Narrator: Penelope Lee
I sat down, beside Cameron, at the back of the bus. He was tense, broad shoulders held tight as the framework of a house amidst a storm. I watched from the corner of my eye as he bit his lower lip.
I had gone to middle school with him. He was their scapegoat, their perpetual victim, the butt of too many jokes. At some point, I must have turned a blind eye, like all my classmates had, toward his suffering.
And I knew that since that time, he'd escaped and found joy. Joy amongst the strangers I'd soon meet more of. Some, I had met in passing at Anime North. Others, I had instant-message contact with, and I knew them by the beautiful aliases of their video game characters.
As grateful as I was that we'd ran into each other before arriving at the party, I instantly grew worried. I had never seen him thus. Silent. With nothing to say. His face was livid.
Was he worried about what they'd think of me?
The young man in the black coat beside him began to speak, but then stopped himself. I was sure, at that moment, that Cameron had delivered a light kick to the guy's ankle.
He began to speak again, another syllable barely off the edge of his tongue when he stopped himself.
"Penny," Cameron said, shuffling back against his seat, "I would like you to meet my next door neighbour, Adam."
I was given a generous grin by a masculine face, shadowed by a dark hood. A warm hand extended towards me, across Cameron's lap. I gave him a confident handshake, despite how uneasy Cam looked.
"He's a boisterous, experimental, womanizing master of conversation," Cameron said aloud. "Adam -- Penny. Penny -- Adam."
I nodded, noticing that neither Cameron's choice of word's nor edgy tone had gotten any sort of reaction out of Adam. I couldn't help but enjoy the contrast between their faces, hoods, hair and eyes. Shadow and light. Brown and beige. Black and brown. Bright and dark.
"Adam, of course, is just his fit-into-white-culture name," Cameron continued.
"Sorry?" I asked.
"Fit-into-white-culture," Adam repeated, too fast for me to make much of it.
"Fit into white culture... name," Cameron said, at a normal pace. "His real name is Faruq."
"In Urdu, it means... one who knows the truth from lies," Adam boasted.
At that moment, CJ coughed what sounded like the word 'irony' under his breath. Whether Adam heard it or not, he carried on unfazed.
"He goes to the Catholic high school, Penny," Cameron added, smirking.
"Ah," I said. I could relate. 'Penelope' surely wasn't my Cantonese name. I pointed a finger at myself, "Penny -- it means, daughter whose parents name their children after characters from subtitled American television."
I had made them laugh. Good one. Too bad I wasn't a Lucy.
Cameron turned to face Adam, "She reminds you of her, doesn't she?"
"Yes," I heard Adam manage to say as he suppressed many sobs.
"The only one you ever actually loved," Cam mused. He stared out into the nearly empty bus. "Hmmm..."
For the rest of the ride, we sat in silence. I didn't know what to make of what I had heard, and I was too polite to ask. Curiosity never got the better of me at that point.
"We're there," Cameron announced. "Time to get off." He smiled to see that I had brought an umbrella as well, while Adam pressed his body against the pressure-release of the bus door.
We stepped out into the downpour, and rain washed away his tears. Neither of them noticed when I, too, began to cry. I'm full of too much compassion for my own good. He's a stranger! And judging by CJ's tone, a philanderer!
Had he been worried about what they'd think of Adam? Had he been worried that I'd remind Adam of her, whoever she was? I could only wonder, as we made our way down an alley and along a damp, uneven sidewalk.
One wet suburb, seemingly indistinguishable from any other suburb. It was more than I was used to, though. The cars in the driveways made that obvious.
The guys checked street signs and counted house numbers, and I followed. I felt like their thoughtful shadow, though I was brightly clad.
A warm...- enough jean-jacket, lined with a synthetic, thick, gentle teal fuzz, which the collar left open for display. And I wore a turtleneck blouse beneath it, so that other things weren't on display. Should've brought a rain coat.