“Please tell me, Lung Arthit,” Kaofang sidles up to her favourite uncle, nuzzling her sparkly face into his tummy.
They’re lying side by side on the living room floor, exhausted after she’s spent a good part of their afternoon smearing bright red lipstick and, of course, purple glitter all over Arthit’s face.
I have to make you extra pretty for the special day!
He doesn’t know about pretty, but he certainly looks…special.
“I’ve already told you three times,” he laughs, ruffling her hair.
“Well, I want to hear it again!”
“Is this going to be your favourite bedtime story now?”
“Yes,” she sits up, admiring her stripy orange socks peeking out from under a bright green tulle skirt. “Other fairy tales are boring. They’re all about princesses being rescued. I like that the princes mind their own business in this one.”
Arthit can’t help but chuckle, pulling himself up as well and fiddling with the antlers on her stuffed alien doll. "I’m not a prince, Kaofang. But yes, it’s not like other stories, I suppose."
"From the beginning, please."
Arthit clears his throat in preparation.
"Ten years ago, Kongpob and I met while we were studying at university. I was his senior and the head of the hazing team. Kongpob was my junior, and he was very naughty."
"Well, he wouldn’t listen to any of my instructions and always talked back to me, and so I had to punish him a lot. I would make him do jump squats and run laps. I told him that if he didn’t behave himself, that I wouldn’t give him an engineering gear. It’s very serious, you know."
"Like not getting a sticker on my homework?" Kaofang gasps in horror.
"Yes, exactly like that. Anyhow, he said that if I didn’t give it to him, he would just take it! Imagine!"
"It is. But he didn’t steal it. Instead, he said he was going to, uh…marry me, so that my gear would be shared with him."
"But you said no?"
"Something like that. He was joking, anyhow. He would always give me a lot of trouble and tease me all the time, so I didn’t like him very much at first."
"Then…there was one time when I got hurt and sick, and he looked after me. And I realised that he wasn’t really trying to make me angry. He was just trying to be my friend."
"That’s not how you make friends. He’s silly."
"He really is. But even so, Kongpob and I became good friends, and we even ended up working at the same company."
"Electric. That was about six years ago. We saw each other every day, and became the best of friends. Then, one day at a party, Kongpob and I were talking while having some…coffee. Someone came over and asked if I would, um, dance with them."
"Like at a ball!" Kaofang gushes dreamily, flopping dramatically in her uncle’s lap.
"Kind of, but without all the fancy dresses," he boops her nose. "Anyway, they asked if I would dance with them, and even tried to pull me onto the dance floor! I didn’t want to dance with them, but I didn’t want to be impolite."
"And P’Kongpob helped you?"
"Sort of. He stood right between us and told that person that I already had someone to dance with. I said, 'I do?'. And he said, 'Yes, you’re dancing with me.'"
"And then? And then?!" Kaofang drums her heels agains the carpet in anticipation, as though she hasn’t heard this story dozens of times over.
"And then I realised that I didn’t want to dance with anyone else but him. Because…I loved him. I think he knew, too. After that, he—"
"HE KISSED YOU! HE KISSED YOU! HE KIS—"
Her outburst of excitement can be heard almost all the way down the street, and Arthit has to muffle her delighted giggles by pulling her face into his shirt again, shushing her through his own laughter.
"You! I thought you wanted me to tell the story?"
"Okay, okay," she stifles a laugh, regaining her composure. "You may continue."
"You’re right. He did just that. And we’ve been looking after each other ever since."
"I love it! Tell the next part! Tell the next part!"
Arthit nods, his voice quieter now. "A few weeks ago, Kongpob got quite upset with me. We were at home, and Kongpob suddenly said that we should get married, but I said no."
"Well, he used to tell me that he never wanted to get married, you know. He said it was just about signing a silly piece of paper to prove you love each other. So of course, when he said that, I didn’t think he was serious."
"So he changed his mind?"
"I think so. But I didn’t know that, so I thought he was joking. I told him no, and that made him really sad."
"Poor P’Kongpob…" she frowns, her cheek squished against Arthit’s knee.
"The next morning, he told me that he wasn’t joking, and that he asked me if my saying no meant I didn’t love him anymore."
"But that’s not true."
