He pins the Neopian Times on his wall, frames and hangs them like butterflies. They are dusted every day, and the pages still smell of that lovely, fresh, new book smell. If anyone were to open the pages, they would crackle.
He is proud of his exhibit, so very proud, and every second spent on his collection is worth it when a new person gazes in awe at the rows upon rows of editions, every time Friday comes and he can buy the next issue and add one more, every time he can forget about his childhood, even if just for a bit.
She finishes the book, loving the ending as much as she did the first time, and places it on her bedside table. Despite its dog-eared pages and broken spine, she loves it- her first and only book. She knows the characters extremely well, and sometimes thinks of them as her best friends, going to adventures and asking them for advice. Still, she longs for just one more, but with money as it is, she knows it just isn’t possible.
“Ellie, have you done your history homework?” her older brother, a red Meerca, asks, popping his head around the doorway. With both parents so hard at work, Jake acts like a replacement, always checking on her.
“No, not yet.” Sighing, she pulls out her history book, and begins working. Glancing out of the window into the sunlight, her gaze follows the old worn pavement, with all its cracks and wobbly tiles, past the mazes of crammed houses with children playing in abandoned parks, to Neopia Central, the rainbow glittering in the sun.
He checks his watch again before putting on his coat and leaving the house, not forgetting his umbrella. Feeling excited, he sets off down the street, shoes tapping on the shiny new pavement that runs past the picket fences and trimmed immaculate grass of Silver Street
“Hello, Mr. Banks, and how are you this fine Friday afternoon?” a blue Gelert he passes enquires.
“I am fine, Mr. Oliver, just fine,” he replies, politely smiling. However, his smile is not quite as genuine as it would appear, him being in the rush that he is to finally get the four hundredth issue and complete his collection. He does not have anything against Mr. Oliver; however, he has never particularly grown close to anyone, and has never been one for idle chatter. He is stopped several times on his journey, smiling a smile becoming more and more forced as the path goes on, and time ticks on.
Passing the neoschool, one of the best in Neopia and the proud point of the town, he suddenly remembers his old teacher, Mrs. Hilltop. She was not his favourite teacher; in fact, many a day she would tell him off crossly for what she considered his laziness.
“You must try harder if you are to do anything in life!” she would scream at him, at he sat at his desk, open book in front of him. “You will never amount to anything if you do not learn to...”
He stops the memory dead, shuts his eyes and pushes it out, and continues his walk.
She smiles, having finally completed her history homework, and now free to do as she likes. Looking out of the window at the brightly coloured rainbow, still shining although the sun is fading, Ellie decides to head over there, and relax for a bit. Calling out a goodbye message to Jake, she walks down the street, daydreaming about meeting the hero from her book.
“Hey, Ellie, wanna join our football game?” Ellie’s best friend David, a green Chia, calls, football in his hand, as she passes the small patch of grass and mud declared the football pitch.
She shakes her head. Her plan is to take her mind off things in a peaceful environment, not scramble about in the mud. Seeing a brown Lenny heading in her direction, walking fairly quickly yet limping in an odd way, she moves politely to one side, letting him pass her in the narrow street.
If Mr. Banks was not so preoccupied with thoughts of completing his collection, he would have noticed the small rip in his pockets the moment he left the house. However, he did not, and now that small rip is increasing rapidly, largely due to the amount of coins within it. Eventually, one coin pushes its way out and falls to the ground with a barely audible chink, soon after he passes the yellow Xweetok who let him through, yet stared at him oddly. He supposes he must look strange- now that he has reached the poorer part of town where he does not know anybody, he decides to speed up yet does not want to get his shoes dirty and so is walking in a way to ensure they remain clean and pristine.
Noticing he has passed a football game, not least because of the noisy shouts and cheers of the players, a brief flashback comes to mind of his own school playing field. In it, he runs, chased by his tormenters, with their jeering smiles and scornful eyes, trying to escape their taunts. The flashback does not last long, but it is enough to hurt, and bring back the pain he wishes he had forgotten. However, the clock's long hand does not stop moving, and so he presses on.
