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Tabloids spread Vogue Thailand’s news. Those three photographs paper newsstands, drawing the eye despite the proper desire to avert the gaze from such a tangle of limbs. First is the cover shot of the magazine: most famous model of the moment, Sofi, long limbs and doll face coiled around the Muay Thai champion, Plu, who hulks for the camera, dark skin oiled, fists in gloves. Her airy clothes and draped body, slight smile next to his grimace make for inspired composition. Even before the fistfight, Vogue Thailand’s launch edition sold out in two days. The parent company was thrilled.
The second shot of course is the punch. Three bodies wedged together. The emerald bow tie’d man’s eyes leap to towards unsheathed fists, blurring. Scared, is he? The model, curiously enough, leans in. Her arm actually reaches towards the boxer, and she’s smiling, of all things, even though his fist bursts on her body. His face hasn’t caught the mistake yet, but it is a mistake— if anyone cared to catch the snatch of his right foot slipped forward, left foot kicked up.
The last photo isn’t in black and white but it might as well be. Plu lifts the model draped, limp, across his arms. His back is to a lens but he is outlined on the dark street by the jagged cut of his white suit. Her skin glows but her dark hair and black dress slip into night. Each partly disappearing, partly drawn in relief. Though the golden light from the warehouse stretches to reach them they are receding already.
It’s a prince charming, but where is he taking her, and how will he atone?
Plu steps through the entry of the warehouse, a man reluctant despite the lure of the model, Sofi, tripping ahead of him. Cameras go bang. The swarm of photographers coalesces into a wall blocking Plu’s way. Plu has planted himself barely in the warehouse door. Although he should push in he hesitates, allowing them to engulf him in an eager half-circle. He clenches his fists, an action that is natural, comforting. Plush carpet is rolled over smooth concrete floors framed by walls of newly-corrugated iron meant to evoke the Klong Toei slum, those canal-bank shacks of Plu’s home. He crawled up from the water like a monitor lizard, he thinks, powerful but slow, wary. With this evocation of Bangkok derelict Vogue aims for edgy. It embarrasses and makes him sad to imagine how much money they spent to fantasize a slum that sags in reality just blocks away.
Sofi pulls him toward her. She cocks a hip and drapes herself over Plu to create an outtake of the cover photo they made for Vogue Thailand, the model and her muscle. They are squat and slender, teak and ivory. Their contract mandates they spend the party together to continue the ripples of gossip that released when people first saw the cover: what an incongruous pairing; what surprise.
“Khun Plu, aren’t you going to give them a smile?” Sofi asks.
They have not paid him to smile. He is a gritty prop that enables perfumed soft-skins to shine. He’s even been dressed in a white suit by that Vogue editor. It bunches around his thick shoulders. He feels like a dwarf going to a ball. Sofi wears black, of course, with the cutout triangles around the waist that all the women sport, but Sofi lends the style her sugar that is her signature strength, the way his left kick is his. What would it be like to earn a companion like this, to have her at his side without needing to wear his title—champion—as a badge of admission? He grimaces. Impossible thought.
Bang go the cameras.
When the editor approached Plu about modeling for Vogue’s first cover, he’d been in the gym of their shared apartment, pounding doggedly across the treadmill. Three months post win and new to the building, Plu was still enamored with the idea that a guy didn’t have to regurgitate car exhaust and fight crowds to drag tires attached to his waist around the solo public park in the city center to get a workout. There was no need to be tire-strapped in the apartment’s gym. Like the husk of brown rice discarded in favor of the expensive white inside, his previous life as a slum boy had fallen easily away from him the moment he won the Muay Thai title. Now he dealt with women— not rented women, the apartment was too expensive for that—but major wives working with personal trainers, eying him as they shaped their bodies. He had to remember to keep out of their way. That editor, though. She’d had him up to her apartment. Blanched furniture, walls, even her outfit white, to talk about the upcoming cover shoot. Her husband wasn’t home. Would Plu look at the bathroom sink? And in there she’d pawed, slipped her hand over the front of his shorts.
