Next morning, Jeremy woke up feeling much better. As he got off the cold bed, made his bed properly (he was a kid who had learned the benefits of cleaning before leaving early), and brushed his teeth, for once in his life he didn’t think about anything. His mind was blank. No, Jeremy realised, not blank, but determined. It was the blankness that associated itself with higher will, as if he was certain today. Certain of what, he knew not, but he knew he wasn’t going to think of all the negativities in his life today. No, today was a beautiful morning, despite the gray-blue sky, and the presence of thick clouds above, and the isolated streets below. Jeremy took sometime to decide what to wear today, something he never had done before. He even took sometime to comb his hair. The result: he looked much more approachable, much more sociable. Of course the look was sort of ruined when he, subconsciously, ruffled his hair before leaving the house.
School was a boring affair, but if anyone had taken the time to notice Jeremy, they would have seen a boy who was trying, truly trying. He tried to answer more in class, and at a certain point when the teacher made a funny joke and everyone laughed, he even joined in with the class. He even tried talking with the boy who sat next to him, when the latter’s pencil fell down, but that conversation died quickly. No matter, Jeremy realised it would take some time to reinvent his repertoire from a reclusive shabby boy to something that suites him more. There was a test in English, but despite having studied nothing at all, this time he actually tried to answer what he knew instead of just sitting there. Oh, Jeremy was different today, a lovely sight. Pity no one bothered to watch him.
There was an exception but. The fat boy.
As usual, Jeremy was on his bicycle, going back home from school. And as usual, he was passing through the playground; his route to his home. His cycle was creaking way too loudly today; courtesy of the fall and the overnight rain, no doubt. And as his luck would have it, the chain of his bicycle got dislodged right in the middle of the ground. Jeremy immediately got down and went about fixing it. He hoped it wouldn’t take much time.
But the fat boy had been eyeing Jeremy unobserved. He approached him now, pulling at the end of his cap.
“oi” he said.
Jeremy recognising the dreaded voice, didn’t turn but continued on with fixing his bicycle as fast as possible. That was his only means of escape afterall.
“oi” said the fat boy again. Jeremy sensing it might not be such a good idea to ignore him altogether, looked up, only to see the 14 year old squatting next to him now. Without a word, he pulled at one end of the chain and Jeremy found it much easier to line the chain properly with the grooves. Maybe there were things that you could do better with some help? Something new Jeremy learned that moment.
“hey, you are Jeremy right?” the fat boy asked.
Jeremy Dupitt nodded.
“look, I wanted to say sorry. Alright? For yesterday. And other days.”
Jeremy nodded again. It wasn’t like he didn’t want to say anything, but more like he couldn’t. He looked at the fat boy’s face from the corner of his eyes, and realised they looked something like his. Hurt. Jeremy got up to his feet and took off the bully’s cap in an instant.
“why did you -?”
But Jeremy could see it, even as the fat boy snatched his cap away and put it over his head low. Jeremy had already seen the black blue eye, but beyond that, he had seen his anguish, his pain and his embarrassment of apologising to Jeremy. He understood that the fat boy wasn’t really apologising, no not really, but it was something that the fat boy wanted to be done to him. So Jeremy did.
“hey. I am sorry.”
“what for? T’wasnt you who beat me up for being fat. Those fucking high school kids, I will kill them one day for this.”
“I know. But I am still sorry it happened to you.”
The fat boy looked at Jeremy a bit, then smiled and extended a hand.
“I am Tom.”
And Jeremy was off on his cycle, leaving a bewildered Tom behind. Jeremy didn’t realise for sometime, but he had made a friend that day.
So all in all, as Jeremy dropped his bicycle on the dried grass of his frontyard and entered the shadows of his home, he thought today had been a good day. Standing at the doorway and looking at the mess of the couch his father had slept in, he knew with certainty that today had been a good day. And all he wanted to do was talk to someone about it. Having spent less than a minute inside, Jeremy took off again, his bag left on the floor and his recently fixed bicycle creaking ever so loudly.
