Part 1: Chapter 4
Friday, June 5th, 2020
📍 Nathon Pier, Koh Samui
The third and perhaps the most infuriating blight to Arthit’s rapidly deteriorating sanity has been a constant in every single day of his life since two months into tenth grade.
He’d been halfway through giving an elaborate presentation on the various molecular structures of different hydrocarbons, a project he’d spent a stupid amount of time preparing for. He’d made a rather impressive 3D model out of bamboo takeout chopsticks and balls of newspaper mâché-d into perfect spheres, each one carefully hand-painted to represent a different element. The structures had taken over half of Ah Ma’s fold-out table until she would tut and shoo at him to move them elsewhere until after dinner.
In every sense, it had been a laborious endeavour, and the last thing he’d anticipated or hoped for was the new transfer student, of all people, sauntering into his Chemistry class and raising his hand, eyes seemingly innocent, and pointing out in front of the entire cohort of the Gifted program that, he’d “…painted one of the molecules the wrong colour. The branch of the isobutane structure should all be carbon, but that one would make it hydrogen, which would make the link unnecessary, because that would make the equation—sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt. It’s a great model, otherwise.”
This, followed up with an aggravating smirk pasted on a boyishly handsome face, had made Arthit’s blood pump thickly in his ears. He’d stared for ten uncomfortable seconds at the offending mis-coloured molecule before, upon their teacher’s eventual prompting, monotonously continued the rest of his presentation, eyes never leaving his cue cards, and a twitching hand in his hair twirling at a strand near the crown.
Occasionally, Arthit still seethes with resentment from the humiliating experience and the innumerable subsequent attempts that Kongpob had made to upstage him in front of their peers at every turn, in every subject, in every examination, in applying for university scholarships, and all throughout their college lives.
He never lets Arthit forget his presence, not even in an empty corridor, or in a crowded cafeteria, or when he’s at home with Ah Ma, the poltergeist of an unsolicited remark over his shoulder as he attempts to concentrate on his homework.
Kongpob was to Arthit like a leech to a blood bag, draining him of every last drop of his livelihood and infesting every last corner of his mind until Arthit strongly believes he must have done something wrong in a past life to a previous reincarnation of Kongpob’s soul.
And yet Kongpob would make the suffering all the more confusing with his undeniable charm and wit, all with the nauseating façade of a pearly white smile that had the most sociable girls across several grades giggling behind their hands with excited chatter every time he passed by.
Arthit hates it.
Many times, he’s found himself staring from a distance, angry, annoyed…curious. He stares so intensely at him sometimes, memorising the line that forms in his cheek when he smiles, the curve of his back as he picks his bag up off of the floor, the stretch of the material in his shirt as he replaces a book on a high shelf in the library.
And it’s as though Kongpob can almost feel its presence, turning to look straight back at him, eyes full of ineffable questions, none of which Arthit is ready to answer. He would quickly walk away, or pretend he’d been looking at someone else.
It’s too dangerous to look.
His face might explode.
And so, he doesn’t meet his eyes, not even as Kongpob’s trying to get his attention now, blabbering on about something to do with picking locks and some questionable article he’d read online one time about zip ties. Arthit merely shrugs in response, earning him an exasperated huff.
“Well, do you have a solution, then?”
They’d just come off the tuk-tuk, and Arthit is already feeling his skin itch and prickle uncomfortably from the residual sand and the previous night’s grime that he hadn’t had the opportunity to wash off in the wake of their predicament.
“No, but I don’t think you’re going to get these handcuffs off of us with a zip tie,” Arthit rolls his eyes, running his finger along the minuscule text on the display board showing the ferry schedule. He stops, finding the time slot they’re supposed to take. There are still a few hours before it arrives. “Besides, where would we even find one? Don’t people generally use those in place of handcuffs? People generally don’t end up in handcuffs unless they’re a criminal or…wait…that’s it!”
Kongpob straightens his posture, tilting his head. Arthit steps back, nodding repeatedly to himself with excited realisation.
Kongpob smiles, amused, although Arthit still isn’t looking at him.
“If there’s anyone who can get us out of a pair of handcuffs, it would be people who deal with criminals,” he says, as if it’s obvious. He eagerly pats his pockets in search of his phone at his genius solution. “Where’s the nearest police station?”
