Thursday, December 09, 2004

Last Days


Hisham looked at the trail behind the school. He has no choice now. He has to go home using that shortcut. It’s too late. He had been waiting for the rain to stop and now that the once heavy rain had gone to a drizzle, the front gate has closed. He had been avoiding that trail for weeks now. Eversince that day when he saw that creepy man.

He was walking down that trail from school just like any other day. There were two other boys behind him. It’s the shortest way to his house anyway. If he were to take the front gate, he would have to walk past the mosque, around the houses by the playground and pass 4 junctions before reaching his house. This way, the path was rougher, the grasses taller and denser, it can only fit one person or one motorcycle at a time and sometimes the stench from the huge drain that he walked along would rise up a little too strongly, but it leads him straight to the back gate of his home.
Hisham saw the creepy man on the wooden bridge that the motorcyclists used to get to the other side of the drain. He was wearing a long black robe, his face hidden under the hood. He looked really creepy. Like something out of the movie he saw at Amin’s house. The one where they chased the little boy that had a ring. Hisham couldn’t see the man’s eyes, but somehow he knew the man was looking at him. He stopped in his tracks as he felt his heart beat faster, and he felt as if his legs had turned to stone.
He was awoken from that freezed state only when the boys behind him gave him a shove and a shout “Woih jalan lah!! Apa ni???” “Move it! What gives???”. Hisham pointed at the guy, but the boys just shook their head and pushed him to move on “Apalah engkau nih.. mimpi ke..? Jalan lah!” “what are you.. dreaming..? Just move!”. Hisham made a move, and when he looked back, they guy was still there, looking at him. He quickly ran home and stayed indoors.
In Math class the next day he started to feel his navel moving. At first he thought it was just gas because he had deep fried tapioca for tea break , and even though he didn’t have a stomach ache, he had asked permission to go to the toilet. He lifted up his shirt to tap his tummy to check for bloating and actually saw his navel moving. He didn’t know what to think. Was there something in his stomach? He didn’t feel any pain, and the movements were slight, though noticeable. Perhaps it’s that creepy man. Maybe he’s an aliean and maybe he had implanted something in his tummy. He almost vomitted in fear.
He decided to take the long way home starting that day. When he reached home that day, he headed to the kitchen, went out the back door and braved himself to crane his neck and look out to the bridge. The creepy man wasn’t there. Maybe he was just dreaming yesterday, he thought. Hisham turned to go back inside, decided to take one last look and nearly fell over when he saw the dark figure staring at him. Staring without even looking. Even from the bridge, his stare penetrated Hisham’s soul. Hisham ran inside and bumped into his mom.
“Ya Allah , Sham... hati-hati lah sikit..” “My God, Sham, do be careful!”, she chided.
“Sorry Mak”"Sorry Mom" was all Hisham managed to say.

He went to his room and thought. Why was this man stalking him? Why was the man watching him? What does the man want?? Has he done something wrong??
Hisham tried to think of anything bad that he has done for the past few months. He remembered he had borrowed Amin’s money during teabreak and have not returned it. He pried his money bank open and counted his money. He vowed to pay Amin back the next day. But when he got home, he looked hopefully at the bridge and still saw the man.
Perhaps this man was hired to look after him by his father? His father works outstation a lot, and his father doesn’t really like him walking and playing near the drain. He wanted to ask his father, but didn’t dare to.

So since that day, he avoided using the shortcut by the drain. No matter what he did, however, everytime after tea break, his navel would still move, sometimes so violently it’s almost vibrating. And lately, he was feeling like even his forehead is moving.
Everytime he got home from school, he would go straight to his room. He would drown himself in his homework and books. Even pleas from his younger sister to play with his ball with her in the backyard would be declined. He would rather play cards with her in his room. While helping his mom with the dishes, he would avoid the urge to look out the window towards the bridge, because Hisham knows, the creepy man is there. Standing and waiting. For what, he doesn’t know. He only prayed that the man would not come a-knocking on the back door. The man never did.

