'BRIGHT' Chapter One: 'Monopoly'

 
 

To celebrate yesterday’s Australian release of the English translation of Duanwad Pimwana’s Bright, our newest Brow Books fiction title, we’ve got a taster of the novel for you below.

A modern classic in Thailand, Bright is taught there in hundreds of schools and universities, and has sold an estimated 155,500 copies in Thailand, an astonishing figure for that market.

With her income from the book, Pimwana has built a house in the town where the story is set.

Lawyer-turned-translator Mui Pooposakul translated this book, making it the first novel by a Thai woman to be translated into English published outside of Thailand.

The novel begins when five-year-old Kampol’s father tells him to sit on the kerb and await his return. The confused boy does  as he’s told. He waits and waits, until eventually he realises  his father may not be coming back.  In his parents’ absence, Kampol is adopted by the community and raised on rotation by the local adults.

The following excerpt is the complete first chapter of Bright, titled ‘Monopoly’.

 

Monopoly


Kampol Changsamran, a five-year-old boy, was hanging out in front of Mrs Tongjan’s tenement houses. His father had told him to wait: “You stay here. I’m taking your brother over to Grandma’s. I’ll be back in a bit.” Hearing these last three words, Kampol didn’t dare wander, worried that his father wouldn’t spot him when he got back, so he just paced back and forth, keeping an eye on the curve where the road came into the neighbourhood.

Something went down at his house a few days ago. His parents had gotten into a nasty fight, and all the neighbours knew it from all the yelling. His mother hurled the fan, breaking its neck. His father flung the kettle over her head, launching it out the window. His mum had left, but later, when night had fallen, she rolled up in a pickup truck, parked in front of the house, and loaded it with stuff until the house was nearly bare. She left on a motorbike, riding ahead as a driver in the pickup truck crawled along behind her. His father watched, arms akimbo, head nodding slightly. Kampol’s brother, two months shy of his first birthday, was screaming inside the house.

Kampol waited for his father in front of their unit, the keys to which they had already surrendered to the landlady. He stood there, sulking, two bags full of his clothing lying next to him on the ground. At midday the neighbour from next door—her name was Aoi, she was the wife of a motorbike cabbie—called him over, scooped some rice onto a plate, and fed him, questioning him nonstop.

Grown-ups tend to assume that kids live in a different world. In Mrs Tongjan’s neighbourhood, there were plenty of people with spare time. The rowhouses formed a little square, with a good shady spot to sit under the poinciana tree – and the vantage point from there was perfect for observing all kinds of things. Importantly, the customers from the grocery situated at a slight diagonal across the way, routinely stopped to exchange a few words with the people gathered under the poinciana. Kampol was grilled about his parents. He recounted the incident over and over again. Some people walked up to him; some waved him over. Another neighbour, On, had given him money to buy a treat and he was called over to the poinciana by six or seven adults as he walked back from the store.

“Where’d your papa go, Boy?” Kampol didn’t have a nickname. Everyone just called him “Boy,” like his father did.

“He took my brother to Grandma’s,” he answered.

“What about you? Why didn’t he take you?”

“He’s coming back to get me soon, to go stay with him at the plant,” he replied, as he had when others had asked him the same question.

And where’d your mama go? What were they fighting about, do you know? Did your mama say who she was going to stay with? Do they fight a lot? Is your brother breastfed?

Why didn’t your mama take you with her? You poor thing, with parents like those… This one isn’t his dad’s fault, his mama had an affair. But that’s karma – his father abandoned two or three wives already.

Kampol held his snack woodenly, eyes glazed over as he stood listening to one person here and another person there discuss his family. He got fed up and hung his head. He missed his father, and he couldn’t help daydreaming about having a new home; he was exhausted. In truth, Kampol didn’t know much – he just told the people what he’d seen. The more questions he answered, the more he came to know about his parents in the process. He grew irritated and indignant when some of the adults suggested his father might have abandoned him and taken his brother, Jon, or Kamjon, to go live somewhere else. Some of them thought his mother should come to bring him to live with her. “With two kids, you have to split the burden. Since his father took the younger one, he probably meant to leave the older one for the mother.” Kampol’s feelings were hurt, but he refused to believe them. He resented them. He quit paying attention and craned his neck to check the road instead, keeping his eyes firmly on it.

The group under the poinciana began to disperse once they’d had their fill of the discussion. But one woman reignited it. She had been going to buy fish sauce and stopped by.

