witty-remark's Diaryland Diary

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Growing up, there was a small patch of land by my elementary school filled with brittle trees and dust. The area had caught fire so many times that the soil was black as tar and the wind swept the smell of smoke between every branch and shrub. This humble terrain, often littered by beer cans and condoms--the residual imprint of the teenagers who frequented the site--was simply known as “the forest.” The forest, hardly a place bearing any semblance to its name, was cloaked in an air of notoriety and thrill.

Something always happened there. Among the trees and worn-out earth.

“Children, don’t go into the forest. There’s a bad man there.” they told us.

“Did you hear about ‘the bad man?’” we gossiped to one another.

“Go in!” we dared the bravest and the most scared.

Once Liza approach Brandy and I outside of our apartments.
“I saw him, you know” she told us proudly nodding her head.

“What do you mean? Who?” we asked.

“The bad man. I saw the bad man. He asked me something. He told me not to tell anybody.”

We begged her to reveal what the bad man said. Yet, my curiosity to know was suddenly swallowed by my fear of knowing. “The bad man” in “the forest” was the boogeyman of our youth. Who wanted to meet someone who met the boogeyman? Still, we persisted.

“Oh, please, please, please, please, pleeeease.” we pleaded.

“Alright. He asked me to take off my pants.”

Brandy and I stared blankly. In the silence of our reaction, Liza continued.

“He told me take off my pants and he would take his off as well.”

Still we said nothing.

“I did. So did he. He told me take off my underwear too.”

Brandy gasped, and I clutched my mouth.
“But I didn’t. I put my pants back on. He tried to take them off again, but I ran. I ran so fast! He told me to never tell anybody what happened” Liza exclaimed with a flicker of satisfaction in her eyes.

Neither Brandy or I knew how to process this. Someone we knew had met the bad man, and more importantly, lived to tell about it. And even more, more importantly, lived to tell about it despite being explicitly told not to.

All three of us stood quietly for some time before Brandy simply said: “cool.”

“Yeah, cool.” I repeated.

We didn’t understand the significance of what we’d been told. That we should have told someone else. Or encouraged Liza to do the same. We merely said “cool” and walked away, with our back against Liza who stood pleased with her recent conquest.

That same year, near the end of the school term, I would also come to meet “the bad man.” Shirley and I had taken it upon ourselves to go into the forest all alone. We were, after all, the tomboys who revelled in our ability to match the boys in strength and fearlessness. We wanted a story to share. A tale to reaffirm how daring and intrepid we were.

We had ventured a quarter into the forest before we saw him approaching us. To this day, I can’t recall exactly what he looked like since the second our eyes met, our feet hit the ground and we bolted. How big the trees seemed as we weaved through them. How far away the exit appeared now. How slow time passed as we sped away.

We made it out panting, terrified, yet laughing. We were so proud in our stupidity. We’d tell the tale over and over again. And be asked to repeat it even more times. Shirley would make wild gestures with her hand. I’d re-enact how we manoeuvred between each obstacle. And everyone would reward us for our bravery by sitting with their face resting in their palms, begging to hear the story once more.

A few days ago, I strolled past the forest again. Mention of the “bad man” hadn’t been made for a decade or so. The kids now were free to run through this small patch of land by my elementary school filled with brittle trees and dust. But who would want to anyhow? The forest had been reduced to a shell of a memory. Like the bark of the giving tree, time had cut it down; stumped it, really. All the allure and mystery had been blown away by the same wind that once carried that familiar smoky smell. The trees seemed so much shorter. Even more frail than before. And the distance between one end to the other no longer seemed like a never-ending journey. The forest had been stripped of all the peril it once induced, and so too, had my childhood.

9:51 p.m. - Tuesday, Dec. 07, 2010

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