Things had been better; things had been worse.
Still; I had some money in the bank, my bills were paid and no one was screaming the house down for past due amounts. I got a regular paycheck, my needs were taken care of; it had been some time since I could say that. Surprisingly, to me, this overseas teaching gig seemed to be working out.
I had gotten a breather from the high cost of living in the US and the funeral dirge we call news telling me, daily, how everything was going into the shitter.
Anyway, it was nice being away from the States, the economic slump and endless finger pointing. I had settled into my life with a tiny studio apartment, bathroom and tinsee kitchenette. Thoughts like I could live here forever began to float in my head.
Problems began to emerge from our group of American teachers. To say they were a real assortment of soup to nuts was an understatement.
The Americans bitched and complained about how it wasn’t like home and they don’t do it like this in the States, etc. etc. The complaining was only topped by the endless rounds of drinking, hangovers, colds, illnesses and trips to the hospital. It seemed many of our teachers were fragile and clearly out of their comfort zone.
Rising to the top of this formidable group of misfits, was a tight cluster of besty friends who huddled together in gossipy, whispering bunch. They were two gals and a guy who were nothing less than scary.
What to say? Amber (Blondie) the leader of the group, was fat and fuzzy. As regards to her taste in clothing, she specialized in knee high leather boots, short skirts and sweaters that emphasized her voluminous rear. She reminded me of a vixen from ‘Cabaret’. Being of German heritage, with blonde hair and blue eyes, I could picture her, a tiny black whip, leather cap and one booted foot resting on a chair, waiting for her next customer.
The other two I called Pinkie and the Brain after the cartoon of the same name. In the cartoon, Brain was the genius, Pinkie was the idiot, and every week they came up with a new plan to ‘take over the world.’ Right, just like here.
Pinkie was a fluffy concoction of bleached blond hair, cheap, uncomfortable high heels, tight skirts and low cut blouses. Her best feature was her face and she specialized in radiating brilliant toothy smiles at everyone, irrespective of the circumstance.
Alos, she also had a repertoire of deep and sincere looks of apology whenever she could not/would not accommodate your requests. That was, naturally, most of the time. Let it never be said that she didn’t ‘have your back’ as an administrator at the school and she wasn’t ‘working hard to take care of you.’
I could often hear the three of them talking and whispering in the back of the bus as we made our way to school. When the Brain let loose with some particularly noxious remark, Pinkie would giggle her little cat-like giggle. She would curl up around the Brain like an old married couple and purr. Since the Brain was gay, this didn’t impress me much. Blondie would bark laughter and a happier group never was.
The Brain on the other hand, rarely bothered with the niceties unless the administration was visiting. He was the clown, the buffoon, the jokester, the cynic, the critic, the sarcastic one. The Brain lived for the delight he got in putting other people down and into their place. He loved to watch others and to catch them with their pants down and then announce these failings and gaffs to anyone listening.
One day I made up ‘In and Out’ signs for the stationary door because people kept walking into it. The Brain switched the signs because it was so funny and then laughed when people tried to go through the locked door. Someone I thought of as a good friend, nearly laughed himself sick over the door trick. That Brain, what a guy huh?
The Brain worked his magic with one of the Asian administrators, Henrietta, and got her thinking he was all that. After he got promoted to trainer, a job created just for him and not requiring any of those long, laborious, expensive degrees the rest of us had, the worm began to turn.
At the opening ceremony, Henrietta, the Asian staffer, made some announcements and the Brain listened carefully.
When it was his turn to get the microphone he ran with it.
“Oh, Henrietta, that was so wrong. Oh no, no, no……Well, that won’t be the first time.” Brain smiled broadly at his audience. Henriette had a white, pinched face.
His recriminations against Henrietta continued to become more and more vitriolic. One night we were waiting in the cold for a bus to show up and when it finally did, it was too small for us to all fit.
I could hear the Brain. “Oh Henrietta, you lied to us the last time about the bus too.” Ashamed, she shook her head unable to respond.
Brain announced that he never bothered to lock his door. “This is Asia,” he would say. “What can happen?” I guess that worked as he waltzed back and forth with a parade of buff, young Asian males.
So our lives went on for many months. I tried to avoid the gruesome threesome as much as possible. Biting my tongue was becoming an everyday occurrence. I was busy looking for other jobs and hoping to get the hell out of there.
I was out one especially fierce some and wild night when the Asian sky opened up and dumped a torrent of rain on our heads. The wind whipped the trees and trash everywhere. I was in a taxi praying the driver would get us home in one piece without killing him, any unwary pedestrians and me.
