I sigh, and keep my eyes closed, as I feel the warm rays of sunshine playing on my face. I feel so at ease, and safe. But that is when I remember.
I sit up, and shake myself, preparing myself for the day. ‘Today will be good,’ I tell myself. ‘If anyone asks “How are you Riley?” I will reply with “I’m fine, thank you”’.
The pep talk doesn’t work and I groan silently. It is then that Alicia, my sister, walks in. She is already dressed, and smells faintly of lavender, and strong coffee.
‘Hey,’ she says, ‘Morning.’ She hurries around my room, collecting some of my dirty clothes, and pilling them into a basket.
‘Morning,’ I reply flatly, and swing my feet off my bed, and stretch. It is then that I catch my sister staring at me.
‘Are you ok?’ she asks. I have to give her credit for this. My sister, though it doesn’t show, is really observant, and could tell if I was happy, or sad. There was no way to fool her, even though I tried.
‘Why shouldn’t I be?’ I ask. She shrugs, and continues collecting clothes. There is a stack of photos on my bedside, and I leaf through them, while the memories surge through.
I don’t even notice when Alicia stops what she’s doing, and comes and sits by me on my bed.
‘Do you want to talk about it?’ she asks. Again, she was really observant.
‘No,’ I say, and she nods and stands up. ‘But I have to,’ I say. Alicia stops, and turns back to me. “If I don’t, I’ll be thinking about it all day, and it’ll drive me crazy like the previous days.’
She comes forward, and we both sit cross-legged on my bed. I am about to tell her everything…
3 Months Earlier
I felt the blazing heat of the low Californian sun pounding onto my already red neck. My bag felt already a thousand times heavier in the heat, and my throat was parched dry.
‘How could anyone get used to this?’ I asked myself. I looked around myself, and I saw other kids, walking as if the sun was nothing – just the sun!
‘You can do it Riley’ I told myself again.
It has been about a month or so since it happened. A lot had happened in that month. But what started it was the usual thing that happens to every kid in every book and film – they’re father gets a new job position in a new place.
My dad’s into the hotel business, and this new position of management led him to California, the heat of America. And believe it or not, I wasn’t like all the kids in those books and films, horror struck about leaving their beloved home and friends, and having to go to a new place. I was excited – and happy! Who wouldn’t if your father was receiving a higher position that received more pay. And not to mention leaving Australia, and coming to America to live in a new place where I could experience new experiences! It was like a dream come true.
The new hotel my father would be managing was called ‘Four Seasons’ and it was just right out of a movie! It had a swimming pool on the roof, and marble staircases with shiny wooden banisters, as well as a crystal chandelier in the main lobby!
My sister, Alicia, was in Europe at the moment. She was taking part in an exchange program. It was part of her final score for her University mark. But she said she would come to California when it was over.
My father told me and my mother not to pack much as we could get everything there. My mum was busy with a million things, so I just threw a couple pair of jeans and a few shirts and a jacket into my suitcase. How stupid and careless I was!
The moment he plane touched down in California, I was met with the blazing heat it was famous for! And all I had were stupid winter clothes to wear. My parents were too busy to buy me any new clothes straightaway, and I was practically a sweating mutation by the time they brought me a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. But still the heat was overpowering!
Since my father’s new hotel was in Los Angeles, he managed to secure us an apartment in the city as well. My school was also in Los Angeles, otherwise known in Spanish dialect, The Angels. But right now it was treating me like hell!
When I first arrived to LA High School, I was bubbling with excitement. And my fellow American classmates greeted me with friendliness as well. My life seemed perfect in that minute moment if bliss. So, like usual, I had to go stuff it up!
Like I said, a lot can happen in a month.
I guess what was the main thing that stopped the moment was the realisation that I had no friends. Sure everyone was friendly and everyone knew me – I was almost popular! But that didn’t mean I had friends. It seemed that no one wanted me as their friend, like there was no room for me.
So there I was, friendless and alone, and that just made me do something I would never do usually: I stood up for Mathew Sailes in between History and French in the hall way at school. Jake Camelerie and his usual gang of boys were there, picking on him – again. And being all alone just made me snap and I stood there, defiant, in front of Mathew.
What I did was something that took milliseconds to decide, but would have affect for a lot more than that.
It started slowly, the transition. First, it was names. Jake and his boys knew more names than the words in the English dictionary. And then came the shoving, and the pushing. Such little harmless things that left me wounded and bleeding.
I remember that those days, though they were in the brightest and sunniest place, my days were filled with darkness.
It’s funny what a little bullying can do. I never knew the real effects of it, until then
Before I knew it, I wasn’t cool Riley from Australia anymore. I was nothing, an outcast. I felt so alone and worthless.
I guess that was probably the end of my feelings of happiness. Or so I thought.
I remember sitting alone on a bench in after school, with the non-stop Californian heat around me. I was still moping around, when above me, a small box was placed in my hands.
My head jerked up and I say Mathew peering over me.
‘Hi,’ he said.
‘Hi,’ I replied, uncertainly. Why was he coming up to me now?
‘Um, I guess I never got to thank you when you stuck up for me the other day,’ he said. He looked really guilty, though I was not sure why. ‘And I should have thanked you much earlier, and I would really appreciate it if you might consider me as a friend.’
