Half-Heartedly  

Chapter 4

      A few days later, as always, I was walking down the long and crowded hall, the sun shining brightly through the opened windows; the cool morning breeze delivering the lovely fragrance of Mother Nature. Greeting everyone with my big, sunny smile, I happily made my way through the student-packed hall to my locker.
     “Hey, Jamey.” Paul walked up to me as soon as he saw me enter the locker room. “Meet us after classes, ‘kay?”
     I widened my smile and winked at him. “Sure.”
     Paul gave me a thumbs-up and rejoined the other guys in an excited yet mysterious chat.
     “What’re you guys up to?” I asked, stretching my neck to hear what they were whispering about.
     Albert put a finger to his lips and hushed me. Then he placed an arm around my shoulders and whispered into my ear, “We’re playing a practical joke today after classes. You’ll enjoy it!”
     I raised an eyebrow and looked at him. “And who’s starring?” I whispered back.
     Daichi sneered mischievously and pointed his thumb at someone behind him. I followed his direction and found myself looking straight into two wide, orange eyes.
     My jaw dropped.
     “You serious?” I demanded in a loud whisper. “We don’t even know if he’s real.”
     “Oh, he’s alive, alright.” Paul patted my back as if to comfort me. “Albert and I had a little chat with him today before you got here. We’re positive that he’s solid, not a ghost.”
     “Actually, we didn’t really chat with him.” Albert pointed out. “We were doing the talking. He was just, well, staring at us, like he always does.”
     I shook my head in disbelief. “But what are you going to do with him?”
     “You’ll see.” Paul said. I imagined the Devil’s horns growing out from the top of his head.
     Daichi thoughtfully tapped his chin with a finger and said: “We’ve been dismissing him long enough; it’s time that we show him some love.” The three guys snickered like evil scientists.
     I shot a quick glance at where Freeman had been sitting, but he was gone. Does he know what they’re up to? I mentally asked. I scanned the room with my eyes, searching for the tall, skinny boy, yet he was nowhere in sight.
     “Hey, James.” Albert gazed up at me from where he was sitting. “Don’t ruin the fun, alright?”
     I blinked. “Of course I wouldn’t.” I said, waving a hand in front of my face. “I don’t even know that guy.”
     “We know.” Paul suddenly looked at me with a pitiful face. “It’s just that you’re so nice, you might wanna help him.”
     “Don’t worry, buddy. We won’t hurt him. It’s just a joke.” Daichi assured me.
     I let out an awkward laugh and gave them an okay gesture. They were right; they were just playing a practical joke on a classmate, no big deal. And anyways, even if they did do something horrible, why should I care?
     Smiling and wishing them good luck, I slowly walked to my class and sat down. The whole day seemed like a total blur. I didn’t pay attention to what the professors were lecturing about, yet I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular, either. As if my world had been zoomed forward with a remote control, eight hours swiftly went by, and classes had already ended. As I slowly packed up my bag, I peered around to see that everyone was heading for the same direction –the department cafeteria.
     “James, let’s go.” Albert, Paul, and Daichi roughly crammed my things into my bag and dragged me out of the classroom.
     “That guy sure disappears fast.” Paul said as we passed by Freeman’s usual seat. The seats at the far corner of every classroom were always left untouched by other students, as if Freeman had made seat reservations before classes. I glanced at this seat. The desk was dusty and empty, as if it hadn’t been used for years. There were even broken spider webs hanging from the wooden chair.
     “I didn’t see him all day.” Albert pointed out. “You think he ran away?”
     “Who knows?” Paul shrugged. “The guy didn’t really agree with us when we asked him to meet in the cafeteria. He just stared at us, remember?”
     “Did you guys invite everyone in the department to come watch?” I asked as I stared in disbelief at the huge crowd of people assembled in the building’s large dining space.
     “It’d be pretty awkward if he didn’t come.” Daichi said, scratching his cheek.
     “All we can do is wait and hope.” Albert said. “We told him to meet us at five-thirty. That’s five more minutes.”
     As the students in the cafeteria slowly settled down, the five-thirty bell rang loudly, covering the humming noises of talking people. When the bell came to an end, everyone had turned as silent as mice. The only sound I could hear was the lingering ring of the bell still echoing in my head.
     As if out of nowhere, Freeman appeared in the cafeteria doorway.
     He looked around at all the people staring at him, holding their breaths. His expression was unreadable. It didn’t show any sign of emotion, not even confusion. His big, orange eyes explored the room, as if he had never been to this place before. He peered at the students, as if he had never seen human beings in his life.
     Eyes still wandering around the area, Freeman walked forward to the crowd. His footsteps were soft and quiet, despite walking on the hard tiled floor. If I didn’t look at his legs, I would have thought he was drifting. Beside me, eyes eagerly locked on Freeman’s feet, Daichi started to silently count down.
     “Five. Four. Three. Two. One…”
     Suddenly, there was a hum from above, then the sound of two metal objects crashing into each other. To everyone’s surprise, a tin bucket full of icy water fell from the ceiling and collided precisely onto Freeman’s head, knocking him forwards and soaking him from head to toe. The whole cafeteria burst into hysterical laughter; some people jumped up and down, while others were laughing too hard for their bodies to support their own weight.
     Freeman, shivering a little from the cold of the water, slowly gained balance and stood up. He clutched his chest with one hand and rubbed the liquid out of his eyes with the other. I couldn’t help but think he resembled a helpless kid standing in the pouring rain.
     I felt a nag in my ribs. “How did you like it, James?” Daichi said proudly. “We had a remote control car bump over the bucket. I thought up the plan.”
     I pretended to laugh. “You’re such a genius, Daichi.”
     Albert, who was standing in front of me and laughing his guts out, turned to me with tears in his eyes. “It’s not over.” He said between chuckles. He reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out a small plastic dart. Trying his best to aim with a shaky hand, he threw the dart high and watched it soar over Freeman’s head.
     “Bull’s-eye!” He cried.
     A large cloud of white powder went flying down from above and landed right on top of Freeman’s drenched figure. Before I could make out what had happened, I was staring at a pile of tall, human-shaped dough with orange eyes looking bewildered back at me.
     He saw me, I mentally gasped.
     “Nice one, Al!” Paul and Albert high-fived each other as everyone in the cafeteria roared with laughter all over again.
     “Flour and water. I thought this one up, too.” Daichi said, patting his chest with glory. I faked a small laugh and showed him the thumbs-up. When I turned back to where Freeman was standing, I was met with vacant space. He was gone.
     Next thing I knew, I was pushing my way through the mad crowd and heading for the stairs. I didn’t know why I knew where Freeman was, or what I was going to do with him, but I was accelerating the stairs as fast as my legs could go, heading for the sole destination that came to my mind: our secret hiding place. 

