The first time I saw him it was as if he suddenly decided to pop into existence.
I had made eye contact with him for a half second -- a wrinkle in time, truly -- before a torrent of pedestrians formed a barrier between us. His face was lost in the crowd. Gone. One moment: not there; the next moment, it was like he poofed from thin air. Then he vanished, back to the way he was before. Looking back at that ephemeral memory I realize that it's like that now. He came in and out of my life. At this point we can he's gone. Probably gone for good.
One of many days ago he walked into my life. It was an abrupt and enigmatic arrival but we got along for time being. 'Coexistence' would be the perfect word to describe it. We shared an ususual relationship -- more on that later. Several weeks (or was it months?) passed, and it was as if he had never existed at all. The nature of his disappearance is a story in itself.
I must emphasize the brevity of our friendship, for it is what puzzles most -- more than the obscure reason for why we became friends in the first place. It wasn't the oddest aspect to our relationship by far, but to me, it was the most enigmatic, most inexplicable. Kam was a mystery. For dropping in and out of my life -- for being both the catalyst and the inhibitor -- I blame him.
Visitors often query as to why I have a set of human footprints framed on the wall of my dorm. I tell them it's because of my majoring in anthropology. They nod as if it was a perfectly sensible response, and move on, while I pause to give its true meaning a moment of remembrance. The real reason is much more personal than a symbol commemorating my studies -- much deeper than most people will guess. I have that thing hung up over above my bed to serve as a reminder of Kam and the mark he left, not just on me, but on this world. If the footprints weren't there I'd sooner believe what I've been telling myself of late -- that it was as if he never existed.
Ironically, the first mark Kam left on the world -- the only distinguishable mark, as far as I know -- was his footprints. It was the first piece of evidence to his claim of existence. Footprints in wet cement.
As I made my way through a busy sidewalk I took notice of footprints defacing an adjacent strip of wet cement. I realized, with a small shock, that the tracks were of bare human feet. Who would walk through cement in broad daylight -- without their shoes -- and why? I followed the footprints, tracing yellow caution tape in my right hand, ignoring and bumping into the people that opposed me on congested sidewalk.
When I came to the end of the yellow caution tape it took me a second to realize that the tracks did not spontaneously terminate without a trace. See, I had expected the trespasser to be long gone by the time I came around, but someone was actually standing there -- bare feet and all. My eyes followed its way up the legs, waist, elbows, shoulders --
"I really like the sensation of cement between my toes."
Staring, slack-jawed, I glanced down at his toes. They wiggled, squishing the cement between them. I looked up again and took in the stranger's queer presence.
The boy had a mop of dark-chocolate hair on his small head which perched on top of a long, slender body. He had a beaky little nose, pimply complexion, and a feline countenance in the way of his cheekbones, jaws, and eyes. His eyes were large, dark, and sparkling. Curious. Amused.
"Good afternoon," he said.
"I saw you the other day..." I said wonderingly. "Yeah. I was across the street. Third avenue. Do you remember?"
Mak -- later to be called Kam -- blinked. "Remember. Sure I do."
I was curious about his prior appearing and vanishing act, but something about his response told me he wasn't going to give me a straight answer.
"So, tell me. Why are you walking through cement? Aside from destroying a masterpiece done by your galmorous and celebrated general contractor?"
Mak chuckled. He looked skyward. "Eh. I dunno. The mood struck me."
I shook my head. These spontaneous live-in-the-moment people. Did they ever think about the consequences of their actions? "So where are your shoes? Are you just going to walk around barefoot with that stuff on your feet? What if you get in trouble? What if your feet get glued to the ground?"
"I left my shoes at home --"
"That explains a lot."
"Yes, I'm going to walk around with cement on my feet for the rest of the day. Did you ever consider that a coat of cement would serve the same function as a rubber sole?"
"No. Did you ever consider how hard it's going to be to get that off when it's dry?"
"Of course not."
He displayed an innocent grin and I couldn't help but break into a smile. It was like smiling at a little kid who traded hair for cotton candy. This guy must have everything in the world not to worry about the near future.
We stood there for couple seconds, maybe half a minute. He made no sign of leaving the cement, kneading his toes into the mud while observing the afternoon around him. I didn't want leave him. We had gotten off to a pleasant start. Who knows what he might do next? Make a concrete angel? (no pun intended)
"Care to accompany me to the beach?" he suggested. "I'm thinking the sand will help before my feet get glued somewhere."
He yanked one leg up with a thuck to place it outside the caution tape and leveraged his body weight to pull over the other one. I found the act of freeing his feet from cement to be comical, like something a mime would do. We stood back to admire his tracks. Then we headed towards the water.
He walked with his hands in his pockets, shoulders laid back, eyes ahead, feet making a faint sticky sound as they kissed the ground. I swung my arms, threw around my weight, all while darting my eyes to people on either side of me. I observed that no one gave Mak a second glance for being barefoot, for replacing shoes and socks with a chunky coat of hardening concrete, for leaving visible footprints on the sidewalk. I was mystified. Why didn't anybody notice him?
As if reading my puzzled mind, he looked down at me and grinned, almost as if he knew something that everyone in world didn't.