The Girl Whose Name I remember

Entry Writchal #2
Tema: High School Romance


[There’s only a handful of fleeting memories you could remember in life.] [It came in many forms.] [Visions.] [Sounds.] [Feelings.] [And names.] [To remember all of it, is not an easy feat any person capable of doing.] [And if you could—] [You must be a happy person.]

“Accordingly, you only have one month.”

Short. Loud. And clear.

There’s no need for a whisper, nor any hesitation. The Doctor spoke, as if it is a fact written in some Q1 journal. With the facility this hospital provides, I have no doubt he could buy those paper with his pocket money alone.

But, not even here—not even this hospital could reach a meaningful conclusion on the nature of this disease.

“I see.”

“Your guardian is still uninformed in regards to this news. I believe you have the right to know this firsthand.”

The Doctor continued, sliding down the paper of what seems to be the result of his study. It’s tattered with signs of crumple all over. Lots of marks from black, red, and blue ink clashing across the neatly typed printout. From the strokes alone, you could sense the stress endured by whoever was holding the pen. Even more so, when you saw the strain on his face.

“That’s all I have to inform you.”

Though his voice denotes a matter-of-fact tone, his body shows otherwise. Clenched was his fist, wrinkled was his brow. A frown any child would consider scary, but all I could see is a thoughtful adult.

I’m sure he had taken some heavy consideration before this.

“Can I…have some time alone?”

“I will call back if I ever have anything else.”

The doctor abruptly walks out of my room and closed the door shut in the most ordinary way possible. Not a gentle minuscule slide, nor a slam in hurry. It’s the relaxing sound effect you could hear in every visual novel whenever a door closes.

I somberly relaxed my body after an eternity of five minutes sitting upright. The folded curtain let the sunlight paint the bedsheet in dreary orange. It’s warmth reminds me of the girl this hand once interlocked with.

“…one month.”

It’s already established and well-known that the ‘mood’ human feels is simply a mixture of several neurotransmitters changing the composition of hormones inside your body.

Dopamine, histamine, serotonin, epinephrine, I couldn’t really name every one of it.

With its fluctuation, the cells in your body responded differently. The chemistry of feelings. A chaotic dance between the fleeting life of several molecule in accordance to the ephemeral moments in life.

Including moments of happiness.

…Do I have to define what happiness is?

Surely people have different views of what they consider as ‘happiness’.

Working late on an assignment in sunset-painted classroom.

Blue sky with summer haze on the off-chance unlocked rooftop.

Blooming lilies of varying colors during the entrance ceremony.

A closed space just the two of us, under the confinement of yellow, checker-patterned umbrella.

…Honestly, a slight hint of relief washed over me as I recall each of it. And the end of these dreamlike days, inching ever closer with each relief.

Satisfactory Downfall Immunity Disorder.

An abnormality where one’s own happiness reduce one’s very lifespan.

The kind of disease you can easily found on those sappy, high-school romance tragedy manga or novel.

I made up that name on the spot. SDID. Makes it sound cooler. Besides, it’s easier to remember than nothing.

I am the first and only case of it occurring.

Fluctuations of hormone triggered from an increase in several neurotransmitters. Just the right combination, and every human is capable of recognizing such emotion as happiness. It works slightly differently on me—this body. Rather, I’d call it an extra step.

That very same combination, disrupts the immune system inside this body. Surely it’d be alright if the Doctor could just figure out which part is dysfunctional. Unfortunately, there’s no pattern to its symptoms.

Several medical check and CT scans concluded with a vague result that might describe what was happening every time the symptoms appeared.

Signs of aging.

An incurable disease which led every living animal into its inevitable death—as far as I’m concerned.

At a glance, nothing much changes, and only I could feel it. The feeling of consciously approaching death’s embrace. Physical exertion becomes weaker. Terminally-ill and depressing thoughts encroaches your mental. Life as you know it, seems to be hurrying you to the finish line.

As time went on, the progression shows no sign of halting. No longer just something I could feel, but something that shows. My body begin to lose its red hue, increasingly pale with each passing day. Strands of hair turning white without me noticing.

The only surprising thing was I managed to retain my youthful look. Not that it matters, when the cells inside my body are dying.

Unironically, my favorite reads are fictions concerning thought experiment on immortality. The loneliness it brings, or the inherent suffering within. Altogether it pieces the what-if consequences stemming from limitless choice. Eventually alluding it into an illusion of having no choice. It has been so, way back before I realize something is wrong with my body. Perhaps a coincidence. Though I never take credit preferring such read as a consolation for SDID.

On the other hand, I disliked sappy stories concerning terminally-ill patient with limited deadline. Maybe I should call it deathline? Such stories’ context was reversed from immortality, it grants the person virtually limitless choice in expense of facing one absolute answer it couldn’t change. Hence why anytime the person in question survives, it felt as if denigrating the whole ordeal of the story. It just felt wrong for them to survive. Perhaps it’s an attempt of deluding myself from SDID, or I’m probably too narrow-minded.

I suppose deep down I’m simply trying to justify my own inevitable death.

“One…month, huh.”

A sigh escaped as I laid down my body, blanketed over the dim sunset.

At moments like these, usually the terminally-ill heroine’s monologue began to ramble. Recalling the happy memories and whatnot. Believe me, now I can relate to that way better than I used to. Only then, for me to realize I don’t even have such luxury.

A slight remembrance of my happier past could hasten the one-month lifespan I clutch ever so loosely.

I want to remember. I desperately want to be happy before I die.

But I want to live. I want to see her once more. I want to tell her a lot of things. I want her to be happy.

Tears began to stream their way to the bedsheet.

I couldn’t describe the internal conflict happening inside. Has anyone ever feels so much torment over deciding what to feel in their life? Could any human ever decide their own feelings?

If I was born normal I wouldn’t have spared a single thought on it.

This habit of mine appeared soon after I was diagnosed with SDID. Every time the sun sets, I wept. The thoughts of what I would feel next time sent shivers throughout my body. The memories from that day keeps coming back to remind me of how happy I once was. And once again, inflict me with the pain of suffering from happiness.

I guess without the SDID context, the previous line sounds quite sappy for a wholesome romance novel, right?

“Haha.”

I let out a laugh, a momentary flash of happiness slips out of my mind.

“That’s another day off my life.”

And this habit is the reason why I have only a month left.

So, should we begin? The long exposition that is my past. A lot of people probably will be less than enthusiastic hearing this—most of them will be bored. But at least let me take rein in the pacing, all right? Let me savor and indulge in this fleeting happiness which costs my literal life.

I cried, I smiled, and I began to chant the first mantra.

“Where should I begin?”


It rained on that day.

Tsuyu…”

Plum rain. The downpour happened arbitrarily despite the clear blue sky a few minutes ago. I had forgotten…no, I think I never brought an umbrella to school, so I had to take a shelter on a nearby gazebo. My house was still blocks away, there’s no way I could dash through the rain without getting drenched.

I had light clothing and my shoulders were wet. It’s cold, but I didn’t mind. Usually when it rain during these times, it lasted for hours on end. I wonder if I’m going to be trapped in this little gazebo until evening.

“I might end up with a cold by then.”

The first shiver went down my spine. Feeling restless, I decided to do some activity just to kill time. I ransacked through my bag searching for anything I could spend my time on. I found nothing of interest.

Schoolbooks, notebooks, pencil box.

To be completely honest, I was not the kid with many hobbies. I have certain fondness to writing, but that was it.

Do I really have to read the math book? I could have done the homework given, but somehow it felt inappropriate to do it before I reached home. That left me with social studies, which I clearly have no fond memories of.

Ah.

It’s the sharpener I lost. I had bought the sharpener a few weeks ago when we went shopping to a fancy mall out of town. Why had I bought this? I seldom used pencil. The design was not even cute, but it’s simply eye-catching. A peculiar hexagonal prism with yellow outlining.

So it was not lost, after all.

Wonder if I got any pencil I could use this on. I reached inside my bag for my pencil box. During that slight window, I was unaware—

A slight ruffle followed with a loud thud. Someone sat beside me. Another kid, clad in drenched yellow opaque raincoat. It was so drenched, splashes of water sloppily dripped from every crease and edge. The immediate vicinity became slightly colder.

That person sat still for a few seconds, clouds of white emanating in quick succession from inside the hood. Perhaps tired. After it subsided, that person took the hood off. To my surprise, it was a girl. Her hair, messy with many curly protrusion. Though short-haired, her facial features was smooth-lined.

Droplets of sweat glisten her overall appearance, complementing the reflective, wet-raincoat.

“Umm.”

Her face twitched and she turned over to look at me.

“What’s the point of using raincoat if you sweat that much?”

That question probably was not the best conversation starter.

Yet she answered anyway, “I like to run when it rains.” Her voice tone was childish, but she said as if my question was rhetorical.

Keeping the conversation going, “Won’t you get scolded if you got home like that?”, I asked.

“I should be the one asking that.”

For a moment, I saw her lips bent down into a suggestive frown. That probably was the sign to end the conversation, so I sealed my mouth shut. I was simply asking out of curiosity, but most often than not, people didn’t take it lightly.

Forgetting my initial objective, I sat in silence, occasionally examining the not-so-brand-new sharpener I was about to use. My seating partner, on the other hand, had taken out a book and a pencil and began sketching in earnest. ‘Isn’t it a bad idea to do it while raining?’, ‘Why is it your face have to be so close to the book?’, ‘Do you like drawing?’—questions began to pop one after another inside me. I had stared at her intensely for quite some time until she finally noticed my gaze.

“…Is there something you would like to ask?”

I began to arrange the order of questions I had in mind. My mouth stuttered as I couldn’t catch up with the events going on inside and outside. I was nonplussed by her question.

“Can I watch you draw?”

It was an outrageous question. She knitted her eyebrow for a while, perhaps baffled by my question just as much—if not more than I was. People have been looking at me this way for a while. Previously, I blamed my choice of questions during moments like these, which clearly was not the best I could come up with. Lately though, I have a vague idea perhaps they were baffled after looking at my expression, which definitely was not the best I could come up with.

After what seemed to be a long five seconds, she went back to drawing. I was left frozen and hanging.

Was what I had thought—

“I like drawing,” until she answered. “I cannot draw at school or at home, so I have to make use of the limited time I have in-between.”

It was sort of captivating for me listening to her sincere answer (?) using a childish—no, maybe it’s closer to boyish, tone. The downpour outside was terribly loud, but I could hear her voice just fine. Instead, it accentuate her voice as it reverberated throughout the little space we’re in.

I always considered myself as a poor communicator, hence my dislike of social studies. But in that short few hours with her, the conversation flowed naturally. Like a father and son playing catch. A pen pal exchanging letter side-by-side. We proceeded to talk about each other for quite a while, growing restless with each passing time as the rain gradually subside. Knowing the rain would eventually end, I did my best to keep her interest at bay.

Before it subsided, though, she ended the conversation first.

“I’m out of pencil.”

Turns out, she had been drawing with spare pencils. After one was no longer sharp, she took out another, already sharp and ready to sketch.

Bewildered, I was looking if there was any way to prolong our encounter. ‘What should I do?’, I could do nothing as she put away the book and pencils on her lap into the slightly damp shoulder bag.

Oh, the sharpener. I held onto this firmly all this time, haven’t I?

“Umm! It’s still raining outside, so, if you’d like!”, I declared abruptly as I hand out my sharpener.

Was that the right choice to make? Would she stay for longer? Wait, does she even willing to take it? Why am I handing it over to her if I could just lend it?

The response I received though, was neither a refusal nor acceptance. She took the sharpener, briskly pull the raincoat hood over her head, and said—

“Thanks.”

She ran away into the rain. Her dashing figure, quickly diminishing as she went further and further. Her raincoat was too wide and baggy on the underside with a checkered black and white pattern. You could easily mistook her as a floating traffic cone from afar.

“I don’t even know her name.”

And I easily spotted my biggest mistake right then. I was too absorbed talking with her, I have no idea about her identity nor how to contact her. All she left was an unforgettable memory, impression, and a lingering warmth on my left palm.

On the way home, I was stricken with regret. The whole night, I was contemplating the novice mistake I just did, swearing not to do it again.

It took an anxious night and the next day to find out that she was also a 4th-grade student in my school. I was struck with relief and elation, contrary to my expectations.

That was how I met Tsuyu, the person closest to me, and the most likely perpetrator of my inevitable death.


Tsuyu was a quiet, but vehement girl. I learnt that over the course of Grade School. Ever since that day, we have been meeting each other on the same spot after school. I was the one who proposed the idea, because seeing her sincerely answering while her hand sketched away in earnest gave a warmth feeling inside me no one else could give. Not even my family. It was Tsuyu alone who provided me with such warmth.

Tsuyu came from a well-off family. As expected, her parents were quite strict with the limits of activity she could do. At home, she was expected to be an obedient and capable kid, meanwhile our school was pushing her to befriend everyone while maintaining the status of an honor student.

It was to no one surprise, that the only time left for her, was the small window between home and school—which granted her the freedom of being herself. Apparently, the gazebo was her main base of operation for quite a while. At one point, I realized I have been taking her precious time alone.

‘No, it’s fine. I like it better with you here.’ That line caught me off-guard. I felt a tinge down my heart. If I learned anything during our time together under the gazebo, it was to voice my thoughts clearly and immediately instead of keeping it inside. Tsuyu had an expressionless look due to constantly maintaining it both at home and school. It must be tiring for her having to do it all the time, so I wholeheartedly smile in her stead. ‘Yeah, I like you too, Tsuyu.’

Oh, Tsuyu also liked drawing. In fact, all she did whenever we were together at that time was dutifully drawing with her face an inch away from the sketchbook. While it’s true I had more interest in observing and questioning Tsuyu, it’s not like the thought of looking at her drawing never crossed my mind.

To put it bluntly, it was abysmal. No, maybe avant-garde? One time, I saw her drawing an object similar to a mountain.

‘No, it’s a capybara.’ And I instantly knew why her parents had banned her from drawing.

While there was a momentary restlessness nearing the end of our 6th year, we had grown accustomed to each other and it gradually diminished. There was one talk at that time, it was raining too like when we first met. Tsuyu was acting unusual and I couldn’t really grasp her intention. She had asked a lot of question, as if reversing our everyday role—not that I mind, I was pleased, even. Turned out that was her attempt at parting with me at that moment. She planned to left things as it was without leaving a single goodbye.

To no avail, though, since coincidentally I entered the same Middle School as her. What she didn’t know, though, I had planned to do so from the get go, putting much effort in study which I never expected was capable of doing. Such is the power of love. I had no idea back then, though.

At our graduation, when I revealed the Middle School we’re getting in was the same all along, she broke down in tears. ‘I’m not…gonna cry. No, I mean…thank you.’ That was the first time I had seen Tsuyu genuinely smiled in front of me.

During our 1st-year of Middle School, Tsuyu still put up with the whole facade, albeit showing a bit restraint. Her time spent around me gradually increased. Instead of the limited hours inside the gazebo we used to sit, we had plenty of time walking home together after school.

‘You know, I never saw you doing anything whenever we’re together. Even right now.’ It was endearing to see her gradually opening up to me. What seemed to be a case of me interrogating her had mellowed out. Now I knew she was also interested in me. Although I had to admit her approach was so, so indirect, and with it confusion was bound to happen.

‘Come to think of it. I spent most of the time observing and talking with you.’ But that didn’t bother me. Not at all. It’s Tsuyu, after all. Her method of inquiring instead drove me to mull over several aspects I had never even considered previously.

‘It’s my inquisitive nature, I guess? I liked to know things, especially if someone is willing to answer.’ For one, I realized that it was not wrong of me to feel curious about a lot of things. Sure, in Grade School I might have had a case of social anxiety since not everyone was willing to answer like Tsuyu. I had blamed myself for being nosy, prying into every little detail that went deep into personal matters. Tsuyu helped me realize that it was okay to be curious, but not everyone was keen to answer so I need to be careful with my approach.

‘That’s not what I’m talking about.’ And most of the time, Tsuyu responded with a sidelong glance at me while pouting. It would take a fool to mistook her red cheek as an illusion painted over by the setting sun, and perhaps I was a fool at that time.

It didn’t matter that she was a bit reluctant to shower me with various questions, she probably never experienced showing interest to someone her age. I knew better though. Everyone kept her at a distance and instead showered her in praise and compliments. Exemplary honor student, I must say.

‘Don’t worry, it’s not you drawing that I only like, it’s watching you that I like, Tsuyu.’ Usually after then, Tsuyu would left her mouth gaping, as if trying to tell me something, but forcefully shut it close, as if stopping midway sentence. I told her it’s fine to blurt out anything on her mind without reservation, but she’d only shook her head, dismissing it with a disheartened expression.

‘I like to draw.’

‘I know. Seeing you drawing made me feel relieved, for some reason.’

‘I will draw you.’