“I felt bad seeing him like this, so at lunchtime I called him over and gave him something to eat.” She shot the kid a look of compassion, her remark putting the other adults on the spot. It was his neighbour Aoi.

“Well… I saw him sitting there staring at his bags so sadly, and I gave him money to get a snack… look there, he hasn’t even eaten it yet,” On, the wife of a department-store security guard, said.

Everyone fell silent. Nobody had ever thought of acting so generously before. The wave of pity had created an intense wind that stirred a number of people.

Dum, who patched tires, said loudly: “Yeah, I feel really sorry for him.” He called out, “Boy, you can stay at my place tonight if your papa still hasn’t come back.” Then he turned to the person next to him and said, “He’s just a little kid – there’s plenty of room to sleep at my place.”

Kampol declined without a word, his eyes still stuck on Dum. He wasn’t going to have to spend the night at anybody else’s house because his father was going to come for him. Tongbai got up and went over to grab the child’s hand. “C’mon, Boy… come eat dinner first. Your papa isn’t going to show up anytime soon.” In a daze, Kampol was tugged along. He wasn’t hungry and didn’t want to go anywhere with anyone. He worried that his father wouldn’t be able to find him when he got back. As the others watched them go, the consensus among the crowd was that Tongbai’s behaviour was in poor taste. “She’s showing off,” they said.

At five o’clock that evening, Tongbai was in the kitchen, and the rice in the pot wasn’t cooked. Kampol, who was sitting in a funk by his pile of bags, was led into a house of another neighbour. She stuck a plate of rice topped with an omelette in front of his face. It smelled amazing. When the neighbour wasn’t paying attention, though, Kampol took his plate outside, back to the spot where he had left his bags. He kept an eye on the bend in the road, where he would first see his father when he returned. Tears welled up and his lips began to quiver.

A moment later, Tongbai poked her head out of her door, calling to him. When she saw the plate in his hand, she came over to inspect it.

“Where’d you get the food?”

“Aunt Keow.”

Tongbai went back to her house and slammed the door.

At the end of the workday, the road into the housing development started to fill with people and vehicles. Children came back from school; workers made their way home. In the past half hour, Kampol had managed to take only two bites of food. His eyes were moist, he sniffled and whimpered. As people passed by, asking, he would reply that his father hadn’t come yet, but would soon. The more he repeated it, the harder he cried. A lot of people came over to console him. “Your grandma’s is a long way away. He’ll probably be back really late.” “If he can’t get a ride back, he’ll probably have to spend the night.” “Don’t cry. If he doesn’t come back tonight you can stay at my place.” “Hey, I already said he could stay with me…”

The sky grew darker. Kampol was taken to the grocery, where treats were put before him to get him to stop crying. His bags were next to him. He continued to sob. Sympathetic adults stood around, forming a crowd in the front of the store, as if he were a problem they had to help resolve. Most of them had something to say about what had put the child in this predicament. His mother shouldn’t have had an affair. His father shouldn’t have hit her. His mother shouldn’t have run off just to save her own skin. Why would his father leave with just the baby? Kampol was bleary-eyed. His sniffling turned into hiccups and he fell asleep like that, hiccupping, in somebody’s arms. Dum carried Kampol’s bags to his place, but when he returned, the child was gone. An older woman named Rampeuy, who had comforted Kampol until he fell asleep, had carried him to her place. With more than ten pairs of eyes looking on, she proudly went to look after the child’s sleeping arrangements.

Late that night, Kampol began screeching. It jolted the neighbourhood awake. Kampol got up from the mattress and felt his way in the dark. When the people in the house who had gotten up switched on the lights, Kampol made a dash for the door, flinging it wide and running outside. He called out to his father, his voice echoing down the street. Neighbours turned their lights on and opened their windows. Some cracked their doors and stuck their faces out, trying to see what was going on. Kampol ran down the street, heading for the front of the housing development. Rampeuy caught up to him, grabbed him by the arms, and sat him down. She consoled him for a long time, and then shepherded him back to her home. In the calm of the night, his whimpering cry could be heard throughout the neighbourhood.

Early in the morning, Kampol left the house where he had spent the night. He staggered over to the grocery store, looking for his bags. He then just stood there quietly until the shopkeeper turned and saw him.

“Have you seen my papa yet, Hia Chong?” Kampol asked.

