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By , Arden, NC

She met him for the first time at sunset, two right turns and a long walk away from the ice cream store. He was standing tense and upright, his head slightly tilted back, his eyes open and calm. No one would have taken much notice of him were it not for the fact that he was in a tree. For this reason, people took notice of him, but the kind that involved appearing is though no notice had been given. This is the notice frequently given to the unusual.
He stood on one of the lower branches as if it were something completely normal. Most people continued to pass him while making the point of not noticing him. Not her. Not Cerise. She never held back a question.
"Sir," Cerise questioned politely, "if I may ask, why are you standing in a tree?"
The man looked down at her. He saw a small girl, no more than twelve years old at his guess (she was, in fact, eleven), with hazel eyes and straight, long hair that seemed to be the color of the sun. Not yellow and continuous, but the strange, shining, true color that lights up the world, a color which cannot be properly described.
Cerise looked up at the man and saw a young man no more than thirty years old at her guess (he was actually thirty-one), with a close-shaven beard and hair the color of midnight. She also saw a mountain of questions to be asked, one of which had already been presented, though not yet answered.
"I am," the man said slowly, "watching the sunset."
Cerise nodded in understanding, then asked, "Why in a tree?"
He gave her a slightly stern look. "Obviously, so that I can see it longer."
Cerise nodded again. "You must have a great amount of experience watching sunsets, sir."
"My name is not 'sir'."
"Then what should I call you?"
"Call me what you like."
Cerise tilted her head in confusion. "Then what's wrong with 'sir'?"
The man tucked his hands into his jacket pockets. "I never said there was anything wrong with it. I only said it wasn't my name."
"Oh." Cerise lowered her head slightly, but didn't redden. She was disappointed in herself thst she had not noticed, not embarassed of her actions. "I'm sorry, you're right."
The man grinned. "Very well, apologies aside, can I understand that you will from now on refer to me as Sir. What shall I call you?"
"Cerise," came the quick reply, as the girl raised her head.
"And I suppose that is your name?"
"It is."
"Well then, Cerise, have you ever heard the saying, 'curiousity killed the cat'?"
Now Cerise blushed slightly. "I hear it rather often, Sir."
He laughed. "I imagine you do. But did you know that there's more to it?"
Cerise shook her head.
Sir smiled again. "'Curiousity killed the cat, and satisfaction brought it back.'"
The smile spread to Cerise's face. "Do you like that saying, Sir?"
"Quite a bit. Cerise the cat, are you curious about anything else to which I may have a satisfying answer?"
Cerise rocked back and forth on her heels, thinking. Not of another question she could ask, but of which question she was holding onto to ask. "Who are you?"
"A marvelous question, without a doubt!" Sir threw his arms out wide. "But for my answer to make sense, there is something else you must know. To know it, you have to ask the right question. Good luck!"
"I have a better idea," Cerise replied with a smaller smile. "What is the question I need to ask?"
"An even better question!" he exclaimed, grabbing the tree trunk and dropping to the ground, landing gracefully on his feet. "Very well. You must ask what makes a person who they are."
Cerise complied. "What makes a person who they are?"
"Ah." Sir closed his eyes. "What a question, and what a rambling answer it requires." He opened his eyes and smiled at Cerise before again throwing out his arms and saying,
"Who we are is what we are and where we are and when we are and how we are. Mind you, this is entirely different from why we are. Our actions, our emotions, our appearances, everything 'we' are defines 'who' we are.
"What do we do? Where do we go? When are we this? When are we that? How do we act? How do we feel? How do others see us? Who we are. Ah, what a wonderful feeling, to be somebody."
He fell silent, arms still thrown out, and when Cerise was sure that he would not go on, she reoeated her earlier question. "Who are you?"
Sir remained silent for a moment, then slowly lowered his arms. "I," he said firmly, "am a wanderer. I travel from place to place, from person to person, from world to world. It is all that I do. Everywhere is where I am, as well as where I'm going. I always act as a lonely man looking for conversation, which is what I usually am. I admit fully, though, to playing the part even when I am fully content. Others look at me and see a man with no home, no friends, no family, and few possesions; a man hopelessly wandering with no aim. Every now and then I meet someone who will bother to ask if this assumption is correct, and afterwards I enjoy some intelligent conversation.
"And I am, above all, a wanderer. There is no depth nor reason to it. Who we are is too complicated to be compressed into a single word, but for those who do not have the patience to hear what I fully am, I am a wanderer."
Sir's speech ended with so little flourish that Cerise almost didn't realize he had stopped talking. By now th sun had set, and the sky was dark. She watched as he collected his long coat and backpack, then as he marched in the direction opposite of the city.
"Wait!" she cried. "I have more questions!"
"Then follow," he replied over his shoulder. "You can't see the stars so close to the city."
Cerise did follow, weaving through bushes and trees, patiently awaiting further directions. Finally, the man trudged up a hill and stopped. He proceeded to lie down in the grass, observing the recently emerged stars.
Cerise sat next to him, then asked politely, "May I ask you another question?"
"Besides the one you just asked?"
"Then, as no mysterious force prevented you from asking the first question, I do not imagine anything could stop you from asking this one."
Cerise smiled. "Why are you here?"
Sir shifted and traced a constellation with his finger. "As I mentioned previously, I am a wanderer. I wander. And I wandered here."
If he had been looking at Cerise, he would have seen an emotion struggling to control her face. It was not the laughter or curiousity she had expressed before, but something closer to disappointment. In a moment, it vanished, replaced by the familiar curiousity and a small glimmer of hope.
"Well," Sir began, still absentmindedly tracing stars, "you have asked me a few questions. I will not be surprised if you ask more. But I would like to ask you a question." He lowered his hand and turned his head, looking Cerise in the eye. He was not smiling, but Cerise saw that the smile was not gone, but had simply moved to his eyes.
"Who are you?"
Cerise had not expected the question. She shifted, thinking, before answering hesitantly.
"I am Cerise. I ask, I listen. I watch. I am always curious, and I go where that curiousity leads me. Or where others lead me," she added hastily. "I.... I am seen as..." Cerise paused, trying to think of a word. "...pathetic. People think I'm pathetic. My parents have long been gone, and I rarely talk but to ask a question. I feel.... curious? I... I don't... I'm not sure."
Cerise fell silent.
He observed her face for a long moment, then said gently, "Don't feel down. No one knows the first time. You did well, actually. You don't have to worry, you did well, you are Cerise. All is well, Cerise."
Cerise felt hot tears growing, and as they fell from her eyes, words fell from her mouth. "I am Cerise, daughter of Jane. My mother died right after I was born and my father ran away before even that. My uncle raised me with his mother. Three nights ago she told me her son was coming back. She told me he would watch the sunset from this city within the week." The tears flowed down her cheeks and soaked into her shirt. "Please, sir, tell me your name."
The man watched her silently, then slowly straightened and gathered Cerise into his arms.
"I am Eli Kellin. I am the husband of Jane and the father of Cerise. I am a wanderer now, and I always have been, and I always will be, but I have returned to the city of my birth to take my daughter." He pulled back and looked Cerise in the eye. "My dear Cerise, will you come with me, and will you answer 'a wanderer' if asked who you are?"
Cerise smiled, and her smile showed the years of hope and disappointment and happiness and sadness and satisfaction and curiousity. She wrapped her arms around her father and buried her head into his chest.

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