They say the world is a mysterious place, full of coincidences and miracles. Though, Kaemon has a feeling that people only refer to the good things when they say that, and often forget about the bad surprises life gives them.
For example, when you run into the only person in the world you wanted to forget about. Chances are, he never has to see him again, yet it happens.
Kaemon is standing on the subway; the door just had been shut, and in the same car travels Lais, Kaemon’s ex-boyfriend. He hadn’t seen the other in many years, five and a half years, to be exact, and he wanted to keep it that way, but fate had other plans. Meeting an ex doesn’t sound that horrible, even if the break up was an ugly one, right? Well, if you’re Kaemon Yuen, twenty-six years old exhibition guide with mild anxiety disorder and panic attacks, seeing your past lover is a bit worse.
Lais still looks handsome, his reddish blond hair ear-long with some ends sticking up, his emerald green eyes bright, with the old childish light dancing in them.
Kaemon suddenly feels burning hot, even though it’s the middle of winter; his scarf starts suffocating him, he can’t breathe, he thinks he’ll faint. His head is throbbing with pain, because blood rushes to his face really fast.
He doesn’t want to be at the same place as his ex-lover. He wants to get out, but the doors just closed, and there is no way out for about three more minutes. He grabs a handhold, clinging to it so hard, his fingers go completely white.
He is short of breath, fighting for every bit of oxygen he can snatch.
At this rate, he really will choke, Kaemon thinks. He tries to reason, but not only is his vision blurred, but his mind too. Somehow he manages to find his phone in his jeans’ pocket, and it takes him a long minute to draw the unlock pattern. But the brunt part is to open the contact list and push the right button to call his best friend, Ali.
'We just talked like an hour ago, and you already miss me?' A playful voice teases him from the other end of the call, but when all response from him is choking noises, the voice changes. 'Kaemon, what’s happening? Where are you? Oh, nevermind, first you have to calm down, okay? Now listen to my voice. You have to breathe. Close your eyes, and breathe in, now slowly breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.' And Ali repeats it until Kaemon is actually breathing, though heavily and uneven. 'Okay, now count with me.'
'Count! One to ten at first, and if you’re good, that’s all. One. Repeat after me.'
'One.' Kaemon says displeased.
'Great! Now two.'
By the time they finish, Kaemon feels better and calmed down enough to finish the ride to home.
'Are your eyes still closed?' Ali asks, which makes Kaemon realize that in fact, his eyes are still shut tight.
'Open them, but only look at the door or something neutral.'
'Fuck, I missed my station!' Kaemon only now sees where he is, and he should have departed from the subway two stops ago.
'Who cares, you can go back at the next stop.'
'Ahh, it’s so annoying, I just want to be at home already.'
'We all do, sweetie. But regarding me, I’ll leave for work just in an hour. So, can you go home now?'
'I’m checking up on you after work.'
'In the middle of the night?!'
'Well, I can’t go at other times. And I know you won’t be sleeping until like 3 a.m. And then we’ll talk about this more. But now, if you really can go home on your own, I’m hanging up because I have to be ready for work.'
'Okay. Bring me food.'
'Fine. See you, honey.'
'Bye.' Kaemon disconnects the line.
Ali is his best friend since middle school, and though sometimes he is annoyed with the girl’s very much friendly attitude, he knows that she is a good person, and he owes her a lot for putting up with his illnesses and helping him.
Kaemon didn’t expect that seeing Lais would be this much of a shock, and the cause of a smaller panic attack. Thank god, it was just a smaller one. He’d have died if he started vomiting or something worse.
Not like he expected seeing Lais at all. What was he even doing in the same subway car as he? What was he even doing in the same city as he?! And did he see him too? If so, did he recognize him? After all these years – five and a half years – they both changed quite a bit.
Since then, Kaemon cut his dark brown hair, now it’s almost neck-long; he started working out a little, and he hopes it’s visible by now; he changed his nerdglasses – as everyone in school mocked them – to contact lenses. And other small things that he eventually forgot about.
And Lais… He’s changed as well, but he still made Kaemon’s heart beat faster, and…
He can’t think about that after what he did.
At home Kaemon makes a mug of tea and sits down at his desk to read some online articles or news or anything that helps him pass the time until Ali arrives. He always told her, he hated her visits and she was only a bother, but secretly he’s always looking for them, because he actually likes the girl’s company. Though he’d never tell her this. She knows anyway.
Time is passing so slowly, Kaemon gets anxious by remembering the fated meeting from the afternoon, and by the time Ali knocks on his door, he is shaking.
'Did you think too much again?'
This is how it’s always worked. One minor thing can put Kaemon on this trainwreck of overthinking everything.
They sit on the couch, Ali stroking Kaemon’s back.
'Did seeing Lais really made you react this hard?' Ali asks warily.
'I surprised myself too, but you could hear.'
'Did something else happen?'
'I don’t know.'
'How about you tell me what’s happened lately, because apart from today’s phone calls, we haven’t been able to talk properly in the last few weeks.'
'Ugh.' Kaemon isn’t a fan of their talks, because the girl is a creepy psychic psychiatrist, digging up all his traumas. She calls it a gift.
