When we met he was only a shadow of the man I know today.
A shadow present on a cloudy day.
Cold air tickled the nape of my neck and broke through the thin wool hanging from my shoulders when I took the brief walk through the hospital gardens. Wind played a soft tune, louder than the sick girl with the shaved head and blue tint to her lips as she giggled at the sight of another boy attempting to cartwheel over the plush grass. Louder than the monkey-bars swinging with a shrill creak or the thump of little feet running over bark, twigs and dried leaves. Almost as loud as his dry cough, the one that made me take notice of his hunched figure and the steel gaze locked on his untied shoelaces. He had the kind of appearance eyes would skim over without a second glance. He looked the very definition of normal. But for some reason I couldn’t pull my gaze away. Then he looked up and the reason couldn’t have been any clearer.
Flecked with gold flakes and all the colours of a rainforest, his eyes shot straight back to their original perch and stayed there, immovable. His pupils had already drilled a tattoo into my brain. No way would I forget those hazel pearls.
I walked away believing I’d likely never see the shadow again.
Little did I know, I was heading straight for him.
Like a shadow, he seemed to always be there, an unnoticed form slinking from place to place. He was in the food court, slurping on half a cup of melting ice. He was hiding behind shelves lined with all kinds of snacks in the gift shop. He was beyond the glass, following the concrete ribbon that led up to the hospital entrance.
Each time I saw him, he seemed to take no notice of me, or anything else for that matter. It was like his mind had flown away, leaving behind everything else to just wander the Earth blind to it all.
Wherever his mind was, it had to be better than this terrible place.
A warm pang of jealousy runs hot through my veins, because he — at least — was free.
The spite lurches away when I finally saw the shadow slip into the hospital room across the hall from where I was staying. I pieced together who the shadow really was.
I had heard the boy staying across the hall was in the sturdy clutches of a coma. No idea how he got there. This tiny slice of information carried like a cold through the ward. In a place like this, people simply couldn’t ignore the lives surrounding their own because the whole place was so tightly bound together. Like the same thread had sewn through our lives. All I knew was that he hadn’t been awake for about a month now.
The shadow had to be his brother.
And how could anyone be so oblivious to the world when the precious time he could spend with his brother was running short?
Unless he truly was floating up in dreamland, while we were down here to be tortured by life’s hellish truth.
I hated him for this, but at the same time, I wished I was up in the clouds too, soaring and careless. What he had was a gift.