Chapter 7: Balance: ฿815
“Okay, slow down a moment, I’m still trying to figure out this step.”
Kongpob scratches his head, staring at the question and trying to pick out how to best expand and simplify the equation. They’re in the library again this morning, Arthit diving straight into practice questions before Kongpob gets the chance to distract him with small talk.
He looks up at Arthit for confirmation.
“Yeah. Now, you see that 2x and 3x are both of x value, so when you add them together, it becomes…?”
“Right. Any other values you can simplify?”
= 5x + 144, he pencils in after a moment of hesitation.
Arthit shakes his head, pointing at the 144.
“You’ve multiplied the two 12’s instead of just adding them. You only multiply when one value is outside of the brackets.”
“Right,” Kongpob nods, reaching into his pencil case for an eraser, but finding none. “Hey, could I borrow an eraser?”
Arthit feels around in the small grey bag holding his stationery and pauses a moment, before handing Kongpob his own eraser. Kongpob smirks upon seeing the familiar piece of stationery.
“I meant to ask before; why do you have only part of my name written on this?”
His friend audibly gulps, eyes shifting between the book and his suddenly fascinating pencil.
“Oh, uh…I…so that I would remember who I borrowed it from so I can return it. I’ve still been using it, though, so the o and b are gone now.”
Kongpob just nods, erasing his incorrect answer.
“Uh…you can have it back,” Arthit adds quickly. “I just keep forgetting to return it.”
“It’s fine, you can keep it. I can get a new one,” he smiles. “Look after this one for me.”
Arthit raises an eyebrow.
“Look after it? It’s an eraser, not a domesticated animal.”
“Just keep it,” Kongpob laughs, shaking his head. He takes Arthit’s hand, placing the shabby eraser in his open palm. He subconsciously notes how soft and warm his skin is, and shrinks his own hand back, suddenly intensely interested in the practice questions.
If the tips of Arthit’s ears grow slightly pink, Kongpob doesn’t notice.
“So uh…why this bathroom?” Kongpob asks between bites of food. Mae has made one of his childhood favourites; pan-fried shrimp cakes (non-spicy) with a side of pomelo salad.
He’s sitting on the up-turned bucket again, his lunch box propped up on the sink counter as a table. Arthit doesn’t answer him at first, taking his time to chew and swallow his food.
“I can lock the doors,” he finally replies.
Kongpob nods, cutting into a shrimp cake with his spoon.
“I remember in middle school, kids used to say that the third floor boys’ bathroom was haunted. I think the rumour started when the second Harry Potter film came out, and then people just passed it on over the years.”
Arthit snorts at this.
“Yeah, I’ve heard about that,” he presses his spoon against a clump of rice, squishing it into mush. “Although the only ghost you would have found in there was yours truly.”
He says this almost bitterly, and it doesn’t go unnoticed by Kongpob, who feels awkward.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
“It’s fine,” Arthit says. “I…don’t even know why I still do this. I’m just used to it, I guess.”
“You don’t have to.”
“It’s not that easy, Kongpob.”
“I know,” Kongpob adjusts his seat. “Or, well, I guess I don’t. I just mean…I would never judge you or anyone else like that.”
Arthit remains quiet again, rolling the mouthful of rice around on his tongue until the grains separate.
“They…they used to call me…‘Porky’.”
Kongpob already knows this from M, but doesn’t say anything, waiting for Arthit to continue at his own pace.
“That was my dad’s nickname, hence the name of the cart. I…uh, used to be a lot bigger than I am now, and kids weren’t exactly nice about it, so…I started eating where nobody could see me. It was just easier that way. Nobody wanted to eat with me, and I didn’t want to eat with anybody, either.”
Arthit isn’t even sure why he’s telling Kongpob all of this when they’ve literally only started talking for less than two weeks. Until now, they’d been ships passing each other in the night, and he has no real reason to trust someone who clearly leads such a different life. He thinks that maybe it’s because it’s the first time someone is listening to him. Then again, he thinks, it’s often easier talking to someone that you can’t see.
“I wish I’d known you back then,” Kongpob says, breaking the silence. “I would have eaten with you.”
