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KG walks into Phuket and stands over by the cash register, waiting to be seated as the sign politely requests. It takes several moments before he can be seen to, and his stomach begins turning and the skin under his collar starts to itch and he starts feeling that he is being forced to wait, that they are fucking with him. And he reminds himself again that this is just the effect of the chemicals in his brain, that this is what happens to him when he goes out in public. He starts to wonder, then, when does this stop? Is the Comaxyn even working? How long is this going to go on? He becomes increasingly self-conscious at being seated singly on a Friday night when everyone else is coupled or part of a larger party. Then he sees a younger girl seated all alone, hair colored a deep blue, scribbling intently in a notebook. He feels strangely better for a moment and then, suddenly, Boi is there beside him.
“Hello, Mr. KG! How are you tonight?”
“Hi, Boi. I’m good, thank you.” KG always has great difficulty saying the restaurant manager’s name without feeling he is somehow insulting the man. He always continues on to finish “Boi with an ‘i’” when he pronounces it in his mind. Boi grabs a menu, beams at KG and leads him over to a small booth, gesturing extravagantly.
“The usual tonight, Mr. KG?"
“Yes, please. And a Singha, please, Boi.” With an ‘i’.
“Ah, yes. I think it will be extra hot tonight. I think...” Boi mimes thinking in his endearing way. “I think 2 Singha tonight, Mr. KG!” And he laughs, and KG laughs with him, and then Boi sweeps off still holding the menu to the busy kitchen. A couple of other diners look over at KG as he was referred to by name, and of course KG quickly deflects their interest by pulling out his copy of Rolling Stone and pretending to read. It seems only moments later when Boi returns with a steaming bowl of chicken and coconut milk soup and a glistening bottle of Singha, minus the glass which KG never uses. He sets it all down with a flourish. “It’s all okay for you, Mr. KG?”
KG smiles tightly. “Boi, it’s okay for you to just call me KG, really. We know each other now, right?”
Boi smiles broadly. “Right.” He quickly sits down opposite KG, which surprises him and, oddly enough, doesn’t bother him. “What do you do for a living, KG?”
KG picks up the porcelain spoon from the plate beneath the steaming bowl. “I’m a musician.”
“Oh, really? What kind of music do you play?”
KG grimaces. “Well, I don’t really play music, I mean, I don’t play out ever. Like at a club, where you could come see me.”
Boi looks confused.
“I just record music, at my house, and then the label puts out my CDs.”
Boi still looks confused. “But, what kind of music is it?”
KG laughs, shakes his head. “I play ambient music.”
“It’s like...very relaxing music that you can use for meditation, or thinking, or just as a background coloring. Some people use it for romantic dinners, things like that.” KG shrugs.
Boi perks up. “Oh, like Kenny G?”
KG grits his teeth. “No, no, not really. Have you ever heard of Brian Eno?”
Boi shakes his head.
“It’s more serious, not so...” KG has a brainstorm. “This music, what you have playing now?” He points up to the restaurant’s speakers, currently pulsing with light Asian pop.
“Is this satellite radio?”
“Can you show me? The receiver, I mean?”
Boi, still confused, gets up and leads KG across the restaurant to the satellite radio receiver. KG gestures to it, askance, and Boi nods his assent.
“Don’t worry, it’s not raucous or anything.”
KG fiddles with the dial for a few moments until the channel readout displays “Soundscapes”. The speakers fill with a lush, atmospheric, barely musical sound. A couple of the other diners look up, but after a few seconds return to their meals and conversation. Eventually the display shows the artist and title: KG – “Off Koh Samui”.
KG laughs. “This is me. This is my music.”
Boi listens for a few moments, then smiles with recognition. “Oh, yes, this is like Enya! I love her!”
KG winces again. “It’s not like Enya. It’s much more...” He pauses, gives up. “Yeah. It’s like Enya.”
“I like this! This is good.” KG moves to switch the receiver back, but Boi stops him. “No, no, leave it. This is good for the restaurant.” Boi shudders. “I hate that J-pop, but the customers, they...they expect it.”
“Yeah, I hear you.” KG smiles, then walks back to his table. Boi follows.
“Well, you just enjoy your Tom Kha Gai now, okay?”
KG sits, nods uncomfortably, unsure of how to end this. “Sure will.”
“You like it the extra hot, right?” Boi smiles, expectantly.
Again, uncomfortable nod, feeling repetitious. “Sure do.” Boi smiles, nods, leaves. KG goes to work on the Tom Kha Gai and it is excellent, as it has been every other visit to Phuket. The strange combination of the lemon grass, coconut milk, chicken and various herbs blend into that optimum Thai swirl of sweet, sour, salty and spicy. As KG is eating, something catches his eye on a high shelf above where the satellite receiver is kept. He finally finishes the soup, and as he does so Boi arrives with the Pad Kee Mow and another Singha. “So, KG, do I open this or not?” he asks while placing the noodle dish in front of KG, having pushed the emptied soup bowl out of the way.
KG smiles, nods. “Yes, please, Boi. I’m sure I’ll need it if the Pad Kee Mow is anything like it has been in the past.”
Boi pulls out a bottle opener and stoops slightly over the bottle. KG asks him, “Um, Boi, can you tell me what that little house is, over there on the top shelf?” Boi pops the top, looks back briefly.
“Oh, that’s the Spirit House I keep for the restaurant.”
Boi smiles indulgently. “Spirit Houses are common where I come from. They are left out in front of homes or stores or restaurants, and they are for the dangerous spirits. We leave offerings to the spirits and they leave us be.” Boi points up to the Spirit House in the restaurant, and indeed there is a bottle of orange Fanta in front of the tiny house with a straw in the bottleneck.
KG is fascinated. “So do the spirits, like, live in the Spirit Houses or do they just...take the offerings and go?”
Boi just shrugs happily. “It is a very old tradition. I can tell you that if it doesn’t work, if the bad spirits keep bothering you, there is a place that you take your Spirit House and leave it by the roadside. And if you keep leaving offerings, sometimes the spirits will stay there instead of coming back to your house.” Boi shrugs again, smiles.
KG raises his eyebrows. “That’s really cool. Are there any places like that around here, where you could leave your Spirit House if it...stops working?”
Boi laughs, waves KG off. “No, not here! Please, enjoy your Pad Kee Mow, it gets cold!” Boi shakes his head and moves to speak with some other customers.
KG begins the process of slowly eating the drunken noodles. As Boi had warned, they are extra hot, and it takes KG a very long time to eat them without completely scorching his taste buds, even with the help of another Singha and an additional glass of water. While he progresses through the familiar eat, pause, drink, eat, pause, drink cycle, he again notices the blue-haired girl sitting on her own. She apparently notices KG as well, as she peers at him through what are apparently very thick glasses and subsequently scribbles in her notebook. As he looks closer, KG observes that her hair is kind of greasy and she has a bit of acne as well, slightly dampening the striking initial impression. After a little while, KG begins to squirm under her gaze and calls for the check.
Next! Chapter Eleven