I looked at him, and I thought over what he just said. Here I was, in a new country, where I felt all alone, and I thought I had no friends, and was all alone. ‘What will one friend do?’ I asked myself.
And somewhere, my inner conscience broke through, and yelled.
‘What do you mean “What will one friend do?”,’ it asked me. ‘Listen to yourself! A friend will make the difference in the world, and you will be able to do anything!’
‘Of course,’ I said, and smiled at him. I looked down at my hands, and at the small blue box. I lifted the lid, and there, nestled inside, was an angel, stark white and beautiful. I didn’t know what it was made of – it felt really smooth.
‘Do you believe in guardian angels?’ Mathew asked me. I shook my head. Why would I believe in guardian angels? ‘Well, I do. I really don’t care what others think, but I just feel that someone is always there with us, at every single second of our lives. Protecting us. They will always keep us safe. We are never alone.’
I thought about these words. When I was walking home, when I was eating dinner, and even as I lay down in bed. “They will always keep us safe. We are never alone.” I looked around my room, expecting to see an angel just like the white one that was now on my window ledge somewhere in my room. Of course, there was nothing.
In the morning, I finally accepted what Mathew said. A part of me believed that I would always be safe, and protected. I smiled in the car, while my parents were talking in the front seats.
‘Is everything ok at school?’ my mother suddenly asked me. My head jerked up, and my mind was blank. I didn’t know what to say.
‘Ah – no. I mean yes. Wait…’ Now both my parents were looking at me with worry.
‘What do you mean Riley? What’s wrong?’ my father asked. He turned his head from the front and looked at me. I didn’t know what to say.
But I was saved. Because a big truck was suddenly coming towards our car from ahead. It was going to smash right into us.
And it would be because of this truck that my parents would be dead. Gone. Not in this world anymore.
All because of me…
After that, everything was just a blur. I only remembered snippets of that brief period of time. The sound of the ambulance wailing, the smell of gasoline in the air, and that haunted feeling of standing alone surrounded by three dead bodies, and a whole heap of debris.
When I awoke in a clean white bed, I didn’t know where I was. But from the cards and bowl of fruit on my bedside, as well as the other empty beds in the room, I could tell I was at a hospital. As I lay there, I wondered why I was alive. Why me, when I didn’t fit in with anyone. Didn’t belong.
But I started crying when I thought of the stupid guardian angels. I was angry! Angry at everyone. Jake and his friends, everyone at school. But most of all, I hated Mathew, for making me believe in those guardian angels.
The last thing I thought before I dosed off to sleep again was that I would always be alone, with or without those stupid guardian angels.
‘And you know the rest,’ I say. Alicia came as soon as possible, and took me back to the apartment in the city. She hadn’t talked to me much, as she was busy with so many other things.
I sit there, with my feet still crossed, as I feel Alicia’s stare. I slowly look up, and see her eyes, big and thoughtful.
‘Riley,’ she says softly,’ What do you mean you felt as if you didn’t fit in? That you didn’t belong?’
I sat in silence for a while, and then opened my mouth.
‘You heard me. I was an outcast. A stranger. I felt so different, and insecure around everyone else. They didn’t like me for who I was.’
‘Riley, who we belong with is up to us. Who we are, as humans, is for us to decide. Those who don’t accept us for who we are are the ones who don’t matter. They can make us feel different, and alone. But we aren’t. Because you aren’t. You have me to belong with, and – and you still belong with our parents. But no matter what, there will always be someone that you will always belong to. No matter what.’
‘Who? My guardian angel?’ I asked sarcastically.
‘No,’ Alicia says. ‘You will always belong to yourself. The only problem is finding out who you really are.’
What she says hits me with impact, and I feel tears trickling down my face.
I lean forward and hug her, and suddenly feel a warmth spread to me, and I finally feel to relax.
‘Thank you,’ I whisper.
‘You’re welcome,’ she replies simply.
‘Alicia,’ I say after a few minutes, ‘What’s going to happen now?’ I asked her.
‘I don’t know. We probably will move back to Australia. I can’t raise us both here alone,’ she said.
Slowly my heart sinks. I knew she would say this, but I had just hoped to stay, after she had said everything about belonging.
‘I know you’ve made a friend here. And I know you feel you belong around him. But belonging with someone doesn’t mean you’re physically with them every day.’
The doorbell suddenly rings, and Alicia quickly goes to answer it. She comes back not alone however. Mathew is there.
‘Hi,’ he says.
‘Hi,’ I reply. He looks nervous, and sits on the edge of my bed. He is about to speak, but I cut him off. ‘Mathew, I just need to say that even though we’ve only known each other for a short period of time, I feel as if you’re a really a true friend of mine, and I will really miss you when I leave.’
He suddenly looks relieved, and smiles. I grin right back.
‘I’ll miss you too,’ he says.
It is then that I feel the surge of happiness go through my body. I still feel grief for my parents, but I know this will always stay, and I will grow used to it. But I know that I will always try to be happy.
I’ll try for everyone I belong to and with. I’ll try for Mathew, my parents, and Alicia.
But most importantly, I’ll try for myself.
By Yashith Fernando