asking Haru’s father, he’s standing over there, after all he holds twelve percent of our stocks.”

“I’m well aware P’Chid, don’t get sick and don’t die.”

“You can die, but send in your work first, if not then resign.”

Anyone in this situation would be taken aback… but aside from being taken aback, Pun could feel the hand clutching his camera freeze over, cold like ice. The volatile emotional state that he managed to suppress for not even a full day resurfaced once again, assaulting his pained heart.

“You’re kidding right?” Pun murmured under his breath.

“Human resources is on the ninth floor, exit the elevator and turn left, the resignation form is in the bottom drawer of the light brown cabinet.” P’Chid’s expression did not change one bit as he explained…

“Your jokes are growing harsher by the day P’Chid.” Pun said with a hardened voice. “Did getting to attend this event not improve my situation at all?”

“Be it this event or any other event, they won’t help your case Pun.” P’Chid set down his third canapé. “Even if your assignment is taking photos for a new year’s celebrations at an elderly home, you should still demonstrate to me that you are prepared to work, not like… ‘oh, today I’m in a bad mood so I can’t be bothered’, ‘today my lover is free so I’ll have a day off’, or ‘today my lover is acting weird, I better reflect on it, I’ll work later’… don’t you agree?”

Thrashed so severely with words that his face felt completely numb, Pun wanted to protest that these claims were completely baseless. Except… what his boss said was true. Moreover, Pun was guilty of having done every single one of these scenarios too.

“I think… I lost you ever since that golden-haired foreigner appeared at our office… if you see him, tell him for me… that I want you back working together with me… I miss it a lot.”

Pun’s mouth was agape. He wanted to deny it… but knew deep inside that he was at fault, and he wanted to talk to somebody about it. Somebody…

The person who he wanted to talk to the most… was currently enjoying himself towards one corner of the extravagant party, one hand balancing a wine glass… as the other lightly rested on top of someone else’s shoulder, someone he appeared to be very close with.

Pun needed those pair of hands… needed that smile… that smile that used to be his… or was it never his since the start, he was unsure…

Gentle blue eyes adorned the handsomely sculpted face as a warm palm rested on Pun’s shoulder, seizing his body just in time before it collapsed to the floor. “Pun… Pun… Are you okay?

The warm hand squeezed his shoulder tight while the other grabbed at his upper arm, supporting him from falling. Pun could sense the feeling of concern emanating out of these two hands… hands which did not hug him but tried to support him from falling and hurting himself.

“Your face is very pale, Pun, what’s wrong? Why didn’t you call me if you felt unwell?” The voice was on the cusp of anger, yet still lined with worry. “If you don’t feel well then you have to tell me, so I can take you back home to rest… if you run out onto the dark streets by yourself like this, who’s going to help you?”

Sasha propped up Pun’s chin with his fingers, and in an instant, all of his anger dissipated. Pun could feel the warm tears locked up in his chest slowly rush back up to his eyes, before trickling down onto his cheeks drop by drop…

“I’m… fine….” Lying… in spite of the tears… “I… have something to ask you… will you answer me?”

The pair of blue eyes appeared confused, but nodded his head wholeheartedly.

“I want to talk to somebody… who thinks that I am worthy enough to… be with.”

“I hope, I too am worthy enough, for you to talk to.”

“The period when you disappeared, where did you go…? Tell me honestly, where you disappear to?”

“If I tell you, promise that you’ll believe me.”

“Were you abducted by aliens and experimented on or something?”

“Probably… no need to be so angry… I went to take care of several legal paperwork, then like I said, I flew to Vienna. But the fact that I couldn’t contact you was because my phone was broken… completely crushed.”

Pun was taken aback, tears drying up. “What did you say?”

“I accidentally stepped on my BlackBerry so I didn’t have a useable phone that entire week in Europe. I only managed to buy a new one when I stepped back onto Thai soil.”

“Then… why didn’t you call to tell me at least, with someone else’s phone?”

“I did. I sent you a text message before I went to Vienna.”

“With whose number?”

“I have no idea what her is name, she’s the staff at the check-in counter. Do you think I would use a public payphone? You didn’t even take a look and notice that it wasn’t my number.”

“Who would be bothered to remember such a long phone number?”

“I didn’t as well!”

“Then where did you get my number from?”

“I called into your office of course, your boss happened to be the one to pick up my call. It’s just a bit unfortunate that I accidentally jotted it down on a coffee shop receipt… you can guess the rest of the story from here right?”

The answer he received had him awestruck. It sounded very honest and sincere, a dumb situation which could have occurred to anyone. A broken phone, calling into the office and jotting down the number on a random piece of paper, then throwing it away by accident.

“So… I’ve answered your question clearly now yes? Are you going to go home with me or walk back?”

“And if I say walk back?” Just kidding… from Rama IX to Asok, tomorrow his feet would be full of blisters.

“Then I will take off this hot suit jacket and walk with you. I can come back to get the car tomorrow.”

Pun grimaced… but reached out to grab the warm hand…

The person who he wanted to talk to… in this very moment.. he could honestly only think of one person.

“I just got scolded by P’Chid…”

Sasha caressed his head tenderly. “Yeah, you can tell me all about it on the car… let’s go home, it’s late.”

“I’m going back to my house.”

The hand cupping his squeezed tighter.

“Your choice. But… I want to be with you, always.”

Short, blunt… and what he wished to hear the most in this turbulent night of his life.

 

 

RRR…RRR

The sound of a ringing phone interrupted his watching of a rerun TV series. Haru crawled down from the soft plushy sofa, looking at the screen of his blue BlackBerry device.

+49, the call was from Germany… who could it be?

“Haru am Apparat…”

“Kittyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy.” A cheerful sharp high pitched voice could be heard from the other end of the call.

“Haru, Haru. Kitty, Kitty.” Two similar voices spoke, overlapping. “Nikolai, let me speak.”

“Wait Kiril, I’m the who called!”

Haru felt himself gradually smile wider and wider. He could see himself reflected on the nearby glass door, expression happy upon hearing these voices.

“What’s up, you two.”

“Kitty, kitty, this Saturday I’ll be going to Thailand.” Nikolai boasted with a lively voice.

“Actually we have to go visit grandma in Astana.” Kiril interrupted..

“But we have to change planes at Bangkok first.” Nikolai added. “So Papa promised that we would go on a trip to Samui first before going to visit grandma. Kitty, kitty, let’s go together okay? …Kiril, don’t interrupt, I spoke first.”

“Ah, really?”

“Really, really. I’m not lying. Papa said Samui is very pretty. There are long beaches and pretty seas, very very cold… Kitty, kitty, come see us?”

“Kitty, kitty. Come, come.”

Hua… and has Papa given his permission?

“Yeah!” Haru could just imagine Nikolai currently crossing his teeny-tiny arms and nodding vigorously. “Papa won’t be mad, he allowed us to invite our friends with us.”

Hua… should Haru believe these four year olds?

“We’re going to change planes at Bangkok too. Kitty, kitty, you have to come see us, please, please, please, please.”

He could as clear as day see the two adorable faces of the twins, Nikolai and Kiril, floating past. Nikolai had bright blue eyes like his father that was inlaid on a round face, cheeks smooth and plump, very tempting to pinch. As for Kiril, he had grey eyes like his mother and lips that were a vibrant red, an exact duplicate of his mother in every way.

If someone asked Haru who his second love was beside a certain polar bear photographer, he would gladly answer with his whole heart that it was these two twins.

“Sure, I’ll meet you at the airport okay? Nikolai, ask permission from Papa too.”

“Really? Promise?”

“Promise, promise. Alright… can I speak to Kiril?”

“Fine, don’t be late okay? …Kiril, Kitty wants to speak to you.”

“Kittyyyyyyy… you said you weren’t going to stay in Bangkok for long, come back already. I have no one to play with… Kiril is so bored of Nikolai…”

“How about Mr. Isakov and Mr. Viktar? Are they not there to play with you?”

“Isakov is here… but Isakov doesn’t let me eat sweets… Kitty is way kinder. You have to go to Samui will Kiril okay? Promise?”

Hearing the bright pleading voice of the other twin, Haru unknowingly grinned till his cheeks began to feel sore… his heart inflated… going to Samui with the twins… it didn’t sound like a bad idea at all.

Then again, would the father of the twins’ allow him to go…? After all, he was certain that the man would be dragging P’Pun along as well.

 

Regardless, that night, Haru had a pleasant dream. He grinned till his cheeks nearly burst despite Sasha being an uninvited guest in his dream.


Haru is best boy.

Also, we’re going back to Petch next chapter, why does it feel like I haven’t seen him in ages? TT_TT

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Carta Visa: 26th Round

Bold: The characters are speaking in English.


Today’s morning at the editorial department was the same as every other day. The fragrant aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled the air, its source, the coffeemaker in the mini kitchen at the far corner of the forty-by-forty meter workroom. Pop music could be heard from the desk adorned with tiny adorable decorations belonging to Mild, the one and only maiden who viewed P’Pun as an obstruction to her love life. The crumpling sound of a newspaper from Meuk’s desk was accompanied by the dismayed mumbling of the desk owner as the football match results once again failed to meet his expectations. Furthermore, the sound of a radio news broadcast could heard emitting from their boss’ desk.

As for Punnaphob’s desk… what should have been the profile of its owner, was replaced by a kitty sitting deathly pale in front of the white Mac computer.

“Hey Haru, what’s wrong? Why the worn out expression?” The owner of the desk arrived with a beaming smile and a set of cute dimples.

Haru raised his head to meet his senior’s eyes and forced out a smile. “Good morning P’Pun.”

“You don’t look so well.”

Haru looked over at the white BlackBerry phone and passed it to its owner who was smiling cheerfully. “Ah, I thought it was lost for good.”

“It was in Haru’s refrigerator.”

Pun’s eyes widened as he laughed abashedly. Normally, Haru would enjoy seeing his senior react like this, but as it happens, his world had been completely shattered last night. There was not a single thing which could alleviate his mood at this point.

“Have you eaten yet?”

The heartbroken kitty shook his head. “I’m not very hungry.”

“Come on… let’s go find something to eat. I have work scheduled at eleven, you’ll be accompanying me.”

Being forced as such, Haru could only comply, sighing inwardly at himself. Except, right then, the sound of the white BlackBerry rang out abruptly (and how very fortunate it was that despite lying in the freezing depths of the refrigerator for several hours, it still hadn’t yet died from pneumonia). Peeking slightly, he saw the words ‘Unknown Number’ displayed and immediately knew who the caller was.

But to his surprise, P’Pun unexpectedly disconnected the call, dragging Haru by the arm as they exited the office without any explanation. Furthermore, what was even more curious was that… today, P’Pun had driven a Nissan to work instead of a luxurious BMW.

Oh… so this was P’Pun’s actual car. Haru had been wondering all along how a magazine cameraman like P’Pun–albeit one that accepted freelance work as well–had enough money to purchase an expensive car worth several million baht.

Aside switching from a BMW to a Nissan, Haru also caught sight of an old iPhone which had been released two years ago lying inside. Its appearance was littered with scratch marks evidencing a considerable period of use, thus completely dissimilar to the brand new white BlackBerry.

So it was Sasha… who’s been constantly taking care of P’Pun. Perhaps he was starting to get serious about his relationships for once.

