Half-Heartedly   

Chapter 8

    The orange hue of a sunny autumn morning crept into my room through the window and greeted me as I opened my eyes. It was Saturday, and it was also my favourite day of the week. On Saturdays, there is no need to wake up early so as not to be late for school, and I can stay up as late as I desire because I wouldn’t have to worry about classes until the day after.

    I rolled over in my bed with my eyes closed, as if pouring what was left of my drowsiness of the night before from my body. After stretching my long limbs out as far as I could reach, I got out of bed and changed into a T-shirt and jeans. By the time I went down to the kitchen, my stomach was growling like an angry dog.

    I was in such a happy mood even the lousy pancakes Dad had made that morning seemed pleasant to my eyes. I gulped them down as a whale would swallow plankton, and walked out to the front lawn to soak in the beautiful day.

    The maple tree Mom had so devotedly cared for was swaying its red leaves, a million or more red palms waving good morning to me. The ground was still wet with dew, and the smell of the drenched grass and fallen leaves made the air seem even fresher. Across the street, Ms. Wiggons was taking her giant husky dog, Polar, for a walk. She waved to me when she saw me, and I waved back, smiling at her.

    Ms. Wiggons is a divorced woman in her forties. After her husband left her, she took off her housewife disguise and went on with her life, getting a decent job as a chef at the Dynasty Restaurant Leona and I went to the night before, and eventually adopting Polar, whom she treats like her second spouse, even devoting more of her time to caring for the husky than she ever did talking to her former husband. Yet she isn’t one of a kind in our neighborhood. Mrs. Kirma, who lives a few doors next to us and whose husband died of lung cancer only a few months ago, had thought that she would never be able to live without her beloved one. But as it turned out, she used the money her husband had left for her and opened a small gift shop, where she sells all sorts of wooden carvings she has made based on Mr. Kirma’s designs. She says even though her husband has passed away, his spirit is still with her, existing in all the sketches and drawings she had found when she was cleaning up his study room.

    Looking towards the direction of Mrs. Kirma’s house, it is hard to ignore the blaming red peonies of Mr. Dai’s garden. Mr. Dai is a Singaporean immigrant who is a better gardener than any woman in town. His famous peonies are as large as a human face, and can bloom all year long. When the snow piles up so high you could walk right across the fences of people’s yards, Mr. Dai’s peonies would still be visible, as if their flaming red petals could melt the falling snow.

    It was not until I neared the small stream flowing through our neighborhood that I realized I had wandered off from our lawn. I found a dry rock and lay down on it, enjoying the warmth of the sunshine and the music of the flowing water. When I was younger, younger than Samantha was now, I used to always come to this place to catch whatever I could find. At that time, small fish and tadpoles still swam in the clear, fresh water. Frogs had sat on the green and blue pebbles, croaking away their love songs. Some white herons that had stood as tall as I was had skillfully caught fish with single, carefully-aimed pecks. Now it is more difficult to see these inhabitants of the stream. Even though the community has tried its best to keep the water clean and healthy, trash and dirty fluids still contaminate the stream, killing the fish and all the other creatures that had took the place as home.

    Although my old companions are no longer there, I still find myself wandering off to this place whenever I find the time. Although it seems like not a creature dares to live near the water again, there are still many birds chirping in the trees, and occasionally I will find some small frogs hiding behind stones, as if they are still not willing to let go of this place, despite how different it is from before. With the sun shining from above like the fireplace of a chilly winter day, the birds were chirping happy songs above me. Even though leaves were turning red and falling everywhere, it felt like the first day of spring.

    Dazed by the sunlight, I dozed off for a while, dreaming about nothing. When I woke up again, I thought I was seeing doubles, because right in front of me were two suns. But as my vision became clearer, the suns turned out to be two round, orange eyes.

    “Freeman!” I yelped, flinging my torso up and almost knocking my head with his. “What the hell are you doing here?”

    “Hahaha! Jamesy looks like he saw a ghost.” Freeman sat down with a thump next to me, poking a finger at my chest as if accusing me of something.