“Oh,” Kongpob’s smile fades and he blinks a few times. “I…think I saw one down the road on the way here. It’s not that far, so we can probably walk.”
“Let’s go then,” Arthit adjusts his bag strap over his shoulder, and, roughly grabbing Kongpob’s hand, pulls him along. “Can’t wait to get these damn things off.”
Kongpob’s feet move, but his eyes, and very much every tingling inch of his skin, are focused on their joined hands.
📍 Tourist Police Station 7, Operation Division 5
Arthit has never been inside a police station.
He’d certainly walked past one before; there’s one down the road from their high school that he’d passed every day on his way home. He would find himself sucking in his stomach and staring straight ahead as he would do so, although he doesn’t know why. There’s really no good reason for his level of apprehension, what with how he’s never even downloaded music illegally, or snuck into an NC-17 movie, let alone other pettier crimes that might have earned him a light slap on the wrist at the most.
In his six years of secondary education, he’d never even so much as had detention, although he’s certainly found himself in situations that might otherwise land him there. But that’s an anecdote for another time.
Somehow, he’d imagined police stations to be far seedier, with various drunken troublemakers pushed up against the wall and under harsh lighting by a police officer questioning their alibi in a low, menacing growl. Maybe a display board full of roughly sketched WANTED posters in dark ink, like one would see billowing through the desert in an American cowboy film.
Then again, this is more of a travel security centre for tourists rather than a proper police station, but Arthit thinks there should be an air of serious authority nonetheless.
What he doesn’t expect, though, is to be sat in an otherwise empty and dimly lit waiting room, perched on a squeaky orange plastic chair with a number ticket in his hand, as though waiting for his order of khao man gai and pink milk at the bustling campus cafeteria.
It’s been fifteen minutes and twenty-seven seconds since they’d been told to press the button for a number, then vaguely pointed in the direction of the empty common area.
Arthit had briefly considered passing the time by playing with his maze, but he doesn’t need Kongpob backseat driving and figuring it out before he does. Instead, he stares at the clock on the wall, watching the thin red hand tick and wobble into place with each passing second.
There’s something almost clinical and cold about the place, although with how Kongpob keeps shuffling in his seat next to him, the inch or so of space between their shoulders warming from proximity, Arthit feels anything but cold. That, and there’s no air conditioning in the place, the only cooling system a rickety fan on the wall that never seems to rotate far enough to blow in their direction.
At the very least, Kongpob isn’t talking as incessantly as he usually does, which is good, because every time he opens his mouth, something comes out of it that ultimately gets on Arthit’s nerves.
A joke he doesn’t find funny.
A piece of trivia that Arthit is annoyed at not having known.
A backhanded compliment he wishes were a real one.
He stares down at the slip in his hand for what seems like the fiftieth time. 001, it reads. Arthit stares a hole through the glass of the reception counter, where an officer is sat slouched in a wheelie chair, scrolling through his phone and occasionally pausing to loudly chuckle at something to the tune of a chipmunk-voiced remix of a popular song. If one listens closely enough, they could hear the grinding of Arthit’s molars, fine enough to pulverise grains of rice into a fine powder.
“Don’t tense too hard,” Kongpob watches him, carding a hand through his own messy hair. “You’re going to burst the vein in your forehead like that.”
“He’s not even doing anything! There’s nobody else even here!” Arthit whispers at the top of his voice, livid. He taps his foot impatiently, still glaring towards the counter.
“What’s the rush…”
Kongpob mumbles mostly to himself, although if Arthit hears it, he pays it no mind.
“I’m going over there,” he decides, reaching for his bag and gesturing for Kongpob to do the same. “Grab your shit.”
“But he hasn’t even called our num—”
“By the time they call our number we could’ve reached Bangkok. I want out of this torture device. Now. I’m going over there.”
He stands abruptly, eyes flared with determination, leaving Kongpob no other choice than to follow him as he haughtily stalks over to the counter, rapping on the wired glass window.
“Excuse me, Khun?”
His tone, while polite, is laced with aggression as he forces a smile. The officer, uniform shirt stretched over his belly, doesn’t even look up from his phone.