However, the fact that P’Pun had begun to take out and use his own belongings meant that there was definitely some drama brewing, and it was likely related to the absence of the infamous golden retriever.

 

 

The bowl of pork congee with piping hot eggs released such a fragrant scent that Haru started to feel his appetite returning. Although he was hungry, he was forced to blow each spoonful cool, taking each bite slowly and steadily.

Haah, haah… Haru doesn’t do well with hot food.”

“Cat’s tongue.” P’Pun smiled and shared one his shrimp har gow with Haru. “I was wondering… why didn’t you decide to study university in Japan?”

“Why does it have to be Japan?” He reversed the question back at P’Pun. “During high school, Haru studied at an international school in Bangkok. Father transferred here for work so Haru had to move with him.”

“Oh, it’s no wonder you can speak Thai so fluently.”

Huu… but Haru was disobedient. Haru hated studying, so taking the entrance exam for Japanese universities was a no-go. Not to mention, there was a point when Haru didn’t want to study anymore, so Haru decided to flee overseas and tour Europe, falling in love with the continent and eventually calling to tell father that… if he didn’t send over money for Haru to attend university in Germany, then Haru won’t attend university full stop. Of course, father scolded Haru for two weeks straight but ultimately caved in.” Once set on telling his story, the boy spoke lengthily without any sign of stopping.

“You’re quite the feisty one aren’t you?” P’Pun’s lips curved as he ate his congee.

“That’s because… Haru is an only child… no matter what Haru does, father doesn’t object.”

“And what did you study?”

“Biophysics.”

“Hah?” What’s that? Biophysics… is that something like Biohazard?

“Uhuh.”

“Then how did you end up pursuing photography?”

“It’s because Haru was sick and tired of the lab… and besides, it started with the neighbour next-door…”

 

That day was the first day Haru crawled out of the university’s physics laboratory after permanently setting camp inside for nearly three weeks. His escape from the lab room that sunny Sunday morning was a very solitary and desolate experience when considering the fact that he had to go back to clean his house instead of going out to relax in the park like everyone else.

It turns out, upon cycling back to his apartment, he discovered that the neighbouring house which had been on sale had a new owner already. They were a husband and wife couple with two twin children still sleeping in their prams. Furthermore, the house following theirs had also been bought by someone as well. How could it not be eye-catching when the car parked in front of the house was one of the most luxurious cars in the entire neighbourhood, a black Maserati that was even more blinding when coupled with the man Haru had recognized before on large urban billboard advertisements and leading fashion magazines. The aura of the newly arrived man gleamed brilliantly from the moment he stepped out of the backseat. Moreover, the large-bodied chauffeur quickly got out as well and took the travel suitcase off his employer’s hands. In this day and age, who still had servants like this?

These people did not speak the German that Haru was familiar with… but rather Russian… and sometimes English. Initially, the landlord of the apartment that Haru was renting had muttered complaints about the Russian mafia finally invading this peaceful community. However, as weeks passed, there were still no signs of trouble or conflict. Furthermore, the two little twins were very adorable and endearing. Thus, with the arrival of these lives, they had integrated seamlessly into the happy community.

And it was because of those two twins that earned him the nickname Kitty! Following that, all of the Russians began to call him Kitty or Kitty Cat, without even recalling that his real name was Haru.

 

Haru looked at P’Pun’s face, seeing two large eyes stare back with immense interest, seemingly enthralled and eager on listening to what comes next, a smile also plastered on his face. Haru didn’t have the heart… to tell his senior that this husband and wife couple was Sasha and Vivian…

He didn’t have the heart to stain P’Pun’s cheerful morning with tears of grief–like what Sasha had done to him, shattering his world into a thousand pieces this morning at half past three.

 

Over time, Haru learnt that the owner of the Maserati travelled very frequently. Wherever he went, there would always be a group people parading him around. They would often leave the house early in the morning… disappear for a few days… and then return late at night. If not his army of people, there would at least be one person accompanying him around everywhere, a tall man who spoke German with a Dutch accent.

As Haru liked children, he would often come around and greet the lively twins before heading off to university. However, he began to notice something out of place… Every morning, the husband would open the window of the room beside his apartment, but the wife would open one in a different room of the house. So he came to his own conclusion that the two were surely divorced. He wasn’t trying to be nosy, it was just that the houses in Frankfurt were built very densely together, things such as fields or yards did not exist.

While the husband was not well-known in the public eye, the wife had a name to herself… the landlord of Haru’s apartment was a big fan of operas and had secretly mentioned to him that the wife was a rising star opera singer from Russia. She was very skilled and immensely popular, however, one day she abruptly decided to take a break from the industry, later announcing to the media that she was pregnant. From then on, a scar-faced man with a deep-set scowl was always there to look after the mother and her two children, conveniently escorting them from place to place without the husband having to lift a finger.

 

“You sure know a lot of gossip about your neighbours Haru.” The person chewing on a steamed bun in his puffy cheeks teased.

“Well… we were somewhat close.” Haru justified… hoping to god that P’Pun never finds out that all of this was related to him. “Haru liked to play with their children, so they ended up hiring me as a babysitter.”

“What are their names?”

“Kiril and Nikolai, they’re twins.”

“Twin boys. It must be quite hectic, were they naughty?”

…Haru wanted to answer that their father was several times more naughty, but stopped his mouth just in time.

“Like all kids… they were total monkeys.”

“And when are you going to get to the point of explaining how you came to like photography?”

“Hold on, I’m getting there now.”

 

The photography club was a small room situated on the same floor as the lab room that Haru worked in as a professor’s assistant. In actuality, the room was an old laboratory that was not in use anymore, therefore a group of science students who were fed up with their miserable lab lives had asked to repurpose the room as a photography club. Nevertheless, Haru still had no interest in photography. That was, until he saw a small photocopied poster in front of the room, announcing that a small photo exhibition was being held in a certain art gallery not far from the university. The small writing below the poster was a long stretching script of Cyrillic letters, and it was what ultimately sparked Haru’s curiosity. So on impulse, he grabbed his bicycle and headed straight for the gallery without any second thoughts.

 

“And what did you find at that gallery? Did you find the owner of the exhibition?”

Haru shook his head and smiled. “Nope… actually, it felt like the owner wasn’t even willing to show his photographs. If Haru had to guess, the owner of the gallery had begged on his hands and knees for him to hold this exhibition since they were friends or something like that… The photographs were part of a series… if recalling accurately… it was a journey from Siberia into east Europe which ended in Amsterdam… and in those photographs was a single model, the owner of the Maserati, Haru’s neighbour.”

“Oh wow…” Pun exclaimed at the reveal. From Siberia, north of Russia all the way to Amsterdam. To travel this far, if not a seasoned photographer, they would be incapable of doing such a feat unless they had an investor funding the project. Just imagining the visa application process for each country already had him feeling exhausted. “How was their work?”

“Like a dream… it was like I got to go on a journey alongside them. Standing by their side, I viewed the morning sunrise from the tallest cathedral in Amsterdam, waited as darkness fell over a field of dense fog, and watched as a caravan travelled through the grassy steppes of Siberia… it’s an indescribably wondrous feeling.  Haru remembers spacing out in the gallery till eight in the evening, so late that the owner of the gallery ended up inviting Haru for dinner. These Russians were kindhearted and very good at cooking.”

Upon hearing this description, Pun felt his hair raise, he understood well what Haru had experienced.

“And when did you get to meet the photographer?”

“Right then and there… the owner of those photographs sat on the same dinner table as us, he was the last to arrive and therefore ended up sitting beside Haru.”

“And what next?”

“The guy was constantly glaring at Haru… his eyes were cold and very menacing, like he was considering which section of meat to slice off first. You can bet that Haru lost appetite immediately. When the owner of the gallery introduced him as the photographer behind those photographs, Haru was utterly shocked…”

“And did you finish your food?”

“I did… uh… pack the rest back home.” This guy went to eat at someone else’s house yet still had the balls to pack the rest of the food home with him.

“Did you manage to talk with him?”

“Yes, but only when Haru went to retrieve the bicycle… Haru accidentally scraped a long mark down the side of the Maserati, so he heard Haru’s voice and came over to look…”

“And?”

“He smiled at Haru… or rather… it was more like a sneer, and ordered Haru to mow the owner of the Maserati’s lawn for a consecutive eighteen weeks as a way to pay for the paint repairs.”

So was this guy mean or kind exactly (?) Pun was confused. “In the end?”

“Haru obeyed of course… Haru had no money to pay for the paint repairs.”

“He’s mean on the outside but kind on the inside then.”

“You’ve got it wrong… if there’s a day Haru does a messy job, he would send the man with the Dutch accent to yank Haru out of bed and mow the grass again… regardless of whether it’s two or three in the morning, or any other time for that matter, being subjected to it once is enough to make Haru regret it for life! Furthermore, how he managed get the key to Haru’s bedroom, is still unknown to this day.”

“Sh*t!” P’Pun cried with surprise, was this a specialized mafia gang for breaking and entering or what?

“What does that ‘sh*t’ mean?” Haru’s expression was clueless as always.

“Uh, nevermind… and did you get to work with him?”

Haru smiled. “P’Pun, you forgot about the story Haru mentioned the other day again, he’s the owner of the photographs in Haru’s room… the number one photographer in Haru’s heart.”

“You really respect him don’t you?”

“Of course, but in the end he never taught Haru anything. Even after offering to work for him for free, Haru had to find a way travel to the locations on my own. He’s very mean… although… Haru did learn a lot by simply observing him.”

The look in Haru’s eyes when he spoke about this photographer, Pun couldn’t help but feel strange. Not strange because Haru admired someone else, but strange because he now fully realized the boy’s astounding dedication towards photography. He was ashamed to say that he did not have even a sliver as much dedication as Haru had towards photography.

Suddenly, the smile dimmed.  “But as you know… he disappeared all of sudden, never to return again. The only thing Haru could do was run around and buy up all of his work so they could be imprinted into Haru’s memory… P’Pun, let’s wrap up the bill, we don’t want to keep the photoshoot waiting.”

Pun flinched upon realization, quickly paying for the meal and driving straight to today’s destination; becoming so caught up in work that he completely forgot about everything the Kitty had told him…

 

In the quiet silence of the car, Pun had no idea what Haru was thinking to have such a downcast expression of his face. The only consoling gesture he could provide to his junior was to gently rub his head, perhaps in this way, his endearment could be communicated through the touch.

Deep inside, Pun admitted that Haru’s appearance was disrupting a certain something in his own life. At the very least however… he got to know a boy with very exceptional skills, one that never realized how amazing his own self was…

If the situation continued like so… it was certainly bound to have a negative impact on Pun.

 

 

Haru thought everything went smoothly today. When P’Pun was driving them back into Bangkok–with Haru acting as a doll adorning the front seat–he was in a fairly good mood to tell Haru stories about himself and P’Petch, sparking the boy’s anticipation in meeting this absent senior.

P’Petch was a P’Pun’s junior in both Thammasat university and at this workplace. Currently, they were in equal positions as photographers, however, P’Petch had a knack for fashion photography while P’Pun was often dispatched to events or assigned to cover social news.

“Petch is simple-minded… or you could say he’s somewhat dumb if you want, he has difficulty following other people’s train of thought. Not to mention, if you praise him, he will wag his tail and grin widely as he comes over to befriend you, absolutely while suspecting nothing.”

