The Rain - Chapter 9.2
One month after living there, Lail began to get used to the tight schedule of the social home, and she no longer needed Maryam to wake her up anymore. Each week they had one free day, which coincided with school holidays. The residents of the social home could leave the building complex to do any activities they liked.
“Where are you going tomorrow?” Maryam asked while reading a book. Tomorrow was their free day.
Lail shook her head unenthusiastically. It was already the fourth free day, but she always stayed in the social home.
“Do you want to come with us to Century Mall? Watch a movie?” Maryam offered.
That was an interesting offer. The first film produced after the eruption of the mountain disaster was finally released in theaters, which only showed old films. The trailer was shown many times on television in the common room of the social home. It looked cool.
“Thanks. I’ll just be at home.”
“Okay.” Maryam continued reading.
Lail was thinking about Esok. She hadn’t seen Esok for six weeks, since Esok and his mother left the refugee shelter to the house of his adoptive parents. Had Esok forgotten her? Every day, every time she went and came home from school, Lail crossed Esok’s school building, she would stare at the school yard, hoping to see Esok there. But it was to no avail.
Was Esok all right? Did Esok also think about her?
That night Lail went to sleep late at night, so she woke up late the next morning.
But it was a free day, no one would wake her up. Maryam seemed to have gone out with other friends. Lail looked at the clock on the table, whining, it was nine o’clock in the morning. She got out of her bed, grabbed a towel and the toiletries. The hallways of the social home were quiet, the children went out or gathered in the common room, played ping pong ball, watched television, or just spent time chatting.
Breakfast in the dining room had closed an hour ago. It was okay, she was not hungry.
After taking a shower, Lail spent time reading in her room. Two hours passed. She was getting bored, she glanced at the clock on the table, it was twelve o’clock. Alright, she also felt like she did not want to eat lunch. She had been finishing the pastries from her cooking course.
Lail put down her book, maybe she should take a walk occasionally to see the city. Lail was wearing a thick sweater and scarf, she tucked the book she was reading into her bag. This past week the air had been prickling, touching eight degrees Celsius.
Lail descended the steps and then crossed the lawn of the social home, she boarded the city bus route 7, to her favorite place, the Central Park. Maybe sitting there reading would make the boredom disappear.
The fountain was almost finished repairing. Its shape was back as it used to be, with the trees and flower gardens, and the chairs were neatly arranged, only the water hadn’t come out. Pigeons perched on the lawn, pecking at the food given by visitors. The atmosphere was just like before, when Lail often spent time there with her father and mother. This afternoon the fountain was full of residents. One or two people were seen taking pictures together, laughing, chasing around, and chatting.
Lail only lasted thirty minutes there. She didn’t feel comfortable. She stared at the crowd and felt annoyed. Look at her, she was alone at the fountain, while the others were engaged in conversation with their friends and family. Lail closed her book, put it in her bag, and walked briskly to the bus stop. It was better for her to go back to the social home.
Five minutes later, city bus route 7 docked. Lail hastened onto it. She held up the magnetic sensor barcode card, the social home children had the pass card to take public transportation. She sank down on a chair near the window, exhaling an irritated breath.
The city bus was only five meters away when a bicycle pulled up to the window where Lail was sitting.
There was a knock on the glass window. Lail turned her head, about to exclaim curtly, whoever was the bicycle rider who was reckless enough to ride a bike so close to the bus, and knocked on the window too.
But Lail’s call stopped. Her eyes stared in disbelief.
That was Esok, who laughed, while trying to keep his pace with the bus that started going fast.
Lail immediately stood up. Happiness squeezed her chest. She jogged down the aisle, arriving at the front of the bus.
“Stop, sir! Stop!” Lail exclaimed.
The city bus driver turned his head. “Sit down, girl. You can’t stand near the door while the bus is running.”
“I want to get down!” Lail didn’t care if the other passengers were busy watching. Look, Esok was far behind. The road uphill steeply, his bicycle could not be as fast as the bus.
“You can only get off at the nearest stop, girl,” the bus driver shouted back.
“I want to get off now.” Lail insisted.
Grumbling, the bus driver finally relented. He stopped the bus, and opened the automatic door. Lail jumped even before the door opened completely, whilst shouting thank you.
“That kid! Maybe she’s dying to go to the toilet.” The bus driver sped up the bus again. The passenger nodded, laughing. It could be.
