I looked behind me as the car entered the horizon. The village I once called my home faded before my very eyes. Despite my cold and composed exterior, I didn’t try to stop the tears that rolled down my cheeks. I remembered my old friends and our old house by the coast; those seven years I stayed there were so memorable.
Back then, I was the coolest kid at school. I made and lost many friends there.
Everyone in our old school both loved and feared me; and my presence was felt even from the other side of the village.
It was my home. However, due to the decree that there should be an age limit to the children living in the village, my friends and I were forced to go separate ways.
After a very tiring and depressing 2 hour drive, we arrived at a new and orange-tinged village. As we entered the driveway, I got a glimpse of all the kids in the village playground. All the girls had frilly bows on their hair and all the boys wore black slacks.
I thought to myself, did this place have formality? In my old village, we had the freedom to do whatever we pleased.
I knew I would have problems adjusting.
I finally gave in to my mother’s insistent nagging and decided to take a walk in the park. Walking around in strides made me feel like those lone wolf kids in the movies; a self-proclaimed awesome-looking kid with no companion.
I looked around to the beautiful autumn scenery. I had to admit that it was a sight to see, but I couldn’t help but be sad.
The kids around me were playing the same games I used to play with my friends and smile happily while they converse and even flirt. I sighed sadly; the pain of missing my old friends ached so badly.
My thoughts were then interrupted by the strangest sight.
There was a little girl sitting on the park bench and laughing by herself. She had this goofy radiant smile on her face as she dangled her puny legs that could barely reach the ground. Her bow was messily tied like a half-ponytail, which was stark contrast to her silky straight hair.
I knew I was staring at her openly, but when she looked and flashed a bright smile, I nearly jumped back in surprise.
She quickly got off the bench and ran unbelievably fast to where I was standing. Her hair was longer than I expected it to be as it reached all the way to her knees. She smiled in a very retarded fashion and to my surprise, handed me a piece of candy.
At that moment, I remembered my friends who wanted this kind of candy too. They once told me that this candy was able to heal tired souls.
The little girl looked at me; probably thinking I didn’t know how to eat it then removed the wrapper the candy and put it in my hand.
“Please eat it. You look really sad friend.” I was impressed that a girl her age could speak like that.
“No thanks.” I said but she was very persistent.
She really wanted to feed it to me and I got really irritated and marched back home, leaving her standing there. I could now say, without a doubt, that she’s the weirdest kid here.
The next day, I got bored and decided to go back to the park. As I put on my favourite dark green coat, a piece of candy rolled off my back pocket. It was the same one that little girl tried so hard to give me yesterday.
My pride however took the better of me and thinking I have no need for sweets in my life, I tossed it into the deep depths of waste that is the trash can.
When I got to the park, they were having some sort of ceremony. Like how we celebrated festivals at my old place. I spotted the little girl on that same spot on the bench which was a few paces from where I was standing. She then stared at me that same way as she did yesterday but I was less surprised this time.
Not wanting to be a loner I decided to stay with her just for today. She seemed to get my message almost instantly and came trotting along with me. While walking a short distance, she tried to hold my hand.
Needless to say, I forced the point I refused give in to that request.
It was then that I noticed that there was only one formally dressed man that was testing a megaphone on a small improvised platform. I almost instantly recognized him as the village’s mayor.
He started by welcoming everyone then talking about traditions and how it made us better people.
I rolled my eyes; I get enough of this from my mother. My attention then turned to someone who waved at the area we were sitting on.
It was this rich-looking guy I once saw on a magazine who looked unnaturally smiley as he approached the little girl sitting on my right.
He came to thank her for doing a rather small favour and offered her a large amount of money for her trouble.
She smiled and closed his palm that carried the check book. Shaking her head, the little girl politely refused saying that it was hardly any trouble at all. She did however ask for a piece of candy instead, perhaps because he looked insistent.
The man happily obliged and to my surprise, it was the same kind she tried to give me yesterday. I eyed her but she smiled just like that and introduced me.
The guy tilted his hat respectfully at me and I couldn’t help but look down embarrassed because someone of his calibre recognized my presence as he stood up.
“I shall see you around;” he patted her head “I have to be sitting with my family right now.” He quickly left as she waved to him.
After the ceremonies, while I was leaving I noticed she was conversing with a sad-looking little boy and handed him that candy that the rich man offered her.
I hardly noticed the boy trotting home happily as I looked at her angrily. Who in their right mind would give away something she really wanted?