    I stood up violently and started to walk away along the stream. I was having such a wonderful day I didn’t want him to ruin it with whatever power he possessed that could destroy any moment of my life.

    I didn’t need to look behind me to know who the crazy footsteps following me belonged to.

    “Tutto loves this stream too.” Freeman was practically singing. “Tutto’s daddy always went fishing here with Tutto.”

    “Yeah, and why didn’t he just drown you when he had such a big chance?” I muttered and hastened my speed, though I knew I would never be able get away from him.

    “Tutto came here every day, ever since he could walk. He knew everyone here. He knew every fish and tadpole in the stream by name, and he could make the frogs approach him with a single whistle. The big white herons would carry him on their backs and take him for a ride, and Tutto also saw Jamesy catching fish beside the water many times too!”

    I stopped in my tracks so suddenly Freeman literally crashed into me. He fell into the flowing water with a splash, laughing and cheering at his own misfortune. I hurriedly helped him up before he could do more damage to himself. I made him sit down quietly on a flat rock, and knelt down in front of him, holding his hands and looking into his orange eyes as a father would when he had something important to say to his mischievous son.

    “You saw me all those years ago?” I asked, as seriously as I could, though it was hard to act stern when the person you were talking to was drenched to the stomach, bobbing up and down and giggling like a lunatic.

    “Tutto knew everyone here.” He said simply, and started shaking his head like a wet dog, sending the water in his hair splashing everywhere around him, including my face.

    Despite how frustrated and angry I was, I drew a deep breath and tried again in a calm voice. “Did you know who I was?”

    Freeman’s hands escaped my grasp and grabbed my shoulders as he stared straight into my eyes, imitating my stern attitude. “Tutto knew everyone here.” He said again.

    I shook my head in disbelief. I never knew anyone had been watching me when I had sneaked over to this stream many years ago. I had always thought this was my own private space, so secret I felt like I was the only living person in the world.

    “Did you see me do anything?” I demanded.

    “Jamesy was having fun.” Freeman’s sightline was fluttering all over the place, and I could see that he wasn’t telling the truth. I fought back the urge to slap him on the face. Even though I was trying to force out of him whatever he saw, I knew perfectly well what he saw me do that was so private he didn’t find it appropriate to announce.

    The ancient scars that dotted my thigh started to tingle uncomfortably. It had been years since I ever thought about them. I tried to push the rushing memories out of my mind, but they were like the pollution in the stream, impossible to get rid of. I remembered how every time I came here, to this calm and fresh stream, I would sit down and scoop up a handful of fish and tadpoles. I would put them into a container that I brought with me, and I would watch as they swam frantically inside their prison, knocking their heads on the insides of the wooden container, as if trying to break through the wood.

    I have always been the sunny boy in everyone’s eyes, ever since I can remember. Before Samantha was born, I was the dead center of my parents’ attention. Everything I did was monitored by their proud and caring eyes, and everything they did was for my good. They would take me out to visit other families, and they would encourage me to show off my talents in front of everybody. All the people in my town knew that I could tap dance at the age of four, and could walk around doing handstands when I was only six. They envied my parents because their beloved son was always the smartest student in class, and every teacher in school thought of me as their favourite pupil.

    Although I was always praised for my talents and intelligence, I had never wanted to be the one that every parent told their children to look up to. I hated to perform in front of everyone; it humiliated me to make myself look like one of the dancing monkeys in circuses. Because of my cleverness, and the special privileges teachers bestowed on me, many of the kids who thought they could never be better than me cursed me. They didn’t let me play with them at recess time, and always found ways to exclude me when we were doing class activities.

    Of course, neither my parents nor my teachers knew how lonely I felt. They all assumed because I was so bright and friendly to everyone, I could get along easily with my peers. I never had the courage to tell them about my problems, because I didn’t want to shatter their expectations for me. I eventually learned the skill of having two faces. When I was with everyone else, especially with the adults, I would put on my sunny-boy mask, smiling at everyone and acting like nothing in the world could trouble my young and pure heart. Yet, when I was alone, I would discard of that pathetic disguise, throw it somewhere far enough so I wouldn’t have to think of it, yet still within reach so I can quickly put it on when I needed to.

