A sixteen-year-old boy lay in the middle of a football field in the middle of a public park in London. His face was smothered in moist green grass. The sun baked the back of his neck till it turned bright red. When the boy regained consciousness he immediately felt the pain of the sun on his back. When he felt the back of his neck, he realized that his skin was so dry and hard that it started to crack. Then he saw someone kneeling near him.
It was a young girl about his age. She wore colourful clothes and had delicate hands as white as vanilla yoghurt.
"Are you okay? What happened to you?" she said with a voice of concern.
"I…uh…I don't know. Who are you?"
"I'm Emily. What's your name?"
Emily reached over Nora's body to pick up an empty bottle of beer. "Look's like you had too much to drink last night."
"I can't remember anything." Nora sat up. "What am I doing in the middle of a football field?"
"I don't know. When I saw you lying here I thought you needed first aid. I have a certificate in first aid, so I came over, but you were just sleeping." She got up and lifted Nora. "You're a heavy guy."
At first Nora thought he could walk but found himself being stabilized by Emily after he became dizzy and almost fell. When he walked he felt his legs give way after they made contact with the ground.
Emily adjusted her grip on Nora. She was virtually hugging him. "Do you live around here?"
"Yeah, my house is way over there." He pointed to the distance. "We'll have to climb over the fence to get in the backyard." He then felt a sharp pain in his legs and kneeled down to his shins, noting that they were badly bruised. In fact, blood was coming out of his left shins. Now that he was aware of the blood coming out of his shins, the bleeding seemed to intensify.
"Yucky!" said Emily. "You're bleeding. Should I call an ambulance? I have a mobile phone on me." She took out her phone and lay Nora back down on the grass.
"Don't call the police! Call my parents instead. Their number is 7419-5374-12369." Nora suddenly felt his forehead burn up again. He lied down on the grass as Emily spoke on the phone. He wiped his hand on the moist grass then transferred this moisture to his forehead to cool it. He then noticed that his watch was missing from his left wrist. Worst of all, the wrist was badly bruised as if someone had wrapped a metal cord around it and tightened it. He looked at his right wrist and saw it covered with rope.
Someone had looped about ten times around his right wrist white nylon rope. He loosened the rope so that blood would freely circulate around his fingers. Since it was tightly tied around his hands it had penetrated his skin. Now that it was loosened, blood came pouring out. The sighted made him dizzy and he blacked out in seconds.
When Nora woke up again he found himself on his bed. In the room with him he saw his father, his mother, the local physician Dr Jonk, and another man whom Nora realized was private investigator John Silencer. He checked his legs and wrists to see whether the wounds were real or whether he dreamt the whole thing.
They were real. His legs and hands were in casts.
"Don't worry too much about your legs and hands now," said the doctor. "Just try to relax and get some sleep."
"What happened to me?" asked Nora.
John, the private investigator, spoke. "Why did we find you tied up with ropes?"
Nora tried to think back but couldn't recall anything.
"He has amnesia," said Dr Jonk. "He won't be able to recall anything since last month."
Realising that Nora was useless, the private detective turned to his parents. "What was he doing the night before we found him in the football fields?"
"He was just going out with friends to watch a movie. He goes out all the time but nothing ever happens to him."
"With whom did he go out?"
"He went out with his usual friend," said Nora's mother. "Richard…"
"Full names please," said the private investigator as he frantically scribbled the names in his notebook.
"Richard Huygens and Sherwin Brown."
"And did Nora associate with these people often?"
"Yes, very often."
"Are Richard and Sherwin aggressive people? Did they take drugs? Were they violent?"
"No, they came over here for dinner many times. They're polite. Nora's been friends with them for about five years now."
Investigator Silencer then turned his attention to Nora again. "Is this true?"
"Yes," said Nora. "I remember Sherwin and Richard, but I don't remember what I did with them last night."
Mum spoke to the private investigator. "Do you know what happened to him?"
"We have some hypotheses," said Silencer. "I'll discuss them with you in private."
