The Colonel was shorter than me, but he had big hands. And they were noticably different sizes, which caused the big one to appear even more menacing. He looked pretty funny carrying those things around. It almost looked like he was going to fall over to one side. Maybe that's why he didn't usually hold them at his side. When he'd strut about the courtyard, he'd often grab his wrist to lock his hands behind his back, and he'd puff out his chest. He was very proud and vain.
"Officer on deck!" I yelled and snapped to attention as he stepped out of Room 5. He flapped a mitt at me in dismissal. I was lucky that he paid me no mind. I watched him walk left out of the courtyard and up towards room 3.
"Bloody Colonel," Tony said. He was filling a bucket of water from the outside tap.
"He's been better today," I replied. On a good day, you didn't notice him. On a bad day, he was all there was—totally obsessive. When he got something in his mind, he couldn't let it go. Like the time with the TV. He used to always dickey with the TV in his room. He'd slap the cable box and wiggle the antennaes and twist the cables. To nobody's fucking surprise, he broke it. And first thing when I arrived in the morning, he hounded me to fix it—wouldn't even let me take my coat off. I did my best but he'd broken a piece. I tried to explain that we didn't have the part he'd broken, and when I tried to walk away, he'd start screaming.
"I can't fix it! I'm sorry!" I'd angrily yell, "Look! The part is broken, look!" and I'd hold it up for him. He'd look at me, slack jawed. His brown eyes searched my face and the piece I held up. He tried to undertand my charades. I tried to say it in Vietnamese. "Kong. Khong... Look. Toi... Toi la mua. See?" He waved in dismissal. He didn't act like he could understand my Vietnamese, but I knew he understood the womens'.
What made him most annoying was his persistance. I would turn to leave and he would grab my elbow. And pull me around.
"Ah!" He would bark. "Ah ah!" He'd point at the TV.
You had to react carefully once he'd crossed that threshold. I was bigger than him and could pin him against a wall or at least wrap up his arms, but his persistance always beat mine. One particularly bad day, he grabbed and pulled at me for what must have been an hour. He stretched out my shirt. The worst was that he didn't shy away from grabbing anywhere. I've never clenched harder than when The Colonel's mitt grabbed my boys.
"Tuan oi! Khong, khong, khong." I'd run through every mispronunciation of Khong there is. He would just grab and laugh, drooling everywhere until you slapped him or shoved him away. He was always drooling. Except when he'd put on his Sunday clothes. The Colonel would hoard clothes the center provided until he found an ill-fitting outfit that resembled what able bodied Vietnamese children would wear to school. He'd put on a tight white shirt with blue dress pants and tie a bandana smartly around his neck, and it would be the only time he never drooled—careful to wipe any strands away with a bare forearm. Until he got upset of course, then it'd get all over him and his finery.
We'll come back to his singing later.