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The Scarred Painting
Coming back home to my hometown for what had seemed like forever, I had forgotten how cold and quiet it was than the city. The cold and peace were nostalgic, yet somehow uncomfortable. I shivered through my sweater and sighed.
As I stood there at the front porch steps with my back at the door, I stared at the house opposite mine. It was so much different now: Its white painted walls were now blistered and ruined, its windows covered in thick webs, and the flowers that used to make me stare in awe were bent and withered. No one even bothered to remove the Christmas lights that hung on the roof eaves even though it was almost summer.
“Raffy, is that you?”
I looked at the window and saw my Mom staring at me. As if knowing the answer to her question, she opened the door. “What were you spacing about? It’s cold, come in.”
The smell of waffles welcomed me as I stepped in the house. I put down my bag at the sofa and headed towards the dining room. Stacks of waffles were at the center of the table, a big jar of Nutella and a cup of crushed almonds beside them. Time seemed to stop and at a blink of an eye, I saw myself at fourteen, eating them wholeheartedly as if there was no tomorrow. Beside me sat fourteen year old Allen, carefully munching the edges of the waffle and eating it in a circular motion.
I put my waffle down and looked at him, “Remember that school I always talked to you about? The Academy that specializes in Arts?”
“Yeah,” Allen said through a mouth full of waffles.
“Well I submitted a portfolio just to see what would happen and a reply came in yesterday,” I said, and Allen stopped eating. “I got accepted.”
“So? It’s not like you can study there, right? It’s too far away.”
I shifted on my seat. “Actually I can and I’m considering it.” I looked at his stunned face before I continued, “My brother got accepted to a company near the Academy so that’s where he’ll be staying, and I’m gonna stay with him.”
He finished his waffle and said, “Congratulations.”
“I’ll be visiting when I can, maybe on the weekends,” I said cheerfully.
“Yeah, you do that.”
As I went back to reality and stared at my half-eaten waffle, I thought about how horrible the next few days went after that. Whenever I’d greet him, he’ll only acknowledge me with a nod and get back to whatever he was doing or run back home. He hasn’t visited me since then, not even when it was time to go.
What would he be doing right now? I thought. Probably somewhere with friends or playing video games.
As it dawned on me where exactly he would be right now, I called Mom.
“Can I visit Allen today? I want to eat waffles with him.”
She gave me a thoughtful smile. “Sure.”
I went in the kitchen and found a Tupperware, put some waffles with Nutella and almonds in it, and went out.
It was really cold, and I regretted not wearing a thick jacket. As I looked at the shabby house again, I caught sight of Allen’s sister coming from the backyard.
“Isabel!” I ran towards her and gave her a hug.
“Hey Raffy!” we let go, “It’s been a long time. Going somewhere?”
“Yeah. I’m going to Allen,” I showed her the Tupperware.
“Oh, he’ll love that. You know where he is.”
I nodded and continued walking.
It had been a month since I started studying at the Academy, and I haven’t gone home because of homework and paintings that needed to be done. It was on a Wednesday that I received a call from my Mom. “Allen’s parents got divorced.”
I stood stunned, “When?”
“As I heard, it was last weekend that they were officially divorced. No one knew about it but their family until now. What’s worse is both his parents left him and Isabel with their grandparents.”
As that conversation went on, I’ve decided on what I should do: Get all the work done, come home, and comfort him. And I did. I found him at tree house in their backyard, looking miserable. I should’ve brought lots of lucky charms because comforting him went terribly wrong.
“I don’t need your help! Go back to your paintings or whatever. Just leave me alone and never come back!” was what he said.
I went back heartbroken with what had happened and decided to never bother him again. Every week I’d talk to my twin brother, Jonah, and ask about him, but with every conversation, things just kept on getting worse.
“His grandmother went here crying last night and said he told her off.”
“I saw him smoking the other day.”
“He was with those kids who were always seen using drugs. I bet he’s doing the same thing.”
“He was dumped by his girlfriend.”
“He had a girlfriend?” I asked.
“How is he?”
