The bell rang and like water being released from a dam, students gushed out the exam hall, overflowing with excitement, relief and exhilaration. It didn’t matter if they failed the exam neither did it matter if they had supreme confidence in their abilities. Every single one of them had the same sense of relief and peace blanket them like slipping into a warm blanket in a cold room. Out of the dozens of students rushing to get back home in anticipation of summer, one of them took his own time lazily placing one foot in front of the other. The contempt in his eyes for his ‘fellow’ students was clear. Every show of jumping jubilation, relief and camaraderie was met with sneers, looks of disgust and frothing hatred. Of course, not everyone could make out the fine changes in his poker face, especially when they were absorbed in their own dreams of summer. He didn’t particularly dislike summer, nor did he like it. It just existed. He felt towards it a neutrality shared by non-geologists when they see a different rock in a place with non-different rocks. Who cares? Rocks were rocks.
He went the opposite direction of the crowds to the school library. A dingy little place with a photographic serenity that only came in the afternoon (courtesy of the sun painting half the room orange). A photo of the place would’ve made for a nice wallpaper but staying in the room for an hour would be unbearingly mind-numbing. The fan didn’t work and despite the number of ‘repairs’ made by the school, the air conditioning didn’t work either. Yet by some mysterious power the room was kept habitable. Habitable in the sense that it was slightly warm, yet not enough to sweat. Living on the edge of this drove most people crazy but not him. He sat on the cold stone floor in the corner of the room furthest from the light and took out a book. He read.
The bell rang. It was 4pm, school had officially closed, summer had begun. The last day of school was just like any other day. He never understood why there was so much hype about summer vacation. They loved going out? Then stay out, no need for a home. Would be what he would say, but he didn’t have the habit of talking to himself so he shut up.
He read a new book every week. Yet he never knew what exactly he was reading. Sometimes he would enjoy it and other times he’d only read for the sake of adding yet another book to the completed list. Unfortunately, this week was yet another boring book, something about getting reincarnated as a slime.
He shut the book and slipped it into his bag. The alarm on his watch went off a few minutes later, but after years the beeping of his watch barely registered in his ears. He packed up and left.
“Bye Ashura, I’ll see you again” The librarian called out to him just before he swung open the glass doors.
“Bye ma’am,″ he muttered in response.
There was no one else in school at this time because it was 5pm, exactly an hour after school had ended. Even in an empty schoolyard he made sure his footsteps made no sound. With both hands in his pockets he walked to the gate. He hailed a taxi and got off at the Prismarine apartments. A majestic building half an hour away from school. What was even grander was the stark contrast between its opulence and the barren land around it. It was one of the only few buildings in this part of the city. It looked like the tower of Rapunzel, lonely and made of steel and glass instead of stone. The time was 5:43pm. As was routine he walked to the grocery store, paying his surroundings no mind.
However, he couldn’t ignore what lay in his peripheral vision. On a ledge four to five metres above the grocery store was a boy. From the looks of it he seemed to be below 10 years old. He stopped and glanced at the skywalk beside the ledge. A group of children laughed and sneered at the boy on the ledge.
“Hey! How’d you get up there!” He shouted at the boy who sniffled and wiped his snot.
“I… It was a dare” The boy stammered. He couldn’t believe it. Prior to this he thought stuff like this only happened in the movies. Kids… So blissfully ignorant. In a way he was envious.
There was a flowerbed below the ledge. Architects really did have the most convenient sense of design. He stood under the ledge and yelled at the boy to jump down, promising to catch him. A small crowd began to gather. There were one or two that spoke on their phones some others took pictures. The majority stood there with mute apprehension.
“Cunts…” He muttered under his breath and looked up.
“Oi! Jump! I’ve jumped higher than this with no one to catch me! I got you!” He lied through his teeth.
The two jumped. He timed his jump to catch him mid-air. Or so he thought. The boy landed on his face and the two crashed onto the grass. His head rang and pulsed with pain. With his eyes closed he fumbled around to push the dazed kid off his face. In the distance he heard gasps from the crowd and heard the faints sound of footsteps getting closer. As faint as the sound was he wanted to punch every single one of them. If he could get up that is. He staggered and stood up, patting himself clean. The boy thanked him but it fell on deaf ears. As he staggered to the grocery store dizzy and vision blurry. Staring at the crowd a certain someone caught his eye. A girl with a raven black bobcut. A very cute hair cute definitely, and on a face like that, a part of him wondered what school she went to. But she was a member of this crowd, staring and doing absolutely nothing. Like waving away smoke from his face he waved away her image.
The doorbell chimed as he pushed open the door, hearing its welcoming ting brought a smile to his face. The pain had subsided and some clarity of mind had returned.
