Riki adjusted his glasses and moved his hair away from his face as he completed the arm of the character he drew. The teacher's eyes, which were scanning the room, landed on Riki. She smiled slightly, and then walked over to him. She firmly placed the tip of the remote on his shoulder when she arrived near where he sat. Startled from his oblivion, he looked up to the teacher with wide eyes. "Are you done with the problems, Riki?" the teacher asked. Her voice was soothing, yet intimidating. "Erm..." Riki started, but he could not contrive any good excuses. Instead, he slowly slid the drawing across and around his desk until it was on his lap, not well hidden. He did not look the teacher in the eyes. "I would like you to complete the last problem on the board for the class to see," the teacher said--the dreaded words. Riki looked hesitantly around the room. Everyone was staring at him with curious expressions.
Fortunately, he was able to complete the problem, though with a little trouble. He had never been that great at math, but the fact he was only proficient was a blow to him. In the city of Rokon, most students took on professions that required math or science skills. Some of them even became full-on inventors. In fact, Rokon was nicknamed "Tech City," for its lack of arts and humanities in the fabric of work forces available. That was not to claim arts and humanities did not exist there, they were merely under-regarded. Riki was sure that when he became an adult, he would have to move out of the city and find another one in some dimension more accommodating of his more artistically-oriented mind. His parents always threatened that would happen.
As he completed the problem, his hand began to shake. He was suddenly aware of how slow he was, and he could feel the children behind him snickering.
"Riki, are you done?" the teacher asked. She stood by the classroom door.
Slowly, he nodded. He stepped away from the board.
"You did well."
She walked over to him and leaned down so her head was level with his.
"I admire your drawing skills, but do you really think that it will get you anywhere here? If you choose keep this up, perhaps you should ask you family to move someplace that will allow for that." She smiled and stood up straight. "You may sit."
Riki, unsure what to make of this, kept his head bowed and walked back to his desk. His drawing was on the chair. He looked at it hard, and something inside him began to boil. He began to hate the drawing. After he sat, he quietly crumpled the drawing under his leg, his eyes tearing up. The teacher continued to lecture and explained the math problem he had done.
Evening arrived at an unusually slow pace. Riki resided in his small, dreary blue room with one window facing the sunset and a view of Rokon. Hover vehicles floated past, soft like feathers. The walls of the apartment he lived in were thin, so he could hear their drowsy, inconstant hums. He lay on the carpeted floor on his side with the artificial lights turned off, so the only light giving any vibrancy to the room was the leftover sun. He stared out the window, bored, yet unable to muster enough energy to get up and do something. He even felt a bit gloomy for some reason. When his arm began to hurt he rolled onto his back, letting his other arm fall lazily beside him. It landed on a remote, pressing a button and activating a screen that appeared in the air, hovering over his desk. On the screen appeared the news channel. A man was describing an accident that happened in the Rokon slums. The camera then referred to little girl a few years younger than Riki with very dark skin, dark eyes, a black afro, and a tattered white shirt with grey sweatpants. She was crying and saying something indecipherable. Riki looked for a minute, but remained uninterested. He looked away and closed his eyes.
After some minutes, he heard a door in another room slam shut. It was the front door. He knew it was that because it always slammed shut. Following that were voices of his adopted parents. Slowly, he blinked open his eyes.
"Riki, sweetheart, we're home," called the muffled voice of his mother.
She began to walk towards his room. Her footsteps became louder as they approached his door. They stopped when they arrived. Following was a light knock. "Riki?"
Riki did not answer. For some reason, it was too much effort using his lungs and vocal chords to speak. Instead, he opened his mouth slightly in hopes that the words would speak themselves.
When his mother heard no answer, she opened the door of his room ajar and peeked in. She was a tall woman with brown eyes and long dark brown hair tied in a ponytail, wearing her grey work clothes. She saw that he was relaxed on the floor, though he did not seem to have a content or happy expression. She looked worried. "Are you alright, Riki?" she asked. Slowly, either out of sincerity or obligation, Riki nodded. His mother's lips formed into a straight line, and she looked doubtful. It was worrisome seeing her son like this. For the past few months he seemed to be in a sad or "depressed" mood more often, and it she knew that it could not be natural for a child only nine years old. She did not want to think of him as depressed. The word seemed too strong for someone that age, and she liked seeing him smiling and active. Perhaps this was simply a phase, or perhaps it was part of his true character. In either case, she hoped it was the former.