It was perhaps half an hour later that Jeremy realised he didn’t know where Ana lived. Riding his bike aimlessly in the woods and shouting “Ana, Ana!” would hardly yield any results. So he tried remembering what she had said yesterday. She lived at the edge of the woods, she had said. Problem was, it was probably at the other end. And that would take quite a long time. Yet, Jeremy didn’t much care, it was a part of his routine anyway. Chasing squirrels in the woods or searching for the Lady of the Lake, it didn’t matter, no one was waiting for him at home anyway. His heart felt heavy suddenly, and this reminded him of Anahasika.
The sun had moved from its overhead position and the sky had become a darker shade of blue, but all this was shielded from Jeremy’s view; all he could see was the tops of lush green trees which was all the better, for he did not have to worry about anything today. All he had experienced was a normal day, and yet that was a first for him. It felt refreshing.
So when he reached the edge of the woods, following a shallow ravine through which a steady stream flowed, he was surprised to see that the sun was hanging low, like the makeshift ones used in their school plays. Squeakily cycling a bit slower now because of the slope, Jeremy could clearly see a steel colored caravan, shining golden in the low sun’s light, parked next to the flowing stream. A few clothes were flying about against the wind from a line, and Jeremy was keen to notice one bright red kimono amongst them. Deciding that this had to be Anahasika Misaki’s home (of course, who else?) Jeremy cupped his hands together and shouted through them, “Ana!” and was about to do that once more when a hand came out of nowhere and held his mouth shut.
“they will see you! Come back.”
Jeremy was delighted to see Ana, dressed in a white kimono with purple embroidery, dragging him by his hand, and even more delighted to see that she was acting as mysterious as ever.
“why are you here?” she asked in a soft voice. Her expressions were unreadable.
“I just… Wanted to see you.”
Jeremy dared not to look up. For some reason he felt stupid.
But when he did, Ana was still smiling in that weird way of hers, wide with her eyes close to being closed. Jeremy for the umpteenth time thought it was the prettiest smile he had seen.
“walk with me” she said.
Jeremy pulled his cycle with him as he fell in step with her. And so they found themselves laughing with the chirping birds, and Jeremy, no doubt in an attempt to impress her, chased the birds on his cycle, and Ana laughed more. Later, she sat behind Jeremy, holding on to his shirt, on his cycle as he rode slowly now, along the stream, deeper and deeper into the forest. The gushing noise of the water served to calm both of them down.
” hey Ana?”
Ana focused her big brown eyes up at Jeremy, whose face she couldn’t see. It was so indescribably nice – like experiencing firsthand that “blue” could be both a color and a feeling – to be so close to someone, in silence. Ana was loath to break that comfortable spell, choosing to listen to the loud clinks of metal of Jeremy’s bike everytime he went over a twig, and the distant noises of the wildlife (the occassional buzz of a dragonfly or the musical coo of a sparrow). So when he stopped his cycle near a massive boulder covered in moss, and it was time for Ana to get down, she did so with some small disappointment.
And so they remain there, seated on folded legs upon the floor of the woods, amidst the sounds of the nearby stream, Jeremy’s cycle left propped up by the boulder and Ana’s hair disheveled by the ride, for quite some time. While they had had no trouble conversing before, as the sun sank low, and both realised it was nearing time for them to go, neither he nor her had it in them to speak up.
Finally Jeremy began again.
” hey Ana?”
” yes, Jeremy?”
” how are your parents like?”
Ana didn’t look at him, but down at a line of ants steadily marching away.
“they are okay, they are nice to me, I suppose.” but her voice seemed to imply something else.
“what do you mean,” you suppose”? You don’t know for sure?”
” nothing like that, they are nice. I just wish they let me out to play more often.”
” you are out right now.” Jeremy observed.
” well, yeah, but you know. They don’t like me mixing with other kids. They only let me go out to the woods where there aren’t any people.”