Sex was different in high-society circles. It was play-acting sex; she’d moved like a kitten, screeching with abandon. The marks the editor made stayed raw for days and Plu wondered if she still had his skin bunched under her long nails. Strange. Nothing like the quiet trysts he’d slipped into with girls in the slum, mouths locked so they didn’t alert neighbors. A shaking shack—that’s what used to give him away in Klong Toei—but the walls of his new shack wouldn’t shake if you took a jackhammer to them.
By the feel of her waist Plu can tell that Sofi works out. Muscles woven tight like a well-trained athlete, she is at the top of her game, his supermodel…. are they friends? She put him at ease during the shoot, made small talk as they touched, and seems content to guide him now past rows of cameras. Easily moved to conversation, just as easily quiet in his company, Sofi doesn’t need to please or be pleased. If they could hear each other better they might talk about their next jobs, but they’d have to shout to be heard over the roar in this cavern that can’t contain the excitement of nobility and moneyed merchants pointing at celebrities, led by magnetic devices. The phones hone on Sofi and Plu, guaranteed to be cover models tomorrow, too. All his people will see it: aunties who fed him as a boy, uncles who trained him as a teenager, friends fallen to his strength, turned into opponents in defeat. That familiar pride at his achievement starts to build but he tamps it, damp dirt thrown over fire. Have to stifle—and reach for—repentance, probably, after the way he put Ton in the hospital.
Plu sighs, wishing the hot cold of triumph and regret sat more easily.
Sofi’s hair is gathered in some slink of a twist leaving her neck exposed, the curve pearly. He wants to run a finger over it. He imagines her shivering. Does Sofi look at him like the other women do? He can’t decide. Sometimes, he thinks, when she lets herself be more than a model, but mostly she is perfect and aloof, slightly out of focus, coming into brightness when big cameras point her way.
Vogue’s DJ slips a beat under the roar. Plu notices other party-going desperates posing. Behind their painted lips and powdered faces the non-professionals look clumsy too, fighting off the terror of so many lenses.
Sofi’s proximity to him is sugar near ants. He is pulsing. “What if I get us some food?” Plu asks. Where he comes from food is the maker of affection. He’s spoken with all the diminutives to favor her, but instead of relaxing into the big brother role he’s offered—the first step of flirtation—her shoulders stay up, and she cocks her head at him.
“I already ate,” she says.
“Not even a snack?” he says.
The look Sofi shoots him freezes that. She glances at the party over his head. What? The known ways to make small talk are failing him. These high societies. What do they talk about? Plu shrinks, squat monkey.
“How about a drink?” Sofi says finally.
Poor man, straining so hard. She didn’t mean to laugh at him, but he keeps talking calories at a party where the thinnest rod rules. Poor brute, stalking through the crowd, head hunched into the mountains of his shoulders toward a waiter lofting champagne. He reaches for a glass but the waiter moves the tray higher, just out of reach, causing Plu to plant his feet and look directly at this fresh enemy.
The boxer must get this all the time. Thais are merciless against those of their own class who have catapulted out, and prejudiced against those with dark skin, as if it’s any indication that they work in the fields. White-skinned, Sofi has always reaped the benefits of that prejudice, accepting fawning favors from perfect strangers as her birthright, for isn’t her hair naturally a lighter brown, and don’t her eyes blink double lids without feeling the blade of a scalpel?
When he makes it back she holds his gaze for a lingering moment before she accepts that victoriously claimed champagne. Is she thawing too fast? Sofi senses how he measures her long limbs, notes him imagining the way she could, if she wanted, wrap herself around him like a silk scarf around a wooden beam. It is not unwelcome, his attention. It makes her nostalgic. He reminds her of her uncles and their stolid sensibility. Plu would be able to put away a bottle of Sangsom whisky with them and banter familiarly, distracting her kin from the shell-shock they exhibit in her presence.
They are still intimidated by the supermodel. How did she grow into that, the uncles ask, as if they’d prefer a stringy vine to this orchid in their midst.