'Come on, I even brought food, here, eat.' She holds a plate of Chinese food in front of him and waits until Kaemon grabs it and puts some rice into his mouth. 'See, much better. Now, how’ve you been lately?'
'What a surprise.'
'Sarcasm still doesn’t work on me.'
For a few seconds they stare at each other with their most unimpressed looks, but then they resume to eating. They already stuffed half of the food in themselves, when Kaemon starts talking.
'Do you remember Nell?'
'The girl who tortured you for like a half year back then in Zion?'
Zion is a gallery Kaemon worked at for a year. His co-worker, a short, chubby, short haired girl, Nell pretended to be his friend for a few months, but then she started treating Kaemon like the last bloody dog crap, and she refused to tell him what was her problem. Kaemon tried to still act nice and stay her friend, but the girl continued, and Kaemon ended up leaving the job because of her.
'Yeah, I remember her.' Ali raises an eyebrow. 'What’s it about her?'
'She’s been stalking me ever since.'
'She’s talking to our friends about me, my recent life events, not the past ones I’ve had when we talked. And whenever I think about her… she gives me chills and makes me sick. Sometimes I even begin shaking.'
'Oh, baby, that’s bad!' Ali hugs him. 'Why didn’t you tell me or anyone?'
'She’s just stalking me, I don’t really have proof and I should forget about her already, but after all the things she did, I just can’t that easily.'
'That’s understandable! Gosh, I want to beat her up.'
'Be my guest.'
'Thanks, but jail is not my lifestyle. Ahh, I want to take revenge, but that would be so childish of me, right? Not like she wouldn’t deserve it…'
'You’re welcome!' Ali pats Kaemon’s head and they finish eating. 'So, what will you do about her?'
'Nothing, I guess?'
'All these toxic people around you, what a luck you have me to compensate them!'
'I feel damned.'
They have a little fight while washing the dishes and then they finally get into bed.
Kaemon has a huge double bed, and whenever Ali visits him, they sleep next to each other.
'What the fuck do you want, I have to get up in like three hours.'
'Do you think that the situation with Nell caused your panic attack when you saw Lais?'
'I’m gonna stay at your place for a while.'
The girl pretends to be asleep and snores loudly. Kaemon gives up and goes to sleep too.
The morning is cold and humid. This winter isn’t that beautiful, white, snowy one, but the ugly, brown, wet one.
Kaemon doesn’t want to get out of his warm and soft bed, but it’s only Thursday and he has work to attend.
He is ready in thirty minutes, and is standing next to his bed, watching Ali still sleeping. He sighs and gets going to work.
It happens time to time, he having a worse period and Ali dropping by for a few days, sometimes even a week. It’s nice, but it makes him dependent. Kaemon likes being alone, that’s the most effective lifestyle for him, but at times he just can’t take proper care of himself. And whenever Ali learns about this, she is already on her way to his apartment, with her sleepover pack and one of his favourite foods.
Meanwhile, Kaemon arrives at his workplace, the National Art Gallery, which is the home of a huge permanent exhibition, and sometimes welcomes other guest exhibitions too.
Three groups are scheduled for the day, and knowing that one of them is an elementary school class, makes Kaemon’s head ache in advance.
While he guides the first group – a bunch of tourists experiencing hardships understanding that using any recording machine is forbidden – his thoughts wander around how he’s missing his previous job, and how much he hates this one.
Sure, he loves every form of art, painted, sculptured, written, photographed, anything, but whilst he had the chance at Zion to deal with different kinds of art and not much people – given that it was a private gallery –, here he only sees the same paintings and sculptures every day, with annoying customers making him sick and requiring too much effort to stay calm.
By the end of the day he feels dead tired. It’s already 7 p.m. when he gets home, and he finds Ali getting ready for work.
'How was your day, honey?'
'Could have been worse, right?' At the lack of response, the girl carries on the conversation. 'I cooked. It’s still kind of warm, I think, but you can always microwave it.'
'At least it’s home-made food.'
Kaemon puts down his bag and jacket, and lights up a cigarette while he’s watching Ali putting on make-up.
His best friend works as a pole dancer, so she needs heavy make-up. He isn’t a fan of these kinds of places – strip clubs, and smoky bars of all kinds –, but he occasionally goes and visits Ali at work.
'Aren’t you hungry?'
'Not really.' Kaemon admits.
'Want to come tonight?'
The boy thinks about it for a few seconds, and then decides, why the hell he shouldn’t?!
'Sure. I’ll have a few drinks at least.'
'And I can keep an eye on you while I’m working.' Smiles the girl, and Kaemon remembers, how he once found her doting attitude creepy, but now it puts him at ease.
In a bit more than an hour they are on their way to Zeppeli, the strip club Ali works at. When they get there, the girl disappears in the changing room, leaving Kaemon at the bar. The boy orders a drink, and looks at the people on the stages. There is a big stage for the main production that happens two or three times during a night shift, and there are smaller stages for the permanent strippers. Young girls and boys dance and get rid of their clothes on almost every stage; it’s a good night for the club, there are barely empty seats.