“Your comparison makes Haru think he’s like a puppy.”

“He really is like a puppy. But… you see… I truly love and care for him like he were my real little brother.” Speaking about P’Petch, P’Pun smiled softly. “Whenever I buy him his favourite snack or treat him to a delicious meal, he always acts like a begging little puppy.” The look in his eyes seemed unusual… Haru wasn’t imagining it but P’Petch might be the only person capable of cheering up P’Pun in his current state.

“This morning, Petch called to brag about how he was getting to ride a helicopter and take photographs of the lake at the base of the Altai mountains, how enviable…”

“Enviable?”

“Who knows… his voice was brimming with happiness… overly-excited like a kid. More importantly… who knows who he’s with. With a level of English that loses out to a fourth grader, there’s no way Petch could find a helicopter able to enter a Kazakhstan national park on his own.”

Upon the name of the country being brought up, Haru’s cheek twitched. “Where?”

“Kazakhstan…”

“And where are you going P’Pun?”

“Uzbekistan… I was planning to only visit Tashkent, the capital city… but I haven’t discussed it with him in detail yet.”

 

Rewinding back to the sentence… ‘Haru thought everything went smoothly today’… peace was broken when an unknown number dialed into the white BlackBerry phone that P’Pun was deliberately trying to ignore. The person who had been driving the car leisurely so far clenched his jaw tight.

“Haru, can I bother you to turn off my BlackBerry for me?”

“You’re not going to pick it up? They’ve called twice now.”

Eyes glanced at Haru from the corners suspiciously. “And how do you know who’s calling? There’s no name displayed.”

Haru hastily rectified himself by claiming to have guessed that the unknown number was the same one as last time and most likely a call from PCT…

Many thanks to True Corporation for giving Haru the chance to sidestep this predicament.

(TN: True Corporation – A telecom company known for insistently calling their customers. One of the services they provide is called PCT.)

The moment they stepped past the glass door to their office at half past four in the afternoon, a tense heavy atmosphere was practically pouring out of the room. P’Chid looked at P’Pun through the glass pane of his personal office and waved him inside.

In that very same instant… Haru had glanced over to spot a gleaming aura which prompted Mild to clasp a hand over her mouth and exclaim ‘oh!’ sorrowfully.

Oh my god! Sasha Gilliseva, what are you doing here!?

 

 

P’Pun had disappeared into P’Chid’s room for fifteen minutes and forty-eight seconds to be precise. Haru saw the both of them exchanging photographs, information, and documents inside, but not a single sound escaped from the glass room. Eventually, P’Pun pushed open the glass door, exiting with a pale complexion on his face. In his hand was a file of documents. Haru couldn’t read Thai, however, he was certain that… if someone entered the boss’ office and came out with an expression that resembled having been sucked lifeless, the verdict was surely not good.

Upon seeing the tall figure waiting patiently on the guest sofa, P’Pun anxiously swallowed his saliva with much difficulty. This man had appeared at the most inopportune time… and place.

“Pun.”

“…”

P’Pun’s body almost floated towards the source of the voice. However, it was surely not a good thing… when P’Chid poked his head out of his office, as if forgetting to say something, and flinched upon spotting the uninvited guest. Haru followed P’Chid’s line of sight… it was a look coalesced with something indescribable but definitely repressed.

P’Pun turned to meet his boss’ eyes and asked warily. “Did you have something else to say P’Chid?”

Everyone in the office went dead silent immediately, for what followed was a sentence by P’Chid which would cause the sound of the buzzing crowd to ring out like bees.

“It seems… you haven’t understood what I meant earlier… Haru, listen up too… and Pun remember this well, there are only two photographer positions available here… and right now, we have three photographers, ranging from one who puts the most effort into his work to the least…”

Blood drained from P’Pun’s face… what was already pale earlier now looked near translucent, like he could vanish at any second. “P’… P’Chid…”

“Don’t worry, the vacation days you requested won’t be redacted, go wherever you want to go, and send in terrible quality work if you want… but I won’t guarantee that you’ll be returning here.”

“P’Pun stared at P’Chid’s face… then turned to frown at Haru… “I thought you said… Haru was the director’s son, he’s here for an internship is he not?”

“Have you read your own quarterly performance evaluation report yet?” P’Chid who held the upper hand did not yield easily. “Why would I let Haru intern with someone that does a poorer job than him, Pun?”

“Petch hasn’t been evaluated yet.”

“Petch has sent his photos and writing for the columns to me on time ever since the day he left for his holiday.” This explained the roll of paper in P’Chid’s hand. “Although his Thai is a catastrophe, the other aspect of his work is much better than I anticipated. The photos he sent were interesting as well, you’ve seen them for yourself… I just refrained from mentioning that they were Petch’s.”

P’Pun was speechless at the fact P’Chid had revealed.

 

Three people and two positions… this meant, one person had to go.

 

This is bad… Haru had no idea about any of this, he swears it!

 

 

“Pun.”

There was no reply from the person sitting behind the wheel. Punnaphob gripped the steering wheel so tensely that his blood vessels bulged, his lips pressed together in a straight line. “I’ll send you off at the condo first.” Waiting until the traffic lights turned green to switch lanes and enter the condo. “So you can rest.”

“I want to talk with you a bit more, we haven’t seen each other for so many days.”

Did Sasha realize that his words would cause the twisted feeling in Pun’s chest to strain tighter?

“I still have work to do, we can talk some other day.”

Pun deliberately parked the car at the front entrance of the condo, using his gaze to pressure the person who had just stepped foot into Bangkok no more than two hours ago out of the car.

“The key to your car, it’s hanging in the same place.”

Sasha agreed to exit the car but clutched the frame of the door firmly. “Pun, why are you angry at me? Please say something.”

“I’m not… I have work to do now.”

Glancing briefly at the camera bag as if meaning to threaten it, Sasha then looked back at the gloomy face etched with stress. He felt extremely uneasy. Pun should have been smiling gleefully with dimples on his cheeks when they reunited.

 

Upon entering his apartment, the man could somewhat understand the other party’s feelings to a certain extent now…

Post-it note drawings were stuck onto the face of the refrigerator door, each accompanied by tiny numbers which stated a specific time. It seems like every time Pun had called him, he would draw a round sad face on a post-it note and stick it to the refrigerator with the time.

Ten post-it notes…

Before departing, he told Pun that the time in Europe and Bangkok would be apart by roughly six hours. Pun had probably waited for him until morning every day… waiting for him to wrap up his day duties and call him…

But he had so many things to do and think about that he was in no mood to pick up his phone.

He found the eleventh post-it note, stuck to the hook with the remote key to his BMW dangling on the end. There was no timestamp, no message.

Sasha was far too exhausted from travelling to confront Pun at the moment… he made the decision to lay his back down on the bed, and shut his eyes…

If, before his departure… he had told Pun about his secret, what would the result be? Heads or tails?

If heads… it meant Pun would fully understand that his trip to sign the divorce papers, attend his ex-wife’s return concert, as well as take care of his two children, were correct things expected of him.

If tails… then everything would fall in the opposite direction.

 

Knowing the truth, would Pun be able to bear it?

Carta Visa: 25th Round

Bold: The characters are speaking in English.


Kazakhstan.

 

Half past ten at the ‘giraffe farm’, I very carefully tiptoed down from the second floor as a result of the dinner that Viktar had brought up to me in the library already disintegrating into nothingness. The sound of my footsteps were considerably light, however, what was very loud was the sound of my stomach, crying and begging for food to the point where I felt sorry for the enormous mansion which was as quiet as a graveyard…

 

At the corner of the stairway on the first floor was a group of men in black suits, stood clustered together as they whispered to each other in hushed voices. Every single pair of eyes turned towards me, including Viktar’s. Despite not opening his mouth to ask, the gaze on that ‘dot dot’ face of his held a question mark. Therefore, I answered back with the growling sound of the void that was my stomach. The other party gestured his hand to the kitchen at the end of the east wing. Slipping through the door which was slightly ajar, inside, I found half a dozen or so men in black suits, as well as plenty of food that was more than enough feed an entire district. The appetizing aroma of food urged me to push open the door and join them, however, the heavy atmosphere inside made me rethink my decision.

The kitchen settled down considerably once all the food was sent off to be served. Except, what was most peculiar was… Jessica, gleefully squealing as she cooked with the head chef, the two of them gossiping feverishly to one another.

You think the head chef is some Thai man from the boonies? As if! The chef was a guy in his late forties with salt-and-pepper hair, and he was in the middle of teaching my friend how to make a savoury orange soup. Jessica’s eyes were wide and innocent as she listened to the chef explain, his concentration focused on stirring the soup.

…To hold a conversation this well, so it really wasn’t her first time coming here. No wonder she was so unmoved when they inspected her for weapons. Moreover… look, look, that’s not all, Jessica dipped her finger into the soup for a taste test, only to be slapped on the hand by the chef, sending him a pouty face in return. Hua, and once she stopped pouting, she ladled a spoonful of soup and even (force) fed it to the chef.

And… what were they talking about…? Hearing their amalgamation of German and English caused my brain to start throbbing.

Growl…

The whining of my stomach called their attention as both of them turned to look at me; to which I responded back with an abashed smile.

All in all, I ended up sat in the kitchen with a fragrant orange soup laid out in front of me. It tasted so delicious that I didn’t mind having to put up with Jessica as she chattered away relentlessly.

“So, you’ve been here before.”

“Yeah, about three or four times now.” Jessica confessed. “But I never stayed for long, they were all short visits.”

“Who did you come with?”

“My husband Baum of course.”

“And how is your husband acquainted to Alexey?”

Jessica’s eyes went wide as she clasped her hands over her mouth. “Oops!”

I lowered my eyes slightly, as if cautious. “What now?”

“Why haven’t you figured it out yet? What were you doing in the library all day?” She raised her voice at me, then released a big sigh. “Hua… If I raised a water buffalo instead of raising you, my water buffalo would have graduated with an honours degree by now. They’re friends Petch, including Sasha too.”

But I didn’t stay to be given a big scolding, having already darted back up to the entrance of the library, except, the issue was…

Uh… I couldn’t use the iris scanner. Forced to return downstairs and ask Viktar to come up and open the door for me, this ‘dot dot’ guy of mine made a ‘dot dot’ expression as he scanned his iris.

It seems highly likely now that Jessica’s water buffalo might be smarter than me.

 

With resentment (?) I headed straight towards the pile of stuff to one corner of the library with a black tarp draped over it. My right hand yanked it off with a swoosh, the tarp flying past my nose accompanied by tiny particles of dust which had me in a coughing fit… Huu, I’m an idiot. What was I trying to act cool for? It was merely a piece of tarp.

In any case, before me, the object which had been concealing itself turned out to be several suspicious cardboard boxes (how the hell were they suspicious?), three stacks to be exact, each stack consisting of four boxes, and amounting to twelve boxes altogether. Identically attached to the side of each of the cardboard boxes was a label belonging to some moving service. It read: ‘G.R. Deuerling GmbH Internationale Möbeltransporte’.

 

FROM/VON: Alexander I. Nazarbayev

DATE/DATUM: 30.11.2006

ADDRESS/ADRESS:

Franklinstr. 50, Frankfurt am Main 60486, Germany

CONTACT/CONTAKT: Izakov M. Gryaznov

TELEPHONE/TELEFON: +49-69-97681968 (Handy)

 

TO/AUF: Alexander I. Nazarbayev, H.E.

