This is one of the finalists in Young Post’s 2016 Winter Short Story competition, which offers a grand prize of an iPad Air 2! Each week during the winter holidays, we will publish one of the finalists’ stories, showcasing the author’s writing skills and creativity, with the winning entry being published in Young Post on April 22.
Today I spent the entire evening sitting by the open window, watching the rain drip off the roof and splatter onto the ground. It was raining hard; not hard enough to provoke mini waterfalls to cascade down the steps of the park, but enough to make the windshield wipers on cars sweep back and forth in a frenzy. Enough raindrops fell for the winds to orchestrate a dance and conduct a symphony. Enough clouds gathered to throw rippling shades of purple shadow across the land, interrupted only by intermittent flashes of light and growls of thunder. But I knew that my best friend Luka would have just thrown his head back and laughed. “This squirt of a storm?” he would say. “This is nothing. You should see the ones back where my grandfather used to live. Those were real storms.”
One of those real storms came all the way to Hong Kong once. We were trying to sell scraps on the streets when the skies turned from clear blue to a swirling mass of solid deep grey in a matter of seconds. The rain plastered my hair to my skull and we tried to run for cover, but the house was too far. We ended up huddling in a cramped, dirty alley, praying the rain would stop before the clogged drains caused flooding.
The water soaked me to the skin, and the wind didn’t help. Luka looked down at where I was crouching when he heard my teeth begin to chatter. “Wait here,” he said, after a moment of hesitation. Then he ducked out of the alley, his hands over his head as he raced through the torrent.
“Luka!” I yelled. He didn’t reply.
After what seemed like eternity, he sloshed into the alley again, two jackets clenched in his hands. “Here, put this on.” He draped one of them over my thin shoulders.
“You stole again?” I tried to peel the jacket off myself, but the pounding rain had already cemented it against my drenched shirt and skin.
He snorted. “I don’t consider it stealing. The goddamn rich don’t deserve to be rich when our families don’t spend a day without feeling starved.” He stood over me with his broad shoulders angled like a shield against the wind and rain. The brief respite from the pelting droplets allowed me to wipe the water off my face.
I opened my mouth to tell him to stop trying to protect me and to take care of himself, but I stopped. He held a strangely intent expression as he leaned over me, bracing his palms against the wall so that his body arched over me like an umbrella. The wind buffeted us from all sides, but Luka shielded me resolutely from its cruel fingers. We stayed like that for who knows how long, Luka’s head bowed against the elements, rain dripping off his nose and onto my shoulder.
Later, of course, he would claim that he hadn’t been intentionally shielding me; he’d just been trying to keep the rain out of his eyes.
Drip. Drop. Drip. Drop. I smiled even as the raindrops echoed off the metal rubbish bins around us.
I remember, however, being reminded of the same scene much later on. It had been eerily similar, except that instead of rain, tears dripped down Luka’s face. Instead of doing his best to shield me, he did his best to hurt me. Instead of that strange, intent expression, his face was twisted in rage. He said terrible things that day. He told me he hated me in every way possible.
Traitor, he spat. Liar. Money mongrel. The words dripped from his lips like poison.
“Luka, please –”
“We promised each other we’d stay with our families forever! We promised we’d stay and support each other, that we’d help each other survive and that we’d never leave each other.
“That was the one thing we promised each other!”
“My family is gone, Luka! I’m grateful your family took me in for a few months after my father died, but I don’t want to burden you anymore.”
He sneered. “Do you really think a couple of rich folks like them could be your new family? We live in cage homes. We are the smear on Hong Kong’s rich, extravagant name. The rich would never come here to adopt an orphan, they’re only going to use you as a servant!”
“They’re giving me the opportunity for education, Luka. Education!”
“They’ll teach you to be like them!” he shouted. “They are self-righteous, greedy, undeserving assholes! They don’t care that we crawl through mud to survive! I will never betray and leave my family like that.”
Tears streamed down my cheeks and splattered onto the floor. But he only turned his heel angrily and stormed away.
Drip. Drop. Drip. Drop. People passing by averted their eyes. Sweating vendors yelled at me to get out of the way, but I didn’t move until an angry blast of a car horn forced me on to the pavement.
I had never been able to get the hang of walking near roads filled with cars. My home had been part of a cramped complex in an illegal extension of a motorcycle factory, so everyone had motorcycles or bikes.
When I moved closer to the heart of the city, I was forced to learn to dodge big trucks, beeping buses, and honking cars.
Once I thought I saw Luka as I was crossing the streets, and I froze just as the traffic lights turned green. The taxi driver slammed the brakes on and cursed at me, but by the time I made it over to safety, he was gone. Perhaps he had never been there.