‘…Well, I must say you have to improve on that department first, don’t you? I’m quite confident on my looks, even though not as charming as yours, Tsuyu.’

Yeah, I was truly a fool back then.

Still, small chatter like these, accompanied by orange glow from the west and occasional afternoon breeze remained as a precious memory within me. Looking at Tsuyu, listening to her activities for the day, the way she walked, and the effort she put at everything. You know. It just made me happy.


It hadn’t rained yet on that day.

The sun was already setting, it’s probably 4 to 5 PM in the afternoon. Basking under that afternoon glow, two shadow walked idly next to each other, rhythm matching and all.

Perhaps a leftover from PE class exercise, exhaustion was apparent on my face. Even mundane task such as breathing became taxing. I simply dismissed it as me neglecting my own physical health. Tsuyu had no PE class that day though, but her breathing was just as rough as mine.

“Fever?”

“Maybe.”

Tsuyu had something to say after school. Considering we’re approaching end of term—it’s highly probable she meant to address graduation since it’s our 3rd-year. With graduation, came high school and its merry band of worry to be dealt with. But we addressed that problem much earlier. We’ve been discussing about our choice of high school. We didn’t want a repetition of what happened at Grade School, after all. At least not Tsuyu, who was fervent about it.

We decided to pursue a somewhat renowned public high school. As expected, Tsuyu’s parent was proven quite difficult to convince. They were adamant on enlisting Tsuyu to a prestigious private high school out of town. I had initially planned to do the same thing as previous, studying to the bone in order to get in the same high school as her, if there was no other choice. ‘No, let me handle this.’, Tsuyu replied with conviction, banishing my worry to the back of my mind.

Several days later, Tsuyu ran to me in exhilaration. She spread her arm open and hugged me on the spot. ‘My parents approved me going there!’ It was rare for Tsuyu to openly show her emotion, much less grinning from ear-to-ear. Of course I was happy. Overjoyed, even. Returning her embrace, despite somewhat embarrassed myself. After all, when will I ever get the chance of Tsuyu displaying physical affection again? Although that night I was suddenly hit by lethargy and had a fever for several days.

Up to this day, I still had no idea how Tsuyu managed to convince her parents, though. When questioned, she only answered ‘I have not put up with everything for years in vain.’, which, as someone who knew her better than most, I could validate and agree with.

Now, what did she have to say?

I had a hunch. Two hunches, apparently. One bad, one good, No, maybe both were good in a sense?

First-

“I finished drawing you.”

Tsuyu halted in front of me, handing out a simple brown file easily passed off as important document.

…That was a surprise. So that’s what this was all about. I had thought Tsuyu died down on drawing, or at least pursuing it. It had been a while since I last saw her drawing too, apparently. The last thing I remembered was her drawing an odd ball of spherical apparatus and she said it was a doll’s face. That was long, long, months ago. Maybe during 2nd-year. I knew Tsuyu couldn’t draw at school and at home, so it had to be our pastime whenever she did, so whenever did she draw this?

I had set the expectation bar abysmally low, prepared to be disappointed at any moment. As it was, voicing it would only be disrespectful so I simply accepted the file she had given.

Depicted was a girl, from head-to-toe, top-to-bottom. Wearing a sailor uniform, matching those of our school. The overall image was…how should I put it. Remarkable. The paper had its fair share of erasure and redraw, too much, in fact. Even in a single glance I could tell this drawing had been thoroughly erased and redrawn, a lot. Traces of the previous drawing were overlapping with each other, giving the final result a shade of tremendous effort.

Her eyes, gentle as a caring mother, from what seemed to be a hollow uneven circle. Her hair, each strand delicately drawn flowing seamlessly, borne from a rough, simple geometric convex shape. Her hands, fingers drawn intricate after a shadow of stubby mushroom with five head. Uniform. Skirt. Legs. Everything was drawn after many trial and error.

It was me.

A surge of emotion well up inside me. Indescribable mix of joy, delight, and relief. Tsuyu had drawn me, this much, for how long? How many redraw had she done? What purpose did this drawing entail?

I had lowered the drawing, and my view was replaced by a figure of a lone girl. Standing upright, slightly trembling. Hair not as short as it was in 6th-Grade, but still you could pass it as pretty boyish. My eyes were completely enamored by the look on her face, and I could only bet she was completely enamored by mine too. I was not stupid enough to think of her blushing as mere tricks of the sunset.

“I remember you said you’d draw me a long time ago. It was two years ago.”

“I did.”

“Then this drawing—this paper had been drawn since then?”

“Yes.”

“I never saw you draw this during our time together.”

“Because I’m not doing it in front of you.”

“…How did you manage to draw without looking at me?”

All my questions had been rhetorical. Downright nonsensical, even. I could infer the answer easily, but the fact remained that I needed confirmation from Tsuyu—I had to ask them. Perhaps as a result from an increase in my palpitations. The fast, beating-heart not only churn out blood flowing through my vein at a faster rate, carried with it also thoughts of varying degree.

“…I‘ve been watching you all this time. I ingrained your look, in my mind, everyday. When no one is watching, I tried to recall your image and draw it out on that canvas. I was struggling at first, even I considered to give up after the first try—knowing you were the one who said I need to improve my skills before I could even draw you. But I kept trying, drawing a different version of you each day better than the previous one.

As time flies, I realized my eyes followed you everywhere. I began to notice the minute details. Your actions, your voice, your words. I wasn’t simply looking at your appearance, and it helped me depict you even better in such an unexpected way. Yet, I could never bring myself to feel satisfied with the result. Because the very next day, I found something new from looking at you.

You are mesmerizing.

Every day you seem to dazzle even brighter than the previous day. I knew I had to redraw everything all over when I saw you. And I knew my eyes will be occupied by you for the next day. It never ceased, the cycle never stopped. For 1035 days.

That was the time it took for me to realize this feeling.”

Tears began trickling down my face without obstruction. Tsuyu uttered every sentence punctually, with window in-between just enough to confer the meaning and prepare for the next one.

Tsuyu was a quiet, but vehement girl. But to me, she was simply vehement and no longer quiet. At least, she tried not to. And that made me happy, more than anything else. This warmth, was it because I’m relieved Tsuyu have been paying attention to me? Did these tears bore the same emotion as Tsuyu during our Grade School graduation?

“I like you.”

An unfathomable amount of happiness. Too much. that I couldn’t contain. My heart beats even louder, almost seemingly painful. At one point, my vision blurred. Tsuyu was there, but I couldn’t see her. It’s painful. Perhaps the tears were blocking my vision. Well, no matter. I should give Tsuyu my reply. Immediately. If not, something bad would happen.

I like you too’, but before I could mutter those words, my legs gave out and I collapsed in front of Tsuyu.


High school was a bliss hidden in disguise, blanketed over death threat. Perhaps it’s more appropriate to call it hypocrisy.

Tsuyu had opened up to me, to say the least. She showered me with affection, and I replied in kind. It didn’t occur to me as a problem not knowing what our relationship was. Tsuyu must have noticed it too, but didn’t pursue it any further, As long as we conveyed our feelings mutually, happiness followed.

To tell the truth, I had a vague idea about SDID during early high school—that something wasn’t right with my body. The connection was simple. The more time I spent with Tsuyu, the weaker my constitution came to be. I suppose it was not an exaggeration that I fell into a comatose state for a few days because Tsuyu confessed to me back then.

But the connection was just absurd. For the first time I delve deep in thought, trying to find conjecture that fitted what was happening with the connection I made. Deep down, I understood my brain was simply averting the worst outcome—the one it had not desired, that’s why I kept using the alibi.

The happier I get, the weaker I am.

It sounded straight silly. Outrageous, even. Simple as I was, back then I stubbornly believed the only way out from this miserable line of thought was to become happy. Forget about the unnecessary worry, and instead bask myself in happiness while I still can.

Tsuyu would not be pleased either, if I told her about my conjecture. I had worried she would blame herself for putting my life on the line, just for her sake.

Eventually, the Doctor figured it out. The truth came to light one day. It wasn’t like flickering candle in a dark room as much as shining a 1000 lumen flashlight in front of me. The truth blinded me without any reservation, shoving reality onto my eyes despite my hardest attempt to avert my gaze.

To put it bluntly, it was an episode of depression.

Ironic how those days were the only way to prolong my lifespan. Thinking back on it only made me feel even worse, nauseating my stomach. I couldn’t eat, taste, nor feel. Hollowness enveloped my entire being. At that rate, I would die faster from malnutrition than the irrational disorder I exclusively suffer.

‘Let’s take a walk.’ It took only a moment for Tsuyu to drag me out of my depressive episode. I couldn’t believe how easy it was for me to be happy just from seeing her standing in my room. Relishing in guilt of feeling such emotion would mean we have less time together. I had cried in silence.

It…rained on that day. Drizzles of lightweight raindrops.

We took a walk. My first one after several days of shutting myself off from the outside world. ‘Use the other hand,’ I selfishly told Tsuyu, so her right hand would be available. She obeyed, without hesitation. I took hold of her right with my left, our fingers intertwining. The grip was very tight, it probably left a mark on her hand. Yet I couldn’t care less. I had one, and only one thought—that was to seek the warmth which only Tsuyu could ever provide. The warmth she left me with ever since our first meeting. I had light clothing and my right shoulder was damp.

But it’s not cold.

Tsuyu was warm.


Tsuyu brought me back to life. It might be an exaggeration, but I felt grateful for her all the same. To put it in layman terms, I would be willing to die for her. Meaning I chose happiness over sorrow. It wasn’t like I’m putting the SDID on back burner, but it definitely dropped down in my list of worries. If I have to choose between spending my life in eternal sorrow or a short-lived relationship with Tsuyu, I’ll choose the latter without a doubt.

And that was exactly what transpired for the past few weeks. Tsuyu suddenly became attentive and gentler than ever after the day we walked under the same umbrellla. Perhaps we were both worried the whole affair will happen again, so we refrained from confessing each other. This time, it might not just end with comatose. I might die. Tsuyu must have noticed this.

I decided not to tell Tsuyu about the disorder. Since I was a poor actor, Tsuyu probably already picked up everything from the moment she confessed. But she never pushed the matter, not even once.

During these melancholic days, we had spent more time together than ever, even in school. Such as wasting our lunch break on the rooftop, contemplating and exchanging whatever came to our mind while gazing at the sky. We kept at it, even if it’s Winter right now. I didn’t mind the cold, of course, because I wore the gloves Tsuyu gave me.

“The broadcast said it won’t snow for another week.”, Tsuyu said, the clouds above moving about. A small sigh escaped her mouth, forming a patch of white cloud as she breathe.

“Can I, be honest with you?”, Tsuyu knitted her brow, her face visibly shaken and unnerved. Truthfully, I wanted to tell Tsuyu about the disorder, but I couldn’t bear the pain of knowing she would blame herself for my death. It’s Tsuyu. I knew she would. The last thing I wanted was Tsuyu killing herself in order to follow me. The frightening thing was that she might do just that. If at all, I just wanted Tsuyu to live on happily in my stead, as someone who was not born to be happy.

“No, you can’t,” I replied curtly, “But, know that I also wanted to be honest with you all this time, okay?” After all, I was torn apart at the possible outcome. If Tsuyu was reluctant and decided to left me for good, that would torment me for eternity. Knowing Tsuyu though, she probably would accept the reality wholeheartedly and strive to be by my side until the end. I’m worried I’d be too happy hearing her reply and just die on the spot. It’s hilarious imagining Tsuyu’s response to my abrupt death, but I’d be dead before I even know it.

Huh, apparently I was already at the point where I could joke about my own demise. Maybe I was not as reluctant to die as I initially thought.

“Then, let’s end this.”

My heart skipped a beat. It felt like something plunged deep inside my heart. What did she meant by ‘end’?

“Something have been weighing on your mind, but you never tell me about it. No…I believe, you cannot tell me about it. In that case, the only thing I could do to help is to forget about it.”

Tsuyu stood up, her face strained into a forced smile.

“I know that, but I just can’t. I cannot simply forget about you. And all the scenarios that I envision didn’t help the lhe least bit.”

She was on the verge of tears.

“I’m scared. I don’t know what to do because I have no idea what you’re going through.”

It eventually builds up, and the dam overflowed.

I had no idea Tsuyu was in this much pain. I was being selfish all this time, and Tsuyu had to bear with the uncertainty and anxiety as a consequence. She might have fret that I turned out this way because of her. Everyday, ever since the day she confessed to me.

I never gave her an actual reply.

Not to say I didn’t have any. Closer to I couldn’t put it into words.

And her trepidation probably peaked when I went absent for days after I knew about the condition. I shut myself alone without considering Tsuyu’s feelings. It must have took her a considerable amount of courage to enter my room that day. I remember her hand trembled along the way when we walked under the umbrella.

Right, Tsuyu is also in pain.

And that’s because of me trying to avoid pain.

“December 25th,” I interjected, “I promise I will tell you everything on that day.”

I decided to tell Tsuyu everything. My condition. My feelings. And perhaps my end. But I need time to arrange my words carefully, so I had to postpone it until Christmas, when school is over.

If I tell her everything at that moment, I was afraid her determination would waver. She was already a step ahead by willing to forget about me. It was a step in the right direction, and I didn’t want to deter her conviction. My own determination might waver if I saw her broke down in tears right then and there, too.

“So let’s minimize contact until then, alright?” It was December 1st, so we had a considerable amount of time before the promised day. Honestly, it was probably my silly idea at work to choose December 25th, but I also didn’t want to bother Tsuyu with end-of-term exams and whatnot. She had a long life ahead, after all.

“…Then let me do one last thing.”

Hm? It was rare for Tsuyu to ask for permission. Come to think of it, Tsuyu never asked me for a favor, not even when she had to persuade her parents for letting her enter a public high school.

I was the one who wanted her to forget about me, either way. One last favor to entertain her might be okay. Free of charge. My farewell gift, since I won’t be able to give her anymore.

“Sure.”

Tsuyu, startled at my response, briskly walked over to me. Her arms reached out and I prepared myself, probably a final embrace before we part. I needed to calm my heart and stay still, assuming the worst might happen at any time if I ever felt too much happy. Because whatever Tsuyu did, it will undoubtedly make me happy. Her hand landed on both my shoulder, as she pull her face close to mine—

—and kissed me.

My heart beats loudly. It struck a pain in my chest with each beat. The kiss went on for a long winding 30-seconds or so. At which point I had to remain still.

Oh, this is bad. I couldn’t contain how happy I am right now.

Tsuyu finally took a step back, and ran over to the school building. Leaving me alone, dazed at what just happened.

Good thing I didn’t fall unconscious this time.

My knees though, gave out either way. And I just realized I was grinning from ear-to-ear. Good grief. She just made it harder for me to continue living.

The very next day, I had a huge case of fever and was hospitalized. Then the Doctor told me I only have one month left to live.


How long has it been?

Honestly, there was not much point in counting it down. Even in the face of death, I still sought happiness by reminiscing what little memories I held dear—the short life I experienced.

I am bedridden.

All of my hair have turned completely white. My skin is pale as a corpse. Even moving an inch became an arduous task to overcome.

Lethargic. That’s what it boils down to. I am very, very tired. Maintaining my consciousness felt like a tiresome burden.

Terrified. My heart is not prepared. I couldn’t close my eyes despite desperately wanting to do so. I feared if I close my eyes, that would be the end of me. The last I saw life. Ended right then and there, alone.

I couldn’t keep the promise after all, Tsuyu.

I wished I had written down a letter. Anything that could convey this love I had to return. I want at least Tsuyu…I want Tsuyu to know how I feel. But I couldn’t move. let alone write.

I want to sleep. I don’t want to die. I wish Tsuyu was beside me.

The sunset…the afterglow. I wonder if Tsuyu is heading back home from school. How did she fare in school without me? She must be fine, though. She could put up a facade for a long time.

“Ah…”, now that I recall, “it’s the last day.”

Christmas Eve. Tomorrow is the promised day. I promised to explain everything and lay my feelings bare on that day. I defnitely have to tell her.

Perhaps the Doctor was being considerate. Perhaps one month was the best case scenario. Things just don’t go the way you expected. He told me it was according to my condition at that time, after all. Apparently the reaper had his scythe on my neck closer than I ever imagined.

“Then, let me grant your wish.”

A shadow of a person was casted on me. The sunset was very bright and I couldn’t make out whoever was standing next to me. How did he manage to enter the room in the first place? I must have noticed when the door was opened, because it was right at the other end of this person.

“Who…are you?”, I let out the faintest of voice, doubting the person could hear.

“An apparition. A spirit. Ghost. I have been called by a lot of terms, feel free to call me with whatever you like.”

“Why…”, are you here?

“You don’t have to voice it out loud. I can hear your inner voice just as fine.”

Ah, I see. That’s convenient.

“As for why am I here, truth be told, I have but a vague idea myself.”

A figment of my imagination, then?

