Weekends passed quickly, and soon it was back to the weekdays, where usual routine that all started at that time of the week. People went back to work after a short rest, and students returned to school after a jolly good time.
School was the usual boring place where students hated most. But still, all had to attend classes. Loads of homework piled up from a little table, which the table was struggling to maintain the heavy weight. Then, there were teachers who began to hiss at the students.
However, it was a fine sunny morning.
Elyn went to school as usual, but not with a skateboard. Absolute avoidance of all kinds of penalties was necessary. She took the same route, however with a bus. At seven, she was already waiting at the bus stop. On the kerb she stood, wore a red sweater over her black coat and blue shirt uniform with a short black skirt to complete the set, and a yellowish-green scarf around her neck, in addition to the mittens she wore to keep her hands warm. She stood fourth in the line at the stand, the little bus sign on top of her. Most of the awaiting passengers were students, and some of them were office personnel. She recognised every of them quite well, especially all of the students of the same school, though not friendly and close with them.
It seemed to be ages waiting for the public bus, but the belief that there would be an eventual time it should arrive kept them calm. The line got longer and longer as people came to join in the hold. Cars drove past the bus stand one by one, like trails of water tagging behind one another, but still no sign of the passenger coach.
Some draught blew through her hair. As she used her fingers to do her tresses that fell down her face, through the corner of her eyes, she noticed a person that was unfamiliar to her. Never did she see him before, only a young schoolboy around her age, and his uniform bore the same badge. No, she did not remember seeing anyone like him in the school grounds, so she guessed he must be new.
The boy stood two persons away from her, and Elyn could see him clearly. The boyish face and his height meant he could be younger, but his looks were much mature. His face was like any other boys, typically mannered, a dark, well-cut hairstyle on top, and the rest of him looked normal. However, one thing was peculiar – his eyes and spirit. He was stern, and quite expressionless. Throughout her inspection, he never twitched, and his eyes were focused into a blank. And the shades of his eyes were intriguing – there was a faint, red tint over the eyeballs, especially at the iris, where the red dot was explicit.
The bus did turn up after a while. The loud engine roared, could be heard distances away. Finally, it stopped at the stand, and the doors, pulled by the hinges, opened. The bus drivers on his seat beckoned the people to go in. Hence, the passengers boarded the bus, climbing the small stairs that elevated them to the platform. Elyn followed the line, and found a seat next to another schoolgirl. She sat down, her backpack on her laps. While the bus driver waited for all passengers to be on board.
The boy, meanwhile, entered the bus. As far as one could see, he never knew how to ride a bus, nor did he understand about bus fares. As he trotted towards the row of seats, the conductor furiously shouted to him. Apparently, he did not pay the fare. Walking up to him, the conductor harshly demanded, “You need to pay for transportation, young man.”
The boy stood motionless, staring at the conductor, shaking his head.
“Money, boy! Money! Sixty-cents from here to Heimford, you understand?”
The boy did not answer, but searched his pockets. Then, he took his hand out and showed his palm. Six round shillings rested on his palm, still new and shining. The conductor, distraught about the boy, rashly seized the money and returned to collect from the other passengers. The other commuters looked on, amazed by the boy’s unfamiliarity about the system. After the event, the boy sat down on a vacant place, just opposite of Elyn.
Elyn too saw the conflict between the boy and the conductor. She cared little about the fuss, but was more fascinated about the young boy. His behaviour was even more weirder, weirder than Phillip, who was already considered an outsider of the region. Phillip was a loner in this neighbourhood, and shared no friends but Elyn and her other closest associates. Even so, he was normal to be unaccustomed with the community. But, the boy she saw that day did not even know about bus tickets. Had not he ride a bus before?
Elyn was often attracted by unusual things. The boy greatly caught her attention. Amused she was about the funny character; impressed she was by the repose and restfulness of him. Elyn spied on him, carefully taking peeps at him and made sure she did not arouse the boy’s suspicion. Nevertheless, even though the boy should had noticed a girl watching him, he did not budge, but sat still, as restful as ever. No movement he made, no gestures he showed, none visible expression on his face to tell that if he was happy, or angry, or simply abashed. The only thing lively about him was his hair – natural fibres that wavered as the wind blew into the poorly ventilated vehicle. Never did he move his eyeballs too, only staring forwards into a blank, from the beginning till end.
