I have decided to do something. To post a novelette on my blog. In installments, of course. One chapter per post, once every four-ish days. Now, you may not care. You do not need to read these. But you may like it. So there you go.
(Small warning: this story does mention a case of rape at some point. Of course it is handled delicately (and it's not talked about in detail etc.etc.) but if you are younger than 13 you may want to ask your parents if they're ok with that.)
Chapter one // Chapter two // Chapter three // Chapter four // Chapter five // TODAY AHHH this is one of my favourite chapter because you will meet my favourite character. :-) (Chapter7 = 17th of April)
So, last time we ended with:
“I have no idea what he saw in me. You’re way nicer and prettier than me,” I said. It was hardly comforting.
How are you?
The most asked question in society, and yet the most falsely answered question in society. It is oddly refreshing when someone answers it honestly. In fact, it is surprising when someone answers it with anything different than ‘I’m fine.’ The word ‘how’ implies anything but a short, blunt, ‘fine.’ It demands explanation, description and long sentences. Where’s, when’s and who’s are one-word-questions. Like: Where? Germany. When? 3 PM. Who? Amanda.
But ‘how?’ demands more than one word and yet we never consider that when someone asks us HOW we are. Often it’s lack of time and inclination to get into the tiring subject of life, but in Miley’s case it was so not. She wanted to talk about the how’s of her life really badly, I could see it, but she just said, ‘good,’ for culture’s sake.
I randomly spotted her several weeks later on, soberly staring at the hand-bag section in H&M and went to say hi.
“Hi, Miley!” I said.
I smiled a sad sort of smile. “How are you?” I asked. (I shouldn’t have.)
It was like asking someone who’s eating broccoli what he’s eating, and he says, ‘Spaghetti.’
“Shall we go outside?” I asked. The pop song on the radio was giving me a headache.
We sat on the pavement in front of H&M. The sun cast bouncing reflections of sequined blazers in the window onto Miley’s dark hair. She stared at the ground and quietly nodded. “Yeah. It’s my mum.”
“I know,” I whispered. “And – I’m awfully, awfully sorry.”
“Breast cancer. 20% survival rate.”
Dear God please please please please.
I went to the wall that evening, too cosily snuggled in my thick winter coat and the mustard-coloured scarf Mum had knitted for me three Christmases ago. Mum, who would be here this Christmas, and next one, and the next one. Unlike, Miley’s mother who would be in hospital with a bald head and a strong diet while Miley and her dad and brother opened presents with just the three of them at home. Maybe they’d take them to the hospital and open them with her. That would be nice.
Life seems unfair when you’re so lucky, and when you see so much unluckiness around. Especially now I knew about this one person.
The wall was filled with random messages; new ones. There weren’t that many nowadays; people had gotten used to the idea and weren’t as excited about it. But there was still enough for a good, savoury read. I read them and my eyes filled with tears. Partly because early December wind, partly because of poor Miley. And partly because of Gayl. I’d seen her yesterday and she seemed so bad. She’d failed her exams because of her heartbreak. Tim had moved, he’d changed his phone-number, and deleted all the pictures of the two of them online and Gayl just couldn’t believe that he’d be capable of that.
I ate a Pumpkin Donut flavoured Laffy Taffy about 10 minutes ago. I do not recommend it.
Anyone who feels grumpy or depressed should watch a sunrise or sunset. Life can be so beautiful.
THIS WALL IS LIKE THE BEST THING EVER.
A boy (or, I thought, a short-ish man) was writing down something on the wall as I read. I’d never seen someone write things on it, oddly enough. I’d always manage to stand in front of it when people weren’t writing stuff. The back of the boys head was gingery and curly. I followed his hand and read what he was writing. He has made everything good in his time. Man, that was another quote from the book of Ecclesiastes!
“Hey,” I said.
He turned around and smiled. “Hi.” He had a nice face with a handsome stubble. He looked like the kind of solid, but care-free guy everyone wants to hang out with. He had big glasses and wore them well.
“Are you the person who writes down verses from Ecclesiastes?”
“Yeah!” He had a grin the size of a cracker barrel. “That’s me!”
“I love that book.”
“Actually the verse you wrote down first – it’s my favourite Bible verse.”
“You mean the when times are good be happy one?”
I smiled. “That one, yes.”
“That’s great to hear,” he smiled. “Nice to meet you.”
He warmly shook my hand. Probably the firmest grip I’ve ever felt, but it felt good.
“Nice to meet you too, I’m Anna.”
I started to visit Miley more often as the winter went on. I wanted to give her a happy Christmas – it was the least I could do. I went to her house and decorated it with sprigs and holly twigs, and we put strings of popcorn onto the Christmas tree, to honour Miley’s American ancestors. We laughed about the angel who always tumbled down from the tree and told it to stay in character because real angels never fall, and we made stacks of cookies with Miley’s nieces and nephews. Then we ate them and realised we’d used salt instead of sugar and we almost died laughing.
Often it was sad, to visit her. She would talk about her mother, and how she seemed to become worse and worse after every surgery, and how she, Miley, was so scared to lose her.
