When Taiga came back from his class, he found me on my feet, pacing around, struggling to outsmart Isabella while dealing with a throbbing headache. She wouldn’t let me out of the room – Taiga’s orders, but also her own – and I’d attempted practically everything short of violence in my wild desperation to leave. I didn’t want to face Taiga so soon, but it seemed Isabella would make sure of it.
He opened the door, looked at Isabella, looked at me, and smiled. That’s right – he looked at me and smiled. Ever graceful, he closed the door quietly behind him, took off his backpack, and set it on his chair. Then he took off his navy blue windbreaker and hung it up in his closet. I stared at him, waiting, wondering what he was going to say. Isabella vigilantly continued blocking my path to the door.
Taiga brushed back his hair with one hand, then nodded at Isabella. “Thank you, Issa.”
“My pleasure,” she replied.
They both stared at me. I was itching to leave – I couldn’t stand this strange tension, the air feeling like it would right before a great storm or earthquake, something unnatural getting ready to be released. Of course, it was all in my head, but that didn’t make it any less real to me. I just felt an overwhelming urge to run.
An animal – trapped in a cage, or cornered and on its way. That’s what I thought I was. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Taiga spoke softly at me. “How are you?”
There was no edge to his voice, no sense of anger or even disappointment. I shook my head slightly, confused at the question, but answered anyway.
“My head hurts.”
He nodded. “That’s how it is,” he replied simply.
“Why’d you come?” I asked.
“Why’d you go?” he countered.
I frowned. Taiga swept on before I could say anything else.
“It’s not any of my business what you do with your life,” he said. “You want to join a gang, spend your nights drunk and high and committing crimes, throw away any possibility of you being happy and content in the future, well, go ahead. That’s your prerogative.”
I nodded along with his words, growing more confused by the second. When I didn’t respond, he leaned toward me slightly, a gentle smile crossing his face.
“That’s what you think, right?” Taiga said.
I blinked. “Um. Yes?”
“That’s the problem,” he replied. “I think you’re wrong there. It is my business what you do with your life. And it’s your business what I do with mine. You’re human, aren’t you? And we all know humans are social animals. See, whatever you choose to do with your life affects me, and Isabella, and everyone else around you – even the family you claim to hate, the family you claim hates you in return. What do you think will happen if you get yourself killed? You think the world will just keep spinning, time will just keep flowing, all these people will just keep living as if nothing ever happened? Because if you do, you’re wrong. Human life doesn’t work that way.”
I tried to cut in, but he raised a hand and continued on.
“And what if you, in one of your criminal sprees or drunken antics, end up killing someone else? Accidental or not, you stole someone’s life away. You think the universe isn’t going to care? Listen, I’m not going on about karma or anything religious – these are basic fundamentals of human existence. We all have a responsibility towards each other, can’t you see?”
I stared at him. After a moment he sighed and looked away.
“You can go now,” Taiga said. “I just wanted to talk to you. Just think about that, okay?”
He turned to Isabella, his speech apparently over, his tone lightening. “What’s for lunch?”
“Oh, I was thinking some kind of stew or curry,” she replied. “Let me go see what we have in the fridge.”
“Sounds good. I’ll help. I don’t have work until three.” He glanced at me, smiled, and then followed Isabella out to the kitchen.
Alone in the room, I found my urge to run away had vanished. I sat back on my bed, tired, drained. My head hurt for more reasons than one. I drank some more water and then laid back and closed my eyes. Gazing into the internal blackness, I thought about nothing – I just breathed. In, out; in, out. Some kind of weird meditation, I guess. It actually relaxed me a lot. But I didn’t go to sleep.
Instead, a half an hour later, I got up and went to class.