“Hey, Ai’Wad,” Kongpop smiles at me.
“Hey,” I reply back awkwardly.
Aim claps me on the back as he goes and stands by Oak and Tew. Dee and three girls walk up and stand with us.
“Good to see you here, Ai’Wad,” Dee says as he punches my shoulder. “I will beat you next time we play.”
“As if,” I snort. “So, what is this all about?”
“Don’t know,” Tew answers, “Hopefully, they will tell us what we need to do.”
I look up in the stands, but I don’t see the hazers yet. Looking around at the other students, nobody seems to care that I showed up. I was overthinking. A murmur runs through the crowd as the Hazers walk into the stands. It is just like the first day. I watch as P’Prem and his friends flank P’Arthit, who looks grumpier than usual today. Is that guy ever happy?
“Is it just me, or does P’Arthit look grumpier than normal?” Aim asks Oak. I chuckle. I am not the only one who noticed.
“When does he not look like that?” Oak snorts, and we all laugh.
I notice Kongpop is frowning, though. I wonder if he is going to have words with P’Arthit again. Those two are worse than P’Prem and I. I look back at the stands and see P’Prem standing there, and I smile, thinking back to the night we played basketball, and he bought me dinner for the second time. I guess I can’t say we are like that anymore.
Aim and Oak are talking about the stand set up, trying to figure it out. When Aim compares it to Donkey Kong, we all laugh when Tew threatens to tell P’Arthit that Aim just compared him to King Kong Boss. I look up into the stands, so if P’Arthit is the main boss, P’Prem and the other guys would be the bosses we have to fight before the main showdown. I wonder which order they would come up with? Why am I even thinking about this? This is what I get for listening to Aim.
“First Years,” P’Arthit voice booms across the field, “Fall in! First Years! Attention!” He pauses as we line up. “Today! It is an important day of yours. You all must prove yourself to make us accept and recognize that you are fit enough to be engineering students in this university!” I could swear that P’Arthit is glaring at Kongpop. “Do you see this flag? Your duty is to capture it. I won’t tell you how. You must use all I have taught you and your own abilities to figure it out.” What? “The deadline is 7 pm sharp today!” Everyone is murmuring. “If you fail to capture it, all of you are not our official engineering juniors! If you are ready, let’s get started! Come and get the flag!”
That’s it? Use what we were taught? I skipped most of the meetings, so I won’t be any help. We are screwed.
All we have left is Spirit, but he just told Tew we failed. P’Arthit did this because of me. I don’t get how my wanting to go for Economics is such a big deal for him. If we fail, it is because he hates me. We already made the formation. What more can we do to show our spirit to him? I look up at the stands and can tell he is sneering at me.
“Guys, hear me out. I have a plan,” I tell my friends, and I explain my plan before I run to P’Arthit in the stands.
“What are you here for?” P’Arthit sneers when I approach him. Here goes nothing.
“I’m the representative of the first years,” I say calmly, “I would like to ask you to come down into the field with me.”
“Why do I have to go there with you?” P’Arhit asks. Why does he have to be so difficult?
“So that all of us can show our spirit to you,” I answer.
“Show your spirit to me, you say?” P’Arthit scoffs, “You should ask yourself first whether all of you out there have enough spirit. I told you. If it doesn’t come from your true heart, you don’t deserve to get acknowledged by us.”
Argh! I want to scream! Why is he such an ass? Is this really all about me wanting to study Economics?
I have followed 0062 to the field. After he said what he said, I would look like an ass to my friends if I didn’t. Knott was already giving me that look. I bet if I hadn’t given in, they would have overridden my decision.
N’Kongpop leads me into the center of the gear formation and asks me to stand in the middle. What are they planning to do?
“Well,” I goad. “What is the spirit you want to show to me?”
“The spirit from us today cannot happen without the spirit of you, our seniors,” N’Kongpop explains, “If it weren’t for you, we would not have it. We want to return this favor of yours from the bottom of our hearts. First years, line up! First years, show your spirit.”
What is he . . .
“Thank you, P’Arthit,” N’Kongpop says, and it is followed by the next student repeating it. It goes around the circle surrounding me. Student after student is thanking me for being their senior. I had not expected this.
“First years,” N’Kongppop orders, “Chant to thank the hazing team leader.”
I watch as they get ready to chant.
“Go!” N’Kongpop commands.
