Takki wants to forget. But occasionally he would remember the tree from his distant past, and the friend waiting under it. Warning: Mild boys' love.
Tackey's eyes crack open. It's a dream, only a dream. He closes his eyes, longing to return to it, to a place where a rich emerald crown of leaves dance overhead in the still autumn air.
Washed clean of the day's dust by the spring rain, the lone tree behind his home wore a deep, brilliant green. Aside for the faint barking of the dogs in a distant, there was no other sound. And nobody else. Only him and his red Swiss Army knife. His father had given it to him earlier this morning as a birthday present. Tackey pulled out the blade. It looked sharp, enough to do some serious damage. Without hesitation, he griped the knife firmly in his hands and slashed the tree trunk. He felt nothing, no regret or release. He was about to give it a second go, when he felt a hand tighten around his wrist.
'What are you doing?'
Tackey eyed the boy. He was another teenager like him.
'Why are you hurting the tree? I thought you liked it?' The stranger asked, matter-of-factly, without blame or criticism. Only his bright, clear eyes betrayed a glimmer of pain.
Tackey didn't answer. He eyed the stranger with suspicion.
'I've often seen you sitting under the tree,' the other boy volunteered.
They exchanged silent gazes for a moment. They were quiet but not uncomfortable.
'Are those my clothes?' Tackey queried, finally breaking the silence.
'Yes,' the boy replied, without a trace of guilt.
'Why are you wearing them?'
'Because I have none.'
That instant, Tackey felt the ground disappear beneath him. He felt so silly and childish. He was upset about how his parents quarrelled again. It was his birthday and he had hoped that they would at least pretend to be a happy wholesome family. But they argued over every little detail of the birthday preparation. His father wanted to order less sushi, his mother wanted more. His father wanted the party in the backyard, his mother insisted on having it indoors. There was nothing they couldn't pick a fight over. His bitterness was justifiable. But in the presence of a peer, who didn't even have clothes to wear, Tackey felt incredibly immature.
It was under this unlikely circumstance that two boys, Tackey and Tsubasa, became instant friends.
'Are they abusing you?'
Tsubasa returned Tackey a bewildered look.
'The scar above your right eye,' Tackey informed as he stroke it lightly. It looked new, it wasn’t there when they first met.
'It's one thing not to send you to school, it's another to abuse you.'
'I'm fine,' Tsubasa insisted, in his usual unaffected tone. He turned away and surveyed the books in Tackey's bag. 'So what did you learn in school today?'
Swallowing injustice and pity, Tackey drew out his mathematics textbook. He wanted to protect his friend but his friend wanted to protect his abusive parents. He was powerless. All he could do was be there for him. Be the window in a dark and empty life.
Despite his background, Tsubasa was without any trace of self-pity; although Tackey clearly sensed an invisible wall around the latter. There was always something distant and impenetrable about his friend. Nonetheless, this deprived peer was always ready to hear of his school life and watch him do his homework, under the tree they call their second home. Even when his eyes had glazed over and his brows were knitted in concentration, Tsubasa would try but fail to understand the words and numbers before him. And Tackey's heart broke a little every time Tsubasa turned to him in wide-eyed defeat, saying, 'I don't understand this.'
To save himself the heartache, Tackey turned to fun and games instead. That afternoon, he was teaching Tsubasa how to ride a bicycle.
'I'm letting go now.'
'No, don't! I'm not ready!'
'Yes, you are!' Tackey delightedly asserts. He was happy. Not because he was a sadist. But because it was the first time he had seen such a range of emotions from Tsubasa. He felt as if maybe the invisible wall was finally crumbling.
To Tackey's miscalculation, Tsubasa wasn't ready after all and he fell clumsily onto the ground, scraping his elbow against a rock.
'I'm sorry!' Tackey whimpered as he examined the gaping wound.
‘Stop saying that! You’re not fine, you’re bleeding,’ Tackey reproached sharply. 'I'm not your parents. You don't have to be strong in front of me.'
Dragging Tsubasa back home, Tackey quickly tended to the wound, while Tsubasa watched with faint amusement at the latter making a bandage dumpling of his elbow.
'This should do it,' Tackey finally announced, beaming at his masterpiece. 'Wait! One more thing.'
He pulled up Tsubasa's dumpling elbow and kissed it. 'It'll make you feel better.'
'Why do you like this tree?' Tsubasa asked one summer’s day, as they idled under its shade, eating watermelons.
'Because it looks lonely,' Tackey answered without a second thought. After a long pause, he continued, 'Maybe, I'm the one that's lonely.'