"Well, tonight I'm ordering pizza from your favorite restaurant. I hope you'll join me for dinner when it arrives," she said, hoping to lighten the mood, because Riki's dreary room was taking its toll on her.
Slowly Riki nodded.
"Hey, how about I turn on the light in here?"
"Mmkay," came Riki's small voice.
His mother switched on the light. After a minute of silence, she sighed and turned away from Riki's room. Before she could walk away, she recalled something. "Oh, Riki. Don't forget about tomorrow's field trip. I'm going to make you lunch for it, so no need to worry."
"Okiii," he replied and turned his head back, looking at her upside down.
"You're too cute," his mother said and laughed a little.
Clad in a backpack, green-grey cargo pants and a black tee-shirt, Riki walked at the back of his group of classmates across the main square of Rokon. It was a large square. The floor was made of large grey tile with added glints that reflected the sunlight. In the middle of the square was a large fountain and a tall column. At the top of the column was a white statue of Rokon's "founder"--ironically, a person who had senergie--another word for superpowers--but not many people knew that. It would not make the Rokon population happy if they knew that their founder had senergie, his mother had told him.
Adjusting his glasses, he looked up and around, the tall, brilliant buildings completely capturing his attention. He wished he could draw the scene. He liked the way the buildings seemed to intertwine, and how sunlight reflected on their glass. Without realizing it, he stopped walking and stared, entranced. The rest of his group, not noticing him, continued to walk. For what seemed a very long time, he stood there, taking in his new surroundings. He had not been to this part of Rokon before. It was the business district, bustling with intelligent people, prominent people, rich people. Overhead were layers of "phantom roads" where flying vehicles weaved around the buildings. The roads on land had barely any cars because there were so many people walking around, going to their important places to do important things. Riki wondered if he would end up like that when he grew up--caught in the tangle of people in the business district. He did not want to end up that way, but that was what everyone seemed to expect from him.
As Riki continued to stare obliviously, a little girl with very dark skin, dark eyes and an afro, probably a few years younger than him sidled up behind him from a few meters away. Her hands were behind her back and she wore a shy smile on her face. As she approached him, he took no notice. When she was close behind him, she stood on her tip-toes and looked over his shoulders curiously. For a moment, Riki wondered what he was sensing behind him. He ignored it at first, but then he slowly turned his head to see what it was. When he saw the face of the girl close to his, he jumped in surprise. The girl giggled in response. Riki immediately recognized the girl from the news broadcast last night--she wore the same clothes as she wore last night. At first he stared at her in disbelief. The girl waved at him. "Hiii," she said and grinned.
"Y--you're that girl from last night," Riki said, pointing a finger at her.
"Whatcha mean?" the girl asked.
"Y--you were on the news. You're wearing the same shirt from last night."
"For real?" The girl's eyes lit up. "Oooh that's awesome! I was on TV! I was on TV!"
"But you were crying."
"Eh? That sucks." She showed an expression of wonderment for a moment. But then she smiled and said, "but I don't care. I was on TV!"
"Why were you crying?"
"Biiig fire," the girl said and made an explosion gesture with her arms.
"Oh," said Riki.
Riki was mildly annoyed with the girl, yet at the same time he was glad someone was talking to him. He began to ask, "um, so what are you doing h--"
"I got burned, but I'm okay," the girl distracted him, lifting up her tattered white shirt and revealing a mild scorch mark. Riki stepped back and made a strange look. "Don't show me that. And don't lift your shirt up in public!" he said.
The girl stuck out her tongue, then laughed. "Don't care!" she exclaimed. "I can do whatever I want." She ran around Riki a couple times, giggling. A few passersby glanced at the children, curious about the action, but they continued walking.
"Look, I have to catch up with my class," Riki said, realizing how far behind he was. He pointed at the group of people walking away. By now, they were far in the distance.
"Can I come with you?" the girl asked.
"No," Riki said sternly. He began to walk away from the girl.
"Pleeease?" she begged, following him.
"I said no!"
"Please please please?"
Riki closed his eyes and let out an exaggerated sigh. "It doesn't matter how many times you say please. Just go away."
"Nah. I'm gonna follow you," she said decidedly.
Riki groaned. "Fine. But I'm gonna ignore you the whole time, so be prepared."
