"Your Borovan Bubble Tea, miss,” the sweet owner of the Coffee Cave said as she set the drink down in front of a young Zafara.
“Thank you,” she replied as she pushed a stray strand of silver hair from her eyes. She let the drink sit there for a few minutes, while she thoughtfully twirled the crimson ends of her hair around her finger.
The past few weeks had been long and hard. Her tired eyes and defeated posture earned some sympathy from the charming Shoyru, who had placed a large drink in front of the young lady, rather than the small she had ordered. The girl hadn’t even noticed.
The Zafara finally grasped the drink and took a sip. The liquid was refreshing, and seemed to breathe some new life into her bones, if only a little bit. She had selected a rather inexpensive drink, but it was still a special moment; she never really had anything extra to spend on herself.
She gazed around the quaint store. The furniture was whimsical and charismatic. She found herself here frequently on the weekends, after the usual long and hard week had ended. Even when the Coffee Cave was crowded, she couldn’t help but feel lonely.
The young lady at last took her final sip of the tea, and stood up to leave.
“Thank you, miss!” she called to the owner.
“It’s no problem, Tira, have a nice night!” the owner responded from the back.
Tira smiled softly and pondered what it would be like to be like the Coffee Cave owner, always so upbeat and hospitable. She tried her hand at it, smiling at a table of customers sipping on their coffees. One of the girls, a young Cybunny, locked eyes with Tira. She didn’t smile back. With a sigh and a knot in her heart, Tira left the store.
The young Zafara wrapped her arms around her waist as she walked along, almost with a skip in her gait, in The Deep Catacombs. She found her way to the natural stone bridge which crossed the once magnificent river that ran underground in The Deep Catacombs. That’s what Tira had always heard, at least. It was anything but magnificent now. She always found it interesting how she was always taught that the river used to flow strong and mighty, but she never had any proof. It was one of those things that she just accepted and moved on.
A metal fence had been built in the past on the bridge to prevent Neopians from falling in and being carried away by the river. Removing the barrier had been disputed for some time in order to make it look more natural, but the fence remains. The residents found the fence endearing after it had been made a popular activity to write an anonymous wish on a piece of paper, and then hang it on the fence with a lock. Locks were hung up all over the fence.
Usually Tira would walk right by them. When she was younger, she would drag her fingers along the locks, feeling all the bumps and grooves. With age, however, she no longer paid them any attention. This time, she stopped and decided to take in the whole scene. She had nothing better to do at home. Nothing better that she would desire to do, anyways.
She caressed one of the locks for a moment. The script that once contained a wish in it had faded beyond recognition. Tira wondered if it had come true or not.
A beat up lock lay on the cold floor. She picked it up, found a little scrap of paper in her pocket along with a pen, and wrote out a dainty wish. She pierced the paper with the lock, and clamped it on the fence. She stood back and admired the locks.
“I wonder how many there are…” she thought aloud. As a kid she always felt like the number was daunting, but looking at them now, it seemed like there weren’t as many as she had once thought.
“698.” A peppy voice responded to her left. “Well, 699 after yours.”
Tira turned her head quickly to see the owner of the voice, a male Kougra. She had expected him to look younger, based off his voice, but judging by his appearance, he seemed a little older than she was.
“Have you counted them?” She inquired of him. He didn’t answer right away. Instead, he looked into her eyes for a moment, blinked a couple times, and then answered,
“My name’s Tom. And yeah I just finished counting them.”
699. Tira knew there weren’t that many locks. “You’ve never been here before, have you?”
“Nope. First time in the shining city of Neopia Central.” He smirked.
Tira chuckled. “And you decide to come down here underground to explore? That’s an interesting choice.”
Once again, he didn’t respond right away. Almost as if he were picking his words carefully. “I’ve found that the most engaging sights can be found in the dullest places.”
Tira almost laughed. The whole moment of it, the two of them standing on a natural stone bridge over a pathetic little stream with a less than impressive number of locks, it all seemed so naïve to her.
“Well, since you’re here, you might as well join in on the tradition and write a wish.” She said to Tom.
He smirked again. “One step ahead of ya, girlie.” He lifted his hand to the fence, lock in hand, and clamped it to one of the wires. “700 locks.” He stated.
“What did you wish for?” Tira blurted out. She instantly regretted asking the question. How could she ask someone she barely knows what they just wished for? She felt like it was a private matter.
“World peace.” He replied, no hesitation this time. After a few moments, he looked at Tira, as if expecting something.
“Did you really?” She asked with a laugh.
Tom chuckled. “Maybe.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “How long are you visiting for?”
“Long enough.”* * * * * * *
The next morning, Tira climbed out of bed earlier than she had in weeks. She threw on a dainty, pastel bathrobe, glanced in the mirror, and smiled a bit. Her hair was out of control, as usual, but this time she greeted it with enthusiasm rather than annoyance like she usually did.
Her fingers lingered over her coffee maker. Instead of making her dark, black coffee, she decided to munch on an apple. She looked out the window and took in the sunshine and clouds. The sky seemed bluer than usual.