Hisham stared at the trail and took a deep breath. No choice. Have to get home by that way. It’s the only way now. And he better do it soon, because it will get dark and he can’t imagine encountering the creepy man in the dark. What if the man grabs him??
He needed a disguise. Maybe if he disguised himself, the man won’t recognize him. He opened his bag and took out his raincoat, spilling out his snackbox in the process.
His mother packs him a tuna sandwich in a tupperware everyday eversince he complained about feeling his navel moving in the afternoons. As he picked up the half-eaten sandwich, he recalled his conversation with his mom before he left for school.
”Kenapa Sham selalu tak habis makan roti yang mak bekal tu? Membazir aje tau””Why dont you finish any of the sandwiches I pack for you? It’s such a waste” she had said, as she stuffed the tupperware inside his bag while he puts on his shoes.
”Entahlah mak, macam tak lalu aje””I don’t know, mom, I guess I wasn’t that hungry” he offered as an explanation.
”Tu lah .. patutlah perut masuk angin..””That’s why you’ve got gas (it’s because you don’t eat)” she said , while poking his tummy in jest.
Hisham smiled at the gesture. They sat there in silence for a while.
”Mak, Hisham ada buat salah dengan mak tak?””Mom, have I ever wronged you in any way?” Hisham finally ventured.
”Eh, apa kejadah nya pulak..?” ”What in the world are you asking..?” his mom was suprised, ”Kenapa tanya macam ni?””Why do you ask?”
”Tanya aje ... manalah tahu..””I’m just asking, just in case” Hisham said.
His mom giggled , ”Tak ada ... Sham banyak tolong mak.. lebih-lebih lagi time-time gini masa abah engkau pegi outstation nih””Never .. you have helped out alot, especially these days when your father is working outstation” and she rubbed his shoulders in assurance.
”dah, dah, pukul berapa dah ni.. nanti lambat pulak.. dah lah kamu lalu ikut jalan jauh dah sekarang””Enough chat, look at the time, you’re going to be late, especially since you’re taking the long way nowadays” His mom gently pushed him off the porch steps.
”Pegi dulu ya mak. Maafkan salah silap Hisham, halalkan makan minum” “I’m going now. Forgive all my misgivings..” Hisham says as he hugged and kissed his mom.
His mom giggled some more ,”Macam beraya pulak.. ye lah.. mak maafkan, halalkan makan minum segala.. “This is just like Eid .. of course, I forgive you” she said .
She watched her only son walk out of their porch.
”Tolong ambikkan bola engkau kat tepi jalan tu..? adik engkau main semalam, dia tinggal aje kat situ.. dia nak main dengan engkau, kau taknak.. “”Can you please pick up your football ? Your sister left it outside after she played with it yesterday. She wanted to play it with you but you didn’t want to” his mom yelled from where she was, pointing at Hisham’s football that was outside their gate.
Hisham picked the ball up and handed it to his mom ”Mak kasilah bola ni kat Hanis. Suruh dia jaga baik-baik” “Give my ball to Hanis, tell her to take good care of it”. He walked out the front gate and headed to school.
Hisham heard his mom laughing and talking to herself ”Mimpi apa lah budak sorang nih?””What in the world have gotten into this boy?”

”Tak balik lagi?””Not going home yet?” the gardener asked Hisham, rattling his bunch of keys. “Pakcik dah nak kunci pagar ni””I’m going to lock the back gate soon” he said, waiting. Hisham put on the yellow raincoat and pulled the hood over his head. He was ready. He started walking , keeping his head down, his vision limited to the trail and nothing else. His bag rustled under the raincoat and the raincoat rustled against the tall grasses. The rain had stopped, but he could hear the sound of the water still rushing in the drain. He didn’t dare to look at how much water had collected in the drain, because he was nearing the bridge now.

