They always haunt me, floating around in my head, bothering me. I can’t forget them, even though I desperately want to. I can’t block them out, and I’ve become a victim of my own thoughts and memories.
I tap my red Jetsam fin impatiently on the baking sands, waiting for the signal to begin pulling. I sigh. Today is just another day at my job, while I’m lost in the world tucked inside my head. I catch myself before I let loose another sigh.
My mouth becomes a mean grimace (even though I’m not angry at all), showing my teeth to my opponent, who happens to be a furious desert Kacheek. Readjusting the grip I have on my end of the rope, I prepare to tug with all my strength. My thick, jet-black eyebrows furrow in feigned angriness. It’s about to start soon. I can feel it.
An announcer for all the matches today clears his throat, raises his voice, and shouts, “Ready?” He pauses, letting his words sink in before he says the final word that will send us into a frenzy of tugging. “Pull!”
I tug onto the rope. The Kacheek pulls back, and I yank it harder into my direction. The Coltzan timer, which is cast above us with a floating spell, is almost ready to stop us, so I jerk the rope with all my might. I send the Kacheek closer to the river, much to my delight.
The Coltzan timer stops us. For a few seconds we both pull on the rope, and no one moves in either directions. I frantically pull harder, causing the rope to become taut. The Kacheek does the same thing as I, only he does it better. He does it strong enough to reset the timer, and I lose firm grip on the rope. Dragging me along with it, I get drawn closer to the banks of the rushing river. The smug desert Kacheek gains more space from the water, while I’ve almost lost our match. With one mighty tug from my opponent, I lose control of the rope and plunge into the cool waters.
The water swallows me greedily, and I sink to the bottom, trying to recover from the shock of being plunged so suddenly. My thoughts and memories flood into my mind, and I can’t stop it, no matter how much I want to.
The Pound was a place I never expected to see.
I bit my lip, held my tears in, and refused to look at my owner. She mumbled a hasty apology before leaving me there. I stared at her back, watching her leave me. She never glanced back over her shoulder at me, not once.
The strange yellow Techo led me behind the dark blue door with the “ABANDON” sign plastered messily on the front. He showed me an uncomfortably snug cage, and I clambered in. I sat facing the corner, while he batted the wire door closed. The unnerving click of the door when it slammed shut and locked itself was the last sound I heard that day.
That last and only sound convinced me I was alone in the world. Then I thought of my candle. It had finally gone out. I thought the flame would never come back.
I casually glance at my next opponent. I’m dripping wet from my dip in the river, and I shake my head to scatter the stray droplets that trickle down too slowly. The masked desert Blumaroo glares at me. Sweat drips down his face, and soon the announcer shouts the signal to start.
It’s like the same thing with the Kacheek. I struggle, I tug, I pull, I yank, I jerk, I do everything I can to keep myself away from the banks of the river. Still, the Blumaroo sends me to the water's depths, while he celebrates his victory.
Again, memories cloud my head, and I can’t avoid them.
“He’s perfect,” the boy stated, his face so close to the wires of my Pound cage, “he’ll be a great addition to my family, and...” He smiled. “He’s perfect.”
“Let’s get that adoption form for you to fill out and sign,” the pink Uni excitedly exclaimed, hurrying towards her desk, “let’s see... Oh my, he has such a long name... Maybe you would like to call him something shorter?”
“Fen,” the boy said simply, “Fen would be perfect for him.” He looked at me curled up in the corner and smiled warmly., “Do you want to come home with me?” When I didn’t answer, he assured me with his warm words. “Don’t worry, I won’t abandon you, so you will never have to see this place again. I promise.”
For the first time since I was abandoned, I smiled my toothy, silly grin at him. He laughed, and opened the cage to let me out. I made my way out slowly, carefully. The boy kept grinning the whole time, and it made me grin back.
Then I felt a flicker of flame pass across my unlit candle.
I struggle out of the freezing waters, while chasing my memories away.
The masked Blumaroo from earlier is being ushered away, and he glances back at me. He does it quickly, but he sticks out his tongue, mocking me. I await my next opponent patiently, wiping water off my slick skin.
A desert Elephante stomps up towards his end of the rope and fidgets nervously, while we prepare for the announcer to scream the words that will send us tugging with all our strength. I try to remember his name, and it finally enters my thoughts: Khadir.
