UMM Thailand Ch. 9: I believe it when I see it
“Aha, now we’re getting somewhere,” Charlie said but as he said it, he realized that, although it sounded like a good thing to say and indeed Apinya had opened up and said something other than that she liked green curry, where was the somewhere that they were getting?
Apinya was the most comfortable of them all and continued her massaging. She was now above Charlie’s knees and had put the setting at ‘Fire-breathing fingers’ and Charlie felt his legs getting warm. Somsak fidgeted and adjusted his position in his chair. He spoke again.
“Have you visited the elephants in the forest?” he said, again as if reading from an English elementary school textbook.
Charlie heard Somsak and understood the words but couldn’t take his eyes or thoughts off of Apinya. His attempts to not think about the checkerboard and the girl were quashed and he thought about it all night and all morning. He ran through multiple scenarios in his head and the most popular was one that involved some sort of young backpacker traveler girl from Denmark with a red checkerboard headband who had lost her way and needed Charlie’s help. He was new, no, he was brand new to this whole thing and still had no idea what it was all about.
But how could Apinya be the red checkerboard girl? She didn’t even speak English. It either seemed all wrong or Charlie just had jumped to all kinds of conclusions, none of which were based on any sort of experience.
“Elephants?” Somsak repeated and snapped Charlie back into the present moment.
“Uh, no, I haven’t visited the elephants, but my son would like to,” he said.
“Oh, you have children?” Somsak asked, happy to be in a vocabulary he was more comfortable with.
“Yes,” Charlie quickly answered, hoping that if he could get through the twenty questions game with the over-achieving English-class monk, he could get back to Apinya and figure out what she meant.
“Two boys, one is eleven and the other is thirteen,” Charlie answered, checking off vocabulary that Somsak might like: a few numbers, gender, pronouns. Before Somsak could ask him what his favorite smoothie flavor was, Charlie directed a question to Apinya.
“Are your eyes naturally blue?” he asked out of thin air, but he was searching for any way to communicate with her and stop with the English lessons.
Somsak said something to her and Charlie could only hope that it was his question, but it might have been, ‘Hurry up with the massage on this guy, he’s not a very good English teacher.’
Apinya answered and Charlie had to rely on Somsak to translate honestly.
“She said that she does not know what blue is,” Somsak answered and it was such an odd answer that Charlie figured he couldn’t have made that one up.
“Like the oceans, like the skies, like her eyes,” Charlie surprised himself with how much he sounded like a poet, but the combination of the morning, the monks, the temple, and the mysterious Apinya and he was not himself.
She again raised her head and did not stop her hands from digging deep into his flesh. It hurt, but he wanted to hear what she said. It sounded like poetry, but he again could understand not a single word.
Somsak again looked defeated, but again gave in. Charlie and Apinya were hijacking his English lesson, but he was so polite and caring of others that he obliged.
“She said ‘I cannot see the colors with my eyes, but can only envision the beauty through my imagination.'”
Either Somsak’s English just skipped the rest of elementary school and catapulted into advanced placement classes in high school or he was just putting together random words he might have heard along the way into something close to what she might have said. His intonations and pronunciation were all over the place, but it gave the meaning even more weight.
“Charlie,” Somsak said, taking on something of a less formal tone. “Apinya cannot see any colors.”
“Oh,” was Charlie’s thoughtful response to that. He didn’t really understand how that worked. Was it dogs that couldn’t see colors? Or maybe it was elephants? How did people learn this type of information anyway? Did they just ask the dog? Interview the elephant? It didn’t make any sense. How could Apinya know what colors were if she couldn’t see them?
“What do you believe?” Somsak lobbed over a little grenade of a question as Charlie continued to internally discuss interviewing elephants.
“What do I believe?” Charlie repeated slowly, now checked back into the conversation with the humans and he had to put the elephants and canines on the backburner for later.
“Yes, what do you believe?” Somsak asked again and it might have been for emphasis or it might have been because he tossed in any possible words in English he could to just get in a little more practice.
Charlie’s miniature brain looked something like a school locker after the summer: cobwebs, neglected, and completely void of any sign of useful knowledge. He fell back to his interrogation training from his days as a CIA agent working undercover in the Ukraine. Oh wait, he thought, that wasn’t my training, that was a movie I saw four years ago on Netflix. I don’t have any sort of training in anything useful whatsoever.
He fell back to the only thing he could think of: stalling.
“So, do you mean … ” but he trailed off as he knew exactly what they meant. The question was no longer language or translation or time or words, it was just that he didn’t have an answer because he didn’t know what he believed. He only believed, aha, that was it. He knew what to say.
“I believe it when I see it,” he said and congratulated himself with a bouncing-head smile as if he just won the spelling bee — or at least got the quarter finals by spelling the formal name of the ancient capital of Thailand. In Thai. Pure pride beamed from his face. He was, in fact, a total rock star. For a second.
“What do you see?” came the voice of a woman. Which, frankly, was impossible as she, to quote Somsak, couldn’t speak English. Her words were soft and sweet, even yummy and delicious: distant cousins to her registered-as-lethal-weapons fingers.
“I see you,” was all that Charlie could muster. She encircled his kneecaps with her hands and Charlie felt something lift out of place around his knee.
“No,” she said.
There didn’t seem to be much room for a discussion here. Charlie knew he had to answer better. But where were the answers supposed to come from?
“I see … ” but he trailed off. All he could see was Apinya and he didn’t know what else to say. Time for a counter question.
“What do you see?” Charlie asked her.
She said something to Somsak in Thai, he said something back to her. Somsak looked genuinely surprised. Then he spoke.
“She sees nothing,” he said.
“No colors?” Charlie asked.
“No colors,” Somsak repeated, but Apinya added something in Thai.
“She sees nothing at all, Charlie. She is completely blind.”