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Andy stared at his feet. One was loosely covered with a yellow sock which used to be white and the other ended in long toenails cracked and encrusted with dirt. He grabbed the naked foot, pulled it to his nose and took a whiff. His head banged against the wall behind him as he reeled back from a sickly sour stench. He cast the unwashed foot away from him in disgust and sagged into the floor. He turned his head languidly and gazed at himself in the full length mirror hanging on his closet door. He was quite a sight. He looked like an old banana, mushy and brown, rotting into the floor in a white tank top and briefs, neither of which had been changed in a week. What was the point? A trail of food stains ran down the front of his tank top like a sewage spill, and the state of his underwear was best left undescribed. His hair clung to his head, matted with grease, and the corners of his eyes were gummy with yellow crust. He yawned and scratched the prickly hair around his mouth which had grown unattended since his arrival in the C.I.S. Zoo. Dirty clothes, chicken bones, used napkins, greasy utensils, and questionable stains surrounded him on the floor of his bedroom. The resulting odor was somewhere between an open dumpster in the summer and the drain of a locker room. But Andy couldn't smell it anymore. Safe inside his poster, Darth Vader looked grateful for his gas mask.
Andy's sketchbook lay halfway under the bed, dusty and ignored.
With a grunt of indifference, he pulled his weary eyes away from the mirror and stared blankly up at the ceiling like he had been doing for the last couple of hours.
A month had past since Andy's first day at the zoo. And after discovering the life-long nature of his imprisonment, he had grown more despondent with each passing day. He couldn't remember the end of one day and the beginning of the next. It was one long series of meals and sleep, meals and sleep. When he wasn't completely numb, he tried to distract himself with TV, which, like Dash promised, included every cable channel he had back home, but after five minutes his mind would drift back to his dire predicament and he would start to cry again or throw another fit. During the first few days, he threw most of his meals against the walls. He couldn't taste anything anymore anyway. His tongue had grown numb. As had his skin, which looked pale and lifeless under the cold, hard light of the zoo. He never knew how much he could miss the sun until now.
With each passing day, the number of Praxian visitors outside of his cell dwindled. Maybe he was bumming them out. Or disgusting them. He certainly hoped so. But there was one frequent visitor who was indefatigable. Andy saw him in the corner of his eyes, jumping up and down and waving enthusiastically to get his attention. He looked over lethargically at the viewing window and spotted the boy whom he had befriended on his first day. He was back with a big grin. Andy looked around and found an open book facedown on the floor within arms reach. He scooped it up and hurled it at the boy. The little Praxian yelped and lurched back as the hefty book smacked against the force field directly in front of his face.
"Beat it!" Andy shouted. The boy stared frightfully, rigid with shock. "I said scram!'" Andy shrieked at him again. Then he turned back to the ceiling with a huff and aggressively ignored the Praxian boy like every other Praxian for the past month. After a few minutes, the boy saw that Andy wasn't changing his tune. He lumbered away with his helmet drooping from his little shoulders. He shot Andy one last confused, wounded look before shuffling out of view.
"Yo, Andy," came Mo's smooth voice through the vent. "What did you do to that kid? He's dragging himself past my cell like he's about to jump off a bridge."
Andy had to admit, a pang of regret did sweep through him for lashing out at the innocent child, but he was too mired in self-pity for the guilt to linger.
"Mo, have you ever been in love?" he asked.
Mo exhaled a heavy groan. "Oh Gods..."
"I've never experienced love. I'm going to die not knowing what that feels like."
"You know what love is? Being able to party at a friend's wedding without some nag nagging you for an engagement ring on the drive home."
"She could've been the one, Mo... I know it," Andy muttered.
"Oh, for the love of... Not this again! Are you ever going stop moaning about this chick?"
"I should've told her how I felt. What was I so afraid of? What was the worst that could happen? She would've just said she likes me as a friend, and that would've been that. But at least I would have known. Now I'm going to die never knowing what could've been."
"Yeah, yeah. It's been a month already with this shit. I swear to the Unnamed Gods, if you whine about this one more time, I'm going to rip the mother of all farts right into this vent."
"She was the best, Mo. Funny and smart... And such a good friend... One time I was sick with the flu and she came over with a hot bowl of butternut squash soup and a stack of comic books..." He felt a lump growing in his throat. "And I'm never going to see her again..."
