Chapter 12: Balance: ฿663
Kong☕: Ughhh practice was brutal 😩😩😩
Kong☕: I can barely feel my legs
Arthit☀️: soak ur feet or something
Kong☕: Yeah, I will. I only just got home a little while ago.
Kong☕: Which means I’m only now starting my homework.
Kong☕: Isn’t it almost 10 already? 😧
Arthit☀️: in case u forgot, i have a job
Arthit☀️: i already close up way earlier than a lot of stalls
Kong☕: Still, aren’t you worried about seedy stuff taking place that late?
Arthit☀️: i live in chinatown, not patpong🙄
Arthit☀️:can’t you just do your hw over the weekend?
Kong☕: I have the game tomorrow, remember?
Kong☕: I don’t want to be rushing all my homework on Sunday.
Kong☕: You sure you can’t come?
[Arthit☀️ is typing…]
Arthit☀️: probably not
Arthit☀️: saturdays are big days for business
Arthit☀️: it’s not like my being there would make a difference anyway
Kong☕: It would for me 🥺
Kong☕: But I understand. Maybe another time?
Arthit☀️: yeah maybe
It’s almost midnight when Arthit’s mother finally trudges in the front door, craning her neck from side to side and with one hand on her lower back, trying to stretch out her various bodily aches. As she kicks off her sandals by the front door, she sees Arthit standing in the door frame of his room.
“Oh, Oon, you’re not going to sleep yet?”
He pours her a glass of water from the jug on the table as she slumps down in a chair, completely exhausted. She thanks him, reaching out to stroke his hair and then pinch his cheek fondly.
“Something on your mind?”
Arthit bites his lip and hesitantly takes a seat in the adjacent chair around the square table.
“Um…” he scratches the side of his neck. “I was wondering…if maybe…I could take tomorrow off?”
“Just until around four or five,” he hurriedly adds.
His mother cocks an inquisitive eyebrow at him, sipping at her water again.
“Not that I’m saying no, but is there any particular reason why?”
Arthit fumbles with his fingers, digging his nails into a particularly thick callus on the edge of his thumb.
“I…there’s a basketball game going on at school. Our school team versus a school in Sathon.”
“And you suddenly care about your school’s sports teams because…?”
“Maaaeee,” he whines, burying his face in his hands. “Can I go or not?”
“I’m just asking,” she sighs, a playful smirk turning the corners of her lips. “You’ve never been particularly interested in any school extracurriculars before.”
He plops his hands down into his lap, slightly frowning at the table. His mother watches him for a moment, eyes narrowed at his sudden shyness.
“Would you happen to have a certain…new friend who’s playing in this game?”
“Ughhhh, never mind,” he groans, waving her off as he stands up, ready to return to his room and bury his very red face into his pillow. “I’m not going.”
“Oooon,” she pulls him back into the chair. “Don’t be like that.”
He refuses to look at her, still frowning. She grabs his chin gently, turning his face towards her.
“I just want to know what’s going on with you. I’m glad you finally trust someone enough at school to be friends,” she places her hand over his. “But you spent almost three years talking nonstop about how great this boy is, and all of a sudden, you’re getting up early to tutor him, you’re texting each other all the time and he comes by the cart almost every day,” she watches him flush an even darker shade of pink. “So I can’t help but wonder if there’s something happening there. You’re growing up, and it’s only normal if you’re starting to develop fee—”
“Mae, we’re just friends. Okay? That’s it.”
“Okay,” she nods slowly, defeated. “But you’ll tell me if anything changes?”
“Yeah, sure, whatever. Can I go or not?” he says in one breath.
She narrows her eyes at him, disapproving of his tone, but softens her expression upon noticing that he’s started tapping his foot, a nervous habit he’s had even as a small child.
“Be home by ten, alright?”
“Ten? The game finishes at three.”
“Well, I don’t know, aren’t you going to hang out with him after?”
He shrugs. “Maybe, but not until ten.”