When their sister took up with the foreigner the uncles predicted just this outcome. He did leave Pin as soon as she got pregnant. But they loved Sofi, and were surprised that Pin never hid the story of Sofi’s father, using it as a cautionary tale for the gangly daughter that grew into a white-skinned girl with real potential.
Taking a sip, Sofi smiles at Plu, feels that pull that means she might sleep with him tonight. It is a game she enjoys playing. Not cruelly. After the cover shoot they’d parted ways only to bump into each other that evening at Emporium.
“Eating alone?” he’d asked.
Bold, for a man who couldn’t be accustomed to shopping at Emporium. But she hadn’t taken the bait, and said good night.
She was used to eating alone. When Sofi was still shooting yogurt drink ads, her mother would shoo her off to eat while Pin romanced the man making som tam in the food court of a small local mall. Pin skipped the meal to stand there talking the whole time. “We can’t be alone forever,” Pin would tell Sofi when she returned, done. By the time Sofi did spray deodorants mother and the som tam vendor were married. They bought a storefront and Pin pounded papaya with him. Her uncles took turns shuttling Sofi on motorcycles to photoshoots, learning how to tuck her hair together and dab makeup over sweat when she arrived, windswept. Sofi perfected the art of napping as she swayed and stopped, arms anchored around a waist. The year Sofi landed the whitening face cream contract her stepfather died crossing an intersection on the way to the morning market. Sofi still feels that a motorbike arrival guarantees a job well done, though her mother insists she takes cars now.
Plu darts towards more champagne but Sofi lays a hand on his arm. “Won’t you drink Sangsom with me?”
His answer is a grin that recognizes her purpose. She must have guessed correctly. It is his favorite drink. Plu moves away.
Sofi has transformed her family’s life and they have steadied hers. Unlike other child models, binging on drugs and partying, Sofi’s family knows what time she arrives home. Though Sofi technically bought the six-bedroom house the family shares, her mother is Khun Pin now, the owner, and Khun Pin doesn’t tolerate a wild daughter.
Plu and Sofi share the mutual isolation created by envy. She could take him to a hotel. Sometimes she longs for an adult life outside the bright curtain of her family’s attention, but living with them is the buffer that saves her from the fate of other supermodels. And modeling is the buffer that puts her at a remove from the politics of workplaces, where the prettier a woman is, the more wily she must be, to fend off attention without offending.
Sofi sighs, momentarily forgetting to project her happy confidence. She will play her role well, giggling and smiling and bowing all night. But she should slip away from Plu before their flirtation becomes serious. She will subside into the usual routine, buying jok to eat with her mother, nursing a hangover while sharing stories from the night’s party. Sofi is a good girl. If not precisely untouched, she is untrammeled.
Someone grabs her arm. Turning, it isn’t Plu. “Could it be that you are looking for someone?” she says, pretending not to recognize the notorious Warit.
“Sofi, I can’t believe we’ve never met.” Warit addresses her in English, allowing her to drop the tinny falsetto she employs to speak Thai. Like everyone, Warit has made the mistake of assuming Sofi is a native English speaker. They think her farang father enrolled her in an international school, don’t know she’s never met him. Actually Sofi grew up going to Thai public schools; she failed to test into Triam Udom or Mater Dei where her English would have been smoothed out. Leaving for boarding school overseas, the way Warit’s class does, was unavailable to her because she had to work, so Sofi is bound to struggle on in her Tinglish and make it sound cute, not clunky.
“Is Sofi finished as a Samsung model?” Warit says.
“No, not finished.” Sofi smiles without showing her teeth. Thai men often forget her height or simply don’t believe in it, and when they face her six-some feet with heels, they shrivel. That would be a dangerous feeling to provoke in Warit, who is small beside Plu’s memory, a pale ghost buttoned in tight clothes. He braves a white hoodie over starched shirt and emerald bow tie, managing to look like the noble thug that he is. Sofi hopes her eyes aren’t giving away how judgmental she feels. She is angry at the needle about her career. If she finished modeling for Samsung her reign would be done, since the company sponsors the top model.
