The Boy Who Cried Wolf
I looked into the fridge to find we were out of jam. Once again. The bottle looked pretty clean-almost as if it had been licked clean, actually.
It was pretty hard raising a hungry kid of sixteen, a hungry girl of twenty and their even hungrier dog. I’m sure my mother would agree.
I hooked the leash on Kai’s collar and we went out for a walk to visit my neighbour-classmate-and probably the only friend I had-Roderick Wayne.
Roderick Wayne. Or rather, the Boy who cried Wolf, as he was better known. Wayne lived two blocks over, was blond, tall, seventeen, and the biggest liar probably born on the planet. We went to the same school, and he was the closest thing I had to a best friend. Most of the guys at school didn’t even know Wayne’s real name; they just called him the Boy who cried Wolf. Some others knew him as Eric Summers, and some others knew him as a Russian immigrant on the run from “the authorities”. I’m pretty sure they believed him, too.
Wayne lived in this tiny two-room apartment with his younger sister. All the times I was there, I never saw his father or his mother around. I just came to believe he had no parents to look over him, and he was the only one who cared for his sister.
“My father is a test pilot for the Air Force. He’s out on his missions, and is never home. My mother died when I was three…Father takes care of me now. When he’s out on his missions, though, I am the only one in the house.”
“My mother left us when I was just a kid. Dad works at the supermarket in Tucson, but we couldn’t get a house there, so we live here. He visits every Sunday, however.”
“I have no parents. My uncle lives down the street, and he’s the one who got us the house. I guess it’s hard, but hey, I get to live alone, don’t I?”
The lies were endless. Everybody who asked about it got a different story. I was the only one who knew better, but even I knew better than to ask too many questions.
See, none of us is born a Gandhi-we all lie to get our ways. We all lie to our parents, to our friends and to ourselves. But we lie once in a while. We lie when there is no other choice. Wayne lied because he could, because he was good at it. He lied, because he had another chance to lie. He lied, because we expected him to lie.
I asked him about it once. We were on the schoolhouse roof and bunking classes.
“Wayne, I know you better than anybody else, right?”
It was one of those rare moments when Wayne was actually in a thoughtful mood, and not lying. “Sure thing, Austin”
“Then tell me something, alright? Tell me about your lies. I wanna know why, Wayne. Why do you do that?”
He laughed. “Why do I lie? I’ll tell you why, Oz. It’s because lying helps me to get over the truth. It’s because when I lie about something, I can actually pretend things aren’t what they really are, and for a moment or two, I can actually forget this joke that somebody up there decided to play on me.”
“You mean you lie to escape the truth? That’s just cowardly, Wayne. You’re not a coward.”
He was still smiling, but there was something bitter about the smile now.
“My father is an alcoholic drunk, who comes home once every week to beat me and my sister and take all the money he can find in the house. Instead of trying to run away from that, now I just wait for him to come home and then give him the money I get from the part-times I do. It isn’t much, but it keeps me and my sister from being beaten. It keeps us safe, and lets me have just enough left over to feed the two of us. Instead of telling you all this, I just tell you he’s a worker in a different city. What do I get out of that? I don’t have to take your pity. And maybe for just one moment, I can pretend I’m actually just a normal kid with a normal life, whose father works in a different city than the one he lives in.
I lie to escape your pity. I lie to escape my life. Is that cowardly, Austin?”
I didn’t have an answer to that. Thankfully, I didn’t have to answer that. We were still just sixteen.
Wayne wasn’t good with his grades. I was one of the better kids in the class. I tried to help him out with his studies, and even though he tried, he never really seemed to get the hang of it. I guess it wasn’t his fault. He was at school in the day, and out at the gas station or the bakery or on the street delivering papers at other times. Sometimes, I would go over to his place and play with his sister and teach her stuff. She was good with her letters and numbers.
“I’m trying to get her into a foster home. I’m trying to find somebody to take care of her,” he told me once when we were walking back from school.
“Did you find a place?”
“She’s still not an orphan. I’m eighteen now, and legally, her guardian, and I’m not a drunk. I’d have to be dead to get her someplace.”
“What about foster parents? Maybe just somebody who doesn’t have kids of their own?”
He was silent for a while. I guess it wasn’t easy to just hand over your only family in the world to some stranger. I guess it wasn’t easy to have your sister grow up with different parents, and never see you again.
“I hadn’t thought of that.”
I guess it’s not something you would ever think of.
“I have to go home early today, Miss Gwen. My sister is sick, and she’s getting out of school now. Could I go home early today, please, Miss Gwen?”
Our teacher looked up at Wayne.
“You don’t have a sister, Wayne… Do you?”
