Hi guys! I recently entered a prompt-based fiction writing contest hosted by Word Warriorz and won. The story's already been published on emilyscale.com but in case you missed it, here it is.
“Xi! Xi!” I heard my mother call out. I stopped playing and threw the rest of my pebbles to the floor. I ran to her.
“Yes, mother?” I said diligently, as the obedient daughter I was.
“It’s time,” she said. I nodded. I knew exactly what she was referring to. The time had come for me to go fetch water at the river, as per the routine. I took two jerry cans and started following the path to the river. “Keep behind the big kids,” she said, “and don’t leave the path. No straying Xi!”
“Yes mum!” I shouted back as I skipped along happily. Going to the river was my favourite part of the day. The water was always warm, but not too warm; cold, but not too cold. We would play in it, as innocent children would. That day was going to be no different. I could already see myself splashing about in the cool waters. I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. It was my best friend, Ly. He pointed to the bigger kids straddled across the path. I shuddered.
Though the big kids always accompanied us small kids to the river, the bigger kids would still find a way to pick on us. It was forbidden for the bigger kids to pick on the big kids. However, there was no such rule to protect us small kids from the bigger kids. Ly and I huddled closer to the big kids. None of us small kids breathed a word as we made it through the group of bigger kids. There were about ten of them, each of them with a mean grin on their face. I was glad when we made it to the river safe and sound.
“I don’t get why they have to be so mean,” Ly said to me as we jumped into the river.
“Maybe they’re just not happy,” I thought out loud.
“That doesn’t excuse their behavior Xi,” Ly said sternly.
“I know, I just feel sorry for them.”
“You’re always so empathetic!”
“Is it wrong?”
“No, it’s admirable.”
I smiled. We played some more before moving higher up the river to fill our jerry cans. We would use that water to water the seedlings in the nursery. I couldn’t help but think of how wonderful it was that those tiny seedlings would grow into big leafy trees. Strong trees. Trees that would produce tasty fruit that would feed us. I WISH I COULD BE A TREE.
“Be careful what you wish for!”
I turned around sharply. “Ly, did you say that?”
“Say what?” Ly asked, mystified.
“Never mind,” I said as I looked around. I saw something move in the bushes that were at the other side of the river. “Well it can’t be from there because it was rather whispery,” I thought to myself. Nonetheless, I was curious. I started making my way across the river.
“You can’t do that!” Ly said as he firmly held my hand. “What if the current sweeps you away? We’re just about to leave, you’ll be left behind!”
“But I have to see…”
“We’ll come back tomorrow. Live to see another day.”
Ly could tell that I was not happy about it. “Fine,” he said, “as soon as we’re at the nursery and done watering the seedlings, I’ll sneak you back.”
“You’ll teleport me here? But that could get you in trouble!”
“Would you rather I didn’t?”
I shook my head. “No.”
We picked up our cans and headed back. I did my part of the watering rather quickly, taking care not to overdo it. I couldn’t wait to go see what was in the bushes at the other side of the river. I hoped it would be an abandoned flying car that had happened to crash in the bushes, then I’d fix it up and Ly and I would fly it anywhere we pleased. I squealed a little bit when Ly gave me the secret signal. I tried to contain my excitement. I followed him behind a shed when no one was looking, but just as I got there, one of the bigger kids, Ty, stepped up to us. Clearly, I had miscalculated. I panicked. He had an evil smile on his face and I could tell that the torment was just about to begin. I hated the way his being there made me feel really small. Just as Ty was about to drag us from behind the shed, Ly took my hand and teleported us away. A different kind of panic wave took over me. No one but I knew that Ly was already teleporting. It was against the rules for us smaller kids to teleport, if we could, without supervision.
“Oh Ly, we’ll get into so much trouble!”
“Big whoop! We’re thirteen, we can do whatever we want!”
I wanted to point out how not true that was but I had been charmed by the scenery. So beautiful!
“It is quite a sight, isn’t it?” It was the whispery voice again.
“Okay, who said that?” I shouted as I looked around.
“I did.” Said a shadowy creature. As it emerged from the shadows, I could see it was a person, Isirept. Isirept had been our most revered advisor, before disappearing into thin air. Because Isirept was neither male nor female, Isirept was held to a higher stature and admired by most for having broken down gender boundaries. However, the revelry died down after Isirept disappeared in our time of greatest need. Looking around, I saw that Ly had disappeared and that I was all alone with Isirept.
“What did you do to him?” I asked, in a shaky voice.
“It’s not what I’ve done, it’s what you’ve done. You’ve transported yourself to the other dimension.”
“I have? But how is that possible?”
“I don’t know. I have to warn you though, I have never found a way back.”
“But I could hear you!”
“Yes, you could.”
“Does that mean that I was moving back and forth the two dimensions?”
“But how could you hear me?”
“Well, girlie, we’re connected.”
