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Coming of Age Sad

'No matter who it belongs to, standing in front of a grave is a strange feeling. I don’t dislike it… but I cannot say I like it either. It’s cold, but it’s also real. It’s the only reality I am sure of. It will catch up to me as it caught on to this one here. '

Monologuing to himself, James placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a tree.

'There once used to be a rock slate here, but with time, the name on it has withered away and maybe, the soul too. '

Roughly thirty years ago

“Oh no I fell asleep!” James got up, panting. Mom will kill me! She WILL kill me! was all he could think of. Fumbling, he got up and picked up his school bag. He had fallen asleep on the warm grass of the temple garden.

“It hasn’t been that long, kid. And you better wipe the drool off your face.” A hoarse voice startled him. 

He spun around to see an old man sitting on one of the two benches behind him. He had crazy white hair which looked like it was full of static. His hooded eyes looked almost closed and he was wearing a tired smile on his wrinkled face.

The man was holding a bouquet of white flowers. 

James, who had grown red with embarrassment, ran away without a second look.

He was almost home when he stopped running. A distressing thought entered his mind. The old man had found his secret place, so it no longer belonged to only him.

What if that old man starts coming every day? 

James decided to settle it out with the old man the next day, in case the old man dared to show up. 

The next day after school, James ran to the temple at full speed. He stopped in front of the benches, panting. The old man was not there. “Thank God!” He puffed and fell on the bench. After a few moments of silence, he heard a somewhat familiar, hoarse voice.

“Sleeping again?” The old man chuckled. He was standing behind the bench.

Startled, James jumped up and blurted out the speech he had been preparing in his head since yesterday, “T-this is my place s-so you please find your own.” sensing that maybe he sounded rude, he added a “- Sir” at the end.

“Oh I see, so this is your place now?” smiling, the man went around the benches and sat on the other one. “Don’t worry, I’ll go. Will you let me tell you a story before that? I want to talk but there’s no one else around.” he patted the bench. Hesitantly, James dragged his feet and sat at the corner of the bench.

“A long time ago this was my place. I went to a school there-” The old man pointed somewhere randomly “- and I would come here every afternoon to play with Kiko.”

“What‟s that?” After knowing that the old man owned the spot before him, James felt intrigued to know his story.

“Kiko was a fine lady. The prettiest feline I had ever seen, and no matter how hard I tried, she wouldn’t play with me. She would always give me the cold shoulder and climb up that tree-“ again he pointed, this time more accurately, to a big tree in front of them.

“That tree is way too big for a cat to climb. Are you sure you are not lying?” James questioned.

The old man burst out laughing. “I swear I am telling the truth. That tree has actually grown quite a bit since the last time I was here. In fact, this whole place is so different. The temple was smaller, the trees were younger, and there was a little stream on the other side of the forest which has now dried up. Also, there was no clear path to this place like there is now. This was a real secret place; my secret place.”

James’ eyes were ready to pop out as he tried to imagine the scene that the old man had painted for him.

“Was it really that amazing?!” James squealed in delight.

“Yes. It was like a page out of a fairy tale. And it was all mine and Kiko’s.”

James had totally forgotten about the cat till the old man mentioned it again.

“You see Kiko did not belong to this place. She suddenly appeared out of nowhere one

afternoon and I fell in love with her. But her lack of interest in me broke my heart. Still I decided that I would win her over.”

“But it‟s just a cat!” exclaimed James.

“She-“the old man smiled softly, “-was so much more than a cat. She was my friend.”

James didn’t say anything and continued to listen quietly. 

“I started getting food for her, every day. She ate it and then went back to ignoring me.

After a few days, I started luring her in. I would hold on to the food till she would come to me and then pat her on her head before handing out the food. It took her a month to trust me. After that, the days went by like in a dream. Every day was fun. Going to school, playing with Kiko and lazing around at home for the rest of the evening.”

“That sounds sooo boring. I do the same thing every day! Without Kiko of course. I wish I could just grow up and own a car and see the whole world and not study.” James’ eyes sparkled.

“I felt like that too at some point. But now… I just wish those days would come back. Just once more, I wish I could go back, meet Kiko…” the old man’s voice suddenly grew

heavy and his eyes welled up. James sensed the emotion but did not understand what happened.

“Uncle?”

“Ah sorry” the old man wiped his eyes and got up from the bench.

“Are you leaving?” James asked.

“Well, this is no longer my place. It belongs to you now. Treasure this time. One day you would long to come back but will be stuck in the real boring life.”

With that, the old man walked away silently and waved one last time before disappearing around a corner.

James sat still for some time and then walked over to the big tree that the old man has pointed to before. Behind it, he saw the bouquet of flowers that the man was holding yesterday and a small rock slate with something written on it in a jagged handwriting. He bent down and read it, “In the loving memory of my Kiko”.

“KIKO?!” James exclaimed when he realised that he was standing in front of the cat‟s grave. He dashed back to where the old man had disappeared, but could not find him.

James waited for the old man to come back someday, but he never did.

In his place, James offered flowers to Kiko’s grave on that same day every year till he graduated and moved out of town.

Roughly thirty years later

A grown up James now stood where he once used to play as a child.

'Life kept getting busy and with each passing day I kept losing myself.' James thought to himself.

'Every day was full of work and people. I finally understand what the old man had said. I too felt a strong urge to return to that time. So strong, that now I am here, recalling his words.'

'Those were the most carefree days of my life. Taking a slight detour from school to home was only natural. I could wander just because I felt like it, or sit and stare at the sky. Not every thing that I did had to have a meaning. I was at peace with my existence-'

A ball came flying at his feet and James returned it to the playing kids. He looked around himself. The temple was now just a dilapidated hut. The trees had been cut off and the garden had been turned into a crowded playground. Thankfully, Kiko’s tree still remained… but who knows for how long.

James walked away silently and before disappearing around the corner.

June 24, 2021 21:58

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1 comment

Ola Hotchpotch
19:26 Jun 30, 2021

It was great reading the story once again . The tittle of the story says that it is the grave of kiko that calls the old man back from past. Again, James as a young boy, continues the tradition by visiting the grave of kiko even though he had never met the cat. Both the old man and the boy are shown as similar by the way they disappear around the corner. Was there any sign in it?

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