Across the street is a boy with what looks to be a small keyboard where a head should be. The sight strikes me as grotesque at first, an unusual stain on an otherwise normal suburban scene, but after my moment of fear passes I remember that I’m in Duen, and this strange boy is actually way closer to the kind of sights I expected to see here.
He seems to be struggling with carrying some boxes from the trunk of his car, so I decide to take the opportunity to meet my first duenkhy other than Lady.
JUN: Hi, pardon me—
?: OH GOD!
He immediately drops the box in his arms, and magazines go spilling all over the driveway. Oops.
JUN: I am so sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you!
He’s staring at me with what feels distinctly like fear, even though he lacks the facial features to convey such a thing. The awkward tension squeezes more words out of me against my will.
JUN: I, uh, just moved into this neighborhood, so I thought I’d introduce myself and help you out—sorry again, let me help you with these…
I crouch down to gather magazines with the boy, but the entire time I sense his nervous stare burning a hole through me. In our haste, our hands brush against each other as we reach for the same magazine, and he recoils from the contact as though I’d burned him. I feel like I’ve already managed to make a real ass of myself and it’s only my first day here.
JUN: Sorry. Uh, I’m Jun, by the way. I’m really sorry I startled you.
?: I’m C-Cassius… Cassius Rhodes.
He introduces himself as if I had him at gunpoint. His voice comes out from the speakers on either side of his “head,” meek and only a tiny bit distorted. He continues to clumsily collect his scattered tomes with slender, calloused hands. It’s a fascinating sight, this scrappy boy with small shoulders, battered tennis shoes, and a noggin two feet wide. I try really hard not to stare, but watching someone with no face fidget and glance around is really odd. He certainly must have some kind of ocular ability.
As his fingers curl around a particularly colorful cover, I realize that all the magazines pertain to music and music gear.
JUN: …Do you have an interest in music, Cassius?
As soon as I say that, I want to duct tape my mouth shut. Asking a guy with a keyboard for a head if he likes music feels like a huge social misstep. But to my relief, his posture seems to loosen a little at the question, and his voice brightens considerably.
CASSIUS: I-I do! Um, I mean sort of. I write and record my own stuff sometimes, and I’m studying music theory at the local college.
CASSIUS: I’m hoping to start a band soon, but my family also just moved into this neighborhood, so I’m still getting settled in. I don’t really know anyone in this city yet.
JUN: Well, hey! Me neither. You’re the first I’ve met.
CASSIUS: Really? Well… I’m glad I got to meet you today, then.
He holds up his hand for a second, as if to offer it for shaking, but then he seems to think better of it and retracts. Regardless, his posture is friendly now, and his tone seems genuine, so I think nothing of it and smile as kindly as I can.
JUN: That’s cool that you’re a musician. I don’t know anything about music. But I’m also just kinda not good at much in general, other than video games I guess.
CASSIUS: Haha! Ohh, I’m really not anything special yet. I still have a lot to learn…
We place the last of the magazines neatly in the box, and he hoists it back up into his arms. Again, his lack of facial features leaves me overanalyzing his body language. He teeters back and forth, like he can’t decide if he wants to stay or run away. Finally, he faces me again, and I don’t know quite how to justify this feeling, but I almost sense shyness radiating from him.
CASSIUS: Um, I have to put these away now, but I’ll see you some other time. …If you ever wanted to learn piano, I could teach you. You don’t have to, but I’d be happy to show you a few things. Only if you want to though!
CASSIUS: B-but! Don’t get the wrong idea or anything!! We would play on another keyboard, not my head, okay?
I don’t even know an appropriate way to respond to that, so I just nod dumbly. If keyboards could blush, I think he’d be bright red right now.
CASSIUS: Anyway! Sorry, b-bye!!!
And with that, he scampers off. A long cord bounces from the back of his head, swinging side to side like an unwieldy tail. I almost expect him to trip over it. He ought to tie it up or something.
What a strange bundle of nervous energy.