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“All the best to you!” that old man said while patting my shoulder.

“Thank you, Phi.”

I gave him a hearty smile. I am surely will missed him. He was a good man and had helped me many times. I hope we would meet again someday in the better place and picture. Cold wind suddenly blew and started hitting my skin so I tighten my jacket. I took a deep breath before walked down through the path to the bus station. The sun just rose by the time I am out from that building. Finally I am going home, if I still could call that place home. I do not really know nor could be sure.

The road was quite deserted. Being at the little outskirt of the province, there was not much vehicles that passing by, only one or two people who passed me all along the way. The golden rays peeking through the trees branches, gave me a little warm from the freezing temperatures. After nearly twenty minutes of walks, I could see the bus station not far from where I was now. I quicken my steps. Rackety voices started enter my ears as I was getting near.

Opposites from all the way through this place, the bus station was quite crowded. Even though this bus station was not big, seems like these residents decided to go to the city or other districts today. I stood along the line to the counter. Am I excited to going home? Of course I am. But there was still some doubt in my heart.

“One ticket to Si Phum, please,” I said to the woman behind the counter.

“It’s 74 Baht,” she said while stamped the ticket.

“Khop khun khrap.” I took the ticket and change.

The bus that would take me to my destination was not far from the counter. I climbed the bus and took my seat near the window. There were still some minutes left before the bus departed. Soon enough one by one the seats occupied. Being at that place, I rarely did an outside labor. So, as the driver started the engine, I took the chance to give the eye to this environment for the last time in the rest of my live.

You might have guessed where I was before? Yes, you are right. I was at the correctional facility. I have released today after spent my 1,095 days there. Yes, I kept counting day by day, hour by hour until today. Getting nearer the date, the joy in my heart got increased along the worry.

Why would not I? Being away from the one you love as an inmate, all kind of negative thinking were jumbled in my mind.

Let’s not talked about it for now!

You might had been curious what kind of crime that I did to deserved three years sentence. Then, let me told you my story.

It was feels like yesterday the unfortunate event that will have changed my live happened to me. I was 28 years old ordinary white-collar worker at that time. I am just an ordinary man from an ordinary family who tried to make a living. That day, I stayed late at the office for some over time finished my work. It was Friday’s night. I remembered it clearly because that day was the 2nd anniversary of my marriage.

It was a little over eight by the time I exited the office. I walk to the rot si daeng’s gathering area while texting my spouse that I was heading home. I just put my phone inside my pocket when I heard some screaming from a barely lighted alley not far from my company. It was a woman’s voice.

There was no single soul around me since this area was mostly offices or companies. Let’s not forget that night was Friday, all workers absolutely wanted to reached their home early. Am I going to turn a blind eye in this situation? Without much thought I walked to the source of voice. You could call me playing heroes here, but for me it was humanity.

A faint muffled cried could be heard when I enter the alley. As I walked further there was some pleading sound.

“Please…. No…. Don’t…. Let me go! Help…. Ugh…. Don’t….”

It was a young woman’s voice. I walked faster and when I arrived on the source of sound, the views was shocking me. There was a young lady who lay beneath some man. That man tried to forces himself to her. That young lady tried to push the man but failed. Her blouse was slightly ripped. Her skirt pulled higher. It was sexual assault.

“HEY! STOP IT!” I said.

The man turned his head to me. Still not released his grip form the young lady.

“Let her go!”

I moved closer to them. Low growl could be heard from that man. Suddenly he took out a penknife. Before I could process anything, he launched himself to me. His penknife almost cut my stomach. I could seizure his attacks and made his penknife fell. Before he could take it back, I kicked it further.

Angry eyes could be seen. He started his attack me in no time. He pushed me down and choked my throat. I tried to push him, but he choked my harder. I tried to grab anything that could help me. My hand brushed on something cold and hard object. I tried grabbed it and hit his head.

“Aaargghhh!”

That was all I could hear before the grip on my throat loosen and his body fell down beside me. I think I have just knocked him out. I moved my body from his side and check his pulse. Yes, he was passed out. I stood and searched for the young lady. She was still there, curled her body and crying. Terrified and worried. Of course she was. The events that just fallen to her was truly shook her mind and soul.

“Hey, it’s okay. I’m not gonna hurt you. You are safe now,” I said when she moved her body back in fear. “Don’t be afraid…. I just want to help you.” I took off my jacket and wrapped it to her body. “I’ll call the police. Okay?”

As she nodded her head I pulled my phone and called the police. Not long after they came and the assailant still unconscious. They brought both the young lady and the assailant to the hospital. I went with the officer to the police station to give my testimony.

