Chapter 3: ''You've chosen a very wicked profession, if I may state that.''

''So. This is it. This is how I live. Sober and simple as the man I actually am.''

Hafez glanced around the Ruffian's shack. It was a small, wooden hut that consisted of only one room, so the lack of furniture was barely even noticable.

''Nice place,'' Hafez said as the Ruffian sauntered over to the stove facing an old, moth-eaten single bed. ''Very basic, no hodgepodge... I like it.''

''Thanks,'' the Ruffian chuckled. ''D'you want any tea?''

''Yes please.'' Hafez sat down on the Ruffian's rickety bed, because the hooligan apparently didn't possess a single chair.

''Good... I hardly ever drink that stuff,'' the Ruffian pointed heedlessly at a sixpack of water bottles in the right corner of the room, ''but I know how much mainlanders appreciate they water all piping hot and flavoured...''

Hafez grimaced. ''It sounds ridiculous when you put it like that, but it's definately true...''

''I can make everything sound ridiculous.'' The Ruffian chuckled silently. ''It's my hobby. Making fun of things and people that aren't really supposed to be made fun of, I mean. A lot of the Professor's more... sagacious helpers do this to get themselves through the day. Being the servant of a big jerk like him's not always an easy task, er need our little games...''

The Ruffian plumped down next to Hafez, making the bed squeak dangerously. ''Looks like I gotta replace this thing soon,'' its owner groused as he handed the steaming hot cup to Hafez. ''As you can see, I'm not much of a shopaholic, though. I'm saving up to start a new life in the US of A. I've got secret stashes of choco coins all around the Island, believe it or not... Hope them dumb Diggerlings won't dig them up, I been working hard for my money...''

Hafez grinned widely. He hadn't heard anything about the Ruffian's hidden CCs, the mentioning of shopping for a bed had provoked a thought in him he hadn't expected to come up now that he'd been dating Leafos for so long.

''Do you Ruffians... you know... get many girls to...''

''Strip their clothes off and sleep with us? Sorry to disappoint you 'Fez, but most of them'd rather slit they fucking wrists open and I can't blame them. We don't exactly look like Don Juans in these costumes...'' The Ruffian smirked.

''That's a shame...'' The corners of Hafez' mouth curled down in a dazed upside-down smile. ''Talking to you's really made me consider becoming a Ruffian... I like the rough and carefree lifestyle and the money that comes with serving the Professor, but the downsides are pretty off-putting too...''

The Ruffian gave him an understanding not. ''Now you're not just talking bitches, are you?''

''Nope.'' Hafez shook his head. ''I wouldn't like to set off to a shanty in the wilderness and leave my family behind... They love me - I don't know how your parents felt about you, but if they cared even half as much as my parents do and you just gave them the cold shoulder like that, then shame on you.''

Hafez fell silent for a minute to take a sip of his now cooled tea.

''Not to mention,'' he continued, almost choking in a mint leaf the Ruffian had put in it to give it 'a more fresher' taste, ''I could never work for a man that's done all those horrible things to people... I'm sorry, but serving some guy who buys disabled children for a song just contradicts with my morals.''

''At least you have those,'' the Ruffian snorted. ''I know plenty of youngsters who don't... I'm afraid I was one of them.''

Hafez heaved a sigh. ''You have chosen a very wicked profession, if I may state that.''

''Oh, yes you may. I know what I'm doing, thus I know what I'm doing wrong as well... If you don't feel like this is your destination, I have peace with it... I can tell you're a noble, reliable man, Hafez Qalzai.''

''I've been hearing that a lot lately,'' the younger guy said in a thoughtful voice. ''Giving up the maturity I've gained over the past few years probably would be a bad idea...''

''No doubt,'' the Ruffian sniggered. ''I like you a lot, 'Fez, and we're pretty alike... but you're not one of us.''

''I like you a lot too, Ricardo,'' Hafez laughed. ''No homo... I hope that our paths may cross again someday. We could be friends, aight?''

''Sorta.'' The Ruffian took a concernedly stared out of the window. ''Looks like dusk is falling in... I should bring you home. You won't be able to find your way back alone in this limbo... no landmarks and shit, you know, at least none a non-heath dweller would recognize.''

''Alright,'' Hafez sighed as he stood up from the Ruffian's dingy doss, ''thanks for looking out for me, I guess...''

''You're very welcome,'' the Ruffian groaned, as he actually dreaded the prospect of having to walk 10 kilometers back and forth again just to be sure the youngster would return home safely. ''Very welcome.''

VPVPVPVPVPVPVPVPVP

''Hafez Abdul Qalzai! Where have you been all day?''

Hafez stared at his shoes. Even though most Islanders went through life barefeeted, he as a mainlander still couldn't imagine walking around without any footwear.

