Highly Commended Story - Perfect
“Perfect” by Arfan Khan Jeelany, Akshar Arbol International School, India, is the Highly Commended story in the junior category of the first biannual Short Story Contest 2019.
Arfan studies in seventh grade at Akshar Arból International School, Chennai, India. He likes reading and also enjoys writing book reviews on the books he has read. He gets magazines for kids every Friday and frequently sends articles to them. His favorite books include ‘The Book Thief’ by Markus Zusak and ‘The Fault in our Stars’ by John Green. Arfan’s favorite subjects at school are Chemistry, Biology, History and English, and he aspires to be a bio-chemist.
There was nothing wrong with him. He was perfect in every way. He was smart as a fox. He was fast as a cheetah. He was incredible. He was every superhero into one body. Everyone loved him. The teachers, his parents, his fellow classmates – everyone.
Who am I?
I knew almost everything about him. I knew his hopes, his dreams. I shared his food, his drink. I even went to the toilet with him.
Who am I?
His closest friend.
And you’re about to hear his story.
On the day everything changed, nothing happened.
That is, in the morning.
He got on the bus, always the second one. You would expect a huge hotshot at school to drive his own car or anything, but while my parents loved him just the way he is, they were too busy.
As is the case with popular cliché-y kids.
Maybe that’s why they’re the way they are.
So, there we were, picking up people on their merry way to school. Everyone who came on had to acknowledge him in some way. A wave. A greet. A simple nod. From the third grader to the ninth, everyone had to say “Hi!”.
My friends boarded, and I became involved in their different activities. But as always, I kept watch out of the corner of my eye.
This girl, Jennifer and her older sister Rachael, were always after us. And either Jennifer, or Rachael, always sat with him.
I haven’t told you his name yet, have I?
We’ll get to that in a moment.
We picked up a few more people before finally reaching the school. Sam. Alison. Andrew. Mia. Steven. Kevin, Vice and Andy. As usual, we arrived late, and I was late for first period. I didn’t mind, though. Nobody minds.
And besides, I could always blame my being late on the bus.
Lunch. Always a happy moment.
That moment at school where you get a half hour break from studies and physical exercise.
The name could be changed to ‘Physical Exertion’. That’s a good idea, isn’t it?
But I digress.
Let’s get back to the point.
This lunch period was filled with tension. The walls would usually absorb the negative feelings, but today, it bounced back.
And it reflected on the seniors.
He was cool, calm, composed, sure that he would top his classes, while others bit their nails to agony.
For the past twelve years, he’d always top the class.
Why would it change this time?
Just five minutes before the bell rang for next period, the loudspeaker crackled.
Mrs. Patricia’s voice barged into the cafeteria.
“Good afternoon, students! As the seniors of Bland View High know, today is Results Day! So, without further ado, here are the results! And I must say that we did receive some shocking results from one student. No prizes for guessing who!”
Kevin. Of course. He failed twelfth grade. Twice.
Or on the positive side, my brother, Samuel.
Well, now you know. His name is Samuel.
But again, I digress.
“...” A long pause. An unusually long pause for bubbly and bright Mrs. Patricia.
“...is this right?” “...No, it can’t be! How? Somebody cheated!” “...but Mrs. Agleam...” Oh well.”
Then, her normal voice.
“Well, students. Starting with the first, we have...
Kevin in first place.” Loud whispers at that. Kevin? No. The system must be wrong.
“Rachael in second place.
Peter in third place.
Darcy in fourth.
Hannah in fifth.
And those who didn’t qualify...
Her voice crackles out, and everyone is silent.
Samuel. Samuel. Samuel.
The whole cafeteria, the whole school, the whole area, the whole state, the whole country, the whole continent, the whole world, the whole universe seemed to linger on the taste of that one word.
It couldn’t be.
But... it is.
His whole life in front of him. His graduation. His degree. His career. His marriage. His whole life in front of him. All...
Fallen to ashes.
Crumbled like biscuit crumbs.
Turned to dust.
Every. Single. One. Of. Them.
His whole life, ruined.
His whole reputation, ruined.
And as well as I knew my brother, nothing mattered to him more than his image.
Not his mother.
Not even himself.
The bell rang for next period.
English for me. I got up, slowly. All I could hear were the whispers of my brother’s reputation. Crumbling in the eyes of me. Of you. Of everyone else.
English was a nightmare. So was Algebra, American History, and everything else after.
When I finally got out of what I now knew as a horror house, my brother wasn’t waiting for me. That was strange. He always was. We walked to the bus together, talking about our day. It was always perfect for him. Mine, however, was always filled with mishaps. Bumps here and there. “Sid and Daniel fought today, and the teacher assigned me to pull them apart. How could I? They’re my mates! Of course, it turned into a fistfight, and I received lunch-time detention.” Or, “I completely forgot to do my Business Studies homework, and the teacher gave me extra homework.” The teachers never gave me detention, simply because I was Samuel’s brother. I liked that.
Now it all has faded through.
Back to the part where I realized Samuel was missing. A million thoughts rushing in my head, I searched everywhere – in his last class, Biology, in the restrooms, in the Chess club he attends, even in the principal’s office. He was nowhere to be found.
Or… was he?
Our school was built over what once was more than half of the beach near here – Caral Beach, named after Carlos’ grandfather, Caral Rayo. Surprising, considering that he comes from a family of intelligent people, that he failed.
As I walked out, I could think of only one place he might have gone.
The Golden Bone.
