Backlight chapter 1

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PROLOGUE

May was probably the worst month of my entire life. I already knew I also liked men, and so did my family. They’re cool with it, but I started questioning that “being a man” started feeling wrong to me.

To top that off, mom died in an accident before I had the chance to find the words to describe myself with, let alone to come out to her.

After all that bullshit, I wanted something to take my mind off of everything. I needed something.

But since weeklong booze bender didn’t help, I had to turn to something stronger. So, you know. Drugs. As one does.

In retrospect, I probably should have done more research on how to buy drugs safely because right now I am being mugged.

Mugger 1: Give me your money!

At this point, I’m just rolling with the bullshit.

???: What’s going on here?

A voice interrupts my muggers. A voice speaking fluent English with a British accent.

Mugger 1: English?

Mugger 2: What the fuck?

The stranger steps into our sight. He’s a pale white man, around my age. He’s very slender and dressed in a thick black trenchcoat, even in this heat.

???: Are you beating someone up? Did he deserve it?

Mugger 1: Speak Finnish, you clown.

???: Yeah yeah, spurdo spärde to you too. Did he deserve it?

Mugger 2: Do fuck off, dude. This doesn’t concern you.

Mugger number two steps away from me and towards the newcomer, who eyes the man up and down, then looks at me, down on the ground. His eyes scan my face and he probably sees how scared I look. The trenchcoat man looks back to the muggers, at the knives they have in their hands, ready to use them.

???: Are you mugging him? That’s illegal.

Mugger 2: I said fuck off!

Mugger number two swings the knife at the newcomer. I don’t know what happens, but suddenly the mugger is on the ground on his back.

Mugger 1: What the fuck??

???: Hey come on. I’m just trying to be a good, peaceful guy here.

Mugger 1: You fucked with the wrong guy, pisshead.

Mugger 1 attacks the stranger and in a flash, he’s on the ground as well.

Mugger 2: Whatever! This fag isn’t worth it!

The muggers scramble back on their feet and run. The stranger laughs and offers a hand to me. I grab it and he pulls me up.

Now that I can see him more clearly, I realize his eyes are light blue. His hair is dirty blonde and casually tousled. He has a little stubble going on his jaw and his smile is relaxed and almost contagious.

???: Did you see that? I just flipped them over and they run. Pathetic.

Valo: I-I did… Thank you.

???: Huh? Oh. Right, they were mugging you. Haha, no problem, mate!

???: What are you doing here anyway? You’re dressed way too fine to be in a gang.

Valo: …

> Tell the truth > Lie
Valo: … I was buying drugs. I was supposed to meet my dealer here. Valo: I was… taking a walk.
The stranger blinks at me for an astonished second before throwing his head back and laughing loudly. ???: Oh? And you chose this dank-ass gross alleyway for a bit of a jog?
???: Okay first off, you don’t tell people you’re buying drugs like that. Valo: …
The stranger narrows his eyes at me and stares at me for a long while.

???: Wait a second… Are you… what was the nick… LightEnvelopingDark or whatever the fuck?

Valo: Y-yes?

The stranger laughs again.

???: No way. I’m dealing to you? Is this your first time buying?

I feel myself blush and I nod.

Valo: We might have to call the deal off, though. The muggers took my money.

The stranger scowls.

???: That’s unfortunate. After I came all the way here too…

He claps his hands suddenly, making me jump.

???: How about this? I give you the shit and you repay me with a favour later.

Valo: …Sure.

As soon as the word leaves my mouth, I realize that it might not be a good idea to leave a drug dealer with an IOU.

Too late now, I guess.

???: Cool cool cool. Name’s Nigel, by the way.

Valo: I’m Valo.

We shake hands.

Nigel: An absolute pleasure to meet you, Valo.

Nigel: Valo… Valo… Did I get that right? Vaaaloo…

And that’s how I met Nigel.


Backlight.png

CHAPTER 1: DRUG DEALZ

Somehow Nigel and I settled into a weird nonverbal agreement, where Nigel would randomly call me up to help with his errands, which he then rewards me with drugs or experimental tech.

At some point, I had become his go-to handyman.

