Mike sat in his room deep in thought. He’d been working hard all day with a well drilling crew in a remote village ten kilometres from where he was billeted. This was his fifth month away from home. He’d taken a year off from his MA studies in response to a TV ad seeking volunteers to drill wells and provide clean water to villages in this Asian country.
He’d been moved as he watched videos of villagers who bathed their animals and themselves in the village pond and washed their clothes in that same pond. He saw young girls drawing water for cooking and drinking from the same source, and heard of the resulting health problems arising from these practices. He’d phoned to volunteer after viewing those videos and made arrangements to defer his studies for the one year required of volunteers.
Now he’d been on site with the drilling crew for a month and could count a total of three villages where they’d drilled and commissioned wells in the five months spent in the country.
He’d grown to love these people immensely. In spite of conditions most westerners would find difficult to deal with villages he’d worked in had a unique atmosphere of joy, and he’d rarely found anyone without a smile on their face as they went about their work. They seemed oblivious to the hardships of village life and the results of bad health practices as they sang while working the rice paddies and tending their animals during the day.
Of an evening animated happy conversation came from the mud and thatch huts as they enjoyed family meals together, and as the gong sounded huts would empty as the villagers headed for the village square to enjoy singing and dancing around a blazing fire until late evening.
Mike had sat with the well drilling crews on the periphery of these nightly celebrations on many occasions before they boarded their vehicles back to the larger township where they were accommodated and had an equipment base. He’d silently mouthed the sounds as villagers sang, and wondered what sentiments they expressed. He’d purchased a children’s language book in an attempt to understand and communicate, but had little time after a hard days work to study this new language. He’d usually fall asleep with the book in his hand only to find it on the floor next morning when he awoke.
His attempts at practicing rudimentary language on Surapee caused laughter as she patiently explained what he’d said in her language, and asked him what he’d attempted to say. Now Surapee had been hired as a secretary to the NGO running the water drilling project. She’d been educated abroad and had an excellent command of English. After hearing his sometimes alarming attempts to communicate in her language Surapee advised Mike not to attempt anything further until he’d taken professional lessons and could be turned loose to communicate without grossly insulting the villagers he was serving.
“Would you teach me?” inquired Mike. “I’ll pay you.
Surapee looked hurt. It would be unthinkable for her to ask for money when this young man had come half way around the world to help her people better their lives.
“I’ll help you learn, but I won’t take money!” Surapee said determinably with a look that told Mike he’d said something out of line.
When she saw the look of bewilderment on Mike’s face Surapee understood he’d not meant to be patronizing as most of her countrymen believed westerners were toward Asians. She felt sorry for misunderstanding him and thoughtfully studied his face. Her young woman’s discerning mind saw in Mike a sensitive and decent young man, and something stirred inside which she quickly dismissed. She and he could be nothing more than work colleagues and possibly friends, but nothing more.
And this evening as Mike sat in his room deep in thought he struggled with his own feelings. He’d never met anyone like Surapee before. She had the grace and poise all Asian women possess as a birthright, and her gentleness and exemplary lifestyle appealed to him. Surapee was also a breathtakingly beautiful young woman and he’d discovered she was about his own age. He was not sleeping well these days and couldn’t quite put his finger on the cause, and he’d found himself looking at his watch all day wishing for the evening when he’d be back at base and taking his language lessons.
Then it dawned on him. He was in love with Surapee! This came as a shock to him and he began to explore this discovery to see how it would affect his life. What would his parents say if he told them he’d fallen in love with a person not of his own culture? Would they accept her? He loved his family very much and didn’t want to destroy the close bond his family enjoyed.
Then he thought of Surapee’s family. They were very conservative and proud of their own cultural heritage. He’d sensed they genuinely appreciated efforts the NGO’s and volunteers were making to better the lot of their fellow countrymen and they’d approved of Mike’s interest in learning their language. But Mike had also sensed a reserve which he as a foreigner could not penetrate.
Mike was miserable. The more he thought of Surapee the more he loved her. And the more he thought about the situation he couldn’t see any possibility of bringing them both together. He also didn’t know how Surapee felt about him. Her relationship with him appeared to be purely plutonic. He had to find out how she felt before moving on to deal with these other difficult situations.
So the next day Mike put out even more effort than usual on the well drilling equipment hoping to take his mind off the issue troubling him. The rest of the crew members noticed Mike’s burst of energy and began teasing him.
“Are you trying to wear yourself out?” laughed his friend Jake.
Mike responded angrily and Jake raised his eyebrows in surprise. Mike never lost his cool so this was quite out of character. The rest of the crew paused to study Mike and that made him more irritated. Jake signalled them to get on with their work and put his hand on Mike’s shoulder.
“If you want to talk about it I’m available.” Jake gave Mike a pat on the back and returned to his work.
Later on at lunch time Mike apologized to the crew for losing his temper. They laughed it off and slapped him on the back in friendly acceptance. Jake collected his lunch and sat silently beside Mike.
“Sorry I was such an idiot,” said Mike ruefully.
Jake raised his hand in acceptance and continued to eat his lunch thoughtfully.
“I’ve had some things on my mind that continue to bother me and they don’t seem to have a solution,” said Mike at last.
“Why don’t you ask her?” said Jake.
Mike dropped his lunch in surprise and turned to face Jake. “Who? What?”
“Surapee! And you know what!” said Jake matter-of-factly.
“How did you know? Said Mike in shocked surprise.
Jake continued eating for some time before answering. Finally he turned to Mike and looked him in the eye. “Mike the whole crew watched this thing develop between you and Surapee. We can’t figure out how she feels about you, but it’s plain to all of us you are infatuated with Surapee. Your eyes light up every time you see her and you’ve been acting strangely ever since you started those language lessons. The only one who hasn’t seen this coming is yourself, and it looks like you’ve finally woken up!”
“This is my advice. You need to talk with her and get this relationship in perspective. If she responds then that’s great. If not, then you’d better take a reality check and turn your attentions elsewhere before it affects your work further. A man with his mind not fully on the job is a danger to the rest of the crew!”
Mike looked at Jake with his mouth open in surprise. Everyone knew his secret! Did Surapee know too? He felt foolish and looked at Jake in desperation. “What will I say to the guys? They must think I’m a total idiot!”
Jake laughed and put his hand on Mike’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about the guys, they’re on your side and hope it works out for you. Actually they envy you because Surapee is gorgeous in looks and personality and they just wish it was one of them. But you need to be realistic Mike. Surapee’s parents are very conservative and patriotic and you’re going to have a hard time convincing them you’re not one of those decadent western youth trying to take advantage of their daughter. I think they would want her to marry within their own community so don’t build your hopes up too high.”
Mike looked sober, but nodded his head in agreement.
“You’re right. I’ll talk with Surapee this evening if I can work up courage to do so, and if she doesn’t share my feelings I’ll stop the language lessons and back off. If she has any feelings for me we’ll deal with the parents. Not only do I have to face Surapee’s parent’s issues but I also have to find out how my own parents would react to an Asian daughter in law.
Mike took Jake’s hand and shook it vigorously. “Thank you Jake, you’ve been a good friend when I really needed to have one to talk to.”
“Now, back to work!” said Jake, dusting himself off and summoning the crew back to work.
After work had finished at sunset the crew chatted with village leaders for a while and then headed for their accommodation in the nearby town. The crew were in high spirits as water had been found at a reasonable depth and tomorrow would be taken up fitting solar panels to provide power to the electric pump they’d install.
They’d need a couple of days to supervise villagers appointed to look after and service the equipment, and then it would be off to the next village in their circuit to sink another bore well. Mike shared the exuberance of the crew as they sang loudly on the journey. Villagers paused to listen to this unintelligible English language and laughed and pointed as they passed them on the road to town.
Mike tottered over to where Jake was holding firmly to the railings of the truck as it lurched its way over the bumpy dirt road. “Jake, would it be OK for me to borrow the crew’s motorcycle this evening? I’d like to go to the mail office and make a phone call.”
“Sure, just pick up the keys from Surapee and tell her I said it was OK.” Jake turned to look at Mike as he held on tightly to the rails of the truck and tried to keep his footing on the bumpy road. “I thought you were going to spend time with Surapee this evening and settle your problem?”
