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"Can you please act like a normal human being?"
"Then what am I acting like right now, an animal?"
"You said it, not me…"
"If it's an animal, what animal am I? It's definitely a cat, right? Since I'm so cute and all…" Azim smirked while pinching his own cheeks.
"As if! More like a M, O, N, K, E, Y!" replied Elmira. At the same time, she was flapping her school uniform that was stained by pieces of chips.
"You mad?" asked Azim even though it was obvious from Elmira's face that she was incensed. How could she not? She was enjoying herself, eating chips beside the park when Azim suddenly surprised her, sending the plastic in her hand flying.
"Obviously! Look at this. Now the colour is stuck to my uniform…" grumbled Elmira.
"Sowwy…" said Azim. Immediately afterwards, he stood in front of Elmira and started doing squats without even being told to.
"Now what in the world are you doing?" asked Elmira.
"Well, I made a promise to you that day, right? If I did something wrong, I'll perform ten squats," said Azim as he finished his last squat.
Elmira giggled, amused. She really can't stay mad at Azim. He always had something up his sleeves to ease the tension and make her laugh.
Perhaps that's exactly why they could stay as friends for a long time. From kindergarten till now, being fifth form students. Coincidentally, they're always placed in the same cla.s.s. Even their houses were close to each other. It's not strange that they naturally became best friends, being close to each other and going where the other went. It's to the point that they have been labelled as a couple by their schoolmates. Elmira and Azim simply laughed every time their friends teased them using that statement.
"Might as well become a real couple at this point," Azim suddenly said so.
Elmira who was doing her Math homework while biting a pencil nearly swallowed the pencil.
"So sudden…" Elmira pouted. Azim snickered in delight. He liked it when Elmira made faces. She looked cute. Especially when her round eyes were widened.
"Yeah, well… that's what people are calling us wherever we go. It'd be nice of use to help them realise their dream of seeing us being together…" said Azim.
"Their dream… or yours?" asked Elmira.
"Eheh… maybe it's yours…?" teased Azim again.
"Nonsense!" retorted Elmira while standing and changing her seat. She sat on a seat behind the cla.s.s, next to a male student. Azim followed suit. He told the male student to get up and sit someplace else. Then, he took his place next to Elmira, again.
"Who gave you the right to shoo people away? It's his seat in the first place," scolded Elmira.
"I don't like seeing you sit next to a different guy…" explained Azim, his face serious. Though he loved joking around, concerning that matter, he never fooled around. To him, Elmira could only be by his side. Other guys don't know how to make Elmira laugh. Other guys don't know how to take care of Elmira. They don't know how to protect her and make her happy, letting her feel safe all the time. He's the only person that knew.
Azim rubbed his eyes a bit. They suddenly hurt.
"What's wrong, Azim?"
"Dunno. It feels itchy for some reason. Can you take a look? Is there anything in my eyes?" requested Azim to Elmira.
"Azim… your pupils…"
"No way… are you playing around again? You're wearing contact lenses, right?"
"What are you talking about, Elmira? What's with my eyes?"
"Your pupils… they're green."
Azim immediately stood up and ran outside the cla.s.s. Elmira followed behind him.
"Hey! This is the male's toilet!" A male student who was blissfully p.i.s.sing was shocked when seeing a female student entering.
"Not interested… Buwekkk!" Elmira spat at the student.
She then caught up with Azim who stood in front of a mirror with a panicked face. It's true. Hus pupils did change bright green. There was even a horizontal line standing straight in the middle. It looked just like… a cat's eye.
Azim asked for permission to leave early with his reason being that he wasn't feeling well, all the while having his head facing downward. He was afraid that people would see his eyes that turned green. When asked, Azim simply said that his eyes were in pain.
Azim stopped walking even though he was only a few steps away from exiting the school gate.
"Will you come to my birthday party tonight?" asked Elmira with high hopes from her gloomy face.
"I won't miss it even if the world ends tonight…!" shouted Azim with a smile. His green eyes seemed to glow when the sunlight reflected off of them.
Elmira waved to Azim with a heavy heart. Hard to let go…
Arriving home, Azim immediately entered his room. On the bed was a set of suit. It was probably left there by his mom before going to work. On it was a piece of note.
'For Azim to wear tonight. This is the only suit that your late father had. Mom thinks that it suits you. We really can't afford to buy a new one so I hope that this would suffice. At the very least, you won't look sloppy going to that big party. Send my regards to Elmira. Tell her I say happy birthday. I'm coming back late tonight. Overtime. You don't have to wait for me, okay?'