Things similar to that incident started to happen the following days. People from all walks of life approached her, treated her the same way and try to offer her meat, pets and even a maid; but she refused all of it on that same basis and only asked for that same stupid piece of candy.
I started to think the girl wasn’t exactly right in the head but, considering all the tasks she did ranged from simply tutoring a child to complicated things like clogging the hole in a high roof, I ruled that out.
As I lay in my bed that night, I couldn’t help but try to decipher her enigmatic persona. How could she do all that and only ask for candy worth only a few measly cents?
I resolved to spend time with her and see whether she had some hidden ulterior motives or if she was that simple minded, in the morning.
Over the past week, I learned next to nothing about her save that she had 2 friends that started out hang out with us.
One of them is Leslie. She owned about a million rabbit posters that she hung in her room. The other one is Breena. She’s very temperamental and slaps her face when upset. Both are loyal to her but I can say they got to trust me a lot as well.
We were an unbearably noisy bunch but we were all joyful; even if I sometimes get irritated by her care-free demeanour to Breena and Leslie’s pointless arguing or when she subtly overshadows me every chance I get to show off my talents.
A few days past and that little girl told us to meet her by the old oak tree at the center of the park. While we shared lunch I noticed something strange.
When her amazingly light brown eyes turned to look at me, I saw something in her eyes. It had this dark and almost empty feeling to it. That little girl called out my name in that very annoying manner again.
“I’m right here, dimwit.” I tried to make it look like I was staring into the distance instead.
“I’m sorry, I was just wondering,” she looked at me with this half-sad and half-amused look on her face. “If you detest me so much, why did you come then?”
For some reason I got really irritated with that statement and half-shouted
“Because I think you’re a pathetic little wimp and I pity you for being spineless.”
Her face turned pale but I was not done with her yet. My rather small tantrum soon attracted a large crowd that cheered me on. I felt empowered so I continued to shout more nasty things to her.
I had to vent this out or I thought I would explode. It was then that she stood up.
“I have to go, excuse me-” But I pushed her down.
“What’s wrong,” I taunted, pushing her more “Afraid to fight back?”
She silently staggered back up but I kept pushing her down. Everyone wanted a piece of the action as well. I guess they were tired of her upstaging them.
They started throwing food at her and jeered, yet she said nothing. I got so unbelievably irritated and I pushed her hard, feeling finally satisfied.
To my surprise and horror, a loud crack reached my ears. There was silence as she tried to pick herself up after taking a huge hit to the head and just when things couldn’t get worse, a whole branch fell on her. It made an eerie crunch that made me cringe and look back at her.
She stood up proud and did a useless attempt to dust herself off. She smiled at me brightly before she bolted away from the tree as the mocking laughter erupted from the crowd.
Everyone, save Breena and Leslie, praised me as a hero and even escorted me home.
I was in shock as I lay in bed that night.
Why did she smile at me?
I scarred her for life.
Who is she to do that?
She’s no saint.
She can never be above anyone.
The following days I was haunted by stories and reports of her unwillingness to eat anything, much less get out of bed.
And every time she tried to step out her own front door, people pelted rotten fruits and paintballs at her. I felt like a horrible monster. I just started a greedy fire eager to devour that innocent child.
It then dawned on me the horrible sin I had commit against a girl who accepted me unconditionally.
That emptiness I saw in her eyes was the purest form of loneliness. She was just lonely and I made that worse.
The rain began to pour hard as I ran outside. I saw the bench empty for once and I just sat there crying.
I didn’t care if I died of pneumonia. I just ruined the life of the person who could have been my best friend.
My tears fell like the heavy rain around me.
As I felt myself giving in to the cruel chill, I felt a warm presence around my body. I looked behind me to gaze at the face of my saviour.
The little girl hugged me tight and it warmed me so much that the guilt made me breakdown even more. She called my name softly.
“…Yes?” I couldn’t face her and just looked down at my bare blistered feet.
She covered me in her long jacket then wiped the rain and tears from my face as everything went black for me.
I couldn’t have been more ashamed of myself as I woke up inside my own home wrapped in a warm blanket. I saw a cup of hot cocoa and a large bowl of chicken noodle soup on the table beside the couch where I had lay.
I ate my chicken soup in silence. I was starved so I ate greedily.
I felt a deep surge of guilt as I thought of her.
She acted like none of it ever happened and came out to save me.
I ran to the kitchen to look for her but I saw it was empty and that all the dishes were washed and neatly stacked.
She even took time to make dinner for my mother and me.