Mike gave a nervous smile. “Oh, I’ll certainly get to that this evening, and it won’t take me long to do what I have to do.”
Jake smiled. “So you’ve decided to phone your parents first?”
Once again Mike looked surprised. “Jake, you’d have to be one of the most perceptive people I’ve met. What made you come to that conclusion?”
Jake laughed. “Well it would be the first thing I’d do, so I guessed you’d do the same!” Both of them laughed and crew members standing with them in the back of the truck looked at them with aroused curiosity.
“What’s Mike up to now? One of them shouted over the roar of the truck motor. “He seems to be in a better mood than he was this morning.”
“He’s thinking of his supper this evening so he’s in a good mood,” said Jake laughing.
Mike looked at his supervisor with appreciation. “You’re a good friend Jake!”
“And you’re a great member of my crew,” said Jake. He broke off into song again and the crew all joined in to the amusement of passing villagers.
Mike ran into the office to ask for the motorcycle key. “Are we still on for language lessons this evening?” he asked quietly.
Surapee glanced up from the mound of papers on her desk and handed him the key. “I need another hour to finish my work, and then you get your lesson,” she said matter-of-factly.
Mike searched her face for any hint of encouragement, but Surapee was all professionalism and didn’t register any emotion. He departed feeling disappointment and apprehension. Perhaps he shouldn’t embarrass her by declaring his feelings for her? If their relationship was not to be he still wanted to retain her as a friend and wondered if his declaration would spoil that friendship. He paused for a moment, and then kick started the motorcycle and headed for the mail office where he could make an international call without Surapee or the crew overhearing the conversation with his parents.
“Dad, is that you?” Mike tried to make out the owner of the voice on the other end of the line through crackles and pops of a bad connection.
Mike’s father was surprised to get his call as he usually phoned in regularly on Sundays when the crew had a day off to sample the local culture. “Is anything wrong son?”
This brought Mike’s Mom running to pick up the extension line. “Dad said there was something wrong?”
“No nothing’s wrong, and I’m OK! Mike laughed at his parents reaction to a phone call when they least expected it. He took a deep breath and looked at his watch. Better make this quick as he didn’t want Surapee to find him not there when she’d finished her work and have her go home before he talked with her.
“I’ve found a great girl here and wanted to tell you about her and see what you think”
He paused for breath, and there was a long silence on the other end of the line.
“Are you there?”
“Yes, we’re here. We’re listening! Is she one of the crew members?
“No, she’s a local girl from this country who was educated abroad, and she’s beautiful, and if I lose her I’ll never be happy again!”
Mike heard muffled laughter on the other end of the line and suddenly felt very embarrassed. He was making a fool of himself again.
Finally after what seemed like an age Mike’s Mom spoke. “Mike, if you like her we’re sure to like her. When do we get to see this amazing girl who captured the heart of my son?” His Dad was still laughing when he said, “bring her home son, we can hardly wait to meet her.
“She’s Asian,” said Mike uncertainly.
We don’t care if she comes from Mars son, if you like her so will we!”
Mike was so overwhelmed at the acceptance of his parents he hung up the phone without saying goodbye, and raced out to the motorcycle. After kick starting the motorcycle he roared off to the office.
When he arrived the office was in darkness and he ran to the door with heart beating like one of the village drums. Where was Surapee? He’d not been gone that long and she’d said she needed an hour to finish her work. But the door was securely locked. He returned to the motorcycle and headed home feeling let down and dejected.
Mike sat dejectedly at the table staring at his bed. Why had Surapee gone home without waiting for him to return for his language lesson? He’d been away barely fifteen minutes and it looked like she’d an hour of work on her table when he left the office to make the phone call home. She could have at least waited fifteen minutes for him.
The more he thought about it the more depressed he felt. This was going to be the night he settled in his mind whether she’d any feelings for him at all, and it made him feel like someone offered his a thousand dollars and changed their mind just as he was reaching out to take it.
Then depression was replaced by resentment. She had not waited! Somehow she must have guessed he was going to talk about a serious relationship and did not want to offend him. Well, if that was the way it was to be no more language lessons and he was going to cancel out on any attempt to talk with her about his feelings.
But disappointment didn’t satisfy his empty feeling either, so he sank back into a melancholy mood.
There was a knock on the door. “Open up!” It was Jake. Mike didn’t want to open his door to anyone at that moment, but Jake was the foreman so he could hardly ignore him. Mike shuffled over to the door irritably, and put a frozen smile on his face as he opened the door just to be polite.
“Surapee asked me to pick up the motorcycle key,” said Jake shadow boxing as he entered the room. Jake’s good mood irritated Mike even more.
“OK, here it is,” said Mike.
Jake studied Mike’s face thoughtfully. “You look like you’ve just lost your last dollar! What happened, did the phone call to your parents not work out well?” I’m sorry!”
“No the phone call home went off just fine; they’re in good health and wanted to know when I was coming home.” Mike tried to look nonchalant as he lied to try and cover up his real feelings.
Jake was not to be put off that easily. “What did they say about Surapee?”
Mike knew Jake was asking as a friend and began to relax. He did need someone to confide in. “Mom and Dad seemed happy with my choice but what’s the use, Surapee isn’t interested in me is she?”
Jake smiled. “The reason I came over is to tell you Surapee had to leave early because her Father has been rushed to hospital with a heart condition. She asked me to apologize to you and hoped you’d not be upset with her for not staying for your language lesson. She asked if you’d be willing to pick her up from the hospital later in the evening as her Mother wants to stay there, and Surapee needs to see her younger sister and brother are prepared for school in the morning. Her Father is not on the critical list but has to stay in for observation. Here, you will need to keep the key and return it to me in the morning”
Mike thought he could hear Angels singing their chorus of joy up there in the clouds. His eyes shone with excitement. “Did she really ask for me to pick her up?”
“Yes she did!” laughed Jake. “Now eat your food and don’t go to the hospital until 10 O’Clock!” Mike heard Jake laughing as he shut the door and went to his room next door.
Mike was at the hospital at five minutes to ten. He stood at the entrance waiting for Surapee to appear. She’d asked for him to pick her up. Did that mean she liked him?
As he waited in eager anticipation he saw Surapee appear at the end of the corridor flanked by two stern looking men.
Surapee strode over to Mike and whispered. “I’m sorry to bring you out so late Mike and I hope you won’t be mad at me but Daddy was angry when he heard I’d asked a foreign boy to take me home, and immediately phoned my Uncles to see I got home safely. Please don’t be angry. I may not be at the office until Daddy is released from hospital and then we can make up the lost lessons.”
Surapee’s Uncles called out impatiently in their own language. She glanced at them and then at Mike. “Please don’t be angry at me for bringing you out so late at night when you have to work in the morning. I couldn’t think of anyone I trusted to take me home late at night but my Father is very conservative. I hope you understand.”
‘It’s OK!” stammered Mike glancing at the Uncles who were observing him impatiently. “I understand, I’ll see you when you’re able to come back to work.”
The two Uncles shepherded Surapee back to their car protectively casting suspicious looks at Mike over their shoulder from time to time until they finally sped off in their car.
Mike sat in the hospital parking lot for a while nursing his disappointment. “Looks like it’s going to be impossible to make this lady mine!” he whispered ruefully.
Mike’s Dad Matt stood at his end of the bathroom sink deep in thought while he shaved and watched himself in the mirror. Maria his wife stood at the other end of the sink counter brushing her hair and watching him out of the corner of her eye.
“What are you thinking about?” she inquired.
“Oh nothing special,” responded Matt in his usual good natured manner.
Maria gave a soft grunt of disapproval. Nothing infuriated a woman more than a man who didn’t immediately come up front with his thoughts when challenged. She glanced at her husband and immediately her irritation evaporated. Irritating as he could be at times he was her man, very handsome, and she loved him with a passion. Her son Mike was a lot like his father. Sometimes Mike was a little too private to understand, but always sincere and trustworthy. Maria felt the warm glow of pride in her son as she thought about him.
Maria tried to start a conversation again. “That was a strange conversation with Mike last evening I hope he’s alright out there by himself with all those dangerous jungle creatures around.”
