Saturday, October 29, 2011

Crab Mentality (Part 16)

June 8, 2010 (9pm)
                Lieutenant Charles Marchus had died after an ambush in the province when Chalano was still 10-months-old. Chalano grew up without his father. Because of that, he never really knew his father. But his mother and his father’s old friends had kept telling him lots of great stories about the lieutenant. Because his childhood was full of stories about his dad, it was as if the man didn’t die at all.
The lieutenant was said to have strong self-control. He was very hard-working, and he had run his own business outside of his job as a soldier. He inspired people, and stories about him continued to inspire even after he died. Chalano admired his father, and he really wished that he was still alive so that his family would be complete. He longed to get some great advice from his father, but there was no way to get it.
Chalano actually felt ashamed of himself when he learned about the crimes of Coal. Even though the man was already gone, Chalano wanted to make his father proud. What a shame it was to seem so irresponsible! He didn’t want to be a criminal, and he had turned his back on Coal to start being just like his father.
                He sat on the edge of his bed as he looked at the picture. Why would his father haunt him tonight? His father had never haunted him before. For that matter, Chalano never believed in ghosts. Then he realized the pattern.
                He stood up, and walked to the windows. He opened one of the windows to look outside. He heard them. Sirens. The fire trucks sped by. Their blinkers were flashing in the cold night.
A fire. Fires always took place whenever he was sensing weird things. A hunch, maybe. Whatever was causing him to sense it, Chalano wouldn’t figure it out tonight because he had left the window, and quickly went to his closet. He took a black jacket, and wore it. The moment was his chance to do know more about his topic for the writing competition next year. He had to investigate.
                His mother would certainly not allow him to get out of the house. He took his slippers, and quietly stepped out of his bedroom. He closed the door behind him, and then crept into the dark living room. He quietly opened the door, and stepped into the balcony from the living room. He ran through the balcony, passed by the double doors of the room at the back, and went down their outdoor staircase. Halfway down the staircase, he paused to look around to make sure that his mother wouldn’t catch him. Keeping his head low to hide from the lights that were coming from inside the house, he made a sprint through their wide garage. He reached the big gate. There was a small tree beside the gate. He climbed up the tree, and went over the top of the gate to jump to the drive way outside the gate. He walked to the north to lessen the chances of his mother catching him sneaking out of the house. He might meet Kim in this route, but Kim had mentioned that his mother wouldn’t let him out of the house when the fire last night happened, so it might be the same tonight.

                Black, clean shoes. He stepped out of the police car. Standing at 6 feet tall, he surveyed the scene before him.The fire had been quickly put down, and only a few sparks in the electrical system of the house were left. The firemen hurried about, carrying hoses, and fixing their equipment. The other firemen were still inside the property, making sure that the fire was completely gone. A crowd of onlookers was beginning to build up around the site. There was still lots of smoke in the air. He walked to the house.

                It was the house that was on the northern corner of Betsy Street and Lincoln Street. Almost across from Kim’s house. Feeling like a persistent journalist who was chasing a good story, Chalano hurried through the crowd to get a closer look. He could hear the conversations of the onlookers whom he passed.
                “I think that somebody got killed.”
                “It happened in less than an hour.”
                Another boy was walking toward Chalano, but the boy’s face was turned toward the house. He was wearing a red hoodie. He turned his head just before he bumped against Chalano, and suddenly stopped walking in surprise. Kim!
                Kim looked like he didn’t expect Chalano to see him. Chalano said, “Hey! What are you---“ Chalano noticed that there was blood on Kim’s lower lip. “W-what happened?!”
                Kim leaned as if to hide from Chalano. Noticing where Chalano was looking, he raised his right hand to cover his lower lip. Kim hurried past Chalano without saying any word. Puzzled, Chalano watched as Kim crossed Lincoln street. There was something different about how Kim walked. Chalano knew that Kim didn’t walk like that on a daily basis. Kim wiped the blood from his lower lip, and entered his house.
                As questions about Kim filled his head, Chalano turned back to the house. Because he was distracted, he accidentally stepped on a foot. He quickly stepped aside to make way for the man, and kept saying sorry to keep him from getting angry. But the man just kept quietly looking at Chalano. The man’s face had no expression at all. He was the same man who watched Chalano and Kim while they were looking at the couple of burned houses in 10th Street that afternoon. This time, though, he was in police uniform, and the name on his uniform was Gallaner.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Crab Mentality (Part 15)

June 8, 2010 (8pm)
                There was no one there, but Chalano really felt as if someone had tried to approach him. He stood up, and walked to his bedside table to get a flashlight from its drawer. He walked to the door. Putting his right hand on the doorknob, he tried to remain calm by taking a deep breath. Turned the doorknob. Pulled the door open with speed that would surprise the intruder.
