A Potential Prologue To Rouen’s Diary
Meeting her was awkward. Matt never felt that way for the longest time, and he hated it. It’s far worse than being forced to eat camote or being thrashed by upperclassmen at school. Being hit in the face is more comfortable better than being stared at with a look of silent condemnation. Matt felt helpless and angry at the same time. Every second under that hot, startling gaze was torture. Just in that moment, he wished that either one of them disappears.
If anyone has to disappear, it has to be her.
He couldn’t disappear. He just got here. He wanted to be here. After a long time, he found something he could do. Even if it was just mixing the concrete and slopping mounds of cement over hollow blocks. The sweltering heat of the afternoon was draining, and sweat dripped over his tanned body while he and his team worked together. Not all boys his age has done what he was able to: building houses for the Masa storm survivors.
It has been a long time since he felt he had a purpose. It has been a long time since he realized his self-worth was still there. In this place, he felt he was wanted. He was needed.
He’s not going anywhere. It’s better if she goes.
“She’s not going away,” Nathan nudged beside him, smiling with his moony eyes twinkling with tease. Nathan was Matt’s only friend, but sometimes, he can be annoying.
“Don’t mind her.” Matt answered coldly, not paying attention to the shadow of a girl, five meters away from them.
“I wonder what she needs from you,” Nathan asks, leaning over his shovel. “I mean, she’s been like that since yesterday. Do you know each other?”
“Not likely, huh?”
Matt didn’t lie. They did not know each other. They have seen each other, but knowing is another level. He didn’t like strangers. And although her face has become a bit familiar, she was still a stranger to him. After all, they never knew each other’s names. He has no plan of knowing hers.
Everyone was beat as 5 o’clock strikes. As the sun slowly sets at the shores of Masa, volunteers dispelled from the site of the wreckage. There was little progress. Matt and his classmates only finished the foundation of the home assigned to them. They’re not even sure if it’s strong enough not to wriggle. But at least, there were four to five lines of hollow blocks set up the 30 square foot home. Despite the slow improvements, Matt can only be proud of his work. After all, only 5 of them helped out in making that home. A home where one day, someone in need will live in.
A home built by his own hands. Well, that’s something to be proud of.
Their work was just one of the fifty new homes to be built for the residents of Masa. The town was wrecked by a fierce cyclone two weeks ago. Volunteers from different places speedily responded.
Students from the other camp were only able to clear a small percentage from the garbage swept to the sea. The other class from schools handled teaching and educators sharing insights about livelihood. Everyone was busy. At least, that’s what it seems to be.
While students huddled into their camps during dinner, Matt strayed away from the group. He hated the chatter. Everyone was just complaining how their muscles ached, how the place was dirty, how they wanted a long hot bath. He felt the same, really. But this is not the place to groan about the things you want just because there are people around who needs those things ten times as much as you do.
“Pssh. Acting like spoiled brats.”
Matt walked by the crowd, alone and singled out. Somehow, he managed to catch the attention of most people in his camp. Teachers frowned upon him.
He knew why. He was different. He always has, and he always will be. Nothing will change. But it’s not something he’s ashamed of; he knew who he is and what he’s done. No regrets.
If he has to live life all over again, he’ll be living it the same way he did now.
It was because of his mark, a reminder of his delinquency: a tattoo. On his right arm was a sprawling image of a silver wolf biting at the moon. The tattoo is so big that everyone can see it. It just speaks of who he was. A weirdo. An offender. A rebel. Everybody can easily figure that out.
Matt can still remember the first time he had it. He was still confused which hurt him more. His heart throbbed hen the tattoo artist started engraving the wolf on his arm. He could see blood popping out from his veins. His arm swelled red and the result of the tattoo was painful for days. But he did not cry. He almost did, however, when his old grandfather saw him a week later. He was beaten. No, the thrashing was not painful, but the look on the old man’s face was. Matt could remember his grandfather’s roaring voice across his office,
“Weren’t you contented? You almost killed someone and now you’re showing off how much of a rebel you are? When are you going to spare me from such shame?”
Just 17 years old, and he had a tattoo.
The air blew on his damp, sweaty face. Being away from home was such a relief. Matt had always wanted to run away. He never belonged to that house anyway.
