5 A.M., the clock displayed the time. I rolled over. I still had some time before I actually needed to get out of bed. There was no way I was going back to sleep. I yanked out of bed and sighed as I looked down. The floor was completely tainted with paint. I bent down and picked up a paint can which I had surely tripped over last night while sleepwalking.
I hadn’t walked in my sleep since I was like nine or ten but weeks ago I woke up to see my brother tying my feet to the bed saying “You tap danced all over our ancient great-great-great grandfather’s last photograph in your sleep.” It was a terrible picture anyway but all the same, that’s when it was confirmed that I had started sleepwalking again.
Today was going to be the worst day of my life, I was sure of it and it had just begun. I had a whole painfully tiring day ahead of me yet it was the day I forgot to tie myself. My floor was covered with paint cans sinking deep in thick paint and- “GOD NO,” I screamed. My painting, the one I had been working on for over a month now was lying on its face over a blue paint can. It really was going to be the worst day of my life. My door opened just a little and my brother peaked in with horrified eyes.
“Sorry I couldn’t save your work,” he said, mostly because he knew how determined I was about this one. I had been going crazy over this for weeks. It was simple yet I couldn’t get myself to complete it. I could never put my finger to it but I just couldn’t call it done. My brother would say “Dude, it’s complete. You’ve been sitting here for hours now, there’s nothing left to do in this thing anymore.” and just like every time, I’d deny.
Dismay must be pretty clear on my face because he volunteered to clean up with me. Together we got the rugs off the floor and wiped it clean. The rugs were done for, we had to throw them all away but I couldn’t bring myself the throw away my work that had martyred along with them. We still had about an hour to shower and eat before we left. Today, the worst day of my life, is the day I have to go back to my hometown. I hate my hometown. Let me be clear, I did not suffer any kind of bullying or abuse back there. In fact, my hometown is quite the beauty. Life is easy and peaceful there. That’s the reason Kris is so excited to go back. We had a wonderful childhood there. I know he tried to hide how happy he was that we were finally going back because he wanted me to tell him why I didn’t want to go back but it was pretty obvious. To convince me, he’d remind me of how happy we were.
“Your room was so big and it was completely covered with canvasses and brushes and what not. You had everything you ever asked for.” He’d say just in case I didn’t want to go back because I thought I didn’t have enough room for my paintings there. I couldn’t blame him for this. My town was a perfect haven for a painter like me but still I chose to come live here in this stinky city. Even though the town was perfect, even though I had the most amazing childhood there, I didn’t want to go back. Every time I thought of our town, all I could think about was…emptiness. It was like a big chunk of me was hiding out there and I was afraid of finding it. My heart sank at the thought of walking through the same streets I walked through years ago and it wasn’t nostalgia that I was feeling, it was bare longing and emptiness. As much as I didn’t want to go I knew I couldn’t escape the inevitable. So I showered and put my best travelling clothes on. It is going to be okay I thought to myself.
I took one good look at our apartment as Kris locked the door. We loaded our luggage in the back of his truck with the help of a few helpers working at a site nearby. Before we took off, he shot my ruined painting one last nasty look as I hoarded it over a carton.
To be honest, I understood why Kris was so disturbed by my obsession with the painting. To a regular eye, it was just a man and a girl dressed in white and black. People would look at it and think of them as lovers and that’s it. They wouldn’t give it anymore thoughts than that but I knew what it really was. They weren’t lovers, they were enemies. The girl wore a plain white dress. Her hair was smeared all over her face. The only visible part of her face were the cherry red lips, tensed, as if they were speaking to me, asking me took away. And behind her was the man, dressed in all black from head to toe. Though his face was looking down, mostly covered by his hat, the smirk he held gave me chills every time I looked at it. They were both walking and for one shocking second, I could’ve sworn to God I felt them move towards me. I would have told Kris about this had I not known that he’ll only say that it is because I had been staring at it for too long and it could be true, for all I know.
