A young girl was startled in her silence. She looked up and met the familiar eyes of her good friend, red and swollen.
“Oh, it’s you,” She responded monotonously, shifting her disrupted focus back into the book.
Syaza raises an eyebrow. “Well, I’m happy to see you too,”
The fair-skinned girl shuts her book slowly. She took a deep breath and sighed, her eyes closed. She continued.
“Tomorrow morning, at 7,”
“I see,” Ina stood up and heads for the book shelf. Her motion was silent, as if responding to the tranquil atmosphere in the empty library.
Ina’s eyes shifted to her friend’s face as her hands swiftly placed the brown book in place. She could see traces of tears on Syaza’s face and her sleeves were apparently soaked wet. That made it even harder for Ina to continue the conversation.
An awkward silence choked the tensed atmosphere. It was taking the breaths of both girls who stood solemnly, without a word or motion, as if oblivious to one another’s presence.
But the pregnant silence was soon broken;
“Syaza! There you are! Come quick, you have to pack your belongings,”
Both girls turned their heads to the source of the merry voice. Their eyes landed on the figure of 58-years-old Nek Fatima, smiling brightly by the library’s main door.
Syaza didn’t respond and instead looked over her shoulders at Ina. Ina loosens her stiffness and threw a dry smile at the old lady, her face hidden from Syaza’s view.
“You should go Syaza. It’s late and you have an early start tomorrow. Go,”
Syaza opened her mouth as if to retort but held back the desire. She stood and gazed at Ina’s back for a few moments and walked away slowly. Her pace was heavy and silent.
Just as she was about to leave the library;
Syaza stopped dead in her tracks and looked back. Ina was nowhere in sight but Syaza was positive that she was somewhere behind those bookshelves.
Syaza pondered for a moment and let out a giggle, “’Course not!”
Ina came out from behind the shadows as soon as Syaza was out of sight. She took a moment gazing at the library’s door and gave out a small, solemn smile. After a moment, Ina shifted her eyes to the views outside. Her hands softly pushed the glass windows open. Looking up, she could see the sky beautifully tainted fiery red. There were no clouds in sight.
“Funny… When did it start raining?”
Droplets of wet crystals streamed pass down her cheeks as a silent sob echoed throughout the silence of one autumn’s evening.
Ina and I met about 2 years ago. Ina was 13 years old, a year older than me. She was very quiet, quite the opposite of me. When I first arrived, I didn’t talk much. I couldn’t even remember much really. All I knew was that, somehow, Ina ended up being the closest friend when I was there. She had been here far longer than I had. After some time, I realised that Ina was just like me … and the other kids here in HOPE Orphanage – we had nobody. Some here had never even seen their parents’ faces. We know not the love of a father or a mother. We do not know the reality definition of family.
That said though, we did have each other. We had friends whom at the same time, was our family. It may not coincide with a normal child’s definition of what family is, but to us, our family is us and them and our friends. We’re one family.
But today, our little family relationship is severed.
Hearing the news made me feel happy but sadness soon engulfed me. I began to think of my brothers and sisters and friends here. I’m going to be separated from them. I’m going to be left alone yet again.
When I told Ina, she said, “That’s good.” I don’t understand Ina sometimes. She’s an idiot. She’s like an open book, but everything’s just written in a different language. A language I can’t understand.
I met my mother and father today too. They are very nice people. I can see it in their eyes. Their smiles were warm and welcoming and I like them.
Mother seemed young even though she was well in her forties. She had a fair, calm and serene face, whose lines bespoke tolerance and even a certain strength that lies hidden, deep beneath the concealing façade of her dark orbs. Father was very much like Mother too. Both of them reminded me of the sky. The soft blue and pure white, connoting serenity and calmness signifies incomparable complementary.
I was quite relieved was they said that they’ll come pick up again in 2 years. I do not understand the complicated adult talk regarding papers and documents and whatnot, but I was happy. It seems that Mother and Father were abroad; somewhere in Europe – for economical businesses, or so I was told. I’m not sure though. But, I was really happy.
At least, until today…
I was woken from my deep slumber with a brief shake over my shoulders. My vision blurred for a moment and as it was adjusting to the bright light of the outside, warm hands led me outside the silver coloured car. It was Mother’s hands.
I looked at her smiling face and shifted my gaze to where her fingers were pointing.
“Welcome home Syaza,”
Home… My eyes landed on a magnificent double-storey mansion, which, at one glance seems to be able to fit a platoon of army without much struggle. I was speechless. Am I going to live in such incredible house? My God, and here I thought I’d escaped the suffocating feeling of insignificancy. I sighed.
“Oh, is it not too your liking?” asked Mother.
I instinctively shook my head, “No, no, it’s magnificent,”
“I’m glad,” she smiled again. “Well then, come, I’ll show you your room. Oh, and don’t forget your luggage. Father is loading it out for you.”
