This story is by Patricia Kolandai and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Henry, Henry where are you?” calls out Philip “There you are; I’ve been looking all over for you.”
“What’s the urgency, Philip?” I ask totally uninterested in anything Philip has to say to me.
“You have to go, your train leaves at 11am and you have to be there by 12:30pm today, Henry…TODAY. If not it WILL BE TOO LATE!”
I sit there, looking right through Philip. This urgency hasn’t gone to my brain or to my heart. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. Do I still have a soul? There‘s a hollow vacuum inside me so deep; I am lost in the abyss of its darkness.
“Henry, look at me,” Philip says firmly taking me by the shoulders. “Focus you got to go, NOW!”
Philip shakes me harder this time and some realization seeps into me.
“Go now, NOW, Like this? I can’t go like this. No, Philip, I can’t.”
“No you can’t. Here, change into this. There’s some water here, wash your hands and your face.”
“How long do I have?” I ask concern I may already be late.
“You have fifteen minutes to board your train which will arrive at your destination at 12:15pm and another fifteen minutes to get to her.” Philip replies looking at me with those eyes that could always tell how he feels.
“I’ll make it. I promise I will.” I say trying my best to reassure him but with no success. Philip is the closest friend I ever had. To be honest -he is the only friend I have.
“You better,” he says trying to sound strict. “Here, Alisha made something for you to eat on the train,”
Alisha, ah sweet Alisha; the sound of her name, the tenderness. Holding my breath, can I let this tenderness seep into the crevices of my heart …. No, no I must not go there. Focus, Henry, you need to hurry. I tell myself taking my thoughts away from her.
The only piece of value which I did not give away or pawn was my watch. Alisha gave it to me and I did not have the heart to part with it. The time is exactly 10:48am. I have twelve minutes to board that train. Philip bought my ticket, which I have kept safely in my wallet. I race for the train station, it will be quicker for me to run. The traffic out there is not in my favor today.
Reaching the station, I check my watch against the clock at the station – 10:58am. Train to Kangga on Platform 2. I tear down the stairs, through the tunnel – 10:59am. Up the stairs, two at a time; the whistle blows- I dash into the train just as the doors close. Whew! I make it. 11:00am.
Finding a seat by the window, I relax now, to catch my breath. No one sits with me and that’s a relieve as I’m really not in the mood for small talk. This gives me a chance to look out of the window and what a beautiful blue sky with a few scattered clouds. I feel a smile come on; it has been a long time since I smiled at something beautiful. But it is short lived as my thoughts go back to that ominous day, I can still hear him (the second husband of my mother) yelling at me. His words were hard and cruel.
“Let him go! Give him a year and he’ll be crawling back to us. What an idiot you are, boy.”
I hate it when he calls me ‘boy’. I am not his son and he sure as hell isn’t my father. I love my mum; why she married him I can never understand. But people talk – it was the money. She is no gold digger,but she did have three children to feed.
I glance at my watch – 11:10am. Time seems to move slowly when you are in a hurry.
It was those words which drove my determination to succeed. I worked so hard and finally in eighteen months I broke even. Consequently, in five years I had two successful restaurants. I met Philip after I opened the second restaurant. He eventually came to work for me as my manager and he ran the second restaurant with skill and charm. Philip introduced, his sister, Alisha to me. You know when you get that feeling that this is it – you needn’t look anymore. It was such with Alisha. Soon we started dating; she made my life whole, gave meaning to my sheer existence. Each time I looked into her brown eyes I saw love, unadulterated love, so real and so deep. The warmth of her embrace. With Alisha everything was so perfect and real.
I purchased an expensive condominium in the heart of the city. Soon enough I mingled only with the rich and famous and had more money than I knew what to do with it. I was so caught up in living this new life, I lost sight of my vision and I let my responsibility and accountability slip by. My manager in the first restaurant swindled and robbed me blind. So devious and callous were his actions they forced me to close the restaurant. I soon became too deep in debt, I had to sell the second restaurant and my condominium to clear this mess.
When you are rich and famous, you welcome the press. My picture, together with my short lived success was splashed all over the papers. At that moment I was glad of it, but when I hit rock bottom I hated the reporters. It was a case from riches to rags. It broke my spirit. I tried several times to get up and try again but I could not. All the strength I had just faded away. I felt helpless and alone. Something inside me just died. Even my love for Alisha could not motivate me. I felt I cheated her of a beautiful future and I failed her. She tried to tell me otherwise but it was of no use. Today I dig in bins for leftover food thrown away by people like I use to be. Now the homeless are my friends. Feeling that emptiness again, I turn to look out of the window. Rice fields….I simply love rice fields. Miles of squares with water plants in them and the lone buffalo somewhere in the middle of the field. Somehow it never fails to warm my heart.
Getting a bit perkish, I look into the brown bag Philip had given me, my heart swells up and tears fill my eyes. She remembered. Tuna and apple sandwiches; I eat in silence remembering all the laughter-filled picnics we had in the parks and by the streams.
Finishing my sandwich I glance at my watch it’s 11:50, I need to rest – physically and emotionally I am extremely tired. I close my eyes.
The whistle blows and I awake; I just manage to get off the train before it resumes happily on its journey.
I sprint out of the station. Thank Goodness there is a cab to take me to where I have to be.
I am here, but what room is she in? A lady at the counter tells me it’s room 318. Go down the corridor, take the first left, the room should be on your right. I have four minutes to make it.
I take the first left. My heart pounding. Cold sweat runs down my forehead, down my face and I can feel it trickling down my neck.
My vision is blur; I can’t read the numbers on the doors. I feel my whole body go weak. My breathing is labored – and for the life in me I cannot see the numbers.
Room 318 – I almost fall into the room.
“STOP! I have one minute.” There is a hush in the room. The doctor takes his hand away from the life support machine.
I run to her bedside, slowly squeezing her hand.
“It’s me, Henry.” I whisper in her ear and kiss her on the cheek.
She opens her eyes – there is a gasp from those around me. Although it is only a few seconds, the love in her eyes just flows into me like a stream of light consuming all the darkness in my soul giving me the strength I so badly need. The pressure of the gentle squeeze of her hand on mine lessen as she closes her eyes breathing her last.
I AM in time…to kiss mother goodbye.