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‘The Friend’

Faiaz Alam

Faiaz Alam, an engineering student at the University of Kent, is also on the committee for the Creative Writing Society. Alongside writing, he’s an amateur photographer and takes a keen interest in politics.

It was 1985, and he was eleven years old. “I’ve never taken anyone here.” That was true, it might seem like a clichéd line to tell someone in order to make them feel special, but he didn’t think of it like that. For him it was the truth. He walked towards the tree at a slower pace than usual. That’s because she walked at a slower pace than most other people. They were passing the grave but he didn’t want to talk about that to her. That was just for him.

“It’s really quite far from the house, isn’t it?” She wasn’t complaining, she just made an observation. She had half a smile on her face. She spoke at a slightly slower pace than everybody else too. He wished he could have offered her an arm to help her walk, but seeing as she was using both of her hands to keep herself propped up on crutches it was probably best that he kept his useless arms to himself.

“Yes, we don’t actually own the land all the way out this far, just the house out by the main road. But dad says that all this open land might as well be ours because it’s so far to the next person who lives in this area that almost nobody ever comes out here.”

“Ah,” She spoke slowly, but softly, “I see.” Was she interested? She wasn’t interested. It was just a stupid tree. Why would she care that much? And yet, she was out here with him. That’s got to count for something, right? They carried on without speaking. He loved that they could be silent in each other’s presence without it being awkward.

It took them half an hour to reach the tree from the engraved stone. When they got there she looked around at the field surrounding the tree. Clearly a bit surprised that the tree stood alone in the field in this way. She was standing very close to the tree and looked right up at it. Then, with difficulty, she turned around and walked back. Turning to face the tree again she got a better look at the whole thing.

“It’s a very weird tree.” She remarked.

“Yes, it’s a Japanese Cherry. My dad says that they’re not native to this country. He says that they only grow in bota… botani… these special science gardens, they don’t usually grow in the wild in this country.”

“Huh,” She wanted to ask a question but she didn’t want to seem stupid. He knew she couldn’t sound stupid. “Does that make this tree the only one in this country that’s in the wild?” He nodded, that did make sense.

She noticed the swing that was tied to the tree. “Who did that?”

“I did with my dad about three years ago!” He was very proud of the swing.

“It’s a very nice swing. It looks very well made.” He smiled and his face flushed red with pride. He really liked her. She had a lot of friends back at school so the fact that she chooses to hang out with him so much made him very happy.

“I’ve never actually been on a swing.”

“You’ve never been on a swing?” The surprise in his voice was more viscous than honey.

“No,” She seemed to be oddly embarrassed by this admission.

“Why’s that?”

“My parents think that I will hurt myself if I try to go on one. Besides, I can’t swing by myself. I don’t have that much strength in my legs.”

“Why don’t you get on the swings so I can push you?” The thought had just occurred to him and he believed that it was a great idea.

“I’m not really…” She was smiling. She clearly liked the idea, but she was hesitant.

“It’s alright; I’ll make sure you don’t hurt yourself. All you’ve got to do is make sure that you hold on tight and I’ll push the swing.”

She went over to the tree and rested her crutches on the trunk of the tree. She held out her hands towards him whilst leaning on the tree itself. “Can you help me over to the swing?” He hurried over and grabbed both her hands and began guiding her towards the little wooden plank that was suspended off the sturdiest branch on the tree with two thick lengths of rope. Her hands were very soft.

She sat down on the on the swing and gripped on the rope as hard as she could. He positioned herself behind her on the swing. How hard should he push? He pushed her softly. Very softly. She barely moved. It was rather pathetic.

“Um, you can push harder than that.” Yes, he could have. He pushes a lot harder and she goes up into the air. She screams. He immediately catches the swing as it returns and stops it before falling to the ground himself from the force.

“Why did you stop it?”

“I thought you weren’t enjoying it.”

“It was great! Carry on doing that.” He picked himself up from the floor and he pushed her again. She went up and she was both laughing and screaming at the same time. The sound made him happy. He was happy when he was with her.

He kept pushing her higher and higher just to make her laugh more and more. But then she slipped. Her arms weren’t as strong as most children’s. She fell to the ground on the way up whilst the swing was in the air. He ran over with a gasp. He fell to his knees to check on her. She sat up and he saw that there was a small cut on her forehead. He got back up. “I’m going to go get my dad!”

“There’s no need,” She smiled softly, “It’s only a small cut.” He walked over to the tree and began to climb it. He went up high enough to pluck a flower from the tree. He went back down and put it in her hair. She went red and mumbled thanks. He felt himself going red too.

He helped her up and they both sat next to each other in silence, watching the clouds roll by. The seat was barely big enough for the two of them and their sides, legs and arms were pressed into the others. He kept his hands on his knees. He really did like her. He could feel himself getting hot. Maybe he shouldn’t have done that thing with the flower. It was a little forward. He felt awkward and embarrassed. He kept his hands on his knees. And then he felt her fingers brush against his. She put her hand on top of his. His face was so hot by this point he was certain that if he were to put it into a bucket of water it would begin evaporating. But he didn’t move his hand. He liked it there. He didn’t know that she was feeling just as hot and that she liked it there too. The two of them sat there feeling uncomfortable, awkward, and a little happy at the same time.

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