Riki all of the sudden burst out running. He was fast. The girl also ran. She was rather fast, to Riki's surprise. She was able to keep up with him for the most part until he reached the back of the group of students. She had fallen behind a short distance, but managed to catch up within several more seconds. "You're fast," she said out of breath as she staggered to Riki's side.
"Of course. I'm older than you," said Riki.
"You said you were gonna ignore me."
Riki's formed his lips into a straight line. He paused, then said, "I was, but I changed my mind."
"That's cheating," she said and laughed a little too loudly.
Some of the kids at the back of the group looked to see who was laughing. Riki glanced at them warily. "Hey, you know, this is my class," he said, tapping the girl's shoulder. "You should leave so you won't get in trouble."
The girl ignored Riki's words and began to talk carefree. "Mama always say cheaters get et by the dogs of Risenen." She puffed out her cheeks and wiggled her fingers at Riki. Riki made a disgusted expression. "Please," he said. "You know no one believes that anymore. Can you please just go?" He began to push her away.
"Hey, that's rude!" the girl said. "I'm not going! I'm not going!"
Finally, one of Riki's classmates spoke up about the girl--something that Riki dreaded happening. "Who's that?!" the kid asked. "She looks like she's five!"
The girl, whose face was twisted into a pout, began to look angry. She looked straight into the kid's eyes. "None of your business. And I'm six!" she replied defensively.
"Well, we're all nine, so six-year-olds don't belong here," another kid chimed in.
"Too bad! He let me in your group." She pointed at Riki.
Riki's eyes widened. "I--"
"Both of you don't belong here then!" the first kid remarked. "Nine-year-olds don't hang out with five-year-olds."
"Stop calling me five!" The girl stamped her foot.
More kids began to chime in. "Yeah, you both don't belong here!" "Go away, creepers!" By now, the entire class was interested in the drama, some of them saying some sort of remark to deter Riki and the girl. Riki stepped back, not expecting this sudden turn on him. "Wait--but I didn't," he tried to speak, but the voices of the others overpowered him. "It's her--it's her fault!"
As the commotion became more intense, the girl also stepped back, scanning the crowd. She then said, "let's go." She grabbed Riki's wrist. Surprised, Riki looked down at their joined arms. "Wait, what?!" he exclaimed. By now, the teacher turned around to see what was going on. Before she could say anything, the girl pulled Riki away from the crowd. Riki did not resist. Both of them began to run. The teacher noticed Riki and the girl. "Riki!" she yelled over the voices of the kids which were escalating. "Riki, come back here!"
But Riki and the girl continued to run.
They ran across the square to the nearest alley entrance. They weaved through small streets for a while. When they became tired, they slowed into a walk, both out of breath. Neither of them knew where they were, and they looked around in all directions trying to see if they recognized anything.
"Never been here before," the girl said, amazed. She was smiling for some reason. Riki glared at her in disbelief. How could she be smiling in this kind of situation? Clearly they were lost, and being lost in this city as a kid was dangerous. His parents always told him that there were kidnappers, murderers, and even people with senergie who might fetch him away if he was not careful. That was the last thing Riki would allow to happen to him. As for the girl, he did not care. He was blinded with rage for her. Riki squinted and clenched his fists.
"We're lost, you know," Riki said in a growling tone.
"Wooaah that's so cool," the girl said, completely ignoring his comment. She pointed to a building that was covered in screens all showing different moving designs. For a while, she continued to comment on the scenery--but Riki was beginning to boil. He tightened both his fists and his mouth twitched.
"Hey, look at that! Look at that!" the girl said. She grabbed Riki's wrist again. "Let's go--"
All of the sudden, Riki broke. With all the strength he could muster, he ripped his arm from the girl's grasp. The force pulled the girl to the ground. She fell with a loud thump.
Riki hyperventilated. "You know what?" he yelled. "I'm not going anywhere with you." He pointed at her violently. "You know why? You just made my whole class hate me, and then you dragged me all the way here to this place we don't even know! You think this is fun? Let's see if you're still having fun when we get kidnapped or killed. I heard there are lots of criminals in this city. And kids are their targets! Do you know what you got us into? No you don't because you're too freaking stupid to realize it."
Stunned, the girl looked up at Riki with wide eyes.
Riki continued to speak. "Look. You don't get to follow me any more. I'm tired of you, so you can find your own way out of here, and I'll find mine. Got it?"
