I held Damien's hand as we walked through the endless rows of Neopians who were yelling their lungs out. "Damien," I started. "What are all these people going on about?"
My owner had been acting strange, especially over the past couple of weeks. Out of nowhere, he suggested that we went out to grab lunch together. Strangely, this didn't seem like any dining place at all. It lacked the pleasant chatter of old friends and the occasional clinking of teaspoons in coffee cups.
"SEEKING GREY DRAIK!!!!!!!! OFFERING WELL," a signboard read.
"BRING IN YOUR DRAIKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" read another.
"LOOKING FOR ANY NAMED PIRATE LUPE, NEED THE CLOTHES!!!"
The list of boards was endless.
What was going on? Damien stopped at one of these people waving their Draik signboards and left me alone in the middle of the room. There were many Neopians running back and forth frantically, and it left me in such a daze. After a few moments of looking around wide eyed, I began to notice a gentle tugging at my tail, and looked down. It was a baby Gelert.
"Hi," he gasped. "You look lost."
"Yes. Yes, please tell me where I am." I begged.
"We are at the Neopets Trading Board," he mumbled, before looking up at me with the saddest pair of eyes I have ever seen. "I suppose your owner brought you here to trade you off."
My eyes began to well up with tears. Being a grey pet, I grew sad easily, and it was not something entirely in my control. The baby Gelert saw me tearing up and told me not to worry, for "Draiks, especially expensively painted ones like yourself trade well for other Neopets". After sensing that I was not intending to reply him, he added, "Baby Neopets like me are the ones to be are worried. Nobody wants us, almost anyone can afford a Baby Paint Brush these days."
Was it really true? Perhaps that baby Gelert was just playing a prank on me—like all the other baby Neopets enjoyed doing. I was about to find out.
"Dantye!" Damien yelled cheerfully. "Come on over here! I have someone I'd like you to meet."
Obediently, I dragged my feet over to where my beloved owner was standing. He was in front of the signboard we walked past earlier, which read: SEEKING GREY DRAIK!!!!!!!! OFFERING WELL
It was a bubbly brunette girl that Damien had wanted me to meet. "Oh, he's so CUTE!!" she squealed, before proceeding to pinch my droopy face. "And he's well named too!"
She bent down to hug me, and feeling obligated, I returned the favour. Though her hair smelt like the sweetest, most finest strawberries Neopia had to offer, the scent froze the blood in my veins.
After what seemed like forever, she finally let go of me and stood up to face Damien, who seemed bored. "He's perfect, and I have the greatest inspiration for him." Inspiration? What inspiration? I was so confused. She went on to tell him about several 'character ideas' she had for me, but I quickly stopped listening to their conversation.
These Neopians, they were great at treating their Neopets like items. You don't love a Neopet just because it's well named. Badly named, or even very badly named Neopets are still very much alive. We deserve the love and attention from owners, not just because of the colours painted on our outer fur; we deserve it because you were the ones who brought us into this strange world of Neopia. I closed my eyes and waited for what was to come next.
"We'll trade tomorrow" were the words that rang through my ears the entire way home. The walk home was a quiet one. Damien walked ahead of me, and I hung my head low the whole way back.
"Dantye!" yelled Alexur and Behemof in unison, upon my arrival back home. Behemof, being a young playful Kougra, leapt on top of me and tried to start a play fight. I was defeated before the scuffle even started, as I lay there motionless the whole time. Behemof backed off and mumbled to Alexur that I was "in a bad mood, as always" and they both retreated to their rooms. Did they know? I wasn't too sure.
I stayed in bed the whole evening, and did not respond when my brothers called me down for dinner. At around midnight, when the rest of the household fell asleep, I pulled out my wallet and fished for a tattered photo: a picture of Damien cradling me in his arms when I was still a little baby Draik. I began to sob, as quietly as I could, and held myself— praying to Fyora for sleep to come.
My bedroom door creaked open gently, and the hallway light that shone through the crack disturbed my embrace of darkness. There at the doorway stood Damien, who asked to come in.
In the dim light, I could still tell that his face was wet with tears. The silence between us was deafening, but neither of us would speak. "Damien," he began. "Please understand. I love Draiks, but Grey is just not the colour I am looking for anymore, and I can't afford another paintbrush for you. Besides, I don't want to repaint you— that would be such a waste of a Grey Paint Brush. You'll be going to a new home where the owner is crazy about Grey Draiks. Honest."
So that was all I was worth to my owner. Gone were the days where he would take me to watch M*YNCI on his off day; gone were the days where he would come home with mustard ice cream for me just because it was my favourite. I tried to speak, but I couldn't. All the memories of us were flooding back, and drowning me. I thought about the times he would miss a day at work just to make sure my Sneezles would go away. Perhaps it was now time for me to go away, too.
When Damien tried to hug me one last time, I did not resist. Alexur and Behemof were still sound asleep in their beds; it was impossible for youngsters like them to be up this early on a Saturday morning. Damien wanted the trade to be done in secret to refrain from scaring the two of them, and they were to find a well-named Royalgirl Draik sitting (at the place I sat at for years) when they went down for breakfast. Only then would they sense my disappearance, and even so, I knew that I would not be missed.
Every day, I learn new things. Today I learnt that it is, in fact, possible to feel a sadness worse than the one that already comes with being painted grey. As I grabbed the hand of my new owner, I held on as tightly as I could, for fear that I would be let go of once more. Maybe everything would be right this time round, and I would be surrounded with unconditional love for once. My heart grew warm at the thought of this.
I closed my eyes and began to dream.
No grey Draiks were actually traded/abandoned in the making of this story. *hugs Dantye*