Chris felt a tinge of pity and asked whether he would like some company. He was surprised to see how a simple offer could make the boy’s face light up. He grinned. “So, what’s your name?”
“S-Sam …” stuttered the boy, smiling.
“Chris! What’s the hold-up?” Adam called from inside.
Chris sighed. “Sorry, I’ll be back in a second.”
He got up and went inside, leaving Sam behind the gate.
His father was setting the table for breakfast. “What happened?” he asked.
Chris smiled reassuringly, “Nothing, just talking to the new neighbour. They have a kid my age and he’s being punished at the front gate. Can I talk to him?”
His dad mumbled something about social distancing but agreed as long it’s behind the gate and Chris wore his mask. Chris raced outside to tell Sam but to his surprise, he was gone.
“Stop it! Sto—” the screams had words this time. Cries and pleas, like the ones in horror movies.
Chris shuddered, pressing the pillow against his ears. He had no idea what to make of it. He felt the same annoyance but this time with fear. The screaming was like usual, all the way to the wee hours of the morning. Chris tried to decipher its meaning.
Why did this night feel worse than the last?
Sam was back the next day.
“Are you still grounded?” asked Chris, removing his mask.
Sam shook his head. “N-No … just w-wanted to see you again,” he replied.
The timid tone made Chris concerned but he let it slide. “Sooooo … well, do you like sports?”
At that moment, they hit it off. They rambled on and on about all things sports-related, from their favourite sport, the last Olympics, and even things like equipment and clothing.
“Well, I prefer Adidas shoes. They’re comfy!” Sam giggled, earning a pout from Chris. “What?!”
“Nothing, Adidas is cool too.” Chris crossed his arms. “But … I guess Nike is just as cool.”
They laughed and started talking about basketball. Chris glanced at his watch. They had been sitting there for an hour. It was nice talking to someone in person other than his dad.
Comforting, actually. Sure, he did call his friends but it was just not the same. He made a mental note to tell them about Sam.
All of a sudden, his thoughts shifted to the screaming and he blurted out, “Why is there someone screaming at your house every night?”
The mood instantly changed. Sam tensed up, his eyes darting. He glanced at his front door and started frowning. Chris silently swore for asking the question in the first place.
“Oh … o-oh! Well, uhh … well, umm …” stuttered Sam, trying to reply. His eyes kept darting to his apartment.
“My dad … just … really likes watching football with me every night! He gets excited.”
Sam smiled widely. Too widely, in Chris’s opinion.
Sam changed the topic to winter sports. Chris bit his lip, deciding not to press the matter further.
The screaming started at 11pm. This time, the voice was clearer. It was Sam, screaming incoherent apologies, cries, and sounds that were haunting. Chris heard a woman too and she sounded worse. He could practically feel the soreness of her voice in his throat. The feeling of annoyance and anger had dissipated, replaced by worries, questions and thoughts.
Sam had lied.
Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Behind the Gate by Sumaiyya Zuleikha Farid Wajidi. It is part of a series of pandemic stories in Lives Under Lockdown: A Young Writer’s Anthology. Priced at RM32.90, the book is available at MPH Bookstores. Royalties from the sale of the book will be channeled to SOLS Health Community Centres.