“You’re a sage.”
“A sage. Wisdom is your forte. You need to lead your people into prosperity.”
I pinched myself. “I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming.”
“Are you done?”
“So I’m not dreaming.”
“Oh wise Isirept, how can I lead anyone to prosperity? I am thirteen years old! I’m still a small kid!”
“Being small doesn’t mean you can’t be great.”
“Right, but everyone else has a special power. Ly can teleport. Mean Ty can turn anyone into any animal as he so wishes. My mother can communicate with the spirits of the land. My neighbor has a brain that will put a supercomputer to shame…”
Isirept cut me off. “Oh yes. Evolution sure has done you good. But it will all be chaos soon. We don’t have much time. Here, catch!” Isirept said and threw me some strange object. “Take these too,” Isirept said and threw me more objects.
“Right. A singular pearl, some weird tin thing and…what is this third one?”
“A bythiersgyrinkspot!” Isirept said, rather proud.
“Are you sure you’re not making this stuff up?”
“Why would you think that?”
“Because that word is quite a mouthful? I’ll just call it the third thingy.”
I watched as Isirept conjured up a soft breeze which made the objects vanish. “They will appear when you most need them. Tell no one.” Isirept said, then vanished.
I looked around. I was back in the bushes across the river. I looked around for Ly but he was nowhere to be seen. I guessed that I must have been gone for long because it had gotten quite dark. I was quite apprehensive about swimming across the river but I knew that I had to. It was my way home. As I was preparing to do so, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. I turned around and came face to face with a tall, strong, ruggedly handsome, oddly familiar man. “Xi! It’s you! I’ve been scouring these bushes and everywhere else for years hoping you’d come back.”
I gasped. “Ly?”
“Yes. Are you okay? You’ve been gone for years! Everyone was so worried about you!”
“Years?” I looked at him, then at myself. I could see that my body had grown all the way up to post puberty. “But how?”
“Well, you’ve been on and off to see Isirept…”
I cut him off. “How do you know about that?”
“Ok. I really wish I could explain but there’s no time. The sun hasn’t come up for ages and the land is dry. In case you hadn’t noticed, the river is gone!”
I looked to where I pointed and realized that what he was saying was indeed true, the river was gone and the entire land was dry. The only green thing for miles were those very bushes behind us. As I looked to see what else had changed, he teleported us back home. I could see that the people were frail and weak, like they hadn’t had a meal in weeks, possibly months.
“You’ve been gone for ten years. Nine months ago Esupet returned and…well, he did this. We’ve had no water since then, and the sun hasn’t risen. He said that he was angry that your mum and Isirept cast him out for hi ‘innocent ventures’ and that he will not stop until he gets his revenge.”
“But how did you know that I was on and off to see Isirept?”
“I don’t know, I guess I just knew.”
I moved away from him. “Stay away from me,” I said.
He could see that I was shaken, that I didn’t trust him. “I am not him, Xi, I am not my father. I would never hurt anyone!”
“Tell me the truth. How did you know?”
“He read your mother’s mind then killed her.”
“Esupet? Then how did you know?”
“He told me.”
“So your wicked father voluntarily revealed that information to you? Am I supposed to believe that?” I could feel the colour filling my cheeks. I was angry. I felt betrayed. I couldn’t believe that Ly would lie to me as he and I very well knew that the only way he would get any information from his father was if he possessed him and controlled his mind, which was forbidden on account of violating free will. I started to walk away but was immediately stopped by a booming voice.
"Very well son! You found the golden goose!” It was Esupet. “It’s high time I returned, given that I was cast out unfairly.”
“Oh yes, your ‘innocent ventures’. You were controlling people, making them steal and kill for you.” I said.
“I only killed off the bad people. But today I’m here for you. I know Isirept gave you something. Give it to me and I’ll return everything to the way it was,” said Esupet.
“Just do as he says,” Ly nudged me. I could tell he was scared that Esupet would harm me. It crossed my mind that perhaps I had judged him too harshly before. I tried thinking of anything that Isirept had said that would help out, be it for a little while. The tin object appeared before me. I could see Esupet reach to grab it but I waved my hand in the same fashion as Isirept had and behold! Esupet was entrapped in it. Ly and I couldn’t believe our eyes. Now that I had Esupet trapped, I had no idea what I would do with him. I could feel a strange wind blowing as I closed my eyes and wished that Esupet had never existed. I called for the pearl and it summoned the rain clouds. As it started raining, I opened my eyes. I could feel that something was different. I looked around. Mother was alive. Ly was gone.