   It was at this stream that I would reveal my true face.

    After the fish and tadpoles in my container gave up trying to escape, I would drain the water by pulling out a long nail I had hammered into the wood. Then I would leave the container out in the blazing sun to dry. Every time I waited for the heat of the sunlight to take the water in the container away, I would notice that the frogs were croaking unusually loudly and furiously, and the birds would be chirping nervously, as if they all knew that something bad was happening in their neighborhood. But I didn’t care what they might have been thinking. I was experiencing enough negative opinions from my peers; how could some angry accusations from these petty creatures do me harm?

    When the shadows of the tall trees shifted from west to east, I would slowly walk over to my wooden container. By that time the container would be dry to the bottom, and inside, dried fish and tadpole corpses would lay motionlessly; the sun had stolen the water, as well as their souls.

    I would take my wooden container to the flowing water, and one-by-one return my dead victims back into the stream, mentally counting the number of souls I had killed. Then, I would sit down beside the water, and stab my thigh with the long nail I had pulled from the container. Each stab would bring a dot of red blood to my dark skin, and each dot resembled a fish or tadpole I had killed. I would count out loud, stabbing myself until the number I shouted out was equivalent to the number of victims that had laid in my container.

    As I retrieved my horrible past from my repressed memory, I absentmindedly rubbed my thigh with a hand. I still know the exact amount of scars that dot my skin: a hundred.

    One day I was by the stream, stabbing myself as if it were a routine, a cure for the bitterness in my heart, when somebody came up to me and stopped me with a firm hand. I remember I had looked up, and that somebody had said in a calm and soothing voice, “Now you’ll have something to celebrate The Hundredth Day of School with.”

    That was all the person had said before walking away with the heavy footsteps of booted feet. The next day, everyone was busy showing to their classmates the a hundred items they had collected. An obese kid had a hundred chocolate chips pasted onto his T-shirt, and a girl had a huge display of a hundred Barbie dolls in a hundred different outfits.

    Although I never showed my hundred nail wounds on my thigh to my classmates, on that day my life in school had suddenly made a turn to the brighter side. When it was my turn to show and tell, I simply said that I was chased by a hundred bees the day before, and that I would show the hundred red dots on my thigh when I could take the bandage off. To my surprise, the class burst out into cheerful laughter, and even the boys that had excluded me from their group gave me high-fives and pats on the back when I returned to my place in the circle we had formed on the carpet. I have been hanging out with the boys until now. Albert Hunter, Paul O’Lee, and Daichi Yamamoto had changed from the jealous peers that made me want to kill myself, to the inseparable buddies I can’t live without. Four years later, Samantha was born, and I was no longer the heart of my parents’ attention. I was actually very grateful of the fact, and I helped my parents take care of my baby sister as if she were my very first pet. The pressure of constantly having to be the best in everything gradually left my shoulders, and I found the sunny-boy mask unnecessary. My happiness was genuine then, and my popularity grew each day. I had pushed my dreadful childhood memories to the very back of my mind, and the stream had turned from a dumpster where I disposed of all my anger, to a place of relaxation and joy.

    I never got to learn the identity of the person who stopped me from hurting myself. I couldn’t even be sure whether the person was a man or a woman. I couldn’t even recall his or her age.

    But there is one thing I could remember of the person’s face. When my stabbing was stopped by the strong hand and I had looked up, I could clearly recall myself seeing orange, the same colour of the autumn sun, the leaves on the maple tree, and Tutto Freeman’s eyes.

    “It was you.” I whispered to Freeman, so silently even I had to wonder if I said something.

    Freeman looked at me with his stupid grin, his orange eyes glimmering under the sunlight of the same hue. I didn’t know what he was thinking; I didn’t know if he even knew he had changed my life to the better.

