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.
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