I pressed the doorbell. I was standing on the porch of Tutto and Leona’s house, dressed in a plain black suit, holding a small white rose. A week had gone by since the morning Tutto passed away. When Leona’s aunt had finally arrived at the house that evening, I was politely sent home, thanked for all the help and time I had contributed, and reassured that they would be able to handle everything from then on.
The following weekend had been uneventful. I couldn’t find the motivation to do anything. My family had been very understanding, respecting the fact that I needed some time alone but not forgetting to let me know that they were there if I needed them.
The following Monday, I had gone to class. It was an odd moment realizing that Tutto’s death had not changed anything. The building had still been flooded with noisy college students, Mrs. Tanlle had still been threatening to flunk me in class. When I had climbed up onto the roof for a moment of peace, the sun had still been shining like a brand new light bulb, the trees had still swayed and danced in the winter breeze. I had sat down in front of one of the walls that lined the roof and had put my palm against the brick; it had still felt warm, as if Tutto had just been sitting there beside me.
What had changed were the seats at the corner of each of our classrooms. They were now always empty, standing in the shadow like loyal dogs, waiting for their owner to return to them.
My three buddies had also changed. They had come up to me with sad faces during lunchtime, sitting down quietly beside me, wordlessly eating their lunches. I had peered at them curiously for I had never seen them act so seriously before.
I had chuckled a bit, breaking the silence. “You guys can still talk, right?”
Albert had been the first to peel off the somber mask. “I can’t believe he’s just gone like that, James.” I had stiffened my back in preparation for a bone-breaking slap of Albert-style consolation. It had come, but was surprisingly gentle. “Man, James, I feel horrible.” Albert had put a large hand on my shoulder, “I can’t imagine how you must feel.”
“Yeah.” Daichi had been tapping his chin, but I had noticed how he had lost his rhythm. “You were closest to him.”
Paul hadn’t said anything. I could see he was still crestfallen.
“I’ll be fine.” I had said, sounding a bit too cheerful even to myself. “I mean, it is painful right now, but we have to move on somehow, right?” I had directed the question at Paul.
Paul had looked at me with sad eyes and nodded. I had smiled and patted his back.
Leona had called me a couple evenings later to tell me about the funeral. I had been glad to hear the strength that had returned to her voice. She had told me that everything was going smoothly and she was slowly overcoming the grief. She had asked how I was doing, and I had told her truthfully that I was doing alright as well.
Four days after that, on a sunny yet chilly Sunday morning, I arrived on Leona’s porch. Almost immediately after I rang the doorbell, Leona opened the door and let me in.
“Thank you so much for coming.” Leona said as she led me into the living room. Her aunt was standing in front of the couch, gesturing for me to sit down.
I placed the white rose into the small vase that was standing beside Tutto’s coffin. As I sat down on the couch, Leona and her aunt each took a seat in a chair so that we formed a circle. A photo of Tutto was placed on the living room table in the center of the circle.
Her aunt spoke first. “This is going to be a very small ceremony.” She smiled a bit. “It’s just going to be the three of us it seems. We’re all that’s left of the family, and Leona says Tutto didn’t have any friends but you.”
I nodded slightly. “He didn’t really like too much company, I’m sure he would have preferred a smaller ceremony.”
Leona’s aunt looked down at the photo of Tutto on the table. “We thought so too. And there isn’t going to be much of a ceremony either. We thought we could just sit and talk about him. Reminisce.” She tilted her head to the right. “I never really got to know him after he lost his memories. I used to come down quite often to help my sister take care of the two of you.” She smiled at Leona. “I never got married but I still loved kids, so whenever my job allows me, I would head down here for a day or two to play with you twins.”
“I loved it when you were here.” Leona said. “You were my favourite grownup.”
Her aunt laughed a hearty laugh. “You two were the cutest. Tutto was all over the place. He was curious of everything around him. He always wandered off on his own to look at a bug or a strange plant, and he would never stop asking questions! Leona, on the other hand, would never stop following me. She always clung to me like a koala bear.” The older woman chuckled. “You two were just so different. I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that you were twins.”
Leona smiled. “Fraternal twins don’t have to be the same.”
Her aunt continued. “But after the poor boy had his first heart attack, his mother told me not to come down anymore. She told me he had lost his memory and was not comfortable with strangers. So I stopped coming.”
“Mom had lied.” Leona said bluntly. “He wasn’t responding to anybody but Dad, but he could still come to like other people.”
Her aunt smiled a sad smile. “I guess you’re right. I didn’t think your mother would ever get so depressed and so I just believed what she said.” She suddenly clapped her palms together. “But let’s talk about something happier. James, tell us how you and Tutto became friends. It’s rather a miracle, don’t you think, considering he never talked to anyone.”
I shrugged. “It just kinda happened after Leona and I started going out.” I looked to Leona, feeling a little awkward for we had broken up. To my surprise, the expression she had in return could be read as one of longing. “To be honest, I never noticed Tutto before I started to get to know Leona. It was only after he came up to me one day after classes and started following me around and talking nonstop that I started to notice him.”