Matt burst into laughter. “Your imagination is running wild this morning Maria. I bet they haven’t seen a wild animal around those villages Mike is working in for a thousand years!”
Maria looked hurt. “Well Mike did say there was jungle around the villages and I’ve always associated jungle with wild animals!”
Matt glanced at his wife’s face and decided it was time to change the subject. Maria came from a proud ancestry as he could also claim. Matt’s ancestors had come to America with the first pilgrim settlers and the clan was now spread throughout the country from east to west. Once in a while they’d meet together in a giant convention to celebrate that first ancestral settlement on the east coast.
Maria could lay claim to a distant relationship with the House of Hapsburg, a dynasty which had ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire for a time. She possessed a number of heirlooms handed down from the time her ancestors held minor posts at court as royal relatives, and she prized those greatly but there was no hint of snobbishness in Maria. She quietly nursed her pride in ancestry and most people didn’t know of her connection with royalty, even though distant.
“What time do we have to meet Jason and Kate for that dinner appointment?” Matt inquired.
“They said about noon. Kate and I would like to try the Ethiopian restaurant today.”
Jason and Kate worked with Matt and Maria at the nearby UCLA campus. They lectured in different disciplines within the University and had been friends for years.
“Cindy will be coming with them today as its vacation time and she’s home from boarding school.”
Matt’s face lit up with pleasure. Cindy was like the daughter to them they’d never been able to have, and she and Mike had been playmates for years. Mike referred to her as his little sister, but Cindy was no longer little and had developed into a beautiful young lady indeed.
Later as they met at the restaurant and were waiting their turn to order a meal conversation turned to Mike and his work with the well drilling team. Cindy wanted to know everything about Mike and how he was enjoying his time overseas.
“I guess Mike and Cindy are like brother and sister,” laughed Kate. “She always asks what he’s doing and was disappointed to learn he was overseas when she returned for school vacation at home. They’ve always spent vacation together before this year.”
But something had been stirring in Cindy for some time which she’d not been able to fathom. As she’d matured she began to dream about a home like her Mom and Dad had with a husband and children to complete that ideal. Slowly she began to realize that Mike was more to her than a brother, and her heart filled with yearning as she imagined that ideal of a happy home with Mike as the centre of her life.
Jason spoke. “Have you thought of visiting Mike to see what he’s doing out there in the villages? You must be very proud of a son who’s willing to give up surfing to do something useful for humanity. Drilling village wells to provide a clean water source is a noble thing for a young man to spend time on, and he’s taken time off school to do that!”
Matt glanced at Maria. “As a matter of fact I was thinking of that while shaving this morning. I think Maria and I should take a quick trip while the University is on vacation. It would be good for us to see what Mike is doing out there so we can relate to him when he discusses this with us in future.”
Maria looked up from the menu in surprise, then leaned over and gave Matt a playful punch on the arm. “Don’t keep secrets from your wife!” But the idea appealed to her very much and she patted him on the arm where she’d playfully punched him.
“Let’s go visit Mike!”
Cindy grabbed her father by the arm. “Can I go too Dad? Please!”
Kate looked at Cindy in surprise, then with womanly insight read the reason on her daughter’s face. Kate’s heart raced with excitement. She loved Mike like her own son, and was extremely fond of Matt and Maria. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could be united as one happy family?
“I think that’s a wonderful idea!” said Kate, trying to keep the excitement out of her voice.
Maria looked at Kate and Cindy and read the excitement on their faces. Then she understood. She remembered the phone call from Mike and his confession he’d met the woman of his dreams in Asia. Danger signals flashed as she thought of the damage this could do to the beautiful friendship between the families if Cindy were to be rejected and disappointed. The joy went from her face and she suddenly felt quite sick at heart.
Matt and Jason being men had no idea what was going on in the minds of their women. They looked at each other as they considered Cindy’s request.
“OK with me,” said Jason giving his daughter a pat on the head.
“We’d be delighted to take “our” daughter with us on the trip,” said Matt with enthusiasm.
Rama sat up in his hospital bed and pressed the buzzer. He was quite tired of being confined to bed. He should be at the office by now and the doctor hadn’t made the morning rounds yet to release him. You don’t make money in a hospital bed he thought irritably.
Rama was a third generation industrialist. His Grandfather had commenced manufacturing light fittings in a tin shed many years ago. The story had been told over and over during Rama’s growing up years until he knew it by heart. Business had steadily grown until it required a factory to be built, and when exports commenced Grandfather had handed the business over to his son, Rama’s Father, who had been sent to England to pursue business studies and had a sharp mind for marketing.
Rama in turn had been sent abroad, this time to UCLA to pursue his studies in business and economics, and on his return was handed an expanding manufacturing empire to manage. By this time they’d added computer components to the list of electronic products churning out of production lines in three Asian countries. Rama was on two government advisories, one for export trade and the other tourism.
“Did you call sir?” The nurse standing by his bed interrupted his thoughts.
“Yes, when can I be released? I have to be at the office for important appointments this morning!”
Rama’s wife Siriporn raised her eyes in concern, but she remained silent. It was inappropriate for her to advise her husband even though she knew he should be taking things easy after the fright they’d both received the night before. She lowered her eyes and busied herself in a magazine. She’d not slept much during the night. The hospital chair was uncomfortable and her aching body longed for the softness of her bed at home.
The nurse bowed. “Doctor will be here soon.” She studied the chart and shook her head. “I don’t think you’ll be leaving us for a few days sir!”
“We’ll see about that!” said Rama impatiently.
At that moment the emergency doctor entered the room in company with Rama’s GP. The nurse handed him the chart which he studied for some time.
“It looks like we’ll have to keep you under observation for a few days Rama. What you experienced last night was a warning, and I don’t like the indicators in some of your tests.”
Rama’s GP took the chart from the doctor and studied them. “You’re right! I agree more tests need to be done.”
Siriporn let out a subdued gasp of relief. The doctor had told her more tests needed to be done the evening of admission.
Rama snorted in exasperation and tried to get out of bed but the effort was too much for him and the worried doctors moved quickly into action in case Rama repeated last evening performance. He settled back onto the pillow with a worried look on his face. “Am I really in bad condition?”
The doctors looked at each other. Finally the emergency doctor spoke. “Yours is not a life threatening situation unless you disobey our suggestions and endanger your health further. If you act foolishly you’ll certainly be in very big trouble!”
All of a sudden Rama was confronted with his mortality. He was used to snapping fingers and men and women rushed to do his bidding. Now he realized we was not in control and certainly not immortal. What would happen in a worst case scenario? He was not prepared to put his empire at risk with untrained extended family members and his son was too young. It would be many years before the boy completed his education and Rama could hand over control of the business empire. Well Surapee had completed her education, but how could he put her into an administrative position even though she had an MBA. This was men’s business he thought.
Then a thought struck him. His senior administrator for the corporation was a bachelor and well educated abroad. Could this be the solution if his health could not be regained? He was from a rich and well-connected family. Surapee was now twenty-two and of a marriageable age. It was his responsibility to see she was well settled and cared for and this may be an insurance policy for the management of the empire until Rama’s son could take over when his education was complete. With this young man in the family he could continue control through him and it would continue to be in the family in a worst case scenario. Yes, that was the solution!
“Siriporn I want you to phone and tell Surapee to visit this afternoon as soon as the children have returned from school and can be placed in charge of our servants for an hour or two. It’s time for us to arrange her marriage and we need to talk to her as soon as possible and get her impression before I approach the man I’ve chosen for her to marry.”
Siriporn stared at Rama in surprise. They’d not talked about Surapee’s marriage before this and she’d been under the impression Rama wanted to wait a bit longer before considering any marriage proposals. Why the sudden decision? Then she remembered the fuss last evening when Surapee had casually remarked she was going to be escorted home by that foreign boy she’d been giving language lessons to. That had been rather foolish, but wasn’t this an unnecessary over reaction to that situation?
“She didn’t mean any harm.” Siriporn said quietly.
“What are you talking about,” said Rama raising his head from the pillow.
“Surapee trusts that boy and from my observations he’s respectful and honest. He wouldn’t have harmed her?”