Warit has a title but acts like new money, waving his connections unabashedly to secure contracts: the only license to import Sony electronics, an extended lease on prime Crown Property land that no one else could gain. People tread carefully around him although he frequents reputable events, and Sundays takes his grandmother to the dim sum buffet at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.
This time she spots Plu cutting a path back to her. He slides like he is starting his engine for a fight. It must be the isolation. Plu really knows no one at the party, she realizes, remembering her early days in the industry.
“Can I take a photo with Sofi?” Warit asks her as if she’s a child. And like a child she agrees obsequiously, aware she cannot say no. They stroll to the Vogue photo backdrop of winking stars on a black background, forcing Plu to arrive at a vacant spot, searching, the mixed whisky of commoners in hand.
When she tucks her arms into herself Warit says, “Sofi will do the cover pose with me?”
Empty question. She’s paid to keep these men happy so they will pay for advertising. Warit is here to… which company is it? She sorts through possibilities. Watches. Patek Philippe. Pale dials glow from glossy pages. An image of Sofi draped in pearly satin, a rose sheen washing over her perfect Photoshopped face. A diamond-studded watch mounts the slim wrist she holds to her shoulder, arm grazing breast, just barely suggestive. It would be a good contract to land.
Smiling, Sofi drapes herself over Warit, noting he has none of Plu’s coiled muscle. Okay, tonight. She’ll get a hotel room.
The professional photographer appears to make the shot official. Sofi curls in her stomach, allowing the bars of her ribcage to show through her dress. There’s a ruthlessness that comes with being the best, of giving your body over to the force of profession. Or should she think of it as a vocation? A drive, something she inhabits that inhabits her.
On the day of Plu’s final Muay Thai match Sofi had wandered through the house checking the mosquito screens were closed on all the windows. Down the hall a smatter of cheers, drawing her into the TV room where the male side of the family gathered.
“What is it?” She sat on the floor, trying not to make the uncles self-conscious about watching Muay Thai with her in the room. The violent sport was a working class, male-only activity, but she actually liked to watch. The smash of flesh on flesh excited her.
“Best friends,” her oldest uncle muttered from the side of his mouth, not taking his eyes off the screen. “These kids grew up in the slum, this guy’s mother died, the other guy’s mother took him in.”
On the screen the fighters circled, blue and red. One’s eye bursting, bleeding. Would he go blind? His body too wan, blood retreating from the skin’s surface. The other man’s arm revolved in a small circle waiting for an opening, a snake hovering to strike. He would have rushing blood, Sofi thought, eager blood.
“Fighting hard,” her uncle whispered.
Sofi reached into the shared bag of peanuts. Broken shells slipped between her fingers. Salt crunched under her tongue. Saliva, adrenaline, juices humming. Something in the sweating men excited her—rough passion unfiltered. An uncle handed her the bottle of Sangsom. She took a long swig.
The quick shuffle of slippers on wood. Sofi’s mother passed the doorway. Shush shush shush. With quick and careful maneuver a bottle was hidden, an uncle shifting to block Sofi from view. She crouched forward, held her breath. Sofi’s mother didn’t come in. The brothers looked back to the TV in time for a knockout punch—final round—then it was all yelling, a flurry of arms reaching for the bottle.
“What’s this? What’s Sofi doing here?” her mother appeared like an apparition summoned as soon as they forgot her.
Before they could be admonished the commentator broke through their noise: “Excuse me, excuse me!”
As far as Sofi knows, Ton hasn’t woken up from the coma. It was not unheard of for fighters to be damaged permanently, but the scandal came from their friendship. Ton and Plu: an early fight in two promising careers.
She wonders if Plu visits Ton’s mother. Has he bought her a house with his winnings? Does he take her out for meals? She’ll ask him tonight. If he does these rituals of the rising class, it will make Plu more palatable, despite the tragedy of his winning fight. She feels a furtive pull because she, too, had been captivated by the fight. She likes victors. Maybe a person has to find the weak spots in life and hammer blows or never rise. She’s not friends with other models; little sisters in the industry, a game she doesn’t play.
