The wrinkles in my brain were unfurling, straightening. The fissures came together; white matter and grey matter blended into one. What I had once cast out, and thought irretrievable, was slowly coming back to me. Small recollections, like how during idle moments, Yuri would chew and peel away the skin on the sides of his nail beds—or how he could go from being focused one moment to having an army of ants crawling up his legs the next. His restlessness used to drive both his mother and our teachers mad with fury.
Out of all the many small details that were coming back to me, the most profound was the discomfort and the ease with which I grew accustomed to it.
Four years was but a blip of time. It had no bearing on the familiar feeling; the phantom weight that latched itself on to my heart every time I became aware of him. Aware of him watching me, seeing me, and me seeing him—fidgeting.
- Ru, are you okay?
Surimna's voice pulled me out of my reverie. Her inquisitive eyes searched my face. Hers were brown where her brother's had been blue; filled with concern whereas Yuri's had been too far away to read. I distracted myself from the warmth reddening my face by focusing on the stones, the sticks and decomposed pine cones that were cutting into my knees—staining my trousers with dirt and moisture. The pain grounded me.
This wasn't the first time Surimna had caught me looking at Yuri. I was sure that my embarrassment was written on my face this time around, and even surer of her confrontation. She had the eyes of an eagle, as sharp as the beak of a colibri. The longer they remained trained on me, the more acute the prickling and swelling of my lips got. Paradoxically, a part of me hoped she would say...something. Something to purge the guilt of what had happened in Yuri's room.
- Is...is it a bully? She asked.
My mind swarmed with a thousand thoughts. Loud, but not loud enough to drown out the crunch of footsteps on the brittle pine needles. We both knew who was drawing closer to the kennel.
Surimna adverted her gaze and looked down at the dog between us. The former street dog (once considered untameable and beyond hope) was lying on its side. Inu was looking up at me, much the same way an overfed, content mutt would. Surimna had her fingers buried in its dark fur. I followed her example and moved mine over its soft coat. To not appear as being too Arash in my manners, I substituted timidness for vigour—poor, misplaced vigour. The mutt responded by scuffing his back paw against the underbrush.
- A bully, Surimna repeated. Her eyes willed me to understand, but her words made no sense on their own. Exhaling a sigh, she pointed to my eye. - The person who did that, he was a bully, wasn't he?
- Yeah, I know. There's one in my school too. Everybody hates him, he's Arash, and he's just so—
Between us, the mutt let out a long whine. Surimna's eyes widened in alarm. I yanked my hands back from its belly, cutting its agony short.
- Don't do it like that! She said. She might as well have yelled because my whole body froze up in response. She reached over and soothed the place I had touched with loving strokes and soft coos.
- He's not dough, Ru. You can't knead him like that. He's just eaten.
- I'm sorry. I didn't know...I'm...I'm bad with—
The rest of my words were eaten up by the amplifying rustle of Yuri's polyester jacket; the crunch of his footfalls, his laboured breathing.
- He's hopeless, he said when he came to stand in my shadow. There was no sun to speak of, but somehow the sunlight still found his face. The rays shone on his temple, casting his angular jawline in geometric shadows worthy of Picasso's envy. The conifers around us painted his clothes a mural of swaying movement. My heart dipped and resurfaced in that uncomfortable way I was growing reaccustomed to.
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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...