Short Story by Patrick Khristian (The Jakarta Post, October 2, 2017)
I took a gasp of air as the lilac skies left me momentarily enthralled. I took out my cigarette pack, pulled one out and placed it between my lips. The sweet taste of tar filled my mouth as I lit it up. I inhaled slowly and the cigarette tip glowed in pale orange. I felt my lungs filling with warmth, as if they had been wrapped in a blanket.
I continued taking slow and small draws of the cigarette while it grew shorter. The silence was so dense and vivid it caressed my skin along with the cold breeze, which pierced through my body like a thousand knives: Autumn was about to set sail, and soon the winter tide would roll in.
I flicked away the cigarette and stepped on it, leaving ash and paper on the ground, before I walked over to my car and threw myself in to get away from the cold. The stench of the smoke had followed me in and now filled the car; but then again, if you had been breathing it your whole life, wouldn’t you get used to it?
“Where do I go now?” I asked myself, “Home?”
At that point, I didn’t even know where or what that was.
I started the car and just decided to drive, to cruise through the city aimlessly as I waited for the sun to forgo its light for the moon’s. The city lights eventually glimmered, pouring in softly through the windscreen, as the rows of towering skyscrapers stretched over me.
The night meant one thing: that the downtown area was lit by neon lights as they were reflected by rain-kissed concrete pavements and rugged asphalt roads. It also meant you could be anything or anyone and no one else would care; under the night starry skies, the world is yours and you could either lose or find yourself.
Taking advantage of this, teenagers who wanted to “find themselves” started appearing, while others showed up around to lose themselves in the beats of the loud club music and the drops of alcohol. The pale phosphoric half-moon hung over the horizon, bearing witness to a seemingly feigned city. But in a city full of light, who gazes upon the sky?
I had been driving for hours in silence, broken time to time only by the honks of the car horns. I took a little glance at the radio and somehow, I was drawn to it, tempted to just turn it on, urged to finally end the silence, I clicked the power button and turned the volume up. A familiar song was playing as it succeeded in keeping me company for a few minutes before it finally came to an end. The radio host then appeared and kept the listeners entertained for the rest of the night, though I never liked the night programs as they were always a little dull.
The host was talking about the latest hits and how the songs just seemed to hit home, after which she took a little pause before asking: “When was the last time you went home?”
Then there was silence, as if she had been asking someone, and was left unanswered. I looked at the radio, stared at it in confusion, wondering if it had lost reception. There were no static noises, no songs and the host was nowhere to be heard. The car fell to a deafening silence once more. I guess the radio show ended, I thought to myself.
“Well?” the radio host asked again. “It isn’t polite to ignore one’s question, you know?”
Honestly, I don’t know.
“You don’t know?” the radio host continued with her barraging questions as if she was reading my mind.
I don’t. Ever since I was a child, I have never found a place where I felt like I belonged. The constant screaming and arguing between my mom and dad rendered me to not having a place to yearn for as a child. I was eight when I ran away from home and wherever I went, it always seemed so strange and foreign. I’ve come so far, but I’ve got no strings to pull me back to an origin. I am lost.
“Isn’t it about time you came home?”
The last question opened the door to thoughts I had locked up for a long time and they started arresting me as if a floodgate had suddenly been opened, and all of them revolved around one question: Where is home?
This was the one question I feared the most, because I had no idea where that was. That scared me. The unknown had always scared me, a frontier I am to explore with my own thoughts unnerves me beyond measures. How is it that someone doesn’t even have a home? I let out a little chuckle as I pitied myself.
Suddenly I realized that I had been so fixated on this strange occurrence and wild thoughts that I hadn’t been paying attention to the road; I hadn’t realized that I had somehow stopped driving, I found myself parked in front of a white house, where the garden decorated its front as if guarding the doorstep.
Lilies and roses surrounded the path and decorated the garden while ivy and ferns grew through the crevices of the seemingly old stone path, which led directly to the elegant structure. The house loomed large, flanked by lush trees crowned in crimson leaves, as the autumn wind swayed them gently, making them rustle along with the silent hum of the night.
I knew where I was, I knew the turns of the pavements, I knew each step of the stairway that led to the entrance, I knew the oak wooden door and its creaks, all of these were so familiar to me. It still bothered me, however, how I got here.
The night had been strange enough, so I readied myself to drive away when suddenly my car ran out of gas. The engine stopped whirring and the radio fell silent. The fading vestige of the stench of the smoke still lingered, and the silence crept back in, that my ear started ringing. The touch of the leather seats had itched my back while my neck was sore from all the driving; it was as if all my senses had come to life and conspired to force me to step out.
The same senses screamed to the autumn breeze, begging my legs to take them somewhere warm, as if they were whispering to me, urging me to walk up the stairway and knock on the white door. Left with nowhere else to go and nothing else to do, I did what I had to, I knocked.
After a while, I heard the door being unlocked from the other side, its familiar creak as it swung open, revealing her. She stood there, confused and startled — why wouldn’t she be?
Here she was opening the door in the middle of the night: bereft of any wind, the leaves outside hung limp as the world between and around us turned dead silent. My mind was filled with thoughts and words of what to say:
I don’t know why I’m here. Heck, I don’t even know how I got here, my body has got a mind of its own lately. I was thinking about ‘home’, a place of familiarity where I could find warmth once more. For so long I’ve been so alone, I’ve been doing what was necessary to survive in this harsh life, I’ve been pushed around by “fate” and I’ve lost sight of what I wanted. I never knew the reason for my heart’s beating and it’s as if I have never loved all my life.
But I uttered none of them, instead, I packed all of them into two words I never thought I’d say, “Hey Mom,” my voice shook and my eyes were deluged in tears.
She said nothing and then broke a smile. When she did, a lifetime of estranged feelings, everything obscure and foreign had lost their grasp on me, as she opened her arms and took me in her embrace, the warmth, the tenderness and her soft dry skin took me back to when I was five, when I had fallen off my bike and she had lifted me up as she brought me back home. Yet, just as I felt like I could fall asleep in her embrace, everything vanished.
The house broke off piece by piece like shattered glass, the garden warped away as if it had been sucked into a black hole. My mother was blown away by the wind like dust, with her smile being the last to go; lingering a while before eventually vanishing into thin air. I was sucked out of that reality and into another as if a pleasant dream had abruptly come to an end and I was shocked into waking.
I found myself back in my car, driving full speed, the radio playing a song at midnight. Of course, it had been a dream, I lost my chance of coming back to her when she died ten years ago. I had been standing in front of the door for hours, but unlike the dream, I hadn’t found the courage to knock.
I was back in my car, as the city lights coalesced with the stars and the moon, as they bore witness; I was driving at full speed when crashing metals broke the night’s silence and played their deadly tune.
Mom, I’m coming home…
Patrick Khristian is an Indonesian writer and storyteller.
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