I lowered in my seat and relaxed. Since I was going to hell anyway might as well make it worth a shot. Now that I come to think of it, what is the worst that could happen there? I vomit at my high school’s entrance or maybe fall down the stairs and get hospitalized for months? Better not consider the second situation, I was feeling sick already.
“Kiaan…Kiaan!!....” I heard Kris pant. His voice was so blurred. I must’ve dozed off. I could feel his hand trembling over mine. With a jerk, I stood up to find Kris hovering over me like a maniac.
“WE”RE HEEEEREE” he serenaded or tried, I should say. I tried to put on a smile and charge up my enthusiasm but as soon as I looked out of the window, my stomach turned into an empty, giant pit. There stood a huge wooden board saying “SANOOR”. I’m finally home, yay.
“I’ll drive us home.” I said. I didn’t want to be the one who got to look around and admire our beautiful town. I opened the door and jumped down. That’s when it happened. I felt…I don’t know what I felt. But it was there, a little something sparkling in my heart. I looked around but I couldn’t see our truck anymore. I saw…her, a girl, smiling at me. She was standing away from me near the sign board. She started walking towards me and suddenly, she was the most beautiful girl I ever laid my eyes on. I wanted to get closer and see her face but just then, I was jerked back to life by my brother.
“You okay? Hey, did you fall?” he gave me a hand.
“Yes, I-I slipped.” What else could I say?
His face looked tense. He offered me his hand and said, “You’ve been out for minutes now. God, this town really is a bad influence on you, isn’t it? Come on up. I’ll drive. You take time and sink in the horrible reality that we’re going to live here from now on.” I got up, feeling sorry for him but that is not what I was concentrating on anymore. My head was spinning. Did I just get a vision? I don’t know. I had thought this was going to be horrifying but instead this feels different. It feels like getting here was a part of some sort of puzzle and I just put together its first two pieces.
Half an hour passed and we crossed our high school. Kris pointed out at it saying, “I bet you could be blindfolded and still reach the art gallery in this building.” He was right, I spent majority of my time in that part of the building. In fact, I don’t even remember being in any other classes except Fine Arts. I’d always been so crazy about art.
“Come on Kiaan, look around. Our town is a beautiful painting in itself. The hills, the greenery and weather…you used to love it here. And then one day you just snapped and this place started suffocating you. What changed, man?” he was being gentle with the words but they opened the pit in my stomach even more. The truth is…I don’t remember. I don’t remember what changed. I could feel it in the air; I had a perfect life here. And then one day, it all just went away and I don’t remember what happened like I had been jinxed to forget. These are the things I had been afraid of admitting even to myself. The reason I had been so addicted to the painting is because it made me feel connected to here and yet, for some reason, my mind kept telling me I didn’t want to be here. The vision and the painting are all just omens that no matter how much I run away, in the end this town is where I belong. I accept this now. I won’t run away anymore.
“I don’t know” was all I could say. We reached home. My mom, the craziest and loveliest mother ever hugged us both until we couldn’t feel our shoulders. She had a strong grip, you see, since she’s a woman of the hills and all. My father, on the other hand, started crying. We greeted our grandparents who have been living in a photo frame for God knows how long. That’s how the family reunions always go, awkward and emotional.
It has been days since we came here. Every now and then, people from nearby neighbourhood would come and greet us. They’d ask us what the city was like and remind us of how they wiped the drool off our chin when we were little. This guy named Kai,who lived nearby with his uncle named Ann Si, would come by daily and talk to mom for hours.
“Well, after you both left, you can say I sort of adopted him, you know. He’s such a sweetheart and, believe me, Kiaan, he is such a listener when I talk about you and your art works.” Mom said.
“Oh, is he?” Believe me, he was such a talker but every time I came up, he’d be as quiet as a lamb in front of the lion. That means dead. He’d be as quiet as dead.
Weeks passed. We settled. Days become more and more regular. The painting, ruined, was hanging at the left wall of my room.
