Chapter 4: Balance: ฿893
When Kongpob enters the classroom the next morning, Arthit is nowhere to be seen. Thinking that his friend may have just gone to the bathroom, Kongpob makes to go and sit at the desk in front of Arthit’s anyway, only to find that neither his bag nor his belongings are there, either.
Where could he be? He’s usually the earliest one here, Kongpob thinks. Slightly concerned but seeing no other resolution, he heads back to his own desk, taking out his homework and pencil case.
Early mornings are some of Kongpob’s favourite times to be at school. Only about five or six people are usually in the classroom by the time Kongpob usually arrives, and he takes these quite moments as opportunity to clear his head and mentally prepare for the day.
Despite being fairly well-known among his peers, he can count on one hand the number of people he truly considers friends, and he much prefers their quiet company than constantly being surrounded by random acquaintances.
Recently though, he particularly enjoys this half-hour grace period more so because it’s one of the few times he can talk to his new friend.
It’s almost 8:30 when Kongpob is nearly finished updating his weekly planner, careful notes written in different colour codes and symbols to represent various states of completion on his to-do list. By this time, most of the class has slowly trickled in, some with their heads on the desk, some scurrying to do homework they’d forgotten about until the last minute.
He’s neatly writing in “Basketball practice” into today’s agenda, when a ฿50 note falls onto the page in front of him. Kongpob’s head snaps up to catch a blurry flash of Arthit’s figure, already dashing towards his own seat.
Kongpob looks back at the banknote, then turns around. Arthit meets his gaze for a brief moment, and Kongpob smiles, waving briefly. Arthit looks down at his desk, busying himself with unpacking his things as their teacher walks in.
It’s between classes that Kongpob finds him, just as he’s coming out of the bathroom. Arthit is startled, to say the least.
“Arthit!” Kongpob grins at him, slinging an arm around his shoulders.
“Oh, it’s you.”
“Why are you avoiding me?” he asks, but not in a demanding tone.
“I’m not avoiding you. I was never looking for you in the first place.”
Arthit scowls and shrugs Kongpob’s arm off of him.
“Well, you did come to talk to me at lunch yesterday but then you practically ran away.”
“I was not running, I just…had somewhere to be.”
“But you were looking for me.”
Kongpob grins, leaning against the railing of the corridor, overlooking the basketball court. Arthit doesn’t look at him or say anything, but scuffs his shoe against the tile.
“Come on, what was it? You can tell me. We’re friends, remember?”
“—not friends,” Kongpob rolls his eyes. “Yeah, yeah. You still came looking for me on your own.”
Arthit’s eyes dart towards the court, eyeing some of the freshmen playing a quick game in their pressed white shirts and blue shorts. He exhales sharply through his nose before speaking.
“You, uh…you mentioned that you needed tutoring.”
Kongpob raises an eyebrow at this, waiting for him to continue.
“Yes, I did. What of it?”
“Well…I know I said no at first…but, um…”
Arthit scratches the back of his neck, the tips of his ears pink with embarrassment. Kongpob is grinning now, leaning in with his ear.
“But what, Arthit?”
“Well, I…if you’re actually serious, I…I could use the money,” he finally says. “But only if you’re going to take it seriously. I don’t want to waste my time.” he adds quickly, brows furrowed in a sad excuse of a frown.
Kongpob, however, is all smiles. He stands up straight, giving Arthit an exaggerated wai.
“If you’re willing to help me, I won’t disappoint you, Tutor Arthit.”
“Fuck off,” Arthit shoves him lightly.
“Arthit! We’re in school,” Kongpob’s expression changes almost immediately, looking behind him to see if anyone heard Arthit’s casual outburst of profanity. Arthit just rolls his eyes.
“So…” he trails off.
“Okay. I’m free on Tuesdays and Wednesdays after school, and lunch times. Or weekends. Do any of those days work for you?”
“Can’t,” Arthit’s response comes immediately.
“I have a part-time job every day after school and on weekends grilling pork for people who don’t have the common decency to pay with smaller banknotes.”
“What about lunch, then?”
Arthit pauses, biting his lip.
“Busy doing what?”
“None of your business, okay? I’m just busy.”
