Prad is lying in his bed and wide awake. The sheets are becoming sticky and clinging to his legs. It just seems too hot for any kind of blankets. He’s tried sleeping without them but that’s too cold. He’s tossed and turned from one position to another, nothing seems conducive to nodding off. And then there’s having to be at work in less than six hours. He knows he’ll be useless if no sack time comes, but it’s no help. Too much on the brain, too many reasons to lie awake and ponder.
So it was good ole’ Albert Germaine who sent him that package? He’s a little let down, admittedly. But on the plus side he’s glad he’s not the victim of some crazed stalker or government spook. Still, it doesn’t exactly solve his problem. If the gifter was in fact Germaine, why the hell did he make it so anonymous? Why the odd choice of container and the cryptic note? Was there some kind of special intent there, a way of saying hello and goodbye to his old students before he kicked off? But if so, why not just announce that he was the one doing the sending? Why not give some more explicit instructions or include a letter or something? Knowing Germaine, it might be his idea of a joke. He was never really that funny, never got any of Prad’s jokes, that’s for sure.
Come to think of it, why the heck hadn’t Angie said anything about this to him and saved him a world of embarrassment? Of all the people in the Society, only they knew Germaine personally. Had it not occurred to her to mention that he had made contact with her, albeit in some roundabout way? Was she so distracted with that new beau of hers that she completely forgot about the little things that made for good discussion? Or did she like Prad so little that she didn’t even bother to think about how he might be affected too? He didn’t like thinking like this. If there was anything that could keep him up all night, it was the many reasons why Angie might choose to ignore him. An image of her and Scott making out on that sofa of hers gets stuck in his head. He bites his pillow and tries so hard to purge it, to substitute himself in there somehow, but comes up empty. Insomnia is very good at making things seem worse, especially matters of the heart. And at this moment, he hates Scott with a passion.
UGH! It’s no use! Finally, Prad gives up on sleeping and shoves himself up into sitting position. Legs over the side, toes touching the cool, thread carpet, he tries to give the matter some sober, wakeful thought. He’s a little perturbed about his behaviour earlier that evening, and the interview that’s coming up at the end of next week. He’s not in the mood to open the book the professor sent him; but then again, it might help with the insomnia. He chuckles at the thought, poor professor! The man is dying and he can’t even bring himself to read something he wrote, and can’t help but think it will be an incredibly boring exercise. But given what happened earlier, he really ought to read it and see if it can shed some light on things.
Or, he thinks, he could just roll a joint. That would help with the insomnia and would be a lot more fun. Lord knows he’s been craving it for hours now. No better way to relax than to give the body what it desperately wants. Ghost he can crack in the morning when things are light and he’s a little more clear. Nodding to himself, he gets to his feet and heads over to his desk where his box is waiting. He can feel the sticky sweet smoke on his tongue already.
His tongue is on the tab and the joint nearly rolled when the phone rings. Who the hell could that be? Who would call in the middle of the night? Someone who is looking to punish him perhaps? That list is short, for the moment. He eyes the freshly-rolled joint. There’s no way he can put it down now. Twisting it up, he stuffs it into one corner of his mouth and grabs the phone from the cradle.
“Yamal! This is your father!” a loud voice says in Thai.
“Sawat di khrap, bida,” he says, switching over and trying desperately not to sigh or sound annoyed. He already knows what’s up, and what he’s in for. Luckily, he’s well practiced in this field and has his responses on auto pilot.
“Were you sleeping?” his father asks impertinently.
“Yes, bida. But it’s okay.”
“Dee, kuman,” he says happily. It’s really just a courtesy, he already knows he has permission to chew his son’s ear off. A son can never deny his father that privilege, not where he comes from. “So how is work?”
“Work is fine, bida. I have been promoted.”
“Promotion?” his father asks. “When were you promoted last? What do you do now?”
Prad searches his memory, trying to remember the chronology of his lies. Has it been six months since the last time he claimed a promotion? Seems about right, so that’s what he says. Last time, he had become a senior programmer, so he’ll need to come up with something more austere this time. “I am a manager now, great responsibility.”
“How many people are you responsible for?”
Prad has to think about that one too. It’s a lucky thing he knows someone who is a manager, someone who’s reasonably close to, but doesn’t answer to. He tries to remember how many people Rohit has working under him. At least half a dozen names come to mind and it’s a nice round figure.
