The first slap on my cheek sizzled. The second burned and I recoiled, instincts dictating my actions. I told myself I deserved it. The third brought tears to my eyes and the fourth sent me to the floor like a bag of potatoes. Through my bleary eyes I could not make out his face. It would hurt even more to see it. I held the tears in my eyes a little longer so I would not blink. Suddenly a boot to my stomach banged the air out of me. Wheezing for breath, curled on the floor, father’s voice rang in my ears. I felt his rage again and again until the air seemed to have frozen.
One more…one more and I am gone, I thought.
“Stop it!” mother shrieked. “You’re killing him…stop it!”
I saw her feet advance toward father’s from behind. Wrestling, they shuffled in a dance. She had her heels planted in the carpet in her attempt to pull him back. Stumbling backwards with empty hands she fell on her side, wincing, gasping. We exchanged a heartfelt gaze. Her face glistened with tears and compassion. Grief marked the lines on her face.
Please…let me go mom. Please I cannot live knowing what I have done to you.
I lay there on the floor of the living room like a drunkard on a railroad . Shifted my gaze to the ceiling, her face too hurtful. I lay on my back and stretched out my arms like Jesus on the cross. With every blow to my ribs my body jerked and then I tasted blood. Coughed more blood. Then…
“Stop!” she shrieked.
“It’s his fault!” he bellowed.
“We’ll lose another son!”
Panting, he stopped. A scowl on his face, one of confusion and disgust.
No! No! You can’t stop now…
He looked in my eyes and he knew what I was thinking.
“No, sonny, I’m not giving you the easy way out on this one,” he said hoarsely.
I drifted off…to the beginning.
Kenny was immersed in what he was reading. Alone at the desk by the window. He never lifted up his head to watch the traffic or the birds on the telephone wire. Many times I would come and go without a sign of him being distracted or aware of it. I admired that quality about him. I worried, though, that he missed out on a lot. The smell and sound of breakfast, the sunsets and all the adventures of thirteen year-olds.Kenny was immersed in what he was reading. Alone at the desk by the window. He never lifted up his head to watch the traffic or the birds on the telephone wire. Many times I would come and go without a sign of him being distracted or aware of it. I admired that quality about him. I worried, though, that he missed out on a lot. The smell and sound of breakfast, the sunsets and all the adventures of thirteen year-olds.
Then there was a sound, an approaching noise from the street. Kenny raised his head. He inconspicuously inspected himself in the mirror, brushing bread crumbs off his white shirt and resetting his glasses. He put on a baseball cap over his unkempt hair. He then settled in his chair and waited as three girls passed by, Kenny could not take his eyes off one of them. She walked slightly behind the others and was quieter than them. There was a mystery to her, in the same way a girl with tattoos, black hair and piercings might be mysterious. She was meek, mellow and walked smoothly in her dress like she was gliding. If Kenny, in that state, were to take the place of a drooling dog in a picture I do not think anyone would notice a difference.
“Whoa, shit. What the heck, dude?” He seemed flustered.
“I called you like three times, you shouldn’t even be a bit surprised.”
He opened the book, flipped through it and settled at a random page. He pretended to have been reading it all along. A glance up at me told him I wasn’t fooled. Sighing, he put it down and sat on his bed.
“What were you doing, hovering around like that?” He asked.
“What were you doing?”
He snorted. “Um…I don’t know. Reading I guess,” he replied sarcastically.
“Yeah. What’s with that face? You know I read. It’s like I told you. I was err…um… I don’t know.” He ran out of words.
“Yeah… sure.” I paused and grinned.” So what were you reading?”
“Um…pashas…stuff,” he mumbled, not a bit convinced by every word. My brother had never been one to risk lying, and it showed.
I gave him a questioning look, my eye brow raised.
He frowned.” What?”
I laughed.” Is this why you spend so much of your time in here? To catch a glimpse of her?”
“Who? No. I read.” He reached for his book and touched it, but did not pick it up.
“I know her,” I tempted. Saw him struggle to overcome his pride and ask me. Staring at the floor. “Her name is Casey.”
“You know they’re going to the spot. That’s where I met her. Kenny, if you dig this girl that much, why don’t you come with me to the spot?”
“The spot?” he asked incredulously.
“Yeah.” I was whispering so mother would not hear. She was in the kitchen but still I was in her house. “There were no trips to the library all this time.”
“Yeah, one day you can tell mom you’re going to the library with and you can get to see her in her underwear!” I chuckled.
He tilted his head and put on a wry smile. “I’ll think about it!”
I got up. “By the way,” I said over my shoulder as I reached the doorway. He delivered a keen glance. “Um…she has no boyfriend and it won’t be for long.”
“Well, then let’s go today!”