Kongpob throws his hands up and looks at Arthit incredulously.
“Then…how is this going to work?”
Arthit picks at the loose thread on the embroidery in his shirt, making a mental note to snip it off later.
“I can…I can do mornings. Before class starts. I usually get here pretty early. The library is open at 7AM.”
Kong ponders this for a moment. He does get up at 6AM every day anyway, even on weekends.
“Mornings are good. How about Mondays and Wednesdays?”
Arthit just nods in agreement, shoving his hands into his pockets.
“What’s your hourly rate?”
“I guess…whatever you’re comfortable with. I think 150 an hour is fine. I can charge lower if it’s a problem,” Arthit scratches his chin, and shrugs.
Kongpob just laughs at this, shaking his head.
“Arthit, you have no idea what the market rate is, do you? Most people charge upwards of 400 an hour these days.”
Arthit’s eyes go wide. 400?!
“I can’t — that’s too much. I’m not a professional.”
“Fine, we can compromise. 300?”
“250. Come on, that’s like thirty pieces of neua-ping.”
Arthit sighs, but finally nods.
“And don’t worry, our deal still stands. I’m still going to come visit you three times a week.”
“Lucky me,” Arthit groans, pushing past Kongpob and back towards their classroom. Kongpob smiles after him, rather pleased with himself.
Arthit is nowhere to be seen at lunch again, and Kongpob begins to wonder what he claims he’s ‘busy’ with. Today, he’s eating a fried rice with diced broccoli, shrimp, dried scallops, and Cantonese-style barbecued pork. M pokes at his tray of plain rice with a watery fried egg and luncheon meat.
“You always have the best food,” he sighs, sulking. “Hey, do you think your Mae would adopt me?”
“Not sure your own mother would appreciate that. I’ll send her your compliments, though.”
Their other friend, Oak, is with them today. Normally, he’d be hiding behind the custodial shed with his gamer friends at lunch, but he’d had his phone confiscated yesterday, and his hands are fidgeting with the itch to play.
“Oak, stop twitching. Seriously, you need help with your gaming addiction,” Kongpob eyes his bespectacled friend. “Don’t you already have three days of detention for late homework?”
“I’m not addicted. I’m just passionate. Like you guys with basketball.”
“Oh, speaking of basketball,” M taps the table in front of Kongpob. “Practice is cancelled today. Coach Pak is out sick.”
Kongpob nods, and makes a mental note to let Shin know to pick him up earlier, but then halts the thought. Maybe he could fill the time by other means instead.
The last thing Kongpob expects to see when he gets to the market is Arthit talking to and laughing with a girl. Granted, they went to an all-boys school and seeing any girl their age on a regular basis was fairly unusual.
She’s tall and slim, with an objectively cute smile, Kongpob notices. But Arthit doesn’t exactly seem the type to just talk to girls like that, let alone have a girlfriend. Still, the sight stirs an unfamiliar feeling in Kongpob’s stomach.
“Arthit,” he says, and glances at the girl slightly, giving her a polite smile.
Arthit drops his previous smile immediately, and turns his attention back to the bucket of sauce that he stirs with a small ladle.
“Oh, you’re here.”
The girl looks back and forth between them a few times before she pastes a meagre smile on her face.
“Ai’Arthit…who is this?” she turns to Kongpob, looking apologetically. “Excuse me, he’s not usually this weird.”
“I’m Kongpob, Arthit’s friend from school.”
A bemused look crosses her face and she eyes Arthit knowingly. He just scowls, heaving a large tray of raw skewers from the fold-up table behind him and onto the worktop of the cart.
“Kongpob, was it? I’m Praepailin, but you can just call me Prae.”
“Nice to meet you, Prae,” Kongpob gives her another courteous smile.
“My parents run the scallion pancake stall over there,” she points to her right. “Arthit’s and my family are neighbours as well.”
“So you two have known each other for a long time then?”
“Yeah, we basically grew up together,” she nods and nudges Arthit’s arm. “Didn’t we, Arthit?”
“I thought you said you were just on a break. Why are you over here sticking your nose in my business?”
“Don’t be such a bitch,” she retorts. “I’m just getting to know your friend Kongpob here.”