Life is full of surprises: the people who had hated you ever since you knew them could turn out to be your best friends; the person whom you tried your best to ignore could turn out to be your long-ago saviour.

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第八章

晴朗秋天早晨的橙橘色調偷偷地從窗戶鑽進我的房間,我張開眼時對著我打招呼。那天是個禮拜六,也是一周裡我最喜歡的一天。在禮拜六,我不需要早起趕課,多晚睡也都可以因為後天才需要上課。

我眼睛閉著翻到我的側邊,像是要把睡蟲從身體裡趕走。大大地伸完懶腰後,我起床換上衣服和牛仔褲。等到我終於到樓下廚房時我的肚子已經像一隻生氣的狗一樣叫著。

我心情非常好,連爸爸早上做的醜陋的鬆餅都看起來很好吃。我大快朵頤像鯨魚吞噬浮游生物一樣。吃完後,我到外頭去享受陽光。

媽媽細心種的楓樹搖擺著紅色葉子,數不盡的紅色手掌對著我揮手說早安。地上還有著晨露,而潮濕的草和落葉的香味讓空氣顯得更為清新。街頭對面維更斯小姐帶著她那隻巨大的狗-北極熊-散步。她看到我對我揮手,我也微笑著回禮。

維更斯小姐是一位四十幾歲的離婚者。她的前夫離開她時,她脫下家庭主婦的面具繼續生活,在雷恩娜和我前一天晚上去的那家朝廷餐廳當廚師,最後領養了北極熊,把那隻哈斯其當作像自己的第二丈夫一樣養,比她之前照顧前夫還更花心思。然而,她不是我們鄰里中獨一無二的。住在我們隔壁幾間的柯馬小姐的丈夫前幾個月因為肺癌過世。她原本以為沒有親愛的老公就沒辦法活,但是最後,她用丈夫留給她的錢開了一家小禮品店。她在清理丈夫的房間時,在書桌裡找到的一疊丈夫生前的插畫。她將插畫刻成木雕拿來賣,說雖然丈夫死了,但是他還是保佑著她,存在在那一張一張的圖畫裡。

往柯馬小姐家看去,很難不注意到戴先生院子裡盛紅耀眼的牡丹花。戴先生從新加坡移民過來,比城裡所有女生還會種花。他著名的牡丹花跟臉一樣大,也能一年四季都開著。當冬天的雪堆高到你可以直接走過欄杆到別人院子裡時,還是能夠看見戴先生的牡丹花,它們火紅的花瓣好像可以將雪融化。

直到我來到我們鄰里的一條小溪,我才發現我不小心晃離家裡院子了。我找到一個乾石頭躺下,享受著陽光的溫暖和溪水的音樂。我小時候,比珊曼莎現在還小時,我常常會來這裡抓小生物。那時,清水裡還遊著小魚和蝌蚪,青蛙在藍藍綠綠的小碎石上唱著情歌,比我那時還高的白鶴用熟練的技巧在溪裡抓魚。現在比較難看到這些小溪的居民了。雖然我們努力保持水的清靜,可是垃圾和液體汙染溪水,毒死水裡和水邊的生物們。

即使我的老朋友們已經不在了,我有空還是會跑來這裡。雖然水裡不再有生物敢住,樹上還是有小鳥的吱吱聲,我也偶爾可以在石頭後面找到小青蛙,再不一樣都還是捨不得離開老家。太陽在頭上照耀像寒冷的冬天溫暖的壁爐,鳥兒們也在頭上快樂的歌頌。雖然紅色的落葉在我身邊飄舞著,感覺好像是春天的第一天。