The five-minute ride was over very fast. The subsequent stop had arrived just outside Heimford. Elyn and the other students, including the new schoolboy, alighted from the vehicle and paced into the school field.
She was early. Never in history she was so ahead from punctual, and still being in such a good mood. Years back, the earliest she made was seven-fifteen, and came with ruffled hair and rumpled clothes. Today, she was cherry and in good shape, a totally different person from before.
Humming all along the way, she sauntered along the hallway, smiling to everyone she knew. As she passed the lockers, she opened hers and collected the books and assignments she needed for the day. Her friends who all stood near her were all greeted affably and charmingly. Though astonished, they greeted Elyn back all the same.
There should be just a few turns to reach the classroom, but Elyn decided to take a longer route instead. Unquestionably, she wished to stop by the office, and hoped to meet her person in mind. The alluring image of Phillip was still fresh in her memory. His affectionate smile, sweet temper and cordial attention always lingered in her heart. She still wore the hammer-shaped pendant close to her, which was the first she accepted from him. She would touch the necklace once in a while, that would remind her of the man she admired most.
The curtains were not pulled, therefore Elyn could have clear, unobstructed view of inside the room. Phillip shared his workplace with another five teachers. All of them were busy for the moment, however, Phillip knew all along that Elyn was looking at him. So he turned his head and waved to her as a little gesture. Elyn did the same, and left him alone to his work.
Elyn reached her class at the final. It was still early then. She walked to her desk and settled down for a while. Meanwhile, Yvonne came to meet her for a little chat.
“Just another brand new day for this little woman. Good morning Elyn,” wished Yvonne. “Good morning,” echoed Elyn, still smiling dizzily. Her cheek was red with ambience.
“So, where have you disappeared to – for the weekend?” asked Yvonne, hinting and pestering, “I called you, do you know, on Saturday?”
“Well, why do you want to know?” Elyn was still trying to hide her little excursion. “Don’t play dumb, Elyn! Two days ago, I saw two intimate couples chatting away in a scarlet car….”
“Okay, okay. I admit I went out together with him. But should that be a problem?”
“No, I don’t have any problem with that,” said Yvonne, pulled a chair over to sit near Elyn, and whispered silently, “so, how was your day?”
Elyn grinned. “Very fine, I was so excited! I never have expected to go out with him so soon, but when he asked me out, what a surprise I got! Imagine how my heart throb when he said that I’m his best friend here!”
“So, where did you did you go?”
“Oh, he is a very special guy. He dislikes cramped areas, but prefer serene and peacefulness. Hence we went to Starvane Lake, you know, the lake near the forests? We really enjoy it there, but I had to admit it was rather boring.”
“Hmm… quite a character he is.”
“Next, we went to Forx Valley, where a horserace tournament was being held. I had a good ride with the horses there. Then we have some tea together at the little cafeteria, and he gave me this!”
Elyn took out the necklace that Phillip had given to her. She showed the prized good luck charm to Yvonne, and hoped Yvonne would admire her relationship with Phillip. Yvonne looked and examined the pendant, inspecting every feature.
“I say this little piece of jewellery is very old and rusty. Why on earth would he give you that?” Yvonne exclaimed. “But he is sincere, Yvonne! He gives me this good luck charm to cure my bad luck that is following me all round! I think he is caring, and very sentimental too.”
“What bad luck?” asked Yvonne. “I don’t know clearly. But during the horserace, my horse suddenly went haywire and threw its horse tantrum. Probably it’s the hot weather, or just my kick ass misfortune. I nearly fell, but thank God I didn’t.”
“I see,” Yvonne nodded. She inspected the pendant again, and went into a blank for a moment. Then she continued, like she had thought of something, “Elyn, I think this is no ordinary pendant. It has to do with some religion or ritual, if I’m not mistaken, though I had forgotten what it is meant for. Just examine it more closely, you can see runes carved on almost every angle of this hammer-design pendant. Did you ask Phillip where he get it?”
Elyn shook her head. She thought of herself stupid. Why did she never ask Phillip before about the gift? She could have learnt more about Phillip's background if she had asked.
“Never mind, I’ll find out something about it after while,” assured Yvonne, “but anyway, just make sure your Phillip is really a good guy before you get any closer to him. Safety comes first, you know.”
“I have faith in him. I will prove he is the best man on earth and none would fare him. I trust my instincts, he really is what he is.”