“Well he’s my friend, not yours, so butt out.”
Kongpob chuckles at their interaction.
“You two bicker like an old married couple.”
Prae looks at him, then laughs. Full-on, head thrown back, belly laughs.
“That’s hilarious! Oh my gosh, Arthit. Your friend is funny. Us – you and me – I can’t!”
Arthit just narrows his eyes and starts lining up the grill with fresh skewers, leaving a small space between each type.
“Did I miss something?” Kongpob is a little bewildered.
“I’m sorry,” Prae says, catching her breath. “It’s just that Arthit is nowhere near my type. Not that he isn’t absolutely adorable…you know, when he isn’t sassing me or his mother.”
“Prae, I’m pretty sure I hear your dad calling you,” Arthit forces a sardonic smile in her direction.
“Fine, fine,” she says, tying her hair up in a ponytail. “It was nice meeting you, Kongpob.”
She emphasises his name again, looking at Arthit, before weaving her way past other vendors and back to her own stall.
Kongpob eyes Arthit, whose expression has gone back to flat and stoic.
“She’s cute,” he says.
Arthit doesn’t look at him.
“Yeah, I guess.”
A silence falls between them, both boys just staring at the grill as Arthit works, flipping over skewers and brushing marinade every so often.
“Um…I guess I’ll have two of the chicken.”
Arthit pulls them off the grill and places them in a container, moving to pour sauce onto them.
“Uh, no sauce. Please,” Kongpob stops him before he can pick up the ladle. Arthit raises an eyebrow at this.
“You don’t like the sauce?”
“No, no. That’s not it. The sauce is great. I just can’t stomach spicy food.”
Arthit shakes his head and hands him the container.
“You’re like a child,” he says. “Why are you here so early, anyway? Don’t you have basketball today?”
Kongpob grins, chewing on a piece of the tender meat, still piping hot from the grill.
“You know my schedule?”
Arthit’s face flushes slightly, and he wipes the sweat off his upper lip on his shirt sleeve.
“Well you’re usually here still in your gear and later in the evening, and you said so yourself this morning that you’re only free after school on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, which means the remaining three days, you have practice. It’s just deductive reasoning. Don’t read into it.”
Kongpob’s smile is wide anyway.
“If you say so, Arthit. I think, though, it’s because we’re now friends. You said so to Prae yourself.” he smirks, finishing off the last of his second skewer. “Just deductive reasoning.”
Arthit doesn’t bother to correct him.
“Anyway, practice got cancelled because our coach is sick,” he dumps the container in the small trash bag hanging at the front of the cart. “I’ll take five more of the pork to go.”
“Why didn’t you just order them together?” Arthit huffs in annoyance, but pulls five freshly done skewers off the grill and into a paper bag.
“These aren’t for me,” Kongpob says, taking the plastic bag from him. “I can’t wait till Monday, Tutor Arthit.”
Arthit glares at him, and Kongpob just smiles, digging into his pocket.
“Oh, before I forget,” he says, placing a ฿1 coin on the edge of the cart’s worktop. “See you bright and early!”
Arthit groans at this, wondering why Kongpob is going back up the street rather than towards the direction he usually leaves in, but the corner of his mouth turns up slightly after Kongpob is far enough.
15/08/2014 – ฿37
“P’Shin, could I bribe you with the most delicious grilled pork for you not to tell my mother that I wasn’t at practice today?”
Kongpob dangles the man the delicious smelling bag in front of him as soon as he climbs into the passenger seat of the car. Shin takes the bag from him, peering inside.
“I won’t mention it deliberately, but if she asks me directly, I’m not going to lie.” the butler’s nonplussed answer comes, and he bites a piece of pork off of one skewer. “Mmm, these are good.”
“Pleeeease? I’ll get you more where that came from next time. You know how Mae is about street food.”
Shin laughs softly, shaking his head.
“Your mother pays my bills. I will keep whatever you want quiet, but I’m also not going to lie to my employer.”
Kongpob sighs in defeat, but buckles up his seatbelt anyway.
“Oh, by the way. I want to get to school earlier on Mondays and Wednesdays from now on.”
“How come?” Shin adjusts the rear view mirror before starting the engine.
“Just…I like the mornings.”