The Golden Bone was actually a mansion once, and was inhabited by one of the richest families in the United States in the 1920s – the Gatsbys. Jay Gatsby was the inhabitant of the mansion, and he used to hold parties every night. But once the Great Depression rolled in, he became extremely poor and wasted all his money in gambling. He died by drowning himself in his pool, unable to cope with the stress of life. He was survived by no one, and his mansion crumbled to eternal glory, because no one wanted to buy it, thinking that it brought bad luck upon the inhabitant/s.
At least, that’s what we learnt in American History.
My brother took me there once. He said that it would be a bit of fun in ‘your mundane life’, and took me there after school. He said that we could take a taxi home. Anyway, we went inside, and after one look of it, I strolled out. Samuel dragged me in again, though. I did not want to look at it for another second. The walls were a dull blue-gray, and the paint was peeling off. Tiles were falling over my head every second, and I had to watch my head instead of my step. The floor was crumbling into the basement, and the basement? Let’s not dive into that topic.
Samuel dragged me all the way to the top floor. It was the seventh floor.
“Are you nuts? It’s seven floors!”
Typical Patrick. He always was scared.
He - hey, why are you writing my story?
Well, it is technically mine!
Still! Get away from that manuscript! Now!
Who are you to order me like that?
You aren’t the person you were before, Sam!
“Are you nuts? It’s seven floors!”
This is my reaction to when Samuel almost pushed me over the ledge. When he said ‘a bit of fun’, I had no idea he was referring to jumping off a ledge.
“Seriously. Has something infected your brain? Did you hit your head on the way out?”
“Trust me.” That was right before he actually shoved me over.
I thought of everything and nothing at all. Right after I hit it.
Is this it? Heaven?, I thought.
I didn’t dare to open my eyes, fearing that the light of God would make me go blind.
It’s okay, I reassured myself. I’ll explain to Him that my crazy brother pushed me off a ledge. He’ll understand.
I opened my eyes.
The sky was the same blue-gray color as the walls in the Gatsby Mansion. But this looks exactly like the real world!
Where am I?
I felt the ground- which was not really a ground. It felt smooth. Soft. Almost… synthetic.
I’m on a trampoline.
I’m… on a trampoline!
I’m on a… trampoline?
I stood up, and heard laughter. Familiar laughter.
“See? I told you to trust me!”
Samuel. Oh, Samuel.
I laughed myself, and jumped. I jumped, and Samuel jumped off too, giving me an extra jolt. Together we jumped, laughing.
It was the last time I ever saw him that joyous.
The same memory came rushing back to me as I ran to the Golden Bone.
Oh God Oh God Oh God.
Why would I worry? There was a trampoline!
That trampoline departed us when the tornado came seven weeks ago.
Nothing was there to keep him from falling to his death.
I ran with a faster pace now, a bigger spring in every step I took.
When I worry, thoughts usually fight each other for room in my brain.
Not this time.
The thought of death made my brain strangely hollow, like it had nothing in it, like I was still in the womb.
It’s strange, the feeling of death.
I ran into the Golden Bone. The building was in an even worse condition after the tornado I spoke about. The walls were crumbling into oblivion. The floorboards were a mess, smacking you in the face if you stepped on the wrong tile. The stairs were breaking off, some half there, some completely gone.
I climbed those dusty steps up till the terrace. The wind ripped my eyes, my hair peeling off my head.
What a perfect day to die.
You could just jump, as the wind carried you away. It would be just like flying.
Until you hit the ground.
I took a step. As I put my other foot forward, a step was already taken.
Not mine. Mine was still hovering over the ground.
Not Samuel’s. He was still standing there. I could see his figure.
Which meant another person was there.
Who would want to follow Samuel after his reputation was shattered like a bullet to glass?
I looked to my far right.
A girl was standing there.
Her hair danced in the wind. Her features were disorientated to my eyes, but I could see her face well enough to identify her.
Marlene, who almost bullied Samuel? Marlene, the only person able to overpower him in a fistfight?
She took multiple steps all at once. Or maybe it was just my horrible vision.
Not that I need glasses, of course, but because of the wind.
It’s Samuel who needs glasses.
Samuel looked back.
“Samuel, don’t do it.”
Samuel faced his life again.
“It’s over, Marlene. I’ve failed.”
That threw me off balance. It almost did for him, too.
Samuel looked back, again.
No. No. No. That Word seemed to echo over and over again, until my mind was finally filled with something.
“No.”, she confirmed, more firmly this time.
“All those times, the pushing around, the fist-fights, the arm wrestles? Those were because I… I had feelings for you. And still do.”
“So… Jennifer was right. She wasn’t jealous for no reason.”
“I…” Jennifer was Marlene’s mortal enemy. She still is, although the former has no clue as to Marlene’s whereabouts.
“I have to say this, but for once, Jennifer was… actually right.”
“I have them too, you know.”
They both blushed at the same time, and I tried hard not to laugh.
“We can start over, Sam.”
There were only 3 people who called him that.
Andrew, his best mate.
She reached out, her hand extended.
And took it.
I could probably tell you about how Samuel and Marlene decided to start over, or how they decided never to go back to school, but I won’t. It ruins the fun of the writer.
Sam and Mar (as we now call her) ran away, and I had to explain the whole story to my parents. Apart from them, only I know where they are staying. They only gave me that right because I saw that whole episode that I told you about in the last chapter.
After I finish my studies, I might move in with them. It’s only fitting, considering the fact that I know where they are and all, and that they have more than enough rooms in their cabin by the bay.
Oh, and about that argument we had in Chapter 6? It’s resolved now. Don’t worry.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from this, it’s that when life breaks you down, you need someone to help you build it back up.
For me, that person is and will always be Sam.
For Sam, that person is Mar.
And for Mar?
That’s the power of love.
It can tear you apart.
But when you use it right?
Great things can happen.