I open my eyes, slowly. The thin, bright sun rays escaping through the thick drapes lazily flirt with my eyelids. I have to sigh and yawn at least three times before completely sitting up in bed. Then, I have to mutter my morning prayers before opening up those brown, narrow eyes of mine.
As I blindly search for the slippers with my feet, I notice the deafening sound of quietness prevailing. An angry bird flocks its wings with a loud, unpleasant cry to disturb it. Before turning the doorknob in my hand, I pick up my thick nightgown from the door hanger. It’s an old, short, enduring, red-with-brown-teddy-bears gown I’ve had since I was ten; I’ve totally outgrown it, but it still keeps me warm.
The corridor is dark, with the light coming from the kitchen window as the only source of illumination. I watch the shade of the dancing tree joyously tampering with the illuminated part. The memory of the little girl who was me, standing in that same spot, watching that same ancient tree-shade and believing it to be some trespasser blinks right into my mind.
I always believed our house was haunted; not necessarily by a spirit. Sometimes, I believed a homeless thief was living in our seldom-used and entirely isolated dining room, eating in our kitchen whenever we were asleep, noisily crashing dishes against our sink and stomping his feet in our corridor as a trial to hassle us out of slumber then disappearing into thin air once we’re finally awake.
It’s funny how I always felt the presence of someone when I was all alone, and now, when I’m actually in another’s company, I feel completely deserted. Perhaps it’s out of habit. Besides, he doesn’t produce any sound. Just like a mute marionette moving freely with nothing but the sound of nylon strings lashing the air coming out of it.
Even the living room’s gloomy. For a while I believe he’s actually not here. Perhaps he left with dad, or ran away. Again. But once my narrowed pupils get accustomed to the darkness, dilating, and turning the brown of my eyes to black, I see a dark figure squinting by the dark-red plastic box. Daisy’s stretching her neck, eyes closed and ears backward, in sheer harmony as he slowly yet steadily pats her chin. I never knew he was so good with cats.
I think twice before touching the light-switch, I don’t want to disturb his peaceful moment. He’s entirely oblivious to my existence. I have to make myself present; I have to voice my attendance. I can’t remain a ghost around him! Not all the time!
The lights are on. He turns his neck upwards so suddenly that I hear it snap. Then, I realize I’ve made a mistake. I realize I’ve never been around him all alone; at least not in the near-present. Now, I’ll either have to run away and break his heart or wait till he does it and breaks mine. Stupid!
“Hey,” he utters, after almost two minutes of blankly staring me in the eye. He’s not as confused as I thought he would be. His voice doesn’t flinch, stammer or stutter. I’m impressed.
I take a step forward; a very hesitant step. I do my best to make it appear confident.
“Hey,” my voice echoes through the entire room. Even Daisy looks my way, distressed. “The babies ok?” I ask with a quick glimpse at the inside of the plastic box – where the little kittens are softly embedded in their mother’s grey fur. Its red is so daring now in the light; almost insolent.
He nods rolling his eyes downwards. His large, downright honest, hazel eyes. It seems like he’s taken ten steps backwards in exchange for the lonely step he’s taken forward. I wait. I don’t want to freak him out. After all, the fact that he’s not running away is an accomplishment in itself.
Squinting right beside him, I reach out my hand to touch the tiniest of Daisy’s kittens. It’s a cotton-white beauty with a thin, dark line upon its back pointing it to its mother’s milk. I gently roll it on its back, stroking its micro-chin with my thumb; my dark, nail-bitten, non-feminine thumb. It kicks with its legs and arms, helplessly squeaking. Daisy rolls it back into position – on all fours again – with one lick of her powerful tongue. Then she gives it her moist-tongue morning bath, very diligent in her job.
“Let Maroon be.” He almost whispers. It’s funny hearing him whisper so, when he possesses one of the harshest voices on earth.
“Who’s Maroon?” I ask, smiling like an idiot, totally helpless.
“The little kitten you almost killed.”
“I didn’t kill it!” I exclaim, trying to sound offended, when in fact, I’m having the time of my life. “Besides, who ever said she’s called Maroon?”
“Who ever said it’s a she?” he smiles a deep, serene smile which shows his nano dimples. He still doesn’t look me in the eye; as if his long, blank stare was a mistake he’s willing to spend a lifetime regretting.