There’s this burning in my chest that I just can’t free myself from. A hollowing in my soul, a heart rugged with scars. How do I put this aptly – I’m dying. Slowly, I’m sinking into the abyss that my life has become. The pain I’ve been trying not to feel for so long is coming down hard on me. I must’ve been a fool to think that I could’ve remained forever numb. It runs so deep in my veins I just want to let it out, let it flow, and so if you come across cut marks on my arms or slashes on my wrists, do not be surprised. Pain flows in, blood flows out. Or maybe anorexia. Or bulimia. Or shit that actually works, say cocaine or heroin? Maybe even crystal meth. Where am I going with this? Quite frankly I do not even know. But one thing I do know is that pain scares the life out of me. It’s not even logical. How can a human being living in pain be so afraid of the one thing that confirms her life? Pain stops me from doing all those things. I cannot fight fire with fire, that’s just creating more fire. And so here I am, in the lonely hour, alone, trying to fight insomnia and get at least two three hours of sleep before the rude awakening. Which brings me to the question, why am I doing this? Day after day, going through the same damn thing over and over again, bearing the pain, wielding the glue that holds everything together, putting on a brave face and a brave smile, why? I could try taking the easy way out but it’s never worked for me for the times I’ve tried it. Am I weak, cowardly? I beg to differ. As many stay alive for they are afraid of death just as many seek their death for they are afraid of life. Who’s the pot calling the kettle black? There is certain bravery in seeking the world of the departed for who knows what follows; the happy hereafter of rainbows and leprechauns and candy canes and pots of gold and unicorns or the doomed hereafter with hell fire and lava springs and nuclear fission and tripods and all things red and flamey? Or maybe even none of them? Or reincarnation?
I don’t know why I do this, every single time you ask me, my answer is the same. You found me broken. You found me psycho. You found me with an innate passion of all things dark, like my lifelong dream of being an assassin. You found me like this. I understand why you would want to fix me. It’s a cruel reality to wake up every morning to the fact that the person that could easily be the love of your life is all these things. Correction – the person you believe to be the love of your life. And so you keep your quest, every single day trying to make me better, trying to make peace with the voices in my head, trying to make peace with the different people that I am, trying to answer why so you can make it stop, trying to take me into the abyss of candy canes and all things nice in the here and now, trying to heal me/help me heal. I get all that. Yes, we did hit it off. We connected, a connection deeper than I have ever had with any other person. Possibly even the deepest I’ll ever have, even sexually (and God knows I wouldn’t want to give that up). I could go deeper, pardon the pun, but that would turn this into a porn section.
You have seen what you think are all my demons. Yet that’s not even the half of it. It takes a lot of love and commitment to keep up with that craziness. Unfortunately, you cannot come out of it alive. And you know it. You can see it. I see it too. It’s eating you away. It’s rotting your very core. Soon your lungs will give way. You cannot keep living like this. This is my curse not yours. And in as much as you try to label it as ‘our curse’ in the spirit of oneness, I just can’t let you. It kills me inside to see you do that. It adds to the pain. It’s not fixing me; it’s pulling me apart quicker. And I know you’ve run out of options. But you’d never give up. We live in the moment, cherishing every bit, till the tornado sweeps forth and topples the boat. And though we’re in the same boat, the tornado leaves me a board to hang onto, what do you get? Nothing! It drowns you. It sinks you. You cannot resurface. Like the scene of Titanic where Rose is on the floating thingy and Leo (I forget his character’s name) is in the freezing waters. He dies. And yes, there was enough space for both of them on the floating thingy. That’s where the difference comes in, my floating thingy is my demons. Demons get you in, demons get you out. But you chased out all your demons long ago. You have majorly angels. My demons pull you in with me, your angels cannot pull you out. And so it happens. How you even resurface, I do not know, but one thing is for sure, you get weaker each time, and we both can see it. But still you hang on. You’re dying and we have to face it. Correction, I’m killing you as I die.
So why not just end this. Say the word because only you can. I’ve tried, doesn’t work when I do it. It wasn’t meant to be after all, you were ready for the plunge, I wasn’t. You are in love with me, I love you, but I am not in love with you. I said yes because I couldn’t say no, because you couldn’t stop asking, because I figured, “What have I to lose?” Well, I have you to lose. But it was going to happen anyway, I mean whoever heard of a boy and a girl who are best friends and don’t end up together one way or another, even if it doesn’t last? I might also be gay, not sure though. Though the right way to put it would be bisexual. It’s not like I haven’t been to the other side of the vineyard. I know I said I put it behind me – the truth to that is…not so much, not even close. Let’s just call it questioning for now, I mean, whatever the case I am definitely a member of the LGBTQY community and sitting on that just sucks. But it’s better to sit on it than to not sit on it because not sitting on it would mean I’d have to prepare myself for an exorcism. In fact, not sitting in any of these things would need me to prepare for an exorcism. But you already know most of them, don’t you?