“It might be closer to what your kin would consider as ‘supernatural’.”

Huh. I’m not particularly fond of the term myself. I won’t be satisfied with anything without any sort of plausible explanation.

“Even if your disease was a part of it?”

SDID have some plausible explanation which I could come to term with. I won’t go as far as supernatural, though I agree being the only person suffering from it is…unnatural.

“Then that just means your kin have not yet reached the capability to explain my existence as plausible.”

Heh…and I wouldn’t live to see the day.

“True, and that’s why I’m here.”

What are you, Santa?

“Sometimes, kids call me just that. I have but one purpose everytime I materialize, and that was to grant an offering of consolation to those nearing their end.”

Everyone?

“Not everyone.”

Am I special, then?

“You can call it that way.”

Then you can grant any wish?

“With a corresponding value of setback, technically yes.”

Truly? Then what would be the consequence of me wishing the end of the world?

“…That’s something your kin better off not knowing.”

Haha, I’m joking. It’s just in my nature to be inquisitive, forgive me. If you can read my mind, then you have at least an idea what I wished for, right?

“True. I was simply guiding you to accept that wish.”

Then, I wish to fulfill my promise to Tsuyu. Let me live until tomorrow.

“Very well.”

…I thought prolonging my life was out of question?

“There’s still uncertainty in your demise. But with your wish, that could be altered so your immediate future is certain.”

Which means I might die today, but this way I could certain I will not die today.

“If you prefer it that way.”

Then, what would the consequence be?

“Tsuyu will forget about you.”

…What a very convenient development. Wait, does that mean she would not appear tomorrow?

“That would depend on her answer.”

Ah. So Tsuyu also have a part in this, after all?

“As a consequence of your wish.”

…I see. May I entrust you to convey a message to her, then?

“I’m afraid I could not.”

Well. It won’t hurt to try. Would you please convey to her, ‘I like you too’, before she forgets me? If she would eventually forget about me, then there should be no problem.

“…No. That is something you have to convey yourself.”

No negotiation, then. Does this mean I could close my eyes without worry?

“Yes. Take a good sleep for now.”

Thanks. I’m tired myself. I just…want to end this, as soon as possible.

Ah. I can’t wait tomorrow to come. Wait, could I even move from the bed? Will I even be able to walk over to school? I should’ve wished for it before he left. Just as the questions emerged, exhaustion washed over me and my eyes closed shut naturally.

Entry Writchal #2
Tema: Highschool Romance


The sky sparkles with stars. Sitting next to a void, I retrace my memory.

It was summer, I was moving to another city with my family.

I sit in the car, looking through the car’s window. Flowers blooming along the road, as I wonder where this journey will lead me to.

The car stopped, I stepped out and see a huge field full of blooming flowers.

“We will take a short rest here, you father needs some rest. Don’t play too far, the flowers are tall, be careful not to get lost okay?” Said my mother.

“Okay.”

I run through the small path, grabbing a dandelion in my hand, feeling the wind touches my body. Then I see a girl next to a tree in the middle of the field. Sitting on a swing, waist-length brown hair, round eyes, dressed in a white one piece. She smiles and waves to me, her other hand holds the sun hat on her head as the wind breezes gently.

“My name is-“ she tips my mouth before I finished talking.

“Sshhh, the monsters will hear you.” She whispered.

“What monsters?” I whispered to her.

“Look over there, can’t you see it?” She pointed to the flower bushes behind me.

I look toward the bushes, something shakes the bushes. I feel tense, my legs shake, I want to run but I just can’t. The thing gets closer and closer.

“BAAAAA!” She shouts behind me as a dog comes out from the bushes.

I lose balance and fall. She is laughing at me, mocking me with her laugh. The dog barks to me, as if falling to the ground isn’t enough. I try to hold my tears, but I end up wiping my eyes anyway. She comes closer to me, lowering her body. She lends me her hand, still laughing.

“I’m just kidding, there are no monsters. I’m sorry okay, you can stop crying now.” She said.

I lift my head, she picks the dandelion in my hand and put it on my right ear.

“Will you forgive me now?” She asked.

“Sniff… sniff… yes.” What a good boy, just like my dog.

She mocks me again. Her dog snuggles to her, wagging it’s tail.

“His name is Puffy. I found him sitting on the side if the road 2 years ago on a trip with my family. His condition was miserable when I found him, so I adopted him.” She said.

“So what brings you here?” She asked.

“I… I am moving with my family. What about you?”

“I often come to this field, it’s beautiful here. Whenever I feel lonely, or when I miss my father, I always come here.” She answered.

“I used to play with my father here, but now it’s just me and my mother.” She said with a low voice.

I think her father died, but I don’t have enough courage to ask her, so I stay silent.

“Enough of that. Do you really believe there are monsters here? Your reaction was hilarious. Hahahaha.” She mocks me.

“Yes, my parents told me not to listen to strangers, but I think you are not bad person, so I trusted you.”

“Hahahaha. Sorry for that.” She said.

After that, we play together, running through the field, playing the swing, catching bugs.

Time passes, I made a flower head band and put it on her head.

“What do you think? Is it good?”

“Yes, I like it. Thank you.” She said, smiling at me.

I smiled back to her. I hear my mother calling for me.

“Ah, I think I should go back now. My mother is already calling for me.” I said.

“See you later! Promise me we will meet again okay! I appoint you as my friend, and friend keeps their promise!” She said.

“I- I promise…”

I run back to the car. The dandelion still on my ear.

I think of what I said before, why did I say that… I don’t even know if I will meet her again. I brush it off and continue living my life.


Years passed, I am now a highschooler, final year, edgy phase.

“Hey, what are you contemplating? Are you thinking about your grades? Don’t worry, my grades are bad too.” My friend approached me.

His name is Blaire. I met him on my first year and he befriended me.

“Nahh, get off me. You are depleting the oxygen around, I’m starting to feel dizzy.”

“Hey, you want to go to karaoke tonight? The girls are all coming, as your friend, I don’t want you to miss this opportunity. If you are lucky, you might be able to preserve your bloodline tonight.” He said.

“No, thank you. I prefer watching random primitive building videos till 3 AM tonight.”

“C’mon… stop with those videos, I have better videos for you to watch. It involves the girls that will come to the karaoke tonight. How about that?” He replied.

“No, thank you.”

“Ah, you’re such a rockhead. Anyway, just hit me up if you change your mind.” He said.

Finally, peace and solitude.

It’s spring, my favorite season because the weather just perfect. Flowers are blooming, birds singing, wind breezes gently.

As I walk out from the school gate, a girl suddenly approached me.

“HELLLOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Do you remember me?” She said.

A beautiful girl, long brown hair, beautiful eyes, in an elite looking high school uniform. Her face is familiar, but I can’t remember who.

“Uhh… pardun?”

“Ah, you can’t recognize me. You believed when I said there are monsters at the flower field.” She said.

“Hey, I was a kid back then.”

“Well, I didn’t expect to meet you here. Did you study here?” She said.

“Yes, isn’t it obvious?”

“Anyway, we haven’t met for a loooooooooooong time. How about a drink? It’s on me.” She asked.

“Uhhh, I-“

She pulled my arm before I could finish my sentence. Annoying… just like back then.

We arrived at a coffee shop.

“Table for two please.” She said to the worker.

“This way please.” Said the worker.

Well, since I’m already here, it will be impolite to just leave. Good thing my parents teach me manner.

We take a seat and she finally let go of my arm.

“One orange juice please! What do you want to drink?” She asked.

“Plain water please.”

The waiter nods and leaves.

“Tell me about your story. What happened during all these times.” She said.

“I inhale, I exhale.”

She laughed.

“Well, for me. I don’t have much story to be told too. But I am happy I could meet an old friend.” She said.

“I just live a very normal life. Move into this city, go to school, aim for good university, get bad grades, pretty normal.”

The waiter brings the drinks to our table.

“What about friend? You must have a lot of friends don’t you?” She asked.

“No.”

“What about girlfriend? Ehehehe.” She asked.

“Is that an insult?”

“You are in high school, surely you have something interesting right?” She said.

“You see this water? This represents my life.”

She laughed.

“My life is also pretty much normal I think.” She said.

“I don’t ask.”

She laughed.

“Looks like someone in their edgy phase.” She said.

Her alarm suddenly rings.

“Ah, looks like I need to go now. I’ll see you later!” She said.

“Wait, you haven’t drink your order.”

“Ah, sorry. You can drink it if you want. I need to leave now.”

She paid the drinks and rushes out, not even touching the drink she ordered. So I drink it and leave. At least better than throwing the drink away.


The next day, she greets me as I leave the school entrance, waving her hand and smiling to me.

“Ehmm… looks like someone has a girlfriend already.” Blaire said.

“Nahh, it’s just an old friend.”

“I can get you hotel if you want. I’ll pay.” He said.

“Get lost.”

I approached her.

“Why are you here?”

“Hey, do you have spare time? Let’s go on a walk.” She said.

She doesn’t answer my question.

“Well, actually I do have some free time-“

“Then let’s go!” She said.

She pulled my arm before I can finish my sentence.

We arrived at a theme park. She finally let go of my arm.

“Tickets for two please.” She said to the worker.

“Here is the money, Sir.”

“You two are such a cute couple. Oh the bliss of youth.” Said the worker.

“Ah- No, we aren’t couple. Just old friends.”

We entered the park, she is looking down.

“Thank you for the ticket.” She whispered.

“It’s just fair, you paid for the drinks yesterday.”

She suddenly pulls my arm again.

“Let’s go there!” She said.

We tried a lot of ride in the park. We also bought some cotton candy. She pulls my arm everywhere we go. No wonder people mistakes us as couple.

“The Ferris Wheel. Must have scene in every theme park chapter in romance anime.” She said.

She is quite cultured I might say.

It’s finally our turn.

“Please watch your steps.” Said the worker.

We sit face to face. The door closes and the wheel slowly rises.

“Hey, I haven’t get any of your contact. What’s your phone number?” She asked.

We exchanged contact. Phone numbers, LINE, Facebook, Instagram, Discord, WeChat, NicoNicoDouga, Bilibili, Youtube channels, and much more.

The wheel reaching it’s peak.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” She asked while looking outside the window.

“The city, bathed in golden sun light, wind blows gently, truly a work of art. I wish time could freeze. I want this moment to stay.” She smiled. But I can somehow see a bit of sadness in that smile.

I smiled a bit.

“If this makes you happy. Maybe we can do it again sometime?”

“Wow, such a generous offer from Mr. Edgy.” She laughed.

We get off from the wheel. It’s almost dark.

“Thank you for today.” She said while looking down.

“Actually, I kinda enjoyed this. So… thank you.”

We walk in awkward silence for a while, she still looks down.

“Uhmm… do you live near here? It’s almost dark, I can accompany you back to your house if you want.”

She lifts her head.

“No need to. My house is a bit far, I can take care of myself too. Don’t worry.” She smiled.

“Okay then. See you!”

“See you!” She said.

We part way. I walk back to my house.

“Hey, are you already at home?” I texted her while entering my house.

I cleaned myself and hop on the bed. The best place in the world where the gravity fluctuates depending on the day, time, and my mood.

No answer yet. Maybe she is not home yet.

“Today was fun.” I said to myself.

“When was the last time I feel this kind of happiness? I can’t remember.”

“Why would she approach me… and why is she so outgoing to me? We have only met once, and that was years ago. Yeah sure she appointed me as her friend. We promised to meet again. But we were kids back then. Kids break their promises.”

“Well… as long as I am happy I think.”

Ding! My phone rings.

“Sorry, I just came home. There was a traffic jam.” She said.

“Understandable, have a nice day.”

“Hahahaha” She said.

“Do you have any plan tomorrow? It’s Christmas. Maybe we can go to the aquarium?”

“Eh? Mr. Edgy asking me out now??? AWOKAOWKAOWKAOWK.” She replied.

I didn’t expect that.

“Okay, let’s meet up at the park tomorrow, 10 AM sharp.” She said.

“Sure.”


The next day, I come to the park just like we talked before. Time shows 9:55, 5 minutes earlier because I’ve got bad experiences of getting late. The park is not so crowded, only few people hanging around, talking to each other, walking their pets, some even dare to do lewd thing such as holding hands. Birds chirping is really calming. Time shows 9:59. She isn’t here yet.

“Where are you?” I texted her.

“Look to your right.” She replied.

Blue cold-shoulder outfit and a dark blue skirt. Side braids tied to a small, frayed ponytail behind her head. Holding a handbag that the author can’t describe.

“Hi.” I waved at her.

Her face approaches mine. She put her hand on my head.

“Are you ill? Did you hit your head?” She said.

“My old friend won’t greet me first, let alone wave at me.” She continued.

“Wha-“

“ANYWAY. WHERE WILL BE GOING TODAY?” She said cheerfully.

“Aquarium.”

“Oh, right.” She said.

We walked to the Aquarium, it’s not far from the park.

“Tickets for two please” She said to the worker.

“Romantic zone or normal zone?” The worker asked.

“Ro-“ She said.

“Normal zone please.”

“Eh, what did you say?”

“Nevermind.” She said.

We go inside the Aquarium. The first zone is the deep sea zone, most oceans worldwide consist of deep sea at a depth of 200 meters and more, and they have re-created the mysterious world of the deep sea here with approximately 100 species of deep-sea marine creatures that are rarely seen.

“Look, giant octopuses!” She said.

“That’s a squid.”

“Really?” She said.

“Yes, octopuses have round spherical head. Squids have triangular head.”

“Woah, they have lots of animals here.” She said.

“Look over there.” I said as I point my finger.

“A fish.”

“Ahahaha, you dummy.” She said.

We approached a peculiar showcase in the zone. On the panel written “Melanocetus johnsonii”. It looks like an anglerfish.

“When a male finds a female, which can be up to 60 times his size, he clamps onto her underside with tiny translucent fangs. The comparatively minuscule male’s love nip then turns into a permanent attachment: his mouth, and eventually even his blood vessels, fuse to the female to provide her eggs with on demand fertilization.”

“Love really leaves you defenseless, huh. Sacrificing yourself for the one you love.” She said with a low voice, putting her hand on the showcase glass.

“That’s true, but not true. Yes it’s true, the fish sacrificed itself. But we are human. We have intelligence.”

“Even humans are animal.” She said.

“ANYWAY, LET’S SEE THE OTHER SHOWCASES.” She replied suddenly.

We walked through the zone and we are at the 4D theater. The theater is almost empty, so we sit at the middle area. No other people in the radius of 5 units in taxicab geometry from each of our seat. The theater will be about deep sea creatures as seen on the poster outside.

“Uhm, are you okay with horror movies?”

“Y-yes.” She said.

“Well… this might not be a good idea to watch the theater.”

“No… what could possibly go wrong? I said I’m okay. It’s about fishes anyway.” She said.

The lights turn off. The movie begins.

“The vast ocean covers about 70% of earth’s surface. From the shallow waters, to the deep waters. Where the sun can reach, and where darkness reigns. In the deep, dark water lives many bizzare creatures. Many are rarely seen. The ice cold temperature filters only the most suitable creatures can survive. Those creatures exist in a place where light can’t reach, with pressures as strong as your deadlines. We will take you through a journey you will never forget. The Sunless Sea.”

“Cool.” I said.

I looked at her. She doesn’t say a thing, very unusual. Her pupils dilated.

“Hey, can you hear me?”

“A- sorry, I’m just thinking about something.” She said.

“Hehehe… are you sure? Your hands are trembling a bit.”

“N-no, what do you mean?” She replied.

Actually, her hands are not trembling. Teasing her is fun. She is cute when scared.

Suddenly a shark jumps into the audience. It looks like coming out from the screen.

“AAAAHH-“ She screamed, hiding in my arm.

“I remember someone said it’s about fishes anyway. But I forgot who said that. Hmmm.”

“U-uh… yes. It’s about fishes anyway.”

The movie lasted for 30 minutes. She hides on my arm almost all the time.

“Hey, are you okay? You doesn’t look well.”

“I’m fine.” She said, still hugging my arm.

“If you stay like this, people might think we are a couple.”

“Sorry if this disturbs you.” She said, releasing my arm.

I can’t, she is too cute.

“Actually, it’s okay… I think.”

She grabs my arm. I think… I fall in love.


My Calling

Entry Writchal #2
Tema: High school drama with some romance


Pletak!

“Kamu! Jangan tidur di  kelas!”

“Aduh!”

Semua pasang mata di kelas sekarang memandanginya. Kebanyakan menyeringai, beberapa saling berbisik. Seseorang menjadi korban lemparan kapur Pak Yan.

Pak Yan mendecak. “Kemarin ujianmu masih mengulang, kan? Sudah tahu begitu, masih saja tidur setiap kali saat pelajaran saya. Kerjakan soal ini sekarang!”

