Chapter 2: Balance: ฿962
The weekend passes with a blur, and Kongpob is unusually excited to be at school.
Arthit is already at his desk in the back corner of the classroom, hunched over a small paperback book, the cover of which Kongpob can’t clearly make out from where he’s standing. His face is etched with concentration, brows pinched together.
“Hi, Arthit,” Kongpob slumps his bag down onto his own chair before strolling over to Arthit and sitting at the empty desk in front of him, turning around to face the bookworm.
Arthit ignores him and continues reading. Kongpob peeks a glance at the cover – Charlie Brown: Here We Go Again – and smiles.
“I never took you as someone who likes reading the Peanuts series. That’s cute.”
Arthit huffs a small sigh and looks up, but doesn’t lift his head.
“Why are you talking to me?”
“Because I’m busy, and we’re not friends. So either you need something or you’re seriously that bored,” he wets his thumb slightly and turns the page. Kongpob notices the slight peek of Arthit’s tiny pink tongue.
“Well, okay. Let’s be friends, then,” he holds out a hand for Arthit to shake. The paler boy just stares at his hand for a brief moment with narrowed eyes and turns his attention back to the book.
“You don’t want to be my friend,” he says, turning yet another page.
“Says who? I’m offering my hand, aren’t I?”
“You don’t know anything about me, Kongpob.”
“I..know your name is Arthit. You sell moo-ping. You like reading the Peanuts series,” he grins when Arthit rolls his eyes. “And…oh! I lent you my eraser two months ago.”
“Is that all you want? I can give it back to you right now.,” Arthit reaches into his pencil case on the desk, fishing around for said eraser.
“No, no! Keep it,” Kongpob shakes his head. “Think of it as a token of our newly found friendship.”
“We’re not friends. You bought grilled pork from me one time. That’s it.”
“So…if I buy more grilled pork from you, then we can be friends?” Kongpob grins hopefully.
Arthit shuts his eyes in frustration and puts the book down.
“This is just a transaction deal. People like you aren’t friends with people like me.”
“Come on, what’s that supposed to mean?”
“Just leave me alone, okay? Class is starting.”
The sound of their teacher’s heels can be heard clicking along the corridor outside the classroom window as she slowly approaches the door, and Kongpob sighs.
“We’re friends, Arthit,” he says teasingly, then makes his way back to his seat, but not before catching sight of Arthit’s eye roll.
As soon as the school bell rings for lunch Kongpob hurriedly puts his books away, hoping to get another word in with Arthit, but his angsty new friend has slipped out the door and disappeared down the corridor into the crowd before Kongpob can even get out of his seat.
He’s sitting in the courtyard with his friends and a packed lunch – rice with plain roasted eel and a runny poached egg – and his gaze darts around in every direction, failing to spot Arthit.
“Who are you looking for?” his best friend M asks, trying to follow his line of vision.
“Huh?” Kongpob is brought out of his distracted stupor.
“You keep looking around as if you’re waiting for someone.”
“What? Oh, uh…it’s nothing,” he shakes his head and pushes the food around his lunchbox, mixing the runny egg with his rice. “Hey, M? What do you know about Arthit?”
M turns his face to cock an eyebrow at his friend.
“Arthit? As in Arthit ‘Porky’ Rojnapat, the loner kid in our class?”
“Yeah, uh, he used to be like, really, really fat when we were in middle school. Like Jabba the Hutt fat. And his family owns that moo-ping stall on Yaowarat. Don’t you remember?”
“He went to middle school with us?”
“Dude, were you half asleep? Kids used to pick on him all the time, and he almost switched schools. Shame, he used to be a really nice kid, too. Probably why he lost all the weight before our freshman year and now he just never talks to anyone, and nobody talks to him either. Why are you asking about him all of a sudden?”
Kongpob is still reeling from this information, trying to desperately to recall any image of someone called ‘Porky’, but nothing springs to mind.
“Uh…nothing. Just wondering.”
He’s there after school, of course, at the stall. Kongpob had made a rather cryptic call to his mother, telling her that he didn’t need to be picked up after practice, and that she should take it as an opportunity to go about her afternoon freely instead.
“Are you sure you don’t need me to-”
“Mae, I’m 16. I’ve gone home on my own plenty of times.”
“Okay, but if you’re not home by 7, I’m sending out a search party.”
“I’ll be home before 7. Promise.”
At the moment, there is nobody lining up at the cart, probably because the streets are closed on Monday mornings for street cleaning, and the usual weekend crowd isn’t flooding the market looking for a quick bite before a night out. Kongpob is secretly glad, having waited all day to speak to Arthit.
“What’s your favourite colour?” he says as soon as he’s in front of the smoky grill.
Arthit just looks at him.
“Why do you want to know?”
“Because we’re friends, and friends should know these things.”
“I told you, we’re not friends.”
“Come on, now. My favourite colour is orange.”
“Just tell me what you want to eat.” Arthit says, completely unfazed.
“Not until you tell me your favourite colour.”
“Are you this annoying to everyone?” he drops the steel tongs in frustration onto the worktop in front of him.
“It’s a simple question, Arthit.”
Arthit sighs, flipping over a few skewers and brushing them with marinade.
“Strong choice,” Kongpob quips, an amused grin on his face. “It suits your whole no talk me i angy thing. You’re right, I liked the pork last time. I’ll have four of them.”
“Do you want sauce?” Arthit puts the skewers in a container.
“Yes, sauce. You know, a condiment that one usually puts on food to add flavour?” he deadpans.
“I know what sauce is. I just didn’t know it was an option.”
“Do you want it or not?”
Kongpob makes an exaggerated show of thinking, craning his neck and stroking his chin.
“Yeah, okay. I’ll have sauce.”
It’s as Arthit begins spooning the sauce in question onto the skewers that Kongpob winces a little. It’s a bright orangey-red, which can only mean one thing. Chili sauce. His stomach was never a fan of spicy food. But he says nothing, not wanting the food to go to waste.
Arthit hands him the container, and Kongpob gives him a small smile.
“Thanks,” he says. “That leaves me at…”
“So you’re keeping track for me?” Kongpob smirks, his tone teasing.
He thinks it’s a wonder Arthit’s eyes haven’t rolled out of his head with how much he exercises the movement.
“It’s not like I know a ton of other annoying customers who have a value deduction plan at a street food stall.”
Kongpob just smiles, shrugging his bag to adjust the strap on his shoulder. He’s about to leave, when it occurs to him what M had mentioned earlier that day. It’s difficult for him to picture the guy in front of him as being double the size he is now.
“Hey, did you know we went to the same middle school?”
Arthit freezes for a second, but goes back to stirring the large bucket of sauce with a small ladle.
“What of it?”
“Nothing, just an observation,” Kongpob nods. “I’ll see you tomorrow, friend.”
Arthit puffs out another sigh as Kongpob walks away.
The skewers are, indeed, spicy, but not as much as Kongpob had initially thought, the marinade surprisingly sweet and a little acidic, like lime juice and honey. He hopes that he won’t be on the toilet all evening.
Behind his cart, Arthit picks up the notepad that he has tucked under a stack of paper containers, where his mother won’t think to look.
11/08/2014 – ฿20