I lie to you. That you know too, but you only know the lies that I let you know. Guess you lie to me too but hey, I trust it’s for a good reason. Yet I know you don’t lie to me. I’m a pathological liar. I’ve had years and years of practice. I do it without even batting an eye lash. Even a lie detecting test can’t trace the lies. Well, maybe the sophisticated one can, but not for long. Why do I lie? Sometimes a lie is better than the truth. For instance, if you were to read this, you would break into pieces that would never fit back together. Because some things in it I just can’t tell you. I should, probably, but how do I get around to it? Maybe it would be better if you read it. Maybe it would be better if you don’t. But one thing’s for sure, tonight you lie awake wondering how tired I was to go to bed at 10, the other day it was 9…and so it goes…well, if I were asleep I wouldn’t be writing this now, would I? I just can’t take it anymore and so I try to stay away. And part of staying away is avoiding the late night texting, which I love doing by the way, but one of these days all these will spill out, then what?
Am I trying to hurt you? No. am I trying to make you look the fool for love? Definitely not. I am lucky to have you. Blessed. But I can’t keep doing this anymore. These are not normal people problems. Normal people do not have split personalities or obsessive disorders or are schizos. We both aren’t normal. I’m turning you into me and it just isn’t fair. You know it, you said it, and I said it. The voices in my head tell me to tell you the truth, tell you how I really feel. I just wasn’t ready for commitment, probably never will be. I can’t even commit to finishing prescriptions. I have never committed to a promise, not even one to myself. And I love you. And I care for you. And now I’m stuck here, not knowing what to make of the end to our story. Maybe it doesn’t end. Maybe it goes on forever. Maybe. But the truth is, in my head, in my heart, it doesn’t go on forever. It ends. It ends when you break.
Morning dewdrops are effete linings of fallen clouds that take a nap on the life just a few feet above the sea level. They give mornings a feeling of calmness and unfledged part of the day that buds into this warm and cosy and sometimes churning air like now in India. Every person has a normal routine when they wake up: some shower, some get to look for something to eat, some do not actually have a routine making that the routine, some call or text those they love, some just lie in bed. Mine was the latter two, and it’s you I had in mind most of the mornings I woke up and wasn’t physically next to you.
Now, can’t sleep, no appetite, no psyche to get outta bed; looking like a frail doll just expeditiously made for no apparent aim or motive, but have to live through another morning of despair. Sounds like a low self-esteemed person, yeah I know that, but that used to be me way before.
Understanding situations to me is usually easy irrespective of time taken to perceive that’s why I’m able to toss a few words in and out to try and make sense out of nonsense. But every person has a weakness of letting those close to them fall under the scrutiny line of friends and you are no exception, I never thought too deep and too far about you until when I opted to see if I try and save you from yourself. Now as this situation stands tall, none of it makes sense at all.
You say ‘There’s this burning in my chest that I just can’t free myself from. A hollowing in my soul, a heart rugged with scars. How do I put this aptly – I’m dying. Slowly, I’m sinking into the abyss that my life has become. The pain I’ve been trying not to feel for so long is coming down hard on me. I must’ve been a fool to think that I could’ve remained forever numb. It runs so deep in my veins I just want to let it out, let it flow, and so if you come across cut marks on my arms or slashes on my wrists, do not be surprised’
No one asked you to remain numb, no one asked you to die; but you did, and maybe it’s not because you want to but because of certain situations that are in your reach only that you can’t physically grasp it. I know how swiftly a heart can be exploited by another heart, by words, situations or by somebody’s own mind and most of the times it doesn’t aptly conform to what is of truth and heart aches grow out of this.
If I’m to reminisce about us, I could write three or four best-selling novels and could win tons of prizes because they are precious moments in both our lives with both taste and fun and any other component that may come to mind. But I will only remind you of a few moments.
What I love about you is a lot; that you give credit where it is deserved, give chances a way to start and see where it will lead to, you toil with other people minds; you know, as you call it a psychopath, I love how you open up to me, how you let me in so that I can unwind a few tangled knots inside you, how you listen to me, how you gently you choose list is endless.
Waking up next to you, sleeping next to you, walking next to you, cooking next to you, well you cooking and I spooning and getting you horny and making the wall a bed, taking a bath with you, brushing your teeth, laughing and taking pictures of you pooping, going for shopping with you, discussing stuff with you, the sex, the funny laughter, getting high on coffee, unearthing each other’s manic heights, tickling …
It’s not only about love when honeymoon ends, it’s about care and affections, daily ablutions off of pain and problems, it’s about holding hands, it’s about tasting the waters on all corners, it’s about switching TV channels of our lives. But the love still lingers around and around, can be seen, neither hidden nor blinded, clear as crystal, sunlit but blizzards hit hard, and sometimes, as strong as it is, it swiftly falls down dead seemingly lost off the face of earth.
I love you I do, I have proven to you more than any normal person could say the expected number of words in a day, I care about you and your life, I miss making love to you dawn till dusk, I miss talking with and listening to you openly without setbacks and am patient, or I used to be; can’t say more now, but I can ask you to let me love you, let me make you fall in love with me once again, to let me delicately select the pieces thought of dead to you.