The school bell rang, just minutes after they finished their conversation. Every student took their seats and waited for the teacher to come in.
It was the language period for the day. The loud ‘thud-thud’ footsteps of high-heeled shoes meant that Mrs. Carreman was approaching. The students were noisy as usual, but they had kept their limit. This was because of Mrs. Carreman was a nice and reasonable teacher. She wanted every student of her class to be obedient and quiet, therefore the class had compromised in return of her good teaching attitude. Mrs. Carreman was more favoured among the teachers, and her leniency highly contrasted with the well-known fiery Miss Goon, who was always in her rages every day.
Mrs. Carreman was in her usual self – her long-brownish hair was let down onto her shoulders, wore a simple blouse and long, plaited skirt. She was slim, had a pleasant face and always smiled. Her voice was soft and sweet, just like everybody had hoped for. Gentle and kind was her nature, hence no one disliked her.
“Good morning class,” her voice tweeted like birds a-singing. “Good morning, teacher,” answered the class. “Very well then, welcome back to school after the long holidays and the recent weekends. I hoped you all would finally be back to your studies, especially your hearts, which I suppose still flying out there in the wild? Ha, ha. Hope you all will enjoy the lessons for this term. Are you all ready?”
All nodded, entertaining to the teacher’s question. “Good. So now, we shall start off with some basic exercise on English grammar. Let’s discuss about –”
‘Knock-knock’, a loud rattle at the door interrupted the class. Then, all attentions turned towards the door to see the visitor. It was the supervisor, Mr. Campbell who stood at the vestibule. With him was a small boy, standing in front of him, his height reaching the supervisor’s abdomen.
The supervisor upon seeing that he was noticed, started to speak of his purpose, “ahem… students, sorry for the interruption. Here I have a new student with me, his name is Hewlett Crowe, and he will be joining your class for the rest of the term. I hope you all can give him a chance and space to fit in. And most of all, give him your warmest welcome. That’s all.”
Mr. Campbell walked away, leaving the boy on his own. However, the boy still stood there, till Mrs. Carreman signalled him to enter. She had a little talk with him.
Elyn already knew the boy, not in detail, but of his appearance. He was the young boy she saw at the bus stand, who rode the same bus with her and nearly got a wallop from the bus conductor. More perplexing he was now to be studying in the same class, Elyn thought. She had guessed him enrolling in the lower grades, but unexpectedly, he was a fifteen-year-old lad, (or some brilliant guy who exalted to third grade) and looked quite young for his age. First comes Phillip who was so mysterious, and now comes this boy even more mysterious! What’s next?
“Hewlett, go and sit there, at the second row where there is a vacant place. Make yourselves comfortable. Students, I hope you treat him nicely.”
The boy obeyed, and moved to his desk and seated himself. While Elyn was positioned only a few desks behind him. Whilst the class continued on the lesson, everybody was taking notice of the boy curiously. Some accepted his presence; others shook their heads disapprovingly. Anyhow, none commented, and continued with their work.
As time flew, again came the period of Miss Goon. Miss Goon was the arithmetic teacher, and a very cold and cruelsome one. It could be imagined that she was entering a little hall of torture, and sinful souls were crying and begging for mercy. No doubt her fierceness was a little too extreme.
As regular, the class sang their greeting, and Miss Goon answered. Then she would open her books and take out her materials, and start to teach the lessons for the day. Some say she was nifty-picky, but sometimes she was unobservant. She did not realise a new student was among the rest of the old schoolmates. If she did, she would definitely scrutinize him, trying to find another fault, making sure everyone she came across was not a good angel, and she was the holiest.
“Today we shall do some simple calculations on area and mass. Now while I write these notes on the board, you study the papers I had just given out. No talking and fooling around, or else!”
She turned to the blackboard, and with a chalk, she started scribbling on the board. Yet, with her back behind the students, no one dared make a sound, not a single whisper could be heard. Disciplinary was at its best then.
In the midst of the study, there was one boy who seemed restless. He was the well-known prankster of the class. Nastier he had been over the years, and sometimes his behaviour was intolerable. Surely, the dull lesson had urged him for another prank to be played again.