” you are mixing with a kid right now. Me.” Jeremy half laughed. Ana smiled her perfect smile.
” you are the only one who comes to the woods to play. Other kids don’t.”
“so is that why you didn’t want your mum and dad seeing me?”
” yeah. It’s not just you, Jeremy, they just don’t like uncalled visitors.”
Jeremy nodded. He didn’t understand, of course not. But he did understand that need some people had to be left alone, to be isolated. It was a shell close to impossible to break. Looking at Ana, Jeremy wondered whether Ana had been his impossible.
“don’t you feel that’s unfair? They can’t tell you not to meet people. Isnt it natural to want to talk with others? I mean, thats what humans do: communicate.”
” but I am communicating.” Ana objected, her foreign tongue having some difficulty getting around the word, “I do communicate.”
“but they are limiting it, and that’s wrong.”
Jeremy’s hands were absentmindedly playing with a blade of grass, but his eyes kept stealing fleeting looks of Ana, who still looked at the line of ants intently. Jeremy noticed her increasing discomfort with this conversation, and yet he made no move to change his approach; he wanted to know more about the girl who had broken his shell. Was that selfish, Jeremy wondered.
“I never had any parents, you know?”
“what? What do you mean?” Jeremy’s eyes reflected the shock he felt.
“I was born in a different country. Japan, I am told. Dont really remember anything about my real parents, but I remember the shrine I used to live in, just fine. I was abandoned there, see, in a shrine next to a lake. That old lady took care of me.”
“yeah, she was so old. Couldn’t even talk.” here, she laughed a short sad laugh, “but she used to play with me when I was little. Braid my hair, send me to sleep, catch fish from the lake and cook it. She taught me those little things. I wish I knew her name, but she couldn’t speak and I couldn’t understand the alphabet because no one could teach me.”
Ana looked at Jeremy, and he held her brown eyes’ gaze level with his own.
“one day, I was coming back from the forest, carrying a pile of firewood as big as me back then, and when I entered the shrine, I knew she wouldn’t be there. I could feel it, feel the loss. When I entered her room, she was sleeping. And she stayed asleep.
” I never thought I was alone, the concept hadn’t developed in my brain till then. But her death was terrifying. I can’t explain how scary it was.”
But her shudders explained enough. Jeremy extended his hand and took hers in his to let her know it was alright.
” I owe it to these people, Jeremy. You say it’s wrong for them to limit my communication? Honestly, I have never known more communication in my life. When they found me in that shrine, and took me here, fed me and educated me and clothed me, they gave me my life. I owe them.”
She was shaking, as if from an undiagnosed epilepsy. All Jeremy could do was hold her hand, firmly, as he sat on the forest floor just wondering how beautiful she was. Later, he would walk her back to the edge of the woods and she would leave giving him a final smile and then she would spend the night with people she wasn’t related to, who imposed unreasonable rules upon her, and Jeremy would go back to his father, who imposed no rules at all, but all that was later. For now, Jeremy held her hand and hoped he could heal her the way she had healed him.
The wind was strong that night, so much so that the little hair on John Daye’s head whipped from one end to the other. As he got down from his lead colored car, and looked up to see the medical research facility and asylum looming overhead, he hesitated. John Daye’s nature, if one were to ask, was a complex one; on one hand, he was a man of science, well educated and learned, and hence he often fixated about the facts of a matter, choosing to base his deductions upon them. But that is not the same as saying he based his deductions only on them, because on the other hand, his nature was such that he was easily swayed by his heart; often symptoms of sympathy and pity manifested upon him, and he was well aware of it. What this duality (and his knowledge of it) did to him was pretty straightforward – he was a man who undervalued his own assertions, thinking it came from one side of his nature or the other – and this was, perhaps, the main reason why he hesitated.
His basic scientific nature dictated he had to meet Alicia Lamb to get all the facts straight.
His more emotional state of being told him he should stay far from Alicia Lamb, for there was only so much of shock the world could handle.
