XCVI | Milk

I didn’t go to school
for the rest of the week.

On Sunday,

at the bus stop
with her family,

Rowan said,

‘You should
‘talk to your friends

I asked why.

She shrugged
and suggested that

maybe they need
my help.

I told her I’m already
an unwanted presence
in their lives.

Maybe to them,

I’m the one
who killed him.

Like Ming’s parents,
they don’t open
the gate anymore

and the door
is always locked

even when it gets
really hot
and humid.

‘You said you’d live
‘in the real world,’
was her last word on this.

So after school,
I follow Kumar to the canteen.

I sit with them.

For the first time
in a long time.

Shuhui’s chewing
the stick of her lollipop.

‘Looks like
‘someone’s decided
‘to show face at last.’

Not all of them
bother to glance at me.

Nora comes
a bit later,

her whole body
when she sees me.

It hurts
my pride

more than I thought it would.

Kumar makes an effort
to talk about something
on our way
to the park

but everyone’s
in a bad mood.

So even Kumar
runs out of things to say.

We just
walk in silence.

Like a funeral procession.

glare at us,

a large group of students
walking at the pace of a snail,


Even bicycles,

ringing their bells wildly
to be let through,

are ignored.

An uncle yells at us
from his bike

and the Red Sea
parts reluctantly,


Rowan’s right,
my friends need help.

But what can I do
about this?

At the park,
all of us
crowd around the stone benches.

No one’s in a mood
to play soccer.

I think it’s because

it reminds us
too much

of his absence.

I actually
want to play

maybe by playing
we’ll forget

he’s gone forever.

‘Probably not a good idea then,’
Mr. Ahmad’s voice
interrupts the silence.

I turn my head
to see a cat-shaped stone
sitting in front of me,

flat green eyes
staring directly at me.

I’ve been

its existence

since Ming’s death,

the question

as soon as it comes:

Why didn’t you
do something about it?

It waves its stone tail now.

‘Don’t get angry
‘no matter what they say,’

the cat goes on saying,
‘they’re in pain
‘just like he was.

‘In ways you can’t see.’

A bitter taste
fills my throat.

Okay, I want to say.

But I don’t
because I don’t feel like being nice.

I notice
that Nora’s

staring at me
for a while now.

A crow
caws in the distance
over and over—

a death call.

The cat curls up
on the stone table

and goes to sleep.

‘What is it?’

I break the sacred silence
and everyone turns to stare at me

like I broke the Ten Commandments
all at once.

Nora’s eyes
shift away,

then back
with a vengeance.

‘You killed him,
‘didn’t you?’

Her voice is harsh,
as though she’s been crying.

She presses
her cheek
with her fingers
as she speaks.

‘You were there,
‘and you didn’t do anything.’

I glance down at the cat.

I have the same question

You were there
with me
and the tissue parachutes,

why didn’t you
do something about it?

Is Mr. Ahmad
just a cat
after all?

A drifting spirit,

all sarcasm
and no power?

They’re in pain.

The cat’s not speaking out loud
but I hear it.

And along with that,
I realise
the answer to my question.

I take a deep breath.

‘It’s okay, Nora,’
I say.
‘I’ll accept the blame for it.’

A flicker of fear
in her eyes.

‘What the hell?’
That’s Shuhui.

‘Did you really kill him?’

The cat turns
to look at me

and I see my reflection
in its glassy green eyes.

‘I did, didn’t I?

‘I just stood there
‘and watched.

‘Then I blamed him
‘for not talking to me.

‘I’m sure
‘I’m part of the reason
‘he died.’

‘Then, you–’
Nora says, her voice

tears gathering
like storm clouds
in her eyes,

‘–you should pay
‘for it with your life.’

Kumar’s eyes

as I nod my head

‘I will,’ I whisper.
‘What do you think
‘I can do to make up for this?’

The first tears
I’ve ever seen Nora shed

streak down her face,

as if the tears themselves
are embarrassed of their own

She takes a deep breath,
sucking her sadness
back in.

‘Buy me Red Bull.’




I’m about to comment
that it’s a weird request,

unlike her,

but the cat’s staring at me
so I get up
and head for the
vending machine.

I come back
with a can of soy milk.

The aluminium makes noise
when it comes in contact with stone.

She’s staring at the can
in bewilderment.

This is not Red Bull.

I stick my hands
in my pockets,

too embarrassed to sit back down.

The space I had been sitting
has disappeared
the moment I got up

—there’s no more room for me.

‘Stop starving yourself,’ I tell her.

‘You’re beautiful now,
‘you were beautiful back then too.
‘So stop it. Your parents–’

I might have said too much.
But I can’t stop now.

‘It’s not your fault.’

She doesn’t reply.

New tears form
and fall

from her brimming dark eyes.

‘Hey Clyde,’

Kumar says softly,

at the stone cat

on the stone table
in front of him.

He sees the cat

He meets my gaze,

the first time since
he began ignoring me

so that
the rest wouldn’t find out
how close we’d gotten,

his involvement with Rowan,
what really happened to him.

He smiles.

‘Get me a can too.’




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