“It’s a boy? How do you know?” I try to sound as excited as ever, encouraging him to speak, convincing him that he has such a special gift that should make him proud.
It backfires. Instead, he’s intimidated by my reaction.
Another five minutes pass before he holds Maroon – I can’t believe I’m calling him “Maroon” – in his bony, vieny hand, wrapping his tall, slim, dark fingers around him and resting his tiny white-with-a-thin-black-line-back on his large, comfortable palm. Maroon yawns adorably, not screaming this time.
“Look,” he points with the index finger of his empty hand at a short, furry sack in front of Maroon’s thick, white tail, “that means he’s a boy.”
“Ahhh.” I sigh with a comprehending nod, making sure I don’t intimidate him this time.
He returns Maroon back to his mother’s nipple, where he begins noisily sucking on it like an angry baby.
My eyes turn from Maroon to him, carefully observing every muscle of his face, making notes of each lost hair growing on his chin; each micro crack on his thin lips; each superficial pore – not that they’re a lot – on his forehead. His hair’s changed. It’s not as silky as I remember it to be. In fact, it’s wavy now. Greasy, black and wavy.
He’s nothing like my memories. A complete stranger. With lost hair on his chin and bony, veiny arms. At least they’re still not hairy; that’s familiar.
After a while, I begin to feel that I, too, am enjoying the peace and quiet. For the first time in my life I’m not trying to make conversation to avoid the awkward silence. Well, that’s the thing; nothing about this is awkward. It’s perfectly … normal, shall I say? Yes; perfectly normal.
My hand makes its way back to the insolent-red plastic box, this time picking up the grey kitten.
“What’s this one’s name?” I ask breaking the awkward silence. Maybe it was awkward after all. I was just too absorbed to realize it.
His eyes move back at me, but it takes them ages to do so. I can almost feel their anchors difficultly dragged off the floor and going all the way up to meet my surprised glare. The honesty in them simply mesmerizes me. He always had that effect on me. Always pinned me to my seat with his honest stare. Good, another familiar thing.
“I didn’t name this one.”
He shrugs. Something about shrugging seems so ordinary. Too ordinary for a guy like him. A guy who has challenged weirdness in its own game, and won. I have to say, shrugging doesn’t work very well with him.
His image, flying in the playground, with his uniform T-shirt covering his face after he’s just scored a legendary goal plays right in front of my eyes, as if I’m seeing it all over again. As if the rug beneath our feet is the grass of the playground. As if the little kittens are his co-players. As if the insolent-red plastic box is the goal port. And Maroon’s the ball.
Back then, when I cheered for him with a lot of heart, literally jumping off my seat with excitement, and when he looked my way with a smiling, charming face and shrugged, back then it wasn’t so unusual to see him shrug. It wasn’t so unacceptable. But now it is … so unacceptable.
“Why didn’t you give it a name?” I inquire with a trace of disappointment, both in my voice and my face. The loud cheers die out, the rug is back to being a rug. The kittens are no longer wearing numbered T-shirts. And he isn’t scoring any goals, though he still looks me in the eye.
“Because she’s yours. I noticed you took a liking to her. You name her.” that’s that. He just pours them down, like sweet, viscous honey; indeed his words are. He doesn’t tell me that he’s madly in love with me. He doesn’t swear that he can’t spend another day without me by his side. He doesn’t promise to commit suicide if I don’t commit myself to him. No, those words require a large playground to be spoken at. With grass, and co-players, and a goal just scored.
Now, we have to do with what we’ve got. And our simple rug and insolent-red plastic box can support no more than the generous offer to name my own kitten. Because it means so much to me. Because I’ve taken a liking to it. And because I mean so much to him. And because he’s taken a liking to me. Again.
No words are exchanged. Only gazes. But a pact is made. One that was secured with so many words the last time, so many promises, so many oaths. But now, our only contract, our only guarantee is our eye-contact. This time it’s a secret pact. One which only the two of us shall know of. Not the entire football team, and the audience.
“Wed, I’ll call her Wed.” I say signing the contract. Sealing it off. Calling my kitten after the day when our first pact took place. Just like he called his kitten after the color of my shirt that day.
His face doesn’t show it, but I can tell that deep down, he’s smiling. The key turns in the front door, footsteps make their way to the living room, dad walks in on us. The contract disappears. Yet, we keep smiling. Hoping for better luck this time.