Join The Ruff Side

Chapter 1: ''Who... What are you?''

''Ponocky!''

''You wanna make a ride on the Ponocky, Mehran?'' Hafez bent down to pick up his little brother from the ground, as his lips formed mollified smile. He enjoyed spending time with his family. Being the oldest son of the Qalzai household, he took a lot of pride in making his younger siblings and parents happy.

''Be gentle to the Ponocky, okay?'' he told the small boy as he carefully seated him on the back of the unnamed pony piñata. ''Don't pull out its confetti...''

''No!'' Mehran shook his head. ''Won't!''

Hafez chuckled. The two-year old's behaviour had improved considerably now that he received more attention of his older brother.

Usually, Hafez studied medicine at the clinic of the local vet during the daytime, but Doc Bandago was in the US for business, so despite his homework, the novice had a few weeks off. Of course his parents obligated to work in the garden and although he didn't have a thing for plants at all, keeping Mehran busy proved a way to fill his days worthily.

''I'm so glad you're taking such good care of Mehran.'' Hafez' mother was watering a bluebell a few meters away from her oldest and youngest son, at whom she glanced approvingly. ''You're turning into a real man, Hafez. I'm proud of you.''

''Ah, well...'' Hafez grinned Goobaishly as he supported Mehran with both of his hands. ''I guess it's about time... I'm eighteen now, after all...''

''True, true. I suppose it is time for your father and I to search you a wife, too...'' Mother Qalzai sniggered teasingly. ''Or have you already met your special girl, Hafez? Come on, you can tell me.''

''I, ehm...'' Hafez bit his lower lip. Actually, he thought he had. He'd secretly been dating Leafos, the daughter of the legendary Jardineiro for half a year now and he'd been wanting to take their relationship a step further ever since he'd seen her unmasked face, which apparently was a sign of great intimacy on Piñata Island.

Her father would get a stroke if his daughter came home with a mainlander - especially one of low birth - though. And their relationship would head nowhere near marriage without his permission, so Hafez and Leafos knew they could only dream of their wedding day...

''... I...'' he murmured, still trying to think up an answer to his mother's question without having to lie to her ''I... I don't think that there live any pretty girls in this village, to be honest. Not a place where I think I'll find my soulmate...''

Phew, he'd said that perfectly truthfully. All girls in Molino were either overweight, unbelievably manly, stuck-up, or from a completely different age than he was.
Leafos didn't live in Molino, but near a town called The Village, which was about twenty kilometers to the south.

''You want to marry a mainland girl, don't you?'' his mother asked as she walked over to a blackberry bush that required watering as well.

''That's not it, specifically,'' Hafez answered. ''I... I wanna focus on my study first. I'm a man. I can settle down at whatever age I want to - I might not get married until I'm fifty-two, I'm not that interested in women yet...''

Okay, those actually were lies.

His mother cocked a brow. ''You sure you're being genuine?''

''Sure as can be,'' Hafez answered with a straight face. He knew he wasn't the best liar. Some really dumb people would believe him when he told them unverities, but his ever alert mom spotted the smallest changes in his facial expressions and the tiniest tremblings in his voice...

Suddenly, a loud WHACK was being heard at the back of the garden. Mehran started crying. Hafez took him up from the now panickedly neighing Ponocky and held him closely against his chest. ''It's okay,'' he whispered. ''It's okay.''

To his satisfaction, Hafez felt his little brother calming down.

''What was that?'' their mother shouted, causing Mehran to burst out in tears again.

''I don't know. Shall I take a look?'' Hafez answered reluctantly.

''Yes, please my son!''

Hafez handed Mehran over to his mom and grabbed a shovel that was standing against a hazelnut tree. ''I hope it's not that Dastardos guy again...''

The idea of meeting Dastardos without Doc Bandago by his side horrified Hafez. He wouldn't ever admit it to anyone, but the piñata reaper scared the crap out of him. He found floating, emaciated corpses a tad bit unnatural to say the least, and the humming sounds the ghost emitted made him cringe.

To top all that off, Dastardos could only be defeated with the thrust of a special shovel. Now the Qalzai family wasn't poor, but they were far from filthy rich - which you had to be to afford such a special shovel.

The being Hafez found gnawing of the wooden fence that demarcated the medium sized garden was, much to his relief, not Dastardos though. It was something even weirder.

The thing was pretty squat and muscular and probably male. It wore the strangest mask - a big, red pineaple-ressembling helmet that didn't only cover the creature's face, but also its torso. Underneath it, the creature seemed to wear something that looked like a short...

Hafez stomach turned.

''Who... what are you?'' he uncertainly asked as he slowly took a few steps back, ready to draw his shovel if the 'thing' came any closer.

The red masked stature stopped molesting the fence and turned its mask towards Hafez, who shivered when he saw that the thing he'd just found in his family's garden probably wasn't human at all.

The undefined thing had extraneous glowing eyes, pumped, muscular arms with black spiral shapes tatooed on them and an enormous mouth filled with big, sharp teeth.

Hafez lightly raised his shovel. He didn't want to get bitten by those... What if this thing was a zombie, that'd infect him with its malicious zombie-virus by letting its tusks sink into his soft, rather flawless human skin?

Suddenly, the thing's frightening, patterned lips curled up to form a not exactly scary smile. ''A Ruffian!''

''Ehm, what?'' Hafez asked while rubbing his neck, stunned by the fact the creature was able to speak. ''Didn't quite catch that...''

''A Ruffian!'' it repeated. ''I'm a Ruffian. Haven't you heard about us?''

Hafez slowly shook his head. ''No... I'm afraid not...'' he said as he barely could hide the disgust in his voice.

