They say 1 in 7 kids between the ages of 10 and 18 will run away at some point. I wondered if someone would appear out of the corner of the gloomy streets, yanking me backward, scolding me for daring to climb on the bus. I felt a sharp pang as I realized that, with Bangkok's fast pace, no one would ever slow down, let alone look for me—not even when I needed them to.
I thought of a place to go, knowing I wouldn’t last a night in the loudness of the city. The lights were always too bright, the people were always too intoxicated, and I was always too scared. I didn’t plan to run away, not really. I only needed my parents to notice I was gone, to know that what they said hurt me. Just one call from either one of them and I would be off this stupid bus, but that call never came. So, I hugged my backpack tighter as I watched people live their lives. I felt a mournful melody start in my chest. Piano Man was awake, and he wanted to play.
“Excuse me, where are we?” I asked as the bus slowed to a stop; everyone got up to leave. The conductor looked at me, incredulous and sorry at the same time.
“Hua Lamphong Railway Station,” She huffed before adding, “It’s also our last stop. You lost, kid?”
I felt a sharp pang of embarrassment, like a false note hit with utmost confidence.
I shook my head, hiding my blush. For a moment, I wanted to go home; however, almost as quickly as the thought crept into my mind, I decided against it—not out of fury towards my parents—but more out of shame from my lack of plan and purpose. I hated that my brain still craved to fit in, even with my best intentions to be rebellious. So, following the pace of other people, I walked to the station. Piano Man commenced a rushed rhythm as I went.
Despite being on a train for the first time in years, I found myself quite comfortable and almost calm as the platform blurred away from view. I tried to let the clatter of metal wheels block my blaring thoughts, and yet it reminded me of the first time I rode with dad—a forgotten note I didn't expect to ever sing again. Piano Man played a sharp pang that shattered the mild melody, and I was no longer at peace.
"May I sit with you?" I looked up, startled, not so much because a random girl addressed me—but because a random girl addressed me in English. It was baffling as I was heading to Nakhon Pathom, a province somewhat less of a tourist attraction than others. I was tempted to feign a heavy Thai accent so she would think I wasn't capable of following a conversation; however, having been raised by my parents, it was hard to be impolite.
"I didn't mean to bother. I was just… " She trailed off. I waited.
"Just lonely." She almost whispered, and something inside me broke. Piano Man stopped playing, leaving an eerie silence after his tune. I searched her brown eyes for mischief only to find desperate gleams of hope. I knew better than to trust anyone so easily, but I felt my head nodding before I could stop myself. I thought it was because I, too, was so lonely.
She sat facing me, and I wondered what business a foreign girl my age had on a second-class train as such. They say curiosity kills the cat; I chanced upon it.
The girl only blinked. I tried again.
"Where are you headed?" English rolled off my tongue clumsily, and Piano Man jumped to an octave higher than I had expected him to, a pleasant surprise.
"College," The girl beamed. "I mean, I don't go to college. Not yet, no. My brother, Jason does. I'm just visiting him." She paused. "Oh! I'm sorry, are you comfortable speaking English?" Her rambling went straight into a long groan, her right hand flying to her face.
"How is she supposed to answer if she's not?" The girl chided herself in a low voice, looking away.
"Woah. No worries,” I chuckled. “English is fine."
I felt a sharp pang as I noticed it was the first time I smiled that day.
"Olivia" She stretched out her hand. I stared, realizing that I'd never shaken hands with anyone before, not even with the people in my English class.
"Oh! I'm sorry. Do I have to… um,"
She clapped her hands together, a weird imitation of flight attendants greeting passengers on Thai Airways. I knew instantly what she was trying to do.
"Noooo. Let's just shake hands.” I shook my head quickly. “I really don’t mind."
The girl’s whole face lit up as fast and as brightly as a kid careening around a verdant meadow, butterflies bursting from every little patch she touched. Piano Man seemed to agree, his notes bouncing around tickling my stomach.
"I–I'm Nita." I stammered, cursing my nerves.
We shook hands.
"So, are you visiting someone as well?"
"Not really," I said, unwilling to reveal my true intentions.