“So, what is your mystery, huh?” I asked in vain, “You won’t get off my mind, you won’t let me understand you, what are you? Who are you?” my thoughts always became gentle when I looked at the girl. “I guess the three of us are stuck together then.” I took off for a shower. A few days I have my interview for a job at the high school. I never really cared what I was doing as long it connected me to art and bought me money. Today, I was free to do anything. I got dressed and got out of the house. The weather was pretty cloudy and pleasant. I walked across the high school to a barnyard where Kris and I used to sneak off to after stealing chocolates from the school kitchen. I could smell the dung and milk from outside.
“Hey,” I heard someone call out from behind. It was Kai.
I greeted him back. Even his forever-blabbering mouth couldn’t call off my mood today.
“So, what’s the plan, huh? I don’t think an art gallery is quite a business here.” Kai asked.
“It’s not. I’m getting a job at the high school. I’m going to be an Art teacher there.” The lesser I talked to him, the better. We were walking down the street.
“From what all I’ve heard, you don’t sound like you planned for this?” his eyes mocked me, I didn’t like that. He was talking as if he has known me for years and not days. But then again, maybe he has.
“When do plans workout the way we want them to, anyway?” and he laughed in response. I shivered, it was pretty cold. I wasn’t used to of this kind of coldness. It was almost unrealistic and had my town not been an example of unrealistic itself, I would never have believed such winters exist. “Care to join me for some tea?”
“I wouldn’t mind”
Just after a few minutes’ walk there was a tea stall. We both sat down on different benches holding the piping hot tea.
“So how’s the city? Better than here, I presume.” He sipped his tea.
“I guess it is. But you like it here, don’t you? That’s why you haven’t left.” I said with a smile on my face, finally dodging a question at him.
“Yes that and a couple of other reasons.” He gave a smirk as if he was enjoying an insider joke. I wonder if many people have asked him this question. I know that a lot of us had already decided to leave the town at high school only. I wasn’t one of them kids; my decision to leave was not planned at all. Kai seemed exceptionally quiet today, that was weird. He was simply looking at me, smirking still. He finally chose to break the silence with some other questions he had.
“I bet you don’t remember but we shared a couple of classes; 1st and last period.”
“No, we didn’t” and for a second, I saw a spark in his eyes.
I have forgotten a lot of things but I certainly remember last class. It was just me and a few others who took that class. What was this guy playing at? “Last class was arts. You weren’t on that class. You’re mistaken.”
I stood up as if intending to make him punish for being wrong and just like that, it came when I least expected it to. I couldn’t see Kai anymore. In fact, I was alone. My head started spinning and my vision became blurred just like it had before. Only this time, I didn’t seem to wake out of it. For two minutes I just sat there trying to shake myself out of it. Then, in an instant, everything froze and the very next, something soft and silky landed over me, knocking me off the bench. It was sitting over me now. It, or as I could see, she was vibrantly moving her hands with her smooth hair pouring over my face. I could feel the warmth of her hand over mine. It felt like I was exchanging the heat with her, hand to hand. I tried to get up but she kept me down, holding my hand, which felt like it was burning, ever tighter. She was doing something…she was fighting! With a heavy blow, her head banged into mine. I grasped for air and instead of her scent, I breathed in air. I lied over the bench and took mouthfuls of air before I could finally talk. I looked around. Kai was sitting in front of me. My hands were cold again. Did he see me pass out? Why is he not talking?
“Did I fall?” I asked, trying to get him to talk.
“Yes. Take your tea.” He handed me an ice-cold tea.
“Don’t tell anyone.” was all I could manage to say.
“You’ve been out for half an hour. You don’t look good.” He didn’t sound concerned or sorry or however you’re supposed to sound when people faint in front of you at all, instead he sounded pretty subtle. I didn’t want to be here anymore, not around him at least.
“I think I’ll go home now, bye” I stood up from the bench. Something about being in his company didn’t feel right. The sooner I left the better.
“Did you miss her?” Kai too stood up. I couldn’t believe it and yet I knew who he was talking about.
“Of course, I missed my mother.” I started walking fast. He was way behind me now. He knows about the girl. Could he possibly know more?