When You're Feeling Grey...
Kaija stared blankly at the test paper sitting on the desk in front of him. He was tired of dumb History tests and their hard-to-read questions. What could be a more boring way to spend an hour? He looked out the window at the puffy white clouds floating by and sighed. How he wished he had wings like his siblings and was able to fly with the clouds.
A quick sharp pain in the sides shook him out of his daydream. Kintara was poking him in the ribs with her pencil.
“Kaija. Kaija!” she whispered. Kaija merely looked up at her.
“That’s my name. Don’t wear it out,” he replied dully.
“Haha, very funny. Anyway you’d better hurry up and start the test. Mr Shaan is coming this way!” Kintara quickly returned to her paper, and began scribbling the answers in.
Kaija sighed again, and began the test. He looked down at the questions.
1. During what month did the Invasion of Meridell begin?
2. Which two places were involved?
3. Who was the leader of the ‘bad side’?
4. How long did the battle last for?
And the questions continued, on and on for what seemed like forever to Kaija. Making up half of the answers, he wrote paragraph after paragraph. When he was done, he handed in his paper, and sat at the desk, doodling on his book. Not too long after, the bell rang for the end of school, and he slowly packed his books away.
When he was done, he slung his bag over his shoulder and plodded out of the classroom. Kintara was waiting with Fallow outside in the hall.
“Hey Kaija! How was the test?” Fallow asked, laughing. Kaija shrugged; he wasn’t in the mood for his brother’s annoyingness.
“Just leave me alone, Fallow,” Kaija muttered. Fallow looked at Kintara with surprise.
“What did I do?” he asked.
“He's been like this all day.”
Fallow looked at Kaija pitifully.
“Why don’t we just head home?” Kintara suggested.
Kaija watched his feet plod along the footpath as they headed home. Fallow and Kintara walked in front of him, talking and laughing. Kaija felt tears begin to prick his eyes. He hadn’t laughed in a long time. Smiled, just not laughed. He could barely even remember if he had ever laughed. But he knew he must have, because Fallow said that everyone laughed at some point.
But even so, he had had nothing much to laugh about all his life. He’d spent many years in the pound, locked behind metal bars, fed on gruel. No one wanted a Yurble. Everyone wanted the occasional Cybunnies and painted pets of course.
So, with help from a psychotic Aisha throwing a hissy fit, he had managed to escape. Out on the streets, he’d found it hard to fend for himself. Food was scarce and other pets treated him as if he was painted invisible.
As a last desperate attempt for something to eat, he’d snuck into the Bakery of Neopia Central. Kaija disliked the idea of stealing; but he was on the verge of starvation. Just as he’d managed to swipe a piece of garlic bread, someone tapped him on the shoulder.
It was a young girl, with a Draik following her. She bent down and whispered in his ear.
“Stealing is what criminals do. Are you a criminal?” she asked.
Kaija shook his head in shame.
“Well then, I think you’d better give that back.” She paused thoughtfully. “Or... you could always come with us.”
Kaija smiled at the memory. He would never forget that day.
“Hey Kaija, slowpoke! Come on, we’ll be home late if you don’t hurry!”
Kaija picked up the pace and began to think about why he was always so sad. Kintara and Fallow had never guessed why; and he wasn’t about to tell them.
He hadn’t been with his new owner for very long. As soon as they’d arrived home, Fallow the Draik had rushed over to his sister the Xweetok, Kintara, and begun to introduce him.
For two months he’d shared a room with Fallow in his new Neohome. Then, one morning, just after breakfast, their owner had stood up and announced that they were going out for a surprise.
First she went to the National Neopian, and withdrew some items from her Safety Deposit Box. Kaija, Kintara and Fallow were all excited and jumping around, trying to see what she had. But before they could snatch a glimpse, she stuffed them away in her bag.
Next, they wandered around Neopia Central for a while, buying the usual items from the shopping list. Lastly, she took them towards the Money Tree.
Why on earth are we going to the Money Tree? Kaija had wondered. But as she turned to the right, instead of to the left, he realised they were going to the Rainbow Pool.
Kaija remembered the butterflies squirming around in his stomach as he looked at his dull yellow fur, and wondering what he would look like soon. He remembered watching Fallow being painted, and the squeal of surprise as he turned from blue to plushie-coloured. He flapped his soft plushie wings and flew around his siblings. Next, it was Kintara’s turn to squeal in delight as she went from green to faerie. She fluttered her new gossamer-like wings and joined Fallow in the sky.
The memory of stepping onto the platform and looking at his yellow fur one last time was still very vivid. He remembered thinking about how dumb the colour was, and how he couldn’t wait to get rid of it.
How he wished now that he could take it back.
He had shut his eyes, and felt the bristles of the brush tickle his fur as it swept from side to side. He had opened them slowly, trying to guess what colour he was.
Pirate? Fire? Royal? Baby?
Once his eyes had opened, he gasped. Kintara and Fallow had been cheering him on, and congratulating him. He nearly cried right there and then.
He was... grey.
