I could have been like her: ecstatic, buoyant, optimistic, radiant. If only I had time to spare and take care of myself; I could have been talked about, looked at, admired. If I had sufficient food to eat, imported creams to apply, undamaged shoes to wear. I could have been a bellezza if only my rough hands weren’t scarred from the long hours of hard work, if my expressionless and distressed face wasn’t beaten down by worry and if my dark circles and eyes weren’t the most hideous thing I had ever seen. I would have even considered myself acceptable if I hadn’t had to gawk at my reflection every morning. If only I hadn’t neglected myself, if only HE hadn’t gone leaving us alone, if only-
‘Ma’am, are you okay?’ It took me an eternity to register that she was still standing there waiting for my order and yet another eternity to notice that I had started sobbing.
‘Ma’am, are you not feeling well?’ she asked, perturbed. Her eyes were filled with genuine concern. It disgusted me. I felt nauseated by the fact that I had never seen this kind of worry in my own family’s eyes. With all the time I had spent keeping my mother and brother alive, I hadn’t any left to think of myself. Yet here she was, wasting her time on a complete stranger.
‘I am fine,’ I whispered, wiping away the uninvited tears that somehow managed to escape, ‘Just a coffee please, thank you.’
However, the unease on her face did not fade. Her lips parted and she looked like she wanted to say something, but then hesitated. Standing there, she weighed her options. After what seemed like an aeon, she forced a smile, nodded and walked off.
I hated my cruel self for feeling disheartened.
A part of me had hoped she had questioned me, enquired about why I was acting this way. I had hoped she had lent some comforting words to this terribly aching and rotten soul. But I guess my desires are always the most irrational ones. Once again, and not for the first time in life, I was left despondent…
The coffee was taking longer than usual and I was getting tired of waiting. I looked up at a cheaply ornate clock with its hands moving slowly counting down the seconds to life. I don’t know how long I continued staring at it when something, or someone on the streets caught my sight. I looked out the glass walls to see a young man carrying a little girl on his shoulders. She laughed brightly under the street lights holding on to him tightly making sure she doesn’t fall, holding on tight to love: a father’s love. One I never had. The coffee no longer intrigued me, and the wait was starting to get on my nerves.
I stood up, picked up my coat, and left the heat of the warm café.
RING RING RING
‘Mira, are you coming to see dad?’
‘Mira please. Stop being stubborn.’
‘You can go if you want, I don’t want to see him.’
‘I am going with Cindy then. You should come too.’
‘No,’ I repeated without hesitation and hung up.
The snow was getting pretty deep and every step was an eternity of effort. I continued my walk down the lane leading to my house. ‘Home’, that’s what they called it. And yet, for me, it was just another place to seek refuge, a place to shelter myself from the cold, and a place to call mine. But in that ‘home’ of mine, there was no one I was looking forward to see, no one to greet me with a bright smile, and no one to ask me why I was late tonight. My home…was just a house.
Jack would not understand, he would never fathom the misery I have had to endure. He was too young, too innocent, too naive at the time. He would not understand the weight of the betrayal, the treachery. He didn’t see it happen the way I did. He didn’t deteriorate slowly and gradually the way I did. The way I was awakened late at night by mom wailing, or the way I had to work day and night to earn a penny for his education and food. He was only four at the time. He would never be able to perceive or comprehend the seriousness of that situation.
And today, after twenty years, he was happily married and had the audacity to ask me to absolve my selfish father of his heinous deeds.
I opened up the door to my grand, sumptuous apartment I had earned with my blood and sweat. I walked in to only be obscured by gloom and murkiness. The devilish darkness that inhabited the place now haunted me. I had once yearned for money, for more and more. But when I finally had it, the loneliness that surrounded me had slowly started to sink in.
Every part of every room was a painful reminder of my treasured mother who was now gone. The soft yet sunken couch she would often sit in quietly in a daze, or the floor to ceiling glass she would look out of as if waiting for someone to return, or the warm, spacious kitchen where she would spend her days cooking meals for people who never existed nor attended. My mom, in her last days, could have passed as a mentally unstable person. I had always come home early just to make sure she was still there, just to make sure she was still breathing… until the day a heart attack stole her from me.