"Well, whatever it is you plan to do in Nakhon Pathom, I'm glad you decided to do it." Olivia beamed, and I suddenly felt guilty for everything I did so far. Would she still smile knowing that I was running away? I shook my head as if my guilt would magically morph into something else by doing so.
"What if I'm there to kill someone?" I commented.
"In that case, I'll have to report to 911 that a murderer confessed on a train in broad daylight,” She paused, thoughtful. “They seem to be undercover, too, dressed up as a pretty girl and all." She said, just so. I felt a pang, sweet and soft, the most splendid staccato one could think of.
"In Thailand, you would call 191." I pointed out. Olivia’s mouth dropped, and suddenly curled into a smile.
"Well, aren't you the kindest murderer I've ever met?"
We threw our heads back, laughing. Piano Man smiled.
It was almost noon when we reached Nakhon Pathom. I checked my phone to see if my parents had called; they didn't.
"Do you want me to wait for your brother with you?" I asked, eyeing my new friend.
"Yeah. That'd be—," A buzz cut her off, and for a moment I almost smiled at the thought of my parents looking for me. The buzz wasn't from my phone though.
“Oh, okay,” Olivia mumbled to her caller, sounding disappointed; I realized I didn't like the idea of someone letting her down. She sighed, and pocketed her phone, pouting at me.
"Brother not here?" I guessed.
"Couldn't make it," She furrowed her brows, shaking her head. “This is the first time I came all the way to visit him. He should be a little bit more enthusiastic to see me!" She whined.
"First time ever?" I couldn't help but gape. "You're brave boarding a train alone!" Olivia bid her lip and smiled.
"I wasn’t alone. You were with me, silly."
She nudged my shoulder, and I felt a pang where she touched, a pleasant note catching me off guard.
We ended up at a park nearby; Olivia finally asked the question.
“Where is your home anyway?”
“Uh… not far,” I mumbled.
“As in, here?”
“Could be,” It wasn’t a blatant lie, but for some reason, it troubled me. “Why don’t you go first,” I tried. “ Where’s your home?”
“Probably Miami,” She answered, shrugging. “Actually, I was born here, in Thailand. My parents divorced. Dad took me home with him—his home. I grew up there, and I have friends there, so yeah, probably Miami.” Olivia paused as if trying to convince herself into believing the tale just told. “I guess being here now—feels like this place’s been waiting for me to come back,” She shook her head. “It’s silly,”
Looking at her, I felt a sharp pang, making me doubt everything I thought I knew about home. Where exactly was home? Could I even go back at all?
“That’s not silly.” I finally said. “That’s honest.”
“Bangkok,” I paused to look at her. “I live in Bangkok, you know, the city we rode from,” Olivia stared at me with such bewilderment and concentration as if I were reciting the prettiest poem. I would hate to see her frown at my last line. I kept on, though, candid as closing chords should be.
“I— I ran away.” I sighed, admitting the truth. Her brown eyes landed on my backpack, and she tilted her head slightly.
“You certainly didn’t bring a lot.” Olivia acknowledged.
That was it? No judgment? No questions? My lips curled into a grateful smile.
“I’m not planning to be gone for long,” I chuckled. “Plus, I think I have what I need.” I grinned at her, meaning more than what I said.
"Everyone should feel free to love whoever they love, you know." Her sweet voice penetrated the silence after a while. "Including you, Nita."
Piano Man halted, and my heart skipped a beat. Was it that easy to see right through me? Was Piano Man being too loud? Could she possibly notice that I was falling ever so slowly for her honeyed eyes and artless jokes? She nodded towards my backpack, looking straight at my lesbian pride badge, orange and pink now gleaming in the bright sunlight.
"Oh," I stammered. The piano man resumed. "No one ever noticed,"
"Really? That's the prettiest and most honest badge I’ve ever seen," She said. It sounded like something else, like a starting crescendo creeping and crawling up to that part of the song—the one everyone talks about at the end of the night.
“You keep checking your phone. You miss it, don’t you?”
“Your parents, your home,” She paused. “Everything you left behind.” My breath hitched in my throat. I felt a sharp pang, sounding forlorn and fearsome all together.
“Yeah, I do,” I sighed. “But at home, I have to hide a big part of me, and I’m tired. Really tired.” There was a brief silence before she spoke.