“When you devote yourself to the fight you give up your soul to this ancient art,” Plu had said in the post-match interview. “You fail to see people as people. Ton wasn’t Ton, he was my inner demons, and I was taken over by a god.”
Even her uncles hadn’t bought that explanation—most of them agreed it was un-Buddhist to cause harm to someone to whom you owed a debt. But Plu was a fighter. He needed to rise. Was it Buddhist to watch with glee? Stake bets on fights?
The way red drops flew from broken skin is like lights flashing as she strides a runway. Markers of achievement. She rises too, crests the wave of eyes turned in her direction.
The shutters make doubletime snaps. Realizing she isn’t blinking she does so rapidly. If her eyes tear up too much she’ll look weepy. She must be wearing a forced smile by now—it is time to shake it up— will they hurry? Sofi and Warit have attracted the mob of paparazzi swinging through the warehouse.
Here is Plu with two drinks, blocking the picture, which has Warit fuming. A ripe smell like rancid yeast. Whisky blooms on Warit’s shirt, the faint brown watermark an empty speech bubble.
“What the hell do you think—”
Warit breaks his clutch on her waist. Her skin goes warm and blood floods through. Sofi feels the pinch— he’s been twisting her skin together. Warit lunges for Plu, cutting off his own question.
And no one speaks, claims that opening of air. Who spilled on Warit?
Did he throw it?
They shuffle in a tight circle. Warit has the boxer’s arm. Sofi’s body her own again, she can feel the effect a claw gripping Plu will have on his instincts.
They’re jumbled puzzle pieces forgetting their place on the board.
Aren’t lenses aimed this way? These ridiculous men, locked together. This outtake will make her even more famous.
Sofi jumps forward, hoists a moonlike smile onto her face.
Plu jerks. His eyes fly to hers. Fist meets stomach.
Bang go the cameras.
Wham! Breath presses to the edge of her ribcage, squeezes out, emotion threading through the eye of a needle too small to fit the weight of so much…longing.
Sofi wants to laugh. How the mind leaps. Where, and for—why, why is her mind spinning in the air above?
There is no effect when she tells her body to inhale. She looks up. At. Stocky legs sheathed in white. Who would wear such an ugly suit? Her chest is numb. The sensation spreads to the rest of her body, eager to relinquish its ability to hold itself together. A kind of rest. This dark face moves over her. What happened? His features too close to focus on. Closing her eyes against bushy brows.
Plu. Did he punch her?
She laughs, eyes closed, as strong arms forklift her body.
The press of people dissolve into four white walls, a single bed that came in a box, framed posters of her major campaigns staked in a neat row on the wall below twin portraits of the King and Queen: her mother’s idea of a supermodel’s bedroom. It is a child’s, unchanged. Sofi laughs again, and her body is curled closer to the man who supports her.
She doesn’t have the energy to imagine how her limp body looks as it’s lifted. For the pictures. A dead eel. A fat, spotted, dead eel that no one will buy at the fresh market in the morning.
She wanted something. What was it?
Everyone will remember the punch differently: photographers, depending on their vantage and political inclination; gawkers who love the purity of Muay Thai, or who angle for a connection to Warit. Some side with Plu, provoked by Warit’s grip, which would guarantee a reaction from a fighter; or Warit, blocked in his crowning moment with a supermodel by an ape in a stiff suit. Those without such frank self-interest will focus on the boxer’s propensity to punch out his allies. Sofi looked like she was actually accompanying him. Didn’t Plu know how extraordinary his fortune was?
Eventually consensus will settle on Plu, who will bear the brunt of class self-destruction, and the fascination with his celebrity will fade into the easy label of violent. The money from the championship will run out. No sponsorships will materialize. Who could sell a yogurt drink to growing kids with a role model like that? Plu will move back to his old neighborhood, live next to Ton’s mother, make pilgrimage with her to the Army Hospital every Sunday after they share a modest meal.
