"At first I ignored him," Granddad said. "But he wouldn't shut up about it. I knew the boy had a pen gun. I'd seen it. I fetched it more for a threat than anything else. Just to bluff him. Shut him up. You know? But it got him even more excited when he saw the gun. 'Go on,' he said. 'I know you don't believe me. Go on you coward, do it.'"
"And you did it," I said.
The boy was released and the old man was charged with accidental homicide. The Mail let me write it up as a personal account. The medusa didn't like that. She took out all my adjectives and dumbed the piece down but it was still my story: How I solved a case the police had closed. There's no way to describe how that feels. It should have been the happiest day of the week. I bought a five-liter cask of Mont Clair red to celebrate and two packets of Tim Tam biscuits. I imagined we'd all sit around the kitchen table getting pickled, laughing at Mair who turned into a completely different person just from getting her lips wet with booze.
We had a small shop right beside the campus of Chiang Mai University. Most nights you could hear the high-pitched squeals of practicing cheerleaders - some of them female - and the late night drunken revelers careening their motorcycles into flower beds. Serious scholars retired to Starbucks for peace and chocolate croissants. Education had changed since I studied there. Our shop didn't sell much: packet noodles, rice crackers, mosquito coils, shampoo, beer, that type of thing. We were a sort of rustic 7-Eleven. Mair had put in a few washing machines for the students to leave off their laundry and they'd invariably pick up a snack and a drink at the same time. And we were right beside a condominium full of farang, the type of white-meat foreigners who couldn't imagine a night of cable TV without half a dozen Singha beers. That was our customer base. We wouldn't make it into Forbes but we did all right. The bungalow we grew up in, the only home we'd ever known, was at the back.
I'd taken a shortcut through the university, always an iffy move because the guards often left early to avoid traffic. It wasn't yet four fifty but the side gates were shut. The padlocked chain was loosely wrapped. Lean Thai students could squeeze through the gap; overweight large-boned rapists could not. The girls could sleep easy in their dorms. I parked my motorcycle beside the guard post and inserted myself between the gates. A few more pizza dinners and I'd have to start driving the long way round.
I knew something was wrong when I saw my granddad Jah sitting on the curbstones in front of our shop. He was wearing his undervest and shorts and had his bare feet in the gutter. Neither the attire nor the setting were unusual. He liked to sit beside the road. Over the past few years, his reason for living had become the scrutiny of every vehicle that passed in front of our shop: study the number plate, look at the condition of the bodywork and glare threateningly at the driver. It was evening rush hour, his favorite time, but his head was bowed now and he was missing some fascinating evening traffic.
I asked if he was all right but he shrugged and pointed his thumb back over his shoulder. Granddad Jah wasn't a great communicator and I had no idea what the gesture meant. He might have been telling me about the two customers waiting in the shop with nobody there to serve them. Heaven forbid he'd get up off his haunches and do a bit of work for a change. No. Too many passing cars to observe for that. I called out to Mair but nobody came so I served the customers myself and went through the concrete yard to our kitchen. I walked in on a scene reminiscent of a military court-martial.
At one end of the kitchen table sat my sister, Sissi, who at one time had been my elder brother, Somkiet. Filling up the space at the other end of the table was my current brother, Arny. He was what they referred to as a bodybuilder and this evening his T-shirt was so tightly strained across his muscles it looked as if it had been inked on. He had a wad of tissues scrunched in his right hand and it was clear he'd been crying.
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