The engine of my bike sputters to a halt as I pull the keys out of the ignition and step out onto the red sand. My tires are filthy and I look at the tread marks leading all the way back to the main road. A sigh escapes my dry lips and I refocus my view onto my objective: a young boy with a mess of hair Medusa’ing its way around his pale face. He’s sitting on a rock with his knees pulled up to his chest and a permanent frown on his face.
“So grouchy.” I mutter as I make my way over to him. The desert sky is hot and my armpits are producing so much moisture I could water every cactus in a five-mile radius. The boy glances up at me, his blue eyes flashing in contrast to the red sand, but he quickly looks away.
“What?” I say, annoyed.
The boy ignores me.
“Fucking punk.” I mutter, loud enough for him to hear this time.
When I get close enough, I sit down on a rock opposite of him and sigh again.
“Let’s just get this over with.” I suggest.
“Okay.” The boy says. He still refuses to look at me.
I pull out a small crumpled up piece of paper from my breast pocket and withdraw a pen from my collar. I click the end to eject the ballpoint.
“First question,” I say. I pause to see if he’ll look at me, but when he doesn’t I continue. “What do you want to grow up to be?”
“Not you.” He responds quickly.
I clench my jaw in frustration, before exhaling to reclaim my calm.
“Okay. What do you want to become?”
“It’s not about what you become. It’s about what you are.” The boy says. He recites it like he’s said it a hundred times.
Of course. How could I forget?
“Sorry. What… are some things you want to accomplish?” Hopefully rewording the question will satisfy him. He’s always been anal about words.
“I want to be in a movie. I want to write books, and travel the world. I want to help create new systems of education.”
He mentions it dully, but passion seeps from his tongue the way ink drains from my pen. The words look intimidating as I jot them down.
“What about you?” He asks. I look up from my paper and catch his eyes on me intensely.
“I’m…” I watch him wide-eyed. “I’m asking the questions, today.”
He looks away disappointed. “Okay.”
“If you could have one superpower, what would it be?” I ask.
“If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?”
“What about it?”
“The way it’s run. Run it like a school, not like a business. Not like a factory producing products.”
I’m a slow writer so it takes me some time to write that down, legibly. When I finish, I look up and see that the boy is no longer scowling, and instead his features are drawn into a look of despair.
“What?” I ask.
“You’re so different.” He says, looking up at me. He’s studying my face.
“From?” I try not to be but I’m insulted.
“From what I thought you’d be.”
“Better.” He looks away. His eyelids drop shut as if he just can’t stand to look at me any longer.
My initial argument is, “I am better”, but the response is moot. The boy is genuinely disappointed. We sit in silence, the oddities in a lifeless desert.
“Come on.” I moan finally. I’m annoyed. No, that’s a lie. I’m insecure.
“This was a bad idea.” The boy concludes.
“You’re not even giving it a chance.”
“What good is this?” The boy stands up suddenly. “I know how it all ends, so what good is any of it? I should just freaking kill myself.”
His tame sense of swearing tickles me but I remain composed. “Why are you so upset?”
The boy groans and sits back down. I could see how irritated he is. How eager he is to jump out of his own skin.
“I’m not going to… be in a movie.” He doesn’t ask questions. He’s stating it. “I’m not going to be famous or rich and travel the world. I’m not going to write books. I’m not going to change things or… even just affect them.”
His words weigh heavy on me.
“I’m only twenty two, man.” I respond. “There’s still time.”
“It’s been ten years and you’ve accomplished nothing that I’m working so hard on every day.”
I sigh for a third time and look away into the desert.
“What have you done?” He asks.
“I’m a manager…”
He interrupts me. “I’m not talking about things you can put on a résumé.”
I think for a moment. Nothing I’ve done would seem valuable to him. What do I have to show for the last ten years?
“I’m in love.” I say, finally.
I let it sink in for a moment – just with myself. I can’t believe it has come to this. Are my accomplishments a mirror image of a proud housewife? Do I really value love to a degree where I would stride the streets with my chest high and my chin up and proudly exclaim that, yes, I have found and conquered love?
When I face him his eyebrows are high and his mouth slightly ajar. I’ve peaked his interest.
“With the most beautiful girl, ever.” I continue, a bit absentmindedly.
“Yeah?” He asks. He’s trying to feign disinterest but he can’t help himself.
“And I got her by fighting for her. By leaving everything I was comfortable with in life, and taking a leap of faith. Just like the stories you write about. Just like the characters you want to portray in movies.”
His eyes widen. His entitlement changes to wonder.
“She’s everything you’ve ever wanted.” I say. “You meet her at the exact time you’re supposed to. And you write a book about her – you just haven’t published it yet. And you’re making plans to travel with her – you’re just waiting to save up the money. You guys look at life the same. Filled with opportunity. And maybe a little bitter.” I laugh.
The boy chuckles too. I think I see a glimmer in his eye, a tear reflecting the sun.
I look him in his innocent little face and realize how hard this must be.
“Look,” I conclude, scratching the back of my own messy hair. “I’ve done a lot of things you never wanted. I’ve lied to people, broken promises. I’ve been an asshole many times, and been proud of it several times. I eat meat, and drink alcohol, and work a regular job five days a week. I set bad examples of etiquette and break rules simply to break something. But I’m actually really… happy. I’m in love. Reciprocated love, that’s a new one for you. I’m fitter than ever. I no longer use the synonym button in word documents.”
The boy laughs.
“It’s okay.” I excuse him. “You’re still more foreigner than you are writer, at this point. Give it some time. Give it all some time. Just know that regardless of it all, you’ll still be happy.”
The boy looks away. He’s not satisfied. I understand – neither am I. But he seems pleased with this news. He seems hopeful.
“Growing up is tough, man.” I pat him on the shoulder. “Happiness is harder.”
The last thing he says to me, as I fire up my engine and prepare set back out home.
“I can’t believe you eat meat now.”
“What happened to ‘every life matters’?” He continues.
I shrug. “I guess mine matters more.”
I imagine he called me a dick then, but I drove away before I could hear it.
This week’s prompt is Interview