Updated: Jul 31
Posted on: July 31, 2022
Cover Image: "Broken Toys"
Cover Image by: Meiliyl
Out in the world in a certain city, there existed a child.
This child was a clever one, an observant one. They could clearly see that their parents only got together due to each other’s exterior beauty, and every year, that superficial love waned. To those parents, the child was but a puppet playing a role in a picture perfect `family`. The child could tell that certain classmates only saw them as an answer key to the homework; used when needed, then tossed aside and forgotten when not. The child felt that everyone just selfishly wanted to take from those around them, and the care people showed were all empty compliments made to achieve their goals. The child saw themself as a rag being ruthlessly wrung by countless hands; every drop of usefulness carefully savoured and every pair of arms relentlessly trying to squeeze out more than what the child had left.
Plastered on the face of the doll-like child was all that seemed left: an exaggerated but empty, suffocated smile.
As the years came and went, the child grew older. However, in their eyes, not much had changed. The people around them seemed as hungry as always — only now, people seemed to put more effort into painting the shallow masks they wore prettier.
The child, now an adult, changed slightly as well over time. They started to find these shallow masks of others rather interesting. Watching people hide behind polite faces whilst scheming behind others’ backs and seeing people’s facades crumble when their frustration hit a peak became the child’s hobby. `Friend` after `friend` would be subtly tested to see how far they were willing to go in the name of `friendship`. `Confesser` after `confesser` would be made to prove how much their `love` for the child actually amounted to. And person after person would leave the child’s side in time; another old toy added to the pile
Seeing the shattered masks of each person littered around the child gave them a contradicting happiness. They absolutely detested the idea of people giving them plastic, fake affection out of politeness, so finally seeing the disguise crumble was like the satisfaction of having fresh air to breathe. Moreover, the numerous failed testees served as validation towards the child’s thoughts — Everyone is selfish in the end.
However, each disguise that crumbled brought along a small, pricking unhappiness as well. Though the child believed that they had long accepted and embraced the fact that people are selfish and pure love is an illusion, they still felt empty. Their mind was still unwilling to let go of that illusion.
The child’s selfish wish, what they wanted from others, was someone who truely cared for them.
Yet person after person broke under the trials and abandoned the lonely child; person after person chose to leave. Again and again, a new politely smiling face greeted them, and again and again, the child would give the stranger an equally plastic, hollow smile in return.
The finger pressing down on the doorbell lessened its pressure and the hand fell back to the individual’s side for the 10th or so time. A shoe tapped impatiently against the cement ground.
‘What’s taking them so long?’ the figure thought in annoyance, ‘Did their doorbell break down or something? Do I have to knock instead?’ Despite there being clear annoyance in their mind, the edges of their mouth was still curled upwards in a habitual smile, as if the grin was stuck on their face.
‘Or, did they ghost me?’ A thought that was seemingly amusing — since the smile on their face widened — flickered through their mind.
Raising their knuckle to rap the door once just in case the door alarm had indeed malfunctioned, a door opened before they had the chance. But it wasn’t the door the person was waiting for; rather, it was the door to the person’s immediate left. The neighbour peeked out of a small crack before sighing in relief and letting the door swing.
It was an elderly woman who was very amiable and kind to both the person and the one not answering their door. The figure was confused as to why the lady was being so paranoid, and cocked their head to the side appropriately.
“Cseraillian, why did you come back here? I thought you were a loan shark that was coming to smash things up!” The old lady cried in a suppressed manner.
“Come back here? Why is that so strange? I’ve dropped by about a hundred times now.” Then, the person’s eyes narrowed indiscernibly and questioned, “And why would you think Yanne would have loan sharks visi- . . . They borrowed?!” The person’s perpetual smile actually fell off their face in that moment as shock electrified every cell in their body.
In disbelief, they couldn’t help but refute; “ Why would Yanne borrow money from those people? She isn’t doing that poorly, right?” The lady shook her head slowly, “ I’m not sure exactly why either. But I think it probably had to do with her getting really sick around a month ago. The symptoms never got better.”
