CHAPTER ONE

When I came out of my mommy's...uh, belly button, the doctor dropped me on the floor. When I fell, the first thing to make contact with the floor was my mouth. Thank God I landed on my mouth instead of my head.

I remember the first day at school. Little kids went up to me and introduced themselves. I always introduced myself politely: "Hi, I'm Keith." But when I smiled, they ran away. I learnt at a very young age never to smile. Everyone always asked, "What's wrong?" when they saw me because I always looked sad.

I remember my childhood vividly. I lived in Bird Street, a typical suburban street in the rich suburb of Brighton. Houses in Bird Street were all two-stories high. They had moist green lawns, colourful gardens, and prestige cars parked outside in the driveways. These prestige cars were never parked in garages. What's the point of the Mercedes logo if you can't show it off?

Both my parents always worked when I grew up. In the old days fathers forced their wives to stay home to take care of the children, but my economist father encouraged my mom to work because, as he said, "assuming that both parents are paid equally, a working mother doubles the household income." Whatever. If I had to name a defining feature of my childhood it would be boredom. Of all the people I saw in Bird Street nearly all of them were old grandmas and grandpas. When my parents realized I was lonely and had no friends at school, they adopted a kid from Africa to be my brother. His name was Sherwin.

I had a weird next-door neighbour. His name was Wayne. Wayne was a retired farmer who moved from the country to have a go at suburban life. He lived alone and worked as a taxi driver during the day.

The only girl who didn't run away when I smiled was my babysitter, a college student named Jesse. I liked her a lot.

Growing up with Sherwin was so much fun. At home we played cricket in the backyard. When we hung out downtown we snuck into the backs of restaurants to steal food. One time the head chef of a Chinese restaurant caught us with our hands in a bag of prawns, but we ran away quickly enough. In school other kids always teased me for playing with a black kid, but I never listened to them. One arrogant fat kid even had the nerve to pick a fight with Sherwin because he was black. But I taught that fat kid a lesson by mixing my poo with sugar and throwing the gooey brown substance in his locker. The next morning his smelly locker was filled with ants.

While I'm more into reading and writing, Sherwin developed a taste in anything technical. At school he became a computer whiz. He created and debugged programs when he was seven years old. He studied electronic engineering on his own and was able to fix his telephone and VHS, even though it was illegal for someone other than a certified electrician to touch these dangerous things.

During the holidays when Sherwin and I played in the backyard, we often heard strange noises coming from Wayne's house (Wayne is my neighbour, if you've already forgotten). As I already told you, Wayne worked as a taxi driver during the day, so whatever those noises were, they definitely didn't come from Wayne. These strange noises were mainly tapping and thumping noises. During Halloween, Sherwin and I scared each other with ghost stories. Sherwin told me a ghost lived in the neighbour's house.

I will never forget one night when I was seven years old, when I was inside my bedroom looking out the window into Wayne's house. It was midnight. The moon was shining. A storm was brewing. Thunder whipped the skies and rain smashed against our roof. It was noisy, and I couldn't sleep. I stood by the window. (My bedroom window was rather big, by the way—bigger than my seven-year-old body.) While I stood by the window I looked at a top-story window over the fence in Wayne's house. I wondered why Wayne lived by himself in a big two-story house. But as I stood, I saw something. I saw movement in the top-story window. I thought at first it was Wayne. But it wasn't. Wayne was an old man, and what I saw was a slim, pale figure—perhaps a ghost. I squinted my eyes and looked closer. It was a small hand against the window, and then, a few seconds later, a face pressed against the glass. The night was so dark I barely saw anything. I remembered the sad face, the small head, and the curly brown hair. I remembered looking at this figure, and I remembered feeling scared when the figure looked back at me. But maybe the figure was even more afraid of me because after a few seconds it disappeared. I told Sherwin what I saw the next morning and he teased me for believing in ghosts.

But what I saw was not a ghost. I was sure of it.