Arthit smiles a little at this. I know, he thinks. But you clearly don’t remember anything, do you?
“I’m pretty sure that would have ruined your reputation or something.”
“You…I don’t know, you had people flocking around you all the time. Teachers loved you, you did well in school, and girls wrote you notes and left you snacks hoping you’d notice them.”
Kongpob bites into another shrimp cake, amused at the remark.
“For someone who had such a hard time accepting me as their friend, you sure paid a lot of attention to me.”
“Did not!” Arthit is glad that Kongpob can’t see his face right now, red as the curry in the carton on his lap. “I notice things about everyone in my class.”
“Sure,” Kongpob’s laughter rings and echoes against the washroom walls. He replaces the lid on his lunchbox, and his smile fades as he realises something. “Wait, we were in the same class?”
Arthit almost drops his spoon, realising he’s said too much.
“Um…only for the first half of eighth grade.”
“Why only the first half?”
There’s silence again, and Arthit briefly contemplates sinking into the toilet and flushing himself away. Way to accidentally overshare and potentially scare away the first friend he’s made in four years.
Kongpob must sense his unease even through the door, because he drops the subject.
“Sorry, never mind. I’m being nosy again,” he says, half laughing as he stands up. “Anyway, I’ve…got to go before M starts looking for me.”
Arthit nods, licking at the sauce at the corners of his mouth.
“Thanks for having lunch with me,” Kongpob says again, and the washroom door swings shut.
The tiled room becomes silent again, the only remaining sound being the faded shouts and chatter from the courtyard a good twenty metres away.
Arthit wonders if he’ll ever be able to blend into that crowd.
“Hey, where were you?” M shuffles over on the bench as Kong approaches their usual table.
“Just went to help Teacher Lynn with the display board.”
“When is English Week again?”
Kongpob stills a moment, trying to recall when the actual event he’d now adopted as his excuse actually is.
“In a few weeks, I think.”
M eyes his friend blankly. Surely the club president would know this crucial piece of information. In fact, M has noticed that in these past two weeks, Kongpob has been behaving rather unusually on the whole. He doesn’t question it, though, peering into Kongpob’s lunchbox. Kongpob rolls his eyes and slides the box over to him, earning an excited clap from M, who sticks a fork into a shrimp cake.
Kong☕: 3 🐖 2🐓 1 🐄? 😊
Arthit☀️: y didn’t u just tell me what u want in person
Arthit☀️: instead of texting me
Kong☕: This is more fun, I like the animal emojis ☺️🐖🐓🐄
Kong☕: No! I would never eat a turtle!😱
Arthit☀️: rly? it’s the turtle that bothers u?
Kong☕: Turtles are cute. Snakes and frogs, not so much.
Arthit☀️: pigs & cows are sorta cute
Arthit☀️: tho if ur saying that u would eat anything that’s not cute, there’s a guy a few stalls away who sells crispy frogs legs
Kong☕: 🤢I think I’ll pass…
Arthit☀️: it just tastes like chicken
Kong☕: I’d still know they were frogs’ legs, though!
Arthit☀️: aite stop texting me if u actually want ur order
Kong☕: Thank youuuu😍
Arthit stares at Kongpob’s choice of emoji for a moment, deciding not to read into it. It seems like the type of thing that his annoying new friend embeds into his texting behaviours, including complete sentences with correct capitalisation and full spellings.
He shoves his phone back into his apron pocket, and sets about lining up a fresh batch of skewers. A few other customers are already in line, but he sets aside enough for Kongpob’s order on the grill, so they’ll be hot when he arrives.
“Thank you,” he smiles politely at a customer as they walk away, just in time for Kongpob to come jogging towards the cart.
“You should smile more,” Kongpob smirks, taking the bag from Arthit. “It suits you.”
Arthit immediately scowls in protest, but a blush creeps up his neck.
“Relax, I just mean that it would draw in more customers,” he laughs as he takes the bag from Arthit. “I’ll text you later!”
And he’s off again, disappearing back in the direction that he’d come from.
20/08/2014 – ฿35