The doctor took the thermometer out of Nora's mouth and recommended he sleep for a few hours before being able to walk again.
After sleeping for a while, Nora woke up. But he didn't wake up in frenzy. No, Nora kept his eyes closed and his body still. His chest rose up and down slowly as he breathed. His ears were conscious and hearing things. He heard two men next to him speaking to each other. Recognising their voice he realised that they were Dr Jonk and the private investigator John Silencer.
What the two men said shocked Nora and compelled him to pretend to be asleep so he could eavesdrop on the conversation.
"We will never tell Nora what really happened to him," said the private investigator. "His knowing it may be too much for a young boy. It may haunt him for the rest of his life."
"I agree," said the physician. "Should we tell the parents?"
"No," said Silencer. "We'll tell no one. We don't want the media to get their hands on this. I have shares in Potter Pharmaceuticals, and news like this could prevent the Potter Corporation from expanding to London."
"I performed chromatography on Nora's blood."
"What were your results?"
"We found high concentrations of chloroform as well as chemicals that induce memory loss."
"Just as I suspected. This is the last time those people harm another human life. Those people chose to harm innocent youngsters. Now it's personal."
The two men then left, leaving Nora all alone to contemplate what he had just heard. He knew now that something had happened to him the night before and that the authorities were covering it up.
As Nora lied on his comfortable bed in his small bedroom with posters and old action figures scattered around everywhere, he thought about his youth. He was the only son of the family. And before he met Richard and Sherwin he was a loner at school. He then started to think about who tied him up, forming suspects in his mind as he lied in bed and looked out the window. Because his bedroom was on the second floor, he could see the London skyline in the distance. The skyscrapers were covered in fog. It was a bitterly cold day.
He then wondered whether Sherwin and Richard were really his friends or whether he wanted to be friends with them because he didn't want to be alone. He then thought about the girl whom he spoke to that morning. Her soft brown hair reminded him of his little sister who died in a car accident while he was playing with her on the road. Whenever he looked out the window he always looked at the plum tree below, for his sister was attempting to climb this plum tree before she fell into the path of a car. From where he was the plum tree had shed its leaves and there were no plums on it. Since there were no leaves, he could see through the tree towards the pavement. He saw people walking, strolling along slowly; they were free to go anywhere they wanted to. This freedom filled Nora with envy, for he was trapped upstairs in his bedroom with casts all over his body.
Nora's mother came in, looked at her son with pity, and said, "Your friends have come to see you."
"I don't want to see them," said Nora. "Leave me alone."
"They're downstairs. It'd be awfully rude of me to tell them to go away. Have a chat with them. Maybe they can cheer you up."
He reluctantly accepted. When Richard and Sherwin walked in, he saddened the expression on his face to make them pity him more.
Richard Huygens wore jeans and a trendy jumper with dark green and black strips. His short black hair matched his jumper and contrasted against his slightly tanned but pale face. He wore thin-framed Calvin Klein glasses. His upper lip was slightly in front of his lower lip. His eyebrows were well defined and prevented light from the top reaching his eyes, which were small, dark, and active; his eyeballs moved around the room quickly, analysing all the characteristic features like the walking stick, the medicine on the table, the cast on Nora's legs and arms, the bowl at the base of the bed in which Nora urinated, and, finally, Richard looked at Nora's face, acknowledging the sadness written all over it.
There were two seats in the room. One seat was for the computer desk and the other was for the writing desk.
While Sherwin chose to take the seat on the writing desk, Richard remained standing. He hovered around the room for a while, checking every corner of it, poking the stress balls on the desk, and flicking through the physics textbook, reading portions of it while softly stroking his clean-shaven chin. He finally put the book down, walked up to Nora, and said, "How art thou?"
"I'm good, thank you," said Nora. "Why don't you sit down?"
"I don't like to sit," said Richard. "It limits my mobility. I like to be free."
Richard had always been eccentric but his eccentricity was rarely ever criticised. In fact, most people at school admired him. They admired him because he always got the best grades, because he always got the awards and trophies, and because he always won every argument he got into because of his ability to separate reason from emotion. He considered a debate to be a game like chess, governed by rigid rules.