The famous Joey Walterson scratched his head for another idea, another joke to crack and transform the whole class into laughter. However, his mind ended up at a dead-end – no one was going to be noisy when Miss Goon was around, certainly none, and a laughing bomb would be useless, only to backfire. He scratched his head with the tip of a pencil. Nope, he would not want to be funny with Miss Goon, otherwise he would get an even more nasty firing. At last, his eyeballs gazed at the new boy, Hewlett. Then he silently chuckled to himself. Obviously, a new student would be the best victim for him to tease with!
He was cautious, not to disturb Miss Goon who was still writing on the board. Next, very carefully, he tore a page out of his book and crushed it into a lump of paper ball. Then, aiming very sharply at Hewlett’s crown, he fired his weapon. The paper ball catapulted from his hand and hit directly onto the boy’s head. Finally, he cheekily shrunk himself to his work again to avoid suspicion.
Hewlett jounced. Startled by the sudden hit on his head from behind, he stopped from his study and paused for a while. What could have struck him? Just a little sensation, he thought. After making sure nothing was wrong, he buried into the books again.
Simultaneously, another paper ball zoomed and shot his head.
Hewlett jolted again, this time more confused than ever. He looked around him, hoping to find his mysterious assailant, or whoever who was bothering him. However, all seemed to be working hard on their books. He looked behind. No one was suspicious. Therefore he went back to the work, ignoring the sudden attack.
Joey sneered to himself. To think he got away so easily made him wanted to try again. So he tore another piece of paper, crushed it, and sent it flying over to Hewlett.
This time, Hewlett cried, “Hey!”
The abrupt cry that broke the silence captured everyone’s attention. None dared to utter even a word during Miss Goon’s lesson from ago, and the loud yell was startling. Miss Goon too turned around to see who was the shouter. “Who made that?” she scorched.
All fingers pointed to the poor, new boy.
Miss Goon was greatly annoyed. Angrily, she stepped up to the boy, with crossed arms waiting for a satisfactory explanation. Hewlett knew his position, and stood up before the teacher. Miss Goon took off her glasses to have a better look at the boy.
“Hmm… I’ve never seen you before. You must be new, what’s your name?”
“Hewlett,” the boy stammered.
“Now listen boy, I don’t want any type of indiscipline in class. No mischief, do you hear? You’ll be excused this time, but never a next time, or the disciplinary room is where you go. Understood?”
Hewlett nodded, and sat down. Miss Goon walked back to the board, while Joey chuckled nastily to himself, amused by the event.
No one knew what happened, no one had the clue why Hewlett shouted. No one except Elyn, who saw the whole scenario. All the time she was observing Hewlett, mainly because the boy had acted very strangely (thus, she showed great interest in him). Now that Elyn knew the culprit, she was furious. She was a person who would not bear to see a junior being bullied by an elder. She would not rest until the matter was justified.
An eye for an eye, she thought. But there were no to reveal Joey as the one behind the mischief. Nevertheless, she considered that giving a taste of his own medicine would be the best punishment, thus she copied Joey, pulling out a sheet of paper, crumpled it, and threw it at the prankster. She hoped it would teach him a lesson.
But she was not realised that Miss Goon was spying on the students. The moment she saw Elyn, she was tremendously mad. She flared up, and thundered with the utmost piercing voice, “what are you doing, ELYN!”
Elyn froze. Miss Goon’s electrifying pitch had her petrified. Still, the raging temper continued to ring into her ears, “so, it is you who had been cheeky all the time! I cannot believe it, you dare to defy my orders?”
“But, but…” Elyn finally found her tongue, “Joey is also making the fuss! He threw papers at Hewlett!”
“Hey, don’t accuse me without any proof!” Joey stood up, enraged, “it’s not fair to pull me into this muddle –”
“ENOUGH!” Miss Goon shrieked, “Out, both of you, get out of here at this instance!”
The two enemies obeyed timidly, and scurried out of the classroom.
“To Madam Hallard’s office now!” boomed Miss Goon at the back.
Elyn sat on a bench outside Madam Hallard’s room. Joey went in first, and she would be next. As she waited anxiously, not knowing what earful of scolding she would receive, she kept thinking of the new boy, and wondered who he was. From his manner, which showed that he was still green in this complex society, Elyn guessed he lived in the outskirts and was already long separated with the outside community, which was the best explanation for why he was unable to adapt into the society.
Not long after, Joey walked out of the room. He speared an abhorrent glance towards Elyn, which made the girl shuddered, and stomped away from sight. Elyn knew it was her turn, and slowly moved towards the door. Her clutched the knob very tightly, and turned the handle. The door creaked open, and she saw the stern Madam Hallard through the gap. Nervously, she walked inside, and sat in front of her desk.