“I do, ma’am! She’s at Brookville High, she started just this year!”
The Boy who cried Wolf was not unknown even in the staff room. I knew Stacy hadn’t started school yet, but I could guess why Wayne needed to go early.
“He really does, Miss Gwen. Her name’s Stacy, and she’s at Brookville, like he said.”
“Are you sure, Austin?”
“Yes ma’am, Miss Gwen.”
Miss Gwen looked at me, sighed and then looked at Wayne again. She tore off a permission slip from the book. “Just this once, okay, Wayne?”
Wayne looked at me as he went out. I smiled at him, and he smiled back.
We were at the schoolhouse roof. Now we had beer to help us bunk classes.
“Heard your sister is getting married?”
My sister was now twenty-two, and engaged to her classmate from medical school. They were planning their marriage for next month.
“Yeah. Dad’s not too happy about it. He says it’s too early. He’s had quite some rows with Ma about it.”
“I wonder what he’d say if he knew his son was planning to get married before even breaking his twenties?”
I scowled and punched his arm. “That was just to shut you up, okay? Nicky’s the one who wants to get married, not me!”
“Sure, sure, Ozzie boy…. Just be sure to keep a free drink bar when you do get married, okay?”
We both looked at each other and laughed. Life was easy like that, when you were laughing.
We were still just seventeen.
I was out of school for some days. I had the flu. Our exams were coming up, and I thought it was better that I stay at home and get well before going back to school and having a relapse or something.
Wayne visited me one evening.
“I found a family. They have a dog. You think Stacy gonna be okay with a dog?”
“Yeah, sure, why not..she loves Kai a lot, doesn’t she?”
“Yeah, I guess. These guys…the Wilsons…Stacy Wilson sounds nice, doesn’t it?”
“What about you? You okay with it? Did you tell her about it?”
“She shouted at me. Says she’s not going anywhere without her brother. She’s met the mother once though, and they seemed to get along well. She tried to convince them to take me too.”
“What’d they say?”
“Oh, they wanted me too. They wanted to have both of us…I just told them I was terminal, and not gonna live long enough to hit even twenty. They’re taking just Stacy now.”
Sometimes it was hard even for me to know when my best friend was lying, and when he was being serious.
My exams came and went. I went down with the flu again. My sister got married, and I went to the church. Her boyfriend looked kind of scary, but I guess that was just because of his tattoos. The flu and the getting-better lasted for more than a month. I had no news of Wayne. He never used to visit me too much anyway. I got his card at the wedding, though. It was signed “The Boy who cried Wolf”.
It was almost two months before I visited Wayne again at his place. He was playing with his sister. He looked sick and frail. Very sick and frail.
“Got your card at the wedding. Thought you’d be there too, though.”
“Was there a drinks bar?”
“Not this time.”
“Well, you have your answer”, he grinned. “You look well.”
“You don’t. What’s wrong with you? How’s Stacy?”
“Leaving. She’ll be gone by next month. Twenty-seventh.”
“She agreed to it?”
“Once I explained what terminal meant, yeah.”
“Stop fooling around. What’s wrong with you, anyway? And don’t tell me you’re ‘terminal’.”
“I’ve got cancer.”
There was nothing bitter in his smile now. In fact, it looked almost as if he was actually smiling.
“I get two months.”
It seems the big, bad wolf really does come around to kill the boy and his sheep in the end.
It’s been two years now since Wayne has been dead. My parents have been divorced for the past year now. My sister’s in rehab. Her husband’s dead of a drug OD, and they say she will lose the baby too. I visit her sometimes. She’s gotten very thin. My mother visits us sometimes. She says she’s sorry, and I believe her. I am sorry too. My friends ask, and I tell them my sister’s in the hospital after a car accident. I tell them my mother is sick, and in hospital too. My teachers ask, and I tell them I’m okay, my grades will definitely get better this time around. I lie to them. I wonder how long it is before they start calling me the Boy who.
I was at Wayne’s funeral. I met the Wilsons. It seems they knew about him and his condition, and that’s why they took Stacy in so quick. She cried the whole hour, and wanted to know if I was hiding her brother.
The parents seemed nice; his sister will have a much better life than he ever did. They put up some verse from the Bible on his tombstone, and it looks very grand. I visit the place sometimes. I think we should have put his name up there too — the Boy who cried Wolf. He would’ve had a good laugh about it.
I sit on the schoolhouse roof, but I’m always alone nowadays. The beer is still there, though. I think about my best friend. Did he die happy? Did he live happy? I don’t have the answer to either question. I have the answer to his other question, though. It’s not cowardly.
It gets hard to escape life now. We are already twenty.