“Six people, bida. I have six people who work for me now.”
“What are their names?”
Prad takes little time in reciting the ones he can remember. Those he can’t, he fills in randomly. Manipulating or inflating the truth has become easy for him thanks to years of practice. It’s gotten to the point where he’s relatively quick on his feet now, quite proud of that fact too.
“Is upper management considering you for promotion?”
Prad hits the button on his torch and lights the tip of the joint. Before sucking in a small cloud, he opts for an ambiguous answer. What else can his father expect from him at this point in his career, or this hour in the morning? “They know of me, bida. But I cannot say for sure if they are considering me for an upper level position yet.”
His father grumbles. “How old are you now Yamal?”
Prad lets out a cloud of acrid smoke and tries not to grumble himself. “I am twenty-eight now, bida.”
“Do I need to remind you that when I was your age, I was entrusted with the management of an entire branch office?”
“No, bida,” Prad replies. He has heard this story many times and knows it backwards and forwards. The great Chanarong (“The Warrior”) Pradchaphet, oldest boy of the Pradchaphet clan, who left home to become a senior executive in a foreign land. By his late twenties, he was working in Luzon, where he met Prad’s mother, incidentally, and got married. By his thirties, he had moved them all to the Pacific Northwest where his work and career in electronics and software had continued apace. Prad and his brothers had all received the majority of their education here, studying engineering, computer sciences and marketing, all with the intent of following in their father’s footsteps. His sisters’ paths were slightly different; being girls and having a different set of cultural expectations to deal with, they had all been able to go their own way. By the time all his children were old enough to leave home, Chanarong had moved with his wife back to Thailand to enjoy a working retirement. And he never let any of his children forget who had spawned them or what he done for them.
“Well then,” his father continues. “Just be sure you are doing all you can to get recognized.”
“Khap khun, bida,” Prad says, thanking him formally.
“Are you dating anyone?” his father asks next. Prad smirks and takes another puff. Ordinarily, his father covers all aspects of his professional life. His personal life is usually the province of his mother. He can only guess that she’s unavailable or his father is stalling until she can come and interrogate him herself.
“No, bida. I have not yet met a woman of sufficient quality to marry,” he replies.
“No nice Asian girls where you work?”
“No, father. My position makes it impossible for me to date the people I work with.”
Prad is surprised. Usually, his father likes to beat around the subject of what constitutes a “nice” girl. He knows how it works, the boys must marry girls who fit their family’s background, culture, expectations, etc. Prad’s elder brother, Khemkhaeng, has already performed this duty, hence Prad now receives no quarter in this area. As the second oldest son, he can expect this kind of harassment for years to come; until he either capitulates, or elopes and never talks to them again.
“I see,” his father replies. “What about going out? Are you getting out? Have you met nice girls at Temple?”
“No, bida. Not yet.”
He almost loses it there. His eyes have not seen the inside of a Buddhist temple for years and even if they had, he’d have no interest in a girl who attends. Not unless it is strictly out of familial duty. Where would be the fun? He even coughs a little in the process. His father is quick to notice. The signal is too clear for him to blame it on a bad international connection, damn telecommunications!
“Kuman! Are you smoking?”
“No, bida,” he says, coughing once more. “I am getting over a cold.”
“You are sick?” his father says with newfound concern.
“Yes, bida. But I still must go to work tomorrow. I need to sleep.”
His father pauses and comes back a little deflated. Smoking up seems to have paid off tonight. “Ko di, kuman. Ratri sawat, then. I shall pass along your love to your mother.”
He might be imaging it but he thinks he hears some scorn in the last words. A hidden reminder of what he called her not too long ago.
“Have a good sleep, kuman.”
“Khap khun, bida,” Prad returns. “Rātrī s̄wạs̄di̒.”
There’s a click and the signal goes dead. Prad returns the phone to its cradle and takes a few more puffs of the joint before stubbing it out in the small bowl that sits by his computer. The bottom is burnt in many places from the many roaches it’s held over the many months it’s been there. Yet Prad cannot bring himself to buy an ashtray. Somehow, that would seem like a breach of the buildings no smoking policy.
He feels a mild sense of euphoria set in and he yawns. A good sign. He gets back into bed and pulls the covers up to his chin.