Plu’s impulse to violence or protection could go many ways with Sofi. She could identify in his misplaced punch a kindred ruthlessness, shared outcast among celebrity. Then she would bring Plu home. The easy banter Plu can sustain with the uncles will endear him to Khun Pin. Sofi and Plu will have a small wedding at the Klong Toei temple. She’ll win over Ton’s mother when she pulls up to her hut in a BMW that she drives herself. Wearing loose clothing, bearing food.
The meal: it would have to be something special. Kao chae will do, a dish no one makes anymore except those with Palace cooks. Sofi’s found such a cook, who makes the laboriously distilled and cooled jasmine water, hand-pulled rice noodles with fresh vegetables floating like gems, food of the nobility entering the slum. Why not? Prudent to win the mother figure over before the couple announces a baby on its way.
Yes a baby, who will… choose to be born with her father’s dark skin and her mother’s long limbs; only foreigners will find her beautiful. The planned advertising campaigns featuring the incongruous couple and their newborn will dissolve when at eighteen months Coco still looks like a dark-skinned insect. Or will they say she looks like a lump of palm sugar kneaded and stretched? Finally they will say that she looks like oyster sauce poured over morning glory vegetable: glossy and shiny, impossibly long.
Wait. No. Bang go the cameras.
With Plu’s punch that almost breaks Sofi’s rib their future flips away. That squeeze of hard-earned breath pushes a wedding to the boxer out of her body. Who would tie themselves to a wounded animal guaranteed to create trouble wherever he goes? Sofi recovers, accepts the consensus on the night, rides a new wave of fame. She is that model, on a sharper edge. She doesn’t admit her attraction to violence and hard-won titles, settling like a house into an uneven foundation. Sofi stops modeling to marry a man who agrees to lift her bloodline into his as long as she doesn’t seek a life beyond his family’s compound. No eyes turned her way. Her uncles and mother, sights mostly unseen. What happens to a beautiful woman who allows herself to be won? She must plan to become a staple of state dinners, a prop at the door for all to admire.
And Plu? He devolves down the path of confronting alone what happened when he channeled might and energy and a god, sure, to defeat his best friend brother. Plu wishes he were in the hospital with Ton. Maybe one day he puts himself there.
Before the possible futures there is that punch, which certainly happens. Sofi hangs limp in Plu’s curled grasp. The party is in chaos, but no one calls a doctor, only points their phones, calls their friends, creates a maelstrom of digital activity so that tomorrow there will be a roll of white suit photos, an emerald bow tie askew, various angles on a cutout black dress sprawled unflatteringly on the floor.
What does it feel like to have a brother and hurt him so bad? The question unasked by Sofi circles Plu’s mind like a shark in a fishbowl as he lofts his prize, taking care not to bump her head or heels. He pivots them out of the warehouse. The valet won’t call him a cab. Still shouting, bulbs flashing. But no one blocks his way when he stumbles into the street, this neighborhood so familiar. An absurd figure outlined in white against night, against traffic, caught in the shine of streetlamps and car beams. What is that the man is carrying—a woman?
Ton bursts into Plu’s dressing room before the match.
“What are you doing here?”
“Promise it’ll be a fair fight,” Ton blurts, pale already, sweating nerves. “We both need this win.”
“So we’ll let the gods decide,” Plu agrees.
“Yes.” Silly, confident grin. “Our fate.”
A roll of the dice. But it was muscle. Training. The problem of the public assuming a leap, panic that made Plu punch Warit, survival when he punched Ton. No, it was instinct pointing toward victory, illumination focused on a way out. Of the slum—a cliché. Of the class—some naivete to assume that could be escaped.
Plu lays Sofi across the length of ripped plastic upholstery in the backseat of the taxi. He feels regret, also pride, also swelling sensation, everything about to change.
