Countdown (January 2019, Round 1, Day 5)
The trees shuddered in the wind and dropped their leaves on the grass surrounding their trunks. The young boy sat, alone, watching and counting them as they fell. He needed to wait until 100 leaves were on the ground before he could continue his walk, and so far had only counted 30.
He didn’t count leaves every day. Some days it was songs from the birds or the presence of squirrels. What to count came to him each morning as he lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling. Today, the leaves were his key to getting to school, and thankfully the wind was helping.
“Idiot. What are you doing?” The thuggish voice startled the boy but he kept his eyes on the leaves.
“Leave him be, Marcus.” The boy noted that the girl’s voice had kindness in it even as he chaffed against the extra distraction.
“Whatever. I’m not doing anything to him. I’m just asking a question.”
“You know you’re not asking to be nice so you should just keep walking and leave him alone.”
“What, is he your boyfriend now?”
“Why does my choosing not to be an ass to someone immediatly conjur up a romantic relationship for you, Marcus? Have you never treated someone well just because they’re a human sharing your space? Do you have to want to bed someone to extend common decency to them?”
The boy smiled during the pause in the conversation and imagined the expression of confusion that was likely clouding Marcus’ face while he worked out what the girl had said to him. Marcus was many things – quick witted wasn’t one of them.
“Whatever. You and your boyfriend can be the late ones. I’m going.”
The boy felt the girl coming closer to him and he stiffened. He’d kept his focus on the leaves so far (55 had fallen during their interchange alone so he was up to 85) and didn’t want to have to start over. She didn’t disrupt him, though. She just arranged herself carefully on the grass about a foot away from him and took a book out of her bag.
A large gust of wind came at that moment and fought the girl’s hand on the pages of her book. The boy saw her struggling out of the corner of his eye as he, thankfully, saw the last 15 leaves he needed join the 85 he’d already counted on the ground. Released from the bondage created by his brain, he turned to face the girl.
He stood up and waited for her to come to the end of her page and stow her book in her bag before asking, “what are you reading?”
“A book of mythology. What were you counting?”
His eyebrows shot up. “How did you know I was counting?”
“I didn’t know, I suppose. I just guessed.”
“Do you count them every day?”
“No.” The boy started walking. “Do you read every day?”
“Yes. 50 pages, every single day.”
The two of them walked in silence the rest of the way to school.