General Fiction posted September 23, 2017


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A man spots an old friend in a huge crowd

Old friend

by oliver818

The author has placed a warning on this post for language.

The flood of people on East Nanjing Road had me rushing forward at a fair pace, when all of a sudden his face glided past like a ghost. My shoes bit into the cobbled street, my head swung around, and his jutting chin and blond hair stood out in the sea of darker heads. His deep, blue eyes stared back at me for a millisecond before arms and legs pushed against me, and my body was thrust into motion again. Shanghai crowds are relentless.

My eyes settled on the metro station entrance, and my elbows hit shoulders and bags as I made my way diagonally across the crowd. My fingers tugged my sweaty t-shirt away from my skin. Could it really have been him?

More and more people spilled out of the metro carriage at every stop until it finally came to my stop. My skin felt as if it was blistering as the moist heat of the outside world covered me like an unwanted blanket. Memories of home filled my mind as I pushed past large groups standing around buckets swirling with silver fish and crimson crabs tied up with string. Ignoring the seductive odor of sliced pineapple and mango, I entered my apartment building.

Hot, spicy air made my nostrils flare as I waited for the lift. I squeezed in with a local family chatting and feasting on dark green pieces of sugar cane. They got off on level seven, and then the numbers flicked up to thirty two. The doors opened once again, and he was standing there.

"Hi Jimmy." His blue eyes were the same, and his hands were curled into balls just like when we were kids.

"Hi Gary." My hand pushed out towards him.

"Come on, Jimmy. Don't I deserve a hug at least?" His hand was sticky as it crushed around mine, pulling me towards him.

"What are you doing here, Gary? And how did you find me?" My shoulders stretched out, breaking his grip, and my fingers dug my keys out of my pocket.

"Internet, Jimmy. It wasn't hard." His hot hand lingered on my shoulder.

I twisted the key, and pushed open the door. The cool of the air-conditioning poured over us.

"Do you want a beer?" Something rattled inside the fridge as I pulled it open.

"Sure, why not?"

The bottle caps tinkled down on the bench, and his fingers rubbed against mine as he took the bottle off me.

"Take a seat, Gary."

"Thanks." His face split into a wide smile as he headed towards the couch.

"How's Lydia?" I asked.

"I can't say, really. She left me six months ago." Small pearls of condensation dripped down his fingers as he raised the bottle to his mouth.

"Fuck."

"Do you still have her number?" he asked, pulling out a dark, thin, mobile phone.

"Yeah, I do." I had no intention of calling her.

His head swung around, taking in the room.

"Do you remember when we were kids and we did that insane blood brother thing? I've still got the scar here on my wrist." His finger ran along the short edge of raised skin.

"I remember." My finger ran along my own scar, then up along the much longer scar that stretched halfway up my arm. "I remember how I got this one too."

"I apologized for that. You know what love does to people." His cheeks were flushed, and the bottle came down half empty from his mouth.

"I do." My stomach flipped as the beer swirled inside it, and for a moment I thought I might throw up.

"Thank you for giving me another chance, Jimmy. I missed you after you left for Shanghai. I know you're still angry at me, but I think we can get past this."

"Do you?" My finger nails clinked several times against the glass.

"Yeah, of course. That's why I came to China. I've got a job, an apartment, and now I have you to show me around."

"Gary, I don't want to show you around."

"What?"

"I don't want anything to do with you anymore. I invited you in here because I thought I might have forgiven you. But I haven't. You and Lydia broke my heart. My arm has never been the same since that broken bottle slashed through it. I know you didn't mean to push me, but I have never been able to play the guitar since. Do you have any idea how much that hurt me? I lost my wife and my music in the same afternoon." His eyes drifted to the floor as I spoke.

"I had a feeling you might feel like that. After all, I've known you my whole life. We are blood brothers. But I needed to try." The empty bottle cracked down on the table and he pushed himself up off the couch.

"Gary, I'll always love you like a brother, but things can never be like they were before. You know that." His shirt flapped against his back as he walked under the air-conditioning unit towards the door.

"It's okay, Jimmy. Bye." His left hand twisted in a sad wave as he pulled the door open.

My mind whirred in time with the air-conditioner. I had missed him. But he had changed. His wild humour and his biting sarcasm had been absent tonight. Was that maybe a sign of real regret?

Beer spilled over the floor where the bottle landed, and I ran towards the door. The silent heat poured in as I opened it. He was gone.


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