“Oh I know that,” said Rama impatiently. “But it was rather foolish of her. Our family members and the community wouldn’t understand her being seen on the back of a motorcycle with a foreigner at that time of night. It was very foolish of her to do that!”
“Now go and phone Surapee, we need to get this marriage finalized.”
“Mike, I’d like you to take over the office work while Surapee is on leave.” Jake made his request as the team were getting materials ready to load on the truck for their days work.
Mike looked at the foreman in surprise. “But this was my chance to learn a bit more about installing solar panels.”
“I know that, but you’ll have lots more time to learn that part of installations. We’ve many more wells to drill and equip before you return to the US, so you’re really not missing out on anything. Beside that you’re the only one with business training and a rudimentary knowledge of the local language to deal with trader visits and phone calls during the day. Just as well you’ve been taking those lessons from Surapee; it will come in handy for us over the next week or so.”
Mike could see the logic of that so decided to follow Jake’s instructions without further comment. What he didn’t know was Jake had contacted Surapee requesting her to orient Mike before returning to hospital to care for her Father’s needs during the day and let her Mother rest at home to recover from a stressful night by Rama’s bedside.
Surapee breathed a sigh of relief as she put her brother and sister in the taxi Rama reserved for the daily trip to school and return in the afternoon. The taxi driver was well rewarded for these daily trips so could not do enough to please the children hoping they’d give a good report to their father. Rama was generous with him at the time of national celebrations when it was customary to give gifts to employees and business contacts.
Giving final instructions to the servants she left the house to hail a taxi then remembered the car. She’d held a drivers licence while studying abroad, and while Rama frowned on the idea of his daughter driving around town the NGO she now worked for had quietly helped her get a local licence. Jake was an understanding decent man and had treated her very well. This was the time to bring the licence out in the open now her Father was in hospital. It would be more convenient for her to ferry the family back and forth and not have to rely on relatives. She was still smarting from the humiliation of last evening, and felt a little foolish this foreign young man Mike had to witness that humiliation. What would he think of her and her family? He’d not understand her customs as he’d not been in the country long enough though she’d sufficient exposure to western culture to understand Mike’s mind frame and his puzzlement over the situation.
“Good morning Mike!” Surapee searched Mike’s face to see if there was any trace of irritation. Had he learned to hide his true feelings as they did in Asia? Was he angry with her for calling him out so late at night and then leaving him sitting in the hospital car park looking bewildered? Was that a trace of hurt on his face she detected?
“I’m so sorry about last night, you see …..”
“It’s OK Surapee!” But it wasn’t OK. He’d spent the night tossing and turning wondering what to do. He was feeling angry with himself for being so emotionally involved when there was no chance of this relationship developing. So he’d decided to blot her out of his mind. They would just be friends, no more!
Now seeing her appear in front of the desk those feelings of frustration returned. This is it, he thought. I have to get this out of my system and the best way to do this is to hear her say she’s not interested in a relationship. He’d not been in a serious relationship before. Relations with girls had always been casual and he’d no idea how to deal with a serious relationship.
“Surapee,” he stammered.
“Yes? Are you ready to deal with the business for the week, I’ll have to leave for the hospital soon.”
“I love you Surapee! Would you let me into your life? I’ll learn the language and customs and do anything to have you accept me.”
Surapee exhaled in surprise and blushed crimson. This was totally unexpected. She looked at Mike, stared at the floor, the roof and the door in turn, then slowly went to the nearest chair and sat down. She stared at Mike for a long time while he fidgeted and moved papers around on the table.
The longer she stared the more foolish he felt. “I’m sorry Surapee, I was out of line.”
Surapee thought of pleasant times they’d spent together in the evenings during language lessons. She’d looked forward to those evenings but hadn’t given thought to why. But why would this foreign young man love her? Had he thought this thing through? He’d want to return to his own culture one day, and she was happy in hers. This was not the way such matters should be handled either. But she knew from experience Mike was a serious minded individual with an honest heart. He’d not play games with her. She continued to stare and wish for appropriate words to say.
“I’m sorry Surapee; please forgive me for overstepping my bounds. I don’t want to destroy our friendship by my foolish words. I’m ready for your instructions on work to be done.”
Finally Surapee caught her breath. “What did you say?”
“I said I’m ready to take work instructions now.”
“No, before that!”
Mike dropped his eyes to study the paperwork on the table and felt wretched.
“I’m sorry; I should have been more controlled.”
“What did you say before that?” Surapee now wanted to hear it over again to make sure she’d heard correctly.
“I said I loved you, and I’m sorry I overstepped my bounds in saying that.”
Mike, do you know what you’re saying? You and I are from different cultures. What will your parents think? What will my parents say?”
“My parents can hardly wait to meet you,” Mike said quietly.
“You talked with your parents? Mike, you had no right to talk with your parents on such serious matters without having talked with me first.” Surapee’s voice was stern, but secretly she was amazed and flattered Mike’s parents would be so accepting without meeting her. All of a sudden she was fond of this foolish boy and his parents. “What do your parents do Mike?”
“They’re Professors at UCLA.”
“You went to UCLA? I’ve never asked you where you were educated abroad!” Mike stared at Surapee in wonder. “That means I’d have probably passed you on campus many times without knowing it!”
That mutual discovery broke the tension and they laughed. Then Surapee spoke.
“Mike I have to confess I’m speechless. I’ll have to think about this and will get back to you when I’ve carefully considered what you said. And as for it destroying our friendship, we’ll always be friends no matter what. After all we both were educated at UCLA. Now let’s get on with business.” Surapee resumed her businesslike manner and after orienting Mike on what had to be done left for the hospital.
Mike felt better. He’d said his piece and would now accept whatever eventuated.
Rama was happy to see his daughter, and Siriporn was glad for the opportunity to return home to sleep for a few hours.
“How did you get here, did your Uncle drive you? He can take Siriporn back home now.”
“No, Mom will have to take a taxi home as I drove over in the car.”
“You shouldn’t drive without a licence,” said Rama. I suppose it’s OK as the police owe me favours and we won’t have to rely on relatives. We’ll have to get you a licence I suppose.”
“I have one,” said Surapee matter-of-factly. “I need one for the job I’m doing so the NGO helped me get one.”
This irritated Rama. “You should’ve asked me first.” But Rama was secretly pleased his daughter had used her initiative and had to concede it would be useful to them all now.
“I thought you’d be pleased I showed initiative and it will come in handy while you’re in hospital.”
“Then why didn’t you drive last night asked Rama suspiciously. It was foolish of you to ask that foreign boy to collect you. You should have given that more thought!”
Surapee remained silent and went about arranging the sheets on the bed and rearranging things on the side table.
“Anyway I wanted to discuss something important with you. I’ve now decided it’s time to arrange for your marriage. You’re twenty-two now and it’s time for you to be establishing a family of your own. I know this will be exciting news for you!” Rama searched his daughter’s face for signs of excitement.
Surapee gasped in surprise and began to cry uncontrollably.
Matt, Maria and Cindy arrived in Hong Kong for a day stopover before proceeding on to visit with Mike. Matt was amazed at the transformation in that city. He remembered it from his days as a conscript in the Vietnam War. How different it was now! Hong Kong had been the place of choice for some of them on R&R while the great majority of soldiers on leave had gravitated to Bangkok for the rare days away from horrors of the front line and dangers of Saigon.
But this introduction to Asia was new to Maria and Cindy. Their hotel was in Kowloon, but all the action they wanted was on Hong Kong Island so they hastily deposited belongings in their room and rushed off to Star Ferry for a trip across the harbour and a day shopping on the Island.
Cindy was beside herself with excitement, and normally reserved Maria caught a little of that excitement from the young woman. Maria found herself studying Cindy. She watched her from all angles until Cindy began to notice that interest and felt uncomfortable.
“Is there something wrong with my outfit Aunt Maria,” said Cindy uncertainly.
“No, not at all, it’s perfect and you’re perfect! I was just noticing how you’ve grown up and what a beautiful young lady you are,” said Maria nervously.