It doesn’t end when I break, it ends when closed doors stay shut, and no one wills to find a key, or break the door. I never break, I just slip into a dark place, not as so to get your arse out, but to find me before I find you. I’ll find you snow white, I know I will again.
I paused. I wondered what to write. So far I had nothing, just 'Dear Michael'. What would I even say? "Relax," I told myself, "Michael isn't going to read this letter, it's for your own benefit, it's for you to get out those feelings you've been burying deep inside." I looked at the foolscap. I closed my eyes and sighed. "OK, let's get this over with," I said. I opened my eyes and started writing and didn't stop until I finished.
I don't know what you were hoping for exactly on Saturday when you came over with a movie but when you said you came so that I can apologize, I got angry. Apologize for getting sick? You broke up with me because I got sick? Yes, later on on Saturday night, you texted and explained and said I push you away every time I get sick - which is a lot because I have a faulty immune system- but what I don't get is how you feel pushed away exactly when I'm experiencing mind-blowing pain. Maybe you should explain that. Also you said that I was being ungrateful when I said that you're only here for the good times and nowhere to be found when the bad times come knocking. I wasn't being ungrateful. It does feel that way on my end. Let's take the last two weeks for instance, you've broken up with me twice in a span of two weeks - when I was sick. Yes, you do take care of me when I'm sick but really that's more of a distant memory. Do you know on Wednesday you came in and just sat there, watching movies on your laptop, not a kiss hello, not a kiss goodbye? At least that's what I remember. Maybe I should hear your side of the story, I'm sure I'm biased right now because my heart hurts. However, I'm sure that deep down, this isn't about me getting sick and you feeling pushed away. I think this is about something bigger. Something that goes all the way back to when we met. Remember those day? You were busy chasing down just about everything in a skirt until you met that one girl that got all your attention and suddenly your focus changed. Suddenly you were interested in one girl and one girl only. She occupied all your thoughts, conscious and sub-conscious. All you ever talked about was how you would make her yours. You talked of how deep down you knew she was the one. And Lord knows deep down into a year of us dating I never ceased to hear her name. That girl is Mel. Mel was on of the few friends I had made in college when we started, way back two years ago. My part in all this - I was the DUFF. Bianca and Wesley had their happily ever after, and I thought we would get to have ours too, but I guess life had other plans. I guess part of the problem was you loved her and we both knew it. And when you couldn't get her, you settled for the next obvious choice - the DUFF. I hate that day when I lied to myself that we were going to be happy, I'm a smart girl, I know better, I should have known better. We were never meant to be, you knew it, I knew it. But still every time I tried to walk away, something held me back. I see what was now. That was my blindness, Lord knows I could see through your charm. Then again Prince Charming was raised to be charming, not nice. After all, who says, "I don't want to lose you because I don't want to start all over again,"? I've heard 'I don't want to lose you because I love you', 'I don't want to lose you because I can't live without you' and all the other sugar-coated words that may or may not be meant but I have never heard 'I don't want to lose you because I don't want to stuff all over again'. And you didn't stop there. "That process is so long and boring, I don't want to do that," you continued. All those times and I never said anything. Mostly because trying to tell you something would end up with 'Do you think I'm stupid?' or 'How dumb do you think I am?' and if I was lucky you'd also throw in 'You're stupid/dumb/lazy'. Also, your issue is how I hurt you. I hurt YOU. I know no one is perfect, I'm not claiming to be, but I'd really like to know how I hurt YOU. I was the one who lost my dignity and my identity plus a few grades, but no one knew this because I never let it show. I guess all these things add up to me refusing your offer of me asking you to get back together with me as you offered I do on Saturday night when you texted to apologize for unceremoniously coming over, waiting for me to apologize to you. It shocked you when I didn't ask you to forgive me and take me back, as you suggested I do. You called that me 're-breaking' up with you. How can I break up with you when we already broke up? You broke up with me, Michael! To put it aptly, I just don't want to hurt you anymore. This is me making my selfless act like Lana did when she absorbed all that green kryptonite. Am I okay with the way things turned out? No. Of course not. I was the easy one to get to after the one you couldn't get the one you wanted even after numerous tries - some 'innocent' ones occurred even when we were dating - and that is always going to haunt me. The only thing that will haunt me more is the fact that I really did love you.
I put the pen down. I felt a tear run down my cheek. I stood, picked up the feelings letter, walked to the kitchen, picked up a jerrycan of kerosene, doused the letter with kerosene, struck a match and set the letter ablaze.