This hesitation would have only increased had Rebecca White included herself to this excursion to the facility Mrs. Lamb was admitted to, and John was secretly glad that she, when he asked her to come along, had said in no uncertain terms – “sorry, John, I got no wish to see that pyromaniac.”
Needless to say, the presence of her niece would be an unnecessary complication to today’s meeting.
It wasnt the first time that John Daye was walking through the long corridors of the asylum. He had, on exactly two occassions, paid Alicia a visit sometime last year for his book. On both times he had been received by the unusually calm Alicia Lamb, and both times he had had amicably intelligent conversations with her. If not for the ambiance, John Daye would never be able to tell she was insane, despite the degree in psychiatry that hung on his office wall, and this he had admitted to his agent in exactly those words.
And as the nurse opened the ward to a cautiously designed cell, even with all the time between their visits, Alicia smiled to John without wasting a second and his eyebrows furrowed together in that instant. He would never forget the heinious acts of crime she had committed, but he always found it hard to remember that in her presence, and that disgusted him. There was a reason why he had only visited her twice.
“oh hullo, Mr. Daye, hullo. How you been?”
Daye’s frown increased in depth, but he knew that for a psychiatrist it was important to always be seen by the patient as a person of superiority.
“Perfect, Alicia. Beautiful night outside.”
A flash of anger was very quickly subdued by the Lamb, and Daye might have very well imagined it. Alicia looked away as if looking at a far off thunderstorm.
“pity, I haven’t seen the outside like ever. So what brings you here?”
“the same thing that brought me here last time.”
Alicia looked at him now, and in her eyes he could see greed.
“Why? You didn’t finish your book yet? Thought all my “cult” members had been caught for arson. What you up to?”
Daye suffocated his feeling of unease.
“Arson and reckless endangerment of life. Children’s lives, Alicia. They burnt down a public library with kids inside. Kids!”
” Oh I wasn’t involved, as I have said countless times to you before.”
” your cult, your people.”
The flash of anger substantiated itself again in her eyes.
“my religion! My disciples!” She hadn’t raised her voice, only her temper.
John raised a hand in mock defeat, but she continued anyway, in much softer tones,
“in any case, I wasn’t aware of that as you very well know. What “my people” chose to do that night was not something I told them to do, but i agree I share responsibility.”
“Share responsibility?? How can you be so callous about the attempted mass murder done in your name? You do realise your people did that because you were burning yourself and your child? Because you told them the sacrifice of children would save the world? That night while you burnt down your family, they burnt down a public library. It was lucky we could save those trapped in the library, but your child perished. Do you not feel anything, woman?”
But John had managed to lose his cool and hers. She slammed her hands down on the table between them and said,
” do I feel nothing? I feel everything! I can feel the flames consume me every hour of every day! It’s a pity you cannot! I sacrificed my child so that I could save this world, or are you so blind that you cannot see that our world is dying? Do you feel nothing?”
John looked at her the way a hawk looked at a disease carrying rat. He felt disgusted and hungry to kill her at the same time. The power of belief was so utterly terrifying. But this conversation was growing steadily pointless. He needed information, not about the fire cult but about her, Alicia Lamb. So John said venemously,
” What I fail to understand, woman,” calling her that seemed to infuriate her, much to John’s satisfaction, “is why would you burn your own daughter, when you were trying so hard to have one?”
Alicia was mum for the first time. No, it was much more than silence, it was severity. Her eyes became like blank marbles, her cheeks much more gaunt and her mouth withdrew to a thin line. Somehow her reddish-brown hair (so similar to Rebecca’s, despite having no blood relation to her) became like fire, as if fanning and stoking itself with rage. But John, despite that, carried on, finding it so satisfying to anger her.
” you wanted a child, did you not? A daughter you could love like your own. A babe you could take care of. You felt the need to be needed, Alicia, and that’s understandable. Thats human.”