Two days later, when I was watering plant, a police car stopped in front of my fences. My spouse who was also there gave me puzzled look. I had no idea that their intention came to my home that morning was to arrested me. Blood drained instantly from my spouse’s face just as one of them said their purpose. My head was spinning.
How could they arrest me when I was the one who saved the young lady from that man? Did these people out of their mind?

“Khun, please followed us to the station,” one of the police officer said to me.

“What happened here? Why you wanted to take my husband there?”

“The man whose his head hit by your husband are in comatose state now. We come to arrest him for the violence’s act. You can bring your attorney as your company there. We will take our leave,” he said.

“But…”

Before he spoke anything else, I cut it. “Babe, I’ll be alright. Just give a call to Tent. I’ll wait you there, okay?” I pecked his forehead before joined the police officer into the car. Little did I know that was the last day I got a glimpse my home.

I smiled at him for assurance. I know he will do as I said. Tent is my best friend who worked as an attorney and has his own law firm. I was glad to have him as my best friend. He helped me with all his might to clear my indictment. So was Jorm, his wife. She stayed with my spouse through my trials. Sadly, in the middle of my third trial, the prosecutor informed us that the assailant has died few minutes ago.

My world crumbled down. Both mine and Tent’s body turn languid. Nothing we could do this time. The self-defense act now turned into homicide. My charge was final. The judge sentence my three years served in correctional facility. They directly took me to the facility. I have not even said good-bye to my husband nor saw his face. My mind got numb. Everything seemed blur to me.

Oh! My bus just entered the terminal. I did not realize an hour-long drive was over. Let me go down and searched for songthaew first before continued my story. My eyes wandered, took a look clearly to the shared-taxi that heading to my neighborhood. Ah! That one!

I choose the one that still did not has any passenger, the driver was nowhere to found. I sat at the middle, back-facing my home direction. Truth being told I felt giddy yet jittery now. I clasped my hand tight.

“Hey! Is it you, young man?” an old man voice entered my ears.

I raised my head only to meet a familiar face. It was the uncle whose red car I rode occasionally back then. I gave him a wai and smile. “Sawatdee khrap, Lung.”

“Watdee,” he said. “Just get released today?”

“Khrap, Lung,”

“How’s life?”

“It could be better, Lung.”

“Oh! What’s wrong?”

Before I could answer him the passengers started filled the rot daeng. My answered could be waited. For now I guessed it was the time for me continued my story. Where we were before? Oh, I brought to the facility directly. It was hard of course to live along with the inmates. There I met Phi Third, the old man who sent me off this morning. He was the correctional officer for my wing.

I shared my cell with three other inmates. Luckily they were a good people. I took barista and carpenter’s training there. That explained why I did not do an outside labor.Maybe later if no company willing to hire me, I will open a coffee shop or a workshop.

Three years was long time for me. In those long days, Tent and Jorm, or any one of them visited me. Not every month, maybe three or four. I knew how busy they were in here. Besides that, it took two hour drive back and forth if they visited me. I didn’t want to burden them. Last time they visited me was two weeks ago.

How about my husband? He just visited me fourth time, lesser than Tent and Jorm. I could not handle watching his crestfallen face when he came visited me. It was hurt me so much. Only watching tears fell from his eyes was enough to add my guilt. I failed him as a husband. I failed my vows to him when I took his hand as my husband.

My husband was three years younger than me. He was a beautiful man with golden heart. I might say that he was an angel that God had sent to me. But, here I was just brought sorrow and pain for him. I met him seven years ago when he did his internship in my company and I just work there for a year and half. His origin was not here. His family was in Bangkok. So, basically he has no one here.

His zealous and good nature made me fall for him. I never fell for men, only him. Sure I had dates girls but what I felt for him, I never experience before. We both getting closer on company outing, later we date. We kept dating even though he back to Bangkok. We met occasionally when there are holidays or long weekend. It was either I go there or he came here. I even took a leave to meet him on his graduation’s day. Called me smitten, I do not care, cause I know he was one the one for me. And I regretted my decision.

At that day I met his parents and brothers. He invited me to his family dinner and introduced me as his boyfriend. Shocked was an understatement. His parents were being enraged. Being conservative, they could not accept that their youngest son was fall for a man and poor orphan too. Oh, yes, I am an orphan. I do not have any relatives in this country. My mother died when she give birth to me while my father passed away when I was on my second years of university. They do felt some funds for me, but from that moment I did not want to depended on it or from that money, so I took part time jobs since then to pay my tuition and daily needs. And I am not poor. I could give good living for both me and him. Maybe not luxury but I will try to provide his every need.

