I first noticed him when he was playing soccer with his friends under the blazing sun. He was drenched in sweat, his white uniform dirty and clung onto his body. But he was having a good time, laughing as he chased after the ball. Something about the way he laughed drew me to him.
Later on, I would create all sort of excuses to hang around the field after school finished, and steal a glance at him. He was good looking, of course, but very clumsy. He always looked up at the clouds more than what laid ahead. Once, he tripped over a tree branch, and I couldn’t help bursting into laughter. He saw me laughing, and he laughed too. That was how we started to talk.
“Do you like soccer?” I asked, handing him a bottle of mineral water to clean his wound.
“Of course lah,” he answered, before ranting on and on about his favourite team (Liverpool) and his favourite player (someone whose name I can’t remember) and all the highlights of their matches (there were plenty of lights). He was very enthusiastic, even though I barely said anything in return.
“Is that your childhood dream? To become a soccer player?” I asked him after he stopped talking.
He shrugged. “Erm…. Not really lah.”
“What do you plan to do then, when you grow up?”
He scratched his head. “Don’t know, leh…”
Whenever I asked about his past, he would brush it off as if it were insignificant, and the future was too far away to think about. He was one of those who only lived in the present. Perhaps it was one of his charming points. The carefree attitude I no longer possessed.
Sometimes we would pass each other in the corridor, or meet at the canteen. At times, we would smile at each other, and I would get flustered. Every time he saw me passing by the field when he was playing soccer, he always waved his hand, and I waved back. Most of the time, though, we acted as if we didn’t knew each other.
I probably should have talked more to him before he left. “Do you have a girlfriend? Is there any girl you like?” But those are questions I know I would never dare to ask.
Should I have acted any different? I don’t know.
The day he graduated, a part of me was frozen with silence. He took the sunshine away with him, leaving behind an ashen gray sky, and a box of chocolates with a “Happy Teacher’s Day” card attached to it.
Even now, I still look for traces of him among the boys on the field, but no one else can paint the place in the same hue as he does. Sometimes, I would write his name with white chalk on the blackboard, but quickly dust it off before the students enter my classroom.
When I’m alone at my desk, I find myself staring at the box he gave me. The chocolate probably already went bad by now, but I couldn’t bring myself to unwrap it. Even if it were become moldy, I could live with that.
The older we are, the less honest we become.
This short story is inspired by Brandon Toh’s poem, “Small Town”