Lail didn’t listen to the driver grumbling. She was already running down the street. Esok was two hundred meters away pedaling his bicycle, climbing a long incline.
The two of them met right in the middle of the incline.
They laughed at each other. Esok gasped, and laughed again.
“I’ve been very busy these weeks,” Esok told her. “The college entrance exams are coming. My adoptive father wanted me to be accepted into the best university, in the most difficult major.”
Lail, who was sitting in the back seat of the bicycle, nodded. She had expected it.
“My adoptive father told me to study every day, even on holidays. After coming home from school, I go straight to study, it’s also during the school holidays. Only just this afternoon he let me out for a few hours. Earlier I went to the social home, but you weren’t there. No one knew where you’re going. Then I thought about the fountain. I got there when you were getting ready to get on the bus, so I caught the bus. You didn’t get scolded by the driver for asking to get off in any place, did you? “
Lail laughed, she didn’t get the time to pay attention to the bus driver.
“How is your school?”
“It’s boring.” Lail answered honestly.
Esok laughed too.
“How’s your mother?” Lail asked in turn.
“Her condition is much better. My adoptive parents brought in the best team of doctors. I don’t know how to repay them. It must be very expensive.”
“I know how to pay them back. Maybe you should wash the pot bottom in that family for a hundred years. Then it would be paid off.” Lail was joking.
Esok laughed again.
Lail might not have realized it, but befriending Maryam, who had a sense of humor, though sometimes exaggerated, made her even more cheerful. Especially after not seeing Esok for a long time, Lail looked very happy.
Esok pedaled his bicycle towards the subway emergency stairs exit. In the past, when he persuaded Lail to hurry up on his bike before the acid rain fell, Esok had said that he would accompany Lail there. So that afternoon, their first destination was the emergency stairs exit. A place to remember Lail’s mother, also to remember Esok’s four older brothers. The place was still like before. The hole was closed with a wooden plank, marked with a “Danger” sign so that no one crossed over them.
Fifteen minutes passed, Lail and Esok were silent, staring from across the crossroad.
After that, Esok turned his bike towards the ruins of Lail’s house. The house complex had changed. There were dozens of houses that had been and were being rebuilt. The ruins had already been cleared from the location of Lail’s house, leaving an empty land. Nobody would rebuild Lail’s house. Her grandparents, her close relatives in another city had all died when the mountain disaster erupted. The vacant land will continue to do so until Lail can build a house there.
They also headed to Esok family’s cake shop. Esok pedaled slowly, while chatting, and joking on the bike. It was great fun being together. Arriving at the cake shop area, all that was left was an empty land.
“When she gets better, my mom wants to reopen the cake shop,” Esok told Lail.
The street was back to life, most of the shops were rebuilt. It was a famous culinary district in the city. All kinds of delicious food were sold there before the earthquake.
“But doesn’t your mother have no savings?”
“My adoptive parents are willing to rebuild the cake shop by providing capital.”
“You’re right, Esok. They’re very kind.” This time Lail didn’t respond jokingly.
“Yes. But not now, maybe two or three years until my mother is completely cured.”
Fifteen minutes in the cake shop area, they were back on their bicycles, heading for the last place, the fountain, the city’s famous landmark.
They sat staring at the crowd, chatting, finishing a cup of hot chocolate that was sold in a beverage machine box.
Lail talked about the social home, her busy life, her caregivers, the Queen Mother, her friends, especially about Maryam, and her fluffy, lice-free frizzy hair. Esok laughed widely when Lail told the part where she was asked to comb Maryam’s hair.
When it was Esok’s turn, he told about his school, his teachers, and the machine projects at his school. Lail stared at him in awe. Esok had always been fond of making machines.
It was cloudy. The sky was dark.
It was time for them to go home. Their hot chocolate was finished. Esok led Lail to the gate of the social home, then waved his hand, pedaling his bicycle away.
The first drop of water fell. Lail waved back. They parted ways after spending a long afternoon together.
The rain was falling. Lail always liked rain. This evening she let her body wet in the midst of cold air, staring at the end of the road, where Esok’s red bicycle disappeared in the distance.
She was only fourteen at the time, Esok was sixteen. Lail didn’t know how she felt yet, it would still be a few years away. But by that time she already knew, Esok would always be important to her.
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