“How could you have a relationship with a man? Are you out of your mind? We didn’t raise you to become this sick!”

“I’m not sick, Por! Am I wrong to fall for him?”

“Yes, you are, Luk! Why you could not become normal child like your older brothers? You should have being like them! Date then married a girl, not a man!” his mother said.

“But this is me, Mae. I love him, Mae Por. He is the one for me. Please, please accept me as who I am.”

On the day that should have been a happy day for him, he fights with his parents and it was because of me. At the end, his parent disowned him. I tried convincing him to calm down and talked to his parents. But he has made up his mind. That night he packed his things and moved out from there. He did not speak to his parents from then on. Gladly his brothers could accept his decision and still concerned him as their family. He kept in touch with them. They even came to our wedding. I am very grateful for that.

After being disowned, he stayed in Bangkok for few days to finish some papers and then came to Chiang Mai with me. He moved in to my late parents’ house, my house. He started applying job to some company here. Later I know that he has let his chance to work on a good company go so he could be here with me. It was like I had snatched the warm of family and bright future from him.

This kind of situation pained me but I know he hurt more. Did he turn into some depression? No. He composed himself. He has a strong heart. I would not love him if this was not one of his qualities. I know had missed his parents sometimes, but complied with their decision. It might take a long time, but he believed that one day they would accept his kind of love. He shed his tears in silent then changed that with bright smile.

I vowed to myself that I will give only happiness for him. I will fill the void in his heart. Pamper him. Shower him with my love and respect.

A month after he moved to this city, he got a job. He was beyond happy that he could support himself. Not that I had any objection. I was capable to support both of us. Again who am I to prevent him from the experience to felt independent and dependable? All I could do was stand beside him and held his hands, give him courage. Put my hand on his back, prevented him from falling. Give my shoulder when he needs to leaned on.

I could not help to smile while reminisce our memories. How he get mad when I forgot about our dating anniversary added with I was late going home that day, made him wait for two hours so we could had nice dinner that he had prepared. It took me two days for asking his forgiveness. How happy he was when finally I proposed to him after almost two years of dating. I really missed that moment. How he smiled either cheeky or sheepish one, his pouted lips, laughs, pleaded, clumsiness, childish acts, or how he looked when get angry. This longing was killing me slowly. I missed him, so much.

“So, what happened to you, Luk?” the driver uncle’s voice could be heard by all the passengers.

“I don’t know how I live after this, Lung?”

“Oh? How is so? Going back to your husband, of course, continue your life. You are going home to meet him, right?”

“That’s the thing that I’m not sure, Lung,” I said. A sigh escaped from my mouth. Yes, this uncle knew me and my husband. We rode his rot-daeng together sometimes.

“Why is that?” asked an aunt.

“Yes. Why is that, Khun? Did you and your partner not in a good-term or divorce?” asked a woman.

“No, we’re not. It’s just too complicated,” I said in mournful voice.

“Do tell! Maybe we can help you to sort the thing out,” came from a middle-age man.

How should I tell them? The thing is, for this one year I did not get any contact from him. He did not pay me a visit. I tried to ask about his doing from Tent or Jorm when they came, all they said was he was doing well and get busy with work. But it was for freaking a year! 365 days! Why I am not just called him through the phone booths in this facility? I could not bring myself. I was beyond afraid to hear his broken down voice when I called him. All I could do was sending him mails. Yes. You read it right. I sent him a mail not an e-mail. I sent him a lot, but I got not even a single mail as a reply.

“He do visited you, right? When you still there?” driver uncle asked.

“Visited him where?”

“I was on correctional facility before,” I said.

“He saved a young lady from sexual assault but unfortunately the culprit was accidentally died in his hand,” uncle said.

Gasp escaped from these passengers mouths.

“You mean the cased around three years ago?” asked another aunt.

“Yes, it was me, Bpaa.”

“I sorry to hear that,” said the woman.

“Poor lad,” the aunt said.

The middle-age man patted my shoulder before he asked, “He keep visiting you, right?”

“At first yes, but this year he didn’t visits me.”

“Oh? But you had called him, right? I heard they can give call to the family who stayed outside.”

I shook my head. “I don’t have the courage to give him a call. All I could do is sent him mails.”

“He didn’t send you a reply?”

I gave them a faint smile. “Sadly, he didn’t.”

“Not even one mail?”

“Not even one. All I know from my friend is he was busy with work.”

“But he know right that today you’re going home, Khun?”

“He should be known,” I paused, “I had sent him a letter about my released to him three weeks ago.”

“Then, maybe he was really that busy, Luk,” the aunty said.