She loved Cindy very much and was apprehensive as she considered the potential end results of this visit. It had the probability of breaking Cindy’s heart, and that in turn would break hers. Suddenly she regretted they’d decided to make this trip, and it certainly hadn’t been a good idea to bring Cindy with them until they’d discovered how serious Mike was about his reported relationship with this Asian girl. She moved over and hugged Cindy tightly. The young woman beamed with pleasure and hugged her adopted Aunt affectionately. “I love you too Aunty Maria.”
Matt noticed Maria’s change of mood and tried different ways to re-energize her. He figured it must be jet lag as Maria was not used to long flights, but the mood persisted when they reached Bangkok and booked into a hotel to look at options for their travel to the border regions where Mike’s NGO was concentrating effort. Those were tribal areas.
“I think we should let Mike know we’re coming, and Cindy is with us,” said Maria.
“Well I wanted to surprise him,” said Matt. “I thought we’d agreed on that before we left home? Why the change? You don’t seem to be enthusiastic about this trip now and I can’t understand what’s changed.”
“I think we should phone and let Mike know so he can make arrangements to spend a little time with us while we’re here. He does have responsibilities with his NGO and arrangements would have to be made to care for his responsibilities.” Maria hoped this would explain her change of mood.
“You’re right!” said Matt. “In my excitement I didn’t think things through did I? He does have responsibilities and we need to respect that and let him know we’re coming.” Matt headed for the hotel lobby to look into procedures for phoning Mike and making transportation arrangements.
After fifty minutes Matt returned to the room looking pleased. “I talked with Mike and he’s excited to know we’re in Bangkok. I told him Cindy was with us and he was excited to know his “little sister” came too. He said there were things he wanted to get her opinion on. Oh, and I made our transportation arrangements too. It appears we can fly most of the way and take air conditioned bus from there to our destination village. Mike is booking us into a hotel near his office. He says it’s not very fancy, but the best they have in town.
Maria nodded her approval. But deep inside warning bells were sounding and she felt apprehensive. This is where my most precious relationships will be destroyed forever she thought. She glanced at Cindy who was jumping with excitement at the prospect of being with Mike again and headed for the bathroom where she closed the door and silently sobbed into a bathroom towel. Then she dried her tears and re-entered the room with a smile on her face. She’d make the most of these last precious hours before everything fell apart in her life.
Atikom dismissed the Board meeting impatiently after addressing agenda items. This was a public listed company because it needed to raise capital on the open market, but Rama still owned the largest block of personal shares. Rama was able to keep the board and shareholder meetings under tight control because of this though the company had been struggling with important decisions about the future in recent times.
Atikom hadn’t been able to push some strategic decisions through today. Board members had been difficult, important matters were unresolved. Getting them interested in conducting meetings in this remote location was always hard. It would be more convenient if they relocated the conglomerate headquarters to Bangkok but Rama preferred to live and work in a rural atmosphere and they’d excellent satellite links to the three manufacturing units at home, Malaysia and Indonesia.
There was a hostile bid to take over company operations to be dealt with. Atikom suspected the secret push to do this came from his own estranged relatives who were powerful industrialists themselves. Rama would be upset when he arrived at the hospital to give his report later, and he hoped this wouldn’t aggravate Rama’s health condition.
Atikom wondered what it was Rama wanted to see him about so urgently. Rama had said it was a personal matter. He had a hard enough time trying to hold things together without Rama putting any more pressure on him.
He’d been estranged from his family for many years now. While studying in England he fell in love with and married a British girl. His family had been appalled and immediately cut off support. The British girl’s family had come to his rescue and supported him through school, and at the end of his studies he and his bride returned to Bangkok where Atikom was accepted as a lecturer in business and economics at the University.
But his wife could not adjust to the different culture. Her exuberance and aggressiveness in business was interpreted as imperialistic and the poor girl after giving it an honest try fled back to the safety and familiarity of England. Atikom was devastated by the turn of events but to preserve face showed little emotion when the eventual divorce was settled. His family poured scorn on this black sheep of the family.
But Atikom became a valued professor in the university and developed successful business ventures which eventually brought him under the notice of Rama. Rama did some careful checking, and on finding Atikom was estranged from his family offered him position, and remuneration package which Atikom couldn’t refuse. He’d certainly prospered under Rama’s guidance and his reputation in industry and academic circles was increasing daily.
But recently his family had made overtures to him. They’d sent his mother and sisters to re-establish contact knowing elder brothers would have little chance of gaining sympathy. Atikom after an initial reserve began to take pleasure in his sisterly visits, and even began to visit in their homes while in Bangkok on business to get to know nephews and nieces he’d been denied access to. He felt good being part of the family again though he’d never forgive his father and brothers, and they knew it. They’d deserted him when he was most in need of their support.
The sisters began to bring with them one of their friends when they paid Atikom a visit. This woman was well educated, had spent much time abroad and was a celebrated beauty from an important family. Atikom began to feel the emptiness of single life evaporating in her company, and after a long period getting to know each other the sisters took initiative and sought to advance the relationship further with the blessing of their friend’s parents.
Atikom accepted an invitation from his lady love’s parents to explore marriage arrangements and could hardly wait for his next trip to Bangkok to complete arrangements and finalize a date. He was by this time in love with this woman and they were almost the same age. It was not too late for him to build a family of his own. The only sour note in this otherwise pleasant task was the need for his father and brothers to be involved. For the sake of his lady love he’d tolerate their presence, but they’d never be forgiven.
His father and brothers were jubilant. Things had gone according to plan. They needed Atikom’s skill and experience as they’d made bad decisions and realized they hadn’t the background and experience to survive under current world economic conditions. Their own corporate empire was in disarray. They needed Atikom, and they needed to control Rama’s corporation to regain economic power. If necessary they’d concede to putting Atikom in the corporate driver’s seat, as long as he in turn would see to their continued comfortable living status.
How to deal with his family was troubling Atikom’s mind as he entered Rama’s room that afternoon with a briefcase full of papers to be shown for instructions. Rama was in a jovial mood for a change and asked Surapee to return home and fetch her Mother while he and Atikom talked business. Surapee had no idea Rama had Atikom in mind as her future husband and greeted him with a smile as she left the room.
Atikom began to take papers out of the briefcase but Rama stopped him. “Later Atikom, I’ve some important good news to share with you this afternoon.”
“You’ve been a bachelor for a long time now and it’s time you began to think about marriage and a family.”
Atikom dropped the papers on the floor in surprise, then looked at Rama and smiled. “As a matter of fact I’ve been thinking the same thing. I was going to talk with you about that later but in that you’ve brought the subject up I’ve ……..”
“Wonderful! I’ve seen the way you’ve looked at Surapee and decided you and she would make a wonderful team eventually taking over my business until my son can finish his education and take over from you. Of course I’ll still be here to guide you. You and Surapee should be married without delay!”
Atikom was totally taken by surprise and murmered, “Surapee? You’ve misinterpreted my feelings toward Surapee! She’s much younger than me and I look on her as nothing more than a sister!” Atikom suddenly became angry as he thought through Rama’s remarks.
He looked at Rama with face contorted in anger. “You expect me to marry your daughter and look after the company until your own son can be educated to take over. What an insult! What about my own choice of a future? Is this my reward for years of faithful service? Anyway I’m about to be married to someone of my choice!”
“I’ll give you my written resignation this evening! Who do you want me to hand over to?” Atikom was so angry he was having trouble getting papers back into the briefcase as he turned to leave.
In an instant Rama’s life, and events that had shaped it went into panoramic video play. He’d been taught to be aggressive, to solve problems, to be in charge as a duty to family, to seize the initiative. It had worked well up to date and now everything was falling apart. His corporation was in danger, his family was in danger, and it was all because of his aggressive behaviour and his love of power and control. He could feel the approach of those pains again and shouted out “I’m sorry, don’t leave, I need you, the corporation needs you!”
The cry of pain was so intense Atikom forgot his anger and whirled around to see the obvious pain and distress on Rama’s face. He rushed over to press the emergency button. Rama gripped his arm in pain and lay looking imploringly at Atikom until doctors and nurses rushed into the room with equipment pushed in front of them. They’d read the obvious signs of a heart attack on monitors in the nursing station and had begun their dash to the bedside before the emergency button had been pressed.