“E N G I N E E R,” the First Years chant, “WE ARE ENGINEER. ENGINEER. HEY!”
“Do you think this little effort of yours can get a yes from me?” I bark, “Sorry. It doesn’t work!” I push my way through the crowd and signal Knott and Prem to come down.
“What more do you want them to do?” Knott argues when they stand by me. “That was everything you wanted, right? So why do you deny them the flag?”
“I don’t understand either, Ai’Arhtit,” Prem puts in.
“I get it!” I shout, “Go ahead. Give them the flag.” I turn and walk off. “Finish the ceremony for me.”
“Where are you going?” Knott shouts at me.
“Go,” I yell back and walk behind the stands before anyone else can see me. I can’t believe that after everything, they thanked me. I also can’t believe that cheeky bastard moved me to tears. I need to collect myself and get back out to the ceremony.
“P’Arthit?” I hear a voice I don’t want to hear. Not now. Why does this nong insist on bothering me? “Are you ok?” N’Kongpop asks. I wipe my eyes before I look at him.
“I am ok. It is just hot,” I say, making excuses, “I am just out here to wash my face,” I add, “Why? What’s the problem?” I ask, trying to regain my hazer tone.
“Nothing,” N’Kongpop replies. If it is nothing, then why are you here bothering me? This nong is a pain in the ass.
“Well then, go back,” I scold. “You are supposed to be at the wrist-tying ceremony, aren’t you? How could you leave it in the middle like that?” I start to walk off when he stops me.
“Wait a second,” N’Kongpop tells me, “Before you go, can you give me a wrist tying?” He is holding out a string for me to take.
Might as well, I just scolded him for not taking part, so I have no room to deny him. I accept the string and begin to tie it on his wrist that he already has a string on. Who tied it for him, and what is this feeling I am having because I am not the first? N’Kongpop stops me and holds out his other wrist.
“Please tie this hand,” N’Kongpop asks.
“You are so picky,” I grumble as I tie the string around his wrist. “Take care of the flag for me.”
“I will take care of it with my heart,” N’Kongpop tells me. I believe him for some reason.
“Okay, it’s done,” I sigh, then turned to walk away.
“Thank you,” N’Kongpop acknowledges, “Hold on.”
“What now?” I whine. I want to leave!!
“In the future, if you want to cry, tell me,” N’Kongpop smiles. “I’ll wipe away those tears for you.”
“Kongpop!” I growl. I knew if I stayed, he would say something ridiculous. Pink milk, my nickname, and now me crying behind the stands. Why is it always this brat?
I am standing back watching the ceremony. P’Prem said it would be fine to attend, and working with my friends all day was fun, but now I feel like an outsider. It is pretty cool to watch. Seniors and juniors are talking and laughing in the warm glow of the candlelight.
A senior I have never met before calls to me as I am walking away. I am trying to explain that I shouldn’t be here when P’Bright walks up and puts his arm on my shoulder.
“Hey, N’Wad,” P’Bright cajoles, “Stop being standoffish already.”
“Well, there are too many people,” I try to explain, “It is better here.”
“Come on. Get in there,” P’Bright pulls me toward the ceremony. “Hurry up.”
Walking over, I see P’Prem taking pictures. P’Bright drags me in front of P’Prem. Why did he bring me to him?
“Hi,” I say as P’Bright walks off, leaving me alone with P’Prem.
P’Prem tells me to sit down so he can tie my string on my wrist. Sitting across from him, I am surprised at how the light from the candles plays across his face. He usually looks so angry, but tonight his face looks gentle and kind. It is so different.
“Give me your hand,” P’Prem says. As he begins to tie the string, he says, “Study hard. Make the most of your first year here. And . . .” He pauses, looking at me, “For what happened in the past when I treated you wrong . . . I’m sorry.”
I am touched that he would apologize. I never thought a senior would ever do that, much less proud P’Prem.
“I want to apologize to you also,” I say, “And thank you so much for helping me that day.”
“It’s all right,” P’Prem shrugs, “We are brothers, right?”
Brothers? Unlike another person in my life, this senior across from me sees me as a brother.
“Thank you,” I say again.
“Let’s take a picture,” P’Prem tells me, holding up his camera. I hold up my name tag and smile into the camera. P’Prem takes the picture and checks it, smiling. I smile back. I am glad I came. Maybe this year and this place can be different.