                There was still no one there. The dark, 1-meter wide corridor before him was empty. He carefully stepped out of his room. Looked to the right. The dark living room was empty. He switched the flashlight on to clearly see the living room. Barefoot, he carefully walked toward the other end of the corridor, which was 6 meters away. Halfway to the other end of the corridor, he stopped. Turned to the left to check the doorway to the bathroom. He stood still, listening in the hope of hearing the slightest sound. Silence. You should always protect your back. Frightened, he suddenly turned around to face the door that was behind him. The door was exactly in front of the bathroom, and it led to his mother’s bedroom. Maybe a man was hiding under her bed. Maybe a man was making his way into the hole in the ceiling of her bedroom to enter the ventilation system, and he could use the passage to enter Chalano’s bedroom! Chalano’s imagination was going wild. What if …? He thought of all possibilities as he hurried back to his bedroom. Then he sensed something moving behind him. Something … warm. He turned to look at the other end of the corridor.
The corridor had no lights, and the lights of the bathroom and his mother’s bedroom had been turned off. There was a large floor area at the other end of the corridor that was surrounded by lots of big windows. Lights from their neighbors’ houses were entering through the big windows. The lights cast a white glow on the corridor, lessening its shadows. Chalano reluctantly walked on the clean, waxed surface of the wooden floor of the corridor. He was so scared. Even though he was walking to the other end of the corridor, he was paying attention to his bedroom. If I hear noises from my bedroom, I’ll run back there to confront him.
                He really wanted to run downstairs to ask his mother for help, but, if there really was an intruder, he shouldn’t leave the top floor unchecked. It was his house, and, though young, he was the only man in the family. He had to start being responsible for a change, and he had to protect his mother. He stepped into the huge room. Looked around him. It was 24 square meters, and it was empty. Giving a sigh of relief, he casually walked to the end of the room. He peered out of a window. The neighbors’ TV was tuned in to the news. Ah, it’s about that fire again. Then he realized that the air in the room felt different. The double doors that led from the room and to the balcony. Was open.
He gasped in sudden horror. He grabbed the doors, and locked them as he warily looked around him. He was hurrying back to the corridor when he realized what he had missed.
                The wall to his left was the wall of his mother’s bedroom. In its bottom part was a passage that led into her room. A man could easily fit in there. He could’ve pulled Chalano’s feet. Trying to control his fear, Chalano leaned to the floor to check the passage. Only the huge bottles of medicines from his father could be seen. There was no man there.
                He had finished checking. He let his fear to finally take over him, and ran back to the corridor. He went into the living room and made sure that the doors there were locked. Then he went back to his room. Checking the wide passage on the ceiling above his bed, he tried to calm himself down by thinking that his mother probably left those doors open when she came home that afternoon. He really felt that there was something different about the house, but, this time, he was certain that it wasn’t human. It was moving quickly along the corridor, and it was warm. Only his wild imaginations scared him, but the presence was actually sending out a strong sense of peace. Was it a ghost? Was it his father’s ghost?
                He turned to look at the picture frame on his bedside table. It was a small, simple picture frame. It contained the picture of his father, who was in military uniform. Could it be you?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Crab Mentality (Part 14)

June 8, 2010 (5pm)
Chalano knocked on the small gate of his house. The front door opened. Uh-oh. His mother walked out of the house to open the small gate for him. She wore slippers, but she was wearing that favorite blouse of hers again, and her hair was in a ponytail. She was wearing a pencil skirt. It looked like she had just come from the mall, or somewhere that was far. She asked in a casual tone, “How was school?”
                The tone of her voice made him relax a bit, but he was still scared. He had to please her, he had to make her calm down, and he had to tell her some good news. It was just not the time to tell her about what had happened in school. “Kim and I took a look at the burned houses.”
                She became curious, and asked as she locked the small gate behind them, “Really? What did they look like?”
                “Only the firewalls were left,” Chalano described as they walked to the front door. “Everything else was gone.”
                “That’s why I’m so careful with the stove,” his mother declared as they entered the house through the front door. “A little carelessness can cost so much. Look at them. They lost their houses, and God knows where they are right now.”
