UMM Thailand Ch. 10: I see what you believe
“But her eyes are blue,” was what Charlie came up with, thus dethroning himself as reigning champion of scintillating and brilliant conversation.
Somsak seemed to ask Apinya something. She responded.
“They are glass,” Somsak translated. “Oh, no, yes. Glasses.”
“Contact lenses?” Charlie offered.
“Yes, contact lenses,” and had a look on his face that said Now that we got the whole blue eye, blind Apinya thing out of the way, can we get back to animal vocabulary in English, please?
“But she can’t see anything?” Charlie checked to make sure.
Somsak slowly, politely, and with the utmost respect drew a hand up in front of Apinya’s face. She didn’t flinch or blink or give any indication that she noticed.
“Huh,” Charlie said and regretted it. If he had a nickel for each time he regretted his little comments that he should just keep in his pretty little head, he could buy a spicy coconut milk green curry every hour.
“But she said that she could see the beauty through her imagination,” Charlie pondered aloud. “How does she know what beauty is if she’s never seen it?” He quickly realized that he was no longer speaking in easy-to-follow-textbook English, but it was too late, he said it.
Somsak looked at him and Charlie wondered if he had understood what he said. Maybe he really just wanted to get back to the English lesson. But this is an English lesson! Somsak spoke with Apinya and they conversed briefly. Somsak had a look on his face of surprise and he nodded slowly as if he were a wise old monk. Wait, he was a wise old monk.
“She does not need her eyes to discover beauty,” Somsak said, this time not reading from a third-grade English textbook, but now advanced onto what seemed like university-level ancient philosophy. Ancient philosophy according to a young girl with a checkerboard bracelet who could see beauty without being able to see.
The conversation was spiraling above Charlie’s pay grade. The words of Mary in the train came back to him. Play the game.
“But,” he started and stopped. Almost bought a green curry there. He decided to think instead of speak. Somsak looked at him as if to say Wise choice, young man. If she can’t see anything, how can she see beauty? How can she determine what is beautiful and what is not? How can she see anything? Play the game, Mary rang in his ear. What does that even mean? Play the game? What game?
If for no other reason than to hide from the current situation, he closed his eyes.
As if waiting for this opportunity, Apinya spoke. Again in English. Again from the girl who didn’t speak English.
“What do you see?” she asked.
Charlie wanted nothing more than to open his eyes. Play the game went through his mind like a light beam bouncing to each nook and cranny of his brain. His mind was in turbo drive and he had to slow it down. He took a deep breath. He exhaled without breathing all over his two new best friends.
Apinya moved her ever-massaging hands down to the bottom of his feet and pressed on the pads at the balls of his feet. She pressed in hard and Charlie winced and the screen on the back of his eyelids turned completely blue. But a beautiful turquoise water blue, complete with wavy lights like when you’re snorkeling and the sun is above and turns the bottom of the ocean into something of a kaleidoscope.
“What do you see?” she asked again.
“I see blue,” Charlie said as he kept his eyes closed, she kept digging into his feet, and he was playing the game.
“Good,” she said. But then she asked again, “What do you see?” Her fingers moved down under the pads and towards the middle of his foot. Charlie’s knowledge of the physiology of the feet was right about at the level of his CIA training from the Ukraine: completely fabricated. He knew nothing more than passing by those big billboards on the side of the road in Chiang Mai with maps of the bottom of the feet. The neck bone’s connected to the ankle bone rang through his head, a kindergarten song that taught about the bones of the body. Obviously, Charlie paid as much attention in kindergarten as he did in CIA training — in other words, it was as if it never happened. Oh wait, it never happened.
“What do you see?” Apinya asked again and Charlie reminded himself for the 38th time to stop straying off into kindergarten non-memories and stay with the program.
“I see a kaleidoscope of light on the bottom of the ocean,” he said with confidence as this is what he was actually seeing.
“Good,” she said and Charlie wondered if she understood anything — or possibly everything — he said.
While Charlie enjoyed his possibly-foot-induced undersea exploration, she again asked a question. Now Charlie was annoyed because it was like someone talking in the middle of the movie. He kept his eyes closed.
“Now what do you see?” she asked and she pressed in deeply towards the heel of his foot. As if on cue, he rose from the waters of the ocean and up into the air on the screen in front of his eyes but behind his eyelids. All around him was silky, rippling water. Above him was light blue sky and along the horizon were those big, puffy clouds that should really be boxed up and sold as candy.
A good student, he answered. “Dark turquoise water, light blue sky, and clouds so big and puffy I want to sink into them like a beanbag chair.”
“Bean chair?” Apinya asked and Charlie calculated her English was actually excellent if she understood all that. He smiled and kept his eyes closed.
“Big, soft, fluffy, white, like blankets and pillows on a cool tile floor,” Charlie described only what he saw in the IMAX 360-degree show he had the only ticket to.
“Good,” she said again and without hesitation, she asked, “What do you believe?”
Charlie opened his eyes not because he was done with the surround cinema but because they just opened.
“I believe what I see,” Charlie said with little confidence.
Apinya didn’t say anything but just shook her head in slow motion. She was looking right at Charlie but could she really not see him? Charlie caught a glimpse of Somsak and he was an innocent bystander, but taking it all in. But then he spoke.
“No,” Somsak said.
“No,” Apinya said.
“No?” Charlie asked and mentally checked off another green curry.
“Same same, but different,” Apinya said using the unofficial slogan of South East Asia that had become so popular over the years that it was now on T-shirts. She smiled. She was playing the game and she was good at it.
“What do you see?” she asked.
Charlie thought and then thought that he shouldn’t think, he should just speak.
“I see what I believe,” he said and as he said it she gouged what might have been her fingernails, but what very well could have been a surgical scalpel into the soft arch of his foot. He winced in pain. People pay for this?
The blue returned, but he wasn’t closing his eyes. He saw both Apinya in front of him and at the same time a field of blue, maybe even a screen of blue. It was pure and solid and a single color blue, an overlay or another screen, somehow coexisting with the world in front of him.
“I see blue,” he said and the fingernail torture subsided and she now soothed the delicate arches of his feet with her magical fingers.
“What do you see?” she asked again, apparently not satisfied with the whole blue thing.
The blue went through Charlie’s mind. The water, the air, the blue of her contact lenses. He saw her, he saw himself through her eyes although he wasn’t sure how that was happening. The water, the air, her eyes, himself.
“I see what you believe,” he said not terribly understanding what he was saying.
“I see what you believe,” she said, but it was clear that she wasn’t just repeating what Charlie said but that she saw what Charlie believed.