“I haven’t seen him,” Chong said, hands on his hips, looking at Kampol.

“My bags are gone. They were right here yesterday.” Kampol pointed to the spot.

“Someone’s probably holding on to them for you. They’ll bring them back in a bit. Just sit down and wait.”

A couple of minutes later, Dum carried the two bags into the store, put them down next to Kampol, bought a pack of cigarettes, and left for home. A long succession of other people came in to do their shopping, and each one seemed to ask Kampol, “Your papa’s not back?” Kampol gave no answer, but the grown-ups didn’t press him to say any more. They had started getting used to the Kampol situation, and it was losing its novelty. But that wasn’t the case among the kids, some of whom were his classmates. It was Saturday and the kids were home, so his friends shared gossip from school with him. Kampol had a dance partner he’d been rehearsing with for weeks. The day before had been the day of the school fair, but Kampol hadn’t gone to school.

“She was right in the front. But when she found out you weren’t coming, she refused to dance. She wanted to get off the stage. Her parents clung to the front of the stage, telling her, ‘Dance, Sweetie, dance… You can just dance alone… I want to see you dance.’ Eventually she did dance. When it got to the part where you were supposed to lock arms and twirl, she just stood there, looking around confused, and then she started bawling. And she was wearing a fancy red skirt, and high heels too. Her mama had to go up and carry her off, and on top of all of it she dropped her shoes. She was full-on shrieking. It was hilarious. Tons of people were watching. Everyone was like, ‘You poor thing!’

“After the dancing there were games, with toys and treats for prizes, and there was free ice cream! The bigger kids did some comedy skits on the stage, and the teachers put on a play. Our own Mr Sanya played a kindergartner with pigtails.” Kampol’s friend was in stitches as he recounted the story. Without realising it, Kampol had forgotten about his father. Picturing the dance made him laugh hard with his classmate. His friend’s name was Prasit, but Kampol called him by his nickname: Oan. Oan heard his mother calling in the distance and ran off toward home. But he came back in a flash with a plate of food in his hand. They took turns having bites with the one spoon. They were having fun and their shared lunch was tasty. When the food ran out, Oan ran back for seconds. Then the two of them had a heart-to-heart about Kampol’s father while they sat watching TV in the grocery.

At eleven o’clock the crew under the poinciana tree yelled to Kampol… his father was back. The child leaped into the street, wailing and crying his father’s name. He ran toward him as if it were the climax of a movie. All eyes were on them, but the image wasn’t flawless because there was an extra in the shot – Oan, chasing behind.

His father reeked. The son reeked, too. They were wearing the same clothes as when they had parted. Father and son flew headlong into each other.

“Have you eaten anything?” his father asked.

“He ate,” Oan answered for him. “We ate breakfast together this morning.”

“How about yesterday? Did you get anything to eat?”

Kampol nodded.

“Who fed you?”

“For lunch, Aunt Aoi had me over to eat. For dinner, Aunt Tongbai was going to have me eat at her place, but the rice wasn’t done so Aunt Keow gave me some food.”

“Good. Where’d you sleep last night?” Kampol made a face, thinking… “At Aunt Peuy’s.”

“Good, that’s good. That’s what I figured. Now come here… over here.”

The father and son evaded people’s prying eyes by disappearing around the corner of a wall. Oan stubbornly followed them, but they didn’t pay him any mind.

“Listen, I still can’t find a place. I’ve been sleeping in the cab of the truck at night. You’ve got to stay here another day or two; then I’ll come get you and take you to our new home.”

Kampol, his face pinched, shook his head. “I’m coming with you. I’ll sleep in the truck’s cab, too!”

“You can’t… You’re better off here – there are compassionate people who’ll help you. You’ll find a place to eat and sleep. It’s just two more days. Do you understand?”

Kampol didn’t understand. He could only cry and cling tightly to his father. But his friend, Oan, understood. His eyes lit up as he imagined the fun they were going to have.

“Come sleep over at my place,” Oan told him. “Tell him to stay with me.” He looked at Kampol’s father.

The man only saw Oan now. “What’s your name? Whose kid are you?”

“I’m Oan, Mon’s son.”

“Mon, the seamstress? Good. Oan, get your parents to let your friend stay over for a couple of nights, all right? And when it’s time to eat, get him then, too. And let everybody know that I’m leaving Boy here for a couple of days, and ask them to help look after him, you understand?”