“E-eh, soal seperti itu mana bisa saya, Pak…”

Kelas menjadi semakin berisik oleh suara bisikan. Pak Guru mendesis untuk menenangkan seisi kelas. “Yang lain bagaimana?”

Sekarang seisi kelas jadi benar-benar terdiam. Meskipun semuanya barusan saling berbisik ketika soal tidak bisa dijawab, namun sebenarnya tidak banyak yang bisa menjawab pertanyaan yang sedang ditanyakan Pak Yan di papan tulis. Pak Guru kembali mendecak, menepuk jidat.

“Kalian ini… ini soal latihan untuk ujian kelulusan kalian nanti, lho. Kalau kalian tidak bisa menjawab ini, entah bagaimana nasib kalian nanti.”

“Kami kan baru saja naik kelas tiga, Pak. Ini, sih, sudah soal ujian masuk kuliah! Bagaimana cara kami mengerjakannya?”

“Betul, Pak! Jangan salahkan kami, dong…”

Begitulah, seisi kelas kembali ribut. Kebanyakan protes kepada Pak Yan tentang soal yang diberikan. Memang, itu soal sulit yang belum dipelajari oleh siswa kelas tiga sekarang. Pak Yan jadi agak bingung menenangkan para siswa, lagipula ini sebenarnya hanya keisengannya sendiri untuk mengetes para siswa.

Tiba-tiba terdengar suara kursi didorong. Seisi kelas menoleh ke arah sumber suara. Setelah itu, seisi kelas kembali berbisik.

“Dia lagi, ya…”

“Yah, sepertinya memang hanya dia yang bisa. Siapa lagi?”

Pak Yan menyerahkan kapur. “Kamu itu, ya. Beri kesempatan anak lain untuk menjawab, dong…”

“Tidak, tidak perlu. Mereka tidak akan menjawab soal seperti ini sekarang. Lagipula, sekarang memang belum waktunya.”

Goresan cepat kapur di papan tulis terdengar memnuhi isi ruangan. Semuanya hanya memerhatikan dalam diam. Dalam hitungan detik, papan tulis sudah penuh oleh coret-coretan. Soal matematika yang diberikan oleh Pak Guru berhasil diselesaikan dalam cepat, bahkan dengan tiga cara yang berbeda yang terpampang jelas di papan tulis. Seperti biasa, anak-anak yang lain hanya bisa bertepuk tangan perlahan.

Pak Yan menghela napas, menulis sesuatu dalam jurnalnya. “Huff, baiklah. Zeth, lagi…”

Namanya Zeth. Tak terlalu banyak yang bisa diceritakan darinya. Anak terpintar di sekolah. Tak lebih dari itu, tak kurang. Ia hanya dikenal anak-anak lain dari kepintarannya saja. Di sekolah yang tidak terlalu prestisius ini, bakat dan kepintarannya sebagai seorang siswa sering dinilai tidak cocok dengan lingkungannya. Ia sudah cukup sering ditanyai perihal ini oleh para guru, namun ia tidak pernah memedulikannya. Ia tak berniat terlibat dalam hal-hal yang merepotkan.

Kesehariannya juga cukup sederhana. Semua kegiatannya hanya berkisar di sekolah dan rumahnya. Belajar, makan, tidur. Tak ada yang lain. Tidak punya teman di sekolah? Ia juga tidak terlalu peduli. Hal terpenting adalah, berkuliah dan lekas mempunyai penghasilan yang layak untuk menyokong keuangan keluarganya yang pas-pasan. Bergantung pada orang lain—yang ia anggap sebagai pertemanan—justru menurutnya hanya akan menghambat semua upaya yang sedang ia lakukan untuk mencapai tujuannya yang sekarang.

Aku tidak terlalu ingin berhubungan dengan orang lain selama itu bukan urusanku.

Sore hari itu, Zeth sedang melakukan tugas piketnya. Sekolah sudah sepi saat ia menyelesaikan tugas piketnya. Cahaya lembayung menerabas masuk dari jendela-jendela kelas. Zeth bersiap untuk merangkul tasnya dan hendak pulang.

Zeth berjalan menyusuri lorong-lorong yang lengang. Menuruni tangga sebanyak dua kali. Sebelum menuruni tangga, ia hendak kencing sejenak. Namun, sebelum masuk toilet, ia mendengar suara sayup-sayup dari balik dinding. Dinding sebelah adalah toilet perempuan, namun ia seperti mendengar suara berat seorang laki-laki barusan. Ia awalnya sedikit penasaran, namun ia masih mengurungkan niatnya untuk mencari tahu lebih lanjut.

Setelah kencing pun, Zeth masih mendengar suara laki-laki dari balik dinding. Akhirnya, Zeth sedikit penasaran dengan apa yang terjadi di sana. Aku hanya ingin melihat sebentar. Sungguh, kata Zeth dalam hati.

Zeth mulai memelankan langkahnya. Semakin ia melangkah mendekat, semakin jelas suara yang terdengar. ia mencoba untuk sedikit menoleh ke dalam kamar mandi perempuan itu.

Belum satu detik ia melihat, ia sudah dibuat terkejut dengan apa yang sedang ia lihat sekarang. Ia refleks untuk menempelkan punggungnya ke dinding terdekat untuk bersembunyi.

“Hei, ini belum semuanya, tahu. Jilat semuanya, dong!”

“Ya ampun, kawan. Aku tahu kau menghukumnya, tapi aku tetap tidak suka ini. Fetish-mu ini benar-benar membuatku jijik. Berikan hukuman yang lain, dong!”

“Lalu, apa maumu? Dia tidak membayar pajaknya hari ini. Terserah aku mau lakukan apa, kan?”

Zeth menelan ludahnya. Ia mencoba menoleh ke dalam sekali lagi. Mencoba untuk melihat lebih jelas apa yang sedang terjadi.

Tiga anak laki-laki dengan penampilannya yang berantakan sedang mengerumuni seseorang yang sedang terduduk di lantai toilet. Zeth langsung mengenali tiga orang itu—mereka termasuk ke dalam geng berandal sekolah yang terkenal. Sedangkan seseorang yang sedang mereka rundung sekarang—Zeth menjorokkan kepalanya lebih dalam agar dapat melihat wajahnya dengan lebih jelas. Ternyata seorang perempuan, Zeth tidak mengenali wajahnya. Dari dasi yang dikenakannya, sepertinya dia satu angkatan dengannya tetapi beda kelas. Ia tidak pernah melihat wajahnya. Perundungan dan meminta uang saku oleh anak-anak berandal seperti itu memang sudah biasa dalam sekolah kecil seperti ini. Namun, bukan itu semua yang menyebabkan Zeth terkejut.

Seragam gadis itu penuh dengan noda kusam dan kumal. Awalnya Zeth hanya menganggapnya sebuah candaan, namun gadis itu benar-benar sedang melakukannya sekarang. Ia benar-benar menjilati sepatu dari seorang berandal yang badannya paling besar di sana. Dilihat dari wajahnya, ia tampak pasrah dan tidak menunjukkan tanda-tanda hendak melakukan perlawanan.

“Hah? Siapa di sana?”

Zeth refleks memalingkan kepalanya. Seseorang dari tiga berandal itu sempat menoleh ke arahnya untuk sekilas. Ia langsung bergegas melangkah menjauh, juga berusaha untuk melangkah cepat tanpa menghasilkan banyak suara. Ia memutuskan untuk mengambil jalan memutar agar tidak dikejar oleh berandal tadi. Ia memegang lengan tasnya erat-erat.

Tenangkan dirimu. Perundungan itu sudah biasa. Sudah biasa…

Zeth terus melangkah sambil meyakinkan dirinya dalam hati. Sebenarnya, ia hendak mengabaikan semua yang ia lihat barusan. Namun, bagian hatinya yang lain tetap saja terus kepikiran. Ya, perundungan memang sudah biasa di sekolah ini. Akan tetapi, perundungan biasanya hanya berupa pemalakan uang saku ataupun perundungan fisik yang tidak terlalu berat. Baru kali ini ia melihat sesuatu yang seperti ini.

Apa yang barusan terjadi? Anak itu tidak melawan? Dia menjilat sepatu orang lain, lho! Di dalam toilet pula. Entah apa yang akan terjadi nantinya bila seperti itu…

Zeth terus berjalan menuruni tangga dengan semua perasaan tidak enak ini. Ia biasanya dengan mudah mengabaikan semua perundungan yang terjadi di sekitarnya, namun kali ini berbeda. Setelah pulang sekolah pun, ia tidak bisa berhenti memikirkan apa yang terjadi di toilet perempuan tadi. Konsentrasinya saat belajar menjadi terganggu, pun dengan waktu tidurnya.

Keesokan harinya, ia menawarkan dirinya sendiri untuk membantu piket sore kelas. Para siswa yang melakukan jadwal piket hari itu cukup terkejut—karena memang Zeth pada dasarnya jarang berinisiatif sendiri terhadap sesuatu selain dalam hal pelajaran. Namun mereka tetap mengiyakan, katanya tidak masalah.

Zeth punya firasat buruk terhadap apa yang terjadi kepada gadis yang ia lihat kemarin. Biasanya, perundungan oleh berandal seperti mereka hanya menargetkan anak-anak tertentu saja—terutama anak-anak yang tidak punya teman dan tidak percaya diri. Apalagi, perundungan tidak akan berakhir sebelum para perundung merasa puas. Dan dari yang ia dengar kemarin, sepertinya orang-orang itu masih belum puas dengan apa yang terjadi kemarin.

“Zeth, memang ada sesuatu yang terjadi? Kau dari tadi seperti melamun terus. Apa yang kau pikirkan?” tanya Cero, si ketua kelas yang sedang piket hari ini.

“Hm? Ah, tidak ada apa-apa, kok,” jawab Zeth dengan nada datar.

“Tumben sekali melihatmu seperti ini. Kalau ada sesuatu yang mengganggumu, katakan saja.” Cero meletakkan sebuah tumpukan kertas yang cukup tebal. “Ngomong-ngomong, bantu aku antarkan berkas-berkas ini ke ruang guru. Sepertinya Pak Yan melupakan ini setelah mengajar tadi.”

Zeth dan Cero berjalan beriringan menyusuri lorong. Sebentar lagi, mereka akan sampai di depan toilet perempuan yang kemarin. Zeth menelan ludah, menundukkan kepalanya.

“Cepat, cepat!”

“Hari ini akan menyenangkan, lho!”

Zeth terkejut. Ketika berbelok hendak menuruni tangga, ia berpapasan dengan beberapa orang. Dan suara yang baru saja ia dengar langsung mengingatkannya pada ingatan yang buruk—benar, mereka adalah para berandal yang kemarin. Ia langsung menoleh ke belakang.

Tiga berandal yang kemarin sedang berjalan bersama dengan seorang gadis. Terdengar suara pintu toilet perempuan dibuka. Langkah Zeth terhenti seketika.

“Hm? Zeth? Ada apa?”

Badan Zeth mulai gemetaran. Ia tahu ia memang sengaja ikut piket hari ini demi momen ini, namun sekarang ia malah bimbang. Ia mulai menyadari sepenuhnya bahwa, ikut campur dalam hal ini sama saja dengan melompat masuk ke dalam sarang macan.

Apa yang harus kulakukan sekarang?

Zeth memberanikan dirinya untuk melihat ke belakang.Pintu toilet perempuan sudah tertutup. Ia semakin meragukan dirinya sendiri dalam hati.

“Oi, Zeth! Kau ini kenapa, sih? Jangan berhenti!”  Cero berkata dengan nada setengah teriak. Zeth tersadar dari kebimbangannya seketika.

“T-tidak, bukan apa-apa…”

“Kau jadi aneh sekarang. Apakah orang-orang barusan mengganggumu? Kalau tidak salah, mereka itu para berandal sekolah, kan? Kau punya masalah dengan mereka?”

Zeth hanya memasang wajah murung. “Tidak…”

Cero menaikkan sebelah alisnya, semakin tidak paham dengan apa yang sedang terjadi.

“Lupakan saja. Maafkan aku. Ayo lanjut jalan.”

Keesokan harinya.

Zeth benar-benar tidak bisa tidur saat malam. Ia sekarang benar-benar merasa bersalah dengan dirinya sendiri. Ia tak bisa berhenti memikirkan nasib gadis itu. Seusai mengantarkan berkas ke ruang guru, ia harus menunggu semua yang piket untuk pulang terlebih dahulu—karena ia pikir apabila seseorang melihatnya masuk ke dalam toilet perempuan tanpa sebab, ia akan dikira orang yang aneh. Saat ia akhirnya bisa mengecek setelah semua temannya pulang, gadis dan para berandal itu sudah tidak ada di sana. Yang ia temukan hanyalah lantai toilet dengan beberapa untaian rambut kumal dan dinding yang basah. Itu pasti ada hubungannya dengan apa yang dialami gadis itu di sana.

Ah… kalau memang niatku memang ingin membantunya, seharusnya aku tidak perlu peduli dengan hal seremeh itu…

“Zeth!”

“Eh—iya, pak!” Zeth tersentak setelah mendengar namanya dipanggil. Lamunannya buyar seketika. Pak Yan dan seisi kelas sekarang sedang memperhatikannya dengan wajah keheranan.

“Ada apa? Wajahmu kelihatan pucat. Kau kurang tidur semalam?”

“B-begitulah…” Zeth hanya menjawab seadanya.

“Seperti bukan dirimu saja. Memangnya apa yang kau pelajari? Kupikir kau sudah tak perlu repot-repot belajar sampai segitunya…”

“Hei, Pak, tidak adil. Meskipun genius, orang sepertinya pasti tetap butuh belajar, tahu!” Seseorang menyahut dari belakang kelas.

“Yah, daripada Zeth, tetap saja kau yang butuh lebih banyak belajar, Ter.”

Seisi kelas tertawa. Zeth hanya menutup telinganya, ia tidak suka kebisingan.

“Sudah, sudah, semuanya. Baiklah, Zeth, kerjakan nomor dua belas di papan tulis. Lalu kau, Ferie…”

Hari berlalu dengan sangat lama bagi Zeth. Kelir langit sudah mulai berubah lembayung. Bel pulang sudah berbunyi. Zeth mulai mengemasi barangnya dengan malas. Rasanya, dari tadi pagi ia hanya ingin menemui gadis itu. Namun, pertanyaan mulai bermunculan dalam kepala Zeth.

Bagaimana aku harus bertemu dengannya? Apakah dia akan bersama dengan para berandal itu lagi hari ini? Kalau bertemu, apa yang harus kulakukan? Minta maaf? Atau…

Tunggu dulu. Aku bahkan belum tahu namanya. Bodohnya aku.

Zeth menggaruk-garuk kepalanya, semakin kebingungan. Kalaupun ingin mencari tahu, bagaimana caranya? Aku bahkan tidak tahu dia anak kelas mana. Apabila aku bertanya soal itu kepada guru, bagaimana pula caraku menjelaskannya…

Akhirnya kepala Zeth buntu juga. Rasanya, baru pertama kali ia merasa muak dengan sekolah kecil dengan lingkungan yang seperti ini. Perundungan menjadi hal lumrah, tak ada yang peduli—bahkan para guru sekalipun. Selama ini, ia hanya mengabaikannya dan menjauh dari hal-hal seperti itu. Melihat apa yang terjadi pada gadis itu kemarin benar-benar mengubah pola pikirnya selama ini.

Apapun itu, perundungan bukanlah hal sepele untuk dilewatkan begitu saja.

Bruk.

“Eh, maaf!” Zeth tersadar dari lamunannya.

Ketika melihat wajah sosok yang ditabraknya, betapa terkejutnya Zeth. Benar sekali, dia adalah gadis yang belakangan ini selalu ada dalam pikirannya. Zeth langsung jadi salah tingkah, tidak tahu apa yang harus ia lakukan.

“A-anu… kamu… n-anu…”

Gadis itu hanya menatap Zeth datar. Zeth buru-buru menepuk kedua pipinya dengan keras. Apa yang sedang aku lakukan?!

“N-nama… kalau boleh tahu… siapa namamu?”

“Floe.” jawab gadis itu dengan nada lesu.

Setelah dapat mengontrol dirinya sepenuhnya, ia baru bisa melihat sosok gadis di hadapannya sekarang ini dengan lebih jelas. Matanya setengah terbuka dan tampak sayu. Rambut hitamnya yang panjang terurai terlihat kumal dan tidak terawat. Seragam sekolahnya juga kusut dari kerah sampai lutut. Ia juga tidak sedang membawa tas sekolah seperti siswa lainnya yang sedang pulang sekolah. Namun, di saat yang bersamaan, ia juga mulai sadar akan bau yang sekarang menusuk hidungnya cukup dalam—sepertinya memang berasal dari gadis ini. Ia langsung refleks menutup hidungnya.