“That’s it, china!” I grinned. There was wrongness to this but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
I do not know what hurt me most. The inability to save him or that I am the reason he died. It is the mistakes we make with good intentions that seem to hurt us most. Especially when they cannot be rectified or undone. My pillow was soaked in my tears. My skull dry and tightened, a headache throbbing relentlessly. My heart like a soggy blanket pressing at my chest and lungs. My eyes were sore; they could not stand a second of sunlight, so I stayed with my curtains closed and in bed like an immobilised patient. I had no idea how many days had passed. All I knew or did was avoiding my parents. Did not help that much because every now and then I could hear mother weep. I never got used to the grief in her voice as she wept. Never knew I could cause someone so much agony. Sorrow hovered above the house like a ghost. It was winter in here, hollow and lifeless. Every now and then there would be a faint knock at my door; when I opened it, my food would be left there at my door step. The meals where stale and exanimate. One bite and I knew it was born out of the disdainful hand of my father. It is difficult to tell if his apathy and lack of effort was due more to heartache or hatred. It did not cross my mind that maybe he did not want to see my wounds. He just knocked on my door and turned away. My injuries are of little concern to anyone now after what I have done. I reckon they will not care if I ran away or died. I owed them an insolvent debt.
I heard a faint knock at the door. I climbed out of bed and hobbled to the door.
“Mother?” I said, startled. She stood there her eyes bloodshot and hair a mess. She smelt of mourning. Her face overwrought with grief.
She shuffled past me like a ghost. Stood by the window, her back towards me.
I slumped onto my bed, my heart pounding. How do these conversations start?
She stirred the curtain, allowing a bar of sunlight inside. “I am the only one who is going to hear you out. Might as well tell me what happened.” She spoke gently, but with no feeling; no hint of life in her voice. Again guilt stabbed at my heart.
“Mom-” I began, but she interrupted me.
“We both know that Kenny wouldn’t and didn’t. So tell me what you did?” she snapped, her voice just on the fringe of a sob.
I took a moment, and then began. “He never had any friends. All he did was go to school and back. Then he would lock himself in his room and read. Even at school he did not have any friends. All he did was hang at the library or read during lunch. He needed friends, someone to appreciate what he had to offer. How could someone be happy while leading a life like that. Other kids were starting to notice this and I saw an opportunity to try and help him…and…” my voice trailed off. The guilt squashed the air out of me. The more I spoke, the more its grip tightened.
“And then you took him to the river,” she whispered.
“There was a girl he liked. And this is the first time Kenny ever showed interest in anyone except his books. I knew the girl from the spot-“
“Wait,” she interrupted.” All those times you said you said you were going to the library, you were lying?”
“Yes, I was going to the river. I am so sorry, mother.”
There was a pause as she looked at me, considering this information. There was nowhere I could put my eyes. Shame and panic mixed in me and built up in the silence, until eventually she said, “Carry on.”
I hesitated. “Yesterday…they went. I mean the girls. And then I convinced Kenny to come with me. Thought he would be safe with me because… I am good swimmer, you know,” I felt like I was disintegrating, beginning to sob. “He got in swam with me for a while. He was enjoying himself and the company we had found. And then the tide came in…and I could not save him, mom. I tried and tried, until my arms were dead and a pain was inside my entire chest. And I wish I could have. If there was anything I could to save him I would have done it. If there was a way to bring him back, even if it meant giving my own life, I would do it.”
She stood there unresponsive and silent, gazing through the window or at some distant past – I could not tell.
“The worst thing is… I dreamt about it months before. It was exactly like it happened. I should have known. I’m so sorry, mama.” I paused. “How is dad?”
“How do you think he must feel?” she gave me a piercing glance. I was transfixed by it. “You took his favourite son.”
“I promise I will be twice the son I am.”
“That will not bring Kenny back. Your father loves you, but this is not something that he can forgive. He is angry, like I have never seen him before.” Her words were spoken with the kindness of a mother but the hurt of a bereaved parent. “Your father expected you to behave like a man. What has he got left to cling on to?”
Since then it seems I have absorbed Kenny into me. I started being more like him, seeing things the way he could have. Enough so that I would not forget the paramount pieces of myself. I felt like a burden most of the times; my presence seemed to be what brought Kenny’s absence alive. It lodged into their hearts, making a void, felt mostly by my father. It brought him a great dislike for me, which he proceeded to show through pointing out every blunder I made. Every chance he got to show appreciation he took it for a change to daunt me and humiliate me. I could only feel compassion and a great sadness towards it; it must be terrible to feel the way he feels. Not being able to do away with the pain. For once in my life my father had something he could not fix and I was to blame for that. I allowed myself to endure in the hurt because I felt I deserved it, and that I could atone for it. Kenny’s death, like all deaths had changed everything.
Forgiveness is not an overflowing fountain…I know that now.
“I was raised in the valley, there were shadows and death.
Got out alive but with scars I can’t forget.
This kid back in school, subdued and shy.
An orphan and a brother and unseen by most eyes.
I don’t know what it was that made a piece of him die,
Took a boy to the forest, slaughtered him with a scythe.
Stamped on his face, an impression in the dirt.
Do you think the silence makes a good man convert?” – Bring Me The Horizon ‘Don’t Go’