“Please take a number and wait to be—”
“We already have a number. We’re the only ones with a number,” he holds up the offending piece of paper, now creased into dozens of little rectangles from how he’d folded it over so many times. “Surely it won’t take more than a minute to help us?”
A grunt follows, and the officer finally sits up in his chair, pushing his phone to one side to look between the two boys.
“Yes, how can I help you? You lost a passport? A phone? Accidentally joined a cult?”
“No, nothing like that,” Kongpob raises an eyebrow.
“We—” Arthit pauses, suddenly reddening in his cheeks. He hadn’t really thought as far as trying to explain the situation they’re in. “We need some assistance getting out of…”
He trails off, instead tearing his gaze away as he hesitantly lifts their wrists, still with the chain dangling between tufts of pink. There’s a faint, greenish-yellow bruise forming on his lightly tanned wrist bone from how the cuff has been knocking against it repeatedly, and he hasn’t allowed himself to look, but he’s sure that Kongpob has one of his own to match.
“What? N-no!” Arthit stammers. It’d barely been an hour since they’d had the assumption shouted at them by the homestay host. “We’re not—”
“Hey, no judgement! I’ve seen plenty of the likes in my time,” the officer muses with a smirk, shaking his head. “Newlyweds or couples celebrating anniversaries; they decide that a weekend getaway is the time to try something new. Then they lose the key. Happens all the time.”
The remark is amiss with Arthit, and he’d much rather have the man go back to ignoring them right now.
“We are not a—”
“Sir, can you help us or not?” Kongpob interjects, more softly. “You said so yourself; you see this all the time. Surely this is common enough that it shouldn’t take very long to handle?”
The man sighs, plucking a clipboard off a rusty hook on the wall behind him and flipping through a few pages of a chart before raising his eyebrows.
“Well, unfortunately for you, the guy who usually breaks the cuffs isn’t on duty today. You can try tomorrow, though.”
“Tomorrow?!” Arthit squeaks. “We don’t have until tomorrow! I need to get away from him—” he jabs a thumb towards Kongpob. “Right now!”
Kongpob says nothing, pushing his tongue against the inside of his cheek.
“Well, it’s that, or you’ll have to pick at it yourselves,” the officer shrugs, then holds a hand out. “May I?”
Arthit pulls their wrists up onto the counter and through the slot in the glass, where the officer brushes aside some of the pink fluff to examine the lock.
“Hmm,” he makes a noise of contemplation. “These aren’t regular handcuff locks. Usually, we have a universal key for police grade handcuffs, but it seems that you’ve bought the kind that require a specific key, like you would find on a door or a padlock.”
“We didn’t buy thes—”
“So you can’t undo them?” Kongpob cuts Arthit’s circumlocutory protest off. “Nobody here can pick a lock?”
“Kid, I just work the reception,” the officer holds his hands up in mock surrender. Kongpob rolls his eyes at the irony. “Either come back tomorrow or you’ll have to figure it out on your own.”
Sixteen hours. Arthit thinks he might sooner have chosen to owe Kongpob money for another year if it meant they wouldn’t have to be cuffed together for sixteen hours. At least he wouldn’t have to see him anymore. Then he could put him out of his mind forever.
“Thank you, Sir,” Kongpob says, although he’s eyeing Arthit’s strange expression, likely conjuring up seven ways to murder Bright. It’s another few seconds of silent contemplation in the room and volumes in the mind before the Arthit is finally able to move his feet, following Kongpob out of the station and out into street.
It’s half past noon now, and the sticky heat is wearing them out from dehydration in addition to their respective hangovers. They walk slowly to the station’s iron gate, Arthit’s eyes never leaving the ground, seemingly in search of one singular thought to focus on.
Kongpob pauses in his steps, turning back when he notices that Arthit is trailing even more slowly behind him. Arthit looks up, but only to Kongpob’s shoulder.
The boy says nothing, chewing his lip for a moment before simply holding his hand out.
Arthit stares at the outstretched hand. He could punish himself for it later, but the heavy chain clanking against his knuckles and the matted fibres against his wrist are clinging to sweat-slicked skin. He exhales through his nose, then, still not looking at Kongpob, cautiously slips his own hand into the other’s warm one.
It feels better and worse all at once.
heart: babe it’s time to yearn!
me: yes honey 😩