We finally made it to the apartment building. I paid the driver, wrenched the door open into the frozen blast, and ran for the elevator. I could hear banging from somewhere but it sounded like trees beating against the building outside. Inside at last, I pulled off my drippy clothes and threw myself into my warm bed.
The next day, the teachers trudged dutifully to the bus, tiptoeing over puddles and trying to avoid cars splashing water as they drove by.
We got on the shuttle and Pinkie kept looking around. I could hear her speaking to Blondie and trying to reach the Brain by phone but – no go. They finally signaled the bus driver to leave and off we went for another happy day at work.
I was busy with classes all day and didn’t think about the missing Brain until much later that evening. As it happened, my apartment was directly above his. Pinkie had apparently got home too, got off the cheap heels, and made her way over to Brain’s apartment.
I was busy taking off my makeup and reading emails when I heard the screaming. It seemed to go on forever.
Wiping the last cold cream off my face and pushing slippers on my feet, I ran down the stairs two at a time to where the sound was coming from. It was the Brain’s apartment. The door was open and Pinkie was inside, still hollering. I went inside, the sound, somewhat muted by her hands covering her mouth. The Brain was lying on his bed, eyes open, mouth gaping and a large knife sticking out of his chest. A long dark red trail of blood led from his chest, down the wine colored sheets onto the carpet flooring.
I grabbed Pinkie and pulled her forcibly out of the apartment. Her face, a frozen mask of terror, big blue eyes rolling wildly around. I was reminded of a frightened pony. I closed the door and grabbed her by both arms.
“Angela, Angela,” I said. “Stop, stop. ”
People were piling out of their apartments looking to see what was going on.
“Stay here,” I told her. She shook her head numbly. “Don’t go back in.”
She shook her head no.
I ran to the manager’s office on the bottom floor and waving franctically at the cigarette smoking jerk who worked the desk. I finally got him to understand to come with me right away. He fumbled with his slippers and locking the door. He stared at me in a dazed fashion as if he couldn’t believe his presence was required anywhere.
I dragged him upstairs and pushed him through the door where he stood staring stupidly. I made a hand gesture to indicate telephone.
“Police, police, police,” I kept saying to him. He nodded his head but didn’t move. I got behind him and pushed him out the door. He kept turning his head to look back at the bed.
We got downstairs where he fumbled with the phone like he had never used one before and finally got the phone call made. I could hear a lot of conversation I couldn’t understand. The hand gestures seemed to go on for a long time. At last, he nodded and hung up the phone then waved in the air with his cigarette, gesturing that they were coming.
I went back up to the second floor, gathered up Angela, and asked her where her apartment was. Since we never socialized together, I didn’t even know which one was hers. She indicated it was on the third floor. I got her on the elevator and back into her apartment. Other teachers were trying to stop me to ask questions but I shook my head and wouldn’t answer. “The police are on their way,” was all I said to disappointed faces.
Pinkie’s apartment was an assortment of all things pink and fuzzy to include kitten plates on the walls. It appeared to be the well-decorated abode of any 14 or 15-year-old girl.
Fits, I thought to myself.
“Angela, do you want some tea?” I asked her. She looked dumbly at me like she had forgotten how to speak English.
After a minute, she nodded her head. I rummaged around in the cupboards looking for teabags and a cup. Finding a pink one with little flowers on it, I started the water to boil.
I sat close to her not knowing what to say. It wasn’t like we were true friends, ‘cause we weren’t; far from it. I managed a tentative pat on her knee. That was about the best I could do.
She sucked in some air. “He’s dead isn’t he?” Now, I am no expert on these things, but the fact that the Brain was dead did seem to be apparent.
“I think so,” I replied.
She sucked in some air and started making a choking sound.
“Oh no,” I thought, “Here it comes.” At that moment, there was a brief knock on the door and Blondie came rushing in.
“Angela, Angela,” she grabbed her friend and the two of them started sobbing together, rocking back and forth.
I got up and started backing toward the door. They didn’t appear to notice me. I got to the door, when through and closed it behind me. I let out a gasp, incredibly grateful to be out of there. I knew I should go down when the police showed up but I gave myself permission to go put on regular clothes first. Somehow I knew there were going to be a lot of questions.
What happened the next few hours and indeed the next few days was a blur of just that; questions, puzzlement and more questions.
I suppose I became the subject of so much inquiry because my apartment was above his. The police seemed convinced I must have seen or heard something. I had to repeat to them over and over that I had heard something like banging but that it seemed like wind and trees bagging on the side of the building.
What came out of this circular discussion was that there were no leads, no fingerprints, and no witnesses to anything. No one had a single clue as to how this had happened other than that the door was open and the murderer was able to simply walk in, stab the victim and walk out. The residents of the apartment rarely spoke or interacted with each other and the hallways were frequently empty.