I usually walk. Today I had driven; parked in a steep, grassy vacant block that I knew from my walk.
Afterwards, making my way to where I had parked, one of my students, Quoc, ran up to me and asked if he could get a lift. He had run hard to catch me, and when I asked him where he was going I saw a look of alarm cross his face between the ragged breaths he was taking.
“You usually go through town don’t you, sir?”
“Well, into town then. Just drop me somewhere convenient.”
I told him that was fine and we picked our way down the slippery hillside to where I had parked. Nearing the car I saw him glance back up the hill; once again a look of alarm crossed his face. Following his gaze I saw a teenager with a bright purple bob coming towards us quite quickly.
“We should get in the car, sir.”
Something in his tone made me do as he said, almost thoughtlessly. As soon as I let him in he locked his door and, finding the car had no central locking, nearly shouted at me, “Lock your door!”
As I pushed the lock down I saw a flash of bright purple in the side mirror and suddenly the teenager had her faced pressed against my driver’s window. She was pale and quite pretty, but in an abstract way, like a china plate can be pretty. Her eyes were completely abnormal, flat and dull, and her head moved back and forth as if she were a snake about to strike. She tried to open the door, found it locked, and tried again, yanking the handle back and forth with such force that the car rocked.
I knew I had to drive. To start the car, put it in gear, and get away from this strange, fluorescent haired girl-thing as soon as possible, but then she put her face to the glass and said a nonsense word. It was cold but the word made no mist on the glass.
With the word, I knew that I had to unlock the door and let her into the car. I reached for the lock but Quoc grabbed my hands and held them firmly in his own. Outside the car I saw that Quoc’s brothers and, even more bizarrely, his father, were arranged on his side of my car – outside, but seemingly unafraid of the girl-thing. His brother Truoc, fat and almost painfully shy, was licking the bonnet.
“Say ‘Bethish,’ sir. Say it quickly.”
A kitchen. Quoc’s brothers and his father are at the table sitting on mismatched chairs. On the table are two houseplants. The one on the left is brown and withered, the water it is sitting in is black like oil. The brothers and the father are staring intently at the plants. Truoc is licking half an onion.
“Say it, sir. Say it. Bethish. Say it. Bethish.”
It seems unimportant, not nearly as important as opening the car door, but to please him I say the word. He was always a good student.
The black water that one of the house plants is sitting suddenly turns clear. Immediately the plant begins to look healthier, green flushing its leaves.