What Follows

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7.1: Thirty Locker Generations

`so this was how you died; in whispers that you did not hear`


A very familiar, unpleasant, loud bell rings, and I snap open my eyes, and holy shitstickers, I’m back at my school. And like if there would be an eighth reason as to why I killed myself, it would be this mind-abusing organisation.

I quickly glance at the huge wall clock and notice that it’s just the beginning of the day. All the students are supposedly in their classes. “Oh hell no-” I mutter miserably under my breath as Benji barks delightfully in Tobias’ arms.

The hallway we’re haunting is currently empty and surprisingly clean, with sticker-decorated lockers on both sides. Tobias absently draws circles on the floor with his sneakers and grimaces.

“The floor is unclean-” He then stands still and removes his hand from my arm.

"That is not clean?” I say amusedly. He hasn’t seen the floor at the end of a school day.

I look at Tobias who lets go of Benji and looks around, seeming very occupied by the school’s structure. He walks around, pulls on closed lockers, shakes his head as he tries removing a BTS sticker and tsks from time to time.

“Yeah, we get it-” I tell him from afar. “Your generation was much cleaner and more decent.”

Tobias gives me a horrified look. “There is no comparison-” He says appalled. “Your generation enjoys sticking girl-looking boys on their school lockers. In my days, that would cause expulsion-”

“I’m pretty sure they’re not allowed to do it here either, but they do it anyway-” I say indifferently. ”And...I never liked BTS either-”

“BTS?” Tobias makes a face. “Is that a disease?” He asks seriously in his English accent as he flicks on the Korean band’s sticker.

My eyes widen, and I chuckle loudly. He narrows his eyes at me and then shakes his head.

“You can’t be serious-” I then approach him, stand next to him and face the locker with their sticker. “They’re mega-famous-”

“BTS?" Tobias repeats, looking at their group picture in disgust. “They got lipstick on-” He almost gasps at the ‘atrocity’ of his realization. “I don’t even want to guess what they do-”

I grin at his analysis. “They just sing, Tobias. Get your mind out of the gutters-”

Tobias smirks and smoothens the sticker on the locker. “Bet they sound like barfing or-or- even adverser-” He shakes his head, thinking of a worse possible alternative. “Fangirling girls or girls talking to babies-”

I laugh and put out a hand. “You made your point-”

“It’s just absolutely revolting-”

“Okay, you wouldn’t want a ‘fangirling girl’ to hear you-” I tell him, and he turns to catch my eyes. He then smiles silently.

I clear my throat and give him a questioning look. He waves me off and sighs.

“So-” He tells me with a huff with a final, sideways glance at the BTS sticker. “Where was yours?” He leans on the girl’s locker.

“My locker?” I ask, and he nods. “Well, I’m not sure if it’s my locker anymore-”

“Well, of course, it isn’t-” Tobias says as matter-of-factly. “You’re dead.”

“I know-” I drawl. I needn’t a constant reminder. “Let’s check it out-”

I turn around and hear Tobias talk to and snap his fingers at Benji. I round a corner and find the girls’ washrooms on my right with the janitor’s closet next to it.

I can see Joshua’s locker from here and can feel Tobias’ loud presence behind me. I inhale deeply and walk to his locker, knowing that my locker is right in front of his. Joshua’s locker is as usual clean of any stickers, unlocked, with only a pair of his sneakers inside. And my locker?

My locker looks like a funeral.

“Your locker-” Tobias starts, and I turn to him and a panting Benji.

I touch my locker, that’s like me, buried, but instead of under soil, it’s under sticky notes, angel stickers and flower magnets. There are lots of RIPs scribbled carelessly if with different handwritings and Sharpies. I let my fingers feelinglessly trace some hung frames with my pictures on it as I look at the ′We miss you!′ notes carved with a white-out pen.

My locker is so colourful, it’s ridiculous.

“People used to love you-” Tobias remarks.

I look in his direction and roll my eyes. “It’s obviously a show-” I sigh heavily. “You wait until the school starts putting up suicide posters about how to ‘healthily’ deal with your problems-” I hold my hips and shake my head. “Then how the teachers will lecture the students about how a beautiful girl I was, and how I’ve so -oh, bless you, dear children-wasted’ my ′precious’ life-” I mimick a granny’s voice. “And-and the suicide hotline that’ll be stuck everywhere. And counsellers grilling perfectly normal, bored students about their lives.