Andy fought the tears welling up like lava in his eyes. Suddenly he had a powerful hankering to see Yumi's face again. His languid body creaked and groaned as he pulled himself off the floor and staggered to his desk. She was in quite a few photos in his cell phone. But before he spotted his phone, Yumi's bag caught his attention as if it was calling out his name. He stared at it for a long moment before moving toward it. Don't do it, he thought to himself repeatedly. He knew he would be betraying her confidence, but the urge was too strong. The contents of that bag was the only connection he had left with Yumi. He was taking to the grave any secrets the contents would yield anyway, he thought.
"I'm really sorry, Yumi," he muttered out loud. "But I miss you too much..."
Mo said something but Andy didn't hear his neighbor anymore. Mo quickly grew tired of being ignored and went silent.
Andy reached out with a trembling hand and picked up Yumi's bag. Slowly at first, like he was touching a religious relic. Then he dropped onto the floor and tore into it hungrily. First he pulled out her sketchbook. He gently ran his hand across the cover and the well-worn faux leather whispered to his fingertips. How many times had he seen this sketchbook lovingly coddled in Yumi's arms? Even though it had only been a month since the start of his imprisonment, it already felt like an eternity. And the sketchbook ignited a surge of nostalgia. Just holding it in his hands and gazing at it caused a big sappy smile to break out across his face. His cheeks were tight and hesitant. He had forgotten what it felt like to smile. Then he was swept up in a rush of emotion as he cracked the cover of the sketchbook. He spent the next couple of hours lost in its pages. It wasn't like looking through an art book by some dead artist he had never known; he was delving into Yumi's mind. Seeing the world through her eyes, living her life through her drawings.
If the inside of a human brain could be visualized, Andy imagined it would resemble Yumi's sketchbook. Every page was teeming with random drawings and even more random thoughts. Much of it was everyday sketchbook fodder like people sleeping on the subway, crumbling buildings, and her cat, Biscotti, lounging in the sun. It was such a welcome window into the world Andy had left behind. Every few pages, he would stumble upon a fellow student Yumi had doodled in class. He winced with painful longing when it was one of his close friends. Sometimes Yumi would scribble out delightful little observations about the person to accompany the drawing. For example, Roger popped up early in the sketchbook. He had a habit of sticking his tongue out of the corner of his mouth when he drew, and Yumi captured it perfectly. Andy could practically hear him breathing. A little caption next to his head read, "Smelled like Funyuns today." Andy chortled. The dude did love his Funyuns.
After a few more page flips, Tony appeared as well. He was peeking over a painting easel, in a Batman T-shirt, of course. His eyes were shifty, presumably directed at the nude model he was painting. A single cartoonish bead of sweat was rolling down his forehead. A caption pointing to the drawing read, "Had a boner the whole class." Andy burst into cackles.
God, he missed them... A lump was building up in his throat again.
But he was soon distracted by a number of sketches of Yumi’s boyfriend during her first couple of years in school. There were even some cutesy cartoons of them kissing or cooking together and such. Andy hurried past these...
Somewhere in the sketchbook, Andy landed on a drawing of himself! He was at the drawing board looking sleepy. It was dated a couple of years back, close to the time when they first met. Andy felt strangely excited finding out Yumi had been looking at him long enough to draw it, especially since this was before they really knew each other. He also felt a little uncomfortable, having been completely oblivious to her prying eyes at the time. Then again, he had captured hundreds of subjects in this covert manner himself, so he was in no position to complain.
Then a funny thing happened. The next page held another drawing of Andy. This time from the opposite angle. It looked as though she had caught him in a conversation. This time the caption read "always laughs at his own jokes." Andy cringed. It was true.
After a few more pages, he found himself again! This time from behind. He was ducking behind his drawing board with a finger up his nose. "Caught him picking his nose three time today" read the caption this time. Andy flushed red, mortified, but he couldn't help but laugh. However, he started to wonder how many times Yumi had drawn him...
Flip, flip, flip, flip. There was Andy again leaning against a chair, munching on a candy bar. These quick sketches of him were coming increasingly more frequent.
Flip, flip, flip. This time with his hair shorter, a scarf around his neck. "Got a haircut today," read the caption.
Flip, flip. Andy arrived at the final two drawings in the sketchbook. There was, of course, the cartoonish drawing of him high-fiving Woody from Toy Story. But the next page, the last page before the sketchbook turned blank, held a tender portrait capturing Andy that day on the bus. The sketch triggered a wave of memories and emotions from that fateful day. His last day on Earth. His last day with Yumi. Then Andy noticed three tiny words scribbled above the portrait which froze him...
"So damn cute."
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