I still remember the night of October 27, 2001, like it was yesterday. It happened in Goshier, and it's the reason I've never back since I moved away for good. Maybe it's stupid to get so worked up about whenever I remember the place, but I just can't get that night to take a break from my head, let alone erase it entirely. It's implanted itself into a small outpost within my hippocampus, and it will remain stationed there until the day I die.
The Goshier Suburb is known for being one of the quietest areas in the city of Tovostria, and that is actually saying something as Tovostria is already a very quiet city. Living among the high mountains of the Scavana Range, we aren't bustling with life, energy and socialist pride like the rest of the country. We prefer to keep things languid and to ourselves. The rest of Dikkia knows us as the "hermit city" and it is a name we hold in honour. We just aren't too concerned with what the outside world is doing, nor are we very political in general. Nobody here is much of a social butterfly either, even on an individual level. We just go about our days without getting into each other's business too much. Tommians are known for being among the most affectionate and sociable people in the world with each other; us Trovostrians are far and wide the exception, and it has marked us for centuries.
Goshier was my stomping ground. I was born and raised there through my adolescence in the 70s, at the same time as the Sekkian War was in full swing. Me and the other kids in the neighbourhood would always would play the same game: Kiimans vs. Dikkians. Though we usually added characters from the other countries of Jasper as well. In fact one of my favourite characters to play was an Isherian mercenary, torn between his pacifist religious values and defending his fellow ethnic Tommians from the fascist Kiimans. Partaking in such a game would be seen as utter mockery of the war effort in the rest of the country, and we would most assuredly be seeing juvenile hall for it. But since this was Trovostria, nobody really cared, and so we as kids were free to make as much light of such terrible happenings as we wished.
It wasn't all fun and games though. At school we began taking compulsory survival and self-defense classes, just in case we ever needed to defend ourselves should the Kiimans lay siege to our land. And that was a very real possibility; they were plowing through Barbarda and Equiom like no tomorrow, and it was really only us and the Grauntans that were keeping them at bay. These classes were state-mandated and truthfully most of us in Trovostria didn't take them too seriously. One time our "Military Combat 101" instructor - who we could tell by his chronically sunken eyes was a native of our city - dragged nothing but a huge bag of batons into the gym. He turned to us and said, "Today, you guys are gonna go play hack and slash. I am way too tired this morning to teach you to be child soldiers."
Of course we still understood that there was a very dangerous war going on, but we all were pretty confident that our tucked-away mountain city would never be touched by invaders. And in the end, it never was. The war ended in '76 when Kiiman insurgents toppled their own fascist government, and never once in those six years of war did they even come close to reaching Dikkia, let alone hermit city Trovostria. Our glorious socialist nation would continue to live on unhindered by the imperialists.
After graduating from secondary school in '79, I decided to just go ahead and get my two years of compulsory military service over with. But by '81 I actually found myself too comfortable to leave, so I stayed in service for the next ten years, working my way up to becoming a captain. In '91 I joined the Greenshirts for two years, but left after I got bored of it. Wandering around the streets of King Bay all day spotting for potential domestic terrorists is much less exciting than it may sound.
I went back to normal military service in '93 and stayed until '95, when during the Takashi Bombings I got hit by an explosion and lost the ability to taste or smell. It was a hit for sure, but I didn't want to stop. I wasn't particularly patriotic for my country; it was just what I was used to doing, for almost half my life. I only did because my mom and sister heard about my injuries and begged me to drop out, worried that the next hit I took would be far worse. It really wasn't much of an option on my end, so I put down the gun and got reunited with my family in Goshier.
Being back in Goshier wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be, though. I helped co-found a youth boxing club with a few others, and together we helped kids in the neighbourhood learn real self-dense, not the fake shit I had learned growing up. I also finally went back to school; I had never gone to college or university and I sort of just decided that I might as well do it now. I started out as a part-time student in '96 and through hard studying I graduated in the Spring of '01. That was also around the time that I had my first encounter with Koskier.
Trovostria is a city of introverts in a country of extroverts. And if anyone exemplified this fact better than Masla Koskier did, I would love to meet them (should they even have the courage to allow it of course). Koskier lived in a small commune with a bunch of other young orphaned men, but he was nevertheless known as the town's biggest stranger. He almost never spoke to his comrades and he never tried to meet people in general. The other boys he lived with tried to socialize with him, to seemingly no avail. Koskier was, in the purest sense of the word, a recluse.
He worked the graveyard shift at a post office, and that was all anyone really knew about him. He did nothing throughout the day other than sleep and walk around the neighbourhood, and occasionally buy his own groceries. He was always alone and never seemed to do anything productive when he was. Even us Trovostrians thought he was quite the leech. But we always left him alone. After all, he never did anything to harm anyone and he never got in anyone's way, so why give him any undue grief? That's the Trovostrian way of doing things.
So when I saw Koskier walk into our boxing ring in the middle of the afternoon one April Tuesday, I was quite taken aback to say the least. I had not a clue what this man's intentions were, and he looked like he hadn't slept in a few days at least. So right away I was highly suspicious of him.
But it was actually a profoundly uneventful encounter. He simply walked up to me - or rather, I walked up to him - and he asked, "You know what time it is?"
I looked at my watch. "It's 1:13."
He gave a light nod, and turned away without a single word.
As he walked out, I gave myself the full satisfaction of looking him up and down. To say he did not have the most flattering of appearances would be an understatement. Even aside from his baggy eyes and exhausted demeanor, he looked undeadly. His skin was pale and scaly; his cheeks were polluted with dry, crusted acne; his hair was straight but clearly greasy; his fingernails were a bizarre tangerine colour; his clothes looked like they were stiffer than carboard; and he was so underweight I could see his ribs protruding from his t-shirt. No wonder he was all alone. It's hard to imagine anyone having the tenacity to put themselves within spitting distance of someone with such a sickly appearance.
It was hard to determine his age at first - his unkemptness did not help my efforts - but my instincts told me that he couldn't have been older than 18 or 19. I had heard from word of mouth that he had completed secondary school "recently", but that didn't necessarily mean he was of the appropriate age. Koskier didn't exactly look like a person who would put much thought into their academic future; he could've been held back a whole damn decade for all I knew.
I ended up having a chance encounter with one of Koskier's roommates on Liberation Day, when everything was forced to close and we were both walking the same trail in a local park. It seems that despite living with him, Iris didn't know much more about Koskier than I or anyone else did.
"He does nothin', does nothin' ever. He jus' sit in his fuckin' room all day, not doin' shit. He doesn' shower, doesn' fuckin' use the toilet, jus' pisses outside I guess. I dunno what the fuck his story is either, he doesn' say shit. He just applie' for membership at our place like a year ago, that was it. He's like the littl' fuckin' ghost boy, just hauntin' our fuckin' place like the little mystery man he is. We don' kick him out 'cause he doesn' do shit to fuck wit' us, but he's not exactly a valuable fuckin' member, ya know what I'm sayin'?"