“And, oh, wait till you see concerned parents strut in with their mini-handbags and Gucci sunglasses just to express their -oh so- urgent worries about their normally abnormal children with issues, and then end up blaming the school for everything. Blame their terrible upbringing on the school’s tolerance to bullies. When really, all the school does is provide a platform for everybody to connect. It’s not its fault that parents disregarded their kids and turned them into bullies or -oh, wait- worse. Suicide cases-" I whisper the last bit and stop for a breath. “And I honestly don’t know what’s worse.”

Tobias looks at me with wide, focused eyes. “You’re chatty when you want to be-”

“I’m not chatty-” I pant out. “I’m just complaining about how all the right things are blamed for the wrong things. Which really makes us incapable of solving the root problem-”

"Parenting-” Tobias continues for me, and I nod vigorously.

"Exactly,” I say. “And it certainly can’t only be my generations’ problem-”

“No,” Tobias tries saying nonchalantly. “This problem has been around thirty years ago-”

“We’re taking no steps to solve it-” I then finally say dejectedly as Benji sniffs my locker and rips some papers with his canines. And I let him as I slide down to the floor, next to him and pull out my legs in front of me.

Tobias looks down on us, then leans on my locker with his forearms, his feet encaging my legs. He drops his head between them, and I lift my head more so I’m looking in his eyes, not chest.

We stare at each other for a while. I stare at how his red hair appears a soft orange in this light, and how it compliments his nose freckles, soft hazel eyes, denim jacket and yellow shirt. I stare at him and his ludicrous smile and sigh.

“You know what I’m thinking?” He whispers from above me, and I slowly blink at him.

“Hm?”

“I think we’re good people-” He tells me softly. “We deserve a second chance.”

“At what?”

“I don’t know?” He says, his eyebrows climbing up his creased forehead. “At death. We deserve to have died in a more honourable way. To be sent away...gently-” His eyes flutter. “And to know that some people took this right away from our previous, sicker, vulnerable versions, is maddening.”

My stare lingers for a while, and I don’t say a thing. I just keep looking in his eyes and wondering about what they saw in this terrible, dark world to dim his radiant soul. What could have truly hurt such a passionate person so much?

“Why did you do it, Tobias?” I ask him in response, and he smirks.

“I loved something so much and let it kill me-” He shrugs, and I frown, perplexed.

“What do you mean?”

“I can’t tell you now.”

I blink blankly at him and whisper, “Why?”

Tobias smiles sweetly and tries to look away. “Because we have things to do.”

I frown, bothered. “We’re good here, Tobias. We needn’t go.”

“This isn’t how it works, Roseline-” He tells me. “If you ignore what you need to get done, time just stops. You get stuck-”

I feel my eyes sting as Tobias pushes away from my locker.

“And what’s wrong with that?” I ask him, touch my cheeks and stare at my wet fingers. “I’m too tired. My soul aches for release. I just want nothing more than to stay-”

Tobias looks at me like he’s sad. He then kneels, and I cross my legs beneath me, adjusting my dress as he sits right in front of me. His bony, exposed knees are supposedly touching my bare ones.

He leans close to me, his face a few inches away from mine. His hazel eyes are wide and glassy. To me, Tobias always looks like he’s always in silent pain. Like all his sarcasm, his noncommital attitude is all a pretence to something much deeper and darker.

“Can I trust you with my deepest desires?” He whispers to me, and I gulp at the thickness of his voice and sincerity in his eyes.

I sniff finally and nod.

“Your soul isn’t the only one begging for release-” He tells me. “I want-” He pauses and swallows, eyes on mine, like it’s a felony to want anything in this dimension. He breathes shallowly. “Give me your hands, Roseline-” He licks his lower lip, and I stop breathing.

“My hands?" I blather.

He nods silently, and I lift them off the floor and rest them on his big palms. Tobias delicately closes his eyes and releases a soft sigh.

“I dig deep in the intricate, convoluted maze of my mind-” He whispers, eyes still closed like he’s praying and head tilted back. “I dodge a lot of dark moments, a lot of sharp razors of memories I don’t want to carry in this heavy cranium of mine-” He frowns gently. “And I’m willing to risk it all, to solely remember something I never saw or heard-” His throat bobs, and I can see my teardrops stain my dress’ sleeves.