Madam Hallard was still looking at her paperwork. She sat on a big armchair, which was only fitting her body size (for she was plump), and concentrated on her files. Though Elyn's arrival was in her account, she did not bothered Elyn. Her speechless mood made Elyn uncomfortable. Until some time then, she only uttered a word, “Elyn?”
“Yes, Madam Hallard,” Elyn quickly responded.
Madam Hallard heaved heavily, and closed her folders. Then she looked upon Elyn, and said, “What’s your problem girl?”
Elyn shrunk back, frightened by Hallard's taunt.
“Perhaps you can relate the whole matter to me,” Hallard continued, “Joey Walterson told me about the incident, so you can just tell me according to your view.”
Elyn gulped her saliva that accumulated in her throat. She perceived that Hallard was trying to force her to admit her guilt. Carefully, she blurted one word after another, “Joey was bullying the new student inside the class just now. I don’t know what he said, but I speak the truth. So I just threw back a paper ball to teach him a lesson….”
“There, there. There is your problem!” Hallard remarked, “never you heard about the saying, an eye for an eye makes the world go blind?” Hallard eyed sharply on Elyn , and then returned to her normal gaze, “Think about what you did. Does it make any difference between your attitude and Joey’s”
Elyn pursed her lips. She knew she could say no further to defend herself.
“But anyway, I’ll give you a chance this time. Never a second time, Elyn! And remember, before you do anything, think before you act. Let’s hope I don’t see you in the office again.”
“Thank you, Madam Hallard.”
“Good. You may go now, I believe it is recess time already, isn’t it. Hurry, go.”
Elyn nodded a sign of appreciation, and hurried out of the room. She was lucky that Madam Hallard was more well tempered than Miss Goon.
She closed the door behind her. Elyn was greatly relieved of her tension. Now that she was free from trouble, it was time she find her friends to spend the recess period.
But not before she could leave, she stopped short at her steps. The new boy was just standing in front of her. Elyn was surprised to see Hewlett, very astounded indeed.
“Thank you very much for helping me out, Elyn,” the boy finally expressed his gratitude, “I hope you are alright, are you?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” Elyn replied, bending her body a little to maintain an optimal height to communicate with Hewlett, who was shorter than her, “no need to worry about me, I can withstand any trouble. But what about you? Never tolerate with those people who mistreat you.”
“I’m fine too, thanks a lot!” Hewlett replied, “once I get acquainted with this school, I’ll do fine.”
“Anyway, care to join me for tea now?” asked Elyn.
“Sure, that’s a good idea.”
Break time was limited, thus they hurried to the mess house, lest they would be late. Just a few blocks away from the main building, so they quickened their pace. Hewlett followed closely behind Elyn, for he was still new with the locations; but throughout the journey, he observed, hoping to remember significant objects and amenities.
The doors of the canteen were still open, and many students were already having their break inside. As she saw her friends, Elyn waved to them and joined the company. Hewlett followed closely, and sat with the girls, though shy because of unfamiliarity.
“Are you hungry, Hewlett?” asked Elyn. Hewlett shook his head as a response. Nevertheless, Elyn just uttered, “never mind,” and she hopped away to the counter, bought four pieces of sandwiches and two glasses of soft drinks, and carried them back on a tray, placing it down on the table and offered, “half my share is for you. Just a welcome treat from me!”
“Thanks,” said Hewlett, “you’re very kind.”
Elyn smiled back to him as a welcome gesture, and sat down beside him, while the other friends looked on, with a hundred of questions boggling in their mind. They were all too anxious to know the new student, and on the other side, what happened to Elyn after Miss Goon had told her off.
“So, how’s your problem going on?” asked Monica, ever caring she was as her nature was. “Your problem with that lunatic?” added Jessica, implying the matter regarding Joey.
“Still fine, lucky me,” Elyn replied, “Hallard wasn’t so bad, it’s just Miss Goon! I’ll have to be more careful next time. As for Joey, well, I don’t really care, just as long as he keeps his limit off me and my friends.”
“So this little guy here is your friend too?” Cathy popped. “Well’da, sort of,” Elyn jammed a whole piece of the tuna sandwich into her mouth.
