My brother was leaving today. I wasn’t going to see him off.
A loud rapping on my door jolted me out of my chair.
“Peter, I need to talk to you,” a voice called from the other side.
Mike didn’t wait for a reply. He barged in looking somewhat flustered.
“Mike.” I smiled.
“I need to talk to you.”
I motioned for him to go on. Wearily, he sat down and waited, as if walking to a cliff. A deep breath, and slowly words started to spill out of him.
“For as long as I can remember, since childhood, I had an imaginary best friend. He was very real to me, you know. But I always knew he wasn’t actually real. When I was six, my family died in a freak accident, and I was taken in by Ms. Hopkins. She was a wretch—you know all that. I was lonelier then than ever.
“But my imaginary friend was always there,” he looked at me intently. “His name was Peter, just like you. My chummiest chum, he was.
“One night, can’t even remember why, we stayed up late just talking. I told him I wished he was real. We talked about that a lot.
“We watched a shooting star that night. We both wished he was my real brother.
“Next morning, we found a boy in the group house, sleeping sound on the sofa. Unbelievably, ha. Ms. Hopkins freaked out, but somehow, he ended up staying with us.
“His name was Peter, Peter who became my brother, who had similar memories to mine. Peter who looked exactly like my imaginary friend—who vanished after this other Peter showed up—you.”
Mike stared intensely at the ground, looking like a chess player calculating every possible move. Neither of us spoke and minutes passed in silence. When he did finally speak again, there were tears in his eyes that held me in a firm gaze. “That’s why Peter… That’s why I’ve grown up now, but you haven’t. Why I’m leaving, but you’ll stay.
“I’m sorry, Peter, you’re a figment of my imagination and I can’t—I can’t—”
“It’s Ok, Mike,” I smiled. “I don’t mind not growing up. I’m happy for you. You get to leave this hellhole. I’m so proud of you, lad.”
“Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.” I cocked my head slightly, still smiling.
“You were a good brother, Pete.” He stood up.
“So were you.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box. “I think you’d like to keep this.” He smiled for the first time.
“Thanks, I will.”
He made his way to the door, but stopped short and paused for several moments before turning back to face me.
“I won’t be seeing you again, will I?”
“No, Mike. You won’t be.”
He nodded slowly, as if understanding.
* * *
I grinned at the contents of Mike’s box.
Gently, I placed it in my collection. A horde of polished trinkets regarded me with a look I wish I could recognize.
Though, I think I’m starting to.
By Sumayya F. Syed