“Yes, just stay positive,” said the other aunty.

“I don’t know, Bpaa. I don’t even know am I still had the right to hoping.”

“If he truly loves you, he will be with you no matter what happen, Khun,” the woman said.

This was the thing that weighting my heart for all those one year behind bars. On my last letter I had state something on this matter. I faced the driver uncle. “Lung, can you help me with something?”

“What is it, Luk?”

“When we about to reach my home, could you look at the flame tree that grow in my yard for me, please?”

“Okay, but what’s problem with that tree?”

“If you don’t see a yellow ribbon tied on its trunk, please don’t stop the rot-daeng,” I said solemnly.

“Oh? Why so? You don’t want to go home?” he asked.

“Don’t you want to reunite with your husband, Khun?”

“I do.”

“Then what is the ribbon do with you going home or not, Luk?” asked the aunty.

“It’s matter a lot, Bpaa. If my husband still wanted me in his life, I asked him to tie yellow ribbon on the flame tree. If he didn’t do that, it’s means I should continue my life without him.”

I might have released from the prison, but truthfully I am still a prisoner. I still trapped in this dark room full of guilt and insecurity. Now, my fate was in the owner of my heart’s hand. He was the one who held the key set me free.

All I need was this one sign. Just one yellow band tied to the trunk. But, will he do that? Why should he do that to the man who only brought bad luck for him? A jinx! After all who was in their right mind wants to spend the rest of their life with an ex-convict cum murderer? Bad mouthed by everyone.

I wanted to keep my hope high but I could not make myself to expect nor believe.

“I believe he still loves you and waiting for you to come home now, Khun.”

“True. I do believe that so, Luk.”

“Hear what they say, Luk. Your husband will do what you have asked him to do.”

“Khop khun mak khrap, thuk khon.”

“Now, how about we look at the ribbon for you? What you say, thuk khon?” asked the aunty.

“Sure!”

“Yes. We will look at it for you.”

I could not help but to smiled to these good people who just know me few minutes ago. And now, without my knowledge we have reached my neighborhood. I could felt some flip in my stomach. I know I am such a coward who could not even bear to see the sign by myself. I only hope God give me His best provision.

“It his house still far from here?” asked the woman.

“No, Khun. Just after that interchange,” the driver uncle answered to her.

“Keep your faith, Khun,” said the man.

I nodded my head. I closed my eyes and held my hands tight. My heart is pounding like it would jump from my chest. The sound is so loud and I am sure these people could hear its sound clearly. I kept chanting my prayer in my mind. I could feel the rot daeng was took the turn. It is getting near now.

After feels like hours, suddenly, another loud voice entered my ears. These people were screaming. I did not dare to open my eyes. Until the middle-age man who sat beside me shook my shoulder.

“Khun, it’s there!”

“Huh?”

“Look at that, Luk!”

I still did not get what they said. What I only saw in this rot daeng were happy faces. The woman even shed a tear.

“Look at that direction!”

I turned my head to the left. My eyes now like saucers. I was gaping like a fish. Tears started forming on the corner of my eyes. Now I know, the loud voices before were not screaming. These people were cheering for me.

On the flame tree not far from here, there were hundred yellow ribbons tied to its trunks. Looked so beautiful mixed with the green leaves. He still wants me. My heart felt like feathers now. There were no big stone of guilt and insecurity anymore.

“We’ve told you, Luk! He still loves you!”

“Khop khun mak khrap, thuk khon. Khop khun mak krap!”

Now, the rot daeng stopped right in front of my house. My body was still shaking. I tried to stand up, but it was feels like I was boneless.

“Oh? Why are you still here? Just go down and meet your husband! Don’t make him wait!”

I reached my pocket to take my money. But before I could do that the driver uncle cut me.

“No need, Luk! It’s your happy day! Look at it as my merit. Go, Luk!”

“Khop khun mak khrap, Lung!”

“Khrap!”

“I hope only good things happened to your life, Luk!” said the aunty.

“Su su!” said the others.

“Khop khun mak khrap, Bpaa. Khop khun mak khrap, thuk khon!”

I gave them wai then step down from the rot daeng. The passengers waved their hands to me as the rot daeng drove away. I took deep breath and turned my body. What I saw in front of me bring my tears. My hazel eyes meet his brown orbs. There he is my husband, standing by the fences. Smile adorning his beautiful face. I could not do anything but to smile back to him. The dimples that all these time hidden, now start to showing in my face.

I walked closer as he opened his arm and I engulfed him with hug. I landed a kiss on his hair. I still could not believe finally has this man again in my arms.

“I’m home, Babe.”

“Welcome home, Phi.”