“Kind’a fast,” Lyra jokingly exclaimed, “since when he became your so-best friend? Anyway, what’s your name, cutey?” she turned her question to Hewlett, who just nibbled at the bread he was holding, and did not spoke for a while.
“My full name?” softly, he spoke, “Hewlett Hubert Crowe.”
“Quite good a name you have, chubby,” Yvonne commented, “but where are you from? Never seen you before.”
“You’re right, I came here a few days ago. I’m from Finnmark.”
“Finnmark?” Yvonne exclaimed startlingly, “why, it must be very cold up there!”
“Indeed,” answered Hewlett, “I am from a fishing village at the Northern region, and just came down south to experience the city life. And I find your area quite interesting too.”
“Where do you live now?” Cathy continued on the interview. “Temporarily, at the Ashley Motel, Lilac Street.”
“How old are you, frankly?”
“Fourteen, coming to fifteen.”
“Mostly reading for the pastime, but I’m well verse with the computer.”
“Have any girlfriends already?”
“Hey, stop pressuring him already!” Elyn intervened, quite annoyed by their attitude, “this is not a military interrogation. Besides, you all should be introducing yourselves instead,” and she turned to Hewlett, “well, Hewlett, these are all my friends. This is Yvonne, Cathy, Lyra, Jessica and Monica. Hope you can forgive them for being rude.”
“Hey, no fair! You seem to be saying you are the good girl of us all,” cried Lyra. “Yeah, we’re not rude to Hewlett, we’re just being concerning!” added Monica.
“Since when you’ve been concerning?” fired Elyn back, “you ladies are plain talkative, waiting to grab some topics to gossip about –”
“No, that’s not true, I’m just asking a few questions –” Cathy interrupted.
“You asked too much!” shouted Elyn to beat the clamour.
“But Yvonne started the asking…” Jessica said.
“Hey! Now you’re putting the blame on me!” Yvonne retaliated to Jessica’s accusation, feeling unjust.
The babble intensified as the girls went on arguing among themselves. The recess period got quite boisterous, as the raging bickering heated, only to cease when the bell struck so loudly that the chimes covered their noisy banter. As the students left for the classes, the girls too left their seats and followed the line, while Hewlett quietly tagged behind them, speechless.
Not too soon, but as time passed, the school ended its six-hourly long session, and like any other day, the students dispersed from the building at the sound of the bell, and headed for home, or anywhere else far from school, where the rest of the day were spent on their other activities, mostly of their own interest.
After school, Elyn, with the accompaniment of her friends, Yvonne and Hewlett, left the gates of Heimford and started the journey home. On the way she stumbled upon Phillip, whom she waved a goodbye to, but not keen for his company for the moment, instead wanted to learn more about her new found friend. Curious as she always was, Elyn tried to picture the life of Hewlett, gathering every information she could from him, hoping to know him well like she knew her closest friends. When friendship grew, it was common for newly acquainted persons trying to get to the depth of everything concerning their friends, everything associated with them. However, not being too nosy, she kept her pace, slowly embedding her questions in an order, to avoid irritating him. Of course, the general questions came in first, and Elyn finally knew his current lodging environment.
“Where do you live now, Hewlett?” asked Elyn as the three of them walked down the street on the pavement, following the slow moving pedestrians in front, mainly of school students following the road home. “Ashley Motel,” answered Hewlett.
Just as the answer reached her ears, Elyn stopped short at her tracks, seemingly startled. “You mean the motel on Lilac Street?”
“Yes. And the rates are cheap too. I get to stay for three months for a hundred dollars.”
“But that place is horrible!” Elyn was alarmed. Yvonne, standing just beside, agreed, “indeed, Hewlett. Though cheap, but Ashley is no more better than a pigsty. Plus the poor ventilation and lighting, no one would stay there!”
Hewlett kept silent, but nodded to agreement.
“Perhaps we should pay your little motel room a visit, then see if we can do anything for you. Are you with us, Yvonne?” urged Elyn, eager to help her friend who was in a sombre state.
“Fine for me, I’m free today. Where is it again? Oh, Lilac Street, now I recall. Hush up then.”
Spring in April was a mild season, not prickling hot like summer, nor freezing cold winter. The sun was just shining fine; waters from the south acted as natural coolers for the land, harmonising the ecology. Clear skies looked good covered by sprays of white mists (or rather new clouds that formed in the sky), while birds soared the firmament with glee, like small dots swirling around if seen from below.