Miley asked me if I would go and visit her mother, so I said I would. She was papery thin and so weak – it was scary to see. I couldn’t see her getting better. However, she had a smile that made the room alive, and the attitude of few among many. She stuffed Miley with all the advice she would need for the rest of her life, such as, ‘Never be in a relationship that has to be a secret’ and ‘if you have kids one day, tell them again and again that you love them’ and, with a twinkle in her eye, ‘Don’t put too much salt in Christmas cookies.’
Gayl, in the meanwhile, didn’t seem to want much of a happy Christmas. I tried to visit her as much as I could, but I seemed to be getting nowhere. She would grab my hand and cry and say that maybe Tim would come back. I knew she knew that wouldn’t happen, but it was beside the point.
“Gayl,” I said one afternoon, “I know it’s not important, but I know you know loads of people and I was wondering if you knew a certain Benjamin.”
“Benjamin?” She tasted the name.
“Yeah. He’s about twenty-five? Kinda short. Glasses. Looks like a book nerd, but very nice.”
Gayl wiggled her eyebrows. I loved that she could tease me about boys during a moment of heartbreak – that is a sign of true friendship. Gayl was great. “Ohhh, tell me more,” she smiled.
I rolled my eyes. “That’s it. I don’t know more.”
“Oh, so you just saw him and asked his name and that’s it? That’s not like you.”
“No, see, he’s the guy who wrote my favourite Bible verse on the wall.”
“Oh. Well…” Gayl made a face. “I don’t know any Benjamins except the weird character Brad Pitt played. He probably goes to Church if he reads the Bible. You should keep an eye open, maybe.”
I caught Gayl staring. “Stop it.”
“What?” She laughed.
“I’m not in LOVE.”
“I KNOW, but you want to meet a guy and get to know him better! And that’s more than anything else that’s ever happened to you.” The clock ticked loudly in the awkward silence hanging in the room. “And no,” Gayl said, “Don’t you ever dare feel bad for falling in love just after I had a heartbreak. I am happy for you.”
“That’s nice,” I smiled. “Thanks. You’re the bomb.”
“It’s funny how bombs are used as a positive word, right?” I mused. “Bombs are dreadful things that a capable of killing millions of people in less than one second and yet people use it to compliment people. Bombs are dreadful.”
“Does that mean I am dreadful?”
I laughed a high squeaky peal of laughter – the kind that made Gayl laugh because it sounded like a giraffe looks, she said. High and thin. Gayl was big on metaphors. (So was I, when it came to that.)
“By the way,” Gayl said, “You just then admitted you were in love with this Benjamin guy.”
“I did not.”
“Did too you did. I said don’t you ever dare feel bad about falling in love and you just smiled.”
“Which means that I’m in love right now,” I groaned. “Stupid girl.”
I did what Gayl told me to do and scoured the pews for a young man with glasses and a stubble beard, but I didn’t find him. Maybe he didn’t go to Church and he just read the Bible because he had to for theology class or something. Not all Bible-readers go to Church; although they often do, because the Church is all about said book and people who read said book tend to be interested in said book and therefore go to meetings about said book.
But not Benjamin. Something in me wanted to meet him really badly. I didn’t really know why. Sure, I wanted a boyfriend, but this wasn’t an attempt on a love life. I just liked him. The look of his grin and his old coat and plaid scarf. I liked that he wrote Bible verses on the wall and that we had the exact same favourite Bible verse. Those chances aren’t high, with 31102 verses in the Bible. I just felt like we should be friends; there was an urge inside me, waiting to be friends with him.
Maybe he felt the same. Who knew.
I didn’t ask Gayl what to do, because I did it before I had time to ask her. It was a ludicrous thing to do, especially because I’d been upset (more like: creeped out) when Tim had done it to me. I wrote him a message on the wall.
“Benjamin, aka the one who writes Bible verses, this is Anna. I was wondering how we could meet up.”
As soon as I’d written it, of course, I regretted it. I started to rub off the chalk with my finger but then I saw the bus come in and I had to race to catch it and be at my work on time. All through that day I was distracted and wondered what Benjamin would think. It didn’t really matter. He was right next door to being a stranger. He was a stranger. Just a familiar stranger.
Familiar strangers are strangers such as the beggar man one sees every week, or the grocery-shopkeeper-woman who always smiles and says, ‘good-morning’ whenever one goes to buy things. Familiar strangers.
Benjamin was my favourite familiar stranger. He seemed really familiar. Sometimes I wondered whether or not he was the guy who’d played Scott Joplin at the pub, that evening when Gayl and Tim had been all lovey-dovey.
When I came back from work, he’d replied.
“I’m going to be at Church next Sunday. – B.”
Oh, I thought, oh. He’s going to be at Church next Sunday. I felt a rush of anticipation and stupid joy. I couldn’t wait. I wasn’t nervous – he wasn’t the kind of being-nervous-around guy, so far as I knew. Maybe he was, once I got to know him better. I’d only exchanged about five words with him, or something ridiculous like that.
Of course I wasn’t in love. But maybe I was in like.