DATE/DATUM: 5.12.2006

ADDRESS/ADRESS:

House of Mazhilis of the Parliament, Astana, Republic of Kazakhstan

Республика Казахсман, ƨ. Асмана,

Дом Мажилиса Парламенма

CONTACT/CONTAKT: Izakov M. Gryaznov

TELEPHONE/TELEFON: +8-7172-74-64-41

 

What kind of equation was this? And where should the starting point be? First off, Detective Kindaichi Phachara should start from Jessica. My best friend found love with Baum and they constantly travelled back and forth across the globe between Bangkok and Frankfurt. In the midst of this, they coincidentally made close acquaintance with a gang of Soviet men, eventually meeting Sasha, the hottie, and his three clingy bodyguards…

 

Let’s just say: (Jessica x Baum) + Sasha + Alexey => Friends + Three bodyguards

 

Wait, no, this equation was too short. Since there were others who attended Jessica’s wedding, I therefore altered my equation to the following:

 

(Jessica x Baum) + Sasha + Alexey + Eisbär (Mr. Yeti) + Ethan => Friends + Three bodyguards

 

With the equation spelled out like this, there were still two more questions.

First… where does Sasha’s wife and kids fit into this equation?

Second… was the curious relationship between that hottie and Ethan still a mystery? Or was it like the equation the below?

 

Hypothesis One > Two couples are featured in this cast of characters.

(Jessica x Baum) + Sasha, one wife, two kids + (Alexey x Ethan) + Mr. Yeti => Friends + Three bodyguards

 

Hypothesis Two > However, Alexey said they grew up together–they even wore the same size of underwear–thus the equation should be corrected; for the benefit of my peace of mind as well. Hypothesis one is therefore false.

Let’s just say this is the correct for now.

(Jessica x Baum) + Sasha, one wife, two kids + Alexey + Ethan + Mr. Yeti => Friends + Three bodyguards

 

But science experiments required supporting evidence, therefore, I decided to rummage through the topmost cardboard box, finding inside a photo album with merely the numerals XVI written on the cover.

Was there anything in here that could prove my second hypothesis…?

There…

There…

There… uh… there was nothing inside, the album was blank.

Blank… nothing at all.

The book had forty pages… and every page was blank. I quickly reached for the book below it, flipping through to find exactly the same thing… there was nothing inside.

XV

XIV

XIII

XII

XI

X

IX

VIII

VII

VI

V

IV

III

II

I

Finally, something out of the ordinary made its appearance in book I. There were the traces of a knife which had hacked at the pages until it looked messy beyond recognition, starting from the cover to the last page. The cuts were forceful, as if the person had been so intensely enraged that they exacted their emotions onto this small photo album. I stared at the final stack of boxes that remained unopened, hesitant on whether I should open it or not.

“What are you doing?” A voice rang out from behind me, along with a dark shadow which overlapped the moonlight cascading through the large ceiling-high window pane. Flinching visibly, I quickly hid the photo album that was in my hands.

Alexey strolled directly towards me, preoccupied with unbuttoning his shirt collar and folding up his sleeves, seemingly more relaxed. “The food you left earlier, it’s been sent upstairs.”

Eh…? Oh right, I hadn’t even finished half of my meal earlier. My stomach whined once more as I sheepishly laughed at myself. Since the hottie didn’t look ready to answer any of my burning questions, I casually inquired: “And have you eaten?”

“Just a few bites… thought you were waiting for me.” It seemed Alexey had something else to say, yet held himself back. The tall figure knelt down to sit beside me, asking what I was hoping to find by rummaging through these cardboard boxes.

“Well… uh… well Jessica told me there was something interesting hidden inside them.” Straightfaced and eyes unblinking, I transferred the blame onto someone else. It’ll be fine, there was no way this hottie could get angry at Jessica.

Grey eyes glanced towards the last stack of cardboard boxes which had yet to be opened. His expression hinted again that he had something he wished to say, but brushed it aside once more.

“There’s nothing left in the past that needs recollecting anymore.”

“But…”

“Let’s eat, I’m hungry.” He cut our conversation short, as if not wanting to talk about it, but I held him back.

“Can we eat and talk at the same time?”

Alexey was probably too exhausted to argue back, and so complied with a nod. I walked up to the small table with a bowl of potato salad and warm soup laid out on top, proceeding to drop an armful of books I had rummaged out of the remaining boxes. However, instead Alexey beckoned me with a finger to place them closer. “Come, sit here.”

The orange soup which had been abandoned, cold and unappetizing, was now reheated once more. I happened to notice the slender fingers on Alexey’s two hands, they were a burning bright red, as if having touched something hot prior to this. However, the man in question appeared completely unaffected. On the contrary, he picked up the book on top of the pile and flipped it over to the first page.

Every nerve in my body was strung taut with tension, I almost forgot to breathe.

“Come sit close and I’ll explain it to you.”

“Really?”

“Would you like to know or not?”

My eyes sparkled, a wide grin plastering my face as I spotted the edge of the polaroid photo inside…

 

Each photo was like a piece of historical evidence belonging to the person who had managed to claim a small spot on this gigantic earth for himself, cherishing them in a box of so-called memories.

Alexey did not mention a single word about who he was… he only answered questions that were not too personal; some questions he didn’t bother answering at all, depending on his mood. More importantly, and to my surprise, the various different stories illustrated past the hard pieces of paper hardly contained Alexey in them at all. It was as if his existence was centered around not having an existence. There was no need for a place for himself inside those photos. Thus, the stories I heard were predominantly about Sasha… as well as his close bodyguards. Although they weren’t the things I was most curious about, I couldn’t deny that I took pleasure in them, not realizing that I had settled down on his lap, letting the big warm hands still tinged with red comb through my hair playfully.

Hua, Isakov’s face looks like a monkey as a child.” I pointed to the gang of five tiny bodyguards in the photo of someone’s wedding that dated back twenty or more years ago. I trailed my finger from person to person. The young man in the black suit who was holding a bouquet of flowers, his face blank and emotionless face… there was no doubt that this was little Viktar. There were two other people I did not recognize.

“Who are these two?”

“That’s Eeyore of course, the guy you went to meet in Astana.”

I recalled the ordeal of having to run around hectically for that paparazzi job, as well as that ex-bodyguard who had been extremely shocked when he mistook someone with a face like me for the new replacement bodyguard.

“And the person to the far right?”

“That’s Leof.”

Leof was very tall when compared to the other little bodyguards with the same age as him. His face was solemn and grim.

“I haven’t really gotten to talk to Leof.”

“His Thai isn’t very strong. But do you know, he can speak Dutch very fluently, more fluent than me even. Albeit, I only lived there for a couple of months.”

Oh my god almighty…

“So tell me, ever since you were born, how many countries have you lived in?”

“What do you want to know that for?”

I frowned, sat up and fixed my eyes on him.

“Because I always get an earful from Jessica about spending a lot of time with you but never getting to know you at all… and when I ask, you never seem to want to answer…” My voice died down. I wanted to know him better. Currently, my head was full of nothing but Sasha’s vibrant love life which Alexey had relayed to me about in detail, seemingly as if he has kept the desire to gossip about his friend bottled up for a (very) long time now.

“If not counting when I lived at home till age eighteen, I moved to Saint Petersburg for three years, Moscow for three years, Boston for half a year, San Francisco for eight months, Amsterdam for eleven months, Frankfurt for four years, and then the rest I travelled all across Europe before coming to Thailand.”

I was astounded to hear about this very lengthy journey of his across the globe.

“Oh wow, and have you lived in Thailand for long?”

Alexey made sick and tired face. “Long enough to be able to speak Thai with you, to understand why Thai people bicker over getting on the bus, and to get accustomed to news of the parliament dissolving and the city flooding year in year out.”

I laughed sheepishly, faced with the harsh truth. “I thought you said you didn’t remember? You kept every single detail.”

“Blame it on the curious monkey that’s been pestering me.”

“When you were in Germany, who were you with?”

“Sasha… Baum… my bodyguards, and a clingy cat.”

“What’s the cat’s name?”

“Haru.”

“Haru… a Japanese cat? Is he cute like the ones on T.V.?”

The hottie chuckled softly. “I don’t know if you’d call him cute, he’s quite annoying sometimes. Call him ‘Kitty’ and he’ll come bounding right over.”

I grinned… warmth spreading in my heart as I became to know him little by little… by accident, my hand knocked one of the books onto the floor. The pages turned to what I had been searching for. “Ah! This photo!”

In the center of the photo was Sasha and a petite beautiful girl, her facial features well-defined and sharp, surrounded by their friends and family. There was no doubt that this was obviously a wedding. The faces in the photo were brimming with happy smiles…

Oh… my god!

If P’Pun saw this photo, he would have had a seizure…

The relatives of the bride and groom stood on separate sides… since there were more than thirty people, each of their faces were considerably small. The ones that really stood out were only the groom and bride, as well as some faces I was familiar with… Baum, Jessica’s husband stood on the side of the groom. Ethan, my soon-to-be model stood on the side of the bride, and… Mr. Yeti!!!

I cried out loud. “Mr. Yeti!”

“Who?”

“This guy!” I stuffed the album into Alexey’s hands, my voice unintentionally commanding in tone. “Alexey, what is this person’s name? Eisbär right?”

The (very) large statured man sporting a thick beard was stood beside Ethan. However, he was the only person who did not smile… in fact, he looked quite angry.

“Yes, but there’s no need to keep on remembering him.”

“Of course I need to.” I insisted. “Because… I admire him a lot, I’ve been desperately wanting to meet him too.”

Alexey faced me. “Meaning?”

“I like him.”

 

Until I realized what I had just said out loud, Alexey had already grown silent for a long while, so quiet that it made me feel uneasy.

“Uh…” All I could muster from my mouth was: “Did I say something wrong?”

“Forget about him.”

Hua… why?”

Alexey took a deep breath, then answered in a cool voice… frigid… and emotionless.

“Good people like him… don’t exist in this world anymore.”

Now it was my turn to be dumbfounded.

“He’s… dead? And… and… what happened to him? What caused him to die?”

“Sometimes, we people care about others so much that we end up dead, love other people so much that we’re as good as dead… go to sleep, I’ll call a steward to tidy up the room.” With that said, he abruptly got up and headed towards the door.

The profound grey eyes tinged with doubt flashed into my mind… wait… I… what have I said out loud to this man? This man, who despite his exhaustion, kept me company for a meal at midnight… This man, who went to the effort of bringing me travelling all this way here (though I was still curious about what plans he had in store for me).

I hadn’t intended to do anything, but my arms were already restraining him back, wrapping around him in a hug from behind. “Wait, don’t go yet.”

The sharp handsome face craned to meet mine in curiosity… as well as confusion. “What?”

“Stay here for now.”

“…” My bold approach probably made this hottie at a lost for words.

“Cause… cause… cause… if you don’t stay… what will I do if the ghost of Mr. Yeti comes to haunt me at night?”

Don’t laugh!!! I’m legitimately scared. Even if it may be the ghost of Mr. Yeti, I’m scared you know!