                She kept talking as they walked through the wide, empty room, and to the huge table. Chalano took his favorite seat near the window as she said, “I heard the fire trucks and the ambulances last night, and a TV crew came. They said in the news that everything in the properties was burned down.”
                There were already plates at the table that was near the refrigerator. It looked like she had prepared them even before Chalano came home. She took a plate of tuna, and placed it in the middle of the dining table. Wow, tuna again! Then he remembered the argument that they had that morning. Poor Mother. He suddenly felt so bad to think that he seemed like a rude son who would cooperate only if the food was something that he liked. He was ashamed of himself. “I couldn’t get out because I couldn’t leave you,” she explained as she went back to the smaller table to get more plates. “So I called my friend to ask about what was going on at 10th.”
                She placed a container of chocolate ice cream on the dining table. Wow. It wasn’t big, but it was enough for the two of them. “She said that people were panicking because the homeowners were still inside,” she recalled. “Then it was discovered that there was no one inside any of the two houses at all.”
                Chalano had so many questions in his head. Did she know the occupants of the burned houses? Maybe they knew those people, and maybe he would recognize them if he ever saw them. But he was in “well-behaved” mode, so he had to remain quiet. She placed the plates of rice, the spoons and forks, and a huge container of rice on the table. I’m lucky that she doesn’t even make me set the table, he thought. He once ate lunch at Kim’s house, and they made the kids set the table there. Chalano’s mother sat down, and began to eat. Well, Chalano’s family didn’t pray before eating. They prayed before eating at his friend’s house. Every family isn’t perfect. Chalano began to eat also, careful not to make so much noise because he still remembered his fault that morning.

                His mother had taken the empty plates, and had washed them. She made no mention of the disagreement that they had that morning. She just said goodnight. As Chalano carefully walked up the stairs and left his mother downstairs, he made a sigh of relief for not getting any punishment. The ice cream was great. It wasn’t everyday that they had ice cream.
He went up to his bedroom, entered the room, and closed the door behind him. He changed into his pyjamas, turned off the light, and went to bed. He turned off the small lamp that was on his bedside table. Everything became dark, and the whole place was quiet. Even though the day had started badly, it ended perfectly. He put his head on his soft pillow, and closed his eyes.
                In his mind picture, he saw John. He quickly woke up, and walked to the light switch to turn it on. He sat on the edge of his bed, thinking. Hours after John had bullied him, it was only now that he was beginning to feel the anger that Kim had expressed hours ago. Delayed reaction? Probably.
John had everything that he had to live without. John had a complete family, he was rich, and he was good-looking. Think of the great reputation that he had at school, but was he using all that he had for good? John wasn’t making any good use of all the good karma that he was receiving. As if Chalano’s very imperfect existence wasn’t enough. But, no, Chalano wouldn’t agree to be defeated by John. John shouldn’t get away with being so mean and unfair to him. In spite of being the troubled kid that he was, Chalano could still accomplish something.
                Chalano walked to his desk that was beside the windows, and flipped through the calendar that was hanging on the wall beside it. January was seven months away. Chalano still had more than six months to prepare for the 4th Citrus Annual Writing Competition. The competition was held at Citrus High every year, but the participants were all of the high school students throughout 4th Project Town and Citrus Town. John had been the champion since 2nd year (that was only what Chalano knew, since he had transferred to John’s school only at the start of his sophomore year). Chalano had won at the elementary division when he was 11-years-old, but he had never got to focus in school again after he had secretly joined Coal.
                In the recent school years, he had wanted to participate, but had never done that because that would have turned him and John into enemies. He used to look up to John. Now, he had nothing to lose because they were already enemies. He even had a bigger chance of winning this time because there was nothing like a challenge like John.
He looked at the clock that was on his bedside table. 8pm. It was still early enough for writing. Most participants in the competition started their preparation before the opening of classes. Chalano could imagine that John had started preparing also, he just wouldn’t say it. He sat down before his small desk, and took a pen from its drawer.
                The problem: what would he write about? The competition focused on fiction in 6000 words. A good fiction would be about something that really existed in real life (Chalano had used the same rule for his winning entry 4 years ago). The burned houses in 10th Street intrigued him. By January, people would still remember that such things such as burned houses whose owners went missing really happened in the area. He was so inspired tonight, and he began to write. He heard a faint sound.