It’s… a weird relationship, but it works. At least it gets me out of my apartment and gives me something to do and think. Other than festering in depression in my apartment at every waking moment.

Nigel is actually pretty cool now that I’ve gotten to know him.

xxEndOfAnEraxx: Hey m8! We have deals! Meet up at my place.

LightEnvelopingDark: Alright. Be there in 15.

xxEndOfAnEraxx: Good boy. I’ll give you a cut from the stock.

LightEnvelopingDark: Hell yeah!

I get my shoes and head out to Nigel’s place.

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After I make sure my hair isn’t too big of a mess, I press the doorbell and wait for Nigel to open the door.

… There’s no answer.

I press the doorbell again.

I hear clattering inside the flat and Nigel finally opens the door, looking frazzled.

Nigel: Fucking… I don’t have time for getting fucking doors. I need someone here to do it for me.

Nigel: Anyway! Valo! My man of the hour! Come in, come in!

He steps aside and lets me in. I follow him into the kitchen.

Valo: What are we selling today?

Nigel: Cocaine. Boring, but it works.

I huff a laugh. God, Nigel is so cool. Only he could describe cocaine as “boring”.

Nigel: I already have a few lines out for us before we hit the road.

Valo: Awesome.

Nigel grins and motions towards the table. There are four lines of cocaine on the pristine surface, along with a plastic card, a five euro bill and minigrip bags of the white powder in varying sizes.

Nigel: After you.

I nod and snort one of the lines. The powder stings and burns my sinuses. I suffocate a cough and sniffle when my nose feels like it’s going to start leaking.

While I’m recovering from the hit, Nigel snorts two lines.

Nigel: You gonna take that?

He points at the last line.

Valo: I’ll take it slowly. you can have it if you want.

Nigel: Don’t mind if I do.

He finishes off the last line and snorts like a huge dog, shaking his head.

Nigel: Whoof! Hits you like a truck!

Nigel: A sweet, sweet truck.

He claps his hands.

Nigel: Take the bags. You’ll be in charge of the merchandise tonight.

I nod and carefully stuff as many bags into my pockets as I can. I’m only wearing jeans and a T-shirt, but I manage to fit all of them, except for the biggest bag.

Nigel: I guess I’ll have to take that, then. Since I’ll be wearing my coat and all.

He grabs the bag and we head to his door. Nigel shrugs his coat on and slips the bag into one of its inner pockets.

Valo: Are you sure you want to wear that? It’s like a million degrees outside.

Nigel grins and flicks finger guns at me. My breath hitches.

Nigel: Check this out! I modified it!

He opens the coat, showing me a network of plastic tubes inside the coat.

Valo: What’s that?

Nigel: Try it!

I blink, but hesitantly touch one of the tubes. It’s pleasantly cool.

Valo: Wow, what?

Nigel: I built a cooling slash heating system inside. I’ll be nice and chill during the summer heat and warm and toasty during winter colds. And always styling.

Valo: That’s awesome…

Oh my god, he’s so smart!

Suddenly I realize how close I am to him. My hands are almost touching his chest. My heartbeat speeds up.

Nigel: I can Make you one, too. If you want. Might take some time though.

Valo: Mhm…

Nigel gives me a grin and tilts his head like he knows what I’m thinking.

Nigel: We should go.

I snap my hand back and start stammering.

Valo: Y-yeah!

We head out, my heart still pounding. Nigel leads us to the centre, to a nightclub. We get drinks and sit down at a table to wait for customers. As we’re sitting, Nigel starts talking.

Nigel: Did you know that there is a haunted tree in this city?

The club is kind of loud, so I lean closer to him to hear what he’s saying. I can almost immediately smell his deodorant or cologne. That, with the pounding music in the club, is making me dizzy.

Valo: What? No. Where?

Nigel: Ah, shit mate. I don’t fucking remember. But it was like. There was this guy who broke out German prisoners of war during the second world war, right?

Valo: Uh-huh.

Nigel: He let them escape, right? And he got caught for doing it and he got hung. He was hung on this one specific tree.

Nigel: And he was buried under the same tree.

Nigel: After he had been buried, people allegedly saw him standing by the tree, at night. People said that that tree was haunted by that guy’s ghost or something.

