The Girl Who Wasn’t Sara
By Qing Yang
Eric first noticed the girl as she was getting off the train. He couldn't see her face from where he was sitting, but from behind she looked almost exactly like Sara. She had the same height, the same build, the same shoulder-length hair – and while the latter was streaked with red, who was to say that Sara couldn't dye her hair over the holidays?
Out of impulse more than anything else, he got off the train and followed her. She headed for the mall, stopping to check her phone every now and then. Eric stopped with her each time. He wasn't quite sure if he wanted to talk to Sara right now, and for that reason he wanted to see if it was her before she saw him. The girl stopped once again, and Eric looked at her more closely. Just like Sara, she had the most terrific pair of legs, although they were slightly more tanned than he recalled. Perhaps Sara had picked up swimming since the last time they met. He imagined Sara in a swimsuit, and felt a tinge of regret that they were no longer in touch.
He followed the girl down an escalator. About halfway down she glanced to the side, and Eric caught a glimpse of her face. And while he still couldn't be sure if it was her, the fact that she looked enough like Sara for him to remain uncertain struck him with a sudden bout of nervousness. He might have just been playing around before this, pretending that she was Sara and all, but now – now it was different. She could really be Sara. He thought back to the time before they stopped talking. Even then he would feel nervous before they met, but she only had to flash Eric a smile for him to feel better. Eric wondered if he would ever get to see that smile again.
The girl headed for the supermarket, which got Eric excited, since it was a place that Sara liked to frequent. In happier times, she would ask Eric along, and he would watch as she picked out ingredients for her latest recipe or dish. Eric quickly learnt not to sample her creations, though. They stepped into the supermarket. The girl continued to check her phone every few seconds, and from the way she kept glancing around it seemed like she was expecting someone. Eric tried moving to a different aisle to get a better angle on her face, but because the girl was moving as well it was hard to get in the right position. They wandered into the dairy section. Then her phone rang, and Eric hid behind a shelf and listened.
"Where are you?" Her voice was deeper than Eric recalled, although it was still passable for Sara's if one threw in a slight cold. What struck him, however, was how she mumbled her words--just like Sara used to do. He could barely make out what she was saying at all. Eric thought back to their past conversations. He often had to ask her to repeat herself multiple times, to the point where he would give up and pretend that he'd heard her (he hadn't). It was incredibly annoying, but for some crazy reason it made him like her even more. Eric couldn't make out the rest of what the girl was saying, but from her tone he guessed that she'd just been stood up by a friend. He followed her out of the mall, slightly more certain that it was Sara than when he'd followed her in.
Eric didn't know where Sara lived--not exactly, anyway. She'd pointed it out to him from a distance once: a sloping red roof amidst a sea of haphazard structures. They were standing on top of a hill, and Eric remembered sneaking a glance at Sara, her hair billowing in the autumn wind. How would it feel to run his fingers through it?
Suddenly he had an idea: he would follow the girl home and see where she lived. They headed back to the station, Eric keeping a safe distance behind her. The girl fiddled with her phone while waiting for the train, and Eric realised with a jolt that she was playing Scramble. It seemed like ages ago that Sara had introduced him to the game. At first he played just to humour her, but soon he was hooked on it, and within a month he was beating her by a big margin. And then they both tired of it, until one day when Sara flooded his phone with about twenty Scramble requests. "Are you okay?" Eric typed into his phone. "No," came the reply, but Sara refused to say why. They never got round to finishing the 20 games in the end.
It was dark by the time the girl got off the train. There weren't many other people around, and Eric hung back further so that he wouldn't look too conspicuous. He followed her down an alley. It was lined with houses on both sides, and the girl disappeared into one of them through a gate. Sure enough, it had a sloping red roof, but Eric couldn't be sure if it was the same one that Sara had pointed out to him so many years ago. Suddenly there was a shrill bark from behind the gate. Eric's heart started to race. He knew Sara had a black-and-white sheltie, one that Eric adored despite never having met in person. Sara used to send him lots of photos, and it looked so happy in all of them that Eric couldn't help but feel slightly jealous. How nice it must be to have such a lovely mistress. He craned his neck for a better view, but when he put his weight on the gate it swung open without warning. Eric froze like a dog caught with its nose in a bag of treats. But fortunately there didn't seem to be anyone in the yard. Eric took a deep breath, and tiptoed towards the source of the barking: a rather large kennel in the middle of the garden. Just a quick look, and then he would leave. He peered into the kennel. Just as he thought, there was a black-and-white sheltie in it, although he couldn't be sure if it was Sara's. Eric bent down to scratch its chin; it licked his face before offering him a chewed-up shoe. Just then he heard the sound of footsteps approaching. Panicking, he ducked into the only place he could hide: the kennel.
"You bad boy. You've got my shoe, haven't you?"
There was a note of annoyance in the girl's voice. The footsteps got louder and louder. Then the girl stuck her head into the kennel, and Eric saw that she wasn't Sara.QLRS Vol. 15 No. 3 Jul 2016