I knew it was him even before I saw his crouched figure.
I came upon a vague silhouette of a male high school student, squatting beside a few bushes that grew off to the side of the asphalted sidewalk. He wore the same uniform as me. It was midday and so I deduced he was skipping classes, just like me. A wisp of smoke wafted up into the air above his head and dissipated before it hit my nostrils.
You didn't have to second-guess what Yuri Karamov was doing. He was coughing in that tell-tale way of new smokers. The sound bounced off the concrete walls of the tunnel. They reached my ears before I had set eyes on him.
His profile was extended to me as I approached him. Although the tunnel reverberated the echoes of my footsteps, he didn't glance my way until I was close enough to feel the heat from the smoke he blew out of his mouth.
He looked up at my towering figure.
- Konstantin? He hid the cigarette out of sight, and smile up at me sheepishly. He sounded cheery, even slightly apologetic.
I raised an eyebrow at him.
Yuri Karamov had cut his hair into a buzz cut some years back and had kept it in that style ever since. It pronounced the angles of his face; his sharp jawline and prominent cheekbones, and thick eyebrows—one of which was slashed through by a precise cut. Over the years his face had shed some of its baby fat and what stared back at me now was the face of a sixteen year old young man.
I contemplated my next move. I knew I should have ignored him and gotten along with my business, but something about the look on his face made me reconsider.
I shook my head at him.
- You're doing it wrong, I said.
His eyebrows drew together in response. I squatted comfortably beside him, despite it being the first time I had spoken to him since we graduated middle school.
I motioned for him to pass me the cigarette. Hesitantly, he did. His eyes widening in surprise when I placed it to my lips.
I took a small inhalation of the toxic stick. The smoke burnt its way down to my lungs. I blew it out through the side of my mouth. Yuri's expression was suspended in disbelief.
- Where did you—
- You need to hold against your reflex to cough, I said, cutting him off.
- Fill your mouth first, and then slowly guide it down. It's easier in the beginning if you don't pull on it all at once.
I demonstrated one more time. -Do it in steps, I said while exhaling. I had to take my own advice and stifle the urge to cough as I pushed every last trace of toxic air out of my lungs. My eyes watered. I handed the cigarette back to him, and fisted my hands, aware that they had started to shake.
His blue gaze scorched the side of my face as I got up.
- You know...this, Yuri said, holding the cigarette up to me, - I'm not serious. I don't actually plan on finishing it.
As if to prove his intent to me, he put out the flaming stick on the ground beside his feet.
- I was just bored.
I held his gaze. - I don't really care, I said.
- Whether you smoke it or not. Whether you're skipping class or not. Just...don't tell any of the professors you saw me when they catch you.
I heard Yuri get up at the same time I turned my back to him and started to walk away. Two long strides, and I felt his presence stand in the shadows of my heels.
YOU ARE READING
If We ExistGeneral Fiction
🏆A 2018 Wattys Winner🏆 Two boys, one ethnically segregated town. Two sides, one war. Yuri Karamov's existence is like Schrödinger's cat, simultaneously both dead and alive. In Ru Konstantin's mind, Yuri is still the same vibrant young man he was w...