Nigel: Eventually, his body was taken to a real graveyard, though.

At some point, my gaze had fallen to Nigel’s lips.

Valo: That’s wild.

Nigel: Right?!

Nigel: But the haunting stopped when the guy was buried properly. Or something.

He sighs and crosses his arms.

Nigel: Shame… It would’ve been cool to see.

Valo: There might be other haunted places in Oulu.

Nigel hums and lets his head roll back. The way his neck arches makes his Adam's apple stand out and it’s… distractingly sexy. God, this would make such a beautiful, sensual photo… Luckily, someone approaches us to buy a few bags and distracts me from the distraction.

When the customer leaves, Nigel doesn’t speak. I should keep the conversation up.

> Current projects > Sudden interest in ghosts
Valo: Wh… Have you been working on something cool lately? Valo: So… ghosts? IS that a… an interest?
Nigel frowns. Nigel: Haha, yeah. I’ve recently gotten into supernatural and occult shit.
Nigel: Not really, just the usual repair work. Valo: Really? I thought you were a logical… a man of logic.
Nigel: I’ve been in some kind of slump as of late. Nigel: Hah! I am! I’m just interested. Fascinated. I don’t think I wanna, like, get healing crystals.
Valo: Aw, I’m sorry to hear that. Valo: How so?
Valo: Maybe you need to work on something new. Nigel grins and winks at me. The sight sends an electric jolt through my spine.
Nigel: You may be right. Nigel: I might have an idea for a project, if my hypothesis is right.
He grins at me. My breath hitches.
Nigel: You always know just want to say.

Another person comes to buy a bag and interrupts us. He gets his baggy and leaves, leaving me and Nigel alone again.

> Ask about current projects > Ask about the sudden interest in ghosts

As we speak, I find it’s harder and harder to pay attention to what he’s saying. My eyes keep slipping to his lips. Luckily, business picks up and clusters of people show up to buy our shit. Most of the stock is sold and Nigel and I are by ourselves again.

Neither of us speaks, which is fine by me. I need to cool my head. The music abruptly shifts in the dancefloor and I hear people cheer wildly. Over the crowd’s screaming, I distantly hear a new DJ introducing himself.

DJ: GOOOOOD EVENING, FOLKS! HOW ARE WE TONIGHT?

The crowd cheers.

DJ: Awesome! I’m DJ Baridi, check me out on Soundcloud after you go home. Are you ready to DANCE??

The crowd cheers, louder.

DJ: I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!!

The crowd cheers even louder.

DJ: AWESOME! LET’S GO!!!

The bass drops and the crowd goes wild.

Nigel: What’s that about?

Valo: No idea.

Nigel: DJ Baridi? I’ve heard that name before.

Valo: I haven’t.

Nigel rubs his jaw.

Nigel: Wanna go check it out?

My cheeks heat up immediately when my mind imagines what it must be like to dance with Nigel.

Valo: Yes.

Nigel: Awesome. Let’s go.

He grabs my arm and pulls me to the dancefloor. I look up at the podium and see a muscular, dark-skinned man fitting neon green headphones on his ears. His skin is so dark that he almost completely blends into the shadows. The only things giving some hint of his form are his neon green tank top, neon green baseball cap, the lights from his soundboard and the numerous glowing tattoos on his thick arms. He’s far away and it’s dark, but the small light sources slightly illuminating his face give me a hint of an African face.

The set is really catchy and I find myself swaying to it. I turn to Nigel in the slim case that he would be down to dance, but he’s already grinding against some white blonde chick.

…I mean, I expected something like this, but irritation and disappointment bubble in my chest anyway. I have to look away.

I guess I’ll dance alone, then.

I sway along with the music half-heartedly, trying to ignore the jealousy gnawing at my insides.

Someone in front of me stumbles and collides into me, pushing me backwards. I stumble against someone, who grabs my arms to keep me upright.

Valo: Sorry!

???: You okay?

I turn to look at the stranger and, oh fuck, it’s-

jahid.png

Valo: Jahid?

Jahid: Hi!

Or that’s what I assume he said. The music is loud.