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第四章

過了幾天,和往常一樣,我慢慢地走在擁擠的走廊上。陽光從開著的窗子外灑進大樓裡;早晨的微風將大自然的香氣傳遞進來。對著每個人用燦爛微笑打招呼的我,開開心心地穿過學生潮到我的置物櫃。

「欸,阿詹。」保羅一看到我走進置物間就跑了過來。「今天上玩課來找我們可以嗎?」

我笑得更開,對他眨了一眼。「可以呀。」

保羅比了大拇指後又回去和其他兩人興奮地討論了起來。

「你們在幹嘛啊?」我拉長脖子想聽他們的悄悄話。

亞伯特將一根手指比到嘴前叫我安靜。然後,他一手擺在我的肩膀上,低聲地在我耳邊說,「我們今天上玩課要整人。你會喜歡的!」

我抬起一根眉毛看著他。「主角是誰?」我小聲回問。

大智頑皮地奸笑,指著身後的某個人。我往他指的方向看時,發現自己正直視著兩個橘色的大眼睛。

我張大嘴巴。

「真的假的?」我用大聲的呼吸聲說。「我們還不知道他是人是鬼。」

「我們蠻確定他還活著。」保羅拍拍我的背要安慰我。「亞伯特和我在你來之前有跟他小聊一下。還蠻確定他是真的,不是鬼。」

「其實我們沒有跟他聊。」亞伯特更正說。「我們在講話,他只是,你知道的嘛,一直看著我們,像他平常那樣。」

我吃驚地搖搖頭。「可是,你們要幹嘛啊?」

「看就知道啦。」保羅說。我腦海中的他頭上長出惡魔的角。

大智若有所思的用手指敲敲下巴,說,「我們已經忽視他太久了。該對他表現一點了。」三個男生嗤笑得像邪惡的科學家。

我快速地回頭往福利曼坐著的方向看,可是他已經不在那了。他知道他們要幹嘛嗎?我在心裡疑問著。我用眼睛掃描房間,尋找那高高瘦瘦的男生,可是就是找不到。

「喂,阿詹。」亞伯特從他坐著的地方看著我。「你不要破壞好戲喔。」

我呆呆地眨了眨眼睛。「當然不會啦。」我說,一支手在臉前揮一揮。「我又不認識他。」

「我們知道啊。」保羅突然用同情的眼神看我。「只是你人太好了啦,你可能會想幫他。」

「不用擔心,老兄。我們不會傷害他的。只是開玩笑而已啦。」大智對我保證。

我尷尬地笑了笑,對他們比OK。也對,他們只是想耍同學,沒什麼大不了的。而且,就算他們真的太過頭,我幹嘛那麼在意?