Ellie barely notices the path she is taking as she walks. In her mind, she and her hero save Neopia from the forces of Dr. Sloth. They are just being praised by TNT themselves, who have been captured and imprisoned the whole time, when her thoughts are interrupted by her tripping. Thinking her shoelaces are the problem, she bends down to tie them and discovers it was not her laces but a circular piece of gold that was the cause. Upon closer inspection, she realises it is a 1000 neopoints coin and pockets it. Happily, she skips down the path- 1000 neopoints is enough to let her mother have a break from working for a day! They could go out, have some food, eat some nice food, Jake could have a rest... what a lucky find this was!
Eventually, Mr. Banks catches sight of the blue Nimmo and his bookshop. His heart sinks when he sees the long queue, but he knows it will be worth it in the end. How fantastic, to finally own all four hundred issues! The last empty space on his wall, filled!
A young pet and his parents greet him as he walks towards the queue. The young neopet whispers something to his mother, and in return she hugs him. Mr. Banks can hardly help but smile, and wish his parents had ever shown such affection for him. In actual fact, they did little but scold him.
A memory floats into his mind. In it, Mr. Banks sits, broken and ashamed, while his father lectures him.
“You’re a disgrace to the family!” he would tell his son frequently. “You have let the Banks name down! Why can’t you try harder? Why can’t you just...”
“I said, are you feeling alright, Mr. Banks? You look a little odd.” Mr. Banks turns his attention back to the neopet he is talking to.
“Yes, I’m fine, just got a bit distracted.” He smiles his best smile, and moves on.
Ellie reaches the shops, and is about to rest by the money tree, when a sign catches her eye.
Half price NT issue 400! Now only 1000 NP! declares the sign. Ellie gasps, remembering the 1000 neopoints coin. How great it would be to have a copy of the Neopian Times, full of useful tips, funny comics and oh! So many stories! Thoughts of letting her mother rest gone, she runs to join the line, getting there just before the brown Lenny she recognises as the one she let pass her. He looks slightly startled and a bit angry, so she smiles politely back, hoping he doesn’t mind too much. She thinks about letting him go in front of her, but decides against it- what is done is done, and, after all, she did let him pass her earlier on.
Mr. Banks frowns at the yellow Xweetok who so rudely pushed in front of him. His mother had been very big on manners, and so he has little tolerance for rudeness. He makes a mental note not to talk to this pet, and waits patiently in line. However, his patience wears thin as the queue trickles along like sand in an hour glass, but he knows each step will take him closer to his dream.
Finally, after a massive wait in a never-ending queue, Ellie gets to the front of the line.
“Haven’t seen you in a while,” comments the Nimmo behind the counter. “Eleanor, isn’t it? What will it be?”
“Neopian Times issue four hundred, please,” orders Ellie, handing over her coin.
“Certainly,” answers the Nimmo, getting it out. “Oh, looks like you got the last one, lucky you!”
“No!” the Lenny behind Ellie suddenly yells, pushing in and shoving Ellie to one side. “I desperately need that issue! It will complete my collection!” Mr. Banks is slightly surprised at himself- did he not just comment to himself on the rudeness of pushing in? Still, exceptions must be made in times of need, and this is one of them.
“Mr. Banks please wait in line!” snaps the shopkeeper. “You can get issue 401 next week if you need another issue.”
“She can get issue 401 next week!” he responds, pointing at Ellie. “She doesn’t care which issue she gets! I do! It’s a collection, you have to be specific! She can wait!” This is true, he tells himself, therefore also acceptable.
“Actually, I can’t.” Ellie is irritated- who does he think he is? “If the coin doesn’t get stolen on my way home, it certainly will be gone by next week.”
“Spent on chocolates and sweets and goodness knows what else, more like! Are you really going to value this random poor pet over me, you most loyal customer?” He suddenly stops, realising what a spectacle he is making of himself. Neopets everywhere are staring and pointing him out.
“Please!” pleads Ellie. “I don’t want much! Just one issue of the Neopian Times! It would make me so happy, you can’t even imagine! Please! Please!”
“Enough!” cries the shopkeeper. “This is ridiculous! Eleanor was here first, so therefore she gets the issue. Simple as that!”
Mr. Banks is outraged. How dare this pet? Not only is she taking his issue and ruining his collection, she drove him to shouting in public, an undignified thing he had sworn to himself that he would never do. He must get this issue, before his dreams and reputation are ruined!
