Todos Para Familia
In certain parts of the world, the days have grown more frigid as January was opening its eyes to the cold winds of winter. Christmas trees and sparkling ornaments still stood erect and some would even stay up well into July.
For him however, living in a tropical climate, he rarely had any choice but be constantly exposed to the piercing rays of the summer sun. Where he came from, it was always summer. And today had been particularly warm, proof from the moisture forming on his brow.
The stainless steel keys he twirled around his fingers jingled merrily. The taste of metal still lingered dryly in his mouth from a moment before when he had to maneuver his way out the car door and the only solution to do so without dropping the keys was to bite them.
He always hated the taste. “I guess this is what vampires taste when they suck on iron-rich blood,” he mused. Dismissing the thought as surely as it had entered his mind, he replayed the events of the day.
It had been a good day for him, he thought. He’d been out with friends, had met up with his girlfriend and to top it all off, a package had arrived for him earlier that day.
‘Probably the leather bound journal I’d bought three bloody weeks ago,’ he thought, irritated.
He tentatively walked across his porch and headed to the side door. As he neared the grille, he slowed to a halt. Something was amiss, he thought. The house felt empty. He scanned the marble flooring before the wooden front door for any hint of slippers or shoes. The slippers strewn across the mirrored marble were missing a few pairs.
Before he left the house this morning, he distinctly remembered that as he crouched down to put on his shoes, the voices of his parents could be heard coming from the kitchen. They’re usually bickering. He’d gotten fairly used to it, knowing full well that as the days went by, what was violent before now was only emotional anguish.
He had left the house while his parents were in mid fight. During the drive back, he expected to come home to a quite environment as he didn’t think either of them had the energy to prolong a shouting match well into the evening. Old age has its advantages.
Yet, somehow, standing in front of the wrought-iron grille, he heard silence.
He fumbled for the bronze pass-key that would open the grille as a host of unwanted thoughts entered his mind. The thoughts aligned themselves from the worse to the rational. He dismissed the rational knowing all too well that Murphy’s law applied strongly in his house, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong,” he repeated to himself almost like a mantra. And by god would they go wrong.
A lot of ‘what ifs’ were swirling around in his head neither of which consoled him.
He shook the mental images out of his head as he continued fumbling with the keys. When he finally found the right one, in his haste, his clumsy fingers missed the cold metal rings and the entire bunch fell to the floor. He stared at them.
He didn’t know how long he’d been doing it, but by the time he snapped out of the staring contest he had started with the keys, he found himself on the warm grey floor of the car porch, arms clutching his knees. He breathed. In an instance there, he thought he had forgotten how to. Once again he found himself staring off into space. But this time, it wasn’t at anything tangible.
His thoughts had wandered and had brought him back to a specific moment in time.
It was a warm night in —–. The car he was driving cruised along the pitch black road heading back to the university campus him and his mother were staying in.
The only view that greeted him was the inky black tar road and the menacing trees on either side.
He kept his calm and his eyes on the road knowing all too well what wandering eyes would invite on a road such as this. He’d heard the stories and known the encounters people have had in the area all too well and wasn’t in any mood to entertain neither his imagination nor the things that go bump in the night.
He applied pressure to the gas pedals and felt the car rev forward as the meter slowly climbed to 140, 160. His determination and daredevil driving paid off as a patch of light finally greeted him a few meters ahead.
As he neared the guard house, he habitually lifted his hand up in greeting to the security guards and drove past.
After parking his car in the spot provided, he walked along the dimly lit corridor towards his house.
The cool night air wafted around him. They danced across his skin as if they were putting on a show just for him. The ballerinas of the night.
Constantly caressing his bare skin and running their intangible hands through his hair, a silent reminder that he was not alone.
The soft hooting of the owls accompanied him as he crossed the court the girls during their semesters would use as a picnic area as what few lights that existed around the cold dark pavement strewn across the open space illuminated his every step.
It was a nice night and few things could erase that image from his mind. However, even before he finished the thought, he was brought back to reality by the shrill sound of a scream. He knew the scream well as he’s heard it a few times in his life. Something no son should have to hear.
His heart sank and instantly his legs felt heavy. He ignored the sudden change in gravity and darted across the last few expanses and barged through the door of the three-storey house. He always thought this place was cursed and this just cemented it.
As he entered the door, looking up, what he saw made what little blood he had left in his face drain away completely.
