White Trainers

Image of Long Story Short Award - Fall 2020
Image of Short Fiction
When I got home, mom was already cooking dinner. The aroma of oxtail stew traveled faster than her voice, sickening me a little in a humid summer evening. “How was the tutoring?” It was terrible. I looked at my white canvas trainers, blemished with mud from the way home. I had just bleached it for the third time in a month.

“It was okay.” I went straight into my bedroom and dumped my backpack by the desk.

I took out my quiz paper, wrinkled and folded at all four corners. I did not finish it during the two-hour tutoring session. In fact, I never finished any of them.

“I know how much you hate math, but it’s the last summer before you apply to college. You can hate it however you want after you finish the exam.” Her voice was blurred by the tinkling sound of the egg whisk beating a ceramic bowl. “It’s only a matter of a few weeks. You won’t have to deal with it after it’s all over.”

Yes, just a few weeks.
Just ten more tutoring sessions.
Just twenty hours of torturing.
But no, I will need to deal with it the rest of my life.

When I told her that Mr. B was always looking at me in a way that made me uncomfortable, she said that he was a demanding teacher, and all demanding teachers make students feel uncomfortable.

When I told her that Mr. B intentionally touched my arms and shoulders when I worked on my quiz, she said that he was trying to ease my math anxiety - “geez, what are you thinking?”

When I told her that Mr. B groped my butt and kissed my neck and all that happened afterwards - no I did not tell her that - she wouldn’t have believed it anyway. Who would have imagined that the most reputed math teacher in the town, a retired college professor, would do such things to a seventeen-year-old boy?

I stared at my quiz paper, every folded corner of which witnessed in silence how I tried to escape from his monstrous claws. Now the thought of it sickens me, just like the smell of oxtail stew, just like my mom nudging me to make the table, just like every single thing in this world.

When I sneaked out of my bedroom the next morning, my parents were still slumbering. I carefully wiped off the muddy spots with some diluted soap water. Faint brown spots still showed through, but I figured that bleaching a canvas trainer that would be soon tainted was a pure waste of time.

Mr. B lived just a few blocks away. For the entire summer, I walked to his place during the hottest time of the day, allowing the sun to ferociously scorch my skin. I never imagined that walking this road in early morning could be quite refreshing. As a breeze yet to be heated by sunlight tantalized my hair, tiny beads of sweat oozed from the tip of my nose. My white trainers, clear of any dirt or mud, contrasted sharply to the blackness of asphalt.

Mr. B lived on the third floor. I always rang the bell so he could open the front door to the building. That day I didn’t. I waited until a dog-walking lady emerged from behind the glass door. Her dog, a wary-looking German shepherd, sniffed vigilantly and barked at me. The lady tightened the leash and shushed it. “I’m sorry, he’s not usually like this,” she said apologetically. “It’s alright,” I grinned. You can’t blame a guard dog for its intuition.

I stuck a piece of gum on the peephole and knocked heavily on Mr. B’s door.

One. Two. Three.

I heard the dull sound of his slippers dragging on the floor, the sound that haunted me in my worst nightmare until I woke up to a sweat-soaked bedsheet. “Who is it?”

I did not speak and knocked again.

Mr. B, are you afraid of the silence?
Did you ever feel sorry about smothering the life in me?
Tell me, Mr. B, do you dream of me the way I dreamt of you?

It didn’t matter anymore. He opened the door.

White trainers. Now red.