                His mother just didn’t go upstairs until past nine. The sound came from the direction of the corridor that was outside his bedroom door. When you’ve been living in a certain place for years, you would know the place well, including the movements of the air in different conditions. The air just felt like someone was moving along the corridor, and getting closer. Closer. Approaching. Quickly. He suddenly turned to the left to look at the door.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Crab Mentality (Part 13)

June 8, 2010 (4pm)
   The weather was as good as it was on Monday.
   Kim guided Chalano out of the school, and into their usual route to their houses. There was a low, small platform beside the basketball court, and Kim let Chalano sit down on it to allow him to rest for a while. Kim demanded, “Now, tell me what happened to you.”
   Chalano blinked hard to remove his dizziness. He felt too weak to speak clearly. “I went to the back of the auditorium to speak to John.”
   “You shouldn’t have done that! You should’ve spoken to him at the cafeteria instead.”
   “He came with three of his friends, and he went to his car. I approached him to clarify what really happened at the canteen yesterday. He got offended, and said something that meant that I wanted to make him look bad to everyone. Then he reached into his car, and took a small pillow. He called me to the shade behind the auditorium, and accused me of planning a rebellion against him….”  
   "And then?" 
  “He put the pillow on me, and started beating me up,” Chalano leaned to hide his face from Kim, because he was actually beginning to cry. He tried to control his voice. “I tried to resist …. to escape …. but his friends pinned me against the wall …. They covered my mouth …. After beating me up, John forced me into a deal that I will never fight back, talk back, nor disagree with him again.”
   “Damn,” Kim growled, and suddenly kicked a stone from the ground. The stone flew to the wall of a nearby house, and broke into smaller stones. Kim was red with anger. “He had no reason to disturb us at the canteen yesterday. It was just that his inflated ego wouldn’t let go of the chance to power-trip. After messing up with us, covering up what he did, and attacking another student, no one should disagree with him? What the ----! What does he think of himself, a god?! What sort of a Student Council is it?! Oh, yeah, man, and all of us should bow down to him, and worship his pretty, little curls,” Kim sarcastically snapped his fingers. “What’s the future of youth with an example like him?! This only means rebellion!"
A group of girls were passing by. They were students of another school. They were already too near when Chalano saw them. He didn’t manage to tell Kim that other people were around.
Kim finally saw them. They gave him weird glances as they passed by. To them, Kim looked so crazy angrily making hand gestures, shouting, and being mad at someone who wasn’t even there. Kim suddenly became quiet, and avoided their glances. His posture became bent in embarrassment, but Chalano could see that he was breathing really deeply to control his anger. Then Chalano noticed a strange smell. His dizziness was gone, and he stood up to look around in an attempt to save Kim from the situation. Chalano asked, “What’s that smell?”
                Still red-faced, Kim looked at Chalano. His look said, Stupid you, you shouldn’t say something like that when girls are around, as if you want to insult them? His look expressed disagreement, but he said something else, “Huh?”
                “I smell something,” Chalano tried to adlib, ignoring Kim’s eyes. He really did smell something. It was an ugly smell. Chalano couldn’t decide exactly what it was. He turned toward the other side of Betsy Street, which was the extension of 10th Street. The houses there looked different. Something that used to be there wasn’t there anymore. Two houses were gone. Only the blackish firewall of one of them was left behind. The only word that he came up with was, “Burns.”
                “Oh, the fires,” he heard Kim say behind him in a calm voice. “Those houses got burned down last night. The fire began on number 42, and it moved to number 44. They were almost completely gone by the time that the fire trucks arrived. No bodies were found. The occupants were not home when the fires took place, but their relatives from Citrus Town said that they couldn’t find them. The residents of the two houses were proclaimed missing this morning. It was all over the news. There were lots of cars from the rescue and the media here last night.”
                Chalano remembered the noisy TV news when he woke up that morning, and how his mother was in such a bad mood. He turned to ask Kim, “You went out here last night?”
                “No. Mom said that it might be not safe. We just watched all the people from my bedroom window,” Kim answered.  “Wanna have a closer look? Let’s go.”
                They walked across Betsy Street, and approached the scene. There was no one around except them. The smell was so bad, that Chalano couldn’t keep from covering his nose. He didn’t wake up last night because he felt absolutely exhausted after his nightmare. It wasn’t just a smell of smoke, it was something else. The smell was more to the mind than to the nose. It was tragedy, death ….