But Alicia Lamb smiled a devilish smile. She contrasted so starkly in her nature when compared to the man uttering these words; for her nature was neither of science or of love. It was pure hatred – hatred of the world, hatred of her people, but most of all hatred of herself. So she smiled her devilish smile, and as John Daye recoiled, he missed the tear that escaped from the corner of her eyes.
” I wanted a child so I could burn her”
Daye’s eyes became like two saucers, so wide with shock. His heart wrenched with the thought of such pure evil. He was so horrified, he wanted to leave at once. But there was still the matter of the Lady of the Lake. His lips twisted in disgust, and he stood up, as he demanded.
“tell me about the Lady of the Lake”
” oh going to destroy one more “cult” are you, Mr. Psychiatrist? Oh but she isn’t a cult. She is a goddess.”
” how so?” he asked with narrow eyes.
” she heals people, Mr Daye. She heals them with a touch and for a price. Of course, you asking me that question means you already know how I was able to give birth. See, when I was a young girl, my neighbour took quite a liking to me. So one night, while I went out to buy some groceries for me mum, he decided to rape me. Oh, he did more than just rape me. – he damaged me. Growing up, I forced myself to forget that “incident”. I went on about my studies and I went on to find a job and such. And when, years later, I found Patrick and we married and we decided to have a child of our own, the doctors told me I couldn’t carry. My womb was inflamed – it was burnt away, unfixable. So I went to the Lady of the Lake, a little Asian girl she is. And I thought “heck they swindled my money”, I mean she was just a little kid dressed up in proper traditional Japanese clothes. “nonsense” I thought.
But I was very desperate, and I believed. So me and Patrick, we went to the place they told us to come, went inside this silver caravan, and did this whole incense filled ritual sort of thing, you know? And all I thought then was “shit, this is nonsense.” And then it happened.”
” what else, Mr. Daye? The little girl touched my arm, and I don’t know what happened to me, I swear. All of a sudden, I was crying and telling her about all my sorrows and shit. And I felt it, I felt the stress leaving me, I felt that tomorrow would be another day, you know? And I wept in that little girl’s lap, still crying. I felt free.
When I got home, I was pregnant. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever witnessed. I don’t know how it happened, or why it happened. Those nine months, people preached to me, worshipped me as their goddess, but I never told them who was the real goddess. The Lady of the Lake.
See, there is a legend in Japan, a legend Patrick heard about from his time spent in Kanto. Once upon a time, there was a young samurai who fought for his lord loyally and chivalrously. This lord of his was waging a war against some other lord, you know what the lords do, and the young samurai fought in his stead. But he was wounded, fatally so, and half in deliriums he walked through the forest and found himself near a lake. Drinking a sip from the waters and deciding this was as good a spot as any, he lay down waiting for death. But next morning he woke up to find his wounds healed and his exertion gone. He went back home to tell his lord of the magical water, and the lord hearing this brought his whole retinue to the lake, built a shrine there and in time built an entire town around the lake. Soon, as could be expected, the water in the lake depleted, for everyone drank the water in hopes of a long life.
So one day, the gods descended and to their horror, found their holy water nearly exhausted. In their wrath, the gods put a curse upon any who had tasted the water. The entire town faced plague and disease and starvation, and the lord in desperation begged the gods to free them from the curse and promised to never drink from the lake again. They then told him – “you have taken from this lake, so you have to give something back”. And the lord asked them what he could give back, and they answered – “your daughter.”
And so he sacrificed his daughter to the lake.
In time, it became a ritual of the village to leave a baby girl to the shrine next to the lake, where she is brought up like a goddess. When that girl becomes old, the village chooses one more to be sent to the shrine. And so it goes on. That girl is called the Lady of the Lake.”
Daye spat on the floor and walked away.