It was about eleven in the evening, the return to the Qalzai farm had consumed more time than the Ruffian and Hafez had foreseen. Unexpectedly, they'd come accross a few people from Molino along the way for whom they'd had to hide as good as they could in the open field. Hafez of course couldn't be seen with the hooligan unless he wanted his reputation as a good, responsible veterinary assistant to shatter in a thousand pieces.

No matter how good the other villagers thought of him, him being late caused his mother scream at him anyway. Hafez knew he couldn't expect any help from his father because he was reading his favorite newspaper - The Islander's Daily - in the living room, and neither could he of his older sister; she always took their mother's side, no matter what.

''I-I've been... out,'' Hafez stuttered uneasily.

''I could tell!" his mother snorted. ''Did it even cross your mind that I would possibly need your help in THE GARDEN, Hafez? This morning, you promised me to harvest the apples and look after Mehran so that I could go to Molino to sell them, afterwards...''

''I'm sorry, mother...''

''I CAN'T BUY NO FOOD FOR YOUR PETTY APOLOGIES!'' missus Qalzai shouted as her anger made her cheeks turn red. ''That's not the worst part, though... Your sister went to the village for me... God bless my only daughter... I just thought that I could trust you, son... I thought you were finally ready to take your RESPONSIBILITIES, like the MAN I TOUGHT you had BECOME!''

Cold sweat started to drip down Hafez' forehead. He hadn't seen his mother so mad since their arrival on the Island...

''Fareiba, easy on the boy,'' a deep voice sounded from behind the closed kitchen door. ''It's not like, he's been hanging out with Tuffians or whatever those guys call themselves...''

Hafez grimaced. If his dad only knew...

''You don't know that for sure, Halim!'' his mother screamed back, her eyes narrowing. ''God knows what our son's been doing... This isn't the first time he's disappeared...''

''I know Fareiba, I know, but he's practically an adult...'' The kitchen door opened, mister Qalzai standing in the doorway with an exhausted, yet annoyed frown on his face.

Hafez realized how tired his father had been looking lately... Were it the wrinkles he seemed to have obtained over the past five months?

Something clearly was haunting him. He was either missing the mainland, or worrying about one of his four children...

''Dad... I'm sorry,'' Hafez mumbled, ashamed because his father apparently wasn't very fond of Ruffians and he'd considered becoming one...

''Son... You don't have to tell us, but if choose to, tell me sincerely... Where have you been today, where did you go last week? You thought we wouldn't hear you sneaking out of the house, didn't ya?''

Hafez opened his mouth, to slowly close it again. He couldn't, he just couldn't speak, the mad looks his mother gave him suffocated him.

''I know you're not too happy to live here, and neither am I, but please... Don't get involved with criminal organisations, no matter how attractive their offers might seem at first glance...'' The man rubbed his eyes, under which severe dark circles had appeared. ''I've been fearing you'd encounter a Tuffian at some point, Hafez... I hope you don't fall for their ingenious tricks, they're smarter than they look...'' Mister Qalzai let out the deepest yawn.

''Halim, go to bed.'' Hafez' mother rushed towards her husband as he almost passed out on the kitchen floor. Forgetting almost all of her anger towards her son, she whispered: ''Your dad's job's giving him more stress than ever, Hafez, it's not only you... You've been behaving very well the past few months... it's just...''

''You're scared to lose me like you lost all the people and things you loved back at home?'' Hafez asked as it had suddenly began to dawn on him.

Neither of them would admit it to any of the children, but both of his parents had been scarred by the whole 'fleeing to Piñata Island' thing.

His mother's apologetically facial expression made place for a look of utter surprise. ''How do you -''

''Shhh,'' Hafez grinned, ''I'm a grown man now and there's no way I'll ever stain either the family's name or your heart in any bad way... You carry dad to bed and ehm, you enjoy yourselves, aight?''

For a moment misus Qalzai considered scolding her oldest son for his impudent remark, but then she decided to wish him goodnight and follow his advice instead.

''You're a good son,'' she couldn't help but whisper before she walked out of the door. ''Maybe your dad and I - especially I - should trust you more... Keep doing what you do, but please, don't keep matters that are important to you secret from us...''

Hafez' heart skipped a beat. He'd been hiding something extremely important for way too long for the ones he loved most...

In spite of the fact that his relationship with Leafos probably wouldn't lead to anything good, his parents would by no doubt be fond of the girl that he yearned to call his someday... It was about time she came over to have dinner with his family.

Tomorrow, the young man thought as he watched his mother helping his father climbing the stairs. Tomorrow I'll tell them about the wonderful miss Leafos Flores, the only girl on this ridiculous, paper Island that I will ever love.