Azim put the note back on the bed. He went and stood in front of the long mirror in his room. His whole body felt itchy. He took off his shirt and pants one by one until he was stark naked. What's left was only hair. On his whole body, covering every inch of his skin. Fine, black and shiny hair.
Azim tossed his body onto the bed. His head was churning and his eyes spinning. His body was hot. Too hot. His joints were sore, his nails stinging, and his gums pulsating. Experiencing this unbearable pain, Azim fell unconscious.
The darkening sky woke Azim up from his sleep. He looked at the time. 6.30 In the evening.
Azim stood up. He went to the toilet. In the mirror, Azim could see his face that was hidden beneath the thick coat of black fur. Terrifying.
"I don't want to scare Elmira on her birthday…"
Azim grabbed a shaving knife and shaved his whole face, showing his tanned and handsome face back, but not handsome for him.
"I'm not handsome enough for the gorgeous Elmira, but my love for her is matchless, that's for sure…"
Azim donned the black suit, complete with a bow tie and a purple pocket square, Elmira's favourite colour. He pulled the sleeves down properly, hiding his hairy hands. Hairier than normal, but he had no time to think. Tonight was Elmira's night. Other things don't matter. Even himself.
At Elmira's birthday party…
Although the party was lively with many people attending, the birthday girl's face was sour. She can't concentrate, always glancing here and there, looking for something.
If she's not busy looking for Azim, she's busy in front of a mirror, adjusting her hair, her clothes and even the beaded bracelet that Azim gifted her last week. Even though Elmira had a variety of jewellery made of gold and diamond, she chose the 25 ringgit bracelet to pair with her 700 ringgit white dress for tonight's party. Although the bracelet was cheap and not so fancy, it was her favourite. There's no other reason than because it was Azim who gave it to her. He was willing to forgo lunch for a week to buy the bracelet for Elmira.
"Mira… what are you doing in here? Mummy and daddy are looking for you outside. It's time to cut the cake…" suddenly, Elmira's big brother stuck his head out Elmira's door.
"It's that time already? But… I want to wait for Azim."
"Azim? You're still friends with that poor kid?"
"Brother! That's a terrible thing to say. He's my best friend and he's a good guy. I hope you respect that."
"Yeah, yeah. Good guy, right? The party starts at 7.30. Now it's almost 9 yet he's still not here…"
"Maybe he's sick? This morning he did go back early," Elmira gave a reason.
"Then what's the point of waiting? He's definitely not coming…"
No. He will come…"
"How do you know?"
"Because he made a promise. He never breaks any promise he made. Not once since I've known for so many years…" Elmira was confident.
It's true. Azim never broke his promises. Even tonight. Azim arrived at Elmira's bungalow at 7.30 sharp but he simply sat beside the drain behind the house.
He felt weird. His body was sweating. It felt like he was burning. He was also feeling pain all over. He did not want Elmira to see him like that. He was afraid that Elmira would feel worried.
When he felt a little bit of his strength returning, Azim stood up. He chained his old bicycle at a lamp post nearby. Azim took a deep breath and entered the house through the kitchen using the back door. Just like every other time he went to the house.
The housekeeper was very happy seeing Azim. She told him how anxious Elmira was, waiting for him, to the point that other people seemed like they don't exist in her eyes. She wanted to celebrate 17th birthday with Azim. Azim grinned listening to the housekeeper's words. It strengthened his resolve to be with Elmira tonight. Even though it might be his last.
In the middle of the gathering, covered with various colour, and within the gaps of decorative lights, Azim saw a pure white figure that was faithfully waiting for him. Azim felt like his life was taken by Elmira at the time. The most beautiful creation that had ever entered his eyes.
Azim observed Elmira's long hair flowing, blown by the wind, along with her sparkly white gown. Azim saw that Elmira seemed like she was shining that night, like an angel that fell from the sky, coming down to bring him to heaven.
Elmira turned. Her melancholic face turned cheerful immediately after seeing Azim. She bolted straight to Azim. Anyone blocking her way was pushed aside. Elmira hugged Azim tight. All her fears were gone.
"Are you okay, Azim? Are you sick?" asked Elmira.
"No… I'm okay. You look stunning, Elmira."
"Thanks. You look handsome as well!" said Elmira while pinching Azim's cheeks. She stared into Azim's eyes that were still glowing green. Though strange and scary, it was still Azim's. The eyes that Elmira always wanted to look at.
Suddenly, Azim screamed at the top of his lungs. He sat kneeling while bending his body, hugging himself in pain. Everyone that came stared in panic but their reaction at the time was incomparable to what Elmira was feeling.