Valo: Hi. I didn’t know you were into clubbing.

Jahid smiles crookedly. His hands slide down to hover over my elbows.

Jahid: I’m not. I’m here to meet up with friends.

Valo: Oh? Where are they?

I look around to see if there are people who look like they’d be with Jahid, but my eyes just land on Nigel, still dancing with the same girl. My irritation flares up again.

I glance back at Jahid, who’s still holding my arms. He’s also looking towards Nigel’s direction. His eyebrows are somewhat raised before he notices me looking at him and turns back to me.

Jahid: Do you want to dance? With me.

I mean, since Nigel is busy…

Valo: Sure.

Jahid smiles and pulls me close.

Oh. Oh wow. His eyes are really brown up close. I mean, I always knew he was handsome but damn.

He starts to sway to the beat and I follow him. We’re pressed chest to chest as we dance until the set ends and the DJ is switched.

Nigel: Hey, Valo!

Nigel appears from the crowd with the girl he had been dancing with.

Nigel: This bird says she can get us backstage to meet the DJ!

ivy.png

The chick waves her hand and smiles widely.

The chick: Tatu’s a friend of mine.

The chick: Hi, Jahid! You’re here too!

Jahid: Nice to see you too, Ivy.

Nigel looks between the two.

Nigel: You two know each other?

Jahid: We’re friends, yes.

The chick: With each other and Tatu!

Nigel: Uh huh… Cool.

Nigel: Anyway, can we get a move on? Can’t miss the afterparty, can we?

The chick: Nope! 𝅘𝅥𝅮

She grabs Nigel’s hand and pulls him through the crowd. Jahid takes my hand and follows them.

Jahid: She’s Ivy, by the way.

Valo: Oh. My friend’s name is Nigel.

Jahid’s expression is unreadable.

Jahid: How do you know him?

Valo: Uuh…

Before I conjure up enough brainpower for a decent lie, we arrive at the backstage. It’s immediately more quiet than the dancehall, which I can appreciate. Or at least, until the DJ recognizes Jahid.

tatu.png

DJ: EYYYYYYYYY!! DJ Tulut, my man!!

The DJ bounces up from a sofa, leaving a Southern-Asian looking person still sprawled on the sofa. He gives Jahid a huge hug and a high-five to Ivy before turning to me and Nigel.

DJ: New VIPs?

Ivy: Yep! This is Nigel. I met him while dancing!

She presses against Nigel’s side.

Nigel: Great set, mate. It was a pleasure to dance to.

DJ: Aw, shucks, thank you. Always nice to meet fans. Name’s Tatu, by the way.

Nigel: Nigel May.

They shake hands.

Jahid: And this is Valo, my friend. I happened to stumble on them on the dancefloor too.

Valo: Hi. Awesome concert. I gotta remember to check out your SoundCloud.

Tatu grins widely and presses a hand on his chest.

Tatu: Thank you kindly.

We also shake hands, and Tatu ushers us to sit down on the sofa. I get a better look at the androgynous person. They’re… stunning. Their hair is dyed dark green and they’re wearing a deep turquoise crop top and black, shiny leggings. They also have yellow hair decorations, black-and-dark-turquoise rimmed glasses, and snakebite piercings. I’m not sure if I want them or if I want to be them.

irantu.png

Ivy: Hi, Irantu. You and Tatu sure are attached at the hip.

Irantu scoffs with a smile.

Irantu: How dare you. We have separate jobs.

Ivy just giggles and makes her way to a mini fridge in the corner, followed by Nigel.

Tatu: This is Irantu, my friend.

Irantu gives a small wave before turning to Jahid.

Irantu: Jahid, so glad you could make it. How are you? Have you made any new music?

Valo: You make music? Since when?

Jahid laughs uncomfortably, a warm low rumble.

Jahid: I dabble. Tatu got me into it.

Nigel: What kind of music?

Jahid: Oh, it’s kind of… What did you call it, Tatu?

Tatu: Minimalist ambience.

Jahid: Yeah, that.

Ivy: Jahid! Drinks!

A can of coke sails through the air and Jahid catches it with little effort.

Ivy: Nice catch!