Kaemon gets lost in his thoughts as he looks around, when he hears the compere asking for the attention of the guests.
'…and now welcome on stage, Ali Karmit!'
A storm of applause can be heard when the curtains open, and Ali starts her show. She looks beautiful, Kaemon has to admit; her long black hair brushes her back as she bends backwards next to the pole, and the lighting makes her dark skin shine like olive oil. Her light green eyes luminous, as she sends a smirk to Kaemon. Ali practically hears the annoyed sound the boy makes. She’s dancing so smoothly, Kaemon isn’t surprised that all eyes are focused on her. He even catches himself staring, so he shakes his head and sips from his drink.
The whiskey is bitter, but it warms him from the inside, which is a pro considering how it’s some minus Celsius outside. Someone elbows him in the ribs and points at the stage with his chin.
'I like that chick, but isn’t she a bit you know, like fat?'
Kaemon slowly turns to face the guy who disturbed him. It’s a short balding man in his late forties, staring and drooling at a girl almost twenty years younger. He disgusts Kaemon.
'How dare you look at her?' Kaemon retorts. 'Who the fuck do you think you are to make any comment about her? Not only negative, but positive either. You can’t talk about her.'
'And why not? Are you her boyfriend?' Grimaces the man.
'Does it matter? You lowlife nobody, you’re pathetic. You think you’re entitled to criticize anyone when your life is so meaningless? You’re disgusting and you should be ashamed of your actions. What life choices does one have to make to end up like you?'
At this point the man’s eyes are wide, blinking slowly at Kaemon and he seems like he’ll burst out in tears soon. But the dark haired isn’t done.
'You come here to piteously make some girl dancing on a stage grant you satisfaction, yet you decide to make some low comment about her. All of this, because you sure don’t have any normal relationships in your life, because who’d hate themselves enough to settle down by your side.'
That was it for the man; he puts his hand on his mouth, gives a meaningful teary look to Kaemon and turns around to run out of Zeppeli.
Kaemon stays still for who knows how long, when he feels a pat on his shoulder and someone calling his name.
'Good old Kaemon, always nice, your modern knight in shining armor. You told him right!' The person laughs behind him, but as there’s no answer, he walks in front of the boy. 'Hey, you should celebrate your heroic act. How about you’re my guest for the rest of the night?'
'Huh? What’s wrong?'
Kaemon can’t talk, he barely holds himself together. He feels dizzy and everything’s so hot. The other holds him at his shoulders.
'You made yourself anxious? Things are still this bad?'
Now Kaemon looks up to see who is talking to him. He has to look far up, because the man is so tall, and because he wears a hat, he looks even taller.
'In the flash.'
'What… are you doing… here?'
'How about we talk later? Now come, the air is better in the toilet. Don’t laugh, you’ll choke. It is better, if I say so.'
Peter accompanies Kaemon to the male restroom, and he is right, thanks to the much fewer people there and the fact that it has a window open, the toilet’s air really is better.
'He was so rude…' Starts Kaemon.
'Hey, can you really talk?' The taller man knits his eyebrows as he looks at the other worrying.
'I just had to tell him. I’m not good at physical fights, so I had to humiliate him.'
'I understand. But now you’re in this state. Did it really worth it?'
'He was talking about my best friend.'
'Okay, I get it. Well, in the long run, it makes you feel better, right?'
'So are you feeling better now?'
'Great. Shall we go back and drink?'
'Wait.' Kaemon grabs the sleeve of Peter’s shirt. 'What are you doing here?'
'Sometimes I come here. I saw you in the crowd, but I wanted to greet you after Ali’s show. But when I saw you talking to that guy, I thought maybe you’ll need help.'
'So, how are you doing lately?' Asks Peter, as he walks out the restroom.
They go back and sit at the bar, ordering new drinks, informing each other about their lives.
Kaemon has known Peter for a few long years now. Their relationship started as a business one, but soon it became friendship. Now Peter travels a lot, so they barely see each other, but they’re still close.
'That sounds like a shitty job.' Nods Peter, when Kaemon tells him his current work situation.
'It’s not too interesting.'
'Hmm… And what if I told you, I may have a better job for you.'
'What do you mean?'
'Right now I’m a manager at a private art place. The owner is some rich guy who wanted a gallery just so he can tell his friends that he has one. His ambition is to grant a surface to younger artists, so he welcomes all art forms. You’d enjoy it.'
'And what would be my job?'
'Keeping contact with the chosen ones, arranging visiting hours and special parties, and welcoming visitors.'
'And what are you doing?'
'I’m choosing the ones.' Laughs Peter.
'How easy for some people…'
'So, what do you say?'
Kaemon looks around; Ali’s show is already over, she’s probably changing back in her street wear. If he’s honest with himself, right now he is not happy. He loves art but right now his job is plain boring, not requiring any knowledge or creativity. This may be his chance. Peter is a good friend of his, he wouldn’t suggest the change if he wasn’t sure of its benefits.
In a minute Kaemon realizes that he’s just trying to convince himself to accept the offer. He answers Peter, they drink more, later Ali joins them, and the rest of the night is a bit of a blur for Kaemon.