I looked back and saw Father by the car’s bumper. My pace towards him was heavy with hesitance. When I finally reached his side, I could see from the corner of my eyes that he looked up to me and smiled kindly. I pretended not to notice and reached out for my bags and rested them on my shoulders and two hands. I muttered a soft “thank you” and left him for the front gate.
Mother led me to my room. It was big and spacious. Ina and 5 children could fit in here! Them… I’d just remembered something that brought gloom into my cheery mood. I am such a dark person.
“Syaza, you can start unpacking your belongings. Make sure to come downstairs at 8 for dinner, OK?”
Days passed into months. Before I knew it, 2 winters had passed since I became a part of their family. I was educated at a local high school and life had been very stable. There were… uncomfortable stares every once in a while, but at least, I have friends whom loyally protect and support me.
I still think of Ina and the HOPE Orphanage once in a while, but the feeling of loneliness no longer lingers. My parents were very loving. I… may be an amateur when it comes to love and such, but I can tell, from how my heart leaps in joy when I’m with them that I too, love them very much.
“Syaza, what are you doing?” I looked up. It was Father.
“Okay… and what exactly is it that you’re sewing?”
He seems sceptical. I shifted my gaze to my little handicraft.
“Can’t you tell? It’s an animal!” I replied, handing him the toy, throwing him a bright smile.
“What’s this one?” He asked.
“It’s wearing a weird costume. Is that thing up there the cat’s hat?” He asked, pointing to the dangling cloth.
“It’s not a hat or a costume! It’s the cat’s ears!”
“Then that makes it even weirder!”
“Hey!” I exclaimed, pouting furiously.
“Hm… anyway, what about this one?” His fingers shifted across the table to my right.
“That’s a sheep!” I replied with enthusiasm.
He kept quiet for a few moments. His eyes were carefully analyzing the handicraft and every once in a while, his gaze would meet mine.
“Don’t you think… you’re being extremely rude and insulting to real cats and sheep?”
I gaped at him, “I-Insult…-ing?!” My eyes shifted back and forth between his eyes and my stuffed animals. In what way?!
Father is, unexpectedly, very childish despite his old age. He loves bullying me. He’s also very stubborn but naively straight-forward. Mother-
“What are you two doing over there?”
“Oh! Did you sew this?”
I nodded, eyes still swollen from the crocodile tears I shed.
“This is great! Well done dear!” My eyes lit up in admiration. Mom is so nice!
“Are you sure?” Father asked, looking extremely unconvinced. I stuck out my tongue at him.
“Yes, such a cute penguin and chicken!”
Father burst out in a fit of laughter. My two hands squashed my red cheeks in an attempt to lessen the shocked look on my face. My mouth looked like a gaping goldfish. Oh God…
-Mother was childish too. Even though she seems like a very mature person.
Well, apart from so minor comedic instances, Father is usually serious. He taught me how to play chess too. He was very good, not once have I managed to beat him, even though I was the best chess player at school.
His skills were worthy enough to be acknowledged by the local council. Thanks to that, Father was entrusted to run a chess learning centre during the weekend in order to educate the younger generation – me included.
“Succeeding the title!?” he exclaimed.
“Like I said, I want to succeed the centre! Let me succeed your chess business!”
“With a talent of your level!? The world of chess is coming to an end!”
“Hey! I’m still young and I can learn much more! I’ll grow up and become a professional chess player!”
“Don’t be ridiculous! You’ll never be as good as me! Anyhow, I’ll continue running the centre for another 100 years! There’s no way I’m going to let you succeed this business!”
“100 years! You plan on living until you’re 200, you monster old man?!”
“You brat! Why did you add 100 and 100! I’m not that old yet! And who are you calling monster!”
We fought almost every day, over silly little things, giving it everything we had. Mother would be in the corner, smiling and laughing at us.
Between Father and Mother, I was closer to Father, despite my gender. He seems to… well, he feels familiar. The atmosphere around him was sadly, yet longingly nostalgic.
I told Mother about this. She seemed surprised by this but broke into a soft, gentle smile afterwards. I wonder why?
I sighed for the umpteenth time. The school is holding the annual Parent-Teacher Meeting… and Father was supposed to represent me today, but,
“He’s late…” I muttered under my breath.
My hands clutching the palm-sized mobile phone were wet from the summer’s heat. It’d been 2 hours since the appointed time and not even a call. My eyes travelled down the busy road outside the school’s front gate. Some of my friends were already on their way home.
Another 30 minutes passed and I decided to wait within the school’s interior. It’s much cooler. I picked myself up and headed for the high school section building when suddenly, a voice called over me. I turned around.
“Why… why are you here? I thought Father was supposed to come,” I asked, confused.