“Confess your love to his ghost then.” Albeit, the grimacing expression… slowly unfurled into a gentle smile directed towards me, before turning to a small peck on the forehead.

My cheeks flushed… When the kiss gradually trailed to my soft cheeks, followed by several featherlight presses to my chin, my hand subconsciously clutched at his shirt tight, as if trying to seize more of his touch, closer, and directly. “Wa… wait.”

“Don’t worry… his ghost won’t get jealous of us.”

I hit his shoulder with my fist. “What crazy nonsense are you spewing… I’m really, truly, scared of ghosts you know.”

“Ghosts cannot even touch you… nor kiss you like this.” A firm muscular arm curled around my waist, causing a ticklish sensation. However, the thing which was driving me mad was none other than the misbehaving lips nuzzling beside my ear. Teeth nipped at my earlobe playfully, throwing my thoughts into disarray.

The sofa which I lounged on his lap in as I begged for him to recount stories from his past, now transformed into a place that I laid my back down on, moonlight shining through the large ceiling high window pane cascading onto the body that increasingly had less and less clothes to cover up in. I forgot about Mr. Yeti… about Sasha… about P’Pun… about everything… mind caught up in how our bodies, mine and Alexey’s, embraced each other feverishly… desperate, as if having longed this for an eternity… Yet it was also excruciatingly tender, every contact of warm flesh against warm flesh was so intense that the friction could almost start a fire right then and there…

Both of our bodies were fiery hot… the sensation akin to melting into one almost… the silhouette of our shadows were animated on the lavish animal fur carpet… their motions… sometimes languid… sometimes urgent… like the silhouette of two dolls dancing together beneath the bright moonlight.

Time passed in the blink of an eye… I had no strength left, every drop of energy had been sucked dry by Alexey… I could only lie still in the warm embrace of the other party, who still had enough energy remaining to tease me, nipping my shoulders… biting my earlobes… pinching my cheeks…

“Quit teasing me.” I complained, although lightheartedly… of course… My tiny heart inflated, the sensation as if my chest about to burst when the hottie whispered softly beside my ear.

“Don’t make that face if you’re complaining. Trust me, I won’t hand you over to Mr. Yeti’s ghost or any other ghost for that matter.”

“Hm? What kind of face was I making?”

My nose was pinched lightly. Despite wanting to protest, the glimmering pair of eyes which belonged to the person before me, made me subconsciously let out a smile.

The night before my adventure… although the mystery had yet to be solved… and my questions still laid unanswered… I hazarded a guess…

 

That in this moment… the equation (Alexey x Ethan) required correcting into (Alexey x Me) instead.

 

As for the other variables… I’ll consider it some other day.

Carta Visa: 24th Round

Bold: The characters are speaking in English.


Secrets?

There were secrets hidden everywhere but it would be up to me whether I could find them or not.

What was this hottie talking about?

 

That said, this didn’t mean I was going to switch roles and become detective Kindaichi Phachara, tasked with rummaging through bookshelves and turning over carpets in hopes of finding hidden secrets. After imprinting his words into my mind–and completely forgetting them moments later–I turned my attention back toward journeying into the magical land of books that was this library. Letting loose, I became enamoured in a timeworn war strategy book bound in cow leather from the 18th century, an ancient medical book, and even a Russian bible published in the year 1822, as well as a classic history book about photography, I felt exhilaration every time I flipped open the covers to look (only at the photos) and fantasized various things about who it was that collected all these books. The hottie’s ancestors were most likely a group of exceptionally well-educated people because the books which filled these shelves to the brim were in Latin, French, Italian, Russian, and by majority German. It made me suspect whether these people had bought out an entire national library somewhere or what?

Suddenly, my eyes tripped on a stack of plastic containers sitting to one corner of the room, along with a black tarp that seemed to be intentionally hiding it from view. What could it be…? I placed back an animal dissection manual published in 1879 and quickly climbed down the ladder which I had used to navigate the bookshelves, heading straight towards the pile of black objects with curiosity.

Would this be considered as rummaging through other people’s personal belongings? It can’t be, also, didn’t that hottie already give his permission? I lifted up the black tarp with a loud swoosh. Underneath were eight twenty-litre plastic containers stacked on top of each other. On the lid of the top container was a message written in German (I presumed so from the umlauts), to which of course I couldn’t read. Turning it left and right… hm, how do you open this?

“Petchhhhhhhhh… where are youuuuu?”

The long drawn-out voice belonging to Jessica pierced my ear drums from a mile away. Jessica entered into the room with a delighted child-like smile. “Petch, come look what I found.”

“You found… um… giraffe eggs?” Uh, I wasn’t intentionally trying to be cheeky but the words had already escaped from my mouth.

Jessica beckoned with a finger.

“Do you remember Mr. Yeti?”

Ye-ti? As in Eisbär? Of course I remember! I wanted to meet him so badly!

“Your Mr. Yeti sent me a photo album of my wedding, it may be a little late now but… oh Petch, the photos are gorgeous, I almost mistook myself for Miss Universe.”

“Wait… he’s here?” My heart was pounding… I missed that kind caring person so much. “Where is he? Is he here? Or is he in Astana?”

Jessica shook her head slightly. “I don’t know, Viktar didn’t say. He just said it was entrusted to him.”

My previously pounding heart wilted instantly. “What do you mean? Viktar won’t tell you? I’ll go ask him myself.”

Without realization, I had already run over to stand panting out of breath in front of Viktar. The man had the usual look of indifference on his face, explaining that it had been delivered by post and to whatever the case, just look at the photos.

To which I believed him, god dammit!

I carefully flipped through the album of Jessica’s wedding, studying each photo at a snail’s pace. Images from three years ago on Jessica and Baum’s wedding day gradually surfaced in my hazy memory… I could recall the fragrant smell of the old-rose colored flowers decorating the ceremony… recall the light delicate feel of the pure white wedding gown on my dearest friend… and recall Jessica’s smile on the day she had felt the happiest in her entire life…

A person entered the bride’s dressing room, his figure large and weighing somewhere similar to a boxer from the super heavyweight division (over a hundred kilograms). He had a thick dense bushy beard–as if it had never been shaved before in it’s life–and a travel suitcase perfect for three days. The large figure wearing a clean pressed white suit squeezed past me, leaving behind a faint smell of cigarettes. He went in to give Jessica a hug with his chubby pair of hands and a genuine smile.

‘You look truly beautiful, Jessica…”

Who was he…? I merely stood there confused.

However, the newly-arrived person turned to give me a smile as well and wrapped his arms tight around me like we were instead close friends for many decades.

What color were the eyes beneath those sunglasses…? Blue…? Or… Green…? Nevertheless, his smile was what was etched into my memory…

‘What’s your name…?’

‘Petch…’

‘Petch… Petch…’ He recited my name several times as if attempting to memorize it.

For someone terribly afraid of foreigners like me… it wasn’t like I could raise my voice and ask for his name. So in my heart, I called him Mr. Yeti instead–due to the size of his body which was thick all around, his dense beard, and his white suit…

Ah… who did Mr. Yeti come together with…? A blond-haired man with clear blue eyes like marbles and a warm tender smile resembling a gentle morning’s sun.

I flinched abruptly, flipping the photo album back over again… before nearly using the sole of my feet to slap my own forehead. For god’s sake Petch!!! Are your eyes defective? This guy was no stranger, rather he was a friend of the dashing looking groom. This guy who flaunted his charm 360 degrees and nearly caused all the female waiters to melt into a puddle was none other than the golden retriever, P’Pun’s beloved darling!

“You just remembered Sasha didn’t you, Petch? Confess it.”

I laughed abashedly at my own forgetfulness. I happened to be acquainted with Sasha for so many years but didn’t remember his face at all. Circumventing my embarrassment, I made a poor excuse about working with tons of good-looking people on a daily basis and that Sasha was just one of the many handsome people stored in my memory catalogs. Hearing this, Jessica made a dissatisfied ‘tch’.

“Well do you remember this person?”

On the following page… was a gorgeous photo of someone’s side profile, it looked beautiful, almost dream-like even. The thin smile resting upon that face resembled that of an angel’s. Subconsciously, I used a finger to outline the left-half of the face.

It felt like a fleeting moment…

“This photo, it was taken by Mr. Yeti right?”

“Yeah… really beautiful isn’t it…?”

The giant man who was far too big for the size of the room had difficulty talking to me, for no matter what language he spoke, I couldn’t comprehend any of it. Eventually, we settled on communicating to each other through hand gestures and smiles instead.

Despite my terrible English, which still hasn’t improved to this day… Mr. Yeti earnestly tried his best to  offer me advice on taking photographs all throughout those three days…

His photos were a hundred times more beautiful than what I could take…

Filled with a thousand times more happiness…

In truth, his photos… made mine look minuscule and insignificant like a dog flea…

Yet it was his smile… which made me feel proud at this dog flea skill of mine.

Turning to the final page of the album, it was a group photo of everyone who attended the wedding. I studied every face carefully, Baum and Jessica the groom and bride, Pa, Ma, Jessica’s parents, me… followed by Sasha… Viktar (hah?)… and…!!!

“What is this person’s name?”

His eyes were a gorgeous deep blue like the ocean… upon that clean white face, freckles danced across his slender nose… as a pair of lips smirked amicably…

“That’s Ethan, he’s a friend of Baum and came along with Eisbär and Sasha.”

“And…?”

“Your hottie didn’t attend the wedding.”

From the instant I heard this, I breathed a sigh of relief that at least my memory wasn’t so horrible as to forget about someone like that hottie. Eh…? Or was I relieved at the fact that Ethan and Alexey didn’t come to the wedding together?

“Do you remember? Mr. Yeti was the person who separated you when you had that fight with the waiter.”

Of course I remembered… he lifted my body up off the ground and slung me over one shoulder just before I could rip apart that waiter into pieces.

“He took such a pummelling from you that it left his body black and blue all over, weren’t you embarrassed?”

Ugh… of course I was embarrassed. Although I may be thick-skinned and Thai, I still felt shy in front of foreigners.

“Sasha nearly gathered you onto his lap when I was tending to your wounds, it’s a good thing that Baum was there to stop him first.”

Thank the gods almighty, thank you that I didn’t lose my virginity right then and there.

“Mr. Yeti… where is he right now? Ever since your wedding I haven’t met him even once, does he not like visiting Thailand?”

“He’s hard to track down, don’t bother wasting your time, seeing his face once within a span of ten years is already considered unbelievable luck.”

I laughed brightly alongside Jessica… in spite of the unsettling feeling deep down inside my heart.

I wanted to see my Mr. Yeti, or whom people referred to as Eisbär, once more…

Just to show him that my dog flea-like photographs had grown to become a teenager flea now.

Just to see Eisbär’s smile once more.

Sorry Alexey… hope you don’t mind that I’m being a bit unfaithful.

 

 

Bangkok, Thailand.

 

Hua!

Smack!

Thwack!

K.O.! You Lose!!!

 

Ahhhhhk! He losttttttttt! He got knocked out thrice in Tekken, how ridiculous!

“P’Pun, the food’s ready.”

The Japanese kitty wearing a grey tartan-pattern apron poked his head out from behind the beverage bar stocked full with cans of beer. “P’Pun the kare-raisu is ready now.”

Pun frowned… he lost. Hmph! Fine, he’d best eat before the food turned cold anyhow.

