Short Story: Rahul or Raul

Raul or Rahul

It was 2001 and the towers had not yet fallen, and Raul’s brother had not left for university. Even though his brother’s empty room was only a scant few meters away from Raul’s, his brother had still tried to send Raul the video over MSN messenger, perhaps just to see if it would work. Raul didn’t know why he’d done that, and the lack of knowing followed him into his dreams, like a hole he could not descend into, a place which when he shouted questions at, would only echo.

So lately, Raul could not sleep. One morning he watched the sky change color again, his eyes half-lidded, feeling itchy all over and incomplete. He lay and wriggled in the stark, smoggy dawn, and tried to list all the reasons for why his brother had sent him the video, and which of the reasons seemed most like the truth. Why not just ask him to watch it? He could have gone right across the corridor, they could have watched it together.

Raul watched the light creep up his own computer, which had itself effortlessly slept through the entire night, and behind the black screen of which waited the link he had not yet dared to click. He went to his computer, tired of being exhausted, and he found the MSN message, the window a week old and still open, the link the color of un-clicked.

He clicked the link.

The ponderous, slow, Windows Media Player whirred to life and an image appeared, of Raul’s brother, a guitar casually perched upon his lap, waving indistinctly in the direction of the camera. So that was what the video was of- that birthday party, from when they had been in school. Raul couldn’t quite remember much of the party, except how his brother had awkwardly dedicated the song to Raul- yes- didn’t he? He did, at the beginning, right before he played the song. He’d said, “this one’s for…” or was it “the song goes out to…” or something else entirely. The song had been for him.

Raul pressed play.

The image would not move. He tried again. It stayed frozen. Raul checked; it wasn’t the codec; or the godawful player. Was it the file? Was it corrupted? Raul slammed the keyboard, then muttered alone, to himself, to calm down. Did his brother dedicate the song to him? Raul peered deep into the frozen frame, trying to access the memory via association, and could not- it was just out of reach, or perhaps, the picture was of too low quality. His doubts clamored about how it never made any sense, for his brother to dedicate that song to him.. It was a love song wasn’t it? The kind you sang to your girlfriend, or in his case, boyfriend. That’s what made it so awkward- though it had been hilarious- everyone knew his brother was gay and this was way too over the top, that he’d meant his older brother.

Unless.

Raul smacked himself in the head.

HE’D MEANT RAHUL!

RAHUL! His brother had had a crush on him! But Rahul himself wasn’t AT the party, so what’s the point in dedicating it to him? Raul didn’t know, and this sent his head into the keys, sounding that annoying warning blare. He noticed then, eyes straining against the top of his head, that in the bottom of the frozen video was someone with a pink mohawk on his head, and an ancient, 90’s style camcorder in his hands. Obsolete, backwards tech, you couldn’t send THAT over MSN. Though supposing if you lived nearby, you could probably run over with the video as quickly as send it online, though you’d need a VCR to play it.

Raul considered, whilst he got dressed for work, of trying out passwords on his brothers locked computer

Then he left.

The world was a bleary mess kept at a distance by the insomnia. At the bus stop, when he heard the tinny, absurd, custom ringtone come from the woman’s phone- the opening theme of Pokemon; “I wanna be…the very best…that no one ever was…” before catching himself, realizing- it was his brother that had shown everyone at school how to get that song onto their phones, his brother who organized that ridiculously awesome phone-sing-a-long-prank during the famous assembly, so what if this woman knew him? What are the odds that this was just a coincidence? How awkward would that be if she didn’t know about him. How do you broach the topic?

Raul said nothing.

Instead he planned how it was he would find out exactly who the guy with the pink mohawk was. At work he used the company landline to place several calls, whilst simultaneously using his Nokia phone to text people. Through friends of friends of his brother, he tracked the number down. He tried it, and in a polite flurry asked the mohawk if he still had the video. The mohawk did. And was he free this evening? He was, sort of. An impending meeting had Raul outright demanding, in a fluster, that he be able to borrow the video that night. The mohawk said sure, but to come by before seven . Raul thanked him profusely and got back to work. It came easier, the promise of the video like a beacon, something to look forward to, that he thought would bring him peace.

The fucking meeting ran over.

When he finally left, it was pushing 8:30. He called the mohawk and the phone rang, and rang, and rang. He texted the mohawk, asking if they could reschedule, that Raul would go anywhere, would travel across the city if he had to, he just needed to see the damn video. Finally a pissed off woman answered. “What the hell do you want?” Her voice softened when he told her who he was.

“Bob’s at the airport. He had a flight to catch.”

“But…what…when is he coming back?”

“He isn’t…” At that Raul couldn’t help it. He began to tear up. “Hello? Are you there?”

“…What’s his flight number?”

She told him and he ran to a taxi, worried inside, ran out of the taxi, and into the airport to a help desk, then ran from the help desk to the check out counters. Then ran from the checkout counters to the immigration entrance. Raul scanned the travelers for a pink mohawk. There were none. Raul wanted to scream, so he did, he screamed: “BOOOOOOOOOOOB!” and someone with a dark crew cut in a suit put up his hand. And no one arrested them as the towers hadn’t fallen yet.

Bob had the camcorder, and the tape, and the camcorder could play the tape on a tiny screen.

“Is it okay if I watch it on my own? In the toilet?”

Bob said it was okay.

Raul sat with the seat down, glad he bought some earphones from the nearby store. He plugged them in, crossed his fingers, and pressed play.

His brother came back to life.

Raul rewinded to the beginning repeatedly. Each time he felt the whole machine shake as the analogue tape physically wound itself backwards. He did this several times to make sure he had heard right, till he was sure his brother had said:

“I dedicate this song to the not yet departed: Rahul! Wish you were here man!” Of course. Rahul. Rahul was leaving the city, a few weeks from then.

So Raul stopped the tape, right before the song began. He felt the hole again, the lack, the truth failing to fill it.

Then he took a breath, and pressed play.

Raul listened, and heard, and saw, that the song wasn’t really awkward at all. It wasn’t hilarious either. It was okay. Under his breath, on top of the toilet, Raul sang along. At the end, to Raul’s complete surprise, his brother made a joke. It was that Pokemon joke. No one at that party had gotten the joke, except Raul. He’d laughed so loudly, wow- THAT was awkward. He remembered now, how his brother had stared right at him, how his brother had made the joke knowing Raul was the only one who would get it, and it was funny because Raul had given him his charizard card, before he knew what it was worth, and that’s what the joke was about.

Then it call came back to him. Raul remembered the whole damn party, the laughing, the dancing, and how, drunk for the first time, he had hugged his brother, and he remembered what that felt like.

So Raul cried, and he said goodbye, touching the tiny screen with his wet fingers.

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