“Suit yourself,” she shakes her head. “Wow, I could do with a hot shower. You going to bed?”
He nods, picking up the empty glass and moving to put it in the kitchen sink.
“Goodnight, Oon. Love you, kid,” she ruffles his hair.
“Night, Mae. Love you, too.”
When he’s alone in the kitchen, he contemplates notifying Kongpob of his change in plans, but finds himself backspacing his entire message with trembling fingers.
Instead, he pulls up another contact.
Arthit☀️: u still up?
Prae🍐: yeah why
Arthit☀️: u free tomorrow?
Prae🍐: only in the afternoon
Prae🍐: get to the point already
Arthit☀️: come with me to a basketball game
Arthit☀️: school team is playing
Prae🍐: since when do you care about your school’s basketball team?
Arthit☀️: r u coming or not???
Prae🍐: superkong is playing, isn’t he? 😏
Arthit☀️: i hate u
Prae🍐: why do you need me there?
Prae🍐: i don’t wanna cockblock 🤭🤭
Arthit☀️: omg fuck off
Arthit☀️: nvm forget i asked
Prae🍐: shiiiaaa 🙄
Prae🍐: are you just nervous
[Arthit☀️ is typing…]
Arthit☀️: i don’t wanna show up alone like a loser ok
Prae🍐: hey only i’m allowed to call you a loser
Prae🍐: ok i’ll go with you
Prae🍐: i’ll help take photos for your phone wallpaper 🤪
Arthit☀️: for coming with me, not for being creepy
For once, Arthit is glad to see a fairly dense crowd filing into the school, climbing over benches to sit at the bleachers lining the outside of the outdoor basketball court. As he and Prae snake their way past dozens of people, varying from some classmates he recognises to some parents, to what he assumes are students here to support the away team, he notices Kongpob.
The team are doing warm up drills at one corner, bringing their knees up to touch their downward-facing palms. He recognises a few other faces, including M, and some kids from their class, as well as a couple of others from other grades.
A few of students nod in gesture at Prae and whisper what are likely crude comments among each other at the girl’s presence, judging by their laughter and shameless attempts to wink at her with their tongues wagging perversely.
Clearly disgusted, Prae pastes a sardonic smile on her face as she links her arm with Arthit’s. This effectively causes them to shrink back, stunned at her acquaintance with the school’s resident hermit. Arthit hurries to find a seat and look down into his lap, uncomfortable with the attention.
“Is that him?” Prae whispers, nudging him in the arm and nodding in the team’s direction.
“Yeah,” he says, eyeing the white and pink jersey with KONG 62 in bold pink font.
As the team gathers in a circle, placing their hands in the middle, Kongpob looks up, and their eyes meet. His face brightens into a wide grin, and he waves briefly. Arthit feels his cheeks warm, but nods ever so slightly in acknowledgement, not wanting to draw attention.
And then the game starts.
He tries as much as possible to concentrate on just watching the game —or, more specifically, a certain player— but ends up spending most of the first two quarters explaining how the game works to Prae, who seems to have about a million questions.
At one point, he’s so caught up in explaining the different factors that contribute to the points system, that he yelps in surprise when Prae whacks him in the arm.
“Look! It’s Kongpob! He’s about to shoot!”
Sure enough, the crowd has grown quiet in anticipation, as Kongpob bounces the ball several times in front of him at the free throw line. Arthit, too, grows quiet, and subconsciously grips at the material of his jeans, ripped at the knees (from wear, not by fashion).
From where he’s sitting, he can see Kongpob’s shallow breaths, his chest rising and falling as he eyes the hoop. Then, with a light lift off his heels and a deft flick of the wrists, the ball hits the backboard once, and swirls easily into the hoop.
Prae jumps up, cheering along with everyone else, and Arthit lets out the breath he’d been holding. He holds a small smile, and claps softly, his figure concealed from view by the people standing around him.
“Seriously, are you at a classical music concert? Show some enthusiasm!” Prae pulls him up to his feet.