Sherwin, on the other hand, was different. Unlike Richard, who arrived in London five years ago from Saudi Arabia, Nora had known Sherwin since he was born. They lived next to each other and played with each other as kids. Sherwin was there when Nora's sister fell from the plum tree and died. He was a conventional person. While Richard tried to stand out from the crowd and elaborately define himself, Sherwin conformed to every trend of modern youth culture. Although his parents often made him wear a suit for formal occasions, he liked to wear jeans and Nike t-shirts. Under Richard's black and dark green jumper were four layers of t-shirts. Richard says that wearing many layers of t-shirts, as opposed to wearing one jacket, allows him to assimilate to the environment more accurately because every time he takes off a shirt his body temperature decreases in smaller intervals. But Nora always suspected that he wore many shirts because he was a skinny boy who wanted to beef himself up for the girls. Sherwin had no problem with skinniness; he was a strong, muscular black boy. Even though Sherwin only wore one layer his chest was noticeably larger than Richard's.
Nora spoke. "What happened to me last night, guys?"
"Do not you know?" Richard asked.
"I have amnesia. I don't remember anything from last night."
Sherwin spoke. "Richard, you and I were going to the city. Richard needed to buy an advanced calculator for a maths assignment he needed to do. I had to get some chemicals from this guy named Ned for a chemistry assignment. You decided to come along."
"What chemicals did you get?" Nora asked as he remembered the conversation he heard between the doctor and the private investigator.
"There was chloroform and another chemical called acognito."
"What does acognito do?"
"Acognito is a memory loss chemical. It makes you forget stuff."
"I think I may have been drugged with acognito."
"Are you sure?"
"The doctor said that I was just suffering from amnesia after being exposed to shock, but later I overheard him saying that I was drugged."
"Well, I didn't drug you," said Sherwin. "If that's what you're implying. Why would I do that?"
Nora found it hard to believe that his good friend Sherwin would drug him. He had known him for too long. "You say you got the chemical from Ned. Who's Ned?"
"His full name's Ned Wosnitsuj," said Sherwin. "I've just met him. He's the guy I got the drug from."
"Where does he live?"
Sherwin didn't know. He looked at Richard, expecting an answer.
Richard responded. "Don't ask me. I don't even know whom you're talking about."
"I've been to his house before, but I've forgotten the address," said Sherwin. "But he goes to our school. I'll introduce you to him if I have time."
"Thanks," said Nora. "And also…there was a girl there. Do you guys know anything about this girl?"
"There are plenty of girls in London," said Richard. "You'll have to narrow it down."
"A girl tried to help me today. She was really pretty." Nora tried to think of a defining characteristic. "She had flowers in her hair. Oh! And her name's Emily."
Both boys shook their heads.
"She probably doesn't go to our school because I know every girl at our school," said Sherwin.
Richard spoke. "When are you going to be able to walk again?"
"My body should heal up by tonight."
"Will you come to school tomorrow?"
"Yeah, I'll be able to come to school. I'll probably need a walking stick to stabilize myself though. In one or two days I should be back to normal again."
Richard was serious again. "What happened to you, exactly?"
"All I can remember is waking up in the middle of the football field."
"The one near Bankstown, that big abandoned church. My legs and wrists were swollen and on my right wrist was white nylon rope. I felt really dizzy and sore."
"As I recall, last night, while we were in the city, you decided to leave Sherwin and me and join Niwrek and his friends."
Nora thought about Niwrek Yella, another old friend of his. "Okay, I'll talk to Niwrek tomorrow at school. Maybe he knows what happened to me last night."
"What are you doing tonight?"
"Resting, I guess. Why? Are you two thinking of doing something?"
"I was thinking of going to the state library," said Richard. "I need some more study time for a chemistry test soon." He turned to Sherwin. "Are you coming with me?"
"I can't. My parents are forcing me to go somewhere."