Chapter 6: Balance: ฿846
Kongpob spends most of Monday evening conducting thorough research about what he’d unintentionally unearthed (but only after he’s finished his homework, of course).
He knows he needs to give Arthit space to open up and not push the matter, but curiosity still eats at him and he’d be lying if he said he weren’t at all worried. Despite that they’ve only been friends for a week and a half, Kongpob has already developed an intense fascination with his classmate. He narrows it down to feeling guilty for not knowing his name even though they’d gone to school together for so long.
But his discovery at lunch had struck a painful nerve with him.
He remembers clearly the days when his sister would leave the dinner table early and hide for hours, her frame shrinking like plastic around a coat hanger as time went on. He remembers his parents pleading with her, begging her to eat, obsessively checking the water closet and forcing her to stay at the table after meals. He remembers the frustrated crying he’d hear from the next room and the empty candy wrappers he’d find stashed under her bed when looking for his toys.
He remembers screaming and crying when the stretcher had taken her away and he’d visit her after school sometimes, and she’d snap at him for bringing his favourite books and snacks for her. He remembers the tube in her arm and the blank stare in her eyes and the tantrums about getting fat and I’ll show them. He remembers her absence for over a year, and when she’d returned, shy and reserved, but with a hint of the pink her cheeks and the way she’d ruffled his hair and said Love you, kiddo.
He remembers it all.
But now, he’s at a loss. All factors pointed to the same thing – the dramatic weight loss, the distancing from anything social, the hiding and sneaking around when it came to eating…and yet Kongpob had found no obvious trace of what he had suspected. Clearly, Arthit had in fact eaten his lunch, if the empty food container and dirty utensils had been any indication. He hadn’t thrown it out in the trash or up into the toilet after eating it. So why would he be eating in a toilet stall?
He knows it’s rudimentary to consult Google rather than a professional but he still wants to get a scope of different possibilities.
Eating in the bathroom, he types into the search bar.
What comes up is surprisingly diverse, ranging from an article about lonely Japanese students, to stories of Alzheimer’s patients avoiding their loved ones, to studies of hygiene analysis for consumption safety in bathrooms.
He clicks on a forum called My friend locks herself in the toilets at lunch.
I have a friend who I’ve known for a few years now. She always used to be really happy and outgoing, but in recent months, she’s been avoiding our friendship group and disappearing at lunch. I recently accidentally found out that she eats lunch by herself in the toilets at school and I don’t know what to think. I don’t know if we did something wrong for her to be mad at us or if there’s something else. I’m just worried.
One user replies:
Your friend could have an eating disorder, like anorexia or bulimia nervosa. Has she lost a lot of weight since this started happening? Does she seem really tired all the time? Or maybe a lot of mood swings?
Another user writes:
She might be bullied by someone else and be trying to avoid them. I remember when I was in high school, kids used to bully me a lot because I had to wear a headgear for my braces so I would try to be alone as much as possible, especially at lunch because food got caught in the metal a lot. I just didn’t need people staring at me all the time.
Kongpob pauses at this. Was Arthit still being bullied? According to M, it had been over a year since Arthit had lost weight, but there was always still the possibility.
Who might still be bullying him? It made Kongpob’s blood absolutely boil to think that people could be so cruel.
He scrolls through a few more comments before stopping at one that catches his eye.
When I was in school, I was really overweight. Morbidly obsese, if you will. I’m still overweight, but much less so than before. I’ve always had a bad relationship with food, and I eat emotionally. I definitely have it more under control now, but in order to do that, I had to stop caring what other people think. The reason I ate alone in the bathroom at lunch is because I didn’t want other people to see me eat. Being fat, I get made fun of for literally everything I do, even basic things like laughing and breathing or walking, and I feel completely embarrassed to eat or talk to anyone or even smile in front of other people because I still feel guilty for being happy and just doing normal things. It’s like I don’t deserve to eat at all because I’m fat.
Kongpob doesn’t realise it, but there are tears trickling down his face as he reads this. Is this how Arthit was feeling? He can’t even begin to relate to this kind of trauma, but there’s still an overwhelming sadness and anger that overtakes him.