Namun tak lama setelah itu, setelah sadar akan perbuatannya yang tidak sopan, Zeth buru-buru menurunkan tangannya. “Anu, bukan begitu! Maafkan aku, ini hanya refleks… terjadi begitu saja. Aku tidak bermaksud buruk…”

Gadis itu hanya memalingkan matanya, menatap nanar tanah di sampingnya.

Zeth berusaha untuk fokus kembali. “Kamu… dari kelas berapa?”

“Kelas E.”

Zeth menelan ludah. Kelas E adalah kelas terburuk dalam sekolah kami. Bila kelas A sampai D diurutkan berdasarkan nilai perorangan yang didapat dari yang terbaik hingga terburuk, kelas E berbeda. Kelas E diisi oleh para siswa yang bermasalah di sekolah—dan sayangnya para guru selalu enggan bila harus berurusan dengan kelas ini. Kelas ini bak sudah menjadi sarang bagi para berandal sekolah secara tradisi. Bahkan, jumlah para siswa bermasalah di sekolah ini kian bertambah setiap tahunnya, dan kelas E semakin lama semakin besar dan tidak terkendali. Dari sepengetahuan Zeth, bahkan kelas D pada angkatan anak kelas satu sudah mulai dimasuki para berandal. Pengaruh kelas E pada sekolah ini hanya akan semakin parah seiring waktu berjalan.

“B-begitu, ya…”

Hening seketika. Suara ketukan sepatu anak-anak lain yang pulang membuat Zeth semakin gugup. Kepintarannya yang selalu menjadi kebanggaannya sama sekali tidak berguna di saat seperti ini. Berpikirlah, Zeth! Dasar bodoh!

“A-anu—”

“Yo.”

Zeth tercekat. Seseorang menepuk pundaknya dari belakang. Ia terpaku di tempatnya, tak berani memalingkan wajahnya ke belakang.

Suara itu adalah suara berandal yang kemarin. Kedua temannya juga menyapa Zeth dengan sok ramah. Ketiganya sekarang berdiri di hadapan Zeth.

“Kau ada urusan dengan anak ini?” tanya berandal dengan badan paling besar. Ia langsung merangkul tubuh Floe yang cenderung kecil dan ringkih. Melihatnya, nyali Zeth langsung menciut.

“A-aku hanya—”

“Ada apa kau malu-malu seperti ini, kawan?” Berandal dengan tubuh kurus menimpali. Perasaan Zeth semakin tidak keruan.

“Oh! Jangan-jangan… kau mau nembak dia?” Berandal terakhir dengan tubuh gempal juga ikut bertanya. Mereka bertiga sekarang tertawa keras bersamaan.

“Kuakui, seleramu tak buruk. Tapi, sangat disayangkan, kawan, kau tak bisa melakukan itu. Kami akan bersenang-senang dengannya setelah ini.” Si Kurus mendekatkan wajahnya dengan wajah Zeth. “Tunggu dulu. Sepertinya aku pernah melihat wajahmu…”

Zeth merasa bak habis disambar halilintar. Ia mulai berkeringat dingin, menutup mulutnya rapat-rapat. Sial! Apakah aku ketahuan? Apakah orang ini yang tempo hari sempat melihatku sekilas? Dia masih mengingatnya?!

Di saat Si Kurus sibuk melihat wajah ketakutan Zeth dari dekat, Si Besar tiba-tiba menarik kerah seragam Si Kurus. “Ah, dasar cabul. Melototin dari dekat begitu. Memangnya kau suka laki-laki sekarang, ya?”

“Agh, berisik! Aku tak mau dengar itu darimu.”  Si Kurus melepaskan tarikan Si Besar. Mereka bertiga pun lantas pergi meninggalkan Zeth yang hanya mematung di tempatnya berdiri sekarang. “Kalau kau memang ada urusan dengan anak ini, lupakan saja mulai sekarang. Ingat itu, kawan!” seru Si Kurus sambil berjalan menjauh.

Zeth yang sekarang hanya bisa mengamati mereka pergi menjauh dari tempatnya berdiri. Ia mulai jatuh dan duduk berlutut, kehabisan kata-kata. Ia kecewa pada dirinya sendiri. Ia kecewa kepada dirinya yang tidak bisa berbuat apa-apa.

Floe… Gadis itu… kenapa dia tidak berbicara sama sekali barusan? Dia tidak meminta tolong kepadaku? Orang lain? Di sini sekarang sedang cukup ramai, kan?

Untuk sekilas, Zeth menoleh ke arah sudut jalanan dekat semak-semak. Di sana, ia bisa melihat dua siswa sedang dirundung oleh sekelompok berandal sekolah yang lain. Di sudut lain dari cakupan pandangannya, ia juga bisa melihat perundungan lain yang sedang terjadi. Setelah itu, ia kembali menatap para siswa yang berjalan menuju pagar sekolah dengan tenangnya.

Tidak ada… yang peduli… Kenapa?

Zeth menundukkan kepalanya, menatapi kedua telapak tangannya.

Aku juga sama saja.

“Zeth? Sedang apa kau di sini?”

Zeth mengangkat kepalanya. Cero sedang berdiri di sebelahnya sekarang. Ia mulai berdiri.

“Cer. Lihatlah itu.”

“Hm, apa?”

Zeth menunjuk ke sudut jalanan.

“Eh? Ada apa memangnya?”

“Kau tidak lihat?”

“Lihat apa memangnya?

“…Kau serius?”

Cero menaikkan sebelah alisnya, keheranan dengan perilaku Zeth. “Sungguh, dari kemarin kau ini kenapa, sih? Dari kemarin kau selalu saja bertingkah aneh…”

Zeth sudah berada di batasnya. Ia tidak bisa lagi menahan semua perasaan frustrasi ini.

“AAAH! Kau tidak lihat siapa dan apa yang sedang terjadi di sana?!!”

Cero langsung mundur selangkah setelah Zeth barusan “meledak”. Mereka berdua langsung menjadi perhatian bagi banyak siswa yang sedang berjalan pulang.

“H-hei, kawan, tenangkan dirimu… Ada apa denganmu, sih? Aku sungguh bertanya kepadamu. Kali ini, jangan berbohong. Pasti ada sesuatu, kan? Jangan diam saja, dong! Aku juga cemas, tahu!”

Zeth semakin merasa tidak keruan. Ia menatap wajah Cero dengan tatapan yang begitu dingin.

“Kalau begitu, kau mencemaskan orang yang salah.”

Setelah itu, Zeth langsung mengambil langkah seribu, meninggalkan Cero begitu saja. Ia menerabas kerumunan siswa yang sedang berjalan di trotoar. Sejak tenggelam dalam kebimbangannya tadi, ia ketinggalan jejak dari mereka berempat. Ia mengutuk dirinya sendiri dalam hati karena tidak segera mengambil tindakan.

“Huff… huff… hei! Zeth!        “

Cero berhasil mengejar langkah Zeth hingga membuatnya tersengal-sengal. “Kau ini… larimu selalu saja cepat. Dasar merepotkan…”

Zeth menatap balik Cero dengan sinis. “Huff… Merepotkan? Memang aku menyuruhmu untuk mengikutiku?” katanya dengan nada ketus.

“Ya ampun…” Cero mengambil botol minuman dari tasnya, meneguk isinya sekali. “Jadi, apa sih yang kau cemaskan? Semua anak di kelas menganggapmu aneh sekarang, lho.”

“Siapa peduli. Aku dari awal memang tidak pernah punya teman di kelas.”

“Oi, oi, jangan begitu. Kalau begitu, aku ini siapa? Jadi aku bukan temanmu?”

Zeth berbalik, mulai berjalan kembali menuju sekolah. “Diamlah. Aku tidak punya waktu untuk mendengarkan candaanmu.”

Cero langsung menahan gerakan Zeth dengan mencengkeram pundaknya. “Aku tidak bercanda. Aku bisa membantumu apabila kau ada masalah. Dasar, kenapa kau diam saja dari kemarin? Apakah kau bersikeras ingin menyimpan masalahmu sendiri? Aku juga punya tanggung jawab, tahu.”

Zeth berpikir sejenak. Yang dia katakan sebenarnya ada benarnya juga. Lagipula, dia adalah seorang ketua kelas dan mantan ketua OSIS. Bukan berarti dia sampai mengikutiku seperti ini karena sekadar iseng.

“Kalau begitu, ikut aku ke ruang guru sekarang.”

“Eh? Kenapa?”

“Kalau tidak ikut juga terserah kau.” Zeth sudah mulai berjalan kembali menuju gerbang sekolah.

“Hei, tunggu!”

Setelah itu, mereka berdua berjalan beriringan. Cero masih terus mengeluhkan soal Zeth yang menjadi menyebalkan belakangan ini.

“Ngomong-ngomong, kau tahu gadis bernama Floe dari kelas E?” potong Zeth.

“Floe? Siapa?”

Tentu saja kau tidak mengenalnya, ya. “Floe ya Floe. Aku juga barusan tahu namanya,” jawab Zeth malas.

“Kenapa? Kau ingin menemuinya?”

“B-begitulah.”

“Kau membuat masalah dengannya?”

“Jangan bercanda.”

Cero tergelak. “Aku tak bisa membayangkan kau menggoda seorang perempuan. Bakal jadi seperti apa, ya?”

Zeth merasa kesal. “Aku akan ke ruang guru duluan.” Setelah mengatakan itu, Zeth lantas mulai berlari kencang. Cero lantas ikut berlari sambil terus mengeluh.

Mereka berdua sekarang sudah sampai di gerbang. Zeth hanya berdiri di dekat pagar, menunggu Cero yang sampai dengan tersengal. “Huff… Kau ini! Sudah cukup! Berhenti main-main denganku.”

“Huff… huff… Bermain-main? Bukannya kau yang bercanda sebelumnya?”

“Ah, iya, iya! Aku minta maaf.”

Lantas, mereka berdua kembali berjalan beriringan. Kali ini Cero sudah tidak mengeluh lagi.

“Cer.”

“Apa?”

“Bagaimana menurutmu soal sekolah ini?”

“Sekolah ini? Kenapa tiba-tiba menanyakan itu?”

“Jawab saja.”

Cero berpikir sejenak. “Bagaimana, ya? Ini bukan sekolah yang begitu terkenal. Menurutku sih, semuanya hanya biasa-biasa saja—”

“Bagaimana soal semua perundungan yang terjadi?”

Cero terdiam sejenak, lantas sedikit menunduk. “Ah, sekarang aku paham maksudmu. Maaf aku tidak menyadarinya sebelumnya.”

“Apa kau sama seperti semua orang di sini? Kau akan menutup matamu rapat-rapat soal ini?”

“Kalau soal itu, bagaimana, ya… susah menjawabnya.” jawab Cero dengan penuh keraguan sambil menggaruk-garuk kepalanya.

Zeth terus termenung. Jauh dalam lubuk hatinya, dia tahu betul bahwa dia bukanlah orang baik yang begitu peduli dengan sesama sampai-sampai harus menceramahi orang lain soal ini. Siapa memangnya kau ini, Zeth. Dasar sok suci.

Namun, lebih baik terlambat daripada tidak sama sekali, bukan? Bukannya selalu begitu?

Entahlah, mungkin aku hanya mencari pembenaran untuk diriku sendiri dengan kata-kata itu.

Tanpa disadari, mereka berdua sekarang sudah berada di depan pintu ruang guru.

“Setelah ini, kau takkan bisa kembali lagi. Kau yakin?”

Cero menyeringai, menatap Zeth penuh keyakinan. “Heh, jangan remehkan aku. Aku sudah terbiasa dengan tanggung jawab yang menyebalkan.” Ia kemudian membuka pintu ruang guru.

Lima belas menit kemudian.

Zeth dan Cero menghentikan langkahnya. Mereka sekarang berada di depan sebuah gang kecil yang cukup gelap. Saat di ruang guru tadi, beruntung Wali kelas E masih ada di sana walaupun sudah lewat jam kerja. Ia juga tak banyak bertanya saat Zeth meminta alamat tempat tinggal Floe. Saat berjalan tadi, Zeth juga sudah menceritakan seluruh detail permasalahan ini kepada Cero. Cero mendengarkan keseluruhannya tanpa banyak bertanya.

Zeth memastikan alamat yang ditulis di secarik kertas kecil dengan gang kecil yang tampak gelap di hadapannya sekarang. Seharusnya betul, tapi… bukankah ini agak menyeramkan?

“Ngomong-ngomong, aku baru kepikiran. Kau yakin mereka sekarang berada di sini?”

Zeth menelan ludah seketika. “Soal itu…”

“Kau juga tak tahu, ya. Baiklah.”

Zeth benar-benar lupa sebelumnya dengan kemungkinan seperti itu. Ia malu dengan dirinya sendiri sekarang.

“Aku hanya… punya firasat kalau mereka sedang berada di sini. Apakah dengan begitu terdengar meyakinkan?”

Cero tertawa. “Hah, tidak sama sekali.”

Zeth menutupi wajahnya, khawatir apabila firasatnya salah.

“Sudahlah, kawan. Aku mengerti perasaanmu. Kalau memang semuanya sesuai dengan yang kau ceritakan, aku juga berpikir seharusnya mereka berada di sini sekarang. Toh, kalau memang tidak kita temukan di sini, kita bisa mengecek ke rumah-rumah berandal itu. Kalau tidak ada, bisa kita pikirkan esok hari. Jangan memaksakan dirimu.”

“Rumah berandal itu? Tapi—” Zeth juga sekarang mulai menyadari sepenuhnya soal apa yang telah ia perbuat sampai sekarang. Ia benar-benar sedang bertaruh di dalam sarang harimau. Yang ia pikirkan selama ini hanyalah melepaskan gadis itu dari para berandal itu, namun ia sama sekali belum memikirkan caranya. Aku tidak pandai berkelahi, Cero pun juga sepertinya begitu. Bagaimana kami akan menghadapi mereka?

“Sudahlah, ayo masuk. Sebelum malam jadi semakin matang. Persiapkan dirimu.” Cero sudah mulai melangkahkan kakinya ke dalam gang. Zeth mengikutinya dengan gelisah.

Mereka berdua berjalan menyusuri jalan setapak selebar dua meter yang minim penerangan lampu jalan. Matahari barusan saja tenggelam, dan itu membuat suasana di sini menjadi semakin mencekam. Kebanyakan bangunan di kanan-kiri jalan terkesan terbengkalai dan tanpa penerangan. Satu-dua bangunan masih menampakkan cahaya remang dari dalam—namun tetap saja terasa menyeramkan. Sampah-sampah berserakan di sepanjang jalan setapak, menyebabkan bau yang cukup menusuk hidung. Beberapa orang yang berpapasan dan sempat melihat mereka berdua selalu memberi tatapan mata yang tidak mengenakkan.

“Hm? Kau takut, Zeth?”

“E-eh, takut?” jawab Zeth dengan gemetaran. “T-tidak, kok… sama sekali…”

“Dasar penakut. Aku bisa tahu dari wajahmu.” Cero tertawa kecil.

Zeth merasa sedikit tersinggung. “Yah, mau bagaimana lagi? Di sini gelap, bau, dan menyeramkan. Ada apa di sini?”

Cero menghela napas. “Kau sungguh tidak tahu tempat apa ini?”

Zeth menaikkan sebelah alisnya. “Hah? Tempat apa memangnya?”

Cero mengusap wajahnya. “Ah… kau kebanyakan belajar dan menyendiri, sih. Pantas saja.”

Pipi Zeth memerah, namun tak ada yang bisa melihatnya karena gelap. “M-memangnya salah?”

“Bukan salah juga, sih. Tapi setidaknya kau harus tahu lebih banyak hal lain selain pelajaran di sekolah…”

“Ah.” Cero menunjuk salah satu bangunan kecil yang terbuat dari kayu. “Coba tempelkan telingamu ke dinding sebelah situ.”

Zeth tidak terlalu paham dengan apa yang Cero bicarakan, namun ia tetap menurutinya. Ia menempelkan telinganya ke salah satu dinding rumah itu. Baru beberapa detik, ia langsung terperanjat dan mundur beberapa langkah.

“Ini…” kata Zeth dengan gemetar.

“Sshhh.” Cero mengisyaratkan untuk tidak berbicara dengan keras. Ia berbisik ke telinga Zeth. “Kau mengerti sekarang?”

Zeth menelan ludah. Ia kurang lebih mengerti sekarang. Mereka berdua pun lanjut berjalan.

“Lihat ini.” Cero menunjuk ke sebuah lampu kecil yang sedang menyala redup di dinding depan rumah itu. “Kalau menyala seperti ini, berarti sedang ‘ditempati’. Bangunan dan rumah lain yang memiliki lampu seperti ini, berarti juga digunakan untuk ‘itu’.”

“S-semuanya?”

“Mana aku tahu. Yang jelas, di sini bukanlah tempat untuk anak-anak seperti kita berkeliaran.”