Excited and proud, Oan enthusiastically accepted.

“Boy… your papa’s going through a rough time. You’ve got to help me out. If you can’t be strong, then we’ll be in a real mess. I’m going to work both the day and night shifts and ask the boss if I can stay in the boarding room at the plant. It’s only two days. Monday evening, I’ll come back to get you. Stay here with your friend, all right? Have fun. OK, I’m going. Don’t cry. Aren’t you embarrassed to cry in front of your friend? OK… I’m off.”

Kampol’s father had come—and left—as if it were a dream. The neighbours hadn’t even gotten a chance to get a good look at him yet. When they saw the son walking back alone, the group under the poinciana waved him over. They crowded around and pummelled him with questions. Kampol barely answered, but Oan told them everything.

So it was finally clear and everybody understood: Kampol was no longer just a neighbourhood kid they saw around; he had become everybody’s burden.

“It’s no big deal,” someone said, “it’s only two days. Dum, you have plenty of room, don’t you?”

Dum was caught off guard, stricken momentarily mute, but eventually he managed to say, “Two days aren’t a problem. But what if his father bails for good? What if he takes the opportunity to ditch him? Then what are we going to do? I can’t take that on. Find someone else. Who was it that let him spend the night yesterday?”

“It hasn’t even been a minute, and you’re already talking like this,” Rampeuy said. “His father asked everybody to pitch in, not for one person to take on the responsibility alone. I helped out last night. Who’ll volunteer for tonight if Dum won’t?”

“But Dum has a point. What if his father bails?”

“We’ll deal with that when it happens.”

“What’s wrong with planning ahead?”

“Yeah, you all keep planning… I’ve got work to do. I’m leaving.”

“See? Everybody’s already hightailing it out of here. Look at all your sorry little faces. Who’s got a big enough heart to give a boy a place to eat and sleep?”

Oan watched the scene unfold, completely baffled. He tried to get a word in but couldn’t.

Tongbai finally said, “Fine, lunch today at my place. I’ll do dinner, too, if no one else is going to feed him.”

“Ha! ‘If no one’s going to feed him,’” somebody fumed. “It’s just a plate of food… There’s no need to throw a cheap shot at us.”

“Yeah, if you’re going to talk like that, why don’t you just take him in yourself?”

“Because it’s none of my damn business,” Tongbai replied. “If he were my relative, that’d be another thing. If somebody really feels like showing off their compassion I say go ahead.”

“What did you say? Who’s showing off?”

“All of you.”

“Whoa there…” Noon approached as they fought. Kampol and Oan stood on the sideline, riveted. The performers outnumbered the audience, and as the yelling and insults grew more explosive it became impossible to make out the words. Eventually, a jumble of blows ensued and when no one made an attempt to untangle the fight, it just went on, unrelenting for a long time, as everyone divided onto one side or the other. Chong, the grocer, finally couldn’t bear watching any longer from his store. He ran over, whispered something to Kampol and Oan, then ran back to his grocery.

“The police are coming!” the kids screamed. “Police! Police!”

It worked pretty well. Several people backed away, pulling other members of their crew with them. Worn out as they were, they still had enough energy to curse at each other awhile before they scattered, everyone going back to their own home.

Kampol and Oan went over and gave a report to Chong about the fight. Chong tried to give them his full attention but still had a hard time piecing the plot together. All he understood was that they had been arguing about Kampol, arguing about something like who would get to look after the boy.

“But Boy’s sleeping over at my place anyway,” Oan said. “His dad told him to stay with me… I tried to tell them but they wouldn’t listen. They just kept arguing. Someone said something about being a show-off, and someone else said, ‘Who are you calling a show-off?’ And then, boom, fists flying.”

The two boys took Kampol’s bags over to Oan’s house. When they poked their heads in, they saw Oan’s mother sleeping, folded over the sewing machine. Across the room, a wardrobe blocked the view of his parents’ bed. The mattress on the ground, where Oan slept, was cordoned off by a dark blue curtain. Their food cupboard backed up to one side of the mattress. The kids put the bags down next to Oan’s bed and went into the kitchen to look for something to eat. They made two plates with rice and some leftovers from breakfast. Once full, they spent some time jumping on the mattress, going over who was fighting with whom and what move they were using. Then they played Monopoly until they fell asleep.