“Promise you won’t resign today!” Rama whispered as they rushed him to emergency, “I apologize and want you to stay on whatever terms you ask!”
Atikom nodded in silent regret as he watched Rama disappear behind closed theatre doors.
Mike glanced at his watch. The bus he expected his parents and Cindy to arrive on had discharged all passengers and they were not on it. Maybe he’d got the wrong details on the phone he thought? With a final glance over his shoulder he decided to return to the office where Jake was filling in for him. The work crew had finished installation in the village, taught the village leaders how to operate and maintain equipment and now had a couple of days spare as they waited for supplies to reach them from Bangkok. Most of them had taken off to see some of the tourist sights leaving Jake and Mike to look after the office.
Jake was sitting in a chair with his feet up on the table reading a paper when Mike arrived back at the office. “I’m glad you’re in charge of the office while Surapee’s away!” He lowered the paper as Mike entered. “I can’t fully understand what’s being said on the telephone and am not as good with paperwork as you are.”
Mike smiled. “I guess my B Com was useful after all, and I’ve enjoyed Master’s studies in Development too. The study has a fairly solid base in project management and business along with the human management side. Surapee has already finished her MBA, but I guess I’m a year behind her because of that one year spent as a student volunteer teacher in Micronesia. It was worth it though. It made me realize Relief and Development could be a possible career choice, and that’s why I’m here to try it out. If it doesn’t work out I can always go back to business.”
“You’re doing very well at it and I hope you decide to make it a career. It would be nice to work with you in future as a fellow development administrator. The NGO wants me to go into administration after this assignment’s finished and I’ll be based in Singapore.” Jake smiled as he contemplated his next career move.
“I’ve heard Singapore’s a wonderful place to live in. You’ve all the facilities found in the west, and the exotic lifestyle of the East to enjoy. People who’ve lived there have told me that.”
Jake went back to reading while Mike began to process paperwork. Jake suddenly dropped the paper again and looked at Mike. “I heard Surapee’s father had a heart attack and is in the Intensive Care Unit.”
Mike dropped his pen. “Where is she?”
“She’s at the hospital. The whole family are there at the moment. Surapee is quite distressed as you would imagine.” Jake was surprised at Mike’s quick reaction to the news. “Have you talked with her yet?”
“Yes, she was quite surprised when I told her how I felt and said she’d think about it and let me know. I think she’s concerned about her family reaction as well as the cultural difference dividing us. I’m not very confident this is going to work out but she assures me we’ll continue to be friends whatever eventuates. While there’s a slim chance I have to be patient and see this through. Now I should go see how she’s coping with her father’s heart attack so will you look after the office for a while?”
“Sure!” Jake went back to reading his paper with a knowing smile. His friend Mike really had the love bug bad and it was amusing to watch.
Jake was Canadian. He was descended from a German family who’d lived in Russia for generations but were forced to migrate as a result of persecution to his minority community in that country. They’d arrived in Canada with a large band of fellow ethnic German settlers with nothing but their clothes and a few limited heirlooms which had been preserved as a tribute to their ancestors’ memories. They’d settled in Western Canada timber country and taken logging as their occupation along with their historical interest in farming.
Jake had the rugged build and good looks of his Teutonic ancestors. A winning smile worked together with his blonde hair and blue eyes to captivate women’s attention wherever he went. But Jake had not met anyone who swept him off his feet like Surapee had done with Mike. He shifted enviously in his seat and thought of how life had dealt with him to date.
The family had sensed he’d much to offer the world with a good education, and had made sacrifices to make that possible. Jake’s brothers were not interested in anything but the lumber business they operated, and his sisters married early. They were a close family and all chipped in to pay for a University education for their younger brother. Jake’s father would be constantly on the phone with thick German accent inquiring about grades and worrying about his personal needs. Jake loved his family passionately. They’d been good to him, and now he’d meet their expectations and make them proud of their investment. This had been his goal, and there’d been no time for getting to know any of the women who’d shown an interest in him. But he was twenty-six now, two years older than Mike, and Mike’s infatuation played strangely with his mind.
There was a knock at the door. He removed his feet from the table and went to open the office door to see who was outside. Jake stared in disbelief. There was an exact replica of Mike, only with greying hair and a big smile. His gaze swept the woman next to him and he knew instantly this had to be Mike’s mother. What an elegant lady in spite of the heat and dust of travel. Did he detect a hint of those familiar Teutonic features as he looked at her?
But when his eyes swept over Cindy he locked onto the appearance of an angel. Cindy was Jake’s ideal of what a woman should be with mingled innocence and mischief mixed up in a way he couldn’t explain. Cindy was surprised by Jake’s long appraisal as he looked her up and down. She fed him into her now developed woman’s mind, and the multi-tasking two hemispheres of her brain processed him and came up with a five star rating.
Jake shook his head to clear it and said eagerly, “You must be Mike’s parents and this must be little sister!”
“Right,” they shouted together laughing at Jake’s obvious surprise and remarks. “We missed the bus connection and had to take another. Where’s this hotel Mike arranged for us, and where’s Mike?”
Jake collected his wits and looked at the taxi with luggage piled up inside. “Mike went looking for you but thought you may have missed the bus and wouldn’t be here until tomorrow. I sent him on an errand,” he lied. “I’ll look after you until we can find him again.”
Jake barked instructions to the taxi driver and grabbed the motor cycle. The taxi followed him to the hotel and Jake busied himself with luggage bustling around giving instructions for their care and telling the hotel staff they’d be personally in trouble with him if this family were not looked after exceptionally well.
After settling Mike’s parents and Cindy Jake looked at his watch. “Have you eaten?”
“It’s OK,” said Matt.
“Well I’m hungry,” said Maria brushing dust off her dress. “When do we get to see Mike?”
“So am I,” said Cindy locking eyes with Jake as she continued to size him up.
Jake looked at Cindy, and then at Maria. “Unfortunately Mike will be tied down with business for some time as he didn’t expect to see you today. You’re now my responsibility and I’ll look after you for a few hours until he returns in the evening.”
Jake knew he was not being entirely truthful, but didn’t care. Something made him want to have the exclusive time of this family for a while until he could sort out strange feelings he hadn’t experienced before. Maybe Mike’s ailment was catching he thought hopefully.
Some inner voice had whispered Jake’s interest to Cindy as their eyes had first locked. She sneaked a look at him as they walked to the restaurant and to her embarrassment found Jake peeping at her out of the corner of his eyes at the same time. She blushed with embarrassment, but this happened several times as they continued to walk and both of them knew there could be something between them with little encouragement.
Cindy lay on her bed trying to absorb all she’s seen and heard from the time they’d left the US. The world was certainly a big place and she was in culture shock. Like Matt and Maria she couldn’t understand why it was taking Mike so long to make contact. Did they usually work this late into the night? She was still feeling the afterglow of Jake’s touch as he’d tentatively touched her arm while dropping them off at the hotel and hurrying off to find Mike. He seemed reluctant to go she thought, smiling to herself.
But then she thought of Mike. She compared them both, Mike and Jake. She’d known Mike all of her life it seemed and she felt safe with him. They’d confided secrets to each other since childhood and there was an obvious bond between them. Lately she’d begun to think of Mike in different terms. She’d observed the happy bond between her parents, and the obvious happiness of Mike’s parents. She wanted that happiness too, and it had to be someone she could trust and talk to. Someone just like Mike!
A knock at the door interrupted her thoughts. Must be Maria checking to see she was OK before turning in for the night. She adjusted her gown and opened the door. “Mike!”
Mike had gone to the hospital on impulse after hearing news of Rama’s heart attack. But when he got there suddenly realized he wasn’t sure what was culturally acceptable under the circumstances. He paused at the entrance of the hospital for a while to think it through, but his heart got the better of him and he walked uncertainly down corridors until at last he found the family huddled in a waiting room outside the emergency ward.
Rama’s two brothers had looked at him suspiciously; then whispered something to Siriporn who looked briefly at Mike and smiled before returning her gaze to the emergency room doors. Surapee had glanced at her Mother, looking a little embarrassed as her uncles continued to whisper and look at Mike. Siriporn returned her focus to Surapee and nodded toward Mike. She left the family and came to sit opposite him. “Is something wrong at the office Mike?”