The night grew steadily darker, and the wind even harsher, and right about the time Daye’s spit hit the ground, in another part of the city, Jeremy was riding his bicycle with his torch on. He seemed in no rush, and he was hardly concentrating on the dirt road that he had finally found which led right to his front yard. In his mind, he replayed not Ana’ smile, beautiful utmost, or her words, unnerving enough. In his mind, he kept seeing visions of her tears, which never fell but remained glistening in her eye.
Jeremy paddled softly, and wondered what it must feel like to not have parents. He remembered the loss of his mother; the day she was lowered into the ground and Jeremy’s father had refused to cry, holding his son’s shaking hand in his firmly, was a memory engraved into the little eleven year olds mind – one that he did not want to revisit, but, until very recently, had every night. And somehow his father and him had grown distant, both of them choosing to grieve alone and forever. For some reason, both son and father had decided that the only way to respect her memory was to never let her go, and thus they cried, in their own way, Jeremy at the end of his bed and his father at the bottom of a bottle. Shame, that they could not mourn her together.
Yet, losing a parent isnt the same as never having one. What Anahasika Misaki had endured was something that Jeremy Dupitt could sympathise with a whole heart, but never truly understand. He wondered, as he paddled a bit faster now, seeing that the top of his house was poking above the trees – which was better? Not knowing the concept of a parent until you are much older, taken to a country you do not belong to and have no relation to, by strangers who claim to take care of you but keep you caged in a caravan, and still believing that this was afterall the better side of the coin? Or growing up with loving parents, facing an irreversible loss of one and watching as you see the other change into someone you no longer know, feeling alone in your own home hearing the words come out of their own father and wondering who this stranger was? Which was better? Which was easier?
When his house came into view, Jeremy suddenly stopped his cycle and looked front in straight up wonder. His father was standing outside on the front yard, talking on the phone, a worried expression etched on his face. Seeing Jeremy, he quickly rushed to his side and wrapped his arms around him, his phone forgotten and lying on the grass. He said nothing, he simply picked the little boy in his arms and brought him inside.
Inside, the first thing his father did was shout at him, asking him whether he had any idea what the time was, if he had the minimal amount of sense, and whether he thought he was so grown up that he could decide on his own accord at what time he should come back home. Often, his father’s rage reached such peaks that whatever came out of his mouth became incomprehensible. Jeremy, through it all, stood in silence and his head down. But it was doubtful his head was held down in shame; rather, the dangerous twitch at the ends of his lips threatened to break into a smile, for the child was keen to recognise the actions that come out of love. Perhaps because it had been such a long while since the last time his father had looked at him, or perhaps, despite the stench of booze escaping his angry mouth, it had been such a long while since his father looked sober. Either way, it had been a long while, and Jeremy held his head down knowing full well that smiling in such a situation would bring about quite a few unpleasantaries from his father.
But Mr. Dupitt had caught his son’s comical behaviour, and in the middle of gesturing angrily with his hands and ranting about the bad things that happen so late in night, he stopped.
” are you laughing, Jeremy?” he asked him, incredulously.
And Jeremy stopped smiling immediately and shook his head in denial. When his father insisted he speak up, he did,
“I am sorry, it’s just that you reminded me of mum just now.”
The wall the Dupitt men never talked about was breached. Mr. Duppitt’s face softened and Jeremy, taking that as an indication, smiled.
In an hour or so, the father had showered and sobered up, and for the first time in a long while, he cooked. There was only tuna to be had, the least favorite dish of both son and father, and when the fish was laid in front of Jeremy, he made a face, for the edges were slightly burnt. Yet, that was the only complaint the son (and in fact the father) had; that dinner was spent reminiscing about the time Jeremy’s mother had lost her cool at Mr. Duppitt for coming home late from office once – in quite the same fashion that he had lost his cool with Jeremy tonight. And that one story led to others and others still, until son and father found themselves laughing, or awkwardly shifting in their seats, or much worse, downright embarrassed. Jeremy felt strange, for he had not known that so many emotions could coexist together and yet form this happy viscous feeling.
