By HB (15 years old)
Ominous clouds moseyed across the darkened sky, accompanied by periodic lightning flashes. Glancing nervously at the sky, I hastened my footsteps. I was on my way home after school. As I trudged down the street, I couldn’t help but deplore the depressing state of the street. “Ghettoville is always dirty and foul. I wish we can move to another town,” I thought. The houses stood so close together that one could clearly hear the families through the thin walls when they raised their voices. “God, I hate this place!” I mumbled.
We used to be a happy family before we moved to Ghettoville late last year. There were always laughter and silly jokes in our house. Every weekend, Dad would bring us out to a different place. However, things changed quickly when Mom and my sister Jane, were badly injured in a car accident. It took two years for them to get back on their feet and the medical fees were horrendous. To make matter worse, my dad’s business closed down shortly after the accident due to the debts he owed to several people. We sold off all our possessions to pay the debts and moved to Ghettoville where we could afford the rent for the hovel we now lived in.
“Is mom okay?” I asked. She was lying on the bed, her face pale and her hair drenched in sweat. “She’s down with flu,” Dad answered shortly. He had been speaking fewer words since the accident. “It’s all right, James. I’m fine,” Mom assured. “You always say you are fine and yet you aren’t! Stop lying to me!” I cried out vehemently as anger swelled within me. “James! Stop talking back at your mother!” Dad bellowed. “It’s not fair! We have to live in this tiny, filthy place. Mom and Jane are forever sick. I hate this life! And I hate you!” I shouted and stomped out of the house.
Toto barked in delight as he saw me coming. “You have no idea what’s going on,” I told him sadly as I bent down to pat his furry head. He licked my hands, wagging his tail furiously. He was expecting me to play with him. Trying to shoo him off, I said, “No, I don’t feel like playing. Go away!” Toto barked again. He was my only friend. I had him five years ago when he was a mere puppy. Since then, he had never failed to bring me cheer whenever I felt depressed. He continued to use his wet nose to nudge my face gently. “Let’s go for a walk, Toto,” I finally relented.
The sky had cleared. As we strolled down the lane, I could see litter being strewn all over the ground and there was obscene graffiti on the walls. In the dark corner of an alleyway, some shady looking boys were smoking cigarettes. One of them used his middle finger to make a crude gesture at me, so I hurried past them.
We stopped at the only book store in the seedy neighbourhood. On seeing me, the burly shop owner asked rudely, “What do you want, boy?” “Can I have a copy of the ‘Sword of Steel’?” I asked. He handed me the dirty comic book. “Three dollars!” he said. “That’s a rip-off! It’s supposed to be only two dollars!” I protested but as I met his intimidating gaze, I gave in without a word.
Holding the comic book in my hand, I left the book shop with Toto close at my heels. As I rounded the corner, I noticed the boys were still loitering at the alley. They stared nastily at me and two of them began to trail after me. “What do you want?” I asked them at last. “Hand the comic over, brat!” one of the boys demanded. “What if I don’t?” I retorted before bolting. I ran as fast as my legs could carry me but the rest of the gang were already at the other end, effectively cutting off my escape route.
Beads of perspiration dripped down from my forehead as a powerful fear gripped my innards. My heart was pounding rapidly and my legs were shaking badly while the gang of hooligans was closing in on me. “If you don’t want to land in a hospital, hand it over!” yelled their chief. He continued to advance upon me, swaggering arrogantly.
Baring his fangs, Toto suddenly sprang towards him. The gang leader screamed as Toto sank his fangs into his left arm. “Get this stupid dog off me!” he roared. One of his lackeys pulled Toto off and hurled him onto the ground. “Toto!” I cried. Three of the louts started to kick him. “That brainless dog had to pay for what it had done!” the injured miscreant yelled. My heart broke at the sight of my dear Toto lying helplessly on the dirty ground. The assaulters were going to kick him to death. “Stop!” I screamed, trying to push them away but at that moment, Toto let out a weak bark and dropped his head onto the ground. He was dead.
A blanket of blinding grief descended. The whole world seemed like it was collapsing on me. Just then, I heard the wail of sirens reverberating through the air. Two police cars were speeding towards us. “It’s the police! Run!” The leader of the pack shouted and they fled like there was no tomorrow. Before long, the police cars screeched to a stop. “What had happened, boy?” a constable asked. “Toto is dead. Toto is dead,” I said blankly. He tried to get the details from me but when he saw me sobbing piteously, he decided to let me be.
The police took me and the Toto’s corpse home. On seeing me with the police officers, Dad asked anxiously, “Are you alright, Hui?” So, with tears running down my dampened face, I told my family about the incident. Jane and Mom began to cry, too.
We buried Toto at the hill behind our house. As I placed a bouquet of flowers on his grave, sadness overwhelmed me. Kneeling before his grave, I whispered, “You gave up your life for me, Toto. Thank you, my dearest friend and goodbye. I will miss you terribly.”