CHAPTER TWO

I felt someone poking my tummy. When my eyes opened, I saw Jesse, my babysitter, sitting on my bed.

"Wake up, Keith," she said. "It's morning."

Her pokes turned into tickles. She clawed her fingers into my ribs, and I squirmed around, trying to hit the college undergraduate with my little seven-year-old hands. With all the force and effort I exerted trying to hit her, I fell right into her arms and she hugged me and carried me downstairs for breakfast.

Jesse was a devout Christian college student who would rather spend her free time babysitting children than partying with friends. I liked Christians. They tend to be nice people. I've heard a lot about evil Christians in my history class, but I've never actually seen a mean Christian with my own eyes.

Jesse carried me downstairs. Sherwin was already at the kitchen table eating. Jesse put me down and went to the stove to prepare pancakes.

"I have a physics assignment to hand in today," said Jesse. "Would you two kids be able to take care of yourselves or should I bring you along like before?"

I hated going to university. "No, I wanna stay home."

She finished the pancakes and served them. "Remember not to open the door for strangers, okay? I'll be back in an hour or two." She went upstairs to get her papers. When she came back down again she wore more colourful clothes.

When Jesse left, Sherwin and I played cricket in the backyard. Sherwin bowled and I batted. After five minutes, the ball went over the fence and landed in Wayne's backyard.

"Oh, man!" said Sherwin. "You hit it over, so you have to get it."

"I don't wanna get it."

"Are you afraid of the ghost that lives there?"

"No."

"Then why don't you climb over the fence and get it?"

"Fine then!"

I dropped the cricket bat and walked up to the fence. Sherwin pulled a trashcan near the fence for me to climb on. With my feet on the trashcan, my eyes went above the fence. I looked into Wayne's backyard, which looked so foreign, like a different planet. Wayne's backyard was less neat. There were more gardening utensils like spades lying around. In the middle of the backyard was a pile of black ash.

Using all my upper-body strength I pulled myself up till I balanced on top of the fence. Then, without warning, I fell. I felt my little seven-year-old body dropping two metres to the ground. I got up with small scratches and bruises on my arms. I looked up and saw my pants on top of the fence. I then looked down and saw my little willy in between my legs. My pants must've got caught on the fence as I fell.

"Sherwin! Get my pants."

I saw Sherwin's head bobbing up over the fence. "They're all ripped up," he said. "Just throw the ball to me and climb back over. Quickly."

"Can you go inside and see if there are any spare pants?"

"Alright then. Wait a minute."

Although I couldn't see him through the fence, I heard Sherwin running off into the house. I found the cricket ball without a problem and threw it back into my backyard. The only problem was getting back over. When I climbed over the fence before I needed help from a trashcan. But since there was no trashcan on the other side of the fence, how do I get back? I couldn't. I had to find a way to get to the front. I found a gate that separated the backyard from the front garden. This gate was covered with thick plants and fern. Unfortunately, this gate was locked with a giant padlock. The only way I could get to the front was through Wayne's house, assuming that his back door was open. And to make things harder, I had to do all this without any pants on.

After turning the doorknob, I pushed and pulled the back door. It opened when I pulled. Inside was a dark laundry room with a rusty washing machine and a bucket filled with dirty clothes. I rummaged through the dirty clothes, trying to find spare pants.

I heard someone singing. The voice was low—it vibrated through the walls. I froze and stayed that way for a minute, afraid of making any sudden movements. The singing was more like chanting.

Most of the clothes in the bucket were too big for me, which made sense considering Wayne was an overweight old man while I was a little kid. But after searching for a while, I managed to find pink underwear that covered my hip region well. I also found blue Nike shorts that were small enough for me.

The chanting stopped. I stayed still and listened to footsteps. Someone was climbing upstairs. This was my opportunity to try get to the front door.

I tiptoed out the laundry room and entered the living room. The walls were mostly clean, but every now and then grey streaks appeared. A swarm of ants started to tickle my bare feet. Although liveable, this house was quite a mess.

Very strangely, the living room had no television. Instead, the couch faced a white wall. On the white wall was a giant dollar sign painted in gold, a giant "S" with a vertical line down the middle.

I heard footsteps coming from the stairs. Someone was coming down! I had to hide. My head scanned the living room quickly. I ran towards a large, thick pot plant at the corner of the living room and hid behind it.

