Crowded places had always been a refuge for me- I loved the safety of numbers, of being just one dull, expressionless face in a black and white canvas painted with dull, expressionless faces. In supermarkets, cafés, airports and bustling streets I allowed myself to be lost in a wave of people, one ripple cascading among thousands of other ripples. In crowds I was always hidden, a tiny shuffling secret, safe- that is, until she found me.
[Inspired by the writing prompt from Alice Kuiper’s website, here.]
He didn’t want to be a victim; that was the very last thing he wanted. He didn’t want lines of stony faces watching him with cold, emotionless eyes as he slouched along the corridor, head bent in a vain attempt to hide himself. He didn’t want sympathetic pats on the back and pep talks from awkward teachers, and brand-new, supportive ‘friends’. He didn’t want people tip-toeing around him like he was a bomb ready to explode. He didn’t want to come home every day to find his mother sat at the table, concentrating on something in the far difference that only her eyes could see. He didn’t want to walk about in this alien world where everyone pretended everything was fine while everything crumbled around them.
He didn’t want any of this. High School was the only place where he could escape from everything that had happened. All he wanted to was blend, and now he stuck out more than ever. And the scar probably didn’t help.
It was a huge gash running from his top lip up to his cheek bone, bright red as if bursting with blood. He hated the way people stared at him now, never fully being able to meet his eyes when they talked to him. He hated the whispers hardly hidden behind hands as he passed by, the rumours and speculations about what really happened that night. He hated the interrogations, people who’d never passed acknowledgement now wanting to know if he was okay, their eyes begging for a piece of truth, a delicious sliver of revelation on the incident. He always ignored the stares, bowed his head and carried on walking, mumbling a half-hearted reply and shrugging his shoulders as he left.
Today was a day just like any other. His mum barely tore her gaze away from the spot on the kitchen wall to say goodbye to him before he left, and after closing the door he knew already he’d come home six hours later to find her sitting there in the same position, fixated on a memory frozen in her mind. She’d completely changed since everything had fallen apart; she was barely a person anymore, merely a ghost trapped in another night. In his own confusion about everything, he chose to ignore it, making sure she had food and water and always leading her up to her bed at night. He felt more like a carer than a son- but instantly he pushed these thoughts to the back of his head. He didn’t want sympathy. He wasn’t a victim.
Everything could be normal if he could pretend for long enough.
His hood up in the light drizzle, no one could see his face. No one could know who he was, and in that brief, momentous walk to school he was a normal kid, not the boy everyone had heard about. He could walk and passers-by didn’t lift their heads in recognition, cars didn’t slow while drivers stared out of windows, mouths slightly agape. No one could see his scar, and in his head he could imagine his skin free of bruising and scar tissue.
He was so caught up in his daydream of perfect normality he didn’t notice anyone walking alongside him until a voice spoke from beside his right ear. A voice that was warm and quiet and completely unfamiliar, that flowed gently through the air like a fresh breeze on a Summer’s day.
‘Sometimes it’s nice to disappear, isn’t it?’
Picture this. A small, fairly unknown café on a street corner in late September, where inside it draws closer to closing time. And there’s you, in a small booth beside the window, coffee cradled in your hands to warm your fingers. The first leaves have begun to fall from the trees,carried in a cool Autumn breeze past the window and skittering along the pavement. You’d be busy marvelling at the beauty outside the window if you weren’t marvelling at the beauty sitting opposite you.
Terrified, my eyes widened as tears prickled behind the eyelids and I tried to capture a few clean breaths. My body was slowly becoming weak, the smoke infecting me with its slow taunting spread. Suddenly the smoker stopped; lowered the cigarette to stub it out. The last few embers were beaten down, and I felt the noose around my neck tighten one last fatal time. As I felt a last splutter of breath escape my lips, we plunged into a cold, unending darkness and I closed my eyes, waiting for it all to be over.
In a cold, cluttered study dimly lit by a bulb encased in a thick layer of grime, a man stands surveying old, flaking walls filled with bookshelves and cabinets, head cocked on one side as he impatiently tuts and looks around him. A room once the hub of his home and working life now sits dormant and forlorn in the cold October sun peering through cracks in the yellowed blinds. A room once so lively and loved now seems as alone and lost as the man standing within.