There’s going to be the interschool basketball tournament soon. So David and his team were practicing seriously. Duke is in his team too. I used to play basketball, I’m okay at it. David invited me to try out for the team before, but I had a lot of catching up to do then. I’m just helping with the practice a little. David mixed his team members and the extras with some of us for a fair game. They’re supposed to practise during the last two periods today. They even practise on evenings sometimes. The last period is physical education, anyway. We had English before it but the English teacher is absent today and we pleaded with the substitute to let us out.
I left after a match and slumped down on a bench a little farther. Liam, Ryan and Ezra were playing football on the field we have on the other side. Marvin and Lance are on the same team for once. They make a great team together, they’re really well coordinated. Hell, I ship them too now. Kai is the goalkeeper for the other team. Felix is at the library to finish some assignment with Maya and Lia. He was not in the mood to play today. He was really happy to finish it at school so he could chill relaxed at home. He invited me as well, but I’d rather be outside. It was breezy today and the temperature’s alright, not too hot.
Both the coaches look busy with the basketball players. There were girls playing on the other basketball court, practicing as well. They got the loud coach who was busy shouting at them. Poor luck. Some others were playing badminton too. Some just gossiping. Some at the library. And some just missing. Kai joined me after a while.
“Hey Marc, let’s go.” He was already dragging me by the hand with him.
“Just come with me. Everyone’s busy with basketball and football. No one would notice. Bell just rung for the last period, anyway.”
“Fine... you’re taking me to your secret stash or something, huh?” I said, wriggling my eyebrows. He just shook his head. We started walking away and yeah, nobody noticed.
“So where is this portal to Narnia?” We had already crossed the field, and I think we were moving towards the main school building.
“I’m taking you to my favourite place here.”
“Huh?” I was distracted, looking around to check no one’s seen us wandering around. I don’t wanna get caught by the vice principal, she has such a shrill voice... I think I’d lose my ability to hear higher frequency sounds if I get reproached by her for even five minutes. I think she can totally teleport. She can be frickin everywhere!
“Here at the school. I liked to hang out by myself there.”
“You don’t go there anymore?”
“Yeah... I’m usually with you and the guys. Do you have a place like that?”
“I guess the vine arbour tunnel near gate 2. That’s why I always use that gate.” He smiled at me.
“I don’t know... we didn’t have one there, and it looks so beautiful. I forget I’m at school when I’m under it. The sunlight seeping in through the vines, the warmth, the flowers... it just I don’t know how to explain, feels otherworldly. It feels special.”
“Yeah, I like the quiet there. The garden’s really pretty... We’re here. Just have to workout a little now.”
We reached the main building, and he started climbing up the stairs. Does he like to hang out at some empty classroom or something?
“Can’t we just use the lift? Which floor do you wanna go to?”
“The teachers must be using the lift now. And we don’t wanna get caught.”
It feels like it’s been fifteen minutes and we’re still using the stairs. I think we have already climbed up to the fifth floor. Ugh, how much more?
“Hah.... which floor.... is it?” I was panting badly. I was already tired after playing basketball a little, but the stairs! I think I’ve lost some weight already.
“A little more. Hold on.”
It was not a little more at all. We’re still climbing. We finally stopped in front of a door. Wait, this is the door to the roof. He took out a key from his pocket and unlocked the door.
“Umm... how do you have the key?”
“I’m friends with the gardener who’s also part time janitor. I help him sometimes. He has a spare key.”
“So this is where you used to be.”
“Yeah. I liked to be alone.”
We walked on the rooftop. It’s huge and empty. I hope he’s not the type to lean or sit on edges. I am not letting him do that.
“Why do you like this place? There are other places where you could be alone.”
“Here.” He took my hand and walked us further.
“The view.” He said with a content smile. “It looks so happy and colourful from up here.”
Did he come up here because he felt sad or lonely?