He stood towing over her, his face wrinkled in anger and his shoulders shaking. The sun was behind him, making him an intimidating shadow. There was a long pause. After a while, he finally broke from his position and walked briskly away from the girl, leaving her staring blankly. When Riki disappeared around the corner of one of the buildings, she began to shake. Her eyes began to gleam with the threat of tears. When she could not hold them in any longer, she curled into a little ball and sobbed.
His eyes also welling tears, Riki wandered down an empty street. He reached into his pocket and took out a device. It was a about the size of a pencil, flat with various buttons. He stopped walking and pressed the one at the top and a hologram appeared in front of him. He touched the hologram. For the next few minutes, he searched for a way out of this place with his "Locator" application. As he typed a destination, the tears began to stream from his eyes without him realizing it. His hands shook, and he continuously messed up the address he typed. Many minutes of mistakes passed, so he gave up and stopped typing. His hand fell to his side limply.
As his breathing slowed and he cooled down, he could think more rationally again. He began to wonder why he had left the girl behind. She had no locator devices like he had, let alone a device to call anyone with. She was only six, so why would she? She was also poor. If she was not, then why would she wear the same clothes as she wore last night? Why would she be out alone? Regretting everything he had said to her, Riki pressed the sleep button on his device. The hologram disappeared and he stuffed the device in his pocket. He turned and faced the direction which he had come. He hesitated a little, but he began to run back to where he had left the girl.
When he arrived, he saw the girl with her arms wrapped around her knees and her head buried within. She was shaking and sobbing. It made Riki want to sob, too, but he did not. This time, he wanted to be strong. For a moment he was afraid of her. She had been so strong up until now, always happy and smiling. His mother would say that people who always smiled were strong. He believed her, especially now. But now that the girl was crying, he did not know what she would think about him. He had hurt her. Would she hate him forever now?
Slowly, Riki approached her.
When he arrived at where she sat, he reached out his arm cautiously and touched her back. She stopped shaking. Everything seemed to go still for a moment. Slowly, she lifted her head from her knees and looked back at Riki. She looked somewhat stunned. They stared at each other for many heartbeats, trying to comprehend the situation, afraid of what would happen next--at least, Riki was afraid.
Suddenly, the girl's eyes lit up and she grinned genuinely. "You came back!" she said. Her voice was excited, though hoarse. Riki was surprised seeing her reaction. "Um--" he started, paralyzed at the mouth.
"I knew you'd come back!" she said. Suddenly she leaped up and hugged Riki tightly, prompting him to gasp. "I'm sorry I annoyed you."
His eyes wide, Riki was not sure how he should react. It took a while before he loosened into the girl's hug and found words to speak. "I'm sorry I left and called you dumb," he said quietly.
The girl let him go and stepped back, still grinning. "Then we're even?" she asked.
"Uh--I think so. Yeah."
"Good. My name's Sage. What's yours?"
Sage held out her hand to Riki.
"R--Riki," Riki replied. He took Sage's hand. They shook.
"I guess so."
"Let's get out of here. I don't wanna get stolen by no criminals."
"Right." Riki laughed a little. "I have a locator so we won't get lost again."
Riki took out his device and searched again for a way back. Both of them began to walk back to where they had met.
When they arrived there, they stood facing each other. Neither of them were sure what to say. Sage looked shyly at the ground. "Um," she started. She scraped her foot across the ground. "Thank you for today. I was sent to get daddy but he said he'll meet me here at four, but I got bored. He said he was gonna fix the fire."
"It's four now," Riki said showing Sage his device.
"Oooh," she said. "I guess he'll be here soon!" She went up to Riki and hugged him again. "Thanks for hanging out with me."
Riki took this as a surprise again. "Oh, um, it's no problem," he said shyly.
When she released him, she said, "I hope you find your group!"
"Yeah," Riki said, and he smiled slightly at her. "And I hope you fix your fire damage and stuff." He began to walk backwards.
"When will I see you again?" Sage asked.
"I don't know," Riki said. "But maybe soon. Good bye for now."
He waved to her. She returned the wave. He turned away and began to walk in the direction the hologram was pointing him to. "Byyyee!" Sage said rather loudly. Riki cringed slightly, but he smiled anyway. He turned around to face her again. He smiled and lifted his hand and waved to her once more. After that, he turned back and walked on with no interruption.
As he slowly grew smaller with distance, Sage watched him. She whispered, "I really wanna see you again."
They do not see each other for many years after that. When they do meet again--well, that is another story.