There's a boy somewhere between me and my brother in age doing magic tricks in the park.
Maybe he's just finishing off elementary school and getting the last bit of a little kid out from inside of him.
Maybe he's just started junior high school and misses it already.
Or maybe he's trying to build that illusion because he's never been the type of kid people smile with otherwise. Maybe this is just his way of pretending and maybe he doesn't have an older brother that breaks all his masks so he can't use them any more and he's run out of clay to make new ones with.
Maybe he's got just enough friends to make it through life pretending like this.
'Hey, kid in the orange hat? You want to see?'
No, I don't.
But I don't say that. I don't say anything at all.
I just leave.
‘Did you like that boy doing magic tricks?’
Yutaka’s trying, kind of. He keeps on missing the mark. Sometimes it’s like he’s playing on a totally different board.
It doesn’t matter. If I wanted to talk to someone, Yutaka would be at the bottom of the list.
He didn’t listen when it mattered, after all.
He sighs, now. ‘Tomoki…’
I muster up my best glare, which I know is sad and pathetic and doesn’t show the resentment in my heart at all.
I should hate the bullies, really. They deserve it.
I do hate the bullies.
But I hate the brother who pushed me to face them when I couldn’t even move.
He’s the reason things are like this now.
The bullies are like a sine wave. They grow bored with him when I don’t respond to them and then they leave me alone for a bit. But then they get bored without their plaything and they come back to taunt.
I ignore them, just waiting for the time they leave again because I know they will.
They’re a sine wave. Reliable. Coming and going. I can handle them so long as nothing changes. They can come and go.
Though, each time they come, they toss a few more proverbial coins into the hate jar.
Even if nothing will ever come of it.
‘It’d be more fun if you played, you know.’
And that is the problem with new kids, especially the ones who naturally attract friends like a flock. And that’s Kanbara Shinya.
But for me… No, it’s not more fun if I play.
But I don’t shake my head. I’ve learnt my lesson. If I ignores the other entirely, he’ll go away.
It’s always worked like that. Some come back, like the bullies. But no-one sticks around like a leech except his brother, and that’s him trying to make up for things that can’t be fixed and I really wished he wouldn’t –
But that’s in my hands too. All I have to do is lock the door.
Kanbara Shinya is a bully.
The proof is that he keeps on coming around, no matter how many times he’s ignored. Like the bullies do.
I’m tired of it. It’s a bully on time as well and between them and that and my brother’s constant useless questions I wonder if I’ll really crack this time.
You can only throw a nut so many times before it cracks.
Most of me doesn’t want that because it’s a pretty comfortable equilibrium I’ve found.
Another part of him is happy to let this dam inside of me finally get out.
I wonder how it had looked. A balloon finally blown past its limit so it burst and let out air – but really, what could air do?
It’s still slapped aside, but at least I can choose to lock the door again.
‘Tomoki.’ Yutaka is knocking on my door.
Actually, aside from Yutaka knocking on my door and my parents leaving food outside it, nothing much else happens.
I don’t have to deal with the bullies.
I don’t have to deal with Kanbara Shinya.
It’s actually better than before.
Except there’s something hollow inside my chest and I don’t know what’s wrong.
Once upon a time, I’d silently cry behind these very doors because everyone would see but no-one would understand and no-one would help. And then Yutaka would see those red-rimmed eyes and sigh and say I don’t understand other people and to just try.
I understand that some people are just plain cruel.
And there are many more people who simply don’t understand other people.
And sometimes, I don’t know whether Yutaka is one or both of those.
Sometimes he’s both.
And those times, I hate him the most.
My suspension’s over. I’m supposed to go back to school but I stay. And nobody tries to drag me out of bed.
They’re stepping on eggshells around me. Even Yutaka. Yutaka’s been kind of stepping on eggshells ever since the implosion and now the explosion’s come and gone too and I’m running on empty.
If he returns, it won’t take long to fill me up again. Like gas. In a balloon. To pop again.
Heck, with Yutaka around, it won’t take long to fill me up even if I stay in bed.
‘You’re not being fair, Tomoki.’
Yeah, he can say that. It’s easy for him to give all these little bits of useless advice because they weren’t the same.
What’s not fair is those bullies existing in the first place and starting it all.
I can remember exactly how it went. One of the oldest tricks in the book but lots of people honestly drop things as well and am I supposed to ignore all of those for the sake of a few fakers?
I thought not, at the time.
Apparently, a little kindness doesn’t go a long way as my mother once told me. Rather, it gets trampled in the mud. And it was. Trampled in the mud.
And I was a child and embarrassed and naïve and thought I could hide it and wash it off and forget it and it wouldn’t happen again.
But it did. And again. And, at some point, I realised that wasn’t the case but it was too late to do anything else.
Sometimes, I wished they would hit me. Leave physical marks that couldn’t be washed away by the rain or water or an accident. Sometimes, I wished they’d leave undeniable proof so others would see how brutal they were. How mean.
How I couldn’t possibly change things on my own.
There’s no such thing as a victim and a bully. There’s a victim and a criminal, or a bully and a person who allows themselves to be bullied.
Allowing… is such a funny word.
Did I allow myself to shove Kanbara Shinya out the window?
Did he allow me to shove him?
Or were we both so surprised that neither of us could really think until it was too late. Until it was over.
It’s a joke, really. They spill so much blood but because no-one ever sees, they get a slap on the wrist and that’s only if someone believes me.
Someone almost dies, and I’m shut in my room for a week.
And honestly, it’s a paradise.
It’s a crazy world. It’s not fair. It doesn’t make sense.
Wasn’t school supposed to brings things into perspective?
It hasn’t. It’s only skewered it entirely.
‘He’s in shock,’ they say.
I’m not. Do they think I care? Of course I care. But Kanbara Shinya was a bully too and I only wished I’d done that at the beginning, so the rest hadn’t followed through.
Someone gets sick of this stalemate, eventually.
Surprisingly, it’s not my family. It’s another boy instead, older than me and younger than my brother and with the same hair and skin and eye colour as Kanbara Shinya.
Brother, then. Or cousin or some sort of family relation.
I’m surprised the first thing he does is sock me in the jaw.
Actually, I’m not surprised. Blood begets blood in the ideal world, the dream world, and this guy’s living it out.
I wonder what would have happened if Yutaka had been my knight in shining armour like he’d been meant to be.
But now I have the mark on my face I’ve always wanted.
And I crack again.
The boy is unnerved. I can see it in his face, and he’s boxed in with this crazy little brat who’s laughing his head off.
I’m trapped in a room with two boys both bigger than me and they can do anything and nobody’s going to come and save me…
Well, now he knows how it feels.
Even if he’s not the one I really want to understand how it feels.
‘That was for my brother,’ he says, finally.
‘Wish you were mine,’ I say, and I mean it because I could’ve been saved by a hero then and I wouldn’t have had to freeze.
Ice is tough. It’s also brittle. Once it cracks, it just falls apart. Or it melts into goo if you leave it out too long or too close to the flames.
My jaw hurts now. It hurts and it keeps hurting and it’s annoying. It’s distracting. It makes me move it. It makes me want to go and get some ice but my legs won’t move.
And my throat is screaming and wants some water but I don’t want to get up for that either.
So I don’t. And the knight that’s not mine leaves instead, through the window.
Just like a hero from a cartoon except where’s the damsel he’s saved?