“I find myself craving something I can no longer aquire in that body of clouds that I have-” His words come out in short, heavy breaths, light on the tongue, but heavy on my heart. “And when I’m tantalizingly close to grasping it- this missing, most important memory- my lungs expand in honey-sweet anticipation-” A tear slips from his left eye. “But they always collapse down miserably, failing to feel this relief of release. This freedom of feeling enough.

“It’s like a gasp for air when drowning in the waters of your corrupted thoughts. Too short to be fulfilling, yet long enough to leave you hungry for more-” He holds my hands tightly. “You see-” He breathes out. “I fail to be. I fail to bring this wandering fragment to my lost wholeness. I fail to remember how it feels to hold a beautiful girl’s velvety hands. Yet if I look deep enough, I’ll remember how clammy and warm they’d feel against my callous, cold ones-” He says slowly and opens his bright, hazel eyes.

“I fail to remember the feeling this close distance should give us-” He leans close to me as his lips form words I can’t seem to comprehend. I automatically lean in too, eyes closed, and our foreheads touch. “Our warm, entangled breaths, fanning our warm, flushed faces. Our hearts beating in sync, singing the sweet song of freedom. It’s almost extraterrestrial.

“I also can’t seem to remember warmth. It’s like warmth is associated with the living, not the bruised, buried dead. And I know that the only way to access such golden moments is through closing your eyes and imagining it. But ever so gently, because of the fear of mis-imagining it and blemishing an original, rare memory of it. Irreversible damage.”

I slowly open my eyes to find Tobias’ galaxies staring into my pained soul, and he continues to whisper gently.

“Look down, Rosey-” He calls to me, and I listen to his words that seem to flow in a remedial rhythm, stitching my ripped open, bleeding insides. “Look at our hands. I deeply crave knowing their texture on mine-” He whispers, and my gaze flickers back to his eyes as he starts drawing circles on my palms. “You remember how that feels like?” He asks, and I remember the nights I’d spend in Joshua’s bed, hands intertwined, engrossed in deep conversations. “Remember how it feels like to draw constellations on one’s palm?”

“No-" I whisper shakily, and Tobias closes his eyes.

“It feels like an ear whisper from a lover-“′ He leans in my right ear, and I almost hyperventilate. “It feels like icy water on a hot day. It feels like Christmas snow and summer drizzles-” I imagine the things he’s whispering to me, and I almost feel him against me. His heat, his everything. “Like a feather brushed against the sole of your feet. It feels like- like-” He seems to run out of words, but then he pulls back from my ear to stare in my eyes. “It feels like warmth. Rare and impossible-” He says, his eyes flicking to my parted lips. ”Impossible-” He repeats heavily, tearfully and locks my eyes.

I let out a suppressed, ugly sob as Tobias searches my eyes. He then lifts his thumbs to wipe away my tears.

“I don’t even feel that-” He tells me, rubbing his wet fingers against each other. “Regardless of how intimate it should feel-”

“That’s all you desire?” I ask him with a hiccough. “You want to feel?”

“I don’t want to just feel. I desire to feel deeply. I want my soul to shatter into a thousand pieces because it felt something too profoundly, something this steely soul of mine can’t handle-” He tells me. “I want my feelings to choke my windpipes into breathing. I want them to suffocate every piece of indifference away. That’s all I want.”

I cry, and it’s no longer for me and my misery.

“You were a poet?” I ask him softly with a sniff, and he painfully smiles at me.

“I’ve grown rusty now-”

“You are beautiful-” I whisper and rest a hand on his left cheek. He moves his face away, and I slowly drop my hand.

“There’s nothing beautiful about my pain-” He chokes out.

I look in his teary hazel eyes and reach for his hands. “Share it with me-” I tell him. “Dump it on me, Tobias-”

Tobias sniffs and shakes his head. “We need to go-” He whispers, his lips wet and red. “We need to find a port here to charge Sierra’s phone.” He sniffs. “We need to move on.”

I stare at him despondently, disappointed.

“Okay-” is what I tell him mechanically as he pulls away from me, and I swallow hard.

He stands up, wipes his face in his jacket’s sleeves and picks up Benji. I get up too and reach for Sierra’s phone that I kept in my dress’ pocket.

And even though all I want to do is lay down and listen to Tobias’ words and voice, I know that there’s a whole shitty adventure awaiting for me.

And simply, the truth won’t figure itself out.

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