"Azim… what's wrong? Please answer me. Don't do this to me…"
Although Elmira kept begging, Azim still did not answer her. He just grunted and groaned loudly without end. Elmira raised Azim's face. She was shocked to see his mouth bleeding. His teeth… were showing long and sharp fangs. Slowly, fine and black fur started growing on his face. The more time pa.s.sed, the thicker it became until it covered his whole face. What could be seen were only his green eyes, his red nose and his shiny yellow fangs.
Azim groped his face, showing his sharp and curved claws. Then, he tried touching Elmira's smooth face. Elmira let him. She simply waited for her face being touched by Azim, just for one reason… because she wasn't afraid. Because she knew this was Azim.
However, others felt differently. There were those who were shocked, afraid and in disbelief. In fact, many had run away because they were terrified of what was in front of them. A human transformed into a frightening creature. The whole part was in an uproar. Elmira's brother had called the police who arrived in only five minutes.
Elmira and Azim were surrounded by police officers who, from the looks of their faces, didn't know exactly what to do. They were confused. Were they confronting a human or animal? That's why they just stood there; surrounding Azim, while aiming their guns.
During the cacophony, Elmira and Azim were as if they were in their own world. They stared into each other's faces. Azim enjoyed observing Elmira's gorgeous face while Elmira was looking for traces of Azim left after all the transformations. Elmira held Azim's face with both her hands. She brought her face closer until their foreheads touched.
"You're still Azim… and no matter the situation, you'll always be my Azim…" said Elmira.
Azim rubbed Elmira's face but his sharp claws inadvertently scratched her cheek until blood flowed out. Azim pulled back his hand in panic but was quickly caught by Elmira, and was then placed back on her face.
"You can never hurt me, Azim… but they can," expressed Elmira. She meant the nearly ten policemen who were waiting to shoot Azim.
"So, I want you to run. As fast as you can. As far as possible. Don't worry about me. I'll miss you, but at the same time, I know that you won't forget me… Azim, I love you."
Elmira stood up and spread her hands in front of Azim to protect him. The policemen ordered Elmira to get out of the way but she didn't move even an inch. She continued protecting Azim with her body while Azim agilely jumped onto a big tree nearby. He scaled from one branch to another, from tree to tree, until he disappeared into the night…
Three months pa.s.sed…
Elmira glanced at an empty chair next to her. It's been empty for a while, since her birthday three months ago. The scar on her cheek had subsided, nearly gone, even. However, she could still feel Azim's claw that scratched her, sc.r.a.ping Elmira's soul with his love, leaving behind a scar in her heart that won't ever disappear. Well, Elmira did not want it to disappear. Let it be with her forevermore.
That night, while Elmira was sleeping soundly, she was awoken by a scratching sound from her window. Elmira stood up. She opened the window, allowing a cute cat to enter. Its fur was black and shiny, especially when the moonlight shone on it. Elmira carried the cat and brought it to her bed. She rubbed the cat was very coquettish with her on its head. Then, the cat looked up and observed Elmira's face, scrutinising her with its green eyes. Elmira smiled and hugged the cat tightly.
"I missed you, Azim. Thanks for coming back to me…"
Munir closed the novel. He looked to the side, only realising that his black coffee was not even touched. The cup was still full but the coffee inside was already cold. Munir entered the house to reheat the coffee. He didn't want to drink it cold. When pa.s.sing by his room, he heard Adib talking to something. Munir peeked inside.
"Eh… where did that cat come from, Adib?"
"It came in from the window. Can I play with it?"
Munir approached the cat. Its fur was black and its eyes were green.
"Hmm… go ahead. But be careful. It might scratch you. When you're done, put it back outside, okay?" said Munir before leaving Adib to play with the cat while he went to the kitchen.
As he entered the kitchen, Ramlah who was cleaning some fishes suddenly stopped. Her nose was sniffing something.
"What's this smell, Munir? It's too strong that my head is hurting."
"Well… it's obviously the fish. What else…?"
"No. It's different. It's too stinky."
Munir smelled his armpits. Fragrant. Then, he neared Ramlah and smelled hers. Like fish.
"There's no smell, mom. You're talking nonsense…"
"Ha, that, that… I smell it. What book is that in your hand? I think that's the source," said Ramlah while puckering her lips towards the novel.
Munir brought the novel to his nose. It's true. It stank. He just realised it.
"It's an old book, mom… Maybe the papers started smelling."
Ramlah nodded in understanding.
After he finished reheating his coffee, Munir returned to the Veranda to continue reading.