She called over a waitress and said something into her ear. The tones around them had become more hushed since Bpoo’s arrival. It was possible to talk now without yelling. The waitress returned a few minutes later with a bottle of champagne and a dozen fresh glasses. Bpoo popped the cork and poured.
   ‘Are you sure you should be drinking while you’re transcending?’ Civilai asked her.
   ‘What can they do to me?’ Bpoo laughed. ‘Revoke my dying license?’
   ‘How long have you got?’ Daeng asked.
   Bpoo looked up at the large clock over the kitchen hatch.
   ‘Half-an-hour,’ she said.
   ‘Are you afraid?’ Dtui asked her.
   ‘No more than I was about being born,’ Bpoo replied. ‘It’s all part of the natural equation. Ashes to ashes. It’s just that when you leave you have some say in your wardrobe.’
   ‘You know, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was some elaborate hoax to confirm how popular you are,’ said Siri.
   ‘There,’ said Bpoo.
   She stood and raised her drink.
   ‘That’s the cynicism I’ve been waiting for,’ she continued. ‘Let’s all drink to that. The elaborate hoax.’
   They all downed their champagne. Even Geung and Tukta who usually didn’t but thought, under these circumstances, they should.
   ‘Ahh,’ said Bpoo, smacking her lips. ‘Seven thousand kip a bubble but worth every pop.’
   ‘Did you win the Thai lottery?’ Dtui asked.
   ‘Yes,’ Bpoo replied matter-of-factly. ‘Three times, in fact. You’d be surprised how many trips I had to make to Udorn Thani before I could find the winning tickets.’
   They all glared at her.
   ‘You really…?’ said Dtui.
   ‘Of course,’ said Bpoo. ‘I see the future. How else do you think I could have funded all this debauchery? A platoon of uniformed soldiers doesn’t come cheap, you know?’
   ‘I thought you weren’t allowed to use your gift for personal gain,’ said Siri.
   ‘I didn’t,’ Bpoo smiled. ‘This is all for you lot. It’s a thank you for not being cruel to me. You see gathered around you all the people I met in my life who treated me fairly. Showed me some kindness. It wasn’t a common occurrence, let me tell you. But I don’t forget integrity. This is my present to them – to you.’
   She walked around the table doing one unsteady pirouette as she went. It allowed everyone the first sight of the porthole at the back of her dress exactly the size of her naked buttocks. Mr. Geung covered Tukta’s eyes with a napkin as she passed. Nobody else appeared to be shocked. This was Auntie Bpoo who flashed habitually. Anything less would have been a disappointment. She stood behind Dr. Siri and put her hands on his shoulders.
   ‘And, for you, doctor,’ she said. ‘I have an even bigger surprise.’
   ‘Why?’ he asked. ‘I’ve never been kind to you.’
   ‘No. You never talked down to me, either. Never treated me like an idiot. Admittedly you were never that polite but you inadvertently showed kindness from time to time. And, to be honest, there’s nobody else I can give this gift to. It wouldn’t fit anybody else.’
   ‘It’s pajamas,’ guessed Mr. Geung.
   ‘It’s pajamas,’ said Tukta.
   ‘No, my little nincompoops, nothing like that,’ said Bpoo. ‘But, first things first. I have other people to toast. More champagne bubbles to inhale. So, goodbye my friends and good fortune. And here, at last. A poem.’
   Siri groaned.
   She began,

   ‘And we are dead 
                       Fed to worms   Underground
                                        Then we’re found
                     And we can speak
                                            Not with groans
Our history revealed              In our bones
Initially
Squishily
Doctors Never Appreciate’

   And, with that, she melted back into the crowd.
   ‘Did that mean anything?’ Civilai asked.
   ‘Not to me,’ said Phosy.
   ‘Her poems never have meant anything,’ said Siri. ‘She just wants us all to go insane trying to work it out. Like this gift idea. She thinks I’ll lose sleep over what it is she’s going to give me. I’m used to her little tortures.’
   They drank some more and picked at the food but they couldn’t ignore the purpose of the evening which had permeated their moods. They tried to have fun but they continually eyed the clock that ticked towards 9 pm.
   With two minutes to go, there was a gunshot and everyone fell silent. By the kitchen door, a soldier with his pistol held aloft, stood beside the transvestite. Two more soldiers wheeled in an aluminium dolly – not unlike the one from the morgue.
   ‘If I didn’t know better…,’ Siri began.
   ‘She did ask nicely,’ Dtui blushed. ‘And the morgue is officially shut so it wasn’t being used. And she offered to pay for the rental.’
   ‘Never mind,’ Siri laughed.
   Four soldiers lifted Auntie Bpoo into the air like a singer in a musical and laid her on the trolly. She had nothing more to say. She waved like the Queen of England, north, south, east then west and lay her head back on the bright pink Hello Kitty pillow and sighed. Everyone watched the second hand of the clock.
   ‘Twenty’, shouted Siri as the hand reached eight.
   ‘Nineteen,’ shouted Daeng.
   By seventeen, everyone in the Russian Club was shouting down the seconds like the old royalist crowd at the Nam Poo fountain on New Year’s Eve. At nine exactly there was an almighty cheer.
   Then silence.
  
   ‘Do you think she’s really dead?’ asked Daeng.
   But Siri couldn’t hear her. He had static in his ears. Some radio ham seemed to have made contact with his mind and was surfing for a channel. The screech made his teeth tremble. The talisman around his neck burned his skin. His missing earlobe tingled. Then, words filled his head.
   ‘TESTING.
   ONE, TWO, ONE TWO.
   TESTING.’
   ‘Bpoo? Is that you?’ Siri asked, causing Daeng to look around.
   ‘Well, that was much easier than I’d expected,’ came Bpoo’s voice as resonant in Siri’s head as his own thoughts.
   ‘Are you my…?’ he began.
   ‘It’s dusty in here.’

 

   Unseen by the guests, a length of bamboo floated towards the bank. It’s pilot - naked as the day he was born - smiled to be home. Crazy Rajhid had returned.