Good things always came in pairs, you know. Man and wife, salt and pepper, fish and chips, that sort of thing. “It’s all about balance” My mother used to say. She would often bring this up when I sat in my room too long, reading my books. “Life should have different parts, Bryan” she would say “Reading is good but you should go outside as well.” I remember she would smile encouragingly and I would nod. I would read outside to make her happy. One time my neighbour hit me with his football, he had been playing in the park where I was reading. He asked me if I wanted to play but I hadn’t finished my story yet, and everyone knows that once you start something you have to finish it. Finish the circle, otherwise you leave gaps, and you can’t leave gaps. That’s how they get in.
I was much younger then, my mother died when I was fifteen. An odd number. It’s just me and my father now, but I don’t see him much, he works late and is gone before I get up. I’m at college; I decided not to stay at my school for sixth form. College is better, the teacher’s don’t try to make me participate in things the way they did at school. Chess club, Art club, Drama club, Squash club, Athletics, Choir, Music Practice, Church group, the Tennis Team, the Football Team, the Rugby Team, the Quiz Team, the Debate Team... Lessons.
No, college is better, they just leave me be. I just want everyone to leave me be. If no one noticed me then He wouldn’t notice me either and I would be safe.
I hear footsteps, the scuffing of a rubber sole and then a greasy hood pushed its way into the bathroom with me. I will have to go later. Shoving my hands deep into my pockets I make sure not to make eye contact with anyone as I left the bathroom. Travelling down the beige grimy hallways I dart my eyes left and right, all the time listening intently for other people. One of the problems with keeping your head down is that if you’re not careful you can run into people. It’s better than looking ahead though; if you do that then you run the risk of catching people eyes.
One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. I count out my footsteps in my head as I walk. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. It helps to keep me calm when I do this, as long as my walk home is an even number I will be alright, I have to keep doing these things to keep me and my Dad safe.
Realising where I am I turn around abruptly; I have to take the stairs at the south end of this building as the north stairs has 23 steps. As I walk down the corridor I started thinking about how my Dad used to be when my Mother was alive. He smiled more and he worked less.
Once he surprised us all with a special trip to London. We all bundled on a train and ate sherbet lemons and éclairs during the journey. I must have been eight or ten years old, it was a good year. Once we got to London we spent hours wandering around the cobbled streets, I was so impressed with all the people and colours, it was cold, but not yet Christmas so maybe it was November? My Mother was wearing this blue coat that was the same colour as her eyes and she would ruffle my hair and smile when she looked at me. My Mother was beautiful, and my Dad would always have his arm around her, as if he wanted to shield her from the world, she was his to protect. She would hold my hand, squeezing it occasionally.
That was a good day.
A car horn blasts at me, another problem with not looking up is the dangers of traffic. I jump back onto the pavement and flick my eyes up quickly at the traffic lights, shifting nervously; I can’t stay here too long. I am too close to the town recreational ground, ‘The Rec’, and that’s where most of the college students go when they finish with their classes.
The little man finally goes green so I hurry across the road, fidgeting with the bracelet on my wrist. It was just a pendant on a leather string but I never take it off. It was a Taijitu, the classic symbol of ying and yang, a universally recognised symbol of two parts becoming one and being whole.
I remember when I found it, I was little, maybe four, and it had fallen off someone else’s wrist and lay there broken on the side of the road. I picked it up for some reason when I walked home from school. Later on that day my mother found it in my pocket.
“Where did you get this ?” she asked, I told her I found it, and she smiled. “But it’s broken.” She tucked my sandy blonde hair, the same colour as her own, behind my ears and kissed the top of my head. She smelled like cinnamon and flowers.
Later on that week my Mother was called into my Nursery to collect me. One of the other boys had pushed me into the swing-set and I had banged my head and nose on the metal pole. Nothing was broken but I had got a nosebleed and I still have a scar to this day from the cut I got on the head. I had been crying and she gently brushed away my tears with the handkerchiefs she always carried.
“There, there,” she told me “Don’t cry, I have a present for you.” That’s when she gave me the bracelet. She had fixed the clasp. Clipping it onto my wrist using the tightest setting, she held my hand and whispered. “Do you know what that is, Bryan? It’s ying and yang, dual forces which exist in everything to make it whole, two things which make the whole world ok. Now you have this you will be ok too.”
It is tight now, but I daren’t take it off. It keeps things ok. Rounding the corner I leave the Rec behind, only one alleyway and two roads to go before I can get home and out from under His gaze. I can feel his eyes beating down on my shoulders and the back of my neck, I speed up.
I am half way down the alley way when I hear the scuffing and crunching of gravel under many feet.