笑著祝他們一切順利後,我慢慢走到我的教室坐了下來。那一整天,我整個人像失了焦一樣。教授講了什麼我都沒有在聽,可是腦海中也沒有特別想著什麼。彷彿我的世界被一個遙控器按了快轉,八個小時一轉眼就過去,我那天的課也上完了。當我慢慢收拾起書包,我看見大家都向著同一個方向走去。他們都是要去系餐廳。

「詹姆斯,走吧。」亞伯特、保羅、和大智將我的東西硬塞到我的書包裡後,把我拉到教室外面。

「那個人消失地還真快。」當我們經過福利曼平常坐的座位時,保羅說到。每一間教室最角落的座位都不會被其他學生坐,好像福利曼上課前都會先訂位一樣。我看著那個座位。桌子上佈滿灰塵,彷彿好幾年都沒用過。連椅子都掛著破掉的蜘蛛網。

「我一整天都沒看到他吔。」亞伯特指出。「他會不會跑掉啦?」

「誰知道?」保羅聳聳肩。「我們問他可不可以去餐廳找我們時,他沒有真正答應呀。他只是一直看我們,記得嗎?」

「你們是邀了全系的人來看是嗎?」我問,驚訝的看著大樓寬廣的餐廳裡聚集了一大群人。

「他沒來會蠻尷尬的。」大智抓著自己的臉頰說。

「我們只能祈禱和等待啦。」亞伯特說。「我們叫他五點半來找我們。還有五分鐘。」

當餐廳裡的學生群開始安定下來,五點半的鐘聲響了起來,蓋過學生們說話的嗡嗡聲。鐘聲停下來後,大家都和老鼠一樣安靜。我能聽見的聲音只剩腦海裡還迴盪著的鐘聲。

彷彿突然冒出來一樣,福利曼出現在餐廳門口。

他回看著屏氣注視著他的大家。我無法讀他的臉,他沒有表現出任何感情,連一個困惑都沒有。他橘色的大眼在餐廳空間裡到處看,好像他沒有來過這個地方一樣。他好奇地盯著學生們,好像沒有看過人類一樣。

仍然左看右看的福利曼走向人群。雖然走在瓷磚地上,他的腳步輕盈而安靜。如果我沒看著他的腳,還會以為他在飄移。在我身邊,一直看著福利曼的腳的大智開始悄悄的倒數。

「五、四、三、二、一…」

忽然間,我們頭頂上聽到一個哼聲,然後又聽到兩個金屬物撞在一起的聲音。當大家都還不知道發生什麼時,一個裝滿水的桶子就這樣從天花板掉下,正中福利曼的頭,將他撞倒在地,全身濕透。整個餐廳裡的人瘋狂的大笑,有些人邊笑邊跳,有些人笑到無法站立。

因為濕冷而發抖著的福利曼恢復平衡後站了起來。他一手握著胸口,一手將眼睛裡的水抹去。我忍不住把他比作一個站在大雨中的無助小孩。

我感覺到有人戳我的肋骨。「喜歡嗎,詹姆斯?」大智驕傲的說,「我們用遙控車撞倒水桶。是我想的喔。」

我假裝笑著。「你真是天才吔,大智。」

站在我前面,已經笑到肚子痛的亞伯特轉身用泛淚的眼睛看我。「還沒完。」他笑著說。他從牛仔褲口袋裡拿出一個塑膠飛鏢,用顫抖的手瞄準後,他將飛鏢丟出去,看著它從福利曼的頭上飛過。

「正中紅心!」他叫到。

一大片像雲的白粉墨從上空飄下,鋪蓋住福利曼溼答答的身子。當我還在猜那是什麼東西時,我正看著一團高高的人形麵糰,有著一雙橘色眼睛驚恐的回看著我。

他看到我了,我心裡開始慌。

「做得好啊,阿伯!」保羅和亞伯特互相拍掌。餐廳裡的人又轟隆隆地笑了起來。

「麵粉和水,也是我想的。」大智說著說著就拍起胸來比出勝利的姿勢。我又假裝笑了一聲,給他一根大拇指。當我回頭往福利曼那裡看時,我只看見空地。他又不見了。

在那之後,我只記得我推擠著人群,往樓梯跑去。我不知道為什麼我會知道福利曼在哪裡,也不知道我要跟他做什麼。但是,我奮力地爬著頭梯,只知道朝著腦袋裡出現的唯一一個目的地:我們的秘密基地。

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 -羅寗 Michelle Ning Lo

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