Deciding that reading any further will just get him even more upset, he shuts the laptop and takes a shower.
It’s almost 10:00 PM when his phone buzzes on the desk. Kongpob hurriedly rubs the moisture out of his eyes and glances at the notification on his phone screen.
LINE: New friend: Arthit☀️
He immediately clicks on the banner and sees Arthit’s profile, although the icon picture is just the default white outline of a silhouette against a gray background.
Kongpob is unusually excited that Arthit has actually added him, and contemplates messaging him right away.
Hi Arthit! Glad you acknowledge that we’re friends. What’re you up to? This is Kongpob btw
His eyes scan over the message before he shakes his head, deleting all of it.
Hi, Arthit! This is Kongpob. What’s up?
But wouldn’t Arthit already know who he was? He was the one who’d added him, after all. Kongpob chews at his thumb for a moment before finally settling on
Kong ☕: 😊
He hits send and puts his phone screen to sleep, thinking that he’s not likely to get a reply anyway, and should probably head to bed. It had been a long day, and his eyes were exhausted from staring at his computer screen for hours.
Just as he’s coming out of the bathroom after brushing his teeth and about to climb into bed, his phone pings with another notification.
He practically leaps across the bed to grab the phone.
The single emoji brings a wide smile to Kongpob’s face, and he clutches the phone in his hand as he climbs under the covers, heart still thumping erratically.
Kongpob plops himself down in front of Arthit’s desk again the next morning, filling in his planner as Arthit reads his Peanuts comic book. They don’t say anything to each other, Kongpob only smiling before sitting down and flipping open to this week’s page, the two of them sharing Arthit’s tiny desk space.
Arthit occasionally glances at what Kongpob is doing, raising an eyebrow at the immaculate colour coding and carefully drawn symbols and extremely tidy handwriting. Tilting his head sideways, he can see his own name written as the first item on Monday morning in red, as well as on Wednesday.
“How long have you been working at the cart?” Kongpob suddenly says, as he ticks off various items with a black pen, a neat check mark in the little square boxes he’s drawn. Arthit hesitates a moment, but looks up from his book slightly.
“Since I was old enough to work. So a little over a year.”
Kongpob just nods, placing the cap back on the black pen before taking out a blue one.
“Are you saving up for something?”
“You said that you needed the money.”
“Um…well, it helps to pay the bills.”
Kongpob looks up from drawing the tiny cloud in the corner of the page.
“So you don’t keep any money for yourself?”
Arthit fingers the edge of the page he’s reading, the yellowed paper softened with time and use.
“I do,” he says. “I’m just not really saving up for anything at the moment.”
Kongpob nods again and takes out a yellow pen, doodling a sun peeking out from behind the cloud.
“Well, if you could, what would you save up for?”
Arthit rubs the nape of his neck, pondering the question.
“I don’t know…maybe hire help for Mae so she doesn’t have to work so hard.”
Kongpob smiles softly at this, colouring in the sun and adding small rays around the edges.
“What about for yourself? You don’t want anything for yourself? A car? A new phone? Nothing?”
Arthit lets out a short laugh and shakes his head.
“I don’t really need that stuff,” he says. “I guess…I would save up to go to university.”
Kongpob bites his lip, capping the yellow pen. It occurs to him that he’s fortunate enough to not have to even think about the financial aspect of going to university, but he doesn’t comment on it, fearing it might make Arthit uncomfortable.
“What would you want to study?”
Arthit rolls his eyes and closes his book, sliding it into his desk drawer.
“You ask way too many questions, you know that?”
Kongpob smirks and closes his own planner, zipping up his pencil case.
“Well you don’t make it easy to get to know you, Arthit,” he crosses his legs, sitting sideways in the chair. “Fine, what do you want to know about me? Ask away.”
Arthit narrows his eyes, but taps the desk in thought. He seriously considers all the different possibilities, but none of them seem appropriate to ask as a first question.
“How come you sometimes go back up the street instead?”
Kongpob raises an eyebrow at the unexpected question.