"Is this really necessary?" I asked as I looked around. I was in Dr. Meyer's living room, lying on her couch, prepping for a session. Dr. Meyer is my next door neighbour and a psychologist. Licensed psychologist. Her living room was chaotically organized, giving away that the home had some children in it. There was a pile of bedrocks in one corner and a pile of cushions in another. Some toys were neatly put away in yet another corner but there were also some scattered around randomly posing a tripping hazard. I collected my thoughts. "I don't think this is necessary, Jane," I said. Jane was Dr. Meyer's first name.
"Oh relax. I'm not going to literally pick your brain. You just look so tense and I can't have my assistant tense now, can I? Sends the wrong message to my patients. We're a team, Perry," she said.
"But I'm not your patient, Jane, besides, many other people have been dumped. Honestly, I can get over it. It'll take some time, sure but I'll get there."
"So you're okay that Michael broke up with you?"
I paused pensively. I remembered that day all too clearly. Maybe because hardly even a week had passed. On that material day, which happens to be last Wednesday, I had taken ill, and I was in a bit of a mood. Michael, charming prince that he is, came all the way to baby sit me and make sure I was as comfortable as I could get. He stayed till the evening when he headed home - and broke up with me.
Back to the present, I closed my eyes and sighed dramatically. I opened my eyes. "Yes, Jane, I am OK."
"He promised to be with you yesterday, on Valentines..."
I cut her short. "Valentines is over-rated, Jane!"
"So you're absolutely fine? Nothing you want to share with me?"
"These toys are a tripping hazard," I said, motioning to one.
"Oh those ones. My son Jay, I can never get him to put them all together, he always leaves some behind."
"Maybe you should let him trip on one, see how he likes it."
I sat upright. "Your couch is very comfortable but I'll go home now."
"Perry, wait. Why don't you try writing down how you feel."
"You mean one of those feelings letters?"
"Yes, exactly. No one ever has to read it, just get everything out..." I got lost in my thoughts as she droned on and on. A long awkward silence informed me that she had finished speaking.
"Sure thing. Have a nice evening Jane." I said as I left.
What Jane didn't know is that Michael had actually come over on Saturday, expecting an apology from me, waiting for me to ask him to take him back. I didn't, and it made me angry that he broke up with me and disappeared for around 3 days before showing up unceremoniously on my doorstep, acting like nothing happened.
I switched on the lights as I got into my house. I looked around. My living room looked like it had been hit by a tornado, and no, no kids. I sighed. "I need to arrange this place," I mused. I went into the kitchen, took a beer from the fridge, doubled back into the living room and put on season 5 of Modern Family to watch. I set myself comfortably on the bedrocks - no couch - and readied myself for a marathon of two gay dudes with a Vietnamese kid, an old dude with a trophy wife and a guy who got a wife by accidental conception but now has three kids with her. There was a foolscap on the table. I thought about what Jane had said about a feelings letter. "It's not such a bad idea," I thought to myself. I picked up the foolscap and a pen and started writing.
He stood there, with his hand outstretched. There was a ragged charm about him. I was instantly drawn to him. I stopped where he stood and greeted him.
"Hi! I need to get home and I don't have any money," he started.
"Well, if you don't have any money then how are you here?" I asked him.
"You see, I go to school at the primary school within the university. My mother works here and after school, I go get bus fare which is 20Ksh from her. Today she wasn't there, you see. I've waited for her but she didn't show up. I need to get home so that I can open the door for my sisters and give them food and then we eat together. I'm only asking for 20Ksh," he said.
I sighed. 20Ksh wasn't a lot of money, I probably had coins in my pocket, but I was also hungry and the noon sun was burning me up and 20Ksh would get me a cold fruit drink which would then give me the energy I very much needed to walk home and get some food as my classes for the day were done. I hadn't gotten to have breakfast that morning and the heavy backpack I carried made me slouch. I shifted from foot to foot to even the weight and looked up.
"Where do you live?" I asked.
"Ruiru," he said.
True, that was 20Ksh away. I wiped the trickling sweat off my brow. I was starting to feel dizzy. I became aware of people watching as they walked on by. The boy had been there, you see, and no one had stopped. I supposed they were looking at me because I had. I shook my head and slipped my hand into my pockets. "20Ksh you say?"
"Yes," he answered.
I found a 50Ksh note in my pocket. I thought of the long walk home and how hungry and thirsty I was and how tasty the cold fruit juice was going to be; but then I thought of that little boy whose mother had probably had him at a time that wasn't convenient for her probably because she was supposed to be studying and not carrying a pregnancy but still had him anyway, and his sisters too, and now does all she can to scrape by. "Beware, first years, most students drop out of school within their first year, mostly due to unplanned pregnancies," we had been told at matriculation. But he could also be a con artist, a very young one. I sighed and looked at him. He was believable, but isn't that the most crucial part of pulling off the con? I thought of his supposed hungry sisters waiting to be let into the house. I looked down at the note again, then I stretched out my hand and gave it to him. I told myself that he needed it more. "Take it," I said.
He looked at me in disbelief. "Thank you so much!"