I think of my name. It seems like forever ago when I had an owner to call me. Sometimes I forget it, but it always seems to be stored in the back of my mind. I don’t tell anyone my name. No one wants to find me anyway, so why bother telling?
Memories rush into my head suddenly, catching me off guard.
Tim, the boy who adopted me and was my beloved owner, gave me a serious talk after my sister attacked me with her words.
“Fen,” he began, kneeling down to look me in my florescent yellow eyes, “I don’t believe what your sister says about you being nobody and nothing, and don’t believe her either.” He sighed, “She was never like this, but she’ll eventually get used to you. Just remember, you’re perfect the way you are, and don’t take her teasing and taunts to heart.”
I nodded. I didn’t really understand his words, but I just wanted to please him. So I nodded.
The cold water greets me happily.
I must have still been lost in my thoughts when the tugging began. My third match lost today. It doesn’t matter, I think, there’s always tomorrow...
I close my eyes, allowing my painful past to overwhelm me.
“He doesn’t care about you!” my sister shouted.
I had had enough. Ripping my drawing of Tim out of my notebook, I ran downstairs and threw it onto the dining table. Let him find it there, I thought. Will he even care? I convinced myself he wouldn’t. After all, what if everything he said and did for me was just a joke, a lie? I sprinted to the door, yanked it open, and threw myself down three steps and into the bushes to my right, slamming the door behind me.
Curling up into a ball, I began sobbing. I didn’t know how long I was lying on the grass outside, but when Tim came home, he didn’t even look at the bushes. He didn’t notice me at all. I didn’t hear any shouts coming from inside, all I heard was the mumbling of my sister making up something to tell Tim about me. It hurt. All of it stung. The most hurtful thing was that Tim didn’t seem to bother searching for me.
When I uncurled myself and got up, it was already dark from the night. My eyes were sore, and my red face was tear-streaked. I couldn’t hear any noises, no matter how hard I strained. The moon shone brightly in the sky above, and it would have been a lovely night if only I didn’t feel so broken inside. As I walked away from my home silently, the truth finally struck me. It tore me apart inside, and I broke down, sobbing, while I kept walking.
The truth hurt. I realized Tim didn’t really care about me. My candle went out, like someone blew on it and ruined my life.
I scramble out of the water. It took me three tries to get out. The announcer strolls up to me, while I sit on the heated sands, trying to dry myself off.
“Take a break,” he says to me. “There won’t be any more pets looking for some tugging for a while. Also, your shift is done, you can head home or whatever. The other red Jetsam that will take your spot is somewhere around.” He walks away from me.
I get a strange urge, and I follow it without thinking.
“Hey,” I shout at the announcer who is just a few meters away from me, “I quit! Find another Jetsam to do my shift! I’m sick of my job! I’m tired of playing Tug ‘O’ War every day!”
I smile to myself as I turn my back to the shocked announcer. Walking away, I wonder about my future. I don’t know how I’m going to find food, I don’t have a home to stay in, and I don’t know what to do. Then a name echoes in my head, and I have to pay him a visit.
“Tim,” I whisper to no one, “here I come, Tim, here I come. Do you want me back? Do you, Tim?”
A gentle breeze replies me, stirring some Lost Desert sand around in circles. The unhelpful reply makes me feel more confident about my decision. Yes, I think, I will do this for Tim, and for myself.
I head towards Neopia Central.
I was in my room when the shouting began.
“Fen,” Tim shouted anxiously, “where are you? Where are you, Fen? Fen?” I heard his footsteps running around the house, searching each room.
“I’m right here,” I replied, opening my room’s door. It creaked, and I cringed. “I’ve been in my room the whole time. What’s going on, Tim?”
“There you are,” Tim sighed, finally relaxing. “Your sister just came back from Neopia Central and I thought you had gone with her. She told me that you weren’t with her, and I just panicked. I wasn’t sure where you were, and I didn’t think about what if you were in your room.”
“Oh,” I replied, unsure of what to say. “Why would I ever leave without telling you?” It had been a few days after I had begun living with Tim, and I was just getting used to life with him and a sister.
