It was late afternoon. The sun was angry and it was torching the world with its rays, as though teaching it a lesson. Still the birds that flew had a song in them, and the breeze that blew carried the laughter of children along with it.
It was summer- the season of games and lemonade, of work and vacations, of happiness and laughter. It was the one time of the year, when the residents of the town with even a little bit of life in them looked forward to. The people walking on the streets were exhausted but they still had a smile on their faces. The children playing in the grounds were sweating and tired, but they still had a joy in them. The trees by the lake were dry and scorching under the sun, but they still had a green to their leaves. And none of it was going away.
It was summer and the people of the town were happy.
The little boy was in his room, playing. He cannot be called little, but he cannot be called big either. He was at the age where he was ridiculed for crying over a movie and forbidden from picking what to watch. He was at the age in between. He was at the age of confusion. And to him, he was the wind, and the boat, and the sailor; he was it all. He was his own world, his mother and father mere figures hanging around in some orbit and his little brother, discarded, hanging at the edge of everything and waiting for the fall.
He wished sometimes that the world worked that way too.
That afternoon his mother was picking up his dishes from where he had abruptly left them to finish a suddenly remembered video game. He was always running around like that and she was tired of always picking up after him, and now his two year old brother, whose belongings covered almost all the floors of the house these days. At least one of them was supposed to know better.
She walked to his room - all his things were lying around the floor and his book still remained open to the page he had been reading, though she wondered if any reading had been involved. His marks had been appalling since the beginning of term and she did not know what to do with another baby to look after.
"I thought I had asked you to clean up your room an hour ago?"
The boy did not look up from his TV screen.
"Did you?" he asked nonchalantly.
"I think I am speaking to you," she said, shifting her weight near the door. She had so much to do - lunch to cook, house to clean and a crying baby to soothe. She felt so tired. Still the boy did not respond. Suddenly she walked into the room and pulled the plug from the board.
"Hey, what are you doing!" the boy yelled, eyes finally turning away from the screen He had just been about to butcher his opponent's head and now he was out of the league! He looked at his mother in shock and anger. His black ignorant eyes missed the black lines under hers.
"Clear your room, or no TV for a week," she said sternly.
He looked around at all the magazines, toys and other garbage he did not even recognize lying around the room. There was no way his mother was going to jeopardize his game and make him clean his room on top of that.
"I will do it later."
"Now, or no TV for a week," his mother's voice was loud and clear. The boy looked at his mother with a steady gaze.
"Fine!" he said, "You can just pack it up and give it all to him. That's what you are going to do anyways."
And he walked out of the house making sure to slam the door hard behind him. He was angry at his parents and angry at the world. It was all fine when it had just been the three of them. But then his brother came along, and everything changed. It was never just them anymore. It was them and him.
Every day, all day, his cries rang around every corner of the house and he felt lost amidst the commotion of it all. That's how he had taken to playing video games in his room all day - it was his own separate world and he was never second there. And to him that was a beautiful feeling.
He walked around the streets and wished he knew where to go.
It was a beautiful day, the kind that ought to be spent in a playground, but he was tired of the same games, the same faces. He could go to his friend's house and bully him into giving him the latest comic book or he could go to the park and see if any of his girl friends were around so he could brag about his imaginary vacation to Africa. Of course, no one ever doubted a word he said, and after a point of time, it got boring. And then, there was the Art Museum a few blocks away that he had been meaning to check out for quite some time now, but.....he ended up going to the lake. It was quiet there - there were none of his rowdy friends or beautiful admirers or interesting artworks he wished he could create himself. It was just him and the lake and....an old man.
He was sitting on a bench facing the water. His white hair combed across his head glimmered in the sunlight and the boy wondered what he was doing there at such an hour. He almost retreated back to the trees, but then he remembered his choices and in a sudden moment of indecision, he went and sat down beside him. The old man didn't look away from the water.
"Troubles at home, son?"
He didn't look at him either as he answered, "No".
"No? Why else would you be sitting here with an old man alone on a summer afternoon?" came that scratchy low voice again. The boy wasn't in a mood to chat and wished he would get the hint, but the old man continued anyways. "How old are you son?"
There was a strange calmness about the lake that almost made him feel at peace for a while, like he could just sit and not think about TV or games or school for the time. Sunlight filtered in through the green tree leaves making shapes across the water. He watched as the shapes shifted and danced along with the slight ripples in the water, and then -
"I remember when I was eleven."
The boy scoffed. "And that was what - centuries ago?"
He hadn't meant to be mean. In fact, he didn't know why he always felt necessary to say things like that. But the old man looked at him then and smiled. He had white hair and a face he wouldn't be able to distinguish from the next aged person he came across, except for the eyes and the smile - they had a kindness to them that made him glow like a softly burning candle.
"And I guess you have a lot of friends at school?" the old man asked, "Admirers too?"
"Loads," the boy replied confidently as if that was a question no one should have to ask. "Did you?" he asked a moment later, although he wasn't very sure why.
"When I was 11, I had glasses and a tooth missing. I was laughed at in almost every corner of the town and when my 'friends' were in a particularly good mood, they would throw mangoes at my window just to get a rise out of me. I was the kid at the back of the class, scrawny and small. I believe even my father had the impression that the slightest wind would carry me away. He actually used to ask my sister to do all the heavy-lifting around the house."
They were quiet for a while and then the boy asked, "Why mangoes?"
"Anything else would have woken up my father," he said jovially.
"And you didn't mind?" If it had been his window, he would have skipped the stones and thrown boulders at theirs.
"Nah," the old man laughed, " Besides I really used to enjoy those mangoes. Such juicy ones they always chose!" He said that in a way that made the boy laugh.
"So that was your childhood? Sitting in back benches and getting mangoes thrown at your windows?" he asked incredulously.
"No," the old man shook his head seriously, "My childhood was entirely dedicated to making the girl I love fall in love with me."
The boy looked at him as if he had just grown another head in the last minute. "Why would you do that?" he asked, horrified. The idea that someone would waste their childhood for that went beyond his understanding.
The old man looked at him strangely, "Why wouldn't I?"
"Because when you get a girl to go out with you, it only adds to your troubles. You have to remember her birthday or she gets angry, you have to buy her chocolates or she gets whiny, you have to take her out every now or then or she gets suspicious. Why would you want that for yourself?" He didn't feel like mentioning that he had a dozen admirers at school who expected the same from him.
The old man smiled. "Not all girls are like that."
"Yes, they are."
"No, they are not."
"Yes, they are. You were just too lovesick to notice."
It took him a minute to realize that maybe he shouldn't have said that. Or maybe he should've just apologized. But he had never said the word sorry before in his life and he wasn't just going to start because of some strange old man he had just met. Besides, there was something about the cool, collected way he was looking at the water, like his slight slip of tongue did not even matter and for some reason, it made him just the bit more stubborn.
"Maybe I should go," he said getting up.
"Maybe you should."
The old man didn't look at him as he spoke.
The boy did not say anything else. He just went back the way he came and once he was in his house and his brother's cries and his mother's hurried footsteps echoed around him once again, he felt the loneliness press against him once more. He cleaned his room all by himself and thought that, maybe, he should've just apologized.