Two seasons had gone by and being together had become their habit. Tackey would share his stories and adventures in high spirits and Tsubasa would quietly nod as he listens, occasionally injecting a 'hai' in response.
One crisp October morning, however, Tackey was unusually sullen, until he reluctantly broke the news, 'My parents and divorcing. And I'm moving away with my mother.'
It took Tsubasa a while to digest the news.
'Where are you going?'
'Is it far?'
'Will you be coming back?'
Tackey looked away, his voice cracked as he replied, 'My mother has forbidden me to return.'
There was no comfort to be found in words. The two boys could only cradle their legs in silence and let the autumn breeze brush through them into the distance.
'Will you remember me?' Tsubasa asked.
Tackey opened his mouth to answer, but no words came, only tears.
Tsubasa wrapped his arms around Tackey and pressed their cheeks together. It was an incredibly warm gesture that stopped Tackey's heart for a moment. The two boys released their embrace only when Tackey stopped crying.
'One more thing,' Tsubasa said, before he gently planted his lips onto Tackey's.
'Feel better?' he asked, with a sad smile.
Unaware how to respond, Tackey could only chasten, 'You're only supposed to do that with the person you like.'
With that, Tsubasa kissed Tackey again, deeper and longer.
On the day of Tackey's departure, they craved their initials 'T&T' onto the tree.
'I thought you didn't want me to hurt the tree,' Tackey said, recalling how they first met.
'I want to remember you too.'
As if sensing the impending separation, the leafy tree swayed solemnly in the still November air.
Tackey finally wakes up, after the long dream. There is a message on the answering machine. Coincidentally, it too is a voice from a distant past.
'Tackey, it's me, your father. How are you? I'm packing some stuff in the house. I'm thinking of selling it. There's a box of stuff that's yours. Come back and collect it, okay? I hope to see you.'
How did his father get his contact? After the bitter divorce, Tackey obediently avoided all contact with his father. It’s one thing for his parents to be unhappy but another thing to commit adultery.
‘Should I go back?’ Tackey cares nothing for his past belongings that are already a decade old. But there is something else, someone else. He has tried to forget, to keep it buried. Separation wasn't easy and it hurt to remember. After so many years, circumstances have changed and he might also have left.
Tackey has forbidden himself to dwell on the past. However, on one rare occasion, when he uncharacteristically shared the story about his special tree - a tree that danced on its own, his colleagues laughed at him. They mockingly warned him that the tree was possessed. Immediately, Takki shot down such absurdity. There was never anything sinister about his tree. There was always only just him, the tree and Tsubasa.
The empty room looks anything but familiar. Where there used to be a single bed, desk and bookshelf, there is now nothing. And the walls too are stripped of their colourful posters of childhood pro-wrestling heroes. Only the old wooden wardrobe remains. Opening it, Tsubasa is surprised to find clothes in them, adult-sized clothes. He picks out a white cotton tee and pink checkered pants and tries them on. Again, he is pleasantly surprised that they fit nicely.
With the remaining keys that Tackey had secretly duplicated for him years back, Tsubasa cautiously explored the rest of the quiet house. Before he left, Tackey was worried that Tsubasa might need clothes or food, and provided him a set of keys and a schedule of the occupants’ comings and goings. The schedule is probably no longer useful. Times have changed. And maybe, like Tackey, they too have left. Although no one is home now, Tsubasa reminds himself to be careful.
In the living room, the intruder looks for indication of the current occupants. There is no photo frame in sight. The only thing that stands out in the sparse living room is an ugly red sofa set. At this point, Tsubasa decides to venture outside to find out more. Surely the name plate at the gate would identify the current occupants.
Standing outside the gate, Tsubasa looks uneasily around. No one is around. Despite that, he feels strange and alien. It has been a long time since he was last there. He had no reason to.
Looking back at the house, Tsubasa is suddenly flooded with a sense of nostalgia. He grabs onto his head with his hands to keep his thoughts from swirling out of control. It is useless. He can only let himself be washed away by the memories that shudder through him and tighten around his heart.
When he finally straightens himself out, Tsubasa hears shouting in a distance. Someone is yelling and running towards him from the far end of the street. His first instinct is to hide. But when he sees oranges falling from the approaching figure's paper bag and the person torn between whether to run ahead or pick them up, Tsubasa stops in his tracks and laughs instead. The scene before him is so priceless that it evokes pity from the laughing man. Before he sets off to render aid to the comical spectacle, Tsubasa glances at the shiny, new name plate at the gate - Tackey & Tsubasa.
End. In case it's not obvious, Tsubasa is a tree spirit. More stories at http://avery-averette.livejournal.com. Enjoy!