Saturday, February 11, 2012

O Pardal do Sul

A walk in the park everyday prescribed by the doctor has gradually become a tantra among nature. He enjoys the early summer for its irreproachable weather. Everywhere he looks there are greens fighting fiercely for his attention. Flowers flaunt shamelessly with their seductive gestures, as if they knew their beauty is but a fleeting affair.

He has lived in this vast tropical land for so long that he hardly remembers his old hometown. it ’s at the tail end of the winter where he came from four decades ago. As he remembers his childhood friends, their laughter still haunts him like yesterday.

“Your father is crazy. He’s a mad man!” They chanted and smirked. Often one would push hm after the chant, adding to the provocation. He ran home as fast as his small stature allowed, into his mother’s arms with hot tears and torn sleeves. She wiped off his anger with soothing words, and mended his battle scar with meager treats she could find. A laundry woman’s pocket change never felt so warm and abundant.

He didn’t understand why his father was in the mad man’s house, as the kids called it. He did know that that was why they were as poor as the four bare walls around them. A silhouette kneading on a washboard by a tub of water with a pile of clothes next to it was what his mother toiled all day to sustain her and four children. They learned not to envy other children’s shiny new shoes futilely, but be comforted by the fact they still had as complete a family as it could be.

One day his father came home, thin in physique and vacant in the eyes. He felt the chills when his mother described how they used “electricity” on him. The far away land beckoned with a letter from their uncle, whose offer of sponsorship couldn’t be more appreciated as their way of escaping the constricting island, which pushed his father to the brink of insanity in the first place. His mind never fully recovered from the revolutionists’ persecution that forced them to flee to the island, which in his father’s eyes was a perfect death trap.

New landscape breathed new life to his father’s spirit, but the new continent extended the old struggle to the family. He did poorly at school, having to learn a new language and culture with people who, although did not chant, but teased nonetheless. He volunteered to give up school and learn to be a chef, a proposition met with reluctance. He told himself this would help his family. Deep inside he unwillingly admitted that school was not an attraction to him.

Regret? It is a useless emotion--he tells himself. He might have been doing something easier, or he might not. Who could tell? His sister hated his drinking, smoking and gambling he learned from fellow kitchen workers; but she couldn’t stop him, and the parents would never interfere. He has some regrets, but quitting school ranks low on the list.

He feels a little out of breath, and sits down on a bench nearby. Two bypass surgeries finally caught his attention to his way of living. The smoking and drinking days are behind him now. Mahjong is his only ungodly pleasure. Is it numbness on his arm, or is he imagining it? He couldn’t tell.

The fallout between his sister and him may be one of the regrets. He could’ve helped her when she asked. He had the means and ability. She took care of him and his brother growing up, as their parents were constantly laboring. Why didn’t he, he couldn’t say. Neither did his brother. From their parents they inherited the idea of “daughters are outsiders,” therefore money preceded affection without either one of them feeling any uneasiness.

He wishes he knew how to be a better husband to Rosa. His Rosa--the mother of their three children--could be his biggest regret. Their lives stopped after the accident. She couldn’t be consoled, and he didn’t have the patience for her sadness. Their youngest of three children was taken by the will of the gods. There was nothing he could do--he was grieving himself. Now he knew he wasn’t what Rosa wanted, but he didn’t know it then. He didn’t understand why Rosa had to go, and to a continent so far away no less; but his rage was somewhat lessened by the fact she left the kids behind. He heard she was happy now. He pretended he didn’t care.

His older son--his pride overflows when he thinks about it--is in medical school. He wishes his childhood schoolmates could see him now. The little poor kid they teased has a son who will be a doctor. The younger daughter is in college as well. It is a shame his father didn’t live to see this. He may be the second son, but his accomplishment is no less than the first born.

A familiar pain slows him down on his trek. They had a wonderful few years after the gemstone business took flight. If he knew how much he was hurting his health with too abundant of food, drinks, and everything else of the enjoyment of the flesh, would he do it differently? Hard to say, he shakes his head with a faint smile. Being a boy and growing up poor prevented him from self discipline and appetite control. He traveled with his brother to all around the world for business and pleasure. They feasted as if life was invincible in every sense. Were they just too naive? Life was too good to care about something seemingly distant and irrelevant. The land on the southern half of the globe has been good to them.

He has to crouch down for the pain is getting severe. Please...he thought...he just had a new daughter-in-law, he hasn’t seen the first grandson yet, he doesn’t want to leave his life that’s beginning to feel too precious to give up. Hsing--he calls out to his son, who lives hundreds of miles away--I wish you were here.

The two children smile to him in his mind’s eye, as he slowly falls onto the path he hasn’t finished, and slips into an eternal blackness.

(Sparrow of the South, in Portugese, to a life lost too early)


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