Zeth merinding. Anak-anak? Hei, aku juga baru sadar kita bahkan masih memakai seragam sekolah kita! Kita harus melepasnya sekarang—

“Wow, apa yang anak sekolah lakukan di sini?” Seorang wanita yang kebetulan berpapasan tiba-tiba bertanya. Ia mengembuskan asap rokok yang sedang diisapnya ke arah depan, membuat Zeth dan Cero terbatuk. Sial! Timing-nya buruk sekali…

Zeth menatap wanita di hadapannya. Bajunya cukup terbuka, tangan kanannya sedang memegang rokok yang menyala. Wajahnya ditindik di beberapa bagian. Nyalinya menjadi ciut seketika.

Cero memasang wajah polos. “Ah, Kakak. Bukan apa-apa, kok. Jadi begini,” ia lantas membisikkan sesuatu ke telinga wanita itu.

“Wah! Menarik sekali. Ngomong-ngomong, sepertinya tadi juga anak dari sekolah kalian yang datang ke sini. Anak-anak zaman sekarang memang sesuatu, ya. So wild.” Wanita itu tertawa lebar.

“Tentu saja, Kak! Kami ingin menghabiskan masa muda yang menyenangkan.” Cero merangkul Zeth dengan sebelah tangan. “Anak ini memang pemalu, tapi aku sudah mengenalnya dengan baik. Aku akan melakukan yang terbaik!”

Wanita itu sekarang malah terpingkal keras. Zeth masih belum paham apa yang dikatakan Cero sampai membuatnya seperti itu. Zeth hendak mengatakan sesuatu, namun Cero memberi isyarat dengan memasang wajah tegas dan menggeleng tipis. Jangan bicara apapun sekarang.

“Maaf, maaf. Aku baru dengar yang seperti ini, soalnya. Ternyata memang benar ada, ya. Haha.”

Cero menggandeng tangan Zeth, lantas mulai berjalan. “Kalau begitu, sampai jumpa lagi, Kak!”

“Semoga beruntung, kalian berdua!” Wanita itu melambaikan tangan dari tempatnya berdiri.

Setelah berjalan menjauh, Cero mengembuskan napas yang begitu panjang. “Aaaaah. Ya ampun. Kita selamat.”

“Hei.” Zeth melepaskan gandengan tangan Cero. “Kenapa kita berdua harus bergandengan tangan?”

“Yah, aku tidak kepikiran cara lain…”

“Kau memikirkan hal yang aneh-aneh, ya?” Setelah mengatakan itu, sekujur tubuh Zeth tiba-tiba menggigil sejenak. “Hiii. Jijik.”

Cero menghela napas. “Aah, sudahlah. Mau bagaimana lagi. Jangan mengeluh. Oh iya, setelah ini kita belok kanan.” Ia kembali memerhatikan bangunan di kiri-kanan gang dengan cermat.

Zeth hanya bisa memendam rasa kesalnya. Ia juga sepertinya hanya akan memperburuk keadaan apabila Cero tidak mengambil alih percakapan tadi. Lagipula, mereka berdua bahkan bisa mendapatkan konfirmasi soal keberadaan gadis itu secara tidak sengaja dari wanita tadi. Zeth mulai merasa bahwa ia benar-benar perlu memperluas pengetahuannya soal dunia luar dan kemampuan berkomunikasi yang selama ini selalu ia abaikan.

Cero menghentikan langkahnya. “Di sini. Kalau alamat yang diberikan ini tidak salah, maka seharusnya ini rumah yang benar.”

Mereka berdua akhirnya berhenti di depan sebuah rumah kecil. Penampakannya gelap dan muram sama seperti bangunan yang lain. Dan satu hal lagi yang membuat Zeth terkesiap, ia melihat lampu kecil di dinding depan rumah yang sedang menyala.

Zeth langsung berinisiatif untuk melirik di celah jendela agar bisa mendapat lebih banyak informasi soal apa yang ada di dalam, namun sepertinya mustahil untuk melakukannya tanpa menghasilkan suara yang keras. “Sepertinya mereka benar-benar berada di dalam sini. Cukup mengerikan juga bila berpikir bahwa ini adalah rumah dari salah seorang siswa di sekolah kita…” kata Zeth dengan nada berbisik.

“Yah, seharusnya tidak begitu mengejutkan kalau dia berasal dari kelas E.”

“Aah, bagaimana, ya. Kita bahkan belum tahu apa yang menunggu di dalam.” Zeth merapatkan giginya. “Ini menyebalkan.”

“Aku punya rencana, Zeth.” Cero menyeringai tipis ke arah Zeth.

“Rencana?”

“Jadi begini, sederhana saja. Kau akan bersembunyi, aku akan memancing mereka keluar. Setelah itu, bawa gadis itu keluar. Mudah, kan?”

“Hmm…” Zeth mengiyakan dengan penuh keraguan.

“Tapi itu hanya rencana saja. Kita tetap harus bertaruh di sini.”

“Bertaruh? Maksudmu?”

“Kita masih kekurangan informasi sekarang. Pertama, kita masih belum tahu pasti apakah mereka benar-benar berada di dalam atau tidak. Kedua, seperti yang kau bilang. Apabila mereka benar-benar bertiga, aku juga tidak yakin apakah aku bisa memancing semuanya keluar dan seberapa lama aku bisa menahan mereka. Kau mau bertaruh akan itu semua?”

“Menahan? Kau akan berkelahi dengan mereka?”

“Jelas tidak, dasar genius. Apa memangnya yang bisa kulakukan selain kabur?”

“T-tunggu dulu!” Zeth memegang pundak Cero. “Kalau soal kabur, aku lebih cocok! Kau bisa menyelamatkan Floe—”

“Begini, Zeth. Aku juga tahu kalau larimu lebih cepat. Tapi, bisa lari cepat saja takkan menyelesaikan masalah. Kita juga harus memancing mereka semua keluar dulu. Hanya aku yang bisa melakukannya di sini sekarang.”

Cero melepas seragam bagian atasnya, menyisakan kaus bagian dalam. Ia memasukkan seragam itu dengan asal ke dalam tasnya. “Ayo, kau juga. Lepas seragammu. Bisa gawat kalau ketahuan mereka.” Zeth pun tanpa banyak bertanya langsung mengikuti instruksi Cero.

“Kita mulai rencananya.” Cero menyerahkan tasnya kepada Zeth. “Maaf, tapi tolong jaga tasku juga. Aku butuh kecepatan maksimal saat kabur nanti.”

Zeth mulai gemetaran. “…Setelah masuk, apa yang harus kulakukan?”

“Yang perlu kau lakukan? Tentu saja membawa gadis itu keluar, bukan? Untuk sekarang, bersembunyilah di sana. Jangan biarkan mereka sadar kalau kau ada di sana.” Cero menunjuk sebuah sudut di depan rumah yang tak tersorot cahaya sama sekali. Zeth melirik ke arah tempat yang ditunjuk Cero. Ia menelan ludah.

“Oi, oi, jangan takut seperti itu, dong. Santai, santai saja. Anggap saja uji nyali di sekolah saat malam hari. Lagipula, sekarang kau takkan bertemu hantu, kok.” Cero tersenyum dan menepuk-nepuk punggung Zeth untuk menenangkannya.

“A-apabila gadis itu berhasil kubawa keluar dari sini… apa yang harus kulakukan dengannya?” Zeth terlampau gugup, ia sama sekali tidak menghiraukan lelucon Cero.

Cero terkekeh kecil. “Ya ampun, kau masih ragu soal itu? Sederhana saja. Kau yang ingin menyelamatkannya dari awal, bukan? Maka dari itu…”

Cero menepuk pundak Zeth, tersenyum lembut. “Selamatkan dia.”

Zeth perlahan menundukkan kepalanya. “…baiklah.”

“Hm.” Cero mengangguk-angguk. “Ayo kita lakukan ini.”

Zeth kemudian melangkah menuju tempat yang ditunjuk Cero. Ia duduk meringkuk di atas tanah, menutupi wajahnya dengan tas—berusaha membaur dengan kegelapan di sekitarnya. Cero mengacak-acak rambutnya, lalu berdiri di depan pintu.

Di luar sepengetahuan Zeth dan para siswa di sekolah, Cero sebenarnya cukup kompeten dalam kemampuan akting dan berbicara miliknya. Sebagai mantan ketua OSIS dan selalu menjadi ketua kelas setiap tahunnya sejak kecil, ia sudah terbiasa berurusan dengan berbagai macam kepribadian orang. Satu-satunya alasan ia tidak mengikuti klub drama di sekolah adalah karena kesibukannya saat menjadi ketua OSIS dahulu.

Meskipun ia bisa dibilang cukup ambisius saat menjabat sebagai ketua OSIS, namun ia cenderung mengabaikan soal masalah perundungan seperti ini. Setelah mendengar cerita Zeth, ia akhirnya sadar bahwa semua ini perlahan terus bertambah parah tanpa sepengetahuannya. Ia merasa telah meninggalkan sebuah tanggung jawab yang sangat penting dari jabatannya dulu.

Cero menghela napas. Ia mengetuk pintu. Tak lama kemudian, terdengar suara langkah kaki dari dalam mendekat. Meskipun Cero cukup percaya diri dengan rencananya ini, ia tetap merasa gugup dengan semua ini. Kecemasan masih selalu menyertainya, terlebih soal bagaimana Zeth akan bertindak nanti.

Pintu terbuka. Seorang remaja berperawakan gemuk sekarang berdiri di hadapan Cero. Aku tahu anak ini. Dari dulu dia memang selalu membuat ulah dengan dua komplotannya yang lain, sesuai dengan cerita Zeth.

Si Gemuk menatap Cero dengan sinis. “Apa yang kau lakukan di sini, bangsat? Bagaimana kau bisa tahu tempat ini?”

Cero menelan ludahnya sejenak, berusaha untuk tidak terbawa arus. Ia berusaha sebisa mungkin untuk memasang ekspresi palsu yang meyakinkan. “Oi, oi, kawan. Jangan kaku, dong. Aku barusan jalan-jalan di sekitar sini, lalu…”

“Aku tak pernah melihat wajahmu di sekitar sini. Kau anak baru? Sendirian?”

“Y-yaah, begitulah. Namaku Sera, rumahku sebenarnya cukup jauh dari sini. Kau tahu, aku habis diputusin pacarku. Padahal sebelumnya kita sudah memesan tempat di sini, eh dia barusan meneleponku dan membuangku begitu saja. Ah, aku bisa gila, tahu.” Cero berusaha untuk berbicara dan memasang wajah yang sesuai dengan topik pembicaraan.

“Haha! Berarti dia memang jalang yang kurang ajar, ya. Kasihan… Hahaha.”

Cero merasa sedikit lega dalam hati. Alasan yang dia buat mendadak barusan memang sepertinya kurang bagus.  Untung saja dia bodoh. Siapa juga yang mau membawa pacarnya ke gang prostitusi seram seperti ini.  

“Jadi, begini…”

Setelah itu, Cero berusaha menjelaskan soal alasannya datang ke sini—yang tentu saja dibuat-buat—dengan mengatakan bahwa ia mendapatkan informasi dari seorang wanita penghuni gang tentang kedatangan mereka berempat ke rumah ini. Tak tanggung-tanggung, Cero juga mengatakan bahwa ia tertarik dengan apa yang terjadi di dalam. Dengan kemampuan aktingnya yang cukup bagus dan lawan bicaranya yang tidak menaruh curiga, Cero berhasil meyakinkan berandal itu untuk membawanya ke dalam.

Oh, sial. Aku berhasil sampai di sini. Jangan kacaukan ini semua.

Mereka berdua sampai di sebuah ruangan di bagian belakang rumah. Hanya inilah satu-satunya ruangan yang lampunya menyala di rumah kecil ini.      Pintu dibuka.

Cero hanya bisa terdiam. Ruangan itu lengang di bagian tengah dengan beberapa rongsokan dan sampah yang mengelilinginya. Di tengah ruangan itu terdapat dua komplotan lain berbadan besar dan gemuk yang sedang duduk di lantai—berarti taruhannya benar. Lalu, tentu saja tak lupa…

Gadis yang diceritakan Zeth. Namanya Floe. Sekarang ia sedang berbaring diantara dua berandal itu. Ia sekarang bertelanjang dada, seragam dan bra-nya tergeletak kumal di lantai. Raut wajahnya tampak lemas. Kabar baiknya, sepertinya rok yang ia kenakan belum dilepas. Cero hanya bisa menyaksikannya sambil mematung di tempatnya berdiri sekarang.

“Hei, ke mana saja kau—Oi! Siapa itu yang kau bawa ke dalam sini?” Si Badan Besar menatap Cero tajam.

“Tenang, kawan. Dia ini…” Si Gemuk pun membisikkan sesuatu ke telinga Si Badan Besar. Ekspresi wajah Si Badan Besar sedikit melunak.

“Hmh, alasan yang aneh. Jadi, kau datang ke sini karena tertarik dengan ini, huh? Hei, duduklah.” Si Badan Besar menarik rambut gadis itu, memaksanya duduk.

Cero mulai gemetaran. Pemandangan seperti ini seharusnya sudah diantisipasi oleh Cero sejak memasuki gang gelap ini, namun tetap saja ini merupakan pengalaman pertamanya menghadapi sesuatu seperti ini. Ia tak memiliki kontrol penuh terhadap situasi yang dihadapinya sekarang. Emosi dalam dirinya sekarang benar-benar bercampur aduk. Di satu sisi, ia merasa bahwa ia harus melakukan sesuatu terhadap gadis itu sekarang. Namun, di sisi lain, ia tahu bahwa ia tak boleh gegabah dalam situasi seperti ini.

“Ada apa kau ini, dari tadi diam saja? Kau gugup?”

“Hm? Oh, benar, maaf. Jujur saja, aku belum terlalu terbiasa di sini…” Cero berusaha melakukan yang terbaik agar ia tetap bisa terus memasang senyum palsu.

“Haah? Kau membosankan. Untuk apa malu-malu di sini?” Si Badan Besar menepuk bahu Cero.

“Kau tertarik, bukan? Kau bahkan tak mau menyentuhnya?”     Si Gemuk menimpali.

Cero justru tidak bisa menatap lurus ke arah Floe dan menurunkan pandangannya. Pikirannya yang logis mengatakan bahwa ia harus berusaha untuk mengikuti alur pembicaraan hingga dapat menemukan kesempatan yang bagus untuk memancing mereka semua. Namun, hati nuraninya di sisi lain tetap mengatakan bahwa semua ini tak boleh dilakukannya. Selama ini ia sudah berusaha menahannya, namun kali ini sudah melebihi batas.

Saat semua berandal sedang sibuk dengan ‘urusan’ mereka dengan Floe, Cero langsung melihat kesempatan. Dengan gemetaran, ia meraih smartphone­ dari sakunya, lantas buru-buru berdiri dan merekam video ketiga berandal dan Floe di hadapannya sekarang.

Baru selang beberapa detik kemudian, Si Kurus menyadari perbuatan Cero. “Hei, apa yang kau lakukan, hah?!”

“Brengsekkk!”

Sekarang, ketiga berandal mulai berdiri mendekat dan memojokkan Cero ke sudut ruangan. Raut wajah mereka semua sekarang dipenuhi oleh amarah.

Cero yang masih gemetaran sempat ciut ketika dipojokkan seperti ini. Namun, begitu melihat keadaan Floe yang sekarang, ia menguatkan hatinya.

Aku tak boleh takut di saat seperti ini. Pasti ada yang bisa kulakukan. Aku tak boleh biarkan ini semua sia-sia.

“Mana hape kau?! Cepat berikan, sini!” Si Badan Besar membentak dengan emosi.

Cero terdiam sejenak, lantas tersenyum tipis. Bahkan ia sempat terkekeh sebentar. Si Badan Besar pun lantas mencengkeram kaos Cero dengan kasar.

“Apanya yang lucu, Kawan? Hah?!”

Cero merapikan rambutnya sejenak. Ia menyeringai lebar, percaya diri. “Heh, kau sudah lupa aku siapa, bangsat?”

Ketiga berandal pun terkejut seketika.

“Aku punya barang buktinya. Kalian sudah tak bisa apa-apa lagi sekarang.”

“Kau… kau…! Ketua sialann!!” Si Badan Besar menguatkan cengkeramannya, bersiap melayangkan bogem mentah ke wajah Cero. Namun Cero sudah paham betul akan ini, dan ia tanpa ampun mengirimkan tendangan keras menuju kemaluan Si Badan Besar. Cengkeraman Si Badan Besar pun terlepas, dan Cero tidak melewatkan kesempatan ini sedetik pun. Ia langsung mengambil langkah seribu untuk keluar dari tempat itu.

“Oi, kembali kau ke sini! Bajingaaan!”

BRAK!