"Then, go. Runaway to Chiang Mai or something. That's further up north, isn't it?" Olivia suggested, surprising me yet again. I pictured myself miles from home, alone and scared. Would I truly be happy so far away? I felt another sharp pang at the thought of my parents. They would miss me, wouldn't they?
"Honestly," I sighed, looking up at the sky. "I just wanna be loved and accepted. I don't know if running away is really the answer." I confessed. It sounded more like a wish. Olivia nodded and rested her head on my shoulder, her dark hair soft on my cheeks. “When you’re ready,” She breathed, her voice like a soothing melody. “Talk to mom and dad. I think they would love you anyway—no, they do love you anyway." She said, seeming steady and so sure. "It’s impossible not to love you,” Olivia whispered as if it were a secret. Piano Man played and played to the most ravishing rhythm; little by little, my heart happily hopped and bounced its way to believing.
Not far from where we sat was a family of four, the little ones squealing as they chased each other, the grown-ups relaxing on the grass as they watched the kids play. I felt a pang, a longing for something I couldn't quite name.
"Do you believe in forgotten songs?" I blurted out suddenly.
"Like when you hear new music, but it sounds familiar?"
"This feels like that."
I didn't know what she meant by this. Children squealing? Birds chirping? People laughing? River flowing? I only knew that I found my forgotten song the day I found Olivia—a sharp pang I never thought existed, tugging and pulling me home.
I never learned how Olivia’s forgotten song sounded when Jason picked her up. He thanked me for keeping his sister company, not realizing that it should have been the other way round.
“Whatever you do, promise me you’ll stay safe,” Olivia whispered. For the first time, she looked scared, her eyes almost begging. I felt a pang of sadness, the lowest cadence of notes rumbling through my chest.
“Okay.” I breathed. I didn't tell her, but I would do anything for her, anything to see her sweet smile linger a while longer, anything to give her song the most magical melodies she could ever sing to. “I’ll miss you.” I said, and I wondered briefly if it would be alright to kiss her goodbye.
“Me too,” Olivia snuck a piece of paper in my hand. “Bye”
She was gone.
On the train ride home, I thought of Olivia, but I also thought of mom and dad. For once, I admitted wholeheartedly that I missed them. I pulled out my phone and realized that it had been on airplane mode the whole time. The moment I switched the mode off, missed calls and text messages popped up as profuse and fast as butterflies fluttering for freedom. My stomach churned—for the worst reason. A pang of guilt hit me, sharp and loud like a false note, sounding terrible as ever. I swallowed my fears, braced myself, and called mom.
After her litany of 'You are so in trouble, young lady', mom cried hysterically. I wiped fat tears away, suddenly realizing how much I missed her and the language we speak—realizing, at last, how much I missed home. I apologized, and I knew mom could hear the penitence in my voice.
“Mom?” I said suddenly before she could hang up. “rák′-pâw-gàp′-mæ̂-ná′-ká′a.”
I heard her chuckle through her tears. I held my breath.
“We love you too.” She answered. “We love you because you're our daughter, and nothing will ever change that.” I sniffed, grateful. I felt Piano Man hammering his last notes, and the audience roared.
“I know, mom.”
You were right, Olivia.
As I slumped back into the seat, I smiled in spite of the huge trouble I was in. Nothing else seemed to matter now that I knew I had somewhere to be. I was going to mom and dad. I was going home.
I found Olivia’s number on the paper she gave me. I couldn’t call her quicker if I tried.
“You’re going home?” She squealed. “I knew it!”
“Yeah,” I giggled at her excitement.
"Get home safe, Nita." I could hear the smile in the song of her voice, tugging and pulling me towards her. I knew that it would never truly be home without Olivia, but if I had learned anything on my fleeting journey, it was this: I can always find my way back home.
I might not see her again that day, or the day after that, or years after so—yet forgotten songs are never truly forgotten, especially ones like her. I felt a sharp pang, happy and hopeful, almost sounding like two girls roaring with laughter in a meadow full of butterflies.
Piano Man smiled, ready for his next number.
jà′-bhai′-nǎi′-ká′ = Where are you going?
rák′-pâw-gàp′-mæ̂-ná′-ká′a = Dad and mom, I love you both.