When Jeremy went to sleep, he found his father at the doorstep switching the lights off for him. He whispered “goodnight” and Jeremy, having practiced the earlier night, replied with “love you, dad”
The door creaked shut behind his father’s footsteps.
Jeremy found his bed warm that night, and sleep came as if instantly. In the other room, the same could not be said of his father. He sat up late, in his side of the bed still, clutching an old picture to his chest. Jeremy could never forget his mother’s funeral; the same was true for his father many times over. If vivid visions replayed in jeremy’s mind every night of Mr. Duppitt holding his hand next to the grave and refusing to cry, Mr. Duppitt was haunted by them. He could almost hear his wife’s voice, then and even now, and without the bottle of whiskey downstairs, it was hard to forget. The tears he never shed in that funeral fell now in full, here in the bed which he had shared with Jeremy’s mother. He now whispered the words to that old photograph against his chest.
And once again, things had changed in the Duppitt household.
Next morning the house at the farthest end welcomed bright sunlight through it’s kitchen windows, and fell on a tray of buttered toast and bacon. Jeremy was shocked to see his dad in an apron, and he bit into the hard toast with raised eyebrows. Jeremy’s father scratched his head, his way of apologising, and then hurried his son along. He had work to go to too, he said to his son, and he smiled and somehow it seemed they had forgotten the many years since her death. Well, good enough, for it was their new start and Jeremy couldn’t have been any happier.
The Freudian theory may be subject to many controversies, and the neighbourhood may or may not agree to it, but when Jeremy walked from his home (leaving his squeaky bicycle behind with the idea that he would ask his dad to get it repaired later), his thoughts were content and happy and this led him to wonder after the well-being of others. Worrying seemed to be his ailment, and, as it had been for the past couple of days, the strange girl from the woods his cure. So he walked, with his head down, now deep in his own thoughts, thinking about the time from the moment he met her till the very present. In two days, Jeremy had changed from crying alone, surrounded by paladin trees, with a broken back, into her lap to… He didn’t know how to describe it, only that when he crossed the block, he knew he wasn’t smiling but he also knew he could. This was a difference only he could understand, perhaps, but listening to his rhythmic footsteps crunching gravel underneath, he wanted Ana to understand it too.
Jeremy was very sure that Ana was broken inside, for it spoke to him everytime she smiled. It was the kind of a rejected beautiful smile one attains after believing that this was, afterall, their life and nothing better could come off it. It angered Jeremy that she would think that of herself, and in his anger he kicked a pebble off his path. He wanted to fix this. He wanted to fix her.
But before he could think of any viable way of doing that, there was a voice shouting rashly down the street and Jeremy whipped his head that way,
Jeremy blinked in surprise at the massive girth of fat which was Tom, swaggering up close to his face.
” I have been calling you since when, you know? Where you headed?”
“school” Jeremy replied. He wasn’t completely sure why Tom, whose tummy moved this way and that, was talking to him in such a aggressive friendly manner.
Tom pulled down his cap and in its shadow Jeremy could see a light in his eyes.
” I found them, man,” he was saying, “those bloody high schoolers. You up for some sweet revenge?”
Jeremy’s eyes narrowed.
“no, not one bit. Dont you got school to attend?”
“you think I can sit in school with those fuckers roaming around freely? Justice has got to be served, man!”
Tom excitedly punched the air, his rotund belly jumping up then down lazily.
But Jeremy was already walking away, shaking his head, while the fat boy looked at him incredoulously.
“stop, you pussy fuck! You are just gonna walk away from me? ‘cos I don’t care, I will go alone if I got to.”
“well? Dont think I’m stopping you.”
But Jeremy, turning back, saw that this seemed to mean something to Tom. He was excited and scared and he, unlike Jeremy, did not know how to hide those emotions.
“you gon’ let a friend fight alone?” Tom asked dejectedly.