Cero berhasil keluar, di belakangnya ketiga berandal sudah mengejar dengan kecepatan penuh sambil menyumpah. Ia tak sempat melihat ke arah Zeth bersembunyi untuk memastikan, ia hanya fokus untuk melarikan diri. Ia sadar kemampuan larinya tidak secepat Zeth, jadi ia benar-benar tak ingin tertangkap sekarang.

Cero sudah membeberkan identitas aslinya kepada mereka. Namun sebagai gantinya, semua berjalan sesuai rencana dan Zeth bisa membawa Floe keluar dari sana tanpa gangguan.

Sekarang giliranmu, penyelamat.

Di sisi lain, Zeth yang tadinya masih bersembunyi sekarang benar-benar terkejut dengan apa yang barusan terjadi. Pintu didobrak dengan keras, lantas beberapa siluet orang keluar dari sana—sepertinya terjadi kejar-kejaran.

Barusan berapa bayangan orang yang kulihat? Apakah Cero sudah menyelesaikan urusannya di dalam?

Zeth menggenggam tas Cero dan miliknya sendiri dengan erat, lantas segera melangkah masuk ke dalam rumah. Ia langsung berjalan menuju sumber cahaya yang berasal dari belakang rumah.

Sial… dia benar-benar melakukannya. Aku tak boleh takut sekarang. Aku harus melakukan ini.

Zeth langsung masuk ke dalam ruangan yang menyala terang. Begitu melihat kondisi Floe yang sedang terduduk di lantai, ia langsung menjatuhkan kedua tas dan beringsut mundur sejenak. Ia memalingkan wajahnya dan menutup mulutnya.

Ah. Ini buruk sekali.

Selang beberapa detik, Floe tidak bereaksi sama sekali. Ia bahkan tidak menatap ke arah Zeth sama sekali. Hanya menatap nanar lantai di dekatnya, tanpa ekspresi.

Zeth akhirnya mulai memberanikan diri untuk menghadapi situasi di hadapannya dengan tegas. Aku harus melakukan ini, atau semua yang Cero lakukan akan sia-sia. Zeth mulai berjalan mendekat, lantas berjongkok dan mengulurkan tangannya. “Anu… kamu bisa bangun?”

Floe tidak merespons.

“Jadi, begini… maaf, tapi aku mengikutimu tadi—Ah, sebentar, pakaianmu…” Zeth masih belum berani menatapnya langsung, ia buru-buru mengambil bra dan seragam milik Floe yang tergeletak di lantai, namun ternyata seragamnya sudah dipenuhi dengan noda bekas terinjak-injak sepatu. Zeth yang mulai salah tingkah dan sedikit panik sekarang buru-buru mengambil seragam miliknya yang berada di dalam tas, lantas memberikannya kepada Floe dengan malu-malu. “Ini, pakailah…”

Meskipun begitu, Floe tetap tidak bereaksi. Tidak berinisiatif sama sekali untuk memakainya. Zeth jadi kebingungan melihatnya.

“H-hei! Tolong cepat dipakai…”

“Apakah Anda tidak senang dengan saya yang seperti ini?”

Zeth terdiam sejenak. “A-apa?”

Floe mengulangi kalimatnya. Wajah Zeth langsung memerah seperti kepiting rebus. “T-tidak! Kamu salah paham! Aku… aku tidak berniat buruk…”

Hening seketika. Situasinya menjadi benar-benar canggung sekarang.

Ah, sial. Aku tidak boleh berlama-lama di sini.

“Anu… pokoknya, tolong pakailah sesuatu dulu—”

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Zeth terpaku di posisinya. Ia mendengar langkah kaki. Sial! Mereka sudah kembali?!

Suara langkah itu semakin mendekat. “Floooe. Kau tidak kabur, kan? Jangan membuatku cemas denganmu, lhooo!!”

Zeth mulai bersiap diri. Sekarang, ia sudah tidak punya kesempatan kabur lagi. Mau tak mau, ia harus menghadapinya.

“Flo—Hah, siapa kau?! Sedang apa kau di sini?” Sosok berandal kurus menampakkan dirinya di ambang pintu ruangan, seketika terkejut.

Zeth sudah siap dalam posisinya. Ia berdiri di depan Floe, merentangkan kedua tangannya. “Seharusnya aku yang bicara begitu.”

“Kau—kau ingin membawanya pergi dari sini? Kau bekerja sama dengan mantan ketua sialan itu—”

Si Kurus membelalakkan matanya, ia langsung sadar akan sesuatu.

“Aha! Sekarang aku tahu. Kau yang mengajak mengobrol anak itu tadi, kan? Kau juga yang sempat mengintip tempo hari. Ada apa, hah? Kau juga tertarik dengannya?”

Si Kurus berkata dengan nada menantang, namun Zeth takkan membiarkan nyalinya ciut dari itu. “Huh. Tebakan yang buruk.

“Dasar sok suci. Jangan berbohong. Tak mungkin kau sampai menguntit ke sini dengan niatan sebaik itu hanya untuk sampah sepertinya.”

Zeth semakin kesal, menggigit bibirnya sendiri. Aku tahu kalau aku ini memang sok suci. Menyebalkan, memang, tapi aku tak bisa membantahnya. Tapi…

“Tapi, paling tidak aku tak serendah kalian yang sampai seenaknya mengotori gadis seumuran sampai seperti ini. Kalianlah yang sampah!” seru Zeth dengan penuh ketegasan. Ia sama sekali tidak menurunkan kedua tangannya, menatap Si Kurus dengan penuh amarah.

Wajah Si Kurus menjadi semakin bengis. “Kau…”

Bukk!

Sebuah bogem mentah melayang ke arah pipi Zeth, membuatnya terhuyung. Tak lama kemudian, ia akhirnya kehilangan keseimbangan dan terjatuh. Ia memegangi pipinya yang sedikit membengkak sekarang.

“Ada apa? Tak bisa melawan, hah? Pengecut! Tolol!”

Setelah itu, berandal kurus itu lanjut menendang dan menginjak-injak tubuh Zeth yang sekarang tersungkur di lantai. Zeth berusaha bangkit, namun berandal kurus itu tidak memberinya celah. Hampir sekujur tubuh bagian atasnya terasa nyeri sekarang.

Zeth! Bangun, bodoh! Dasar menyedihkan!

Tak ingin ini semua berakhir begitu saja, Zeth akhirnya berusaha mulai melawan balik. Ia memegangi salah satu kaki Si Kurus, lantas menariknya sekuat tenaga yang membuat Si Kurus juga terjatuh.

“Argh! Brengsek!!”

Kini Zeth tidak tinggal diam. Ia tidak menyia-nyiakan kesempatan ini. Ia segera berdiri, lantas segera menendang dengan sekuat tenaga pada bagian vital Si Kurus—kemaluannya. Si Kurus langsung berteriak kesakitan dengan keras, kedua tangannya refleks memegangi bagian yang ditendang Zeth.

Zeth menyambar seragam miliknya yang tergeletak di lantai, memakaikannya langsung seadanya pada Floe yang sedang duduk dengan gemetaran. Ia tak punya waktu untuk memikirkan kesopanan atau apapun itu. Ia menggenggam pergelangan tangan Floe. “Ayo, kita keluar dari sini!”

“Anu… ah—” Belum menyelesaikan kalimatnya, Floe langsung ditarik oleh Zeth yang sudah hendak kabur.

“Kau…!” Si Kurus yang dari tadi mengaduh kesakitan di lantai sekarang mulai bergerak, mencengkeram pergelangan kaki Floe. Tanpa basa-basi, Zeth langsung menginjak tangan Si Kurus, membuat cengkeramannya lepas seketika. Si Kurus kembali berteriak kesakitan.

“Ayo!”

Zeth terus menarik gadis itu menuju pintu depan rumah. Begitu sampai di ambang pintu, Zeth langsung menahan langkahnya. Sosok Si Badan Besar dan Si Gemuk terlihat berjalan mendekat. Ia langsung menyumpah dalam hati.

Tanpa pikir panjang, Zeth langsung menarik Floe menuju sudut gelap tempat ia bersembunyi di awal tadi. Kini mereka berdua dalam posisi jongkok, juga sangat dekat. Zeth juga refleks menempelkan tangannya di mulut Floe, mengingatkannya untuk tidak membuat suara. Ia hanya terus merapal dalam hatinya, semoga tidak ketahuan. Semoga tidak ketahuan…

Doanya langsung terkabul. Mereka berdua tidak ketahuan. Dua berandal itu tak menyadari keberadaan mereka yang tidak tersorot cahaya lampu. Satu detik setelah bayangan punggung kedua berandal itu memasuki pintu depan, Zeth kembali menggenggam tangan Floe, berusaha sebisa mungkin untuk berlari tanpa menimbulkan suara.

Zeth berlari menuju arah datangnya berandal tadi kembali. Sesuai perkiraannya, siluet Cero langsung tampak sedang tengkurap di tanah. Sepertinya ia tak berhasil kabur jauh. Zeth langsung menghampirinya.

“Cer! Bangunlah! Kita akan keluar dari sini!” Zeth menggerak-gerakkan tubuh Cero.

“Zeth…” Cero membalikkan tubuhnya dengan susah payah. Kini Zeth kurang lebih bisa melihat wajahnya dengan jelas. Tak mengejutkan, memar dan luka berdarah memenuhi setiap sudut wajah Cero. Zeth merasa tak tega melihatnya.

“Kau… pergilah terlebih dulu. Jangan pedulikan aku.”

“Tapi—”

“Sekujur tubuhku sekarang terasa nyeri luar biasa, Kawan. Aku hanya akan memperlambat. Aduduh…” Cero mendesis kesakitan saat berusaha menggerakkan tubuhnya.

“Tapi… tetap saja!”

“Sudahlah. Cepat pergi sebelum para berandal itu datang. Gadis itu lebih butuh bantuanmu sekarang daripada aku. Jangan lupakan itu.”

Zeth menoleh ke arah Floe. Ia menggigit bibirnya. “Baiklah…”

Seketika, Zeth mendengar suara teriakan para berandal itu dari rumah yang tadi. Tanda bahwa ia harus segera pergi.

“Maaf, Cer.”

Cero hanya menyeringai tipis. “Tak apa. Kerjakan saja bagianmu, pahlawan.”

Zeth berdiri, menggenggam tangan Floe. “Ayo.”

Mereka berdua menyusuri jalanan gelap itu hingga ke pintu masuk gang tadi. Untung saja, saat ditanya Floe mau memberitahu jalan keluarnya.

Namun, Zeth masih belum bisa bernapas lega sekarang. Setelah semua kejadian yang barusan ia lalui, sekarang ia baru sadar akan satu hal yang tadinya sempat ia lupakan.

Harus kuapakan gadis ini sekarang?

“Anu…” Floe berkata lirih.

Zeth berpikir untuk beberapa detik, namun ia tak kepikiran ide sama sekali. Di sisi lain, sepertinya ketiga berandal tadi masih berkemungkinan mengejar mereka. Ia harus cepat memutuskan.

“Baiklah. Kita akan ke rumahku sekarang untuk bersembunyi. Ikuti aku.”

“Apabila demikian, apakah Anda akan senang?” tanya Floe tiba-tiba.

Dia bertanya seperti itu lagi. “I-iya… aku akan senang, kok. Ayo. Sekarang kita harus cepat sebelum terkejar oleh mereka.” Zeth menanggapi pertanyaan aneh itu seadanya. Meskipun masih penasaran, ia tak ingin membuang-buang waktu lebih lama.

Malam seperti ini, angkutan umum sudah jarang lewat—mereka berdua harus berlari-lari kecil untuk sampai di rumah Zeth dengan segera.

Lima belas menit kemudian, mereka berdua sampai di depan rumah Zeth. Daripada dibilang rumah, ini lebih cocok dikatakan sebuah kamar sewaan. Kamarnya tidak terlalu besar—hanya berukuran empat kali empat dan terletak di lantai satu, terpojok di ujung. Zeth hendak membuka pintu, namun baru di saat itu ia teringat sesuatu.

Gawat. Aku lupa dengan tasnya.

Zeth biasanya menyimpan kunci kamar di dalam tasnya. Ia sebenarnya juga memiliki kunci cadangan, tapi kunci itu sekarang berada di dalam kamarnya. Ia mulai gugup dan berkeringat dingin, lantas mulai berjalan mondar-mandir sambil memegangi dagunya.

Kunci cadanganku ada di dalam. Aku tak bisa kembali untuk mengambil tasku sekarang. Lagipula, sekarang ada Floe denganku dengan penampilannya yang seperti itu…

Zeth akhirnya kehabisan ide. Ia terduduk lemas di depan pintu kamarnya, menghela napas panjang. “Maaf, kunci kamarku sepertinya tertinggal di dalam tasku, aku lupa membawanya tadi. Untuk sekarang, kita tidak bisa masuk ke dalam. Duduklah saja dulu,” ujar Zeth saat melihat Floe yang masih berdiri canggung di dekatnya.

Floe pun mulai duduk dengan patah-patah. “Anu…”

“Hm? Apa?”

“Apakah Anda senang dengan ini?” tanya Floe dengan lirih. Ia tak berani menatap langsung wajah Zeth sekarang.

“Ah, pertanyaan itu lagi. Kenapa kamu bertanya seperti itu? Tidak, tidak. Aku tidak akan melakukan yang aneh-aneh. Aku bukan seperti mereka.” Zeth menyeringai, melambaikan tangannya. “Lagipula, jangan memanggilku ‘Anda’. Ya ampun, kita berdua ini seangkatan, lho. Namaku Zeth. Panggil saja begitu.”

Floe mulai memeluk lututnya lesu, tak berani menjawab. Zeth hanya menatap malas bulan yang sedang bersinar separuh di langit malam.

“Yah, tapi kalau kamu bertanya seperti itu, tentu saja aku senang. Aku bisa membawamu keluar dari tempat seperti itu. Usahaku dengan Cero hari ini tidak sia-sia. Oh, kamu belum kuberitahu, ya? Cero itu temanku. Apakah kamu bertemu dengannya kemarin?”

Floe tidak menjawab. Zeth terkekeh kecil, mulai perlahan menutup matanya.

“Heh… ah, sudahlah. Sungguh… hari yang melelahkan…”

Tak lama setelah itu, Zeth mulai mendengkur halus. Floe akhirnya memberanikan dirinya untuk melirik sedikit ke arah Zeth.

Begitu melihat wajah tidur Zeth yang damai, Floe malah bertambah murung. Namun perlahan, ia akhirnya juga tertidur dalam duduknya.

“Zzz… Apa… wah!”

Zeth terbangun dari tidurnya dan langit masih gelap. Ia cukup kaget begitu melihat kepala Floe yang masih terlelap tersandar pada bahunya. Ia perlahan memindahkannya agar kepala Floe tersandar pada dinding. Setelah itu, ia juga baru menyadari ada sesuatu yang mengganjal di kakinya sekarang. Ia juga tak kalah terkejutnya setelah melihatnya.

Kenapa… tasku ada di sini? Memang siapa yang membawanya ke sini?

Saat itu, Zeth benar-benar tak punya ide soal siapa yang bisa menemukan tasnya dan membawanya ke sini. Ia sempat berpikir Cero, namun setelah melihat kondisinya semalam sepertinya itu sulit dipercaya. Ia merogoh isi tasnya. Sepertinya semua isinya baik-baik saja. Dan yang terpenting…

Kring. Kring. Zeth menghela napas lega. Kuncinya ada di dalam. Ia mengecek jam tangannya.

Ah, jam empat pagi.

Zeth membuka pintu kamarnya dan mulai membereskan isi kamarnya. Ia sebenarnya tak tega membangunkan Floe yang masih terlelap. Namun dalam situasinya sekarang, sepertinya tidak ada cara lain.

Berbeda dengan situasi yang menegangkan seperti tadi malam—sekarang setelah semuanya kembali cukup tenang, Zeth menjadi salah tingkah dan malu-malu ketika melihat bagian tubuh atas Floe yang hanya dipakaikan seragam miliknya seadanya—tanpa dalaman juga. Sepertinya aku juga harus melakukan sesuatu soal ini.

“H-hei, Floe. Bangunlah. Hari sudah siang.” Zeth menggoyang-goyang pundak Floe. Di luar dugaannya, Floe langsung bangun dan mengerjap-ngerjap.

“Mmm… A-ah! Ketiduran… Aduh… Maaf…” Floe mendadak berbicara terpatah-patah setelah bertatapan langsung dengan Zeth.

“Yah, maaf sudah membangunkanmu. Sebenarnya aku masih ingin membiarkanmu tidur lebih lama, tapi…”

“M-maaf…”

“Yah, pokoknya, masuklah terlebih dahulu dan bersihkan dirimu. Setelah itu, pakailah ini.” Zeth menyodorkan satu setel baju rumah miliknya dan sebuah handuk. “Aku tahu ini untuk laki-laki dan ukurannya sepertinya tidak pas, tapi hanya ini yang kupunya sekarang, jadi…”

Floe menerimanya dengan wajah cemas. “A-anu …”

“Hm?”