“Well,” Tim said cautiously, “I was just scared that...” He paused. “Oh, never mind. It’s nothing, just go back to what you were doing, Fen. It’s nothing.”
I knew it couldn’t have just been “nothing” if Tim was shouting about it. After that I didn’t give it much thought, because I didn’t understand.
I knock on the familiar front door.
“Tim,” I hear a high-pitched voice shout. “Someone is knocking at the door!”
“I’m coming,” his voice shouts, making my heart ache with the pain of not seeing him for so long, “just wait a second!”
I glance towards the bushes, the same ones I leaped behind and cried. There are little purple Hydrangea flowers buds all over, and some of them have bloomed into huge purple balls. I pluck one and twirl it around in my fin. I hear footsteps coming closer to the door, and I drop the flower onto the ground.
The door opens.
“Hey,” Tim addresses before he even looks down the three steps to where I’m standing. “Hey,” he says again but softer and more delicately when he realizes it’s me. “Fen.”
“Tim,” I say simply, biting my lip.
We just stand there. I anxiously shuffle around, while Tim stares at me in shock. Neither of us says anything, and the silence is overwhelming. I want to beg for forgiveness, and plead to be welcomed back into his life. But I also feel like I should leave, and walk out of Tim’s life forever, after what I did. A part of me whispers in my head that coming back here was all a big mistake, and I should just tell Tim I’m fine by myself. Instead, I ask him one question, breaking the silence.
“Tim,” I whisper, barely audible, “will you forgive me for leaving?”
He pauses. The silence creeps back sneakily. I wait for him to tell me to go away, or to welcome me back with a hug. I don’t know what to expect, and so I leave. I slowly turn around, while Tim still stares at me, awestruck. As I drag my feet walking away, I hear Tim take a deep, shivering breath.
“Yes,” Tim blurts out suddenly, “I forgive you. I just want you to come back.”
I spin around quickly, and tears cloud my vision. A memory slowly surfaces in my thoughts, and I startle to realize it’s one I didn’t know I had.
It was just a few weeks after Tim had adopted me from the Pound. My sister had begun to tease me, but I was always able to take control of the situation and walk away calmly. The day when Tim was shouting for me in the house was long behind me. I had almost completely forgotten about it by then. One thought kept bothering me, echoing again and again in my head, and so I finally decided to let Tim in on the subject.
“Tim,” I said to him, tugging on his hand to get his attention, “Tim, can you promise me something?”
He set down a book he was reading intently. A glance at the front cover told me it was a book with the huge title of Jetsam Tall Tails. I briefly wondered what it was about, before going back to concentrating on what I want to talk to Tim about.
“Okay,” he said casually, “let’s hear it.”
“Do you,” I said carefully, “promise to never abandon me or leave me? Ever?” I bit my lip, awaiting his reply anxiously, hoping for him to promise willingly.
He laughed a light and quick laugh, as if my question was comical instead of serious like I tried to make it. Tim took his time to reply to me, pausing to think through his words while I stood there waiting for him.
“Of course,” Tim replied. “I promise you I will never abandon me or leave you.” He paused, and he asked me a question of his own, saying it almost jokingly. “How about you, Fen? Do you promise you will never leave me?”
I was appalled at his question. Maybe it was a joke, because he didn’t say it as seriously. But then why would he joke about something like this? I decided to answer his question truthfully.
“I will never,” I said in a rush, desperate to let Tim know my answer, “never, ever, leave you, Tim. I promise.”
Tim smiled, and I returned one of my toothy grins. Inside, I felt a flame sprout from the tip of my candle. The flame that had been extinguished when I was in the Pound slowly came back. I let it light up again, and it felt like I had opened a new door in my life.
The only thing that kept it alight was the fact that Tim would always be there for me. I never could have imagined leaving him without coming back.
“Oh,” I sigh, focusing on the present, “I’ve missed you so much.”
“I want you back,” Tim says with a smile, “come in, and live with me again. The house has felt so empty without you. Even your sister misses you.”
I shuffle up the stairs slowly, basking in happiness. When I got to the third and top step, I finally realize it. This is where I belong. Tim is here, my sister is here, and so this is where I should rightfully be. And now I am in my right place. I smile.
My candle has finally found its flame.