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Skin Deep

by Mike Bell

 

Even Boris’ mother had to admit he was not a pretty baby. Born during a particularly harsh winter in Smolensk, he grew up into a sickly child – his cruel school mates called him ‘Lurch’ because of his peculiar gait or ‘Dracula’ because of his very pale complexion and piercing eyes. Boris’ mother held out hopes that he would one day mature into a swan when he reached adulthood. She was still hoping when she died of a respiratory complaint at a comparatively early age. Her son inherited the same breathing problems as his mother. In middle age he could only sleep with the aid of a respirator and oxygen.

 

Naturally he had never married. One of his pitifully few friends told him of a land peopled by beautiful women who did not judge a man by his physical appearance but by his ability to provide. Here he had no problems as his father provided him with a generous monthly allowance. And so Boris Kolorov came to Thailand.

 

He did not have any of the problems most Russians have here. He had good English skills; he did not bring a dominant wife; he had learned to curb his race’s natural brusqueness as he strove to cultivate friendships. His one friend Jorge was married to a hard-working lady who had a clothing stall on The Made in Thailand market on Second Road. Wan had a sister who was looking for a farang husband since she had been deserted by her Thai partner. Some matchmaking took place and the four of them went out for a meal at the Ruen Thai restaurant. The Thai music and dancing could not disguise the fact that Wan’s sister, Noy-na, was less than impressed with Boris. He, however, was captivated by her.

 

Despite his urgings, there was no second date. He took to taking home girls from various bars in the vicinity of his rented room at the Lek hotel. One, in particular, Daeng, seemed not to mind the oxygen mask or the lack of physical chemistry. Boris saw her regularly three or four times a week though in his heart he thought only of Noy-na.

 

Jorge and Wan lived on an up-market estate East of Sukhumvit.  There was a house for sale in the next soi. Complete with swimming pool, it needed a little remedial work to bring it up to scratch and then it would be a good investment. Boris viewed it thoughtfully.

 

Within a day or two Noy-na phoned him. She apologized for the delay; her seven year old daughter was changing schools. She wondered if he knew of any near Jorge’s house. She wanted to know if he was thinking of buying a house near her sister Wan and she was not doing anything on Friday if he fancied going out for a meal. Boris had, in fact, arranged to meet Daeng but cancelled as he could see her anytime.

 

He and Noy-na had their date at the Hilton and this time she seemed much more susceptible to Boris’ clumsy courting. Her laughter rang loud and false round the restaurant. She stroked his hand across the glaring white tablecloth and gazed deep into his wild and staring eyes. By the end of the meal he had decided to buy the house. Noy-na returned with him to the Lek at the end of the evening. She did not sleep well; his heavy breathing and oxygen mask disturbed her. Still she had a house to decorate in her mind’s eye.

 

Things moved rapidly in the course of the next few weeks. Boris bought the house via a company. He hired a firm of builders to begin restoration work. Noy-na was a frequent visitor making suggestions and improvements; all of which Boris took on board. He still saw Daeng a couple of times a week when Noy-na was indisposed; a migraine; a business meeting; a fortune-teller. If he was honest, Boris had to admit he enjoyed his evenings with Daeng far more than the earnest house discussions he was forced to endure with the ambitious Noy-na yet tentative plans for a future wedding were coyly raised and tentatively agreed to, probably on his return from a trip to Russia to agree his future finances with his father.

 

In retrospect, January was not a good time to visit Smolensk particularly flying in from Thailand ’s daily average of 34 to a temperature well below freezing. And Boris paid a heavy price. He went to bed one night and never woke in the morning.

 

When he received Boris’ father’s email, Jorge was stunned. He had genuinely liked the Russian, his appearance notwithstanding. He quickly agreed to handle matters pertaining to the house. Noy-na, of course, was distraught. The builders were immediately dismissed with the promise that when she had sorted out the legal papers for her fiancée’s property, she would re-hire them. A local lawyer was hired with a view to filing a claim for her husband-to-be’s house. A meeting was arranged in the offices on Pattaya Nua where the matter would be clarified.

 

The smell of furniture polish hung heavy over the desk. The tiny office was packed out; Jorge and Wan, Noy-na and her lawyer and a stranger to them all; a young man in a suit who glanced about him nervously. According to Noy-na’s lawyer everything was cut and dried: Boris’ only living relative, his father, would make no claim on the house. His grieving fiancée was the sole natural claimant, so everything could be quickly disposed of. Everyone nodded solemnly except the young man.

 

He cleared his throat nervously and shuffled through some papers before he began to speak. ‘I have to disagree with what has gone before. I drew up the papers for Mr. Kolorov’s company whose only asset is the house. By Thai law, as you know, from your own experience, Khun Jorge, the Company must have fifty one per cent Thai shareholders, at least.’

 

Here he paused and looked meaningfully round the tiny office and was gratified by their close attention. He held a piece of paper aloft.‘This is a list of shareholders, drawn up by me, on Khun Boris’ instructions. He, naturally was the majority shareholder with forty nine per cent. I and my secretary hold a mere five per cent, and a Miss Kittysak holds the other forty six.’

 

There was a baffled silence, so he plunged on. ‘As Khun Boris was not a well man, I asked what would happen in the event of his early demise. On this paper, he clearly states his and my shares all revert to Miss Kittysak, whom he always referred to as Daeng. The house is hers.’