He feels a small tingling of pride as he watches Kongpob and M exchange high fives and fist bumps. Kongpob scans the crowd again, and waves at him, grinning. Arthit smirks, the corner of his mouth a little higher this time, and shakes his head, chuckling.
The home team wins 42-39, and Arthit looks on as the team clap each other on the back, their coach huddling them together for another round of cheers before they all split up in different directions.
Kongpob doesn’t even stop by the bench for his things, jogging straight up into the bleachers to where Arthit and Prae are sitting near the back row. M closely follows, climbing two steps at a time, his duffel bag slung over his shoulder.
“Arthit,” he breathes, smiling widely.
“Kongpob,” Arthit nods, the smallest hint of a smile back.
“Prae,” Kongpob nods and wais at Prae.
“Kongpob,” she grins back, dipping her head in response.
“M!” M says, feeling a little left out.
They all burst into laughter.
“I thought you said you weren’t coming,” Kongpob says, wiping the sweat off of his brow with his wristband.
“I…I have to get back to work later.”
“I’m soooo hungry,” M groans in interruption, rubbing at his stomach. “Can we get food, like, yesterday?”
“Sounds good!” Prae pipes up, turning to face Arthit, eyebrows raised in question.
Likewise, Kongpob gazes at him with wide eyes, awaiting his response.
“Um….I guess…I can spare an hour or two.”
“Great!” Kongpob is clearly pleased, eyes twinkling, still looking at Arthit. “Let me just get my things.”
They’re at the gate, when a tall, middle-aged woman whom Arthit instantly recognises starts walking towards them.
“Kongpob, are you going out with your friends?”
“Yes, Mae,” he hands his bag of dirty clothes over to his mother’s outstretched hand. “This is Arthit. He’s the one tutoring me in Maths. And this is his friend Prae.”
Arthit and Prae both wai politely, and she smiles, brushing off invisible fluff from her tidy, fitted blouse.
“Arthit, thank you so much for helping my Kong. He’s been doing much better in his homework.”
“Oh…uh…it’s no problem,” he chuckles nervously. He tries not to look her directly in the eye, but she’s already tilting her head in curiosity.
“You know…have we met before? I’m sorry, you just look very familiar to me, but I can’t think why.”
“I…I don’t think so,” he stammers out, blinking several times. Please don’t recognise me.
“I told you Arthit went to my middle school,” Kongpob offers, sensing an unusual whiff of tension.
“I see,” she smiles, although her eyes still are still taking in Arthit’s features. “Just out of curiosity, were either of your parents members of the PTA?”
“N-no,” he says, trying subtly to gulp.
M watches this entire exchange, eyes shifting back and forth between his best friend’s mother and Arthit, who seems deeply uncomfortable.
She nods again slowly, before finally tearing her gaze away to face her son.
“Well, don’t be home too late. You’ll be taking the bus?”
“Yeeesss, Mae. Can we go now? I’m starving.” he pouts, giving her puppy dog eyes.
“You’re too old to be using that face with your mother,” she shakes her head. “It was nice meeting you, Arthit, Prae.”
She waves, and walks back to the car, climbing into the driver’s seat. Arthit sharply exhales through his nose, and exchanges the faintest look of relief with M.
Kongpob slings an arm around Arthit’s shoulders, which Arthit half-heartedly leans away from. They’re walking towards Chinatown now, in search of food to quell the rumbling in M’s stomach. Their respective friends are trailing behind them, engaging in a conversation of their own, probably introductory small talk.
“Thanks for coming to watch,” Kongpob says, adjusting the strap of his backpack.
“Get off me, you’re all sweaty and disgusting,” Arthit huffs, shoving his arm off. It had felt nice — warm, comforting, close. But Arthit can already feel his cheeks warm from the touch. “I only came to watch because I like basketball.”
“Do you? I’ve never heard you talk about it before.”
“I don’t have to tell you everything.”
“No, I guess not. But you still came, and we won.”
“Yeah, yeah. You weren’t terrible, I guess.”