Mother didn’t reply and kept running towards me. The nearer she was to me, the clearer the view I get off her. Her face was red and wet from all the sweat. Her eyes were cloudy and hasty.
“What’s wrong?” The question came out unknowingly.
I wasted no time and had the taxi driver drive us to the said hospital. My hands were sweating and shivering. I held Mother in my arms as her silent sob accompanied our tensed journey.
“Father… Nurse! How’s my father?!”
I looked over at Mother. Her face was wet from the tears she had shed. The nurse in front of me could only ask me to calm down. Suddenly, from behind the white door, a doctor came out, bearing a sour face.
“Doctor! How’s Father? How is he!?”
“Are you his family?”
“Y-yes, yes I am,”
His eyes darted across the room, “He wishes to see his family,”
“Hush, don’t talk. I’m right here,”
Tears began to flow endlessly without warning. My heart was beating fast and my mind was in a state of chaos. I held Father’s cold hands to my wet cheeks.
His rough fingers wiped off the streaming tears as a soft smile made its way to his parched lips. His head was bandaged and there were traces of blood on the bed’s sheets.
He caressed my cheek and opened his mouth.
“T-There’s something… I need to tell… you…,” I closed my eyes and bit my lips.
“I was …. v-very happy… to have met you… Syaza…” He broadened his weak smile as his tender hands softly caressed my head and cheeks.
“F-for t-the f-first time… I w-was able to t-think t-that w-with a b-beautiful daughter… and w-wife, I-I was t-the happiest m-man alive…”
I nodded. My hands shivered as it brushed against Father’s cold hand. The tears… they didn’t stop, no matter how many times Father tried to wipe them.
“Y-Your r-real f-father was my b-best friend. A m-magnificent m-man. T-the best c-chess p-player i-in the n-nation…,” He turned his gaze to the windows to my left. He took a deep breath and let out a soft chuckle. His eyes were cloudy and unfocused, looking deep into some distant memories.
“I… I-I a-am sorry…” He broke his gaze at the windows and turned to look at me.
“-for k-keeping it a secret. B-but I..was.. r-really h-happy,” He muttered, smiling and beaming peacefully.
“t-that you b-became…”
He brought my face closer to him and landed a soft kiss on my forehead.
Throwing another soft smile, he then shuts his eyes and held my hand in his as if afraid of letting go. Smiling softly,
“T-thank you, S-syaza…”
“Father!!!” I shouted at the top of my lungs.
“Open… open them… Please, open your eyes! Wake up!”
Please! Wake up…. I begged desperately. I shook him by the shoulders and held his hands tight. Wake up….
The doctors came bursting in and tried to stabilise Father. I stood anxiously by the side, tightly gripping his cold hands. But their actions did not cease the long constant beeping sound coming from the monitor. It was an ear-piercing sound.
“What do you need?” It began as a soft mutter under my breath.
“WHAT DO YOU NEED?!”
“Is it blood? Take mine! Take all of them! Do you want my heart! Give it to him! Or is it a hand!? A kidney!? Cell!? WHAT DO YOU NEED? USE MINE! J-just…”
“Just..r-return… return him to me..H-he’s my only father… G-give m-me back my father!”
I fell hard on my knees, my hands shaking frantically. Tears came pouring like no end as a desperate whimper echoed throughout the silence room. Mother held me tightly in her embrace but even her touch seems far off reach.
I hope you have calmed down now,
Remember that as a chess player,
It’s essential to maintain your coolness.
I don’t have any substantial material to leave behind,
The things that I’ve taught you over the few short years we shared together would be enough.
When you return home,
Make sure to help your Mother prepare dinner,
Surely you’ll be hungry right?
The cucumbers and cabbages and chillies I planted at the backyard,
Help yourself with them,
I hoped that they taste good.
I still remember the first day I met you,
I was so surprised to see that the shape of your eyes and nose were so similar to your real father,
He was my best friend back in middle school through high school,
When I heard that he was involved in an accident 3 years after you were born,
I came back immediately from abroad to see you and your mother,
But she had moved away and did not leave behind any contacts.
10 years later,
The news of your mother’s death reached my ears,
I managed to talk hold of her whereabouts and searched for you,
After one year of thorough search,
I finally found you.
I’m sorry to have forcefully separated you from your friends and family there,
I really wanted you to become part of my family.
Having you was my greatest joy in life.
Mahligai Bahgia by UNIC
Segenggam Tabah by In-Team
Story and Scenes Inspiration/Credit:
Gold Rush 21 (Manga)
Summer Wars (Anime Movie)
[ This story was written by Faghira Afrina, one of the closest friends I’ve ever had. She gave this story to me for my 16th birthday, and, after countless times reading it, I still cry my eyes out. I’ve missed you old friend. I hope you’re doing great in Ireland. ]