“They never said anything about sickness or money problems. . .” they muttered slowly while racking their brains of every interaction with Yanne during the past month. “No, how come I never realised any of this before?” The figure was confused; Yanne’s decisions completely derailed their expectations of what a person in her situation would do.
“I think it’s understandable that you wouldn’t have known before. Seeing her every day, I would have never noticed her being sick if I didn’t hear the harsh coughs and see the-” With a sigh, she cut herself off from the unpleasant memories. Then, the old lady gave a sad smile, “ In not-so-well-off apartments like these, everyone already knows how thin the walls are. Yet she still kept that face up in front of me and the two misters on the other side. She had always been unhappy with one-sidedly receiving favours and pity.” The elderly lady patted their shoulder.
Somewhere along the way, the fake smile had dragged itself back into the individual’s features. “I. . . I see.” Each word was spoken heavily. “If that is the case, then I really should get going. Ma’am, could you help me get a hold of Yanne? I’m not sure if they have moved because of the debt collectors but she hasn’t answered the door.”
A puzzled expression formed on the elderly woman’s face. In response, the person explained, “I want to talk to her and help her out as a-” their voice halted as their expression warped for a split second before returning to its previous state, “as a `friend`.”
“Yanne is- Yanne passed away a few days ago, didn’t you know?”
Cseraillian stopped in his tracks, head still turned backwards to look at the lady. Another crack appeared on his smile. Their eyes, originally blank as usual with some cloudiness as a show of confusion, immediately focused as their pupils constricted.
Even the person’s mouth gaped slightly; however, the smile etched onto their features did not fade.
For the longest time, there was only silence between them. The old lady seemed to realise that the figure had no idea of Yanne’s passing, and she was at a loss on what to say after unknowingly breaking such thunderous news to them. The figure swayed a bit before uneasily lowering themselves to the floor to prevent a hard fall. Those eyes returned to their unfocused state and the person squatted against a wall with a lost expression.
‘What now?’ they absentmindedly wondered, ‘They went completely off-rail and suddenly died before I could even ask or understand what’s going on? Should I move onto another test?
This one ended before I could reach a conclusion- wait, that doesn’t seem right.’ They sat up straighter and a hand cupped their mouth as they sorted their jumbled thoughts, ‘So far, the only endings I have reached are the subject leaving; somehow, I don’t see Yanne’s passing as an ending. Meaning that if the subject were still present, I would continue testing them.
So then, when would these trials ever end?
When they have sufficiently `proved` themselves was the vague answer I always thought of, but I don’t think I ever had ideas of where that standard would be placed. It’s reasonable to believe that there truly wouldn’t be any ending besides leaving and passing; no matter what, I don’t think my suspicion would ever fade. Therefore, this was an impossible game at the very start.’
The little game that brought the person so much amusement at the start of it all grew into a foreign object, something they didn’t seem to recognise anymore. ‘Why did I start this game?’ they puzzled hazily, staring at their `friend’s` old door, ‘I can’t remember.’
‘I think I just wanted someone I could trust, but I obviously chose the wrong way. Maybe, if I actually tried, some of those from the past could have been friends. Selfishness, huh? I’m the same as everyone else, wanting something from others and spewing fake care out of politeness; why did I ever think that my wish held a priority?’
The hunched figure recalled something, and shoved his hand into a lining pocket. They hastily retrieved a long forgotten item before fumbling it due to their impatience. They watched the object fall through the air in slow motion, hearing the crash of its impact with the ground. It was a tiny ceramic charm of a fox plush. Small shards flew out which allowed one to see into its hollow interior, and cracks cut through the fox’s smile.
Their vision blurred and they felt a particular hotness around their eyes. Their throat felt sore, as if there were a thousand words and apologies they were forced to swallow down. On their face there remained a smile; a twisted, empty, pained and broken smile.
A slight breeze picked up, and the figure could hear an unfamiliar but incredibly even voice state:
“Those who only know to test others will be the one taught a painful lesson in the end.”