About the new guy in class—the one they sat next to me—they said that, due to his father’s work, he had studied a couple of years in Japan. He’s a shy boy, and he always answers questions with the fewest words possible, usually “yes” or “no.” But, despite his monosyllabic answers—sometimes terse—during leisure time, he’s always surrounded by girls asking him endless questions. They gather around him until he almost disappears behind them, as if they were a wall. And, just when I was asking myself if he wasn’t sick of getting that much attention, I manage to see his face for a second, and his lips moving silently, saying, “Help,” until one girl’s elbow blocks the small opening that connects Santiago with the outside world. I have to take a few seconds to mentally prepare myself, because I’m about to face the class girls’ glares.
“Hey, Santiago! Can you give me one of those mint candies you’re always carrying with you? Or did you ran out of them?” I ask, a bit nervous because I don’t know if Santiago is going to get the hidden message to escape to the kiosk. Besides, as soon as I say “Santiago,” the girls turn towards me, all at the same time. As synchronized as if they had practiced.
“I ran out of them. Can you go to the kiosk with me?” He says, standing up and walking to the classroom door with steps so fast that I have to run to catch up to him. As we’re getting away from the crowd of girls, we can feel their threatening stares, especially directed towards me.
Santiago calms down once we reach the kiosk, and lets out a sigh.
“Thanks, Maximilian,” he says, eyes looking down and shoulders hunched.
“Please, call me Max!”I say, yelling, surprising both Santiago and the lady at the kiosk. I guess I’ve made it clear I don’t really like my name, and the people that know about it—which is basically everyone—only call me Maximilian when they’re angry at me.
Santiago asks for his mint candies even though he still has some in his pocket. He takes out his wallet and I see a weird ornament hanging from it. It has the shape of a ball cut in half, and from the flat side some kind of feathers stick out.
“Santiago, that ornament is...”, I say, trying not to make it evident I have never seen such a thing.
“Yes, it’s a shuttlecock to play badminton,” he replies, and his lips tighten as if trying to hide a smile.
My inevitable ignorant gesture probably makes it clear that I don’t know what he’s talking about.
Santiago gives me a mint candy and we walk back to the classroom in silence. I taste the candy while he chews it, making noises with his teeth.