Ashley Motel was nearer to the city, but not that far, thus a distance’s walk would reach there. Nonetheless, the warm weather more or less had agitated those muscles to be activated, as one would stretch them and those stiff joints – a little exercise could be healthy.
Ashley Motel was an old building, the last refurbishment dating back to ten years ago. Since big and luxurious hotels had joined in the business of providing accommodation, all the motels in the city had gradually declined of its maintenance and upkeep, for the tough competition had left little chance of the smaller companies to survive. Ashley was the rare ones that still operated till the day, though poor services were offered, the motel suited the budget of some underprivileged travellers or homeless wanderers, as the rent was ten times cheaper. Someone like Hewlett who came from the outskirts region who was tight of monetary supply would definitely choose that place to stay, which was cosier to spend the freezing nights than outside on the streets (where beggars slept on the kerb, with lucky ones having thin, worn-out mattresses to lay upon), and most of all, the convenience of obtaining the necessities (of food, water supply and electricity).
Before the doors the three stood and looked upon, they could see the rusty hinges of the main entrance creaking and squeaking as customers walked in and out from the motel; the dusty pillars that supported the building, hung with layers of dirt and cobwebs; the paint of the walls, cracked and faded.
“Let’s go in,” ushered Hewlett.
When Hewlett pushed the doors open, again let off that uncomfortable creaking sound. As three of them entered, they saw an old receptionist, frail and hunched, reading the papers while keeping an account of customers and visitors. The scrawny old man squinted his eyes upon the trio, but bothered none, and continued with the fine texts of the print. Hewlett walked past the reception, and went up the stairs on the right hand side of the building. Yvonne and Elyn ensued.
The staircase was aged as much as of the building, equally old and spoilt. The dirty wooden steps squeaked and creaked as feet pressed on it, some even near to broken, others missing from the flight. Finally, where the end of the steps took them to the first floor, Hewlett pointed to the little corridor in front, as a signal to his dormitory.
His hand in his pocket, Hewlett pulled out a small key, and inserted it into the keyhole of the door to his room. A faint ‘click’ occurred as he twisted the key, and the door slowly opened with a meagre push. “Come in,” invited Hewlett to his friends, who stood outside waiting to enter.
Elyn and Yvonne stepped in the little compartment, which was incapacious, far worse than a cellar or an attic, which were roomier. There no room services, apparently, from the looks of the condition, of cobwebs hanging on ceiling and poles; rubbish strewn an the well worn carpeted floor; and a strange, musty smell, stench of the ages, a compound of alcohol and sea water, and some of dog’s fur.
“You live in this place?” Elyn cried, while walking around examining an old broken cupboard, then sat down on the bed, which was spoilt of the springs of the mattress that came with a set of torn blanket and a pillow depleted of its feather-stuffing, “how can you live here?”
“Yes, you don’t deserve this place, even if you are penniless,” agreed Yvonne to Elyn's remark, sympathising the poor Hewlett who had to withstand that unbearable living place.
“Perhaps I’ll just need to clean up this place and set things right, and it’ll do fine,” said Hewlett. “Good! Maybe we should start help you put things in order, right Yvonne?” said Elyn.
“No, I won’t do this if I still have my mind,” refused Yvonne, “look at the mess! Don’t you see all the furniture is broken? The lighting is bad too, and the smell is agonizing, probably trapped inside for years already. Even if you manage to fix everything, it will cost you a fortune, and the stench won’t go.”
“I think you’re right, Yvonne. So I guess I have to move out, but where to?” sighed Hewlett, desperate for a new home. The three of them sat down on the old bed, heads drooped spiritlessly, deprived of their ideas trying to help solve the little problem. It seemed a difficult task; yet, simple it turned out to be as an answer, when the right solution was pondered of. When Elyn realised it, immediately, she said, “I think our problem is solved! Hewlett, I just thought of the best place you may reside. Perhaps my own home is the best, isn’t it?”
Hewlett and Yvonne stared at Elyn, quite surprised by the solution. Elyn continued, “don’t worry, there’s still space in my home, I think Mum will allow a guest. Besides, since my brothers left, there are still plenty of rooms. What do you say, Hew? We welcome you, that’s it if you are willing to come.”
“I… I…” Hewlett was undecided.
“Go on,” encouraged Yvonne, “Elyn will take care of you. The school is nearer to Elyn's home too, and you can save time going to school.”
