Article written by . Archieved at 24 January 2017 on category Short Story, The Jakarta Post
Something happened when I began to see things again. I thought Adam must have returned, and that he had summoned me because he wanted to play. But when I opened my eyes, I was met with the sight of a greying man, his fingers touching intimately the surface of his wineglass.
I drew in a quick breath as I gazed at him. Whiskers the shade of alabaster consumed the area around his mouth, and when he sighed they quivered weakly. His balding head reflected the light, but his bushy eyebrows compensated for the lack of hair. They drooped down as if it was all too heavy for his muscles, and even when he turned to stare at me they did not fully reveal the pupils underneath. That was why I couldn’t recognize him until he spoke.
“Maysie, I never thought I’d see you again,” he croaked, his lips pushing the skin upwards in a measly attempt for a smile. His voice, though hardened by age, was still the same. I couldn’t help it. I jumped out of my chair and enveloped him in a hug. When I released him again, I saw that he had fully opened his eyes. Although the rest of him was crumbling from the heavy weight of time, his irises remained as striking as ever; and in the midst of their cerulean glow I could see my silhouette, physical and real. I grinned. Adam, no matter what, was still the young boy I cherished deeply.
“I’ve missed you so, old friend!” I said.
He tried to express the same enthusiasm, but I could see that it failed him. “Is something wrong?” He sighed, and stretched his bony fingers to touch mine. “I remember you now. After all those years… I should never have told you to leave,” he said.
As soon as the words left his mouth, I began to see the details. I hadn’t been able to recall how we parted, but now everything came flooding back.
Rustle. The leaves danced in the wind. Crack. The branches heaved under my feet. Splash. The puddle quivered as I made the leap. I scuttled around the tree and took a peek from behind it. There he was, approaching… His eyes were glued to the ground, a tangle of brown hair hiding his eyes from plain sight; and it might have been the trick of the light, but I could swear there were tiny droplets of tears leaving his cheeks.
The only sign that he acknowledged my presence was the fact that he had stopped walking. But instead of smiling at me, or greeting me, he kept to himself, squaring his shoulders as if it could stop me from seeing him.
I reached out to touch him, but he shook me off. His thoughtful brown eyes stared straight ahead, determined not to look at me; they glimmered from the tears that inundated them, and it did not take me long to realize that their childlike quality was beginning to fade. What replaced it was a look of sheer anguish, and it tore at my soul.
As he reached up a pudgy hand to wipe his nose, I retreated further into the dark corner of the forest. Something had happened to him at school, but I wasn’t there to stop it. I balled a fist and knocked it insistently on my head, trying to keep the compunction away. I hadn’t been there when he needed me.
As soon as the words left his mouth, I began to see the details. I hadn’t been able to recall how we parted, but now everything came flooding back. (JP/Budhi Button)
“Adam, can you tell me what’s wrong?” I said.
“W-why are you even here, anyway?” he asked, his face hard.
“Did something happen at school?”
After a few more aggravating ticks of the clock, he nodded and stood up.
“I told them about you again. They kept saying that I was lying. And… and I thought you were going to be there. I wanted to prove that I actually had a friend,” he bit his lip, ruffling his wavy brown curls.
My heart was close to bursting.
“Oh, Adam, you don’t need their approval. You know you have me; that is enough,” I coaxed.
Slowly, he began to smile again. I sighed in relief. It was over… the worst was over.
“Come with me. The lake is beautiful today.”
The lake greeted us with a cheerful shimmer. I wanted very dearly to plunge in – and when I stole a glance at him, I saw that he did too – but everybody in the neighborhood was always talking about how dangerous it was. There were stories about children who were foolhardy enough to try
swimming in it. The seaweeds growing at the bottom had reached out and wrapped around their ankles, drowning them in seconds.
Even so, it always had this irresistible pull that lured the younger ones living in the area. Lately, it had only been Adam and I, because his house was the closest from the lake. From where we were, I could still see the window in his parents’ bedroom. The light was on. A shadow flickered, then disapeared.
“Well, look, it’s dream boy again!” somebody snickered loudly.
We turned around quickly and were met with five boys. They had rowdy haircuts and their eyes glimmered with malice. Their shoulders were hunched up in arrogance; these were, I realized, the kids from school.
“Hey, Adam, where’s your girlfriend?” one of them asked. Everybody else chuckled.
“A girlfriend, for this puny thing? He wishes!” I balled my fists. “Leave me alone,” Adam whispered, his eyes fixated on his grimy shoes.
The boy in the middle drew closer, and stood only a few metres apart from him.
“No, Adam, we want to play with you. What game do you think will suit dream boy here, guys?”
He pretended to think, and smirked,”I know! Why don’t we swim?”
I wasn’t aware of anything but the horror that ran through my veins, and I saw, without seeing, him spiraling backwards as the boy shoved him, his hands flapping frantically, his feet losing grip of the ground.
I watched, with dread, as he plunged headfirst into the water. He couldn’t swim. His hands were grappling at the air, hoping for something to pull him up. My hand, I realized. He was reaching out for a hand that wasn’t there. The other boys laughed and mimed his flailing, before running away.
Adam gurgled as he began to go under. As a last resort, his mouth uttered a blood-curdling scream. Meanwhile, all I could do was stand and look horrified. I was frozen in time, in shock, in despair. I didn’t know what to do. I stood there, paralyzed, and I faintly registered a figure running past me and jumping into the water. It was the same shadow I saw in the room.
“You were never supposed to go into the freaking lake! Why did you jump?” his mother yelled, her face red. Water dripped from her forehead as she shivered with rage. She had turned around from her window to take something from her table when she heard her son’s scream. Before she could register clearly what what happening, her feet were already flying into the sneakers, leading her body out of the house, toward the lake, and rescue her son.
“I was… p-playing with Maysie, mom.”
I nodded mutely. It was much better than saying he was being bullied. But the mother never turned her head to look at me. Instead, she closed her eyes, and slapped him.
“Maysie is not real, Adam. You need to know that before you kill yourself with this foolishness.”
She walked back toward the house, leaving her son frozen.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t want that to happen,” I said.
“You didn’t even try to help me,” he said. I felt my tears surging. “I’m sorry… I was in shock…” “Why don’t you just leave? I don’t ever want to see you anymore,” he cursed.
Finally, finally, he turned to look at me. His eyes were red; they did not belong to a child. I had lost him forever.
“You don’t mean that. We’re friends, remember?”
“Go! You’re not real. We both know that. It’s time for me to stop playing around, Maysie.”
I couldn’t say anything. I could feel my body begin to fade. I was nothing. I was nothing. “Adam, please…” He didn’t say anything, didn’t turn my way as I disappeared.
I stumbled into the present; I could feel his rejection as if it had just happened a minute ago. Something moistened my cheeks, and I turned back to the old man, my eyes asking a question my mouth could not voice.
“Yes, I did forget about you— like I said I would. Until now, that is. Until fifty years later, when I finally had a chance to think about dreams,” he spoke softly, his eyes clouded with sorrow.
[1] Story was written by Jennifer C
[2] Has been published in the “Jakarta Post” at January 23rd, 2017