''Have you never seen a completely destroyed garden? Like, never?''

This made Hafez think a little. He thought he could recall a client of his father, who had a company specialized in constructing fountains and waterworks, yammering about his brand new storage barn being wrecked by hooligans or something. It was all pretty blurry though; the possessions of his distant acquaintances were far from Hafez' first concern.

''Not really. But I think I've heard a guy mention a gruff group of vandals busting his property once, so, ehm, let me guess... You're one of those vandals?'' Hafez clacked his tongue disapprovingly.

That 'Ruffian', as the thing liked to call himself, sure wasn't welcome in this garden.

''That might have been my work!'' The Ruffian giggled childishly. ''Ruffians live to fuck up stuff... Including our own lives, but who cares? We don't. We have fun.''

Hafez raised his brows. ''Are you saying I don't have fun or -''

''No, of course I'm not implying that...''

A pearl of sweat dripped down Hafez' Venetian mask. This Ruffian-thing had quite a wide vocubalary... The being facing him had to by way more intelligent than it had seemed at first glance, which - for some unclear reason - troubled him.

''I just think you could do better,'' the Ruffian continued while grinning broadly. ''I mean, look at how you're spending your afternoon. Riding your baby brother around on a Ponocky while your mommy's watering plants...''

''What's wrong with that?''

''Nothing, nothing... Oh. You haven't told me your name yet.'' The Ruffian's eyes narrowed. ''Would you mind..?''

''Hafez. Now what's wrong with -''

''You've lived in this village for two years now, Hafez, yet you haven't acclimatized to the way of life they practice in this region so far...''

Hafez' caramel-colored cheeks turned red, which was clearly visible to the Ruffian since his mask only covered up around the eye area, unlike the full-face masks most of the native Islanders wore.

''I can't blame you, though. I grew up in Molino too, and I must say that this is the most backwater, rotten village of the entire Island! Why do you think I became a Ruffian?''

Hafez shrugged. '''Cause you weren't any good at anything else, perhaps?''

''Wrong,'' the Ruffian chuckled. ''Because the Ruffian lifestyle appealed more to me.
When all good kids, like you Hafez, were helping their parents in the garden; training piñatas, sowing seeds or picking fruits, my friends and I infested both the streets and the countryside...''

''That's very not productive,'' Hafez snorted. He might've had fallen for the strange guy's idle talk around the time he was fifteen, but he was becoming a grown man now... Or at least that was what he was trying to become.

He knew nothing in this world came for free, though, and if he ever wanted to maintain a family like he dreamed he would someday, he couldn't waste his time doing bs that ruined other people's life's and wouldn't even make him any money.

''We don't completely waste our lives away, Hafez,'' the Ruffian murmured, as if it had read the thoughts of the annoyed boy standing in front of him. ''Our raids and proaching trips mostly yield us quite some CCs... Not to mention the ridiculously high sums people are willing to pay us not to plunder their gardens - it's hilarious!''

''No - it's stealing,'' Hafez said stiffly. ''I'm going back to my family now and you get yo ass out of my garden before I punch the Hell out of you. Understand?''

''Nice attitude,'' the Ruffian grinned. ''We could use a man like you on the team... I'm sure the Professor'd like you... Anyhow, you're right, I'm out of here. But I'll be back tomorrow... Same time, same fence.'' A provocative spark glistened in the Ruffian's yellow, unnatural-looking eyes. ''You know... In case you make up your mind.''

After having said those words, the creature ran off into the meadows, leaving a cloud of dust and a confused Hafez behind.

VPVPVPVPVPVPVP

Hafez couldn't sleep that night. At two in the morning he was still awake, tossing and turning in his bed while throwing the heavy blankets off him, to pick them up from the floor again when the darkness began to make him feel exposed. It was warm, muggy and windless in the midlands of Piñata Island, where Molino was situated.

The stuffy weather situations weren't the reason for Hafez' insomnia, though. The words the strange guy that apparently called himself a 'Ruffian' had spoken to him that afternoon were.

Have I really become that boring? Hafez thought cheerlessly. I'd swear I used not to be...

With a light feeling of guilt, he questioned if the entire becoming a man thing was for him at all. He would never want to dissappoint his parents, his younger brothers, Doc Bandago or even his older sister, but wouldn't it be better for him to quit studying medicines and...

And what? Become a predatory felon like that no-good I met yesterday?

Hafez heaved a deep sigh. No. Never. Those times were behind him...

A crooked smile appeared on the young man's handsome, unmasked face. He could recall the mischieves of his early puberty very well...

The smile grew wider as Hafez turned on his back. Not only would his friends and he shout vulgar things at random men on the street and hit on girls that were way too pretty and old for them, they'd also swindle people by selling them fake Burberry perfume and non-working phone cards.

''Phony cards,'' Hafez grinned out loud. ''That's what we used to call them...''

He yawned. Suddenly, he had his sleep back... Which wasn't completely out of the blue, he knew that.

He would be able to sleep now because he had made up his mind.

Tomorrow, at the end of noon, he'd go back to the damaged fence at the back of the garden. He wouldn't immediately accept his offer, but he'd definately talk to the Ruffian again.

That man might've been wearing the weirdest mask ever and practicing a somewhat shady lifestyle, but something about him reminded Hafez of how his life had been back home. Besides, the family could do with a little more money... It'd be great if Mehran would be able to attend a real school, unlike most children on Piñata Island, and he knew he'd need a large dowry to satisfy Jardineiro enough to let him marry his daughter...

''Fuck medicines,'' Hafez whispered as he closed his lawngreen eyes and curled up under the sheets. ''I'ma make money the fun way.''