“A hundred times miserable. Isabel said he won’t eat or take a shower. I never see him around at school too. He just stays in his room and look like a zombie.”
The school year went by in a flash and I found myself back at home. The phone calls had been too much and I wanted to visit Allen so bad, but when I saw him, he was smoking with his new friends. We made eye contact but he looked away after a while like he doesn’t know me.
Two years after that, I went home again and found the courage to visit him. As I rang the doorbell, my heart beat like crazy and I started to regret what I’ve done. But the door opened and there appeared Allen in wrinkled clothes, mussed up hair, and sleepy eyes. He looked pretty decent. Healthy, even. And I found myself crying in his arms saying “I’m sorry” over and over.
We talked for a while about how we’ve been and our plans for College. He told me about his smoking days and how his grandmother got sick because of it so he decided to quit.
“It was hard at first since I got used to smoking about four sticks a day, but it has been almost half a year since I quit and it feels good.”
I was waiting for him to tell me about his ex-girlfriend but unfortunately, he never did.
“There are so many colleges to choose from and I don’t even know where to start. I’m thinking of becoming an Engineer like my parents but I hate math. I also thought of becoming a Chef, but all I know what to make was spaghetti and that Nutella waffle we always eat. Unlike you, I’ve never thought about what I wanted to be and I don’t have special skills.”
“Then I guess, you’d just have to look for something that defines you.”
I thought about it and saw his guitar. I stood up, got it, and handed it over to him. He took it from me with a confused look on his face. “Didn’t you used to tell me how much you hated Isabel for not understanding real music? That those cursing words from the lyrics and too much screaming is how those rock stars see the cruelty of life and how they’re just telling people to wake up and listen in a very loud way.”
“So you want me to become a screaming dude with lots of make-up?”
“No, I’m telling you that maybe you’d consider becoming a musician. Didn’t you use to hum randomly and make a song about my dead hamster? And you understand screaming and cursing more than others. That’s talent.”
He smiled at that, and it felt like we’re back to being best friends again.
As I reached the bottom of the hill, my heart started acting crazy again and I’m having goose bumps all over. I started my way slowly to the top and saw the big tree stood there. Under it slept my dear friend, and I stared at him as I remembered.
It was a few days after my Graduation that I went home and had started to work on a painting to give Allen as his graduation present. I painted him playing his guitar in his room wearing his toga, the sunlight his spotlight. As I signed my name on the canvas, I could imagine the big smile he would give me when he sees it.
I checked my watch. It was already late but I still had time to make it before the ceremony ended. I grabbed my jacket and the painting and ran.
As I reached his school, I saw Isabel waiting at the entrance looking somewhat pissed. As soon as she saw me, she asked, “Have you seen my brother?”
“He’s not here yet and they’re already calling names.”
“Why wasn’t he with you?”
“He told us to go ahead first, although I have no idea what he had to do. He’s really acting weird.”
I looked at her and I knew she was worried. I gave her the painting, said, “I’ll go find him,” and ran off. I searched the park and the playground, and asked people if they’d seen him but they all told me no. He wasn’t in the tree house either so I went to his house. I searched for the key under the mat, unlocked the door and went to his room. I knocked but there was no answer. After hesitating for a few minutes, I decided to open the door. All I remember was how much I screamed before blacking out.
“How are you Allen?” I asked. As I sat beside him, I began setting up the waffles. He sat up abruptly and grabbed the waffle on my hand and began eating eat in a circular motion like he always do. The painting stood beside him, placed in a frame and wrapped in plastic – probably to not ruin it in times of rain. I smiled at the thought of how he had always kept it by his side. I looked at him and studied his face – his brown eyes and long eyelashes, the freckles across his nose and the outline of his jaw. His back had become broader and he’s a lot taller than me now. As if noticing me for the first time, he smiled. It was the smile I love seeing most in his face. It was the smile that made his eyes sparkle. And it was the smile that says, “Life is so beautiful.” I held out my hand and touched the smooth texture of the stone and the outline of his name on it, and smiled. As I walked off and stared at the sky, Allen’s screaming and singing voice echoed through the vast neighborhood of our cold and quiet hometown.