Oan’s mother, Mon, woke up in a panic at three in the afternoon. She had to resume working, but stumbled into the kitchen area first. She didn’t even notice the two kids asleep on the mattress. There was nothing left in the kitchen – the rice pot was empty and the cupboard was cleaned out. She stood for a moment, dazed, then lit the gas stove, poured some water in the kettle, and placed it over the flame. Only when she stepped out of the kitchen area did she catch sight of her son and the other boy sprawled out, sleeping. She looked at them for a quick second but then turned away; she was in a bind and didn’t have time to pay attention to anything else. She went over to the grocery, bought a pack of instant noodles, then hurried back and dealt with her lunch – all in just fifteen minutes. Then she took up her seat at the sewing machine again, foot pumping, hands pressing, lips pursed, brow furrowed, and eyes focused as the machine whirred.

Just before five o’clock that afternoon, Mon arranged the clothes into their separate bags and hustled out of the house. Her husband had another sewing machine set up in front of the bank in the market. They patched and mended all kinds of garments. Mon took some of the clothes that people dropped off with her husband, worked on them at home, and then brought them back at pickup time. This afternoon, she was so frantic that her hands shook, but she was too late. Two customers had shown up early for their clothes. Oan’s father had asked them to wait a couple of minutes, but they couldn’t stay. They made new appointments to pick up their clothes the following day.

Mon sighed and sat down, deflated. “We’re out of money,” she said.

“Yeah, yeah, I know. But two more people are supposed to pick up today. They’ll probably be here in a bit.”

The couple slowly packed up. They carried the sewing machine over to leave it in the stir-fry-and-curry joint next to the bank for the night and returned to wait for the customers.

“It’s almost six,” Mon said.

“Yeah… let’s wait a little more.”

“Give me fifty and I’ll go get food.”

“Where am I supposed to get fifty baht? Go home and get the rice ready. I’ll pick up something to go with it and be home in a bit.”

When Mon got home, she saw that they were out of rice, too. She went outside and sat in front of the house, sighing.

Oan dashed over. “Mama, can I have money for some candy?” He had told Kampol he would treat.

“Go take a shower right now,” she scolded. “And make sure you get the grime behind your ears. Go!”

Oan and Kampol showered together, playing to their hearts’ content before emerging from the bathroom – they then smeared their faces white with baby powder. They went into the kitchen and looked in the rice pot. Seeing no rice, they turned and opened the food cupboard – nothing. The used bowls and plates from their lunch were still soaking in the tub out back. Oan ran to the front of the house.

“Mama, can we cook some rice?”

“Come here,” his mother called him over. “Go to Hia Chong’s shop. Tell him your mama wants to buy a bag of rice.”

Oan nodded, but then she remembered that they had nothing to eat the rice with.

“Wait, Oan, come back here first. Ask Hia Chong for two packs of Mama noodles, too. Let’s have instant noodles tonight.” “Can we get a pack for my friend?”

As soon as his mother nodded, the two ran off at full speed to Chong’s shop.

At the store, Dum was bargaining with Chong, but unsuccessfully. Chong only shook his head, leaving Dum to grumble as he went to attend to other customers. One customer was asking to get fish sauce and eggs on credit. When he heard Chong agree, Dum threw even more of a tantrum. He was making a lot of noise, slurring his words and getting tonguetied, stumbling and swaying as he tried to walk.

“C’mon, one last bottle,” Dum begged, following Chong, who had gone toward the back to grab something for a customer. “Enough, Dum. I can’t give you another one,” Chong said.

“Just one more, c’mon.”

“It’s already been two bottles today. I said enough is enough. You still owe me two hundred from before, plus over a hundred just today… Wait, what are you doing? You can’t just grab… Give it back. If you’re going to act like this, I’m going to have to quit playing nice.”

“C’mon, just this one. You let other people put things on their tabs…”

“Hey kids, what would you two like?”

“Mama sent me for a bag of rice and three packs of Mama, on her tab.”

Chong smiled drably, shaking his head. He was fed up, but obliged, turning to fetch the stuff for them. Rice he had, but the Mama noodles were out.

“Tell your mother this is the last time. She’s got to settle up her tab before I’ll let her add more.”

“Look at that… you even let kids buy on credit. I just want one more bottle.”