Today was another free day for Tira. Yesterday, the only eventful thing she did was walk to the Coffee Cave and sip on some tea. And then the bridge with the wishes and…
Tom. She pondered their encounter yesterday in her heart. It was such a breath of new air to run into such an individual yesterday. She hadn’t asked anything about where he was staying though, or really anything about him at all. She didn’t realize it at the time, but their conversation was mostly him asking about her and her life. Tira didn’t normally talk so much about herself, but it was so easy to talk to Tom. He was so eager to listen and seemed so interested.
Tira smiled. Yesterday’s encounter was nice, but she was certain she’d never see him again. Neopia Central is a big city. Neopians fade into obscurity here. Just like she always wanted.
Even though Tira planned on using today as a day of relaxation and rest, she decided to spend some of her new found energy on running a few errands around town. Wouldn’t want to waste such a precious resource. After she had finished her apple, Tira noticed her residence was scarce for food. Better go buy some groceries.
On her short stroll to the food store, Tira took notice of many different things that usually she would walk right by. How green the grass was, how quaint the book store looked in the distance, the way the clouds were all puffy and pink in the morning. She felt so different inside.
“Hey!” a familiar voice called behind her. She turned around, and to her astonishment, she watched as Tom ran up to her. “What’s up?” he asked brightly.
“Oh, not too much.” She stammered out. “Just running to the food store.”
“Hey, me too! Gotta stock up for my return home.”
Something flicked inside of her. “Your return home?”
“Yeah, I’m leaving for home tomorrow morning. All my business is finished up here.”
“Oh, well good for you!” She replied with a smile. The smile on her lips surprised her. Tira hadn’t flashed a natural smile in what felt like forever. “I guess we can go together!”
“Hey, sounds like a plan to me!”
They walked side by side for a short while in silence. They arrived at the door to the food store. Tom reached to open the door for Tira, but before he could, she grabbed his hand.
“We should do something fun before you have to go home!” Tira didn’t know what she was doing. This was so unlike her. “You know, something you can remember of Neopia Central when you’re back where you live.”
He flashed a handsome smile. “I think that sounds like a great idea. What do you have in mind?”
Tira’s mind raced. She didn’t really know the above ground as well as The Deep Catacombs. Most of her time was spent underground. Even though she was feeling more adventurous and peppy this morning, she knew going underground would be more memorable.
“Follow me!”* * * * * * *
Tira sipped on her sweet Candy Pumpkin Latte while she watched Tom perform in an impromptu street theater performance. She giggled like she did when she was younger while he made up silly lines and played along with the other actors.
They had spent the whole day in The Deep Catacombs. They snapped for poets reading their writings aloud, the two chatted with the sweet Shoyru who owned Tira’s favorite café, they paid for a street artist to sketch a silly portrait of them side by side. The artist emphasized Tira’s thin body frame and elaborate hair, while drawing Tom as a whimsical caricature. The contrast was astounding and hilarious to Tira.
At the end of the day, the young Zafara and Kougra found themselves back at the stone bridge where they had originally met. Tom leaned against the fence, watching the trickling stream below, while Tira ran her fingers over the locks, like she did when she was a kid.
“I had a lot of fun today,” Tom remarked absent-mindedly.
“I’m glad you did,” Tira responded, leaning against the fence next to him. “I hope I picked fun enough activities for us to do. Wouldn’t want your last day in Neopia Central to be boring!”
He chuckled. Tom held his tongue for a few seconds. Tira knew now that he did this when he was thinking.
“Do you have a lot of friends, Tira?” He asked. She had to listen closely for he spoke quietly.
“No,” she responded after a slight pause. “Not particularly.”
“Why is that?”
“I don’t know.” She paused again. “I’m not the easiest person to be friends with, I suppose.”
“I find that surprising. I just spent my whole day with you, and I don’t even know you.”
“Yeah, that must have been torturous for you.” He laughed.
“It wasn’t at all though.”
They stood there in silence for a moment. Tira watched as the water trickled by, smooth, but free, like leaves in the wind. She thought back to the puffy clouds that morning, and how serene and beautiful they were.
“I had a lot of fun today, too.” She said, interrupting the quiet. Her voice barely rose above the stream down below. “The past few weeks have been pretty…” She trailed off.
“Pretty dull. I’ve been in something of a dump lately.”
“I noticed that the moment I saw you.”
That hurt a bit.
“That’s when I wrote my wish.”
She turned to him. “Huh?”
“I saw you on the bridge yesterday, and I noticed how sad you looked. I thought to myself, ‘she doesn’t deserve to be like that.’” He turned to look at her. “So I wrote a wish for you.”
“What was the wish?” She asked.
“For you to be happy.”
Tira’s heart melted. How could someone have it in their heart to wish that for a total stranger? She didn’t feel like she deserved that kind of compassion. It would have been more useful on someone else.
“That’s so sweet of you.”
“After I locked that wish to the fence, I knew the best way to make it come true would be to become your friend. Everyone needs a friend.”
Tira smiled softly. Tom would be leaving tomorrow morning.
“Tom,” she began, “that’s so nice of you. I appreciate it more than you know.”
He smiled back at her. “What did you wish for?”
Something she had always needed, a friend.