He looked happy. Tired, worn out, hungry, frustrated, but happy. I bid him good day and watched him disappear into the distance. I had chosen to believe him. In that moment, even the scorching sun and how tired I was couldn't hold down the rush of joy and excitement I felt. I was lost in bliss, till I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Danny, a good friend of mine.
"Are you OK?" he asked.
"Yes I am. Actually, I'm better than OK!" I said happily.
"Are you sure?" He looked very concerned.
"Yes, is something the matter?"
"Yes. You have been standing here talking to yourself for the past seven minutes!"
"What!? Don't be silly Danny, I was talking to that ragged young boy!"
"How could you not have seen him Danny, you were right over there by the shop! You must've seen him! Are you playing a trick on me?"
"Sheryl, there was no boy," he said, very slowly.
I dipped my hand into my pockets and found a 20Ksh coin. "Then where's the 50Ksh note then?"
"You had only a 20Ksh coin today, remember?"
I noticed a crowd had gathered. They seemed to have been there for several minutes. It was then that it dawned on me.
"He was right here!" I mumbled.
"Come on," said Danny, "I'll take you home."
She sat across me with a somber look on her face. I had done my homework on her. She had moved from the village to the city to take care of her ‘unique’ child. A child whose person was not acceptable in the society’s eyes. A child who was seen as a botch, a stain on the delicate fabric of society. She had been forced to brave the war for her child, fight for the survival of her child. After all, in a world where most live under the dictatorship of what society expects of them, the going is tough for the few who do not live up to society’s ideals. I looked at her keenly as I waited for her to begin. I nodded in readiness. She smiled and nodded in return. Then she began…
It was just another day in the village. The sun was shining, the cows were grazing, women were looking after their homes, men were slaving away, children were playing in the fields – just another day in the village. There he was, my little boy, playing in the fields with other children, so young, so innocent, so angelic. I looked at him with admiration. They sure do grow fast. I watched them huddle together for a minute or so then they dispersed. My little boy gathered some soil into a heap then came running to me. “Mummy, mummy, I need some water,” he said.
They were at it again. ‘Kalungulungu’ it’s called. Child play where the children model houses from mud and cook mud and flowers and leaves in little tin cans that they collect – basically playing house with anything they can find. I gave him some water in a small bottle. He ran off to rejoin his friends and I turned my back and started walking into the house. I felt a little tug at the sleeve of my leso. I turned around.
“Mummy, why don’t I look like other girls?”
I froze. My little boy wanted to know why he didn’t look like other girls. “Because you’re not a girl, son, you’re a boy,” I answered kindly, all the time keeping that motherly smile.
He looked at me uneasily as if to ask if I were sure. He fidgeted and looked down, mumbled something then looked up. I squatted and leaned in. “You can tell mummy, it’s okay,” I said as I nudged him.
“I’m a girl mummy,” he said.
I looked over to where his friends were. It was then that it struck me that most of them were girls and the ones that were boys were not joining in the fun but rather they were teasing and mocking the girls. All of a sudden my eyes were open. I remembered seeing him squat to pee, like a girl. I remembered seeing him pick a dress, in more than one occasion, even though his father had made it clear to him that little boys wear trousers, like men. I remembered him screaming and crying at the barber’s because he didn’t want his hair cut. Suddenly, it all made sense. My little boy, my four year old little boy, was not a little boy. Not to him at least. To him, he was a little girl.
“I have the wrong body mummy,” he said, battling the tears in his eyes.
I was dumbstruck. I didn’t know what to do, it had never occurred to me that he felt this way, it had never occurred to me that he was a girl trapped in a boy’s body. He was doing a very bad job fighting away those tears. I wiped them off with the sleeves of my leso, still having that motherly smile. I told him it would be okay, gave him a big hug and told him to go play. He skipped along happily like a heavy load had been lifted from his chest. I sighed heavily because a heavy load had just been placed on my chest. I went inside quickly because I didn’t want him to turn around and see the tears streaming down my face.
I had heard about things like these, but they happen so far away, across the sea, in the white man’s land, not in Africa. And even if they were to happen in Africa, they would happen in the cities, where the white man’s influence is greatly felt, where the children play with the latest technology and not dirt, where children feed on unhealthy ready-made food and not healthy home-made food, where children cannot for the life of them speak their mother tongue but speak the queen’s language like their own before proceeding to murder it with such great spite because it’s the ‘in-thing’.
It’s all the white man’s doing, it’s a non-issue here in Africa, so the government would say when confronted with the issue.
Where in this pray-while-facing-mount-Kenya, pour-libations-at-the-mugumo-tree, technology-free, junk food free side of the Sahara has anyone heard of such a thing? He would become the village freak. He would be labelled as a curse. Bewitched, they would call him. I wouldn’t have any of that.