The person who had carefully plated the kare-raisu and garnished it with pickled vegetables met his eyes and smiled. “Did you have fun?”

“That game is cheating!” Pun’s answer sounded self-centered like an elementary school kid as he sat down in front of the mouthwatering plate of Japanese curry rice.

Haru simply smiled, not knowing what he himself was thinking, inviting the depressed P’Pun back to his luxurious condo in Asok along with the excuse that… he had just bought the newly released Tekken game and was finding someone to play it with.

P’Pun’s ears twitched, the handsome fair face which seemed dispirited a moment ago brightened at the prospect of Tekken. “Then.. I’ll drive you back to your condo tonight, okay Haru?”

P’Chid stared at the two of them with green eyes of disapproval. Naturally… the broken-hearted (?) man immediately recovered and began to work diligently, as a result of wanting to play the new Tekken! Haru couldn’t tell whether it was P’Pun’s heart or body that was actually sick, however, right as the car reached the underground parking lot of the condo, P’Pun appeared to have tossed away any sign of having a cold, not to mention flinging himself into Haru’s apartment with a surprisingly cheerful mood. Was this the true powers of the Tekken fist revealed?

“I was beginning to feel hungry too.”

Seeing the return of P’Pun’s cheerful self, Haru’s worries were also lifted from his perspective as this man’s underling (?). Surely, work would proceed without a hitch now; so long as P’Pun didn’t get bored of the game.

P’Pun was so cheerful that he asked for seconds despite still having mouthfuls of food in both cheeks, making Haru–the person who had cooked the meal–very pleased at himself. In a way, this scenario felt like a newlywed couple whose husband would hurry home to eat his wife’s cooking.

“Delicious… oishi ne?”

That said… P’Pun was actually pretty handsome… he was right between good looking and very good looking in fact, especially when he smiled and showed off the dimples on either side of his cheeks. How fascinating and cute…

…Haru was beginning to understand Sasha a little now.

“Haru… did you take all these photos by yourself?”

Haru turned to towards the photos adorning the walls. “P’Pun you’re very forgetful, I just explained to you the other day that they were bought from an auction in Germany and shipped back to Thailand.”

“Oh, I forgot, sorry for repeating the question again.”

P’Pun admired the photos hung on display, walking around and around the room in circles, as if entranced. He didn’t even realize when Haru approached him.

“Your reaction is the same as Haru’s when Haru saw his photos for the first time.”

The person beside him nodded slowly. “He’s really gifted.”

“Say that to his face and he’ll get really angry.”

“Oh really?”

“When Haru broke into his house and said ‘I admire you very much… you’re really gifted’, Haru was nearly thrown out mid-sentence.” The boy recounted, chuckling. “Gosh, but Haru admired him a lotttttt…”

“Sounds like a difficult person to handle.”

“Something like that. He’s as fierce as a grizzly bear, you know?” For those who don’t know what this cute animal is, it’s recommended that you turn on the Discovery Channel and find out for yourself.

“His body is huge like a bear, not to mention the thick unruly beard which makes him look like he had just come out of a forest. Haru really has no idea how he went to take photos in the middle of the Serbia battlefield without getting mistaken for a bear.” Haru laughed once more. He felt inexplicably at ease when near the cheerful P’Pun. “Other than his appearance that’s similar to a bear, his personality is somewhat similar too. If it’s towards someone he loves, he will cherish and protect them like an egg. However, if it’s someone else… don’t dream of getting closer than twenty meters near him, he’s prepared to throw anyone into the middle of a road and has done it before too.”

“Have you been thrown into the middle of a road yet?”

Haru shook his head, smiling with squinted eyes. “Haru came close, he’s very cruel. One time when he was holding the opening ceremony for a photo gallery in Bern, Haru chased his car all over the city just so he could have a look at Haru’s photographs.”

P’Pun was amazed. “And… what next?”

“It turns out… the person driving the car… was his personal model. As for the man in question… he was sat watching a ballet performance on the other side of the city instead, isn’t that infuriating!? To add, what’s more infuriating was that… that model, Ethan, told me to… go home, with photos like these, they wouldn’t even be able to catch the corner of that man’s eyes–in the end causing Haru to eat food seasoned with tears for many weeks to follow…”

P’Pun smiled slightly… then burst into a fit of tearful laughter to the point where Haru had to rectify that in the end, he managed to meet his grizzly bear in the flesh.

“Although we got to talk and Haru was allowed to tag along to a few locations, he still refused to teach and offer Haru even a single piece of advice, what a total meanie.”

Hua… photography isn’t something you can teach.” P’Pun stopped laughing and sat down, heaving desperately for air. “But your photos aren’t bad, not just ‘not bad’, you could even show them off without embarrassment.”

Haru smiled with pride… his tiny fangs poking out a little.

 

RRR…RRR

Half past three in the morning, Haru drowsily woke to the sound of an unfamiliar phone ringing. He initially thought he was dreaming but the noise showed no sign of stopping, eventually forcing him to get up and wander around the entire condo until discovering that the sound of the ringing phone was coming from the refrigerator…

How did P’Pun’s white BlackBerry end up in this cold place? It seemed the man had accidentally left it here when he was taking some of the beer back home with him. Oh P’Pun!

“Moshi mosh…” Whose number was this? It was displayed as an unknown number as well.

“I never knew you could speak Japanese too. Pun… it’s me, Sasha…”

!!!… This was his inner reaction but his mouth simply said: “Un…

“Sorry for not contacting you back…”

Un…

“Were you sleeping…? It’s almost four in Thailand isn’t it? Nevermind, I’ll call you again later.”

“…And, where are you now?” Haru had to confess, he honestly had no intention of poking his nose into other people’s business, but uh, his mouth was a step quicker than his brain.

“I’ve arrived at Vienna now… the current situation demands that I attend an opera, it’s Vivian’s Nazarbayev’s concert.”

!!!

Yes, there was no mistake.

But to refer to your own wife by her full name, isn’t that a bit too distant Sasha Gilliseva?

“Are Vivian and the kids well?”

“Ah…!” The man on the other end of the call was startled, going silent for a full minute. “What do you mean, Pun?”

Hey… this is bad, what did you say out loud Haru! Turn it off, turn it off, turn it off, where’s the disconnect button?

…Beep, beep, beep.

He wanted to slap his own mouth about three hundred times, why did he ask that question!?

 

 

Isakov observed the pale chubby bodies of the two twins, Kiril and Nikolai, sleeping soundly in their children’s bedroom. Nikolai’s small hand gripped his index finger tight to prevent him from going anywhere. As for Kiril, the boy was snoring softly from exhaustion after running and playing for the entire day. He rested the Russian fairytale book face down and slid his hand out of its restraint so very carefully as to not wake up Nikolai.

Everything in Vienna was proceeding well. Vivian’s plan to make her big comeback into the classical music industry laid unobstructed. Isakov wanted to be person ‘there’. The person who would walk hand-in-hand with her down from the performance stage amidst the long resounding sound of applause. But ‘there’ was not his place… Although he despised the man currently holding her hand out of necessity to maintain social status…. he also didn’t want her to stand all alone.

Rather, it was ‘here’… that he was meant to be, behind the scenes… as someone who would never cause her any concern.

Moonlight from outside the room cascaded gently through the thin curtains… a large man with a menacing scar… sat watching over two small bodies as they slept soundly on their beds, his eyes filled to the brim with overflowing love.

 

 

Fifteen minutes later… Haru eyes faltered, on the verge of falling asleep once more.

RRR…RRR

Haru flinched, nearly dropping the white BlackBerry in his hand onto his feet. Sensing an unusually bad premonition, he darted to the iPhone which was resting next to his bed, however, it didn’t seem to be the device ringing.

RRR…RRR

The caller didn’t seem to be faltering in their efforts either. Just then, the Japanese boy suddenly remembered that he had another phone, one which he had registered during his time in Germany, therefore quickly extracting it from a drawer. His metallic blue BlackBerry Curve was crying feebly… Naturally, since arriving in Thailand, he hadn’t charged its battery at all. Whose number was this…? +43…

“Haru am Apparat. Guten Morgan.” Good (early) morning. They were calling from a German phone, so he might as well speak German back.

“Kitty, do you remember me?”

The caller called him Kitty!!! Who was this person calling from +43? Not to mention speaking English too. Importantly, what language was he supposed to reply in? Thai, German, Dutch, or… Tagalog?

“I don’t think so…”

This was only audio communication, how was he supposed to figure out who the caller was, the number wasn’t familiar either.

“I’m certain you know me very well. Actually, I vaguely remember seeing you at the airport a few days ago… the flight from Osaka.”

Hey! Who was this man? He even knew Haru had flown from Osaka, was this guy a stalker? Somebody send help, quick!

“I thought I was seeing things… and I’m very curious as to why… you’re in a place you shouldn’t be…”

Hua, why shouldn’t he be here? There were more than a hundred thousand Japanese people living and working in Thailand, what’s wrong with adding Haru into the mix?

“…And I’m very surprised… that you were the one to pick up Pun’s phone… not to mention asking a question that shouldn’t be asked.”

!!!

Bullseye! He was correct! But wasn’t this man unable to differentiate between Haru and P’Pun’s voice earlier?

“…Where is Pun, tell him to pick up his phone right now!”

“What Pun? Who? I don’t know a person with that name. Who exactly is speaking?”

Better to act clueless for now, otherwise this guy might murder him… these Russians were absolutely merciless, especially the members of this family.

“It’s Sasha Gilliseva speaking, don’t act like you don’t know. Where is Pun?”

“You don’t need to act so stern, jeez. Then again, Sasha, how did you know it was Haru?” Eventually, he agreed to confess in a weary voice that P’Pun had come to play games at his apartment. The careless man had hauled some beer back with him and accidentally left his BlackBerry in the refrigerator; as unbelievable as that sounded.

The person at the end of the call was slightly stunned, probably thinking to himself: Pun forgot his phone just because of some beer, really?

“Coincidentally, in this world there happens to be a man named Mark Zuckerberg who founded Facebook little Kitty.” The tone in the other’s voice was clearly more relaxed now. “Someone tagged a photo of Pun at a party the other day, so I noticed a certain feline face like yours wandering around in my life yet again!”

“I’m not here to mess with you.” Haru retorted back loudly. “Haru followed father here for work, it has nothing to do with you.”

“Don’t you dare let me find you near Pun ever again.”

“Haru’s father is the boss of P’Pun’s boss, and more importantly, you’re the one who should be taking better care of P’Pun, explain to him too why you’ve been gone for several days, it’s not like I want to get caught in between you lovers.”

“Whether we’re lovers or not isn’t something an amateur detective like you has any right poking your nose into. With that said, from your tone it sounds like you hate me quite a lot, do you have a problem with me, Kitty?”

Kitty! What kind of person was so ill-mannered? Though admittedly, these men rarely called him by his name. ‘The pestering kitty’ became his real name, while ‘Haru’ became a name that no one remembered.

He hated Sasha…? No, he didn’t have an issue with Sasha, however… um… Haru thought he himself was acting strange as well. Despite usually a very polite person, he had raised his voice at the other party.

“You know it…”

“Are you still looking?” The voice shifted, sounding almost irritated.

“Tell me… in exchange for me not revealing your secret to P’Pun.”