“My family’s butler drives me home when I don’t have practice. He parks outside the school, so that’s where I go.”
Arthit nods, huffing a snort at the fact that Kongpob is truly rich enough that his family has a butler. Then, he pauses.
“Wait, but then…the cart isn’t on your way to…” he trails off. Kongpob stiffens, a slight blush forming in his cheeks.
“What can I say? I just like grilled pork,” he laughs awkwardly. “Oh, uh, the teacher’s here.”
He gathers his planner and pencil case, hurrying back to his desk, willingly moving away from Arthit’s desk without being shooed off for the first time.
As usual, Arthit has dashed out of the classroom at lunch before Kongpob can even finish copying down the assignment. Kongpob waits a minute, lingering in his seat before walking outside to the open corridor overlooking the rest of the school. He watches as Arthit scans his surroundings, lunch bag clutched to his chest, before heading towards the side building again, disappearing around the corner to the back where the toilet is.
“Kong,” M claps a hand onto his shoulder. “You coming to lunch or what?”
“Uh…I promised Teacher Lynn I’d help her with something for English Week, but I’ll come find you guys later.”
M nods and shuffles his way down the stairs to the courtyard along with everyone else. Kongpob waits until the corridor is mostly empty before making his own way downstairs with his lunch bag, slyly making his way towards the side building.
He pauses outside the toilet door, trying to decide if what he’s about to do is more harmful than helpful. Pacing the space outside the door, he finally decides to knock.
There’s no response, but then Kongpob figures it’s not every day that someone knocks on a toilet’s main door. He pushes the door slightly open, poking his head around it.
“Arthit?” he calls softly.
He hears him shuffling around inside of the stall, and walks all the way in.
“Um…” Arthit’s voice comes from behind the stall door. “Kongpob?”
“Yeah, it’s me.”
There’s a moment of quiet, neither of them speaking or moving. Kongpob sees a large empty bucket in the corner. He walks over to it, turning it upside down and brushes the back of his shorts off before sitting down.
“Wh-what are you doing…in here?”
I could ask you the same thing, Kongpob thinks, but he doesn’t want to scare him off on his first attempt.
“Having lunch,” he says aloud, opening the lunchbox. Coconut rice with a cashew, chicken and sweet potato stir fry. “You?”
“I…um…” Arthit seems to stumble for words. “Yeah. But I mean, why are you here…and not, like…out there…with your friends?”
Kongpob scoops up a spoonful of rice.
“You’re my friend, aren’t you?”
Another moment of silence passes, and Kongpob can hear that Arthit still isn’t eating.
“Arthit, I just want to have lunch with you. Nothing more. But if you want me to leave, I will.” he says quietly, having anticipated Arthit’s resistance. “Do you want me to leave?”
A small breeze sifts through the open window, whistling inside the echoey room. Arthit bites his lip and stares down at the half empty lunchbox in his hand, debating Kongpob’s offer. His breathing shallows, and he glances at the acrylic wall that separates them.
“No,” he finally says, almost a whisper. “Please stay.”
Kongpob smiles, shifting the bucket closer to the wall so he can lean against it.
Arthit would never admit it, but he’s smiling too. He shovels a spoonful of food into his mouth, chewing slowly before swallowing.
“Kongpob,” his voice is still shaky.
“You…won’t tell anyone, will you?”
“Never,” Kongpob says immediately. It had never been a question for him. “I promise.”
The two boys eat in silence, separated by a thin wall.
Kongpob finishes his food, and makes to wash his utensils in the sink before gathering his things into his lunch bag.
“Arthit, I have to go.”
“Okay,” Arthit nods, even though Kongpob can’t see him.
“Thanks for having lunch with me.”
Arthit doesn’t know how to respond to this, and simply replaces the lid on his now empty lunchbox.
“I’ll see you later, Arthit.”
It takes another five minutes after Arthit hears the washroom door swing shut for him to come out of the stall, having just sat in silence, his mind repeatedly running through the events of the last twenty minutes.