"It’s not. I…I love him very much." He smiles down at his niece, whose quiet grin is equally pleased. "And I realised that he wasn’t joking, so I after thinking about it a bit more, I asked him to marry me. And he said yes!"
"That’s so romantic!" Kaofang shuts her eyes, content with the fourth retelling of her new favourite story. Then, her brows furrow in thought. "How did you celebrate?"
Arthit raises an eyebrow.
"Yes, like, what did you do after he said yes?"
"Oh…" he flushes a bright red, recalling the deeply memorable shower they’d taken together that morning. "We, uh…we shook hands. You know, like an agreement."
"That’s boring," the girl rolls her eyes. "Didn’t you at least eat cake or something?"
"Well, we ate some crisps in front of the TV, which was quite nice. Does that count?"
His niece sighs, sitting up again. "I suppose."
"In that case…The End."
He reaches over to the coffee table to pluck a handful of popcorn from the bowl, and pops one kernel into his mouth, slightly famished after having talked for so long.
Following several moments of quiet, Kaofang lets out a groan.
"What is it now?"
"I want to get married, too!"
Arthit laughs to himself, shaking his head.
"You’re a bit young for that right now. Maybe one day, if you’re really sure."
"I’m going to marry Boun!" she insists, grabbing her socked feet, rocking back and forth.
"Kaofang, he has to agree to it first. Besides, marriage isn’t for everyone. You should only do it if you really want to. It’s not always like the stories."
"What’s not always like the stories?"
A head peeks around the door, and Kongpob mashes his lips together to suppress a laugh when he notice the abstract work of art that is Arthit’s makeover. He’s followed by Earth, who snorts in amusement, but shakes her head at the mess they’ve made.
"Mae! P’Kongpob!" Kaofang whines, standing up to swing his arm back and forth. "Lung Arthit says I’m too young to get married."
"Did he, now?" Kongpob muses, then picks the girl up by the armpits to sit on his hip. "Well, I hate to say it, but he’s right."
"Whose side are you on?!" she grumbles.
"Mine," he laughs. "Now tell me about this new look you’ve given your uncle."
"Oh!" the girl grins in delight, curling an arm around the back of Kongpob’s neck. "I’ve decided to do Lung Arthit’s makeup for your wedding!"
He peers over at his fiancé for confirmation, and Arthit shrugs with defeat.
"I think he looks very handsome, as he always does. You’ve done a excellent job."
Even as Kongpob humours his niece, Arthit can’t help but blush, rolling his eyes to unsuccessfully mask his smile. He’s glad that the streaks of dark red across his cheeks disguise his sudden shyness.
Then, their voices fading into the background, Kongpob walks with Kaofang on his hip towards the garden, leaving Arthit alone with his cousin, who plops herself next to him on the floor, cautiously screwing the lid back on the infectious pot of glitter.
"I’m really glad for you," she says, pulling a packet of moist towelettes out of her apron and plucking one out to start wiping at his face. He scrunches his nose as the cool material scrubs at the red and violet graffiti.
"Yeah," he brushes the front of his shirt of any loose glitter. "You were right. I…should’ve told him a long time ago."
"But you figured it out. And that’s what matters."
"You don’t think I wasted time?"
Earth pauses in her cleaning, gazing out of the glass doors and into the front garden, where Kongpob is being mercilessly chased by her unique creature of a child. She shakes her head.
"No," she hands the towelette to Arthit. "I think that whether the both of you knew it or not, it’s been real all along."
Arthit ponders this for a moment, then looks back at Earth, who pushes her hair over her shoulder.
"Look at them," she nods towards the garden. "That boy has loved your mother, my daughter, our family, since the day you brought him home. You might think otherwise, but as you get older, there’s only so much space in your heart that you can reserve for love. And of all the people in the world, he chose to love us. Because he chose to love you."
She smiles, pulling out a fresh towelette and proceeds with cleaning her daughter’s favourite canvas.
"That doesn’t happen by chance, Oon. He chooses you every time, and you do the same for him. All of that has always been real. I was just trying to help you see that."
Kaofang squeals as Kongpob zooms around the garden with her clinging to his back, and Arthit looks on with pure adoration. It had taken five years to test the waters, but they would have the rest of their lives to conquer oceans.
"Yes, I see it now."
- CURTAIN -