Reminding himself to keep calm, he plays his ace.
“Ah, but maybe for the issue I could offer a little bonus?” he suggests, running his feathers through his neopoints filled bulging pockets, listening to the clink-clink sound. “Five thousand perhaps? Ten thousand maybe? Name your price, I’ll pay it!”
All at once the Nimmo’s eyes light up, a strange hypnotic look on his face. Completely forgetting about Ellie, he begins to bargain prices with Mr. Banks.
Ellie knew she would never get the issue the moment that neopoints became involved. After all, who would choose justice over neopoints? Quietly, she slinks away and begins the long trek home.
She arrives at the house much later than she had planned, and gives her mother the neopoints. She is resting in a chair, and looking exhausted.
“Ellie!” her mother gasps, as she presents the money to her. “How did you get this?” She smiles, and Ellie smiles back, a small tear trickling down her face- yet it is one of joy, not sadness.
“I just got lucky and found it on the floor.” Ellie shrugs, pretending it is not a big deal, but when her mother hugs her, she realises she would much rather have let her mother get a well deserved rest than have that issue of the Neopian Times.
Mr. Banks watches Ellie leave shortly after buying issue four hundred, wanting to call out to her, to say something, to apologise, but unsure of what to say. However, watching her, he feels a longing for a daughter of his own- because despite being the most popular person in the town, Mr. Banks is lonely. He lives alone, with nothing but his Neopian Times collection to keep him company, and the pets that greet him he thinks of as little more than people he happens to know. But, perhaps, if he spoke to this pet, said sorry, she would forgive him, and then....
He shakes his head- she is already gone.
Eventually he returns home and picks out a thick, expensive gold frame for the latest issue and hangs it on the wall, finally completing the collection.
In his living room, a whole host of neighbors and acquaintances wait for him to arrive, to question and congratulate him. But these pets, who greet him daily, are not the pets he wants to see his collection. No, the ones he really wanted to see it were, in fact, the ones he had tried to forget all day, but now their memories come back to him in full, and he does not try to fight them.
“You must try harder if you are to do anything in life!” Mrs. Hilltop shouts at him, while he sits at his desk, open book in front of him. “You will never amount to anything if you do not learn to read! Now, try again!” He stares long and hard at the page, but the letters swirl and jump and twist, and will not stay still long enough for him to work them out.
If only she could see him now! She was wrong about him never amounting to anything! He is popular! He is rich! And he has a Neopian Times collection to prove it! As for not trying hard enough, he had worked so hard on this! Every Friday, the long trek, the daily dusting, hunting high and low to find older issues, were just to prove her wrong! And she was wrong! This, surely proved it?
Another memory comes to his mind.
He runs through his field, chased by his tormenters, with their jeering smiles and scornful eyes, trying to escape their taunts.
“Read this, read this!” they laughed, pushing a typed piece of paper in front of him.
“You’re pathetic,” one would say, and the others would nod. “You can’t even read. You’ll end up in a boring job doing boring things for no money because of it!”
Well, they wouldn’t have laughed then if they could see the future, them getting the boring jobs and becoming nobodies, while he, Mr. Banks, became the established pet he is now! Wouldn’t they gasp to see his collection, marvel at it? They’d be sorry for making his life a misery!
As for his parents- his strict, stern faced parents, his memory of them as clear as day.
“You’re a disgrace to the family!” his father tells him. “You have let the Banks name down! Why can’t you try harder? Why can’t you just read?”
He hasn’t let the family name down! He is successful, loved and rich, everything his father wanted!
He has become everything those people thought he never would, and without even knowing how to recognise a letter! Yet, he feels odd inside, a strange depression creeping over him. A tear crawls out of his eye, but he pushes it away quickly.
“Mr. Banks, an interviewer from the Neopian Times is here,” a shy starry Kougra enters the room and tells him, one he vaguely recognises as his next door neighbour. “Will you be coming out soon?”
“Oh, certainly!” Mr. Banks exclaims, realising how much time he has spent in this room. “I’m sorry; I got distracted admiring my collection.”
He leaves, entering the crowded room full of people he feels no real friendship towards, lonelier than ever, while his four hundred paper butterflies hang, staring at the blank wall he has left, aching for someone to open their wings and love them.