It isn’t even that late when the headlights shine through our orange metal gates into the house. I am only on my third cup of jasmine tea. It isn’t even that late. I swap my inside slippers for my outside ones and put the cup on the table, trying not to hurry as I shuffle down the cement lane past frogs making their mating calls and the chingchok lizard chirruping from the ceiling of the outdoor garage. The insects haven’t bedded down. The sounds tell me it isn’t even that late. At the gates I am off to the side of the headlights so now I see past the blast of golden beams—it’s not the black chauffeur car that has brought her home. It’s only a taxi: beat-up pink and green thing. Sofi hasn’t taken taxis since—since—there! The meter is running! What has happened to my daughter?
I have to ask the ape to lift her into the house. Don’t want to get the uncles out of their rooms because even though it isn’t that late what would they say if I fetched them to see this? Sofi unable to walk or stand. This man with her. At last has it come to this?
“You stay with her,” I tell him, “I am only going to the kitchen where I will be able to hear you.” She needs something hot, my daughter, so I have to leave them alone. I won’t call the maids to see this. What would they say?
He has thrown a blanket over her legs to keep her modest but he is too close, crouched over her on the sofa. “Shoo! Shoo!” I say as I hurry in with hot tea for Sofi. I wag my free hand. He might think I am swatting flies. “What were you doing with her?”
Well, he can’t be her date to the Vogue magazine launch as he says. Him? At last has it come to this? Little Sofi mistaking like me. I loved her father’s pink arms but he would freckle in the sun so I rubbed whitening cream into his skin when I gave him massage. He never knew I was bleaching him, taking away those dirt specks, those bird dropping spots. “You have the best hands Pin,” he used to say.
Would she pick a black ape, my moon-pale girl, when she could have anyone?
The ape man. He looks familiar. Sitting here, her head in my lap, looking at him. I can’t make him leave yet, not until I remember. He isn’t speaking but he is nervous. A mother knows the things men imagine around my Sofi.
He leaves to use the bathroom.
I pat her cheek tap tap tap. “Sofi!” I hiss whisper.
Her eyelids flutter. “Mother?”
I can smell whisky on her breath. It isn’t even that late! “Who is that man?” I keep on tap tap tapping her until her hand, waving, holds mine.
“Stop, mother.” She pushes herself onto an elbow and sees him down the hallway. “Plu, Muay Thai guy.” She turns herself upright.
He’s the new champion! Don’t want that man in my house. Fighters always from the slum. The uncles would say it’s an ancient art. But he is trained to fight. This Plu. Wasn’t there some scandal?
But I have solved the riddle. He was on the cover of the magazine. She didn’t choose him. Great exhale.
Did he hurt the other fighter? Put that boy in a coma. What would he do to two women alone? At last it has come to this!
“Plu,” Sofi is holding herself up.
He sits opposite us. I tuck my legs tight and hitch one ankle over another. He would have to shake me.
“You okay?” she asks.
He looks so sad—as if he thinks that will work on us. These people always know how to tell a sad story.
“You weren’t there when I came back,” he says.
I had a sad story too, very sad, but what did I do? I made the best of it.
“Sorry I went with Warit,” she says. “Was it hard to find me?”
“I looked for the photographers,” he says. He slides off his seat. He is on knees in front of her. I kick my legs out from the sofa, a flutter, and he slides back.
“Sofi? I’m sorry I… hit you.” He eyes me before back to her. “I lost my temper but I was going for Warit. You know that don’t you?”
“You hit her?”
“Mother. An accident.” I feel her sit up straight. “I need to speak to Plu alone.”
At last has it come to this? The way she looks at him. Is she… smiling? Is she… beaming? Beyond imagining.
“Khun Pin will be in the kitchen,” Sofi declares when I don’t move.
Is there an age when a mother renounces her duties? The last thing she says to me, my girl, before I walk away: “Ma, the uncles will like Khun Plu, don’t you think?”
At last has it come to this? I shake my head as I shuffle with empty teacup. The hallway dark and lonely. Sofi makes her own bed. At least it isn’t that late.
Sunisa Nardone is a Thai and American writer who lives in the Bay Area. She's working on a fiction manuscript about Thai wives, foreign husbands, and the student radicals in Thailand in 1976.