That was three months ago. My mom left me alone in this perfectly empty house to endure the rest of my life forlorn. I remember crying in my little brother’s arms as I realised that the only thing which held me together in this wretched world was now gone. I remember breaking down and hoping to die. The perfect world I had worked so hard to put together was now shattered. And every time I tried in vain to put it back together, I was the only one who got hurt over and over again. And it was all because of my father.
I lay in my nice soft bed, nuzzling deeper into my warm blanket. The wind tonight sang a sad, funereal melody while the snow outside my window fell in a sombre manner. The silvery moonlight illuminated my room in the most surreal way; The outline of my static fan accentuated in the magic of the moon. I looked around to see my slightly darkened reflection in the vast and limpid mirror highlighting my dishevelled hair. I sank deeper into my expensive, fluffy pillow and stayed that way for an eternity. The perpetuity of this snowy night was making me restless.
I could not sleep.
Perhaps it was the guilt, the guilt of accusing him of a sin he never committed. The guilt of not going to see my father today. Perhaps my loneliness was karma for leaving him alone the past twenty years. These taunts would sometimes get to me, trigger me, accuse me. But I wouldn’t listen. Because I hated that man. I hated him for leaving us alone on this day twenty years ago…
What will dad say, I wondered. Will he be proud of me, smile at me, hug me? Will his eyes shine when I show him my report card, will he take a day off from work today? Will he take me out to eat as he promised, read me a story tonight, buy me a gift? Will he finally look at me as a proud father?
The thoughts kept bugging my mind as I walked back home from school. I had finally scored first position in the final exams and I just couldn’t wait to see my parents’ reaction. A terrible snow storm had hit the city last night and dad hadn’t been able to return from work. But today I was sure he would be waiting, waiting to see my results.
I opened up the door to my small broken-down house to witness a scene from my darkest nightmares.
‘Mom, what happened?’ ten-year-old me asked my wailing mom. She was on the floor, hair a mess, hands clenched. She went on beating the floor with her fists paying no heed to me. Beside her sat my five-year-old brother. He looked at my mom, horror filled his eyes and I knew he was about to cry. I quickly walked over to him taking him into my arms and gently patted his back.
‘Mom, what happened?’ I repeated.
She looked at me, her eyes blood shot. There were so many emotions in there; pity, sadness, misery, but above all, anger. There was so much anger.
‘He is gone, your father,’ she screamed. ‘His car slipped on the snow! He had a terrible accident! I told him. I told him not to go out in this stormy weather. But he wouldn’t listen. What am I going to do now?’
I can imagine how I had looked in that moment. I can picture the colour draining from my face, the shine leaving my eyes, and the pupils that grew in shock. I could feel my heart racing and my hands sweating. I had never really been close to him - my father - but I had loved him all the same.
That day, I had seen it.
Mom had begged him, pleaded him not to drive in the snowy weather.
She had begged him not to go, for us.
But he had gone. He said he had important work, and he had gone.
‘I hate that man. I hate him,’ she had whispered
‘I hate dad too,’ I repeated after her.
Lost in his pursuit for money, Jack and I were non-existent in his sight. He had never given me the love a father should be able to, but I had always craved for it. He had been the centre of my universe, the love of my life. He had promised me that if I placed first in my finals, he would take us all out to eat. But he never returned. He never fulfilled his promise and that broke me. Perhaps he never really believed I could do it, but I had worked hard for it, really worked hard. He left the entire family on my shoulders, and no matter how hard I tried to please them, in the end, it made no difference to my depressed mother, and my brother couldn’t care less about me.
All the people I tried so hard to treasure, could not reciprocate my one-sided love. Was I really that despicable?
Today was the day my world had shattered. But in twenty years, not once have I ever visited his grave. Jack always begs me to come along, but I never listen. I don’t want to see him. I hate him for making me suffer. For making me miss his presence. I hate him for dying when it was so avoidable.
But above all, I hate the snow, for snatching away my father so mercilessly – a father I could have learned to love.