And ever since then he had been teased and bullied by other pets. Even invisible would have been better, he thought to himself.
“Kaija? Are you daydreaming again? Come on, we’re almost home.” Kaija looked up to see Fallow’s concerned face. “Are you okay, ‘cos you sure don’t look it...”
“I’m fine. Just tired,” Kaija lied. He continued to trudge along the footpath past Fallow, watching his paws blend in with the concrete.
When they reached the Neohome, Kintara zoomed ahead into the living room, with Fallow not too far behind her.
Kaija trudged sullenly into the kitchen, his claws tapping on the linoleum floor.
“Hey Kaija, mind putting some popcorn on? There’s a movie on. It's about some lost Cybunny or something...”
Kaija sighed and opened the pantry door. He looked over the shelves before finding the popcorn jar, and took it out.
He put some into a bowl, shoved it unhappily into the Virtupets microwave, and sat down on one of the brand new chairs. He listened to the faint pops as the corn began to expand.
His mind drifted, thinking about outer space. This was his favourite topic; and he’d always wanted to go to the Virtupets Space Station or even Neopia’s moon, Kreludor. He imagined what it would be like on Kreludor, floating around as gravity disappeared, watching Grundos bounce past him. He never seen a Grundo before, and he imagined they had many eyes on many stalks, they were as small as a pea, and they had jelly-like bodies.
Beep! Beep! The microwave pulled him back into reality with a jolt. Annoyed at the interruption, he stood up huffily and slammed his chair under the table. Without warning it broke in half, and splinters of wood shot everywhere. Fallow and Kintara came running.
“What happened to the chair?” Kintara gasped.
“It broke,” replied Kaija through clenched teeth. He pulled the popcorn out of the microwave, and pushed it into Kintara’s paws. “Here’s your dumb popcorn. Have fun.” And with that he stormed upstairs, leaving behind a troubled looking Fallow.
“Something’s not right with him. I don’t know what it is, though,” Fallow said.
“Maybe he doesn’t like popcorn,” Kintara replied. They looked at each other and burst out laughing.
“Come on, Kintara, let's clean this up. Maybe he’ll be feeling better later.”
Later came, and still Kaija was in a bad mood. All he wanted was to be happy. But he was unhappy about being unhappy, which made him even unhappier. He just couldn’t win!
He sat on the floor and leant against his bed, feeling sorry for himself. There was a knock at the door, which Kaija ignored.
The door opened slightly with a creak, and Fallow’s head peered in. He came into the room, and shut the door with a faint click.
“You ok? Kat’s back, and dinner’s ready,” Fallow asked. Kaija turned his head away. “She brought dessert home too,” he added hopefully. Kaija shook his head.
Fallow sighed and sat next to Kaija. “You know what? She’s not even mad about the chair. She is concerned about you, though. We all are.” Fallow looked into Kaija’s eyes. “What’s bugging you, Kaija?”
Kaija wasn’t entirely sure he wanted Fallow to know. He would seem so ungrateful to them all. But then if he didn’t tell them, they wouldn’t be. Then again, he could make Fallow swear not to tell anyone else... and Fallow had been the best brother and friend ever. He had always looked up to him.
“Fallow, a lot of things are bugging me. Like how you never clean your half of this room, how Kintara has so much energy, how... this carpet is too blue! But it's not what’s bugging me that’s making me sad.” Kaija looked up at Fallow. “It’s my colour. Grey makes me feel so... well, grey. Everyone at school makes fun of me, and I always feel angry and unhappy.”
Fallow looked at Kaija curiously. “Why didn’t you tell us before?”
Kaija shrugged. “I’d seem so ungrateful. I should be so happy that I even have been painted, but...” He looked down at the floor again, unable to bring himself to look at his brother. But to his surprise, Fallow snorted.
“Don’t worry, you aren’t the only one who wasn’t fond of their colour. I mean, when I saw my nice hard scales turn into soft plush, it kind of freaked me out. And now every little baby pet thinks I’m just one giant plushie toy. You have no idea how many times I’ve been chased by the baby Kaus in that field next door.”
“But you like your colour now.”
“Well, yes. But look at Kintara. She told me she was fed up with pets mistaking her for a butterfly.”
“But she likes her colour too!” Kaija wailed. “It’s not fair!”
“Only because we realised how lucky we were to be these colours. Think of all those poor invisible pets out there. Everyone would keep tripping over them, or losing them. And those jelly pets too. I mean, I get mistaken for a plushie and get hugs; they get mistaken for jelly and almost get eaten!”
“And the snow pets. I saw a Lenny who thought one was a snowman the other day.”
“Exactly, Kaija. When everything seems hopeless and sad, think of everything you are, and everything you have. There is always someone in a worse position than you! Now, I think I hear Kintara coming to get us for dinner.” He stood up and held out his hand for Kaija.
“It’s nothing, really. I won’t tell Kat or Kintara if you don’t want me to.” Fallow opened the door and walked through into the hall, with Kaija right behind him. “And tonight, I’ll clean my half of the room, so there is one less thing to bug you,” he added, laughing.