“Okay then, thank you Elyn,” at last he made up his mind. “Fine, pack up then,” Elyn consented wholeheartedly, a kind acceptance shown.
Hewlett bent over and collected his small baggage. “I’m ready,” he announced, and the trio departed, leaving behind the incommodious motel, never to visit it again.
Before the very gates of the house Hewlett stood watching at the building deeply, not knowing what he was thinking about though, perhaps with awe, or perhaps he changed his mind. He remained there for some while, unmoved, stationary like an on-guard militant, and not a single word he spoke, nor his body language spoke; like a dead wood, all but his breathing that was alive.
Elyn closed up to him, sensing a little blunder, attentively asked, “Are you alright, Hew?” Yes was the short answer, none other clauses; could seem a bit uneasy, but the message was clear. So Elyn ushered him in, along the small pathway across the garden and to the main doors into the house. Elyn unlocked it with her keys, and invited her friend in.
Upon hearing the sound of the unlocking of the door, Elyn's mother knew her daughter was finally home, and shouted from the kitchen, “where’ve you been, Elyn?”
“Somewhere,” a curt reply from the girl, and next a notification, “Mum, I brought a friend here!”
“Is it? Call your friend in then, will he or she be for dinner?”
“Mum, come out please. We need to talk.”
Hewlett sat on an armchair, his small baggage on the floor beside him, waiting. Mrs. Forrester walked out from the pantry where she was cooking a moment ago, and saw the boy, and kindly asked, “Well you must be Elyn's friend. What’s your name?”
“Hewlett, Hewlett Crowe, aunt,” said he.
“Well it’s nice of you to pay a visit, but I’m sorry I cannot entertain you now. But stay for dinner, can you boy?”
“No Mum,” Elyn broke into the conversation, “actually, I invited him to stay here, at our home.”
“Oh, if that’s the case, than we’ve better talk,” exclaimed her mother, and found a chair to sit, “tell me what’s going on.”
Elyn explained, on behalf of Hewlett who would not be speaking for the moment, especially to a stranger, “it’s like this. My new friend here came from Finnmark a few days ago to our city. He is currently lodging at the Ashley Motel, which he finds it not comfortable. Now I want to invite him for a stay until he can find a better place.”
“Oh, a student from somewhere afar! He may stay, I don’t see a problem to that,” Mrs. Forrester turned to Hewlett, and continued, “Hewlett, boy, you have my consent to live here. I welcome you with open arms. You may take the empty room next to Elyn's on the left.”
“Thanks, aunt,” Hewlett appreciated, “I’ll pay the rent whenever I can – ”
“Oh, goodness! Don’t speak of rent, you’re my guest, not my tenant! No, don’t speak of money. I understand your situation, and I care. Besides, our house has a few rooms that are vacant since Elyn's brothers left, so it’s good to have them used for a while. And your presence can make our family more lively!”
“Thanks very much, aunt.”
“Elyn, show him to his room, then come down for tea, alright?” Mrs. Forrester smiled and returned to the kitchen. Meanwhile, Elyn led the boy up the stairs to the room, which was just next to her room, and she opened the door to a dark inside, turned on the lights for a clear vision, and called Hewlett in.
Had not been occupied for at least several years, yet some good up keeping made the room clean; just some ventilation would make the stale air fresh. All the necessary furniture was provided – a large wall closet, a single bed and a table. There were two windows on each side of the room, (later opened by Elyn after she drew the curtains); quite airy when draught blew in.
“How do you find this room? Formerly it was my second bro Adam’s room, but he had not stayed for a long time already. So I think he doesn’t matter if you borrow it for a while.”
“Very spacious, I can’t think of any better place than this. Thanks very much Elyn!”
“Hah! You thanked me a hundred times already! Quick, unpack and come down, okay? I’ll leave you here to your own.” Elyn winked to him teasingly, and went down, while Hewlett sat down on the bed, which was much firmer than the last one he slept on. He looked around him. The chamber, although not a large lavish room, everything was complete, fulfilling. Cosy he felt, the warm hospitality the Forresters had given him. In his heart infused gratefulness, an emotion indescribable by spoken words, which he never told, which he never attempt to express, but laid deep within him a feeling of indebted, which he planned to repay whenever he could, for time was the factor that would prove his gratitude, for there were more things had yet to come.