Mike looked at the Uncles staring at him and suddenly felt out of place. Perhaps he shouldn’t have come? He was imposing on the family at a time of their grief and he didn’t feel good about it anymore. “No nothing’s wrong at the office. Jake told me about your father and I felt sorry and came over to see if there was anything I could do for you, but it seems like I’ve messed up one more time doesn’t it?” Mike looked so miserable Surapee had to smile in spite of the seriousness of the occasion.
“Mike, it was really sweet of you to do that and don’t take any notice of my Uncles. My family’s a bit overwhelming I’m sure and you’ve a lot to learn about our culture but you’re a wonderful considerate person and I thank you for your concern.” Surapee’s tears began to flow as she touched him on the arm while turning to rejoin her family waiting for news of Rama’s condition. “Now go get some sleep or you won’t be very useful at the office tomorrow. I’ll try and drop in to see how you’re coping on the way to hospital in the morning.”
Mike had returned to his room giddy from Surapee’s departing touch. He played it over and over in his mind hoping this meant they’d a future together, but reason told him this would be an almost impossible dream. The notice pinned to his room door galvanized him into action again. His parents and Cindy had arrived after all and were already at the hotel. He was thankful Jake had taken them under his wing and cared for their needs in his absence.
First he invaded his parent’s room and there was much hugging and excitement as they greeted each other. After a quick catch up on the trip he was directed to Cindy’s room and headed there eagerly. Maria watched him go with apprehension. Would she be needed to console her beautiful Cindy after this visit and how would it affect their long term relationship with Cindy’s parents?
Cindy flew into Mike’s arms and kissed him over and over again. She’d never kissed Mike like that before and luxuriated in the feeling. Mike was her past and present, would he be her future? She was confused about that as she continued to bask in the afterglow of Jake’s touch earlier that evening.
“Wow! Little sister, that’s one powerful welcome!” Mike held her at arm’s length to study her and then stroked her hair in wonder and delight. “You’re even more grown up and beautiful than the last time I saw you and it doesn’t seem that long ago! I’ve got so much to tell you!”
Cindy studied his face carefully. Yes, it was her Mike but he still saw her as his little sister. He’d not responded to her kisses as she’d imagined in her fondest dreams. Mike was just her brother, he was part of the extended family she loved but that was all. Cindy was relieved at the discovery as she’d almost felt like she was betraying Mike by harbouring feelings for Jake. Now it was OK.
“I’ve got some things to tell you too big brother,” said Cindy happily. They went to the lounge to sit and talk. Mike told her about the projects and his discovery of the woman of his dreams. Cindy shared her secret about Jake and his seeming interest in her. They kissed as brother and sister and Mike returned to his room, happy to have his family with him again.
Cindy stayed awake while luxuriating in a dream. This time Jake was the one to complete her happy imagined home circle.
Maria tossed and turned during the night. She wondered how the meeting with Cindy had gone. Would Cindy be her daughter in law, or would she be lost to her company for ever after this meeting? Would this meeting destroy friendships that had bought her great joy for so many years?
Finally Matt pulled her head onto his shoulder in desperation and stroked it until she sank into a deep sleep. What had been bothering his wife these past two days? He’d been married all these years but still found her too deep to understand.
It had been a month since Mike’s parents had returned to the US with Cindy. Much had happened in the interval.
Rama had been released from hospital on the understanding he’d not return to work until doctors deemed it safe for him to take on a full work load, and he’d attend the rehab program for recovering heart patients every day. Siriporn had enjoyed having him home though saddened her husband had been stricken down at such an early age, and fearful for the future of their family. She began to quietly work on Rama to change his lifestyle so she could be sure of many more years of his companionship. The children needed to have a father, particularly the younger ones still at school.
Siriporn was fearful of Rama’s brothers who obviously would like to get their hands on more of Rama’s fortune. Rama supported them and their families, but they were always complaining and demanding more, though showing little interest or aptitude in working at the family corporation. Rama shared her distrust of his brothers and his health scare caused him to hastily prepare legal documents which would protect his shareholding and keep it under immediate family control.
He’d watched Surapee’s development activities in that month, and taken another look at what she’d accomplished in her studies overseas. She’d been top of her class in MBA studies and his friends at UCLA told him she showed top administrative potential. He was impressed. He even had his friends check out on Mike’s credentials and was surprised to learn his parents were both Professors at his old Alma Mata. His bad initial impression was modified by this news.
Atikom had been given proxy to vote on behalf of Rama and the power to handle all corporate affairs. He was doing a great job directing corporate operations. Rama made no move to interfere though Atikom was courteous enough to keep him informed.
He’d made a series of brilliant suggestions, and some surprising ones. He proposed to Rama they make a counter move to take over his own family’s company. Atikom needed to have Rama’s fortune united with his own in order to buy a majority of shares in this company and enable him to take control. He’d become aware of the vulnerability of the family company and the fact he was being manipulated by family so they could use his expertise for their personal gain. If the family name was to be preserved he’d have to act firmly and quickly, but it would be his way and on his terms. What had been the role of his intended bride in his family manipulations? He had to find out before taking the final step of marriage.
A surprising suggestion from Atikom was for Surapee to be approved by Rama as Atikom’s understudy, and Rama’s direct representative at headquarters. Atikom was moving the headquarters of the corporate group to Bangkok where communication and control would be improved. Surapee would have to move to Bangkok. Rama agreed to all these plans, and even agreed to sell his local properties and move to Saraburi under the quiet promptings of Siriporn. The many clubs and resort areas would keep him occupied and improve his health. He’d be closer to advanced medical help, and it would be nearer to Bangkok when Rama was cleared to take part in business operations if he should choose to do so. Bangkok was also the centre for his government activities which he’d probably concentrate on more in future.
Surapee was sad to discontinue connections with the NGO, but thrilled she’d be able to use her MBA studies more usefully now. She worked well with Atikom who respected her knowledge and business abilities. He came to rely on her more and more, and occasionally wondered what it would have been like if he’d given in to Rama’s pressure and married Surapee. There was that age difference of course, but perhaps they could have made it work. The more he watched her, the more he wondered if he’d made a mistake.
Feeling he could confide in her now Atikom asked for help in testing the sincerity of the one he’d agreed to marry. He needed to know if she was part of the family plot to bring him back under his family’s control. Her parents and his were firm friends, so that was a possibility.
He’d not seen her for three weeks and his alarmed sisters inquired as to what the trouble was. They were not part of the family plot and the young woman had been their friend since school days and been Atikom’s secret admirer. They were concerned about Atikom’s future and knew their friend was hurting too. But Atikom had to be convinced of her sincerity. He didn’t want a repeat of his former marriage fiasco and needed to be sure the young woman really loved him and was not a snare to bring him back under family control. He accepted an invitation to meet at his sister’s place knowing they’d bring his intended bride, but he’d take Surapee along with him and watch carefully to see what eventuated. Perhaps Surapee would end up being the one for him after all?
The NGO had completed its work in the northern tribal areas, and at the request of the Communist Government in Laos through the UN had moved across the border over Friendship Bridge. Their equipment and base office had been transferred to Vientiane (Viang-chan). Mike had been distressed to leave without a resolution of his confession of love for Surapee, but he could see that with her family matters in such disarray due to Rama’s health condition he shouldn’t press her further with his need for an answer.
But just when he’d given up hope completely a letter arrived telling him about her change of fortune and giving details of the family move to Saraburi. He replied immediately, and letters between them were exchanged with increasing frequency.
Jake had been corresponding with Cindy since her visit, and Cindy made no secret of her admiration for him in return letters. It looked like little sister was heading for marriage to Mike’s close friend, and she was also making no secret of her excitement at the prospect of living in Singapore. Now it was Mike’s turn to laugh at the antics of his lovesick friend Jake.
But there was no commitment from Surapee, and in spite of the frequency of letters Mike wondered if their relationship would every go anywhere, or if they were destined to be just friends for life.