“Hi Lisa.” He bought two bottles of coffee. Were they espressos? Lattes? Frappés? It didn’t matter. To him, coffee was coffee.
“We got this new Sultarbucks Frappé, it’s pretty good so why don’t you try getting that instead?”
“What the hell is a ‘Sultarbucks’” He looked at the dairy aisle, trying to spot out a bottle with ‘Sultarbucks’ written on it. Of course, from this distance it was a fruitless task.
“I have no idea, but it shouldn’t matter if it tastes good.”
“Oh it matters…” He mumbled and reached down for a packet of chips.
“You know, I read this article about potato chips causing cancer” Lisa said.
“Seriously? Your health is my top priority” He moved the packet away from her.
“Wow how mean” They giggled. They sipped their coffee and she took a few chips. Most days it was just him and her: barely anyone came to the store at this time.
“How was your exam? Wasn’t today the last one” She munched on some chips while looking out the window.
“Eh. Who gives a shit about some exam. Until I get my results back I won’t know how well I did.”
“How confident are you that you did well?”
“I’m confident that I don’t know.”
She sighed, “It’s pointless to ask you. When does summer start by the way?”
“May 18th.” He stated rather matter-of-factly.
“Ashura” She turned to him. Her eyes glinted. He braced himself. It was probably some lecture or something. His own mother didn’t lecture him (they barely interacted but that was a different matter) so Ashura felt quite irked that she lectured him from time to time. Although he was annoyed he never said anything, because most things she said made sense. She asked, “What’s the date.”
“Date…” He looked around for a clock, a calendar, anything. But for some god damn reason there wasn’t a clock or a calendar in this store? What kind of store didn’t have a clock?
“It’s… 2019?… Thursday?’
Lisa sighed, “It’s Tuesday, May 18th.” Without a break she continued, “You need to pay more attention to your studies, do you honestly want to end up like me?”
He was confused. There was no relation between knowing the date and doing well at school.
“Come on Lisa, don’t be so serious like that. And plus how does the date even matter? They’re not gonna be asking that on the exam”. He paused… In exams, they did ask the date. He looked up at her, “Anyways, you know you still have a lot of years ahead of you right?”
“Yeah, but time runs Ashura. It doesn’t walk.” Wow how deep he thought. There weren’t many occasions when he heard such movie-like dialogues but when he did, he always remembered them because of how they stood out in normal conversation.
“Man you’re only 23, chill! You’re gonna leave this place soon, I believe in you.”
A coy smile spread across her face,“Thanks Ashura”
All of a sudden, she seemed to remember something, “Oh yeah Ashura, you haven’t told me how your girlfriend’s been all these days.”
He swallowed some non-existent saliva. His hands immediately turned damp and wet but his poker face never broke. He put the coffee bottle to his lips but it was already over, “Katniss is doing good, she’s…” Honestly, what should a person even say to a question like that? “She’s doing good as always.” He threw away the empty bottles and the empty bag of chips. There were no clocks in the store and time seemed non-existent in the grocery store. The skies were already a deep and inky blue by the time he got here and now it was black as graphite. He glanced at his watch and realised that he should probably be heading back home.
“See you tomorrow Ashura” she waved him goodbye.
“See you tomorrow Lisa.”
“Oh. Right.” He reared his head through the door, “Where’re you going for your master’s?”
“I’ve applied to a few. Middelesse is my top priority but let’s see.”
“Middelesse??? Holy shit, all the best. Well, knowing you, it’ll be a piece of cake.” He said.
Lisa laughed, “Thanks Ashura.”
“See you Lisa.”
“See you Ashura.”
He smiled and exited the little grocery store, walking the rest of the way home under the orange streetlights.
“Ashura, dinner.” His mother stood still for a moment before returning to the sofa.
He ate quietly while his mother watched the TV. After washing his plate, he went to my room without a word as usual. He locked myself in the cold comfort of his room and turned on his computer to pick up where he left off. Peace, at last.
Every now and then the clock ticked and pulled him out of his trance. His eyelids were heavy even as he fought to keep them open. Glaring blue lights danced on the walls to his side and staring at the monitor and its liveliness drained him. He wondered how he still hadn’t gotten used to it after spending so many nights like this. Every time he went home he always seemed to lose track of time and speaking of time, he wondered what time it was.
He yawned and turned off the computer, wearily rolling onto bed. Outside his window the world stood still. Even as the occasional car passed far below it made no noise. The only sound he heard was the hum of the Air conditioning. Orange beads of light from distant highways twinkled through his bedside window and stood out amid a sea of dark; the waves glimmering in the moonlight. They were all so far away. As he lay on his side, gazing at the sight he grew wearier. The last thing he saw were the lights becoming increasingly distant, until they eventually faded away.