He came roaring round the corner, first time I saw him, little legs stampeding like a centipede. A great wide grin was plastered all over his face, a look of pure, uninhibited happiness. His little body was encased by a plastic car, bright blue and brand new, I suspected. For a second I thought it was an electric vehicle, the sort he was actually, really driving, but the more I looked over to him, mouth agape in awe, the more I realised how simple it really was. He had the frame of a car, shrunk down to infant size, with the bottom taken out so his legs could fit through. Wherever he ran, fast as a very excited and very stunted gazelle, the car frame would go with him. He looked so ridiculously cool.
I was so captured by the insane brilliance of it that I forgot to move out of the way. There he was, marching towards me, beeping furiously at his non-existent horn, and here was I, standing on the pavement, just waiting for the inevitable crash. As he neared me he put on his breaks with a horrible screech. I flinched back, eyes closed, waiting for the inevitable pain. His verbal screeching finally ceased, and I was, so far, left unharmed. I opened my eyes to see him standing there, out of his car, eyeing me suspiciously.
“Hi” I said, to which he nodded. But in that nod was some kind of recognition, and for me to be recognised by someone as awesome as this? I was content to just go about my day, which I did, once the boy had hopped back into his car and left.
A few days later I was walking around that same corner. The streets were wide and clean, in my memory, and the houses watched over me from either side with great tall windows. The hedges were bright, the trees bushy and tall, and the road, without fail, absolutely always devoid of vehicles. I’ve moved away since, many times, but that street is a place I remember vividly, when I want to. It’s been cleaned and brightened by the passage of time, no doubt, but memory me treats the place with compassion. He liked it there, and he liked it even more when he could hear that distant mimicry of an engine.
It was the boy again, it had to be, getting ready to roar around the corner in his plastic car. I sniffed the air, smelling oil that wasn’t there, and braced myself to leap out of the way. Sure enough the boy tore round the corner, face alight with excitement. He shot past me, full speed ahead, until he was barely a dot in my vision. I carried on walking, wherever it was I was meant to be going, thinking that was the end of it.
But there was that sound again. That engine, getting louder and louder still. I turned, looked across the street, and saw the boy again, coming straight back towards me. I stepped to the side, but he turned in line with me. I put up my hands, warning him of the incoming crash, when-
He skidded to a halt, inches away from my feet. He looked at me with those great big excited eyes, and he grinned manically. “Want a go?”
I most certainly did.
A different me in a different place was hiding a videogame under his jacket, full well knowing that if it was discovered, it would be left unplayed. I was visiting someone, a friend from primary school who had moved away, and I had brought with me that most terrible of things, a violent videogame. We would play it, I knew we would, but his parents weren’t going to be happy. So, I decided, they didn’t have to know.
Me and this boy went to each other’s houses quite a lot, really. Sometimes we’d fight in the garden with cheap poundland lightsabres, leaping this way and that and screaming at the top of our lungs. Sometimes we’d stare at his frankly unreasonable number of Pokémon teddies, and I’d listen as he explained what they were in excruciating detail. Sometimes we’d watch his dad make pancakes, or more accurately watch him try to flip a pancake and have it end up on the ceiling.
My most visceral memory of him was regarding a long car journey towards a great silver pyramid. My dad, who even back then was little more than a glorified taxi, was taking us to the swimming pool. Not a swimming pool, the swimming pool, complete with a water slide, a freezing cold outside area, and a mighty wave machine that would throw you into walls and push your coughing, spluttering self all the way onto shore.
It was all built inside this huge pyramid, not far from an even bigger Tesco’s, and whenever we saw that metal spike reaching up into the sky just behind the bright red Tesco’s T we’d grow restless and excited in our seats.
My friend, sitting eagerly beside me for the whole journey, had complained earlier about feeling a little sick. I didn’t take much notice because when my dad offered to pull over for a bit my friend declined. Except now here we were, metal pyramid in sight, and my friend, to be completely honest, just didn’t look all that excited.
“You okay?” I asked, eying him with concern. He turned his head a little, and gave a short, curt nod. Needless to say, I didn’t believe him.
Once we rolled into the car park, I opened the right side door and hopped out. I looked up at the building, as amazed at its design as I always had been. It was like being transported to ancient Egypt, except in the future where everything was made from cyber metal. It was magnificent, and I turned towards my friend to say as much. Which was when the retching started.
He was standing just outside the car, clutching at his chest, making a horrible choking sound as if he had something stuck in his throat. My dad had moved to his side, putting a hand on his back, doting anxiously. Suddenly, my friend looked up, and from his mouth came a stream of bile the likes of which I couldn’t possibly describe. The smell was the worst part. A thick, acidy smell that wafted unforgiving through the air. On and on it went, more and more of his chunky insides landing on the floor, until finally, finally it stopped.
My dad thought he was too ill to go swimming. We got back in the car, and slowly, ever so slowly, started our journey back home. He and I didn’t say much on the way back. I was worried what might come out should he open his mouth again. So, just to be safe, we went home in silence, the sound of his belly, groaning in dismay, the only instrument to break the quiet.
Fast forwards through a whole lot of school and a whole lot of watching people get all touchy with each other, there I am again. My girlfriend and I hadn’t ever actually been in the same country. It’s not like we’d been together very long, but it had long enough for us to talk about how the hell kissing works, if we’d ever get the opportunity. So, inevitably, the day came when I was about to hop on a plane and end up in the Netherlands.
I hadn’t given much thought to how that first moment of meeting was going to be. I thought I’d break my no hugging rule, sure, and I thought we might hold hands or something. We’d talk about whatever, and get on a train, and end up at her house where I’d have to face the terrifying gaze of her mother. I was nervous, full on heart feeling weird in my chest nervous, but I never for a second doubted that it was going to be a good thing to do. After all, we got on so ridiculously well over skype. I’d said and done things that make me completely shrivel up with embarrassment when I think back to them now, and yet no matter how awkward or not so awkward our five hour skype conversations could become we’d still be reluctant to hang up. We just got along so well. Why would that be any different in the real world?
She was shorter than I remembered. That was the first thing that really surprised me. She was just really, really little. She was standing there, waiting for me as I got out of the airport, and she was looking up at me. Up at me. Which was weird. Really weird. We hugged, and it was awkward because I didn’t really know how long hugs were meant to go on for and because, well…
We were physical strangers. Of course that was going to take some getting used to. I’d never been in the same room as her while thinking about her in any other way than just another friend. I’d never hugged her in my whole entire life, I’m pretty sure. It was, well, weird.
We walked for a little bit, talking about how strange we both looked in real life. I poked her face, and she poked mine. I had a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, a feeling that maybe this had been a huge mistake, that maybe we’d ruined it all now because I got on that stupid plane and ended up in her stupid country. I was ecstatic just a few days before; I finally had a girlfriend and she was great, and it was great, and the whole world was great. Now I had to spend a whole week with some stranger who I’d said really, really embarrassing things to.
It was scary. It was really scary. But I was there, and I couldn’t just turn around and head back home. We got on a train, and we sat next to each other, and because there was nothing else to do, we talked. We talked about our days, about what happened on the plane and what she did while she was waiting for me. We talked about her mum, and whether or not she was going to hate me. We talked about anything we could, for the whole endless journey. By the time we had gotten off the train, the fear had gone. We were still the same people who had gotten along so well over skype. We were still the same people who would spend hours and hours and hours talking to each other without any desire to stop. I was even getting used to how small she was. We hugged again, and we held hands, and it didn’t take long before everything felt just about right again.