Wayne walked into the living room. He was a fat man. He wore no shirt. More hair grew on his chest than on his head. Wayne kneeled down near the dollar sign on the wall and started chanting again. I had never seen anything like this before. Wayne was worshipping the dollar. He was kneeling and facing the dollar sign on the wall, closing his eyes, and chanting.

Something prickly moved on my arm. I looked down and saw a giant hairy spider climbing up into my shirt. The spider must've been in the pot plant. I screamed out loudly in terror, shaking my limbs wildly until the spider fell to the floor.

Wayne stood up and turned around, staring at me with an angry look on his face. The old man stopped his chanting and picked up off the ground a giant Picasso painting. He covered the dollar sign on the wall with the painting and walked over to me. My neck ached when I looked up at the tall old man hovering over me. I couldn't do anything but smile at him, the kind of smile I gave my mom when I spilled milk on the floor.

"What are you doing here?" he screamed with a roaring voice.

"I...I was just getting my cricket ball. I hit it over the fence. I couldn't climb back so I had to go into your house. I promise I won't tell anyone what you're doing."

"You'd better not. No one gave you permission to come into my property." He looked down at my clothes. "Why are you wearing my pants?"

"My pants got ripped. I had to borrow yours. I was gonna give them back." I spoke as innocently as possible.

"Take your pants off! And give them back to me. They're mine."

I stood where I was. It'd be embarrassing undressing in front of an old stranger. I brought my hands down and pushed my pants down to my knees. I could feel Wayne's eyes staring obsessively at my legs. When the blue pants reached the floor, I took a step back and picked them up. I handed my pants over to Wayne, who grabbed it from me and raised it to his nose. He breathed deeply, smelling the pants, smelling my body scent.

"You've contaminated something that belongs to me," said Wayne. "For that you'll need to be punished." He stared at the pink underwear I still wore. "Take off the underwear! They're mine as well."

I've walked around naked in front of my mom and dad before, but to do it in front of a stranger seemed a little weird. I brought my hands down to my underwear and began pulling it down.

Someone knocked on the front door. Wayne seemed annoyed. He pointed to the giant pot plant at the corner of the room—the place where I hid earlier before my meeting with the hairy spider.

"Hide behind that pot plant while I answer the front door," said Wayne.

I did what he said.

Wayne opened the front door. "May I help you?" he said, trying to fake politeness.

"Hi, I'm Jesse…from next door. I'm just wondering whether you've seen Keith around. His brother told me he fell into your backyard trying to get a cricket ball."

"Is that right? Damn kids nowadays always messing around instead of doin' their homework. Well, I haven't seen the kid."

He was lying! But I had an idea. Instead of hiding, I jumped out from behind the pot plant and screamed out, "JESSE!" When she saw me she immediately ran over and picked me up, comforting me.

"That kid needs to be punished," said Wayne, pointing a finger at me.

Jesse went back to the front door. "I'll punish him myself."

"He needs to be properly disciplined! He must respect individual property rights! I have a right to my property and I have a right to defend it from intruders. We live in a society of laws."

Jesse didn't bother talking to the old man. She walked out the front door and back home.

Inside the safety of my own house Jesse put me down and warned me never to climb the fence ever again. I pretended to look sad and nodded my head.

Sherwin came up to me and laughed. He pointed at my pink underwear.

"I got it from Wayne's laundry," I said. "I had to wear or I'd be naked."

"It's a girl's undie! It's pink. Look at all the flowers on it."

I guess he was right. Not only were there flowers on the underwear but there was also a name written on it with a black marker. I read it out to myself. I only just learnt how to read at school.

"E-R-I-K-A. Erika."

"Who's Erika?" said Sherwin. "I thought Wayne lived alone."

"Maybe it's his wife's."

"Those undies only just fit you. It's too small for a big girl."

"Maybe a little girl lives in Wayne's house."

"The ghost?"

"Maybe."

Sherwin laughed. "Here we go again. How many times have I told you that ghosts aren't real?"

"I don't think these pink undies belong to a ghost. It belongs to a human."

"That doesn't make no sense. I've lived here as long as you have, and we've played in this neighbourhood for a long time. I've never seen no little girl here before, especially not in Wayne's house."