Mike had been back at home for a year now. He’d finished the few remaining class requirements and graduated. The Master’s degree hung proudly in his room along with football hero’s pictures. This was his motivator to work diligently on the PhD studies he’d commenced.
The two families had recently made a trip to Hawaii where Cindy and Jake had tied the knot. Jake had insisted on having Mike as his best man and it had been his joy to be there for the happy uniting of his best friend and little sister. Mike would always love Cindy as his sister, and Cindy retained a deep affection for her adopted brother. Jake had invited Mike to join him in Singapore, but Mike had chosen to commence PhD studies instead.
As Mike was reliving that happy time in Hawaii and thinking through plans for the future the phone rang. Matt picked it up and shouted out to Mike in his upper level room. “Mike, it’s for you! Some young lady wants to speak with you.”
Mike picked up the phone wondering who would be phoning at this time of evening. “Mike is that you?”
Mike’s heart skipped a beat. It sounded like Surapee, but obviously was a local call so couldn’t be her. The last letter from her had been filled with news about the company and her frequent visits to Saraburi to visit her parents and siblings. Mike had given up on hope of enticing his beautiful Surapee to marry him, and had even made half-hearted attempts to date girls since returning to the US. None of them had his interest however and he wondered when his soul mate would appear on the horizon.
Surapee had told him in her letters about the visit to Atikom’s eldest sister’s home, and the upset and confusion this had caused. Atikom’s sister had taken him aside and severely scolded him for bringing Surapee to her house and demanded to know what his intentions were toward her close friend and his intended bride. Atikom poured out suspicions about the role of the sisters and his bride to be in the family plot to get him back under their control. At the end of the resulting confusion Atikom came to know his sisters had always supported him, and his bride to be had loved him long before his studies in England and his first marriage. He was now convinced she’d be his loyal supporter in marriage and the evening ended on a happy note.
“Are you there Mike?” Surapee began to feel uncomfortable at the long silence on the other end of the phone.
“Yes shouted Mike, where are you? Can I come and see you now?”
Surapee laughed. This was classic excitable Mike. Do it now, was his motto. “No we’ve just arrived and booked into the hotel and my parents are tired. We’re here for Dad’s class reunion, and of course he wanted us all to be here to share that joy with him. Dad was excited to learn some time back your parents are Professors at UCLA. He’d like you as a family to join us tomorrow evening for a meal together. He wants to go to the special Chinese restaurant he frequented in his student days if you enjoy Chinese food.
“I’d love to, but I thought you’d choose Thai food” said Mike. His excitement at hearing Surapee’s voice again caused his heart to feel like it was twice as big as it really was.
Surapee laughed. “You probably don’t know much about our background Mike. Yes, we speak Thai and the tribal dialect you’re familiar with, but our family has Chinese ancestry. Our ancestors migrated hundreds of years ago and we’ve preserved the culture. Phone me tomorrow and confirm you and your parents can attend and I’ll give you details about the venue.” Surapee read the hotel phone number and extension from the card in her hand and offered a polite greeting as she prepared to end the call.
“Woa, not so fast,” protested Mike. “I’ll ask my parents now and phone you right back. Is that OK?” Mike waited hopefully for the answer.
“Well Mom and Dad are rather tired but I’m going to my room now so will give you that extension instead. Please phone back in ten minutes.”
Matt and Maria glanced at each other and smiled a knowing smile as they heard their excited son report on the phone call. How could they resist that pleading face? “OK we’ll cancel our appointments for tomorrow evening. Thank Surapee for her parent’s kind offer to entertain us and tell her we’re looking forward to that appointment, and of course meeting her at last.
Mike was out of breath as he made it up the stairs in record time and watched the clock eagerly for those ten minutes to pass. Then with shaking fingers he punched in the number and waited for the voice on the other end he wanted to hear. “Surapee! When can I see you tomorrow morning?”
Surapee had been thinking about Mike and his expression of love. It seemed so long ago. Days had been stressful workouts in Bangkok with Atikom a hard taskmaster, but she’d not disappointed him and the corporation had grown in leaps and bounds under their leadership. Now they’d established a marketing presence in Hong Kong and were actively pursuing the developing China market.
Surapee had spent much time in foreign cities guiding their external interests. Atikom was hard at work in Bangkok integrating his family company with Rama’s. It was a winning team, but relaxing in her hotel rooms that evening Surapee longed for someone of her own to share life with. Many marriage proposals had been received, but on meeting the suitors Surapee could tell their interests lay in Rama’s money, and the proposed marriage was a means to that end. Mike’s expression of love had seemed to be genuine by way of comparison.
So next day Mike picked Surapee up at the hotel and they headed for Big Bear mountain resort for the day. “I’ve never been here,” said Surapee appreciatively as she looked out over the holidaymakers and the restful ripples on the lake. “I guess I spent all my time in study while at UCLA and didn’t socialize much.”
They removed the blankets and food baskets and sat down looking at the water.
“You never gave me an answer!” Mike playfully threw some wildflowers in Surapee’s direction.
“What question was that?” said Surapee innocently. She knew very well what the question was and had turned it over in her mind so many times but wanted to hear him say it again.
Mike turned away and watched children playing around the water’s edge. As usual he’d messed up and embarrassed her. She has no romantic interest in me. We’re just friends he thought to himself.
Surapee noticed the change in mood with alarm. She wanted to hear him say it again, but was not used to the direct approach of western culture.
“What was the question Mike?” This time Surapee spoke with urgency and Mike spun around in surprise.
“I said I loved you and wanted to share the rest of my life with you Surapee. Then I apologized for saying that because I thought I’d embarrassed you.”
“Yes!” Surapee shouted loudly!
“Yes what?” said Mike in sudden confusion. He was clearly out of his depth here and shook his head to clear it.
“Yes I love you, and yes I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” Surapee lowered her eyes in the sudden realization what she’d committed herself to. What would her parents say? This was moving too fast and she needed to slow it down.
“Mike, in our society these things are handled through parents otherwise there’d be serious loss of face to the family. Would your parents feel comfortable asking my parents for my hand in marriage?”
“Absolutely,” shouted Mike. “Tonight’s the night!” He reached tentatively for Surapee and she moved quickly to sink contentedly into his embrace.
That evening the families met at the chosen restaurant and after appropriate bows and handshakes settled in for the meal at the round family table with traditional red covering and trimmings. Rama snapped his fingers and dishes arrived in succession while Matt and Rama talked about experiences at UCLA. Surapee would join in with tales of her study time there and they’d all laugh as they shared memories. Any reserve there’d been at their first meeting was swept away with these shared memories. Rama turned to speak to Mike. “I hear you were courteous enough to show your sympathies at the hospital when I had my heart attack. My family really appreciated your concern, though my brothers wondered what this foreigner was up to!” Rama roared with laughter while Mike turned red in embarrassment.
As the evening progressed they learned Rama was in the process of selling most of his corporate interests to Atikom. “My son wants to be a doctor, not a corporate tycoon and we’re happy with his choice of careers. What’s the use of maintaining an interest in something that will not be passed along to my son? Surapee has done well, but wants to be near us and we’re moving to Vancouver Canada to supervise Thailand government tourism and trade interests in North America.”
At that point in the conversation Matt deemed it right to make his move. He asked if he could talk business with Rama privately while the rest enjoyed their final course. The two men went to the counter under pretext of paying the bill and Matt asked if Rama would consider a marriage proposal for Surapee’s hand in marriage to his son Mike.
“I was hoping you’d respect our culture enough to do this,” said Rama happily. “I see these two were destined to be together and give my blessing to the union. Let’s announce the engagement this evening shall we?”
Rama returned to the table stood and tapped his glass for attention. I’ve an announcement to make, Professor Matt and I have agreed on a proposal for his son to wed my daughter Surapee. Would you please raise your glasses to toast this union of two families?”
Maria and Siriporn hugged each other happily. Rama and Matt shook hands and Rama’s son vacated his chair and took Mike by the hand seating him next to Surapee. Mike and Surapee sat together looking at their extended family and each other, faces radiant with joy at the announcement.
“I’ve waited so long and at last your mine!” Mike murmured happily.
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2012 All rights reserved”
This is a fictional story set in Thailand. The story is not based on any living person or experience