At the top of the stairs stood his father, clutching his mother by the throat as he held her with his outstretched arm in an attempt to push her down the steep flight.
The sudden realization that if any wrong movements were to take place and the impact that would take place at the bottom of the stairs would certainly kill her chilled him to the bone.
He summoned what little strength he had left and ran up the stairs taking two steps at a time in order to reach her.
He pushed her back up over the top of the steps using his body weight as a momentum and launched his mother to the left out of his father’s reach, he pivoted to the right out of the his father’s outstretched arm. Contented that his mother was safe, he turned to his father and with all the weight and strength his right shoulder, elbow, wrist and fist could conjure, punched his father across the face. Fist and jaw connected sending his father sprawling across the living room floor. He didn’t stop there, he pounded and pounded on his father’s face taking a few hits back. Blow after blow were traded between the two, the man and the child. This was the first time he was punching his father. The fear multiplied but was buried under years of hate and disgust for the man. He felt the bones and skin of his right knuckles crack and peel. He didn’t know whose blood was on his hands whether it was his or his father’s. All he knew was that the hatred he had for this man and the fear he instilled within everyone in the family went numb and all that was left was emotional pain. One that he had never felt before. One that he knew he would feel again.
Slowly, the screams of his mother asking them to stop slowly drifted in silence like it were moving further and further away from him.
He was brought back to the present. In front of his car he sat and breathed a sigh. He slowly unlocked his arms from around his knees and placed his right hand down in order to push his weight off the floor.
He inserted the keys into the hole and turned. The harsh metallic click greeted him as he turned the knob of the giant wooden door swinging it forward.
Just then, he felt his pocket vibrate. ‘MUMMY’, it glowed. He swiped the bar on the glass screen and gingerly lifted it up to his ear.
“Are you home?” the voice of his mother asked. He grunted.
“Come to the hospital if you can. Your father has had a relapse.”
He disconnected the line and took a step back out the front door.
He stood there contemplating his next set of actions. The oak door stood open inviting him in. He placed one foot inside past the threshold and reached for the door.
With his mother in mind, he pulled it shut once more and locked it.
Climbing back into his car and turning the ignition on, he couldn’t help but remember another incident that would persuade him to leave the air-conditioned comfort of his car and re-enter the house.
The memory manifested itself and now he could hear his father’s voice swearing at the top of his lungs.
The house has changed. No more steep staircases or dimly lit corridors. No more open spaces or living room floors. He peeks into the house and sees his mother cowering in a corner. He had never seen such a proud and strong-willed woman capable of staring down a man be left huddling in the corner of her own house. Tears were streaming down her face and her hands were clutching her cell phone.
He rushed to her side. He rushed to comfort and console his mother for he knew that the screaming and swearing was terrifying to her.
“He suddenly went crazy, throwing things around the house and swearing and cursing at me with the foulest tongue I’ve ever heard,” she sobbed.
He could only hug her and assure her that as long as he was there with her, nothing would hurt her. Apparently, his father had been dumped by his at-the-time flame. He couldn’t take the disappointment and lashed out at the only person he could. His wife.
The same wife who had, through countless years, supported his many failed businesses and provided a roof over his head after he had sold off his home for a few million as start-up capital for his next failed endeavor. The failed endeavor became a multi-million ringgit company and with the wealth, he cheated, drank and whored around.
He went into the room to confront his father. The punching and fist fight started. Blows were traded as normal as though they were words.
The sound of the blows were slowly muted and the house they were in was transformed once again to the interior of his car.
He saw a face staring back with sullen eyes and pursed lips. For a few seconds there he didn’t recognize the face that was staring back at him. For a few seconds there, he thought it was a stranger.
Prying his eyes away from the rear view mirror where he sat staring at his own reflection, he pushed the hand brake down, edged the gear into ‘R’, slowly and hesitantly lifted his foot off the brakes and eased the vehicle out the driveway.
Cruising along the highway towards his destination, he found himself drifting in and out of his own mind to memories from the past.
He kept to a smooth speed of 100 km/h, a surprising choice as on the KL-Seremban highway, you would be hard pressed to find him driving at such speeds. He took pride in the fact that he could make it from his house to Hartamas in under 45 minutes. An impressive feat considering it usually took others well past an hour to reach anywhere.
The parquet floors glistened and reflected the neon lights hovering above. The —– house was a warm abode. Passed down from mother to daughter, it ended up in the hands of his mother.
