UMM Thailand Ch. 5: Over there. Over where? Under there. Under where?
Charlie ate eggs he wasn’t interested in and even a few bites of ham that looked like it was made by a 3D printer. The orange juice was orange and liquid but had probably never seen the inside of an orange peel.
“Are you going to eat that?” came yet another voice that he recognized much more quickly, especially as it was asking for food.
“No, it’s for you,” he said to his youngest son and handed over one of the plates, the one with the sandwich. “It’s excellent, you’re going to love it.”
“Really?” Lu asked, surprised.
Lu took it anyway and made his way back to his bunk.
Busy bee Mary was still delivering breakfasts as fast as she could and faster than drill sergeant man could transform beds into seats. They were both having more success as people fell out of their bunks as if the train were a submarine that was rocking from the undersea waves of a freighter passing just overhead.
“I’m not going to eat that,” again came yet another voice as his oldest son poked his head up and into Charlie’s bunk. Was there a huge neon sign outside of number twelve that said, ‘Please poke your head into this compartment often and quickly as the occupant would just love to hear from you.’ Granted, that was a lot of words to be on a neon sign on a light green curtain.
“I know,” Charlie nodded and responded in the closest he could come to the monosyllabic conversation thirteen-year old Li would not only understand but appreciate. Li turned and left. If only they all responded so easily wouldn’t life be grand?
Red checkerboard, like a picnic table. The words replaced the vacuum left by his son just like when an airplane flies through a cloud or smoke. It was as if the receipt was returning to make sure he didn’t forget it. He did have the words and the sentences in his head, but like a dream, he hoped it wouldn’t fade as the morning progressed. But picnic table? Red checkerboard? In Thailand, most outdoor restaurants and kiosks and sidewalk street vendors seemed to have picnic-like tables, but he wasn’t sure he had seen red checkerboard.
“Can you help Lu find his underwear?” his wife asked as she popped up into view next to his bed just as he forced down a bite of the whitest, chewiest bread he had ever experienced.
“Yep,” he mumbled through the carbo load dissolving in his mouth.
“Thank you,” she said and disappeared.
Tomorrow, was about it. It flashed across his mind like a film credit. It was early, but it was today, it wasn’t last night. He got the receipt this morning, just now, so that must mean tomorrow. He congratulated himself on his above-average sleuthing skills.
Girl. As the word came to him, a tall, blonde, Amazonian-heft of a woman walked by his bed. She was clearly taller than most as she didn’t need to step up on the bottom bunk for Charlie to see her face. She didn’t look at him or even notice him. How was he supposed to find some girl at a picnic table? Tomorrow?
Show her what she cannot see. The words came to him as the girl was gone. But it couldn’t have been that girl as this was not yet tomorrow. But how was he supposed to do this? Where was the manual for this whole game? Did he have a guide? A mentor? Anyone?
“Pop, do you know where my underwear is?” Lu was again next to his bunk and asking with all sincerity.
“Where did you last leave it?” as he had asked many times before.
“If I knew that, I would know where it is,” Lu said as he replied many times before. “Maybe it’s over there,” Lu continued.
“Over where?” Charlie asked.
“No, I meant under there,” this time Lu pointed to under the bunk across from Charlie’s.
“Under where?” Charlie asked.
“Ha ha, I got you to say it!” Lu was thoroughly impressed with his expertise in deceit and trickery. “You said underwear! You said underwear!”
“How can it still be funny to get someone to say underwear?” Charlie asked.
“It just is,” Lu said with such a finality to it that it was clear that there would be no further discussion. Case closed.
Lu stuck around looking at Charlie without saying anything and was seemingly not terribly interested in finding his underwear, but much more in getting people to say the word.
“What’s that piece of paper?” Lu asked.
“The receipt for breakfast.”
Lu didn’t respond but kept looking at the paper.
“Why?” Charlie asked.
“It’s just kind of cool.”
“It’s just a piece of paper,” Charlie said, trying not to lead his witness.
“Yeah, but,” Lu searched for words. Maybe he couldn’t find any because he didn’t say anything.
“I don’t know, it’s just kind of cool,” Lu kept looking at the paper, then looked at Charlie. “I’m going to go get my underwear. I know where they are.” He hopped off of the bottom bunk and was out of view.
The train wheels, Mary serving breakfasts, people looking for clothes, sergeant morning rustling people out of beds and converting them into seats, the whole cacophony of the train car took over and all of the sounds and elements poured into Charlie’s bed compartment and into his ears, his eyes, even his nose and mouth and onto his skin. All of his senses took in every sense there was to be had in the car and as if someone opened a window and pushed them all towards the back and behind his curtain, he spent the last few minutes of the calm of the morning taking it all in.