Kongpob grins, his chest warming at Arthit’s sort-of compliment.
“So…those two, huh?” Prae smirks as she watches after the two boys walking ahead of herself and M.
“You see it, too?” M chuckles, shaking his head.
“Oh please, your friend comes by almost every day to make heart eyes at Arthit.”
“So you’re…not Arthit’s…” M trails off, leaving her to assume the end of that question.
“No, no no no. He’s basically my brother,” she says, mouth turned downwards in mock disgust. “Besides…I’m not into guys.”
M just nods in response. He smirks as he watches Arthit push Kongpob’s arm off of his shoulders, trying to look disgruntled.
“I give it two weeks before they come to their senses.”
“Really?” Prae raises an eyebrow. “Well, Kong’s not the problem. Arthit, however, would sooner walk into oncoming traffic than admit he likes him. I say at least a month.”
At one of Prae’s favourite noodle shops, the owner greets her and Arthit like his own children. Each of them order their own bowl, their food arriving piping hot and emitting delicious, spicy aromas (with the exception of Kongpob’s rice noodles in clear broth).
Arthit is about to dig into his food, chopsticks and soup spoon at the ready, when he suddenly remembers that despite having eaten in front of Kongpob and Prae before, he’s never done so in front of M. He pauses a moment, stirring the noodles around in the red-hot broth.
Kongpob seems to notice this sudden hesitation, and makes to start a completely mundane conversation.
“Man, that game was insane!” he says, perhaps exaggeratedly. “That’s probably only the third time ever I’ve successfully made a free throw.”
“I didn’t think that so many people came to these games,” Prae muses. “I thought it would just be a few of your classmates and some of the parents.”
“It’s the last game of the semi-finals,” M explains. “We’ll be playing the inter-district finals in two weeks.”
Arthit is silently grateful for any attention being diverted away from him, and he subtly nibbles at his egg noodles, careful not to slurp or make any noise. The world does not implode, much to his relief.
“I swear, I thought we were going to lose with the way John was hogging the ball.”
“I know!” M rolls his eyes, speaking through a mouthful of food. “Why’s he still on the team? He slacks off at practice, and then hogs the ball during games so he can boast to girls from the away team about how impressive he is.”
“Wow, he sounds like an asshole,” Prae lowers a long string of noodles into her soup spoon.
“He is. He’ll get what’s coming to him eventually. Karma, and all that.” M narrows his eyes and stabs his chopsticks into his bowl with a resounding thwap!
“Ooh!” Prae exclaims, setting her chopsticks down and giving a small excited clap. “Speaking of karma, have you two ever been to a fortune teller?”
“P’Knot!” Prae calls out to the large, muscular guy sitting behind a small fold-out table.
His set-up is just that – a tiny table at the end of a ground-floor corridor inside one of the many merchant buildings along the street. His corner is plastered with an array of decorations, powdery red strips of paper with auspicious phrases in Chinese, hand-painted in gold ink. Directly above the fold-out table is a large poster with a Chinese zodiac chart, and a diagram of a palm.
“N’Prae,” he squints at the girl, who’s dragging three boys with her. “N’Arthit.”
“Where’s your Por? These two want to get their palms read.”
“Por is running some errands. I can do the reading for you, though.” He glances between Kongpob and M.
“Are you sure? The last time you read my palm, you said there was ‘danger in my immediate path’.”
“Didn’t you trip and sprain your ankle literally as you were walking away?” Arthit raises an eyebrow at her.
“Fine, fine. Tell these two what the future holds for them.”
After Knot asks for both their exact birth dates, Kongpob tentatively places his upward-facing palm on the tiny pillow that Knot has laid out on the table. He watches curiously as the wise-looking young man observes each and every line that threads through his palm, fingers running along the deepest creases and pausing occasionally. The other three are equally intrigued, lips pressed in anticipation as Knot quietly forms his analysis.
He blinks thoughtfully, then furrows his brow.