I speed up even more, I know who it is, I know who all of them are. They go to the local comprehensive school, they are a couple years younger than me but they all do things like sports and camping, resulting in a distinct size difference between us. The crunching increases as they start to run, panicking I run too but I am laden down with books and they catch up with me before I can reach the end of the alleyway.
One of them catch the back of my shirt and throw me into the wall, my bags and folders go crashing to the ground. I feel the air whoosh out of my lungs.
Now all I feet is pain. Warmth. Now pain again.
A fist flies towards my nose. Gasping, I spit the blood that has trickled into my mouth. I am coughing as I try to keep breathing.
They snicker, I can see three of four pairs of shiny white trainers but everything is blurry, the pain makes tears spring into my eyes. I throw my arms up to protect my face and feel two hands grip my wrists, the cold of their gold rings bites into my skin.
A knee goes hard into my stomach.
I fall to my knees and although my vision is still blurry I am able to make out the black and white interlocking symbols of my bracelet over by one white trainer, it had fallen off somehow, the fixed clasp proving fickle in the face of adversity.
I reach for it and am rewarded with a heel coming sharply down on the back of my hand, I hear bones crunch, and I cry out in response.
“Aw...poor thing.” A sarcastic voice sneered from above, and I am thrown back into one of my last memories of my mother.
The hospital walls were pale green and the entire building smelt like death and antiseptic. I went to get coffee even though I didn’t want any, but that’s what people did at hospitals, they got coffee. The nurse didn’t see me behind her. I had learnt to walk silently by then, and she was talking to another nurse looking at my mother.
“Poor thing, she hasn’t got long now.”
“Family?” The other asked.
“A husband and a son, so sad.” They shake their heads pityingly.
I hurried past, back to my mother. She took the coffee I gave her and smiled gratefully, though I knew it was an effort for her. She was so pale; all the light had left her face and her once bright blue eyes were like stagnant water. She held my hand.
“Why you? Why is this happening?” I clasped her frail bony hand with both of mine. “Why is this happening to us?”
She shushed me gently and ran her other hand over the back of my head. “God has decided he wants me with him, is all. We have to trust in him, have faith and he will watch over you, always.”
“That doesn’t explain why! There are so many bad people, why is he taking you!”
“Honey...” she soothed.
Another fast kick to my lower stomach and I feel the uncomfortable warmness spread in my trousers.
“Oh my God, he’s pissed himself!”
They shriek with laughter, and a flurry of further kicking and punching follows. It wasn’t until one last kick was delivered to my face causing me to cough and spit out a whole mouthful of blood that they stop. They run off into the darkness, back to their families no doubt.
I lay there for a moment; I lay there and picture my father’s furious face on that day. His chiseled featured contorted with fury and disgust.
“How could you do that to your Mother!” he snarled at me “Do you have any idea how upset she is now? Do you have any idea of what you have done to her? Can’t I even trust you to hold it together for one afternoon? For her sake?”
Limping down the road in the darkness I resume my counting, one, two, three, four. I can feel Him up there, watching me. Yes, I know you are there, I thought. I know He did this, like the way he took my Mother from me. Fingering the bracelet in my pocket I limp on. I must have let Him in somehow, must have missed a step, or maybe I forgot to knock twice on a door before I entered a room.
Dual forces which exist in everything to make it whole, two things which make the whole world ok.
I would make the world ok again; I had to, for my Dad’s sake. I couldn’t let him down again. Dual Forces. Everything comes in pairs, you know. God and the Devil. One and the same. Ying and Yang.
Shaking slightly I finally manage to get the key in the door, no one is home, no one ever was. I hurry up the stairs as fast as my injuries would let me, my hand ached and it hurt to breathe. My Dad may want me to go to the hospital but I’m not going back there, I know what happens when you go there. The place is full of corners, they invite Him in, they want Him there, but I know better.
Dumping my stuff on the floor of my bedroom I begin rifling through the box I kept under my bed, I know it is in here somewhere. Ah, got it. I stagger into the ebathroom and look into the mirror, my nose is definitely broken and my eyes, bloodshot and watering, have started to go purple underneath. I have a cut on my lip and it has started to swell. My whole face looks like a fruit salad that someone has dropped. I pull the sleeve of my shirt up on my left arm, holding my Taijitsu in my left fist, palm down; I hold my bare forearm out in front of me. Then, taking the knife that I have found in the box under my bed, I hold my breath and cut two straight lines across, just below my elbow. The red spills out and creates crimson rivers in the sink.
There, I thought, you can’t make that fall off.
I hear a key in the door as my Dad arrives home; I quickly pulled my sleeve back down. I will have to go tell him what happened, he will be disappointed, but it will be alright, it won’t happen again. Not now, I will be ok, now.
As long as I keep away from corners.