“You think to intimidate me? Ooh, I’m very scared.” Sasha made a ridiculing voice. “Are you resentful? That I sent you to look for him on the Silk Road?”

These words snapped Haru’s patience in twain as the boy roared deafeningly: “Of course! I should hate you. There’s no way Eisbär would go there. He told me that after coming back from Serbia, he would take me along to assist Ethan’s modelling job in Budapest, he promised me, and I’ve always been waiting for him…” It wasn’t because of the shouting which caused his throat to constrict, but rather the feeling of disappointment which welled up from deep inside. This was not the first time that Haru had let himself be overcome with such feelings. “I’ve been following him for a long time, and I know Eisbär well enough to know that he’s not someone to break promises… Someone like him doesn’t abandon things so easily and abruptly decide to go to the Silk Road! You knew where he went but kept it from me. You observed and laughed as I ran around like an insane person, all of you, Baum, Ethan… everyone!”

“You’re overthinking things, I had no idea where he disappeared to. That day Ethan was shocked. All of us were shocked. I’m the one who was very busy trying to clear Ethan’s work schedule.”

“How about Isakov?” Haru asked sternly. “And Viktar? And Leof? They all vanished alongside him, you knew where he went!” He wanted to cry at his fruitless efforts…

“The situation’s changed, Haru.” Sasha sighed. “For god’s sake, I don’t want to talk about this matter but know this… He-Is-Dead …Listen well Kitty, He-Is-Dead. You can ask anyone you want, Isakov, Viktar, Leof, Baum, even Vivian, they were all there to witness the event…”

“…And… where is Ethan? Is Ethan with him?” His heart trembled… feeling light-headed…

“It was Ethan who killed Eisbär. And know this too, that man will never come back again.”

 

He was so shocked he couldn’t think straight. Haru sat on the side of the bed, eyes wide… staring up at the sky until morning dawned.

Carta Visa: 23rd Round

Bold: The characters are speaking in English


Bangkok, Thailand.

 

“P’Pun… P’Pun… the models are ready P’Pun.”

This reminder came with a gentle shake to his shoulders. Pun lifted up his head, meeting the feline face of a Japanese boy who stared back at him with worry. “P’Pun, are you not feeling well…?”

“No, no…” However, his head felt unbelievably heavy.

The intern photographer appeared restless. “What to do… oh, your body’s hot too.” Concerned, Haru scratched his head furiously before darting out of the studio. Pun rested his head back down onto the table again.

This evening, he was filling in for one of Petch’s fashion photoshoot jobs. Furthermore, as per Editor Chid’s orders, he was forced to bring Haru along too, being reminded to teach him the ropes as well.

Except, was he himself going to be alright…? Pun was curious as to what the cause for his dull headache was, after all, it had persisted for two days in a row now. He reckoned that he was stressed, and therefore decided to take a short nap while waiting for the models to get their makeup done.

Haru came back with a worried expression. “P’Pun, will you be alright…?”

“I’m fine, I’m fine…” He reassured, trying to lift his heavy eyelids. The other party was stood right in front of him, yet he couldn’t seem to focus his vision. In fact, the harder he squinted, the more his headache intensified.

He heard Haru mutter something in Japanese, but he couldn’t seem to make it out… his eyes were blurry and his ears were buzzing, what was wrong with him?

Crash!

“P’Pun!!!”

 

That entire fiasco was what had occurred yesterday; according to his scattered memory at least. But no matter, because today it seemed like he would be replacing it with new memories.

“Ah! P’Pun you’re well enough to come back to work already?” The melodious voice belonging to a certain kitty was the first to greet Pun as he pushed open the office doors, his smooth face and round cheeks displaying signs of relief. The rest of the office got up and flocked around Pun to inquire about his well-being. As for Mild and Meuk, they both ordered him to go back home.

“P’Pun, if you’re still not feeling well then don’t come to work, what if you get other people sick?”

“Gee, you guys are really worried about your senior.” And then he took a breath: Wheeze… fine, he admitted that he was very sick. “I’d like to sleep but…”

Upon sending a sidelong glance at Haru, the kitty turned to meet his gaze with his shiny innocent eyes, to add, making a face which essentially translated to: ‘P’Pun you’re worried about Haru? Haru’s so happy’. Being confronted by this, Pun also had to admit… that this kitty was truly endearing.

As if able to read his mind, the kitty adorably leaned his head to one side, scrunching his brows together to make a concerned expression. “Haru was awfully shocked when P’Pun collapsed…”

This was the reason why Pun came to work today. Since yesterday’s photoshoot was suspended as a result of the cameraman suddenly falling ill, Editor Chid–who was initially already annoyed with him–was most likely seething with anger by now.

Pun went to sit close with the Japanese kitty and asked him something in a hushed voice. “Uh… so, has P’Chid showed up to the office yet…?”

“P’Chid? Oh, Boss? He arrived since early in the morning and called Haru in to have a talk.”

Uu… he was in deep trouble.

“Well what did he tell you?”

“Boss said…” The kitty made a thinking expression before grinning ear to ear. “Well done! Boss loved the photos and told Haru that from now on, Haru should continue to learn from P’Pun.”

What? Well done? As in, ‘fully cooked’?

Did he hear wrong? Pun didn’t even take a single photo yesterday.

The kitty stilled, then laughed sheepishly. “See… Haru didn’t tell Boss that P’Pun went home first from falling sick… Boss was definitely going to be mad so Haru decided to submit the photos that Haru took yesterday and claim that they were from P’Pun. At first, Haru was super terrified because Haru has never done fashion photography before–so if Boss actually became angry, Haru would confess that they were shot by Haru. But it turns out that Boss was really pleased with the photos so Haru has been keeping it a secret.”

The person listening was so surprised that he felt like his fever was going to resurface again. Kitty, you’re brave enough to even lie to P’Chid?

“Hm, let me see those photos.” P’Chid has never praised anyone before, what did he find so fond about this novice’s…

Pun’s face went numb… his hands were numb… he felt like his entire body was encased in ice….

No…

The skill in shooting these photographs, was far from what one would describe as a novice…

If Haru was considered a novice… he and Petch were merely thumb-sucking children who only just figured out how to uncap the lid of a camera lens for the first time.

This boy… had professional-level talent… Did P’Chid actually send Haru to spy on him? What was he thinking exactly…? Or was that not the case? P’Chid might also be clueless because this boy had been forced upon him by the director. However, with skills like these, couldn’t P’Chid tell from a single glance? What a joke!

“P’Pun… uh… are the photos not to your liking…? Um… Haru apologises for taking the photos without your permission…”

In that very second, he felt his head become hollow and empty… he was at a loss for words. The only thing remaining was a strange feeling which clutched his heart tight, like a storm, it manifested out of nowhere to wreak havoc on his entire body.

The sad expression of the person before him, just seeing it made Pun feel guilty for not being able to usher a praise despite how absolutely amazing the photos in his hands were.

“I’m stepping out to a take phone call for a bit, we’ll discuss work later Haru.” It was the best words he could muster at this moment.

 

“Hey Haru, what’s wrong? Why are you making that expression?”

P’Chid’s voice rang out from behind him, making the boy jump and nearly fall out of seat. Haru quickly turned to face him, smiling awkwardly. “Ah… Boss.”

“Nobody here calls me Boss, you can call me P’Chid like everyone else, you know?” He said, referring to himself with a pointed finger. “Understood? Here… have a snack, I bought too much.”

He reluctantly accepted the snack held out in P’Chid’s palm.

“P’Chid… um, Haru has something to confess.”

The person who was munching on the snack glanced up at his boss.

“If it’s about those photos then I already knew… don’t let Pun figure it out though.”

Ah, he was even cocking an eyebrow! What were these people playing at? Haru really couldn’t comprehend it.

 

 

Kazakhstan.

 

Today’s Hummer ride was not as romantic as I had anticipated, but at least with these gigantic tires, they would be preventing my posterior from heavy bruising. To elaborate, our journey this afternoon was utterly brutal as a result of the cross country racer who was about to cross us into the afterlife, namely, ‘Viktar the Fast and Furious’ who was trying climb the Hummer up to the national highway via a rugged road which coiled like a snake. More importantly… not once did Viktar lower his driving speed, leaving my wits to tremble and scatter all over the place as we climbed further up and up…

Was the hottie helping to soothe me? Huu… how could you ask such a question… he was sat reading his newspaper, occasionally sipping his coffee like not a single thing in this world bothered him. As for the gorgeous Jessica, she plugged her ears and covered her eyes with a sleeping mask, dozing off since the first three kilometers of the ride.

“Hey… Viktar, how much farther?”

“Hm.”

“I warned you to come sit together at the back but you didn’t listen.” The person comfortably reading his newspaper added insult to injury and beckoned me close with a hand, offering me what seemed like a paper brochure. Upon unfolding it, I recognized it as a travel brochure recommending sightseeing locations, as well as the traces of a red marker which circled particular points of interest.

“This is a map of?” I couldn’t read a single letter… the heck was this language?

Despite being unable to read it, I could roughly understand that this map was talking about the Altai mountains… Sound familiar? Yes, it was! The Altai mountains were in my grade nine social studies textbook which taught me that Thai people were Chinese migrants from the Altai mountains; but only later in grade twelve did I learn that this theory was unreliable. On a brief side tangent, I really didn’t understand our country’s education system. What was the point of feeding students false information when it was just a waste of brain cells? With such low IQs already, learning would only make students even more stupid. Now then, back to the main story. I studied the picture of the vast and enormous Altai mountain range situated to the northeast of Kazakhstan. Truly it was the work of mother nature, big and small rocks had piled together over the centuries to create this highland scenery which seemed to tower up to the skies. Snow dusting the peak of every mountain in the distance gave the illusion of almost being able to reach out and touch the doors to heaven. Meanwhile, in the foreground, Lake Kutsherla was a crystal clear mirror which reflected the formidable grandeur of the mountains.

Wow… with snow all year round, if I fell into this lake by accident it would be hellishly cold.

“You must be thinking about something stupid right now.”

He knew!

“It’s obvious just by looking at your face.”

Hmph. But I couldn’t suppress my smile. Even though he had a ferocious face, a harsh voice, and a cruel personality, why was he always able to see through me?

“Not only does your face look stupid, but you think about stupid things too. Here… take a look.”

I jutted out by bottom lip, turning my attention back to the map in front of me. However, my eyes were secretly peering over at the long slender fingers covered in thin golden hair… this handsome gorilla!

“So pretty… you’re taking me there right~?” I was shameless enough to start pleading at this point.

“I’ve brought you this far already, would it be better if I left you on the side of the road instead?”

Using intimidation again! Please don’t leave me here, if the police catch me I’ll be deported back to Thailand.

I continued to study the map. One particular mountain was stunningly beautiful and to take photographs from the top would be an amazing experience… That said, this hottie had been considerably kind as of late. If I was left all alone in Astana, the farthest I would have gotten would probably be the edge of town. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to sit on my darling Hummer and travel four to five hours to this beautiful, well-renowned, national park. Perhaps this hottie made a promise with Jessica beforehand, that’s why he agreed to take us travelling. Good thing I wasn’t travelling one-on-one with him at least… I can’t begin to imagine how much I would be subject to bullying.

Abruptly, the road began to smooth out, accompanied by its slope which grew steeper and steeper. I extended my neck, spotting something glittering and pearly white amidst the verdant pine forest. “What’s that white thing over there?”

