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A Treatise of Departures


by antique_bird

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To begin, you never cared for company. Pretentious socialites in the face of existence, you always said. You maintain that you don't have time for friends. Perhaps you meant it at the time. Perhaps you knew, preemptively, that she would leave you, and that you would forget, just for a while, so you wouldn't have to acknowledge the heavy, hollow feeling in your heart.

      (Of course, it's too late now, but of course none of the other pets need to know this.)

      You first met her at the old book shop, the one squatting within the deep catacombs of Neopia Central. It's a dreary, obscurely dank sort of place, to be sure, but you didn't mind it. You would visit the shop on Saturdays, at exactly nine o'clock, half an hour after the shop opens. You like schedules and organizing your life so it's all planned out cleanly. It gives you a sense of direction, a road to travel by when you're lost. Schedules give you a sense of accomplishment, you concede.

      The bell would ring as you open the door—a merry chiming sound that echoes through the dismally bleak atmosphere. Perhaps the bell was a thing of the past being dragged forward by time to the present-day store. The neopets lingering before the bookcases were always in a half-trance, methodically selecting and replacing tattered books on the countless shelves. Come to think of it, their eyes always seemed to be hollow, sort of. Empty, like they don't really know what they're doing. Even the shopkeeper—a blue Nimmo—looks tired, resting his head on top of a stack of dusty novels and dripping saliva ever once in a while onto the books. You feel sorry for the books, and you suspect that he's done this many, many times, as the top book has curled pages, reminiscent of drying paper many, many times over.

      (Books are a good way of escaping one's life and pretending to be somebody else, actually.)

      She's a green Xweetok, the liveliest creature you've ever met. Probably the most wonderful creature you'll ever meet, period. She prances around the shelves and shelves of written words, shelves of wood suffocating under the weight of heavy paper and heavier thoughts, cackling happily and disrupting the concentrated murmurs of the pets around her. (One day, she brought in a row of test tubes in an attempt to solidify the atmosphere and allow the pets to drink their own thoughts—of course, the experiment had been thrown out of the shop. Mould, claimed the manager after he was forced to down a cup of questionable fluid.) Her crown of daisies is balanced crookedly on her head. Some of them give wan smiles and mumble incoherent greetings, and the rest of the lot glare disapprovingly at the bright pet, because of course cheerful pets have no business in society.

      "Departures aren't sad occasions, really," she tells you confidentially the first time you see her. She's gazing rather intensely at a Kacheek purchasing a stack of neohome décor magazines. She waves at him, and he backs up, just a little. "They feel like goodbye, but they're really ways of going somewhere else."

      (The Kacheek leaves the store, looking distinctly disturbed. Privately, you disagree. You decide that departures are excuses to leave people, nothing else.)

      She talks to you on every occasion, regardless of whether or not you listened. She would blather on of pleasant afternoons, and serene lakesides, and afternoon tea. If there's one thing you've learned about her, it's that she really loved tea. And stories, of course; she loved telling stories of make-believe.

      "I like talking to other pets," she tells you one day, when you're studying an encyclopedia and she's sipping Darjeeling. "I feel as though I can help them feel better. Stories are like delicious cakes and sweet custard and warm summer days, and if you use the perfectly right words—well, then, those stories are even better."

      (You remember fixing her with a skeptical stare, but you can't help but agree with her logic. Perhaps her stories are your schedules, things to work on and hope for and look forward to.)

      Eventually, it grows into a routine—the little green Xweetok would seat herself in the loveseat right across from you, all smiles and laughter, drinking tea, and you would glower at her, though you didn't mean it at the time, not really. The blue Nimmo would glower, too, more based on the fact that she's brought consumables into the store than anything else.

      (You wish, sometimes, that you asked for her name. She knew yours, after all.)

      "You know, Simon Allen," she confesses to you one day. "I'd like to think of myself having accomplished something in the world before I go."

      "Go? Where?" You demand in surprise, and she beams at you. It's the first time you've said something un-snappishly at her.

      "Oh—you know," the Xweetok says vaguely, playing the veritable garden of pale lilies crowing her head. You notice she's quiet the rest of the day, poring over the shop's collection of fables. At some point you realize you've joined her in reading the book.

      (You don't ask about her idea of accomplishment, but you privately think she's done plenty of good with her stories.)

      Then, one day, she isn't there. You linger all day in that depressing little space, but there is not talkative Neopet coming into the shop, no tea spilled over the pages of some treatise written by a obscurely well-educated scholar. You don't acknowledge the traitorously hollow feeling in your body because there is no hollow feeling.

      (You realize that day that you've somehow read all the books in the dingy little shop over the duration of her visits.)

      You wait at the shop a few more times, hoping in vain you'll spot a crest of green fur between the bookshelves. Instead, you find a faded flower pressed in the pages of a novel, dropped from one of her ridiculous flower wreaths.

      Eventually, you move on with life—or was that day (that last day of waiting) the starting point of it? Either way, you learn to make friends, to socialize and travel, you write and you do a hundred things. (And there seems to be no time left to pause and reflect on life and the act of living itself, because life is life, and you won't regret the things that you don't remember.)

      But it's not the same, and you can't figure out for the life of you why it is.

      Sometimes you tell stories, and for some a vague feeling of happiness washes over you.

      Eventually, you'll forget about her. Oh, you'll see her again, one day, and in a gloriously perfect flash of—there is no other word for it—recognition, you'll remember her. She'll feel like home. But until then, you will continue with your life. You won't linger too long on her, and you won't miss her—not at all, not at all.

      (Because she's never left you; the insistent little Xweetok will be a part of you for the rest of your life.) Sometimes the individuals who matter most are the ones who are forgotten. Remember what the Xweetok said?

      "I'd like to think of myself having accomplished something in the world..."

     She didn't want to be remembered. She wanted her actions to be acknowledged.

      That's all she's ever wanted.

The End

 
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