More than twenty school buses stopped right at the Masa City Gate, where universities from the whole country have sent representatives under their National Service curriculum to volunteer and help. It was the first time something like this happened; a great storm whirled over Masa and lashed over it like a pint of soil gulped by wind and water. Being situated along the shoreline, the tides rose as strong winds held hands with the tumultuous drops of rain. Masa was devoured by the storm Havoc, which wrecked the entire city with rage, killing almost a third of its inhabitants and wiping virtually everything from the ground.
Matt’s university was among those who called for volunteers, and despite not being in the National Service class, he chose to go. At first, he wanted to be away from home. That’s because he never considered that house his home anyway, so he was somehow homeless. Besides, he’s been longing for freedom. But what he got here was something else.
He basked under the clear blue sky as he went out of the bus along with more than sixty students who came with him. Nathan volunteered with him as well, but that was for three different reasons. First, the Government will provide a certificate of appreciation for the volunteers. That would make him look cool. Second, this will help him raise his grades. And third, girls.
“We’ll be meeting a lot of them,” the blonde head snickers, putting his hands over Matt’s dark long hair. “We can sneak into different camps and get us a girlfriend, hey, Matt?”
“No.” Matt carried his knapsack and left off.
Misanthropic. That’s how he described himself. Matt hardly cared for other people and he hardly wanted to be cared for. He doesn’t like people at all. The only reason why he has to live with them is the fact that they exist. He was already having a hard time mingling with the people he knew, much more with strangers. He hated strangers. He level of trust have gone past negative zero, and meeting new people is none of his agenda.
But somehow, the universe puts a twist into our lives and make us follow like helplessly like a little puppy pulled the other way by the collar.
Meeting her was awkward.
Matt could still remember how it all happened. She was standing by the broken wall, five meters away from his workplace. Her brown hair covered her face, but Matt could see her bewildered expression.
He could have not minded her. After all, it was afternoon. The weather was hot, and it was his first time to hold the shovel and put some hollow blocks together. His teammates were just nuisance. If only he could kick those boys away so he could work on his own. He has work to do. But how could he not mind her, when she kept staring at him with a glance hotter than the summer sun?
Matt glared at her. She kept staring at him. He was irked.
“What?” He called out, putting his shovel aside. Matt’s look was enough to scare anyone away, especially with his tattoo blazing on his pale skin.
But she kept looking at him. Her mouth opened and formed an almost-inaudible sound, but he heard it. It was loud and clear, as if the wind itself has to echo it for him.
For a moment there, Matt didn’t know what she was talking about. He had to look around. Was she talking about the sunset? The homes? The wreck? He was flustered that he wasn’t able to notice went down from the stone wall and came to him with a jolt.
There was excitement in her voice, and the last thing Matt knew, she was already holding his arm.
He didn’t know what to feel. He wanted to shove her off so he could get back to his work. But he didn’t. He can’t. Not right now. The girl held his arms as if it was a something precious. She looked at the tattoo like it was an artwork hung on a gallery.
Matt’s eyes glared open. He didn’t know how to react. It was the first time he was touched after the longest time. His skin-ship between other human creatures have always been violent. But this time, he had a pair of gentle arms wrapped upon his slimy, sweaty arm. He felt his heart bursting inside his chest, his head about to explode.
“Bloaneslitte!” She said, her eyes round and brown. Matt could see her crooked teeth.
Matt’s classmates surrounded them. “He’s not Bloan-whatever, miss,” Nathan blurted out. “You got it wrong.”
But Matt knew what she was speaking about.
He read about it. Bloanslitte. It’s actually the reason why he had this tattoo in the first place. He was surprised someone knew about that story too. Why, it was an old tale and everybody might have forgotten all about it.
“Let go now,” Matt groaned.
“Ooops, sorry,” the girl apologized. She had to take a look one more time, and the loosened her grip on Matt’s arm. That’s when she noticed. The boys looked at her as if she was some kind of fanatic. Turning red, the girl bowed in apology and ran off like a rabbit finding her next hole.
“Damn, weird students from weird schools,” someone in the group says.
“I bet we’d be seeing lots of those here on Masa.”
“But where are the chicks, man? They’re the ones we’re supposed to see.”
“If only she was a chick. We’d be happy to let her stay, right Matt?”
Nathan nudged at Matt, who was standing still after that shock.
That was all he said, and the rest of his group went back to work. Matt got his shovel and started mixing the mortar. He wished he’d never see anyone like that during his stay. But he felt his cheeks felt hotter for the first time. He felt a gooey sensation like honey stayed on his arm even later on.
“Freaks.” Matt whispered as the group dispelled for their first dinner. The Dannecken University camp were huddled a swampy region by the bay. Everyone huddled to get their food. He was hungry, but he wasn’t interested to join. Instead, he grab an apple from Nathan’s bag and walked away. The farther, the better.
“I wouldn’t want to meet anyone like that during my two weeks here,” he muttered, disgusted. He could still feel the traces of the girl’s hands embracing the sweat and cement on his hands. “I want my peace and quiet.”
Back in school, he never liked to be with anyone. Instead, he always had a book to accompany him. Nathan just befriended him because of the grades. But Nathan’s better than no one anyway. Besides, that kid is an extreme extrovert. Somehow, Matt found his way to wade into the crowd without actually forcing himself.
Bringing a book now would be a bother, he thought. Besides, he’s too tired to even read. He just wanted to find his spot. A silent, lonely spot which he alone knows. Somewhere he can stay without being bothered.