The memories in that house were second to none. It was only ten years ago that the Haji Hussin family members from all over Malaysia would converge at the house to spend Eid together.
It’s been a very long time since anyone, save his immediate family, would stay in it. It had become a vault of memories. Warm memories that would sing you lullabies as you slept at night. Memories that would accompany you to the local fireworks dealer, splurge on RM200 to RM300 worth of fireworks and stay up with you as you watched the sparkles and whizzes of lights and sounds propel and explode in a distant span of sky too far away for any 8 year old to reach out and grab. The memories kept you safe from the world and from the monsters.
However, tonight was different. Tonight, his father’s screaming was all he could hear. It was always the screaming. The sound of his father’s voice carried itself throughout the house and reverberated off the walls amplifying the horrendous noise and swearing that he never thought would come out of anyone’s mouth.
His father lay spread-eagle on the shining marble floor of the second living room where the large oak table was placed.
His face was contorted in anger with lines of fear creasing their way into his forehead; hands clutching his abdomen as pain seared through his entire body.
The screaming was intolerable. His father had tripped and sprained his leg and he was trying to get up to lash out for the mistake that he himself had made. Through a higher power, the extent of the fall had sprained and crippled his entire back cramping it up and paralyzing him. Although, the pain he suffered was insignificant to the pain he would suffer through in the future brought on by the pain in his abdomen, it still wasn’t enough to pay him back for the misery he had caused him, had caused them.
He was fed up. He picked up the baton his father kept in the house in case of thieves and carried it with him to where his father lay.
He could see his mother pushing him back but his will was resolute and the sound became muted again. Too many years has he tormented the family, too many years has he brought grief to his mother. Tonight he didn’t see the man who was barely with him when he was younger, tonight he saw a monster. A demon in flesh that fed off the fear people around him gave off. He became stronger and stronger with every ounce of fear his own flesh and blood bled.
Yet, the image of the baton disappeared, and the sight of his mother shoving him away from his father slowly faded away. They blurred and became nothing.
He watched as the cars slowed to a halt and adjusted themselves into their respective lanes. The Sungai Besi toll booths had spared him the pain of reliving the memory.
However, the relief was short-lived as he began drifting back to another memory triggered by a sight? A sound?
Another tear stained t-shirt and painful ear drums. He thought his ears would have adjusted to the screams and shouts. He was brought back to another memory. One that culminated into one of the most terrible memories he would have.
He looked at the scene this time as a spectator, watching himself push his mother back and yelling to his father to get out of the house. The memory of him moved his lips. Even though he knew what was coming out of his memory’s mouth, he still mouthed the words as if reading his lips.
“Get out! We don’t want you here,” he screamed as his father tried to thrust a brown envelope into his mother’s hands.
She threw it back at him telling him to burn in hell.
“You and that little French whore can go to hell!” she screamed losing her voice in mid sentence.
His mother gasped for air. She collapsed. He panicked and bent down to help her. His father took the opportunity to slip out the door to the rental car that was waiting.
A blonde French woman was waiting inside, pursed lips and manicured nails. They drove away leaving a grieving woman to sign the divorce papers and a boy, not yet a man, to shoulder the burden of consoling her.
He hugged her tight. The woman who had brought him up single-handedly. She was all he had. As he looked down at her gasping for air, he reached for his phone to dial a number, he didn’t know which one, but thought that he would just dial a number, any number. As he pressed the buttons, his mother’s hand shot up wrapping themselves around the phone.
He noticed the house had become quiet again. The labored breathing of his mother was the only sound he heard. He looked down and saw his mother’s eyes. It wasn’t anger nor was it sadness. He knew then that it was a submissive stare.
She propped herself up. “Let it go,” she said. “We’ll manage without him.”
“We always did Ma,” he whispered.
They stood up and his mother turned towards him. “You pick those papers up and stash them somewhere, and I’ll make us some coffee.”
He didn’t drink coffee. He had never truly acquired the taste of it. But in his 21 years, he would have a cup of coffee. In his 21 years of not drinking coffee, he would have a cup of coffee with his mother.
He parked his car in the visitors area of the hospital. He took his time getting out of the car knowing full well what he would expect to find. But he did so. After all, his mother was there waiting for him.
His actions for the past 23 years had always been for his mother. And because of his mother too he was going at the hospital to see his father. For 23 years his actions had always been for his family.
Everything for the family.