I saw Luka everywhere. I’d do a double take when I stepped out of the MTR and into the crowd, because I’d always think I’d spotted his familiar messy head somewhere. I’d peer out the window of my new classroom, thinking I’d heard his voice outside. I’d look at the businessmen that strode briskly by on the streets and think, Luka would hate their pompous suits.
My foster parents didn’t understand why I refused to wear the pretty dresses they bought me. “Everyone will be wearing dresses at the awards ceremony, Lily. And you’re in the top three in your grade – you have to set an example!”
But I knew Luka would’ve hated seeing me in a pretty dress.
So I “accidentally” spilled a cup of coffee over my neatly folded dress before the ceremony. I watched the brown liquid seep through my pretty white dress and drip from the table to the floor. The sound of every drop made me flinch.
Drip. Drop. Drip. Drop. I stood there, watching the liquid splatter on the floor. The ticking of the clock on the wall matched the dripping in syncopated rhythms. Drip.
Tick. Drop. Tock. Drip. Tick. Drop. Tock.
Time trickled and leaked away. I didn’t see Luka for years. Not until one day, when he knocked on my door.
“Lily, who is it?” my foster mother called.
I ran to get the door, an oven mitten on one hand, the other trying to pull the apron off of me. Both hands fell limp, however, when I opened to the door to see his face.
He stood in front of me, raindrops in his hair, clutching an umbrella. He’d changed a lot in three years. He was taller and leaner, his hair longer; his face darker and more worn. But I still recognised him.
We stared at each other for a moment, both our mouths open in the same, comical “O” shape.
Then he snapped his mouth shut and just stared at me. Three years worth of silence weighed heavily between us.
Drip. Drop. Drip. Drop. A small puddle formed under where his umbrella hung limply at his side.
Finally, Luka looked away. “I hadn’t expected that to work.” His voice was rougher and deeper than I remember.
I tried to tell the muscles in my face to work again. “Hadn’t expected what to work?”
He paused before saying, “The doorbell.”
“You didn’t expect the doorbell to work?”
“No. None of the other ones worked.”
“None of the other doorbells worked?” I asked in bewilderment.
He made of noise of frustration, then lapsed back into silence. I felt like laughing. I felt like crying. I felt like breaking his nose. I felt like pulling him into a crushing hug. But I could only stand there and stare.
My foster mother poked her head out of the study room. “Lily, who –” She stoped when she saw Luka standing in our doorway, a little ragged, dirty, and still dripping on our welcome mat.
“A childhood friend,” I heard myself say distantly.
Understanding spread across her face. She is an angel of a woman. I’ve never met another with a heart as kind as hers. Only a woman like that would have chosen to adopt a child from the cage homes of Hong Kong.
“You’re welcome here, dear.” she smiled at Luka. “I’ll be in the study if you need me.”
When the door closed, the silence expanded once more.
Luka took a deep breath. “I’ve been looking for you,” he said, trying again.
“You have?” I wanted to touch his words, to hold their warmth in my hands.
“You’ve been going from door to door looking for me?”
This is met with another long period of silence filled with nothing but the faint drip drop of the rain outside.
“My parents are dead,” he said at last.
For a moment, the rain outside seemed to freeze, the little droplets suspended in mid-air. My breath caught in my lungs.
“I’m so sorry,” I whisper.
He shrugs. “They’ve been dead for a while.”
“Do you need a place to live?”
He shrugged again. “No, I just wanted to find you to say sorry. For all the things I said before.”
The rain started falling again.
“I forgave you a long time ago, Luka,” I said softly.
Then I realise we were still standing in the doorway. “Do you want to come in?”
“You can shower. I have clothes that’ll fit you.”
“No.” My best friend pulled away. “I really shouldn’t –”
I grabbed him by the arm. My touch froze him. “Luka,” I said softly, “please stay.”
He stared at my hand on his arm.
“I ... hadn’t expected that to work either,” he muttered at last.
“You hadn’t expected what to work?”
He looked around, as if trying to find a suitable answer. “You.”
“You hadn’t expected me to work?”
“I hadn’t expected to find you.” The sentence came out in broken pieces, separated by long pauses. “I hadn’t expected you to forgive me.” He paused. “I hadn’t expected I still had a friend in this world.”
I felt a smile stretch across my face, and without thinking I wrapped my arms around him. “You didn’t expect to find me, yet you still looked. You didn’t expect me to forgive you, yet you still apologised. That’s why I never forgot you, never stopped missing you.” I buried my head into his shoulder, remembering how the rain had rolled down his face that night of the storm.
“Please don’t leave.”
I felt my best friend smile as he pressed his face to my hair.
“Where’s the shower?”