– you haven’t heard the other story yet, she said

– what other story?, he asked
his story.

“Once upon a time, there was a little boy. When he was five, his parents had another child: a beautiful, happy, smiley little baby. As his father walked with the little boy, hand in hand, down the long white corridors to where his mother was waiting with his newborn sibling in her arms, the little boy unconcernedly wondered what time they’d get home so that he could watch TV. His parents, however, were apprehensive to how he’d react to the newest addition to their family, having heard that only children often had trouble adapting to another child. However, their fears were allayed. The parents knew it was going to be okay, when the little boy took one long look at the little blue bundle with tiny eyes and a tiny mouth, and then looked up and demanded to be allowed to hold it too.

They didn’t know that at that moment, the little boy decided he was going to be the best friend this little baby would have. And when they grew up, they were best friends. They shared the same friends, they partied together, they played sport together, they went on vacations together, and when the little boy went into training to become a policeman, his little brother decided to train to become a lawyer.”

– is that our policeman from the previous story?
– yes, but his story doesn’t intersect with hers until later.

“All was good. The little boy was a very good policeman, and he rose quickly up the ranks. His little brother was quite smart, and did really well in his studies. Graduation day was the proudest moment in that little boy’s life, seeing his little brother go up on stage and pick up his degree: summa cum laude. Yes, that was his little brother.

The following year, the little brother would be doing his articles, and so they’d decided that he’d move into the little boy’s flat. They moved his stuff a few days after graduation. There wasn’t much to pack, as the little brother spent a lot of his time at the little boy’s place and had already brought a lot of his things over. They squeezed everything into the boot, and onto the back seat, and after they greeted their parents, and told them they’d be back supper that night, they got into the car. Seatbelts on, of course, the little boy being a policeman and all.

The roads were busy. They’d somehow caught rush hour, and everyone was heading home. It didn’t help that a major stretch of the road that they were travelling on was undergoing construction. Stop-starting was all they seemed to do for hundreds of meters at a stretch. Without realizing it, all the stop-starting had shifted the bags and objects on the backseat, and loosened them from their positions. As they turned off the main road, and down the hill that led to their suburb, their little brother noticed the stack of backseat objects wobbling, and in mid-sentence to the little boy, unclipped himself out of his seatbelt, turned around, and leaned himself across to the back to stabilize the tower. ‘Be careful’, the little boy warned. ‘Yeah, I’ve got it. I’ll just hold it till we straighten out.’

He should’ve told him to leave it, the little boy would later rebuke himself. He should’ve told him to turn back into his seat, and to clip himself in again. They should’ve hired a trailer and packed that instead of stuffing their car full. Then he wouldn’t have to fear the nightmares that descended at night- nightmares that repeated the awful moment when he saw a truck heading straight at his brother’s side as they were crossing the intersection at the bottom of the hill. Then he wouldn’t feel the gripping terror that hit him as he watched his little brother turn his head towards his window in slow motion. Then he wouldn’t relive the nauseating realization that their car wasn’t moving fast enough to avoid a collision. He always woke up at that point, always in a deep sweat, fast-breathed. He’d lie awake, and listen to the clock, ticking away the meaningless seconds of his life.

He was okay, he kept on telling everyone. He hated the stares, the whispers, the pity he felt in people’s eyes when they heard that the little brother was now dead. And as time passed, he fooled everyone. He worked hard, too hard; and he played hard, too hard; and that helped him forget. But every now and then, he’d close the door to his office, put his hands in his head, and think about absolutely nothing. It had been a moment like that, which one of the officers had interrupted with a case about a couple gone drag-racing, and a resulting death. ‘Bring the case to me’, he said for some reason. And soon after, he sat looking at the deceased’s belongings: a CD case, a dog-eared book, and a party hat, the type that his brother would’ve worn to a night out. The blue of the hat reminded him of the shirt his little brother had been wearing that day, and his mind filled with flashbacks. The click of the seatbelt coming loose, the screech of the truck, the force of metal hitting metal. The click of the seatbelt coming loose, the strain of the accelerator under his foot, the roughness of the steering wheel in his hands. The click of the seatbelt coming loose, his brother brushing him lightly as he turned towards the backseat, the sight of a large white truck in the corner of his eye. A knock at the door cut through his thoughts. Automatically, he said ‘Come in’. But he kept on staring at that hat, the click of the seatbelt playing over and over in his head. And so it was, when he finally looked up to see who his visitor was, he spoke not to her, but himself: ‘If he’d been wearing his seatbelt, he’d still be alive.’”

– i don’t know what to say. that’s awful.
– yes.
– so his comment wasn’t even directed at her? what crappy timing.
– yes. but do you see? the ending’s still the same, but everything’s completely changed now. nothing is as it seems. remember that. nothing is as it seems.

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~ by translating for peas on February 14, 2010.

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