I was irritated at myself as I saw a note in her neatly thin cursive that I found under my plate. She had gone out to run an errand for someone and asked me to take the cold medicine she asked my mother to buy me twice a day.
I didn’t understand the bipolarity these people had. The very person they mocked and scorned, they expected to do favours for them.
I especially didn’t understand her.
No matter how much we crushed her spirit, she was still willing to help everyone who asked.
Why? She owed me no kindness.
That question kept me up that night.
Why did she come to save me in my hour of darkness, despite the fact that I struck the first blow against her?
She brought me home and even kept me warm and comfortable.
I cried myself to sleep that night.
How could she be so forgiving to a horrible brat like me?
I woke up extra early to try to beat her to the bench the next day.
I bought some sweet buns from the bakery and took some cream cheese from the kitchen that was enough for us to share.
The sky was a little darker than usual as the fringes of the sky were still midnight blue and some stars still shone shyly.
As soon as I got to the park, I saw her on the bench crying. I started walked towards her to comfort her but to my horror, she took out a sharp cutter.
I darted to her as the relief on her face contrasted the blood that flowed down and stained her white jacket. I threw that wretched cutter to the ground and hugged her for dear life.
The tears mixed with the blood and it made her jacket sticky. Despite that, I warmed her and felt her drifting off in my arms. I took off her jacket and used mine as a blanket to cover her.
It was then that I got to see her arms that were covered in old slashes and cuts. I clenched her tiny fist in mine.
She was so frail.
She woke up minutes later; embarrassed, she looked down at her feet as she mumbled an apology.
I couldn’t say anything but just messed up her hair and flashed her, the happiest smile I could make. Although taken aback, she simply smiled back.
The days that followed were the happiest of my life.
The guilt, however, made me quite curious about her injuries.
It was then that I noticed she had a bandaged that covered her whole forehead.
“How’s your bump?” I mustered the nerve to say.
She turned around and I swallowed hard.
She smiled in a carefree manner “The doctor said it wasn’t that bad.”
She held a finger to my lips and smiled. I hugged her, something I’ve never done to anyone, as tight as possible.
I vowed to protect her no matter what.
Our friendship strengthened as she and I spent the days in each other’s company. Lately, she has been running more errands than she usually does. Often times, she would nap beside me from exhaustion while we ate lunch.
The days seem to last forever yet go by so quickly and before I knew it, it was my birthday.
As a gift, she handed me a large jar of those same candies but with assorted flavours.
When I asked her which she found the sweetest, she just smiled at my choice of words saying that I would know soon enough.
On my way home that afternoon, I saw a 5 year old girl who was at the foot of the grave of her cat at her backyard.
Her tears somehow felt like they were calling to me.
I approached her, comforted to the best of my ability then reached into my jar and handed her a small piece of candy. She giggled in delight as she savoured the taste in her mouth. I smiled to myself.
It was then that I started to realize why she gave away those candies all the time.
It felt good to be able to help someone even if it was in such a small way. The little girl must’ve known that feeling too.
It happened so fast. It was only a few days left before summer ended and the little girl unexpectedly had to run an errand for someone at the pier.
I didn’t like her leaving the village. It was very dangerous as the undertow was strong at this time of year.
I tried to voice my concern but she already ran away.
I sighed as I sat at home looking at my already almost empty jar.
There was only one candy left and I was tempted to eat it.
I opted not to but it was then that the candy rolled off the floor and unwrapped itself.
It was a blank candy but something rolled out. It was a small, long strip of paper with words written in jet black ink scrawled on it.
It read those words that still ring in my head until today: “The sweetest kind of candy is the one you give out selflessly despite all that you’ve been through. It’s the care that comes from the pain you bear that makes it all that sweeter.”
I smiled at the note and reread it several times over before putting it away.
It was then that I heard that fateful news.
A little girl was found half-dead on the low shallow shores near the pier.
I ran faster than I could’ve ever imagined and came to her aid.
Her skin was so wrinkly and bruised that she couldn’t even open her eyes. I called her name over and over again.
“…This can’t be…”
The tears streamed out of my eyes as I willed her to gaze at me and smile the one I knew for so long.
She opened her eyes and smiled at me. A huge wave of relief flooded over me but before I could say anything, she knowingly smiled at my tear-swollen face.
I closed my eyes and hugged her with all the warmth I could give. She died in my arms, feeling the security that she had only given and never received.
My best friend was taken from me yet had a sense of happiness filled me.
The salty air hung around us as we looked at the sunset; all was well.