“It’s the barn you’ll be sleeping in while I attend my meetings.”

Hah!? A barn again? And to put this straight, this hottie was a countryside mafia gangster?

 

 

A barn was for raising cows, water buffaloes, pigs, dogs, crows, chicken, etcetera, etcetera… so why was this hottie’s barn surrounded by a fence towering above my head…? Did this hottie’s family run a giraffe farm…? And this barn… um…

“Do you have a problem with my barn or what?”

“From where I’m from, people call this a mansion Alexey, I think you might be mistaking something.”

I replied while admiring the gorgeous sparkling pearl white mansion which reflected the soft late afternoon sun. From the corner of my eyes, I caught Jessica squeeing at the elegant magnificence of the English garden which was trimmed into a maze.

“Is that garden for walking your giraffes?”

“Maybe. There’s a bull inside too.”

He wasn’t kidding… upon stepping down from the car, I felt my body shrink at being surrounded by the barn (like hell was it a barn)… it was a three story building styled in a blend of neo-gothic architecture and daunting Russian art. In front stood a gate which reached well above my head height where upon looking through it, a statue of a rodeo bull could be seen posing elegantly at the front and center of the entrance. To the left and right-hand side, the English-style garden maze was gorgeously decorated and well-maintained. Most unexpected of all, a large group of stewards swiftly approached me, bowed politely and then… inspected me for weapons!

I stood there completely stunned while the hottie turned to discuss something with Viktar. A middle-aged steward with a bushy moustache whipped out a metal detector and patted me down from head to toe. When it emitted a beeping noise, I was ordered to remove my belt, then my watch, followed by my shoes… Steward number one then passed my watch to steward number two as he inspected it for any abnormalities, his expression full of speculation. Hua… bro, there’s no need to inspect my bright yellow Casio G-Shock watch that fervently. On top of that, both stewards picked up my shoes and pried open the insoles to see whether there was anything hidden inside or not.

Who did they think I was? Jason Bourne? 007?

Turning to look at Jessica, ah… why wasn’t she surprised at all? She seemed indifferent and calm despite being forced to remove this and that from her person just like me. Or was she accustomed to it from traveling so regularly? Needless to say, shouldn’t it be enough to have these procedures at the airport? This was someone’s house…

…Or was it?

Peering into the house, I saw five men in black suits enter, each holding a tenacious grip on their respective briefcases. Swivelling back around, I spotted a 4WD Chevrolet–the type which couldn’t be bought in Thailand–parked with four men sitting inside as they waited to be inspected for weapons as well.

“Hey… what’s going on?”

“I have a meeting here.”

“Is there nowhere to hold your meeting in the city?” I asked, intrigued. “Being a government official, your every action should be transparent no?”

“A person can wear many hats. Depending on the hat is worn, one must act accordingly.”

“Then which hat are you wearing to attend this meeting? The hat of government official or a contraband dealer?”

“You’re wrong on both counts, I’m here as the concessionaire.”

You’re going to sell your concession and therefore secretly needed to hold a meeting this far away…? Awesome, the Altai mountains which costed millions? I’d love to buy it too. I thought sarcastically, before a revelation hit me.

A group of government officials / politicians = Those who own the country’s resources. Clueless citizens = Those who pay taxes to the group of government officials / politicians so they could squander it away???

It was exactly identical to the situation in Thailand, how shocking.

Finally, the stewards released me so I could enter the gates. Inside, men adorned in black suits strode across the courtyard dutifully, each and everyone one of them holding a serious expression on their face; I was beginning to believe that this was an exclusive characteristic of the people belonging to this country. Alexey waved his hand, signalling for the stewards to escort me and Jessica towards a different direction. Thus, we were given the honour of entering the house through the wine cellar, past the kitchen, before appearing in another wing which seemed to be a gallery showcasing the family’s history. Framed to the walls were portraits of forty daunting-looking individuals, some dating back to when cameras were first invented. The majority of them were stern-looking caucasians in soldier attire, some standing next to a tank… uh… the hell…? There was a Nazi swastika symbol too… (Was this something to be proud of? That said… you guys were selling out your country? Shouldn’t you have a symbol of the red Soviet army rather than the German swastika symbol?) as well as a variety of other details until I reached the final person, a large man who emitted a powerful aura as he stood beside a bright blue Kazakhstan flag. His name was familiar… the face was also familiar… as well as the surname… but I couldn’t read it because they were Cyrillic letters.

I got it… this was a photo of the president.

Upon stepping onto the second floor, I was disheartened at the sight of fourteen doors which one could play around with, opening and closing to their hearts content. Among them, twelve were locked (I tried to open all of them). The thirteenth room was a Victorian style guest bedroom that seemed to be prepared just for me and Jessica (No way! I have to sleep in the same bed as her!?)

“This room is Ms. Jessica’s, and as for Mr. Petch…” The steward displayed his reluctance before continuing to speak. “As it happens, we have more guests than rooms available. Hence, if you don’t mind please store your belongings in this room for now. Once I’ve found a room, I will transport them over for you.”

Despite his unfriendly appearance, this steward was more polite than I thought. Thus, I quickly thanked the man before he strode away. Sitting down, I watched Jessica squee at the view of the English garden which could be seen from the large three and a half meters tall window pane. “Beautiful isn’t it Petch? It’s like the maze in the movie Labyrinth.”

My, my, to use such an old movie as an example, you’re revealing your age. Although admittedly, the protagonist in that story was quite a hottie.

“Don’t send me down there alone though, I’ll die because I wouldn’t be able to find the exit.”

Jessica convulsed with laughter. Hey… it’s not funny woi, I meant it seriously.

“Even if it’s just touring the house, I won’t guarantee that I’ll be able to make it back to this room correctly, does anyone have a GPS that I can borrow?”

“You idiot, hahaha.” The kathoey accidentally let out a rough manly laugh, making my hair stand on end a little. “This house isn’t that big, wander around and you’ll find it eventually.”

Hua, how come you’ve never told me that you’ve been here before?”

Jessica didn’t reply, instead, sending me a smile as she beckoned with a finger. “I’ll take you to see something cool.”

 

This ‘something cool’ turned out to be a giant cherry-brown oak door with a biometric iris scanner installed to it. Jessica complained something under her breath about being able to access it last time, however, I was too busy wondering why this house required security measures which were stricter than an airport’s. It was fortunate enough that I wasn’t forced me to carry less than 100cc of water with me.

Soft footsteps could be heard from behind me. It was the hottie. He gave Jessica a smile then turned to face me. “Uh… Petch, a steward informed me that all of the rooms are full.”

Hua, you want me to sleep with Jessica then?” I asked, not thinking much of it. However, Jessica intervened abruptly. “Hey, how about discussing it with me first, hm?”

This uncharitable kathoey! “Fine, are you going to let me sleep here or not? If not, I’ll go back and sleep in a barn again. Oh, Alexey what are the names of your cows, this way I can address them correctly.” I was sulking okay!?

“There are no cows on this property, only giraffes.” The hottie contained a smile, the gleam in his eyes flashing playfully.

“I unintentionally smiled back… because I liked it the most when this smile of his was directed solely at me.

 

 

To conclude, there were really no rooms for me to stay in. While waiting for the stewards to prepare a place, Alexey allowed me to go play in the library (one which required your iris to be scanned before entering… was Tutankhamun’s papyrus stored inside or what?). Upon passing through the giant doors, I was astounded at the sight of the minimalist style interior… there was little but also a lot, modern yet well-coordinated with the predominantly neo-gothic design of the house. Thousands of books lined themselves in a neat and orderly fashion on the bookshelves which towered well above my head. I felt like I could fly upon spotting the photography section which contained books dating back to the period when cameras were first invented. As my eyes perused the shelves, I unconsciously pulled out several classic photography books and hugged them to my chest one after another. It didn’t matter if I could read them or not because just looking at these holy texts was enough to send me to heaven.

Upon coming to my senses again… the heavy pile of books in my arms became as light as a feather. Not because I had dropped the books, but because they flew into the arms of the person beside me who had followed me inside since who knows when. “Ah… I can carry them myself.”

He shook his head. “Take your pick at all the books you want to look at.”

How odd… his voice which was always frigid had now become palpably gentle.

I craned my neck to examine the shelves again, spotting several extremely expensive old books grouped together in a set (they might even have copies I suspect). “Wow… I never knew you collected good books like these too.”

Alexey looked as if he wasn’t smiling, but he was.

“I don’t really have time so they’ve been waiting to be read by someone.”

“I can’t read but I can look at the photos.”

“A great photographer learns by the language of their heart and sees with their vision.”

Despite being unable to translate it completely, I was very impressed by this saying that I ended up remembering it to the point where I could recite it by heart.

 

My reading corner and luxurious bed for tonight was a sofa set from Italy, placed on a soft animal fur carpet and right beside a window which extended up to the ceiling. Upon drawing open the curtains, I could see the picturesque view of the Altai mountains through the beautifully enchanting screen of fog.

The hottie had told me news about something which made me so happy my skin danced. He said I should get ready because I was going to be taking landscape photos from a helicopter… This made me smile from ear to ear, however, there was a condition…

“One best shot or go home.”

Which pretty much made me stop celebrating. But there had to be a way out! I came all this way already, how could I go home now? I asked him whether I could ransack the entire room.

“Sure.”

“There’s no hidden secret here? There must be, otherwise why would you install an iris scanner?” I couldn’t hold back my curiosity.

The hottie didn’t answer, instead, staring at me with his profound grey eyes before walking out of the room.

“Secrets exist in every nook and cranny, it depends on what you find and how you look at it… Anyways, welcome to my world.”

Carta Visa: 22nd Round

Bold: The characters are speaking in English.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naturally, he stared daggers at me.

“Over there, your car is that one.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This person.”

“…”

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

“…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Hua… what grade do you think I’m in?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Bangkok, Thailand.

 

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

“Pun.”

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

“Pun…”

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

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

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

P’Chid nodded knowingly.

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

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

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

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

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

“Eh!!!”

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

Everyone’s eyes turned to focus on him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So how do you know him?”

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

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

“P’Pun… arigato.”

Ugh, his head hurt! Somebody… send help.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Frankfurt, Germany. Three hours before departing to Vienna.

 

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

No, no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Isakovvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv.”

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

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

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

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

“Who’s calling…? Whatever.”

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

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

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

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

“Isakov, have you seen my BlackBerry?”

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

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

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

Noooooooooooooooooooooooo.

 

Crackkk…

 

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

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

 

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

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

Carta Visa: 21st Round

Bold: The characters are speaking in English.


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

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

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

“Who the hell is Jerry?”

“The cow beside you of course.”

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

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

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

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

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

“So what if it disappears?”

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(TN: Petch thinks of the strangest things honestly)

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Bangkok, Thailand.

 

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

“Sit, sit, have you eaten yet?”

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

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

Hua, you’re suspicions are too exaggerated.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haru finished his introductions and smiled, eyes squinting again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Punnaphob desperately needed two packs of paracetamol, now!

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you hoping to find?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you as well, dear sister… Vivian Nazarbayev.

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not even two minutes later, he received a reply.

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

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

 

 

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

His Russian blackberry iPhone displayed the following Cyrillic script:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Which ‘baby’ of yours exactly!?

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

 

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