“Apakah dengan ini, Anda-ehm, maksud saya… anu…”

“S-sudahlah, pokoknya jangan banyak tanya sekarang. Masuklah dan bersihkan dirimu, setelah itu kita bisa mengobrol dengan nyaman di dalam. Mengerti? Tenang, aku tidak akan mengintip. Aku akan menunggu di luar.” Zeth membukakan pintu kamar mandi dalam kamarnya.

Floe terpatah-patah berdiri, perlahan melangkah masuk dengan gemetaran. Zeth beranjak keluar dan duduk di luar kamarnya, menutup pintu depan. Sepertinya dia masih ketakutan. Yah, mau bagaimana lagi. Untungnya dia mau menurut.

Lima menit kemudian, terdengar suara pintu kamar mandi dibuka dari dalam. “Kamu sudah selesai?”

Tiga puluh detik tanpa jawaban. Zeth mengulangi pertanyaannya. Floe akhirnya menjawab dari dalam dengan nada lirih dan ketakutan. Zeth hanya bisa geleng-geleng ringan sambil tersenyum sebelum kembali masuk ke kamarnya.

Floe sekarang sedang berdiri di depan pintu kamar mandi dengan pakaian rumahan milik Zeth. Rambut panjang sebahunya masih belum kering, kaus dan celana milik Zeth yang sekarang ia pakai tampak kebesaran. Sorot matanya yang sayu masih belum berubah, badannya menggigil. Ia menundukkan kepalanya, masih belum Zeth menggaruk kepalanya. Kuminta mandi pukul tiga pagi sepertinya bukan ide yang bagus juga, tapi… sudahlah.

“Duduklah.” Zeth beranjak duduk di atas kasurnya, lantas menepuk-nepuk bagian kasur di sebelahnya. Kegelisahan masih tampak jelas terpapar dari wajah Floe.

“Tenang saja, aku takkan menggigit kok. Jangan sungkan—”

Begitu mendengar perkataan Zeth, raut wajah Floe menjadi semakin ketakutan. Zeth memegangi bibirnya seketika, memalingkan wajah.

Sial, sepertinya aku salah bicara. Fokus, Zeth!

“P-pokoknya, duduklah terlebih dahulu. Kumohon. Aku ingin mengobrol denganmu.”

Dengan kikuk, Floe akhirnya beranjak duduk di sebelah Zeth. Tak ingin situasi canggung berlangsung lebih lama lagi, Zeth berniat memulai pembicaraan.

“Baiklah, mulai saja dari perkenalan diriku. Namaku Zeth, panggil saja begitu. Aku dari kelas A. Aku tinggal di sini sendirian, terpisah dari orang tuaku. Keuangan kami pas-pasan. Di hari libur, aku mengambil kerja sampingan di supermarket di dekat sini untuk menambah uang saku. Hal kesukaanku… yah, sebenarnya aku tak punya sesuatu yang benar-benar kusukai atau semacamnya. Karena kondisi keuanganku yang begini, jadi aku harus belajar mensyukuri apa yang kupunya sekarang. Ha ha… ” Zeth tertawa kecil dalam mengakhiri ceritanya. “Lalu, bagaimana denganmu?”

Beberapa detik kemudian, Floe masih belum menanggapi. Yang ada, malah membuat raut wajah Floe menjadi semakin muram dan gelisah. Zeth kembali menyumpahi dirinya sendiri di dalam hati karena tidak peka dengan situasinya sekarang. Dia jelas punya trauma. Mana mau dia kuajak mengobrol panjang-lebar sekarang.

“E-eng… begini. Aku minta maaf karena sudah memaksakanmu banyak hal sampai sekarang. Sebenarnya, aku ingin menanyaimu beberapa hal, tapi kurasa sekarang bukanlah waktu yang tepat. Untuk sekarang, aku hanya ingin menanyaimu satu hal.” Zeth mengambil jeda sejenak.

“Apa yang ingin kamu lakukan sekarang?”

Floe masih belum menggerakkan bibirnya.

“Apakah kamu ingin kembali ke rumah itu kemarin? Sekarang?”

Masih tanpa jawaban.

“Tapi, sebenarnya, kamu juga boleh tetap di sini, kok. Aku tidak akan mengusirmu. Kamu bisa tinggal di sini sampai situasinya membaik. B-bagaimana?”

Sebenarnya, Zeth memiliki banyak keraguan dalam perkataannya yang barusan. Memang membiarkan seorang gadis asing di tempatnya untuk menginap bukanlah ide yang bagus, namun hanya ini yang terpikirkan oleh Zeth sekarang agar Floe tidak kembali berakhir di gang menyeramkan itu.

“T-tidak tahu…”

Zeth sedikit terkejut saat mendengar Floe akhirnya mengatakan sesuatu. “Hmm?”

“S-saya… tidak… tahu…”

“Tidak tahu apa?”

Floe semakin menundukkan kepalanya. “Semuanya… saya benar-benar… tidak… tahu…”

“Katakan saja. Apapun yang kamu pilih, aku akan tetap membantumu.”

“Bukan… begitu…”

Zeth semakin dibuat bingung. Ya ampun, ini benar-benar sulit.

“Baik… buruk… saya tidak tahu. Tidak bisa memilih. Saya… tidak bisa… memilih…”

Zeth mengerutkan dahinya sejenak, lantas ia terpikir sebuah dugaan. Namun, ia masih harus memastikannya.

“Apakah harus aku yang memilihkannya kepadamu?”

Selang jeda beberapa detik, Floe mengangguk lemah. Zeth merapatkan bibirnya. Begitu, ya.

Dari yang bisa kutangkap sekarang, trauma yang dialaminya sepertinya sudah cukup parah. Kalau diingat lagi, bukankah dia tak pernah berkata ‘tolong aku’ sekalipun? Sepertinya, dia selalu pasrah dengan keadaannya yang seperti ini dan menggantungkannya kepada orang lain—mungkin sama halnya dengan kejadian semalam dengan tiga berandal itu. Aku masih harus mencari tahu lebih banyak lagi…

“Baiklah. Kalau begitu, untuk sementara waktu ini, kamu akan menginap di kamarku ini sampai situasinya membaik. Jangan masuk sekolah dulu, juga jangan keluar dari kamar ini sampai aku pulang nanti. Aku dan temanku akan mencari jalan keluarnya, aku berjanji. Bagaimana…?”

“… Apakah Anda merasa senang dengan itu?”

Zeth mengulas senyum lebar. “Tentu saja. Senang sekali.” Sepertinya sekarang aku paham dengan maksud pertanyaannya itu.

Begitu mendengarnya, Floe langsung mengangkat wajahnya dan menatap Zeth secara langsung. Ia tersenyum tipis. “Terima… kasih…”

Senyuman Zeth menjadi semakin lebar. “Sama-sama. Oh iya, kamu lupa, ya. Aku bukan ‘Anda’, namaku Zeth.”

“… Dimengerti.”

Zeth tertawa kecil. “Ya ampun, tolong jangan terlalu kaku begitu, dong…”

Setelah itu, cahaya matahari pagi sudah mulai terlihat di ufuk timur. Zeth mulai bersiap-siap untuk berangkat sekolah. Ia hanya berpesan kepada Floe bahwa persediaan makanan di kamarnya hanyalah beberapa kemasan mi instan—dan ia juga memberitahu Floe cara untuk membuat air panas dengan pemanas air. Setelah itu, ia berangkat dan meninggalkan Floe di kamarnya. Sebenarnya ia masih cemas apakah Floe akan baik-baik saja dan menuruti perkataannya, namun sekarang bukan waktunya untuk memikirkan hal seperti itu.

Benar. Aku harus segera bertemu kembali dengan Cero dan menyelesaikan semuanya. Sebelum semua masalah ini menjadi lebih parah. Demi kebaikan gadis itu. 

Ya ampun. Tahun terakhirku di SMA ini akan menjadi sedikit lebih sibuk dari biasanya.

              

              

              

              

              

              


Child of Winter

Entry Writchal 1
Tema: Alternate history, Kaderisasi, Soviet Union


Happiness lies in comfort of the unknown. Even I know that to an extent. People long for happiness. Even I, though undeserving, long for it.

Amidst this desolated, blanketed-white, cursed land I can hold these dear, small hand with a smile. Almost as if ignoring the sin I’ve committed all throughout my life. I abandoned my humanity in search of happiness. Then I turned my back against my own self to gain my happiness back.

My happiness lies here, beside me, in the form of another human.

“Mom, can I see the sunlight?”

“Hm? You can clearly see the daylight though.”

“Mhn. Not that. I read it in the books.”

My child inquired with her eyes upturned, brimming with curiosity.

“They said that the day was brighter than any bonfire. It is so bright that the shadows are not intermingled. The sunlight shines forever bright that you cannot see it with your own eyes, else you will be blind.”

She explained, not letting go of my hand. Her other hand spun around just to visualize how bright the sun can be. And how she wished to see it, by looking up at the eternally gray-tinted sky above us.

“I wonder if it will stop.”

“…”

A wry smile sprung on my face. I couldn’t bring myself to answer her question.

Happiness lies in comfort of the unknown. What she consider as happiness, might be different from mine. But her existence is still brimming with innocence, an infant susceptible to many wrong of the world.

To correct them—nay, to prevent them, I must give light to her the harms that lies within the ways of this world. God’s creation are imperfect such that they would consider themselves as one.

“How about I tell you a story?”

“Uhm? Aren’t we close to the bakery?”

“We can always take a detour.”

“Mmmh…”

Ana pondered over a shorter route to bakery or a longer one with storytelling. Our strides are gradually shortening and we walked slower to let her choose.

“Let’s take a detour!”

“Sure, then.”

Without prying further towards her reasoning, we shifted our route on a forkroad, taking a long turnaround before reaching the bakery.

“Then, as promised, let me tell you a story.”

“Un!”

Ana tightened her grip on my hand., her smile anticipating whatever comes next out of my mouth. Our stride remained at a slow-pace, yet with each step I could feel her eagerness to listen.

“Once upon a time, there lived a witch. It is said that her power were a wish granted through a pact with the devil.

Grant thy power unto me, then thou shalt receive on my behest, vehement soul of pure damsels!

The devil agreed to her pact, only under one condition.

‘No mortal will ever be capable of withstanding the almighty authority I bear, and for you I grant one, and only one.’

Therefore the witch received her power in the form of a book, called The Grimoire. The book is said to contain every power imaginable, but there’s a catch. A single person may only use one power from the book, and the user must sacrifice a part of their body to obtain it.

One day, another girl happened to stumble upon The Grimoire, a porcelain-skinned girl with blond hair. She was an abandoned orphan during a crisis in the Kingdom of far, far north. 

Winter was not a fond memory for her. She was born and left to fend for herself during the harshest winter with barely any food. She lost her lover during a deadly blizzard in the winter. She had to move from place to place in search of fire to warm her frigid cold body.

One day, on the brink of death, the girl fell on top of a snow pile half her height.

Curse the winter,’ she said.

’Curse the cold and snow that left my life in anguish,’ she resented.

’If only I could erase winter forever,’ the girl wished genuinely from the depths of her heart while clutching The Grimoire. A trickle of blood drip down from her frozen extremities, tainting The Grimoire with a red color.

And then a faint, ephemeral whisper could be heard by her—Tell me, what will you offer in exchange of this power?

The girl, exhausting the remaining warmth left on her body, intently spoke with a muffled voice.

The only valuable part of myself, my hair.’

And thus the pact was made. Her gleaming blond hair turned into pale-white color, each strand becoming lifeless with its color sapped. Her previously wrinkled skin regained its energy as she cover herself in a blanket of pure white snow. Life returned into her eyes, a fiery rage more fearsome than the winter itself presiding in it.

She was the Winter Witch.

Filled with hatred and anguish, at her disposal was a force of nature beckoning human to stay still. The wind driving storm into blizzard. The cold driving rainfall into icefall. A force capable of sapping away all color in the bountiful land into a colorless, lifeless desert.

’I have had enough, and all of you will pay for it.’

The Winter Witch said, bearing resentment and ill-will. She trapped the whole Kingdom under an eternal winter, never again to see any sunlight nor spring of tomorrow dawn.”

I was…a bit overexcited along the way. Perhaps I shouldn’t have said that in a truthful manner, though I tried my best so it would sound similar to a fairytale.

No matter how you put it, pouring your heart out towards a child, your own nonetheless, is a truly pathetic excuse of a parent.

“Mom…it hurts.”

“Huh?!”

“Your hand…”

“S-sorry, Ana! Are you okay?”

“Um…uh-hn.”

Ana shook her head slightly.

“Why don’t you tell me earlier?!”

“Because you look like you’re in pain, Mom.”

Was I, not holding back myself? Why must I feel like holding myself together? Have I…not forgiven myself?

This child, living only to never see the sunlight. Even though I promised myself to provide for her happiness. In the end, what I seek was the happiness of my own.

It’s the same.

Unchanging, all the same as I was back then.

“Why are you crying, Mom?”

How could I, after all. These hands have turned countless fire into ash—tainted in black soot, freezing to the touch. Unworthy of any warmth, yet I fear—I still fear that one day I will lose the warmth I always thought as my own.

Why…what did I do to deserve all this?

My legs gave in as I grieved.

My hands clench in fear.

This distant feeling is casting me away from standing up and reaching out to my child. It has been, always has been since the beginning. I was just fooling myself, basking in a grand illusion I selfishly created.

I dare not even raise my head. The words I’ve said, it carried more truth than comfort. What I did, what I have said, what I have done.

I thought I have left it all behind.

“It’s okay, Mom.”

Ana gave me a pat on my head.

“You know, it’s not the first time you look like you’re in pain. Mom often cries in her sleep.”

This comfort.

Ah. It’s as if…

“And whenever I gave you headpats, you always stop crying!”

The snow below pillowed the flowing tears down my cheek. A mixture of regret taken form in liquid emotion. Droplets of water, not ice. Such water is capable of rendering the snow weak—from frozen solid into lukewarm pool.

Like a child, I cried.

Almost, as if I have been pretending not to be all this time.

No, perhaps, I have always been pretending not to. Always looking away, bearing confidence in running away. And, worse of all, thinking that I am deserving of love.

How many years has it been? I had thrown my humanity long ago in search of happiness. I was too conceited, narrow-sighted, and childish back then—mistaking happiness as the suffering of others.

I did the irreversible. My hands incapable of restoring what was lost. I took my own self for granted, pretending to shoulder the misfortune of the world.

“Hnmf!”

Ana hugged me. 

My child, her hands have grown long enough to embrace me. 

Time does not stand still, even in the face of immortality. My time, it began to move again alongside her existence.

“You know, I like your white hair. It’s beautiful like falling snow in the morning,”

“And that’s not all, I love it because I have the same white hair!”

“Even if all my friends mock me for it, I will never hate it.”

“Because it’s the color of the hair of the Mom that I love!”

I wonder if this rain will stop. I wonder if I could bear living with it. This hand…are they capable of returning this embrace?

Why not?’

All you have to do is forgive yourself.

A voice resonates within. What have I been waiting for? If I return this embrace, then I believe something within me will change. Resolution, acceptance, forgivance…I could not clearly define this resolve within my heart.

But if it’s for this child, then I’ll gladly do so.

“I’m sorry, Ana.”

Using the remaining strength left, I raised my hand and hugged Ana.

“I’m sorry…”

“…I’m truly sorry…”

Ana pats my back with a slight thud. A bit too strong for comfort, but you can clearly feel the intention all the same.

“It’s not that, right?”

It’s not?

Ah.

“Right.”

How could I forget? If the cold persists, be grateful to the warmth. If the past remains, be grateful the future. If there’s no sunlight, be grateful to the snow.

I taught that to my child.

She taught me back in ways I never expect.

Ultimately, wasn’t I just teaching myself?

That this world is unbearably cruel to live in by yourself. So much, that it might distort your very own human. The longer you live in pain, the further you stray from decency. You have to figure out how to return yourself back to human once more.

And that could never be done without the help of others.

“Thank you, Ana.”

Happiness lies in the comfort of others. Even I, who believes I am undeserving of it, know at least that. People long for happiness in their own—but truthfully, happiness lies within each other.

Nobody really likes the winter. Especially up in the coldest north of Rus. Freezing cold requires a strong physique to withstand. Strong physique requires your mind to be rigid too. Living in the north is harsh, oppression of the strong begets cruelty to the weak.

I fear the winter will go on endlessly. It’s frightening to the point of heating up this cold and tired heart. A burning desire to ensure equality, just as those oppressors have taught us time and time again.

Therein, lies no happiness within this land in the winter. The weak remains still in the bottom pile of snow, their warmth sapped for the strong to live on. So when the weak obtain the means to overthrow the strong, what difference would that make?

Tell me, why do you still seek happiness when there is none?