“Hey, Tutto!” I waved cheerfully at the tall boy with the orange eyes.
The boy swirled around, his long limbs flying wildly about. “Jame-sy called Tutto by his first name! Hahaha!”
After that night on the roof, after listening to Tutto talk about how his father disdained suicidal people, I came to realize one thing: even if Tutto wasn’t the person who had stopped my self-affliction twelve years ago, he had taught me how to live on even in the worst situations. He had showed me that it wasn’t so hard to laugh in the face of misery, just like what he had done after being turned into a heap of human dough, after he had been painted as a beaten-up zombie. He had been humiliated in front of practically the entire department, yet he never allowed anything to let him down. He hadn’t been angry at anyone; he was happy of the fact that he had brought joy to everyone. He hadn’t been going to the stream, stabbing himself; he simply came up to our Secret Hiding Place, having chocolate, getting drunk, enjoying himself.
Tutto Freeman was still my orange-eyed saviour.
Ever since that night, I found it easier to understand Tutto’s thinking pattern. He was a person who thought of the world as a fantasy—a fantasy not of magic and myths, but of animated symbols and metaphors. Every little detail had its meaning; it had its reason for existence. Every minute thing he said had its association with his life, and the lives of everybody else.
Perhaps it was his father who had taught him to think in this way. His father had told him so many fantasies: guardian angels, vulnerable angels, wars happening in people’s chests. All these stories made no sense to me when I first heard them. They were riddles, unsolvable problems for the people who believed in logic, in science and in evidence. I was one of those people, who thought it odd for a person to explain the meaning of life with such vague statements, who were pragmatic about things and needed proof before they could appreciate anything. Most of us had been taught to be skeptical, and may think of fantasies as merely imaginary tales with nothing to do with reality. But the stories that Tutto’s father had told him were far from meaningless. They possessed the valuable lessons of life that people had taken for granted, yet were long forgotten, lying deep under the pile of stress, depression, and resentment that had gathered inside people’s minds.
I longed to rid myself of these large heaps of junk. I longed to be able to see life as an abstract sculpture. At first glance, it would seem confusing, unreal, and even ugly. Many people would take it this way, and turn from it as soon as they see it. They believed in first impressions, and they would dislike the sculpture forever, never giving it a second chance.
But some people would look at it again. They might walk closer to it; they might step back a bit. They might walk around it, witnessing the glamour as the shape and interposition of each part of the sculpture alters with each step. It would be like watching a ballet dance, with the dancers twirling and moving with the music, each second being in a different position and location. Or, it would be like noticing how each night, the stars would appear to be in a different place in the sky; it wasn’t the stars that were travelling, but the Earth itself that was spinning.
If life were a sculpture, we should walk around it, and see how beautiful and ever-changing this magical artwork can be.
“You’ve helped me out a lot.” I put a hand on Tutto’s shoulder. “From now on, in order to thank you, I’ll call you by your first name.”
“Jamesy did a lot for Tutto, too.” Tutto’s grin wasn’t mischievous; it was filled with the excitement of being a part of this living world. “Does Tutto have to call Jamesy ‘Ryan-y’?”
I laughed out loud. “No. Just call me James.”
“You guys seem to be having fun.”
We spun around and were met with Albert Hunter, Paul O’Lee, and Daichi Yamamoto.
“What are we missing out here, James?” Albert said, coming over to slap me on the back. A sudden uneasiness swept over me. I felt like a rabbit in the middle of the night, paralyzed by the blinding light of a spotlighting hunter.
“I never knew Zombie-Boy could talk.” Daichi nudged Tutto in the ribs. “Come on, dude. Say something.”
As usual, Tutto didn’t respond. All he did was stare blankly at Daichi with his wide, orange eyes.
“Gosh. We were too far away to hear him. But he definitely was talking.” Paul turned to me. “How d’you make him talk?”
Sweat rolled down the back of my neck. “He didn’t talk. It was just me who was speaking.”
“Oh, really?” Daichi eyed me suspiciously. He was always the hardest to trick.
I raised my eyebrows, trying to act cool. “Yeah. He never talks to anyone. Why would he suddenly talk to me?”
Albert crossed his arms in front of him and frowned, showing that he was thinking about something. “Y’know, James. This isn’t the first time we found you up here on the roof with the Zombie.”
Daichi snapped his fingers. “That’s a fact.”
My sweat-drops had drenched the back of my sweater. “I always come up here for some air. He’s only recently showed up here. We just coincidentally both come to this place for peace and quiet, I guess.”
The back of my shoulders tightened with stress as I explained, being aware of the fact that Tutto Freeman, who knew my every word was a lie, was standing right behind me. I could literally feel the pressure of his large, orange eyes staring intensely at my back.
I found myself once again caught in the flowing river that forked into two, forcing me to make a choice in such a brief period of time. Last time, when I was still hesitant on which way to go, my boat had been stopped by a confusing tangle of leaves and branches, which allowed me to temporarily rid my mind of the dilemma, and gave me more time to think over the alternatives. I thought I had wanted to choose the path that led to the truth, where I could say what was real, where I could be honest with my friends, with Tutto, and also with myself. I had thought I wouldn’t mind if my friends thought different of me. I had thought I wouldn’t care if they didn’t accept the real me.
Now, the branches and leaves that had gotten tangled to my boat had given way, and I was sailing down the rushing water again. Just when I thought I would head straight for the waterway that flew to the truth, a strong impulse had struck me, and I had propelled myself towards the opposite direction. The other waterway had somehow seemed wider, brighter, and safer, even though I had known all along that it consisted of dishonesty and deception, and that it led to doom.
But I had lied, and it was too late to head back.
“Alright, you guys.” Paul stepped in front of me as if to defend me. “Stop giving Jamey such a hard time.” I fought back the urge to hug him.
Paul turned and said to me, “Hey, Jamey. We were actually looking all over for you.”
Albert walked up beside me and slapped my back. I could swear I heard something break. “Yeah. We kinda figured that you might have felt a little left out.”
I gave him a confused look. “Left out? No. Not at all.”
Daichi nudged me in the ribs. “Ah. Don’t you start pretending. We know we haven’t been including you in things for some time already.”
Paul smiled. Albert grinned. Daichi tapped his chin thoughtfully. I didn’t even have to use my sixth sense to know that something bad was going on.
“Well. We’re throwing a surprise party, and we wouldn’t want anyone to know all the details.” Daichi raised his eyebrows at Tutto, and then set his eyes onto me. His expression was a challenging smile. “Meet us in the lobby room when you’ve had enough air.”
The three boys walked away. I stood paralyzed on the spot, staring dumbly at their backs until they disappeared behind the iron doors.
I spun around to see who had said my name, and was met with blank, orange eyes.
Tutto Freeman was looking at my direction, but he wasn’t looking at me. He was staring expressionlessly at something behind me, staring right through me, as if I were invisible.
He couldn’t see me.
-羅寗 Michelle Ning Lo