Leona’s aunt laughed again. “I think he started talking to you because you were Leona’s boyfriend.” She turned to Leona. “You two were twins after all, and twins always have these weird bonds. I think because James was an important person to you, Tutto saw him as an important person as well.”
I nodded thoughtfully as I recalled the photograph tucked inside Tutto’s notebook. Tutto said he knew everyone in the picture, and a young me had accidentally be included in the shot. For the past week that picture had been on my mind. Was it because of that that Tutto started talking to me? But why didn’t he come up to me before I started dating Leona? But if what Leona’s aunt just said was right, why didn’t Tutto ever talk to his sister?
“Whatever the reason, James,” Leona’s aunt suddenly said, as if she could read my mind. “The friendship that you and Tutto had was definitely very special.” She smiled.
I smiled back. I would never be able to know for sure why Tutto started talking to me, but I can say without hesitation that he saw me as a good friend, and that was all that mattered. This was one of those questions which I could just let go of.
The doorbell rang, startling the three of us. “I thought the funeral people weren’t gonna be here until after lunch.” Leona’s aunt pointed out. I looked at the clock. It was only ten in the morning.
Leona got up and opened the door. The voices coming from the visitors sounded awfully familiar. It was only when Leona led the newcomers in did I jump in surprise. “You guys really came?”
Paul, Albert, and Daichi stood at the entryway to the living room, wearing plain black suits, each holding a small flower. After they had placed the flowers into the vase, they sat down beside me.
“I mentioned the funeral to them because they had spent a lot of time with Tutto.” Leona explained to her aunt. “But I didn’t know if they would come or not.”
“Of course we would come.” Albert said a bit too loudly. “We just weren’t sure what time it started.”
“That’s my fault.” Leona admitted. “I was so sure you guys wouldn’t come that I didn’t even bother to give you a time.”
“I know we weren’t the nicest people to him at first,” Daichi said, “but after spending some time with him and getting to know him a bit, he turned out to be a really, really nice person.”
Albert was suddenly gaping at Leona. “I still can’t see how you two are twins.”
I laughed, recalling a few days ago when my three buddies had rushed up to me to tell me “the big news.” Leona had called them individually to tell them about the funeral, but not without having to explain to them what her relationship with Tutto was. The looks on their faces were so distorted with surprise I was worried they might pull a face muscle.
When the guys had settled down a bit, Leona’s aunt said to them, “We were just in the middle of sharing our memories of Tutto. Why don’t you guys share something?”
Albert immediately blurted out, “I was horrible to him. I made fun of him and made him act like a zombie and made him dress up like a turkey.”
When Leona’s aunt turned to her niece to give her a “what is going on?” look, I quickly said, “I’ve asked Tutto why he still agreed to meet with us when he knew we were just going to bully him.”
Daichi tapped his chin. “What did he say?”
“He said he was glad you guys included him in things.” I said. “He loved those little plays you guys put on, and he was glad he got to be a part of them.”
The three boys looked down thoughtfully.
After a while, Paul sniffed a bit and said quietly. “He smiled at me.”
I nodded to myself, recalling the day of the Thanksgiving celebration, when Tutto had smiled for Paul when Paul had said he was getting to like the boy. Leona was right. Although Tutto never talked to anyone other than his father and me, he never hated anyone and was capable of making friends with people who could understand his situation.
The six of us talked about Tutto for a couple more hours before Leona’s aunt served a simple lunch. When the morticians arrived, we were driven along with Tutto’s coffin to a crematory where Tutto was cremated.
Everything had happened like sunshine coming through an open window. It wasn’t a particularly sad day, and the sunny weather lightened up the atmosphere significantly. We had been talking about the happy memories we had with Tutto, and then it was time to say goodbye. He went into the furnace, and a few hours later he returned to us as a small, green urn, which Leona gently placed into the glass cabinet that housed the pictures, beside two other urns that I had failed to notice before. The other two urns must have been of Tutto’s parents.
The next day, it was like nothing had happened. It felt like Tutto was already a faraway memory tucked away safely in my heart. Life went on as it always had: my friends would fill up my after-class schedules, professors would either pick on me or put me to sleep, and I would still win everyone’s hearts with my signature smile.
A week after Tutto’s funeral, Leona and I had gotten back together. Having all my questions explained that night at the hospital, I got to know her much more than I can ever imagine. She also started to open up even more than she had before. Although she still retains the air of a lone she-wolf who associated with no one, she is now able to talk to me about things that are on her mind, and I am also able to be more honest to her. She admits that she is still fighting her jealousy problems, and I promise her that even if everyone saw her as evil, I will be the only one who would not give up on her.
I still go up to the roof occasionally, sometimes with Leona or my buddies, sometimes alone. It is a special place to me, almost sacred. Whenever the sun shines and the trees dance with the breeze, I could swear that Tutto is still standing there, swaying his long limbs here and there, talking to the world about everything.
His story isn’t exactly a happy story, but it isn’t a sad one either. I guess it could be somewhere in between, or it could be neither. But I know it was a meaningful story, and so I want to share it with anyone who would listen.
I guess this was how Tutto felt when he shared his father’s story with me.
-羅寗 Michelle Ning Lo