Ivy: What about you… uh, four-eyes?

Jahid& Valo: Valo.

Ivy: Cool. Valo. What do you wanna drink, Valo?

Valo: Whatever has alcohol.

Ivy grins and winks at me across the room.

Ivy: I like your attitude.

She ducks back to the mini fridge and digs around. Nigel doesn’t even hide staring at her ass.

I grind my teeth and look away.

Ivy: Cider for Valo!

… And almost get hit on the head by a can of cider.

Ivy: Ahahaha! Oh my god! I’m so sorry!

I juggle with the can before it falls onto my lap.

Jahid: Are you okay?

Oh shit, Jahid saw all of that. Fucking stellar.

Valo: Uh… yeah.

Jahid smiles and my fingers itch for a camera. This is the perfect angle for a portrait of him.

Nigel: God, Valo. You’re so clumsy.

I grimace a smile and open the can. The can hisses and spews sticky foam on my legs, drenching my lap.

Valo: Fuck!

Tatu: Oh man, tonight is not your night. Hold on, we have towels here somewhere…

He stands up and leaves, followed by Jahid.

Nigel laughs and shakes his head.

Nigel: God damn, mate. You’re making me look good by comparison.

Valo: You’re welcome…

Ivy giggles and snuggles up to Nigel’s side.

Tatu and Jahid return. Jahid is holding a white towel.

Jahid: Here you go.

Valo: Thanks…

I take the offered towel and start dabbing at my lap, sipping my cider with the other hand.

Despite my now cider-smelling trousers and ruined social status within this small circle of people, a comfortable atmosphere starts manifesting. The five of us lounge about, chat and drink. Or, rather, Nigel and Ivy are talking amongst themselves while Tatu, Irantu, Jahid and I are talking amongst ourselves.

Even with the slight separation, I am painfully aware of how Ivy pressed against Nigel, and now Nigel’s arm is around her shoulders, and how his hand slightly too close to her breast.

At some point, the conversation moves on to music production and I ask to hear some of Jahid’s music. Tatu opens Jahid’s SoundCloud profile in record time.

Jahid: It-it’s not much, I’m just a beginner.

I’m not much of a music guy, but some of Jahid’s stuff sounds like the stuff you could fall asleep to. Really chill and soothing.

Tatu: Did you ever explain to me where Tulut comes from?

Valo: Calligraphy, right?

I know that Jahid does calligraphy as a hobby. I’ve listened to him talk about it, but I’ve forgotten most details.

Jahid: Yes. Tulut is a type of Islamic calligraphy.

Tatu: Huh. I had no idea that Islam had its own type of calligraphy.

Jahid: It does!

Valo: How does it differ from regular calligraphy?

Jahid: Ah, well. At its core, calligraphy is an art form dealing with letters and writing.

Jahid: Islamic calligraphy isn’t that different, but Islam has a special relationship with calligraphy. We believe that the Quran is the word of God, so Muslim scribes developed a script worthy for it. That’s how Islamic calligraphy was born.

Jahid: Then there are the six major scripts, each used for different functions. They can be used for copying the Quran, to write carrier pigeon messages or to write records for government documents, just to name a few.

And so Jahid goes on to give a brief introduction on Islamic calligraphy and its major scripts, during which I empty my cider and refill maybe three, four times? I lose count. At some point, Jahid makes a concerned comment about the pace I down my drinks at, but I shrug it off.

Jahid’s lecture is really fascinating though! I always like to listen to him talk about art in general. He always has great insight on things.

Club staff: Gentlemen, we’re about to close, so…

Tatu: Oh damn, it’s that late already?

He stands up and claps his hands.

Tatu: Alright, gang, let’s pack it up and mosey on out.

I look towards to where Nigel is sitting, only to find the sofa empty.

Valo: Where’s Nigel?

Irantu: The blonde guy? He left with Ivy an hours ago.

Valo: Oh…

He said nothing to me when he was leaving? How didn’t I notice he was gone?

After Tatu has thanked the club staff for hosting his concert, we exit the club out on the street. The night is still somewhat warm from the heatwave, so it’s not quite enough to sober me up.

I still wish I had drunk more.

