BEHIND THE CATTAIL WALL

When I was six years old, my mother loved to take me on walks around the neighborhood. There was always this specific road that amazed me. The road wasn’t very narrow but it was just wide enough for two cars not to crash into each other. One side would be a row of neatly lined up houses that were almost identical to each other and on the other side was a tall wall made out of cattails. It was so thick that I couldn’t make out what was on the other side. My mother said it was a river on the other side, and on the other side of the river was another neighbourhood. The cattails would often sway in the breeze and sometimes, I would see a shadow dash by. My mother would ignore my questions and conclude it as a cat every time.

When I was thirteen and my mother finally felt that I was old enough to leave the house on my own, I started taking my younger brother on walks along the familiar road. Like me, he also likes to imagine the smallest things can be made into bizarre adventures that he would love to have when he grew up. And like me, he also felt the dark shadow in the forest of cattails.

“It could be a goblin who just stole some money fleeing, or maybe it could be fairies playing around,” my brother guessed, “or it could have been a cat.”

There was one particular walk down the cattail wall that was burned into my mind. It was a day when I was fifteen and my brother had to stay back in school because of bad grades. I was walking alone on a very cold and windy evening with my cold hands deep in the pockets of my hoodie when I saw something in the sky.

It was a kite – diamond-shaped and white – fluttering and pushing against the strong wind. It was very small since it was way up high and I never found out how my eyes could catch it behind my thick glasses. It had two long tails that danced in the wind and a thin string which kept it from flying away with the wind. As I traced the string down, I could see that the end disappeared behind the cattail wall.

There was something tugging at my heartstrings that I’d like to call curiosity and I parted the tall, dirty, spider-web-filled cattails and tried to make my way across. The cattails put up a fight, no doubt, but I managed to bend them over and squeeze past them. On the other side, I looked back up to find the kite and followed the string to a tree. The tree’s branches had the string tangled up in them, like a child’s hand desperately holding onto it.

I had a small climb and started on untangling the string from the branches and twigs. I scratched my fingers a couple times on the sharp ends of the twigs but at last, I managed to free the kite from the tree’s grip. I hopped down from the tree and pulled on the kite, making it falter slightly. A small grin appeared on my lips as I looked up at the kite.

“Mind giving that back?”

I jumped at the voice behind me and turned around. A boy was standing in front of me with his hands on his hips and a very sassy tone in his voice. He had black hair in a very messy state and his pale skin had a few scratches and smudges of dirt here and there but still glowed under the setting sun. What caught my eye were his eyes, a beautiful shade of ice blue. They had bore into mine as we stared at each other in awe. This eye color was rare around here, in Asia, that is. I’ve always loved the color blue and he had my favorite shade. He must have been my age or older than me, judging from his height and broad shoulders.

He gave an awkward cough, snapping me out of it and my cheeks heated up at an alarming rate. It must have been embarrassing being caught staring at him like that.

“That’s my kite you’re holding onto” The boy said, looking anywhere but me.

“Oh, here you go” I said, awkwardly giving him the string.

The boy took the string and finally looked at me. A smirk tugged one corner of his lips upward. “What happened to your hair? Not to mention the rest of you.”

I looked down at myself and found my clothes all covered in dirt, dust and webs. I looked back at him.

“I can say the same about you.” I retorted, taking in his dirty clothes.

“Sassy, I like it.” The boy said with the same smirk. “I’m Michael.”

“My mother told me not to give strangers my name.” I snapped back with a smirk of my own.

The two of us stood there. He was fun, mischievous, and most of all, charming. Michael knew how to make a girl blush and splutter.

“So, I’ll just call you ‘Angel’.” Michael said with a flirty wink. Then he started to pull the kite down and slowly, the kite was removed from the wind’s grip and fell into his lap. He sat down under the tree and started to fix his crooked kite.

I sat down next to him. “Did you make this?” I asked out of pure curiosity.

“Yap, found some paper left from my sister’s arts and craft” Michael answered with a shrug, tightening the string on the kite.

Quite suddenly, he reached out a hand at me. I almost fell back at his sudden action and let out a surprised squeak. He merely straightened my glasses on the bridge of my nose before continuing on his kite. The blush on my cheeks bloomed across my face, making me feel feverish. I attempted to hide my face in my hair before he spoke up.

“So, where you from?” Michael asked, turning around to face me.

“Behind those cattails.” I answered shortly.

“I actually live across the river, over there.” Michael pointed at the neighborhood across from us.

My eyes widened as they followed his finger. Across from us were three-story-tall mansions, each more astounding than the next. Each stood strong against the setting sun, proud in their own different and unique designs.

“You live there?” I asked, completely bewildered.

“Yeah.” Michael answered with another shrug. “What? Shocked?”

I looked back at his dirty white t-shirt, blue jean overalls and worn-out suspenders. He looked like a normal teenager my age, with nothing that proved he was born in to wealthy family.

Just when I opened my mouth to ask him, a pair of stomping heels and screeching cut me off.

“Michael Jewels, what are you doing here?!” A scream came from behind us.

It came from a woman with her makeup-crammed-face twisted into a scowl. She wore an 80s style cocktail dress in a striking pink and a small umbrella in her hand. A hat with webbings was pinned onto her bun as her blue eyes glared daggers at Michael.

Michael gulped thickly and stood up, trying to dust himself off as he did.

“Yes mother?”

“You were supposed to be in your room, letting the tailor take your measurements for your suit.” His mother scolded. “But instead you sneak out here wearing that hideous outfit, with this… girl!”

“I’m sorry mother.” Michael apologized with his head hanging low.

And then his mother led him away silently, him dragging behind. He pulled out a pure white envelope from his pocket and handed it to me.

“I’m having my 16th birthday party this Saturday,” Michael started in a rush, “and I would like you to come…”

The envelope was snatched out of my hand by none other than his mother. “What are you doing Michael? We are leaving this instant!” He was dragged away from me by his wrist, me looking at my hand where the envelope just sat. I looked back up to say goodbye but he was already gone.

The boy I met behind the cattail wall…