He saw just the thing. A few meters from the wreck was a little eroded hill, making a nice, haunting view by the sunset. It had a big tree, and that’s all he needs. He could sleep on its branches or underneath it. Yeah, just like the old times.
It took him ten minutes to reach the sullen hill, guided by several post lights. Some are already flickering but at least one glowed. The light of the sunset is enough to lead him there. He could see a bench under the tree. Now that’s good. No, that’s actually better. As he came into the spot, the more he saw that it suits him perfectly. The wind blew fresh, despite the overlooking swamp which is the shoreline covered by trash. There were puddles, but he wouldn’t mind getting dirty.
There was a rustic gate, torn apart like a sheet of paper. Matt felt he was intruding. He could see pieces of windows and doors at the side. Surely, this must be someone’s garden. A big chunk of concrete stood by his right, a greater part of it missing uncannily. Looking down, Matt saw that the entire home tumbled into the ground. The traces of concrete, appliance and furniture went down the eroded hill.
“Pardon my intrusion,” he whispered as he sat on the stone bench. He wondered if the owners of the place is still alive. Biting into his apple, he lied down and relieved his painful back, looking at the stars shining directly beneath him. It was relieving. He never felt so tired before. His back ached and his muscles throbbed.
He shut his eyes as the wind blew him cold air. This is my place from now on.
Matt could hear the rustling of the waves from afar. He could feel the leaves skipping from the ground, blown by the wind to different directions. He could hear noises. Sounds from camps. The crackling of bonfires. The fluttering of night birds. But there was something uneasy about this place. Matt felt a sensation that something else is nearby. Like a shadow, looming over him.
Was it a ghost? Death? A monster? No, he tried to shake it off. Why was he reading those books anyway? But there is something, he thought. And when he opened his eyes, a pair of dark brown eyes were staring down at him. Long brown hair dangled above his face like hundreds of little willow vines.
It was her.
Matt must have cursed a dozen of times in his mind when he saw her face looming into his. “Damn it, damn it, damn it,” it kept echoing inside his aching head when he realized he wasn’t alone. “Was this freak stalking me? Damn it. I want to really punch her now.”
He jolted from his seat as the girl stepped back. Matt glared at her.
“Did I disturb you?” she asked, calm and curious. Her voice sounded a bit low compared to her excited pitchy tone earlier that morning.
“You freaking did,” he answered monotonously. Matt scratched his head, his other hand holding the apple. “Were you following me?” He snarled.
The girl looked sour. “No!” she piped. “I’ve been here hours ago!”
“What?” Matt groaned. He hadn’t seen her. He never suspected anyone was around when he came. If he did, he could have looked for another place.
Although this spot is just perfect for him.
“You didn’t notice me. I was sitting by the edge,” the girl explained. “I saw you come, but when you went to sleep, I thought I should stayed quiet.”
“You should’ve.” Matt groaned.
“Sorry. I was just looking,” the girl smiled embarrassingly. “At your tattoo.”
“What’s with the fandom?”
The girl blushed. “It was just the same. Like that book, Bloanslitte. The same picture on the cover.”
Now it was Matt’s turn to blush. The tattoo was imitated entirely from the book cover. He never expected anyone to read it. That book must have disappeared from libraries ages ago. Matt was surprised someone knew about it.
“The book we had from the resale shop had a torn cover. I never got to see the whole picture. But I was imagining,” the girl explained, “That that’s how it might have looked like.” She pointed to his tattoo.
He didn’t know what to say. He never talked to anyone before, especially about the things he liked the most. He only had two favorite things. Good books, is the first one.
“Hm,” he nods, as if telling her he understood why she acted like that that afternoon.
“Why are you here for?” she asked. “Don’t you have a camp?”
Matt was irked at that question. “Don’t you?”
The girl’s cheeks puffed up like a blowfish. “I wanted to go someplace quiet.” She sat down and sat like a baby inside an embryo, hugging her knees. Matt wanted the same thing.
“I want to rest.” he answered.
“I have disturbed you didn’t I?” the girl piped. “I’m sorry. You can go back to sleep now. I’ll be quiet.”
“I rather you go.”
“No way!” the girl piped. “I got here first!”
Matt would have wanted to go if he only knew of a place better than this. His face turned into a noticeable frown as he dragged himself to stand up. The girl noticed how he limped.
“You don’t have to go, I’ll be quiet. Like no one’s here with you. I only like to look at the moon,” she said in a huff, which stopped Matt. He didn’t want to go. But he didn’t want to have anyone else around him. Especially if it’s a stranger. Especially when the stranger is a girl.
“I won’t disturb you, I promise,” she raised her dirty, ink stained hand with a swear. “It could be scary up here. But if you’re there, I won’t be frightened as much.”
Matt silently dragged himself back to his bench. He could see her smile. The girl reached out her hand in a courteous manner, saying, “Since we’re going to be friends let’s—,”
“Don’t even think about that,” Matt cuts her off. “We’re not going to be friends. I’m not interested and don’t you even dare tell me your name.” he growled. Matt looked so angry that he could eat her up in a whole.
That was cold. The girl was stunned; it was probably the first time somebody responded like that. Matt thought she would be scared and run away. But her hand stayed erect with her listless, surprised expression. “So, that’s how it is,” she blushed redly. The girl slowly took back her arm and stood there for a moment, looking at him. There she goes again. Matt evaded her stare.
“You’re one strange person,” she remarks, going back to sit on the cement path covered with soil. “Well, I’m glad to meet you, Mr.—” she looked up. “Bloanslitte.”
She smiled with her snaggleteeth with a look that she like strangers.