And that word alone, something he had craved to hear for a long time, was enough. Half an hour later, as the sun hid itself behind some clouds, Jeremy realised he had skipped school for the first time and there was no going back. He also realised, sitting behind fat boy’s cycle as he paddled with seemingly huge amounts of strain, that this was also way more fun than sitting in his class and listening to his homeroom teacher.
Ten more minutes later, Tom took a turn next to the “24×7” store, and got down from his bike.
“what’s the plan, fat boy?” Jeremy asked without a care in the world.
“don’t call me that. Okay, you see the store? Those cronies are inside. You see them? Them boys in jackets, pretending to be all smart and grown up, buying them a pack of fags?”
“yeah I see them, Tom, what do you want me to do?”
“what do you think, dummy? You see them coming out, you give a shout. Like you know, shout some kind of a code word.”
” ‘fat boy’?”
” don’t call me that, you fag! And no! Shout “God bless the queen” or some such shit.”
Jeremy looked at the fat boy with peaking interest. “god bless the queen”? Didn’t Tom had the most colorful imagination? An amused Jeremy laughed.
“don’t laugh you moron! Okay i’m going!”
“wait, what are you gonn –”
But Tom was already speeding towards a black ford truck, which was undoubtedly the high schoolers car. Jeremy, as instructed, kept watch. He watched the clouds, he watched a bee buzzing past, and in some instances, he watched the boys in jackets talking to themselves. Jeremy was almost bored, but not quite. He wondered what the fat boy would do to their truck. Let out all the air, perhaps? From his angle, Jeremy couldn’t see Tom at all, and this served to increase his curiousity. He craned his neck this way and that, and still unable to see the elder boy, looked inside the store. With shock, he saw the high schoolers had already reached the door, and knowing not what else to do, he shouted,
” God bless the queen! God bless the queen!”
Then suddenly, he heard a loud thump behind him, from the truck. The high schoolers had heard it too, and one of them ran to his truck, but Tom was already running, and Jeremy was on the bicycle.
“Tom! God bless the queen!”
“I heard you the first time, you moron!” Tom had jumped on already “ride, man, ride!”
And Jeremy rode like his life depended on it, which might as well had been, for they heard a cry from behind,
“HE DID WHAT?”
And then, to their horror, the boys saw the high schoolers chase after them. The pain in Jeremy’s legs from overexertion was ignored as adrenaline kicked in. The fat boy wasn’t making things easier, but thankfully the bike seemed to be able to carry the weight well enough. In no time, they had gained the distance against the high schoolers, but Jeremy did not stop, not for a bit, and turning back he saw the tired high schoolers clutching their knees and screaming abuses, and Tom laughing loudly behind him, holding two middle fingers high against the sky.
Finally, Jeremy dropped from the bicycle near the edge of familiar trees, and Tom plopped down beside him, both of them breathing very heavily. When Jeremy caught his breath, he looked at the far boy angrily,
“what the hell did you do, fat boy!”
But Tom had to clutch his belly before he could answer, such were the fits of laughter that overcame him.
“I peed in their car.”
Jeremy’s eyebrows might as well had disappeared above his hair line. And Tom was still laughing uncontrollably, so the younger kid punched his belly.
“you are mad, fat boy, complete nutter!”
But Jeremy was laughing too now and he fell down on the prickly dried grass. This was the first time he had done something crazy with a friend. Undoubtedly, if his father came to know he had skipped school and helped vandalised someone’s vehicle, he would be grounded and properly so. But, and Jeremy was amazed to realise, it did not matter to him. He had fun. Moreover, he realised he had, unknowingly, passed a rite of acceptance – Jeremy had made a friend and they would always remember this incident irrespective of how old they become.
And with this thought, a brainwave hit him. Ana was broken, just as Jeremy had been. But at that instant, Jeremy felt he could take on the world, and she needed to feel the same. She needed friends.
“hey Tom? You want to meet a friend of mine? It’s all the way at the other end of the woods though so it would probably take some time.”
” dude, we skipped school. We have all the time we need.” grinned the fat boy.
Select Page below to Continue Reading…