“Were you sad? You used to come up here a lot.” I kept a hand on his shoulder. I didn’t want to pry, but we’ve been over heavy stuff before. I’d like it if he were to open up to me. I don’t think he talks a lot with others. But it’s fine if he didn’t want to.
“I was just not happy.” He had a sad smile on his face. I didn’t remove my hand from his shoulder. I don’t know what to say, so all I can do is support him.
There was a serene silence between us. It’s really quiet up here, away from all the noises. The breeze caressing my face felt amazing. I stared at some tree far, far away absentmindedly. It’s fine if that’s all he wanted to tell me. I heard him take a deep breath after some time.
“There were sometimes when I was just not happy. I don’t know if I was sad, but I was not happy. The view would occupy my mind till that feeling would die out.”
“Are you ‘not happy’ now?”
“No. I just wanted to share the view with you.”
“You understand me. You understand what I want, even without trying or knowing. That makes me happy at school now. I’m just Kai with you.”
“Kai... The guys understand you. They like you. They don’t believe in your reputation. We’re all here for you.”
“They’re not you.”
I couldn’t say much to this. I didn’t even know what to say. I rarely spoke up in moments like these. Silence is better than me trying to conjure up emotional words. They may not even make sense. I’m terrible at expressing. He was still gazing at the view with a faraway look on his face. He continued.
“They do understand me. They don’t believe in that stupid reputation, I know that. I’m grateful and lucky they’re my friends. But I’d just like it if they’d let me have my own pace sometimes. Of course I don’t blame them, nor am I annoyed. You understood people misunderstand me, and that’s it. You didn’t try to bring me out of my ‘shell’. You just let me be. You just let me be Kai with you. It’s amazing how patient you are with me, given how impatient you usually are.” He smiled at me in the end.
I mean yeah... I’m impatient most of the times. Can’t say no to that.
“This must’ve been the most volume of words you’ve spoken at a stretch.”
“That’s all you have to say!” He gave a throaty laugh, and I laughed with him. I like his laugh and his deep voice.
“I don’t know what to say! I’m just happy and grateful you feel that.”
You have no idea how happy I really am. I guess I didn’t need to understand him like I thought I need to. All this while I was afraid I can’t understand people, but I never needed to do that with Kai. I just needed to let him be. Let him be Kai, just as he lets me be Marc with him. Let him open up by himself. Let him have his own pace.
“I was so scared I don’t understand my friends. I’m glad I don’t need to try with you.” I muttered, looking down at my shoes.
He just squeezed my shoulder with his right arm as if to say ‘yes, it’s alright’.
“I wish I’d met you sooner.” I spoke up suddenly.
“Me too.” He laughed genuinely while looking straight into my eyes. He started admiring the view again. But while his gaze before was empty, he’s looking at the view with a gleam in his eyes.
Yeah, it did look really beautiful from up here. It’s not that high, but I can see the city beyond the school walls. I can even see the hills far away, since this side it the residential part it has less high rise apartments and buildings. The kids playing in the field look so tiny. Ughhh I looked down. It feels really high now, and why am I so close to the edge? I started backing away.
“I was not supposed to look down. We’re too close to the edge.”
“You’re scared of heights?”
“Who isn’t? But I don’t have a phobia, I just don’t like standing near the edge of roofs. I almost fell off a balcony once. It wasn’t high, but I never stand close to the edge. It’s better to be safe.”
“Oh... it’s safe. The railing’s concrete and high. It doesn’t have cracks at all. And I’m here. Unless someone tries to murder you by pushing you off the edge, you won’t fall off and die.”
I just scoffed at him. Then we suddenly burst into a series of laughs. I just shook my head at him. Dork.
He put his arm around my shoulder to assure me. I think it works. We looked at the view from a safe distance. Hmm, this is my second favourite place now.
“What’re you afraid of?”
“A few things.” He just shrugged. Doesn’t look like he’ll elaborate. I just let it go.