被陽光照著,我小睡了一下,連作夢都沒有。當我又醒來時,我眼睛還沒辦法對焦,看到了兩顆太陽。但是當我視線慢慢恢復時,我發現那兩顆太陽是兩顆大大的橘色眼睛。

「福利曼!」我身體彈起,差一點和他撞頭。「你怎麼在這邊?」

哈哈哈!小詹詹好像看到鬼了。」福利曼重重地在我旁邊坐下,用一支手指戳我的胸口好像在怪我什麼一樣。

我強硬地站了起來沿著小溪走。我心情太好,不能被他那不知道是什麼的破壞性超能力給毀掉。

我不用看也知道跟著我的凌亂腳步是誰的。

「土豆也很喜歡小溪。」福利曼亂唱著,「土豆的爸爸常常帶土豆來這裡釣魚。」

「嗯,他有這麼好的機會為什麼沒把你順便淹死?」我嘴裡碎碎念著加快腳步,但心裡很清楚我永遠沒辦法脫離他。

「土豆每天都會來,開始會走路就來了。他知道這裡的所有人,每一隻魚和蝌蚪都叫得出名字。他輕輕吹口哨青蛙就會跑過來。大白鶴會載他飛來飛去。他很多次也看過小詹詹在這裡抓魚!」

我驀然停下腳步,害福利曼往我背後撞上來。他嘩啦啦摔倒在溪水裡,自己嘲笑自己的不幸。我趕快在他傷害自己前把他扶起,叫他安靜地坐在一塊平坦的石頭上,自己蹲在他前面抓著他的手看著他橘色眼睛像一個父親看著頑皮的小孩一樣。

「你那麼多年前看過我?」我嚴肅地問,看著濕透的他一直上下擺動,笑得跟瘋子一樣。

「土豆知道這裡的所有人。」他簡短地說著,像一隻濕狗一樣甩頭,把水噴向四處,把我也弄濕。

雖然心裡氣憤煩躁,我吸了一大口氣再問一次,「你那時知道我是誰嗎?」

福利曼的手掙脫我的手後抓住我的肩膀,他直視著我的眼睛故意學我嚴肅的態度,「土豆知道這裡的所有人。」他又說。

我不敢置信地搖搖頭。我那些年前偷偷來這裡,怎麼樣也不會想說有人在看我。我一直以為這裡是我自己的祕密藏身地,我是這裡的世界唯一活著的人。

「你有看到我幹嘛嗎?」我詢問著。

「小詹詹在玩啊。」福利曼的眼睛到處亂看,也因此我看出他在說謊。我壓抑著想打他一巴掌的欲望。雖然我正逼他說出他看見了什麼,我心裡早就知道他看見了什麼這麼保守連他都說不出口。

我大腿上老舊的傷疤開始不舒服地發癢。我已經好幾年沒注意到它們了,也設法把翻滾的回憶推到腦後,可是它們像溪水裡的汙染物無法去除。我記得我小時後來到寧靜的這裡就會坐下來開始用手撈小魚和蝌蚪。我會把牠們放在一個木頭罐子裡,看著牠們慌張地在牠們的監牢裡遊來遊去,不斷地將頭撞在罐子的木頭上想逃脫。

我一直都是人人眼中的開朗小孩。珊曼莎出生前,我是父母親的中心,我做的每一件事都被他們驕傲的眼睛監控著,他們做的每一件事都是為我好。他們會帶我去拜訪其他家庭,也鼓勵我將才華秀給大家看。城裡的每一個人都知道我四歲就會跳踢踏舞、六歲就會到立走路。他們都羨慕我的父母親有班上最聰明的孩子,也是每一位老師都看好的學生。

雖然我常常受到稱讚,我從來都沒有想要當那一個每一位家長都叫自己小孩效法的人。我不喜歡在人面前跳舞,因為會讓我羞愧像馬戲團裡的猴子。因為我的聰明和老師們的寵愛,許多同學都討厭我,下課不和我玩,課堂上也排斥我。

當然,我的父母親和老師們根本不知道我的孤獨。他們都認為我開朗的個性一定有很多朋友。我也不敢告訴他們我的問題因為我不想打破他們的期待。我最後變成雙面人。和別人在一起,尤其是和大人們時,我會戴上陽光男孩的面具,對著大家笑,假裝純潔年輕的心靈不可能受到傷害。不過,當我一個人時,我會將可悲的偽裝丟得遠遠的,夠遠讓我不用去想它,可是不要太遠讓我需要它時可以隨手取得。

