The PA from Pyay

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Win Khine was already 15 minutes late and his draft of Myanmar beer had begun to quickly warm in the steamy Yangon evening air. He had skipped out of work that day, apparently because his love for whiskey had once again taken hold. Despite best efforts to impress his boss, who Win Khine liked to affectionately broadcast as “the best boss I ever had,” the drinking spells would ultimately erode his best intents. As a response, Win Khine’s boss employed an almost maniacal approach to dealing with his personal assistant, part of a double role that included personal driver. “Win Khine will get a beer when he comes,” John said. “He has already been drinking, so another won’t hurt.”

When Win Khine finally arrived he sat down next to John and, almost instinctively, unfurled a toothy grin, displaying two rows of teeth heavily stained by years of betel nut chewing. His slim frame slide to adjust on the feeble plastic chair, like a sailor trying to find balance amidst a rocky sea. Although an undeniably short man, Win Khine’s broad shoulders suggested he was anything other than weak, a product of his early life growing up on a farm in Pyay, where his mother and father still cultivate onions and bananas. Moving to Yangon wasn’t a decision his staunchly traditional parents agreed upon, either; they much preferred that their son stay close to home and mind his more filial responsibilities. Nor was the unexpected announcement of his wife’s pregnancy thought to be an event worth celebrating.

While Win Khine’s actions had demonstrated that he was not quick to be obsequious to conventional life of the village, he was more wont to do so when it came to John.

“What did you have to drink Win Khine?” John prodded. “High Class, again? You like that High Class whiskey.”

Win Khine paused. He somehow looked crestfallen even though the winkles below his eyes made it appear as is the top half of his face was smiling. “I did not drink, my boss,” he said in a choppy voice.

“Win Khine — I know you have been drinking. You are my PA and today was busy as hell. How am I supposed to run a company if one of my PA’s is going on a drinking binge?” John spurted out rhetorically.

“I’m sorry my boss,”  Win Khine said sheepishly.

“Never mind that. You have the best boss in the word, remember?  Now drink the beer,” John said. After taking some hardy gulps, Win Khine mustered the courage and, perhaps more crucially, energy to continue speaking. “You are the best boss I ever had. I kill you,” he said in butchered English. Though Win Khine would always mispronounce the word “care” by saying kill, John seemed to have given in to this endearing if hapless phrase, which Win Khine liked to characteristically overuse.

“I kill you, my boss,” Win Khine muttered on.

Win Khine’s drinking problem was well known throughout the office. He’d grown into the liberty of periodic disappearance acts over the past four years since joining the company, now with increasing frequency. About twice a month it could be expected that Win Khine would go into temporary radio silence, reappearing during working hours some 24 to 48 hours later. These disappearances only increased as his battle with the bottle continued. Even his respect for John would soon begin to wane, and his actions no longer reflect the “best boss” mantra he had so often practiced.

The sheepish replies to questioning of his uncontrolled habits was by no means the norm. One night, like so many before, Win Khine had joined John and the others — about six Myanmar in total — to a dinner that quickly culminated in several rounds of drinks. Win Khine’s inability to express himself in a linear manner brought the conversation into heated territory.

“You no understand Myanmar,” was the chorus on repeat that night, for Win Khine’s arguments invariably included succinct sentences that looped through long-winded speeches. It was a quality that made him more of a music box than one half of a dialogue. It was also the first cue to a forthcoming flee from confrontation, which he inherently abhorred, despite his routine of finding himself in them. John knew it was too hard to let him go, yet he could feel the time drawing nearer when Win Khine would run away with all his sulking sorrows and never return.

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