XXXIII | Alone

Aspen tips Kumar’s head back.

In the torchlight Rowan is holding,
his eyes blink painfully.

There’s bruises on his face.
Not all of them are new.

A cut on his lip.

Looking at his battered appearance,

it didn’t just happen once.

He’s always smiling.
Saying stupid things.

I remember him greeting Rowan.
I remember being surprised

she responded.

I didn’t know anything.


‘Oi, Kumar.
‘Who did this?
‘Tell me.
‘I’m going to teach them a lesson.’

He groans.

I think he’s losing consciousness.

Aspen stops me
from shaking him awake.

But I need to know
who are the bastards
who did this.

Aspen takes Rowan’s tote bag,

the free National Day one
she brought to the zoo,
          the one I made fun of.

A first aid kit falls out.

I can only stare at her.


‘You knew?’

I clench my fists,
then unclench them.


I’ll deal with her later.

Kumar first.

‘Who? Who are the culprits?
‘Obviously got more than one.

‘Tell me. I’ll do anything you want.

Her expressionless eyes
only make me

feel more impatient.

She’s not answering.

She doesn’t care.

If she knew,
why didn’t she stop it before it happened?

I don’t mean fight back.

Call the police.
Tell a teacher.

Even better,
her God should have prevented it from happening in the first place!

‘Tell me!’ I yell.

Rowan flinches.

My voice echoes through the trees.

Kumar whimpers.
Aspen is talking to him,
dabbing water
on his wounds.

Why doesn’t he use alcohol?

It’s right there in the first aid kit!
This bodoh!

‘It’s his family.’

My breath
is knocked out
of my lungs.

Rowan’s emotionless eyes
are fixed on me.

‘There a vending machine here.
‘Get him an isotonic drink.’

My eye-roll
and muttered curse

doesn’t incite a response.

I jam a coin into the machine,
slam the button for Red Bull.

Rowan frowns at me.

‘I said isotonic—’

‘It’ll wake him up,’
I say.

Aspen wraps Kumar’s hand around the cold can.

He mumbles something.
His eyes open a crack.

But then they close again.

‘Can you sit up?’
Aspen asks.

‘Stretch your legs
‘so I can see where else is hurting.’

His eyes fill with fear.


Heavy breathing.

‘Leave me alone.’

‘I’m here, bro,’ I say before he can struggle.
‘They’re with me.’

His eyes crack open again.

This time, they stay open.
His smile is weak.

‘It’s you.’

Heavy breathing.

‘You’re the last person…’

A tear drips
from his eye

the side of his face.

My chest hurts.

Now, I’m now the one

who can’t breathe.

‘Shut up.’

That wobbly smile stretches further and turns into a grimace.

‘Stop joking around.

I need to look away.

Why didn’t you tell me you needed help?

I’m not crying.

I’m just so angry
I can’t see straight.

‘Sit up,’
Aspen says.

lets Aspen help him

into a more comfortable position.

He feeds Kumar
a sip of Red Bull.

I feel like grabbing the can
and downing it myself.

No, I need alcohol. This is too much.

I’m going to leave now.

I’ve had enough.


Then, Rowan’s hand
is touching mine.

She hands me Kumar’s Red Bull.

Did she hear me?

‘Hold this.’

Not for you. No drinking.

I watch the two of them ask Kumar some questions
and bandage his broken limbs.

For the first time,
I realise

I’m unreliable.




Rowan wants to give her chicken rice to Kumar

but I tell her I’m not hungry
and give my packet to him.

Her expressionless expression says
‘you’re lying’

But I grab my spoon
and scoop rice into Kumar’s mouth.

Kumar almost spits it back out.

‘Too much!’

I glare at him.

‘So fussy,’ I say.

But the next spoonful
is smaller.

He eats quietly.

‘This is good,’ he says.

We’re eating on the ground next to Kumar,
instead of at the nice comfortable stone bench.

Aspen belatedly asks if he’s Muslim
because the chicken rice isn’t halal.

Kumar doesn’t respond immediately.

‘Oops. I didn’t know.’

He blinks innocently.

Rowan looks flustered.

But I know what he means.
If I didn’t know, it’s not my fault.

‘What happened,’
I ask him.

I should wait.
That’s what it says on Aspen’s face.
But I’ve waited long enough.

‘Tell me what happened.’

He looks down at his bandaged wrist,
his hand trembles at some memory.

‘It’s usually bearable.
‘Today was just a bad day.

‘All of them were there.’

‘Who?’ I demand.

He rubs the bruise on the side of his neck.

‘Friends of my parents.’

‘And your parents?’ I demand.

Several emotions
flash over his dark eyes.


His voice catches.
I see his Adam’s apple
bob up and down
in the dim light.

Aspen holds up the can.
He swallows another gulp of Red Bull.

‘They’re the reason

‘their friends do this…’




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