The houses were almost completely gone. In his mind picture, Chalano imagined the fire being like the one in his nightmare last night. Only the lower parts of the cemented walls were left standing. Everything else in the properties were ash, even the bathrooms. The air still had some smoke in it. There was a police line around each of the property. He got an eerie feeling about how he dreamt of fire exactly before a nearby place went on fire. I need to know more about this. He wanted to look for something, but he didn’t know what he was looking for. He pulled the police line upward to pass under it so that he may get nearer to the ashes. “Chalano! Don’t do that! Somebody’s watching us,” Kim said in a hushed voice. Chalano suddenly let go of the police line, and looked around them. Frightened. A man in a black jacket was standing at Betsy Street. Maybe he just got disturbed by the noise that Kim had created at the basketball court, but Chalano had the feeling that the man had another reason for looking at them. Standing with his feet apart, he was tall and broad-shouldered, and he had a neat haircut. He had a high forehead, and his jaw was a bit square. His hands were in the pockets of his grey pants, and he wore grey loafers. His eyes were hidden in the deep shadows below his forehead, and Chalano couldn’t see them. His face had no expression at all. Chalano didn’t just feel guilty about being caught trying to slip under the police line, there was also something about the man’s gaze that sent chills crawling down Chalano’s spine. “Let’s go,” Kim said, sounding like he was also getting scared of the man.
 The two boys left, and walked toward the south. They were going to take a different route to their homes just to avoid the strange man. As they walked, Chalano tried to keep his head from turning to check if the man was still looking at them. He was certain that he was still watching the two of them. He wondered who the man was, and why he was looking at them like that. He also wondered why Kim was so quiet.
                It wasn’t normal for Kim to be so quiet. Chalano glanced at him, and noticed that he still looked very angry. Kim was still going red. Chalano realized that the noisy Kim that he went to school with every day was always happy, because he was actually eerily quiet when he was angry.
                10th Street led to another part of Lincoln Street. Chalano and Kim turned left at the intersection of 10th Street and Lincoln Street. Chalano’s house was just a few steps away. Seeing its tall, huge figure, Chalano suddenly didn’t want to go on. His mother would be waiting inside.  “Let’s go to your house first. I’ll leave you there, and then I’ll go on my own.”
                The two boys walked on. They were on the other side of the street from Chalano’s house as they passed by. Kim suddenly looked at Chalano, “Why?”
                Chalano couldn’t answer. They walked through the curve of Lincoln Street. Kim asked, “You have a problem at home?”
                Chalano abruptly stopped in front of an empty lot. He looked to the ground, and tried not to look at Kim. “I don’t know how to say this to you, but I plan to run away ….”
                “What?! What sort of thing did your mother do to you for you to run away?”                                          
                “I’m scared of her. She was mad at me this morning, and I just managed to go to school ‘cause I escaped from her.”
                “She was keeping you from going to school?”
                “No, she was just mad at me for making a bad remark about breakfast. I know that she isn’t finished with me yet. She might not forgive me for my remark, and she might not forgive me for leaving while she was talking. I’m just scared of her ….”
                “Don’t leave her. She’s all that is left of your family. Without her, what have you got? You may be a boy, but you’re still a kid,” Kim lectured. “Who would take care of you? What would John do once he learned that you’re no longer with your mother? Even if you were already a man, nothing in this world can replace a mother. You’d say that you can live on your own, that you can do your laundry, and you can earn income to survive. But no other person in your life will understand you for who you are, and look after you without asking for so much in return. One day, she will die, and she will be gone forever. She isn’t like an ink cartridge that you can replace. There is only one mother in your life. When she goes away, she cannot be replaced. So my advice is that you become her good son while she’s here. My family is quite huge. I have my sister, and I have Daddy, but all of us try to be good to Mommy.” Kim put his hands together, as if praying, “Tell her, ‘I’m very sorry, Mommy, for being rude this morning. I promise to do extra chores in exchange for my bad behavior.’ She will definitely forgive you. Do it.”
                Chalano didn’t want to hear more lectures, so he said, “Okay. I’ll go back home.”
                They walked to Kim’s house. Before Kim went to their garage, he walked to Chalano and whispered, “Inform me when John has done something bad to you again, okay? I ain’t done with him yet.”
                It sounded more like a scary threat than teenage bravado. Kim walked through the driveway, walked through the garage, and opened their door. He waved Chalano goodbye, and Chalano waved back. Chalano turned to the east, and breathed deeply. I will tell her that I’m sorry. I will set the table, or even clean the bathroom just to make her forgive me.