From a young age, children were taught that everyone had a soulmate. Children were taught in elementary school that when they reached the age of eighteen, they would receive their soulmark. On their wrist, the name of their soulmate tattooed in black ink would appear. When they finally met the one they were meant to be with, the ink would turn a vibrant red.
Every generation of children had the same worries, "What if I don't have a soulmate?" "What if I never meet my soulmate?" "What if my soulmate doesn't like me?",
Kongpob knew that soulmates were meant for each other, that every pair of soulmates would meet some day and they would be perfect for each other.
Kongpob believed this for a very long time. Every pair of soulmates in his life were so happy together, his parents, his grandparents, all of his aunties and uncles and even his cousins that were old enough to have received their soulmate mark. He had never seen the system go wrong. He had heard rumours of people without soulmarks, of soulmates that had died before they found each other. He'd even heard of people wearing thick black wristbands over their soulmarks so they would never know their soulmates name, so they could never be burdened with having to meet them. But Kongpob couldn't believe that the system could be wrong when there were so many people that were happy with their soulmates around him.
Kongpob believed in fate. He believed that people were given their soulmarks for a reason and that if they embraced the opportunity with an open mind, that they were guaranteed happiness with their soulmate.
The problem with this is that none of the people Kongpob's age seemed to think like this. Most people his age were so occupied with their own worries and self insecurities that they couldn't believe that there was a person out there in the world that was just for them, that they were worthy of having a soulmate. And so, between the ages of thirteen to seventeen, almost no one Kongpob had met spoke about their soulmates. Everyone seemed so scared of receiving their soulmark and being bound to another person forever that they acted like they didn't exist at all. Girls switched boyfriends every week like it was nothing, and guys dated every girl that would say yes to them.
And yet, the thing that annoyed Kongpob the most is that people were still bullied if they dated someone of the same gender. Despite there being millions of people in the world who had soulmates of the same gender, they were still made to feel like that it was wrong. This drove Kongpob insane. How could something that he found so beautiful be universally hated by everyone else?
So Kongpob did what every teenager tried to do, he tried not to think about soulmates. He didn't talk about how excited he was to get his soulmark, because he knew that others wouldn't care. He knew other people wouldn’t understand his thoughts anyway. He dated a couple girls that were obviously not as much interested in him as they were in his popularity in the school. And although he had caught more than one boy giving him a longing look in the hallway, he kept his head down. Kongpob could be patient, he could wait for the day he was given his soulmark.
And finally that day came, his eighteenth birthday, just a couple months before he graduated. Kongpob had been confident all his life that the soulmate system wouldn't disappoint him like everyone said it would but in the few hours before the clock struck twelve on his birthday, Kongpob began to have the worrying thoughts that he had heard from so many others
"What if I don't have a soulmate?" "What if I never meet my soulmate?" "What if my soulmate doesn't like me?".
“What if my soulmate’s a boy?”
He wrapped his hand around his own wrist instinctively. Screwing up his eyes tight, willing the soulmark to not completely up-end his life.
His mother knocked on the door of his bedroom. Kongpob sat in the dark staring at his closed hand over his wrist. She had sat with him until it was twelve o'clock and the dark ink started to form on Kongpob's wrist. He didn’t look at it for a few minutes, but he knew it was there. Kongpob only remembered to breathe when his mother gave him a nudge, a small encouragement. Eventually, Kongpob moved his hand and saw the soulmark there.
It was only when his mother gathered him into a hug that he realised that he had started crying.
“There’s nothing to be scared of, Kongpob. One day, you’ll meet ‘Arthit’. And I promise that I will love and accept him as much as I love you.”
A few months later came the day of his university interview for the department of engineering. He was nervous the entire day, conflicted between studying engineering or economics. He knew he should study engineering if he wanted to help with his family's business in the future, but he knew economics could also be useful and that he might like it more than engineering.
And just when he was about to give up and turn around, one of the seniors came up to him and made sure he was okay.
He had told him a story about his interview to make him feel better and Kongpob had asked, "Why did you choose to study here?". He made Kongpob understand that the decision wasn't just about what he wanted to study, but where he wanted to be for the next four years. And Kongpob decided that he wanted to be with people like this senior.
It was only after he had gone in for his interview, when he was fidgeting with his sleeve out of nervousness that he noticed something about his soulmark.
It was red.
He was so shocked by it that he nearly ruined his interview. He rushed through the next questions clumsily, not giving well thought out answers in an attempt to get out of there as soon as possible. The interviewer gave him a polite nod to signal that he could go and told him that she would call him with the results of his interview. On his way out, Kongpob thought of the many people he had met today, and which one of them could possibly be his soulmate. Logically, Kongpob knew that he had met many seniors and other people applying to the university today, and that anyone of them could be his soulmate. But Kongpob already knew who, out of all the people he had met, he wanted his soulmate to be. He knew with all the confidence of his heart that the senior he had met today, the one that had convinced him to choose engineering, was 'Arthit'.
So when Kongpob got the offer from the university to study in the engineering department, he had accepted without a second thought. Kongpob had all the confidence in the world that he and Arthit would meet, even if Arthit was older than him, and then fate would take its course.
And his first day of university came with a schedule of orientation activities set up, Kongpob was looking forward to making friends and seeing Aim again. Kongpob was hopeful that the world of secondary school would be long behind him. People were more accepting at university, right? People were more grown up here, they understood the world better, they didn't hate people for things they couldn't control. It would be a new beginning for him, where he could finally be himself.
The first years were all gathered in the hall when the doors slammed shut, and the hazers made their way to the front of the gathering. Kongpob saw the senior he had met that day.
He was here . And he was a hazer. No, he was the head hazer.
Something in Kongpob's stomach dropped.
"Sawatdee, first years. My name is Arthit. I'm a third year and your senior in the Department of Engineering."
Kongpob's heart swelled after hearing the senior confirm it. This was 'Arthit'. He spoke harshly to them but he stood with authority, hands held behind his back. Kongpob didn't know whether to be afraid of him or attracted to him.
As Arthit continued to talk, Kongpob got less and less sure that he knew his soulmate at all. This ‘Arthit’ was cruel. He wielded his power over them carelessly. He seemed to enjoy ordering them about when to speak, when to stand. He was nothing like that senior that had comforted him that day.
The next thing Arthit did made Kongpob's stomach drop even further. Arthit reached for something in his pocket and held it in front of them. It was a small gold gear hanging from Arthit's hand with some string.
But Kongpob wasn't looking at the gear. His eyes were focused on the thick black wristband Arthit had around his wrist.
And Kongpob knew what it meant.