“You might find that what you’ve been searching for is not what you truly want.”
O…kay…? Kongpob cocks an eyebrow and exchanges skeptical glances with M.
“What does that mean, exactly?”
“It means that…you’re chasing after a goal or searching for answers to something. But it may not end up being what you thought it would be.”
“That’s…interesting,” he says, and Arthit, leaning against the wall behind him, just smiles to himself at Kongpob’s incredulous but polite response.
“Oooh, do mine!” M says eagerly, thrusting his hand out and flopping it down on the pillow.
Knot falls into his pensive routine again, observing the lines and knots in the pattern in M’s palm.
“Omission of the truth is just as much a lie as any,” he finally says after a good two minutes.
“So in plain Thai that means….?”
“It means you’re hiding stuff, which is just as bad as lying,” Prae rolls her eyes. “Whatever, we’ll come back when your dad is around, Knot.”
“Hey! You still have to pay!”
“Pancakes on me for two weeks!” she shouts down the corridor, guiding the others out of the building.
“Light on the scallions, extra chewy!” Knot calls after them, huffing a sigh.
“Well, back to work,” Prae says, waving to Kongpob. “Thanks for hanging out with us today.”
“I had fun,” Kongpob smiles. She nods and starts walking towards her stall.
“Hey, I want to get a pancake. I’ll be back in a bit,” M says, before turning to follow Prae.
And for the first time that day, Arthit and Kongpob are left alone. Well, as alone as you can get with the Saturday crowd on Yaowarat Road.
“I’m really glad you came today,” Kongpob chews at his lip, one corner of his mouth turned upwards in a shy smile.
Arthit nods, tying his apron behind his back before tipping small chunks of charcoal under the grill, which he then lights. Kongpob simply watches as Arthit sets up his work station, fanning the coals gently until the wire rack on top begins to smoke a little with heat.
It’s not the first time he’s thought that his friend is nice to look at. Arthit has especially long lashes to outline his bright eyes, a strong, prominent nose that crinkles when he laughs, and soft, round cheeks that balance out a sharp jaw. Finally, his gaze rests on small, rosy lips that purse with concentration.
He doesn’t know what it means that he’s thinking this about Arthit. But he knows that he thinks Arthit is beautiful, and he wonders how he’d never noticed him before.
“Hello…?” Arthit waves a hand in his face.
He realises he’s been staring, and brings a hand up to scratch at his nose.
“I said, did you want anything? Or are you still full from earlier?”
“Uh…” he makes a point of visually scanning the menu printed on the bright yellow banner above the cart, as if he hasn’t already been here many times before, and as though there are more than three different items on said menu. “Two pork.”
Arthit looks at him curiously, then places about ten skewers on the grill from the container in the mini fridge as he eyes a few other customers lining up behind Kongpob.
“Really, thanks for coming today.”
“You said that already,” Arthit snorts briefly. “And I was just looking to slack off of work for half a day.” He shrugs, not even convinced himself.
“I know…I just…I had fun today,” Kongpob says, finding that, as he seldom is, he’s nervous. “and…maybe we could hang out again some time?”
Arthit scratches his suddenly warm ear, then picks up a ladle, stirring the pail of marinade.
“Uh…with M and Prae?”
No, just you.
“I…if they want.”
Arthit nods once, handing him the two skewers directly, his hand tingling as their fingers brush in the exchange. Kongpob struggles for something, anything to say. He doesn’t have to think for much longer, though, as M comes skipping back towards him, beaming in excitement over his pancake.
“You done?” he says, glancing between the other two boys.
“Yeah,” Kongpob snaps out of his daze, grateful for the tension being broken. “Let’s go.”
“Cool. Bye, Arthit,” he nods briefly, waving.
“Bye,” Arthit presses his lips into an expressionless smile.
He meets Kongpob’s gaze again, and they exchange a softer, more genuine smile, before the two athletes snake their way through the busy street. Arthit exhales again before tending to the next customer.
30/08/2014 – ฿10