就是在這個小溪邊我會顯漏真正的面孔。

罐子裡的小魚和蝌蚪放棄掙扎後,我會將敲進罐頭壁的一根鐵釘拔出讓水流光,然後將罐頭擺在陽光下曬乾。每當我等著罐子裡的水蒸發,我會發現青蛙叫得比平常用力、鳥兒們緊張的吱吱叫,好像牠們都感覺到壞事發生在鄰里中了。但是我不會管牠們怎麼想。我已經被同學們嫌棄了,這些弱小的生物能對我怎樣?

當大樹的影子從西邊移到東邊,我會慢慢地走向我的木頭罐子。到那時候,罐子裡的水會完全蒸發,罐底一隻一隻乾枯的屍體會一動不動地躺著。陽光奪去牠門的水,也奪走牠們的生命。

我會將罐子帶到流動的水邊,一一將受害者們放回水裡,在心裡數著我殺掉的生命。之後,我會坐在溪邊用罐子的鐵釘刺自己的大腿。每一刺都會留出一小點的血,每一小點的血都代表著一隻我殺死的小魚或蝌蚪。我會大聲的數,數到喊出的數字等於躺在我罐子裡的屍體的數目。

我腦裡回顧著這可怕的記憶,手不自覺地摸著大腿。我還記得大腿上傷疤的數目:有一百個。

有一天,我在溪邊像習慣一樣刺著自己,彷彿那就是治療苦悶的唯一方法。突然間,一個人走了過來用一支強壯的手阻止我。我記得我抬頭看,聽見那個人溫柔淡定的聲音說,「上學第一百天你就有東西可以秀給大家了。」

那個人只說了這些就走了,靴子使他的腳步聲沉重。第二天,大家忙著給大家看自己蒐集的一百件物品。一個胖胖的小孩有一百個巧克力片黏在衣服上,而有一個女生展現著她一百個芭比娃娃穿著一百個不同的服飾。

我雖然沒有把一百個傷疤秀給同學們看,可是那一天後我在學校的生活終於轉好了。輪到我分享時,我隨便說我前一天被一百隻蜜蜂追,可以把OK棒拿掉時會給大家看我大腿上一百個紅點點。出乎我的意料,大家開心地大笑,連原本排斥我的男生在我回到大家坐著的圓圈裡時都跟我拍掌。我從那時開始到現在都和那些男生是好朋友。亞伯特‧亨頓、保羅‧歐里、和山本大智從嫉妒我讓我想自殺的同學變成我不可以沒有的好伙伴。四年後,珊曼莎出生了,我也不再是父母注意力的焦點了。我其實很感謝這一點,也幫父母親照顧妹妹像她是我第一隻寵物。需要什麼都好的壓力放下了,我也發現陽光男孩的面具已經不需要了。我那時的快樂是真實的,我也越來越受歡迎。我把可怕的童年回憶推到腦海最深處,溪水也從我發洩的垃圾場變成我快樂的遊樂場。

我一直都不知道阻止我傷害自己的那個人是誰,連他是男是女都不能確定,年齡也記不得。

可是我可以記得他臉上的一個特徵。當那支強壯的手抓住我刺著自己的手時,我抬頭看後,我很清楚記得我看到橘色,是秋天的太陽的顏色,是楓樹上葉子的顏色,也是土豆‧福利曼眼睛的顏色。

「是你。」我低語,聲音小到連我自己都不確定我有沒有說出口。

福利曼傻笑著看著我,他橘色的眼睛在同樣顏色的陽光下閃爍著。我不知道他想著什麼,我也不知道他知不知道自己改變了我的生命。

生命真是充滿著驚喜:認識你後就恨著你的人可以變成你的好朋友;你一直無視著的人可以是你多年前的救命恩人。

Half-Heartedly previous 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 Half-Heartedly next

-羅寗 Michelle Ning Lo

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DesigNing

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