Looking at the refugees on Masa’s evacuation grounds, Matt thought that he’s just one of those people. Homeless and orphaned. He trudged at the murky, muddy soil with his sneakers covered in dirt. It’s just the second day, but this place felt like home. More so when he found that place—the Accidental Hill—the little spot which he can call his own.
It wasn’t called Accidental Hill at first. He wasn’t the one to call it either. But that spot was just what it was described, a sullen elevated terrace overlooking the wreckage over a spoilt, eroded portion of the upper land. Matt sees the giant tree that sprang by the edge of the battered hill. It protruded from the valley, like a hand reaching for the sky.
He found the place the night before. And from that day on he called it his. But Matt was not the first one who found it.
The lights flickered on the lamp posts as he walked. Masa was a highly urbanized area before the storm came. Before a giant tide rushed and swept everything away. Now everything was pulled away into the great ocean, displacing what once has been beautiful.
His shadow danced before him as he walked nearer towards Accidental Hill. As he looked up, Matt could see a tiny morsel of a creature, with light brown hair dancing under the night sky.
She had been sitting on the accidental hill, drawing something on the ground with a twig. Her hair sat on her head like a thick bird’s nest, unruly and uncombed. Some of the strands of her hair went on her face, but her expression glowed with a copper tinge after being drenched under the sun’s heat. The girl has dark brown eyes and long lashes. Her cheeks formed into a round buns as she beams into a smile as she saw Matt coming.
“Have you seen it?”
The girl stood from where she was sitting, wiping the dust off her shirts. She welcomed Matt just like welcoming a family member into their home. Her eyes sparkled. “There was a whale at the beach. A baby whale! I was going to tell you, but I didn’t know if I was allowed to approach you or not.”
“You’re not,” Matt said nonchalantly. “But you did.”
He takes his place at the stone bench beneath the tree. Falling flat from his stance, he looked at the dark night sky shimmering with small dots of stars. The wind blew nicely on Accidental Hill. Ah, that feels good.
“Well, I didn’t know that, sorry.” The girl said. “I could have told you, but was afraid you’d shout at me or say something like ‘scram!’ so I didn’t.”
Matt thought he was going to do that. “Standing there like a tree and gaping at me like that; who wouldn’t be annoyed?” He muttered under his breath.
The girl’s cheeks reddened. “Rescuing the whale was pretty cool.” She continued, changing the subject quickly. “It’s just sad it died. The medics said it ate some of the plastics scattered on the shore. It’s so sad it couldn’t find its way out, and then it was poisoned.”
Matt sighed. “I don’t care. Just shut up and go away.”
Both of them were quiet for a while.
“I got here first, you know.” The girl reminded him. “I found this place first thing when I got here. It’s my morning spot, and mornings come before night.”
“I don’t see your name anywhere. So why don’t you come back in the morning for Pete’s sake?”
She pouted. Some boys are just ruthless.
“Why don’t you find your spot?” Her voice aroused.
Matt didn’t move. The girl was sitting on the same concrete spot she sat yesterday. She hugged her knees and rocked her back as if she was cradled by the air.
“Sorry. Nobody has to go. I’ll be quiet as a ghost. I only like to look at the moon.”
The moon’s view was beautiful in that place. The bright round thing sparkled like a penny, hovering above a wasteland where less than a thousand people died before. The black velvet night hugged it with gray clouds, extending its arms over the moon’s waist. It was terribly haunting. But at the same time, it was beautiful.
Matt looked at the stranger girl with his half-shut eye. She was looking at the night sky busy humming a strange song only she knew the lyrics. The sound of her shoes hitting the rocks, the way her hair pirouetted by the wind, how her plump cheeks form a strange smile for no one; it was annoying. He wished she rolls off the eroded soil and disappears forever. Ah, that would be nice.
That was the first thing he wished when he saw her on this same spot on the first night they met. But that never happened. She didn’t roll off like a bun as he wished she would. She just sat there like a thumbtack. Like that Nara tree he was sleeping underneath of.
The next time Matt glanced at her, she was looking at him. And she smiled. Just like the smile she had when they first met yesterday.