Clutching his lunch bag to his chest, he chews at his bottom lip as he takes the long route back to the classroom, catching a glimpse of Kongpob and M sitting in the courtyard on his way.
Arthit is walking out of the school gates when his phone pings with a message.
Kong☕: Hey! I know you’ve just left and haven’t opened up shop yet but I have to hurry off today but I’ll stop by quickly in about twenty minutes.
Kong☕: Could I ask for 3 each of 🐖 and🐓 ?
Arthit☀️: wut, like a skip the line order?
Kong☕: Pleeeeease, Arthit 🥺
Kong☕: Thank youuu 😊
Arthit shakes his head but nevertheless begins walking faster, hurrying to set up the grill and work station. He doesn’t even bother going home to change, simply dumping his backpack under the worktop and wasting no time turning charcoals under the grill and pulling out the three buckets of skewers his mother has already set out for him and unlocking a cabinet at the bottom of the cart to take out the cash bucket.
Exactly twenty minutes after Arthit had received the message, Kongpob, true to his word, comes jogging towards the cart, all smiles.
“Hey, sorry. I have to rush off soon.”
Arthit simply hands him the bag with his order.
“Are you even still keeping track of how much you’ve spent?”
Kongpob shrugs, biting into a skewer.
“I thought you were already doing it for me.”
“So you just trust that I’m not accidentally knocking off a few more baht each time?” he scoffs, tilting his head in question, hands resting on the cool metal worktop.
“No!” Arthit shakes his head, sighing. “Never mind.”
Kongpob just smiles, finishing off the skewer.
“Why, how much am I at now?”
“Wow, you really don’t charge enough. Maybe you should be sneaking a few baht off my tab.”
Arthit just rolls his eyes, placing five more each type of skewer on the grill.
“I thought you said you had to rush off?”
“Oh! Yes. But before I forget,” Kongpob pulls out his wallet and slides a ฿500 note across the counter. “For this week’s tuition.”
Arthit stares at the purple banknote, and quickly glances around before pocketing it.
“I’ll see you tomorrow morning, Arthit!” he calls out as he’s jogging back up the street.
Arthit watches after him for a little bit before rubbing his hands on his apron. He wonders how in such a short time, he had allowed Kongpob, of all people, into so many parts of his life that his days almost seemed off balance without seeing him at least once every weekday. He shakes his head and smirks, about to pick up his set of tongs, before a voice makes him jump almost three feet in the air.
“Shit, Prae, don’t sneak up on me when I’m handling burning coals!”
Prae just grins, leaning against the worktop.
“Just how much did Super Kong order that he gave you ฿500? What, is he feeding a small army?”
“Don’t call him that,” Arthit glares at her.
“What, that’s what you used to refer to him as for three years straight.” she jabs at his side teasingly.
“I will tell your dad you’ve been flirting with P’Boyd’s daughter instead of working.” he snaps, swatting her hand away.
“You wouldn’t!” she gasps in jest. “Anyway, you still haven’t answered my question.”
Arthit sighs, turning over one of the coals.
“If I tell you, will you go away?”
“I will leave you to poke at burnt wood in peace.”
“I’m tutoring him for some extra cash.”
Prae’s eyebrows raise almost halfway to her hairline.
“Tutoring, huh?” she nods repeatedly. “Is that what the kids are calling it these days?”
“Prae, we’re the same age. And yes, literally tutoring. In Algebra.”
“Mmmmhmmmm…..” she keeps nodding, eyebrows raised and a shit-eating grin threatening to form on her face.
“Prae,” his tone warning her. “Don’t read into it.”
“You sure you don’t want his autograph? Or tell him how cool and awesome you think he is? Or to show him your Super Kong shrine?”
“I do not have a shrine!”
“Not even a little one? Just a small photo and a few blades of lemongrass—”
“I thought you said you were going to leave after I told you?” he holds up a white-hot lump of coal with the tongs.
“Okay, okay. Yeesh, get your act together before Super Kong finds out what a drama queen you are.”
Arthit side-eyes a glare at her as she backs away mouthing Super Kong and batting her eyelashes mockingly.
19/08/2014 – ฿31