Chong perused the list of accounts in his ledger and sighed a number of times. He’d been in a good mood this morning. Given all the unpaid balances, he had made a resolution that he wouldn’t give out any liquor, beer, or cigarettes on credit for the day – he would allow only the necessities. And he got to allow a lot of necessities: it seemed like every wallet in the neighbourhood was thin. He’d moved a fair amount of inventory, but the sum of money in the register was meagre. Still, he’d mostly kept up his resolution: he let every customer buy on credit, except for liquor, beer, and cigarettes. Alas, he had already succumbed to Dum’s doggedness.

Dum had been stationed in front of the grocery for over an hour. He was fuming, bitter because during the confusion of the brawl—when nobody could tell who was who—someone had yanked a fistful of hair out of his head. The middle of his crown, which used to have a scattering of hair still attached, was now just bare, reddish scalp. He successfully pleaded his case for whiskey on credit by displaying his sore head to Chong, telling him how he probably wouldn’t be able to sleep that night if he didn’t have a little alcohol to soothe his pain. Chong gave in, handed him a bottle, and told him to go home. Less than an hour later, though, Dum was back again. He ranted until Chong caved and let him have another bottle.

With his resolution twice broken, Chong was in no mood to smile or kid around with anyone. When Dum showed his face for the third time, he started a mental countdown to the moment he would throw him out of the store. But when his eyes fell on Dum’s raw head, he contained himself. Everyone in the neighbourhood had been having a pretty rough day.

***

As for Tongbai, she went home still steaming about the scuffle and refused to cook or clean. When her husband came home, she had another round of arguing. Her husband announced that he wouldn’t give her any money, so she declared that she wouldn’t feed him. In the end, her husband ran over to the grocery to buy a pack of Mama noodles, and a minute later she followed to get some Mama for herself on credit. And Tongbai and her husband weren’t the only ones to argue that night. The big fight set off at least two other family spats, which could be heard all the way down to the store.

“He’s out of instant noodles,” Oan told his mother.

Mon sighed. “Go back again. Get ten baht worth of eggs.”

“Hia Chong said before you get anything more on credit, the old tab’s got to be paid off.” Mon slipped into the house without bothering to listen to the end. After she made the rice, she came back out and sat, chin on palm, as before. The sky was losing its light. All her hope depended on her husband. After a while, though, another solution dawned on her. She went inside to rummage through the bag of clothes on the table. There was a pair of pants from a customer who lived close by. She could change the zipper in a heartbeat. Oan went into the kitchen, but came back out again to remind his mother that there was nothing to eat, only rice.

“Yeah, hold on… don’t go anywhere. In a bit, I’ll need you to go and deliver these pants for me.”

Fifteen minutes later she was done. Visibly relieved, she put the pants in a bag. “Take this to Aunt Tongbai. Tell her it’s twenty baht. And on your way back, get ten baht of eggs.”

The kids ran out. A short while later they came back and Oan told his mother, “Aunt Tongbai and her husband are fighting. She told him, ‘Give me twenty for the zipper. That time you needed your pants patched, I paid for it.’ Her husband said back to her, ‘Give you twenty? How about I give you a kick instead?’

So Aunt Tongbai told us, ‘You two go back home now. I’ll come and pay your mama in a bit.’”

Mon didn’t say anything. She could only switch the hand that was propping her chin, from the left to the right. Oan began to worry that they wouldn’t have anything for his friend to eat. The two sat down, limp, next to Mon.

“If my papa were here, we could buy some food on credit no problem because my papa’s already paid off everything he owes,” Kampol said.

“I don’t owe anything personally, but I’m scared to go,” Oan said.

“Me neither. Should we give it a try?” Kampol said, hoping to rally his friend. “We can tell Hia Chong that my papa’s going to pay on Monday.”

“Sure, let’s give it a go. But you talk.”

The two of them got up and shyly made their way to the store. Mon watched them go, her gaze hanging inertly in their direction. Her husband, it was clear, was no longer any hope for her. By now he had probably put his empty stomach in the care of some friend.

It was only seven thirty, but Chong was getting ready to close up the shop. After seeing Dum walk by again, booze in hand, he felt worn out and had lost his will to keep the store open. He wanted the battered day to end swiftly so he could start over with a new one.

The last customers popped up before he locked the gate. Two pairs of gleaming eyes were on him.

Slumping, Chong grabbed four eggs and slipped the bag through the grille.

The children sprinted off, giggling. The sound of them slowly faded. ◇