The night was dark. A haunted dark. There was something in the air that I just couldn’t put my finger on. The bell went. It was time for us to retire to the dormitories to sleep. I picked up my book from the floor where it had fallen and put back the bookmark. Jordin touched my hand slightly.
“You okay?” she asked.
“Yes. Just a little startled. Do you feel something?”
“There’s something weird going on.”
“Maybe you’re just tired.”
“Yes, that must be it.”
We left the classroom and locked the door behind us. I gave Jordin the key because I had a tendency of losing it and I had made enough replacements already, I couldn’t afford to lose another one. Outside was cold. The wind was nippy and it whipped in our hair. I clutched my scarf tight. Just a few steps away was a crowd gathered. Curiosity got the better part of me. I nudged Jordin. “Jo, look,” I said as I pointed to the crowd, “I wonder what could be going on there.”
“No, no, no, not this again, remember what happened last time?”
“It wasn’t my fault, I didn’t see the teacher coming. You were supposed to be the lookout.”
“Well I’m not doing it this time, we should go to the dormitory, no stops whatsoever.”
“Just a peep, please?”
She grunted. “Urgh! Fine”
We tiptoed towards the crowd. There was a girl in the middle holding a book. The other girls surrounding her were bidding on the book. We edged our way to through. Jordin nudged me. “That book has your name on it,” she said.
I looked closer. My name was on the book and I recognized the book immediately. I had lost it a week ago. I looked up at the girl holding the book. “Gretel?” I gasped. “I thought they had you put away? Well I’ll be damned! What are you doing with my book?”
The crowd gasped. All eyes were on Gretel now. “Finders keepers, Yvonne, you should know better.”
I turned around to look at Jordin, ask her to back me up. Not a soul was in sight. I turned around to face Gretel. Mrs. Pickett was with her. I knew I was in trouble. This was the second time she was catching me taking a detour on my way to the dormitory.
“Well, well, well. Look what we have here,” said Mrs. Pickett.
“Mrs. Pickett, I can explain,” said I.
“Well, it looks to me like you were placing bids on this book and Gretel won,” said she.
“What! Never! That’s my favourite book!”
“Yes Mrs. Pickett, that’s exactly what happened,” said Gretel.
I gasped in dismay.
“Come along with me, the two of you,” said Mrs. Pickett as she pulled our ears. She took us to the detention center, which was a tree house high up on a tree. A retractable ladder was our way up. I knew we were going to spend the whole night there, in the cold, and still attend classes the next day as normal. Mrs. Pickett was just about to leave us when Gretel screamed. She was pointing to the door as she screamed. Mrs. Pickett and I were alarmed. Mrs. Pickett tried to get her to calm down to no avail.
“Gretel, why are you screaming?” I asked her.
“I’m scared,” said Gretel.
“Scared of what?” asked Mrs. Pickett.
“The girl at the door!” said Gretel as she pointed to the door.
Mrs. Pickett and I were confused. There was clearly no one at the door. Gretel insisted that there was a girl at the door trying to take her away. She grabbed Mrs. Pickett’s coat, not letting go. “Please don’t let her take me,” she begged.
I looked at the door again. There was no one there. I looked closer. The air around the door was hazy. Suddenly I started screaming too. Mrs. Pickett started screaming too. It was as if we were being summoned to scream. I was screaming because I could see the girl at the door. She was pale, very pale. She had only eye whites. Her white dress was billowing in the wind. Her pale hands were outstretched. She was coming at Gretel and pulling her towards the door. The door was creaking and flying behind her as she walked. She pulled Gretel away from Mrs. Pickett and dragged her to the door, with Gretel kicking and screaming all the way. Baphomet horns made of smoke appeared, wavering in the wind. The girl went down first, pulling Gretel down after her. The ladder was retracted yet they still climbed down. I ran to the door.
“Stop! STOP!” I yelled. The girl shifted her gaze at me. She dropped Gretel and came at me. I was shaking, shivering. Still I stood and waited. She bared her teeth at me. They were brown and rotten. “I don’t fear you,” I said.
She raised her arms to grab me. Just as she touched me, she let out a high pitched scream and melted away into thin air.
I woke up, drenched in sweat. Jordin was looking down at me. “You were screaming in your sleep. We’re almost late for class.”
“Gretel, what happened to her?”
“She’s still away, remember, mental hospital, schizophrenia?”
“Oh! I must’ve had a nightmare.”
I jumped out of bed and readied myself for class. Jordin waited for me outside the dormitory. Just as I was leaving to join her and walk to class together, I saw a note by my bed. On it were the words ‘IT’S NOT OVER’. I felt a shiver down my spine. An old photo appeared on the door. It was the girl at the door, but she wasn’t pale in the photo, she looked like any other girl, complete with healthy eyes. I opened the door to leave. She was on the other side. She smiled at me. “She chose you,” she said in a raspy voice.
I screamed and woke up.