… I guess we should get to a bus stop.

Where’s the nearest bus stop again…?

I take a step and stagger a little. Whoa. I didn’t realize I was this drunk.

Jahid: Everything okay?

Valo: Yeah, just… drunk.

Jahid looks at me for a long while. He looks worried and like he wants to say something, but doesn’t know how to put it. I realize his hands are on my arms. I get a weird sense of deja vu.

Irantu clears their throat loudly, making me and Jahid both jump. Jahid steps back away from me.

Irantu: Soooo… Bus stop?

Jahid: Yes.

Tatu: Cool, cool, cool. I think the nearest one is this-a-way.

Jahid and I follow Tatu and Irantu to the bus stop and settle to wait.

Tatu: The next bus comes in 30 minutes. Because it’s two in the morning.

I groan and sit down. I still can’t believe Nigel left me behind like that. He didn’t even send me a message! How didn’t I realize he was gone?

A huge sigh escapes me.

Jahid: Is everything okay?

Ah, shit. Jahid noticed me moping.

> Lie > Tell the truth
Valo: Y-yeah. Just crashing. Valo: I just… Nigel left without saying anything to me.
Jahid gives me another long, worried look. Jahid blinks, looking surprised.
Jahid: You know you can talk to me, right? Jahid: Oh…
His voice is hushed, as if he doesn’t want Tatu and Irantu to hear. Irantu: Are you close to him?
Valo: … Huh? Valo: … Yeah. We’re friends.
Jahid: I-I mean, you don’t have to talk now, but if you need to talk to someone… Irantu frowns. Tatu mirrors their expression.
Jahid: You know I’m right here, right? Valo: …? What? What’s wrong?
Jahid: I’m sure Lim is also worried about you. Irantu: Nothing.
Dad? Where is this- The mood shifts.
Oh. Oh fuck. I want to ask what Irantu means, but I suddenly can’t make a sound.
Jahid thinks this is about mom. Between the three of us falls a silence that stretches on until Tatu speaks up.
Which… Yeah, it kinda is, but…
I just really don’t want to think about that.
Valo: …
Valo: Mmh.
Between the three of us falls a silence that stretches on until Tatu speaks up.

Tatu: Oh hey, the bus is coming!

Sure enough, a bus is rattling along the road towards the stop. Finally. Jahid hails the bus and it stops for us. We climb in and collapse on the seats.

Jahid: You still live in Toppila, right?

Valo: Yeah.

Jahid: So we all get off before you…

Jahid: Text me when you get home, okay?

Tatu chuckles.

Tatu: Sliding into the DMs.

Jahid blushes.

Jahid: Sh-shut up! I just want to make sure Valo gets home safely!

Irantu: Classic Jahid. Mom friending on everyone.

Jahid: Somebody has to!

We settle in tired silence until Tatu and Irantu get off the bus. After about ten minutes, Jahid gets a message.

Jahid: Tatu and Irantu made it home.

Valo: That’s good.

Another ten minutes pass and Jahid presses the stop button.

Jahid: My stop. Remember to text me.

Valo: I will.

Jahid stays on the bus stop and waves to me as the bus starts moving again. After about five minutes, my phone buzzes.

Jahid Mansour: I got home safely.

Valo Huang: 👍

Yet another ten minutes pass before I get to my stop. I get off and start walking towards my flat.

…I don’t know if it’s me being drunk and high or the heatwave or what, but the air… feels a little more solid. Like I’m moving through some really watery jelly.

Now that I’m alone, I realize how tired I am. Somehow, I manage to drag myself back to my flat. I drop my shoes near the door and shuffle in, shedding my clothes as I go.

Oh, right. I was supposed to text Jahid.

Valo Huang: I’m home now.

Jahid Mansour: Good to hear. Drink a glass of water and take a painkiller before you go to sleep.

Jahid Mansour: I hear that helps with hangovers. I don’t drink myself, so I’m not sure.

I smile.

Valo Huang: I will, thanks. Goodnight.

Jahid Mansour: Goodnight, Valo.

I down two glasses of water and beeline to bed. I faceplant onto my bed and fall asleep almost immediately.

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