“Abang!””Big Brother!” he heard a girl’s voice call out.
He looked up in front from the trail, peeked under his raincoat’s hood and saw his sister standing near their house’s back gate.
”Jom main bola?””Let’s play ball?” Hanis beamed, bounced the ball once and kicked it towards him.
Her foot kicked the ball at an angle and instead of going towards Hisham, it went towards the bridge instead.
”Alamak!!””Oh No!!” She hit her forehead in frustration. ”Sori abang.. Hanis ambik balik””I’m so sorry, big brother. I will get it back”
Before Hisham could run towards her, Hanis was already heading towards the bridge to look for the ball.
”Hanis, tunggu Abang!” “Hanis, wait for me!” Hisham shouted as he hurried towards her. He glanced at the bridge and saw that the man was there. Waiting. Watching. Hisham hopes to get to his sister before the man does.
Hisham saw his sister’s head stoop down and dissapear near the bridge. He called out for Hanis, hoping that his voice reaches her over the rumbling of the water.
”Kat sini, Abang!” “Over here, Big Brother!” Hanis’ voice cried out from under the bridge. As he reached the planks of the bridge, Hisham saw the man starting to move towards them. He took off his raincoat, dropped his bag and ran as fast as he could under the bridge. He reached the edge of the drain just in time to see Hanis reach her hand out towards the ball, which had fallen into the drain but was not carried off by the rushing waters because it was caught on some tangled weeds.
“Hanis! Biar ajelah!! Jom kita balik!””Hanis! Let it go! Let’s just go home!” he shouted above the rumble of the water. The man must be right above them now, he thought.
”Tapi ini bola abang””But this is your ball” Hanis said as she tried her best to reach out to the ball. She edged herself closer, slipped and in an instant, fell into the water. Being bigger and heavier than the ball, the tangle of weeds could not support her body and the current pulled her away.
“Hanissss!!!” Hisham shouted, and without thinking, he jumped into the water to save his sister.

Hisham had swum in rivers with his friends before, but none had ever had currents as strong as those in this drain. He was swimming with the current, which made him go faster, but the current were also inconsistent, sometime pulling him towards the middle, sometimes pushing him towards the edge. He struggled to keep his course steady and kept his eye on his sister. He saw Hanis’ hands waving and he could hear her screams of ”Tolong!!””Help!!” in between gurgles, the sounds of rushing water in his ears and his own arms and legs thrashing through the water.
His limbs start to ache as he swam and swam and he lost sight of Hanis. His head had gone underwater a few times and he had gulped some water but all he could think of was Hanis. He pushed his body upwards with all his might to try and find her and he saw her, holding on to a dead tree that had fallen into the drain. He felt relief, ... then panic. He was being carried off further and further away from his sister. Further and further away from his home. He tried to swim back, but the currents were too strong and he had no strength left.

That was when Hisham saw the man again. The man was standing waist deep in the water, floating along with Hisham. As the man got closer, he reached out his right hand to the boy. Hisham didn’t know what to do. Is he trying to help me? Hisham thought. He saw the man’s hands and noticed how smooth and shining it was, as if there was light coming out from his flesh. Hisham tried to look at the man’s face, and even though it was still hidden under the black hood, he could feel the stare, and somehow this time, he didn’t feel fear.
With whatever strength he had left, Hisham reached out his own right hand and grasped the man’s. Hisham felt the man pulling his body towards him. There was a chill that started from the tip of his toes, that slowly crept up his legs. As Hisham got closer to the man, he could feel the chill reach his navel, and he realized that his navel had stopped moving. He felt the chill reach his chest as soon as the man’s left arm wrapped around his waist. The man pulled Hisham close to him, but Hisham felt no warmth. The chill then stopped at his adam’s apple, as if waiting for something.
And Hisham finally saw the man’s face.

They found him caught in the wire mesh that prevents large debris from going into the main drain, still in his school uniform. His ball was found next to him, deflated.
Hanis cried as she told her mom how her brother tried to safe her. The mother was almost hysterical, the neighbours had to rummage the bedroom drawers to look for the number to contact her husband and break the news. A TV crew came to interview her as soon as she calmed down and had accepted the fact that her son is gone.
When asked about Hisham, all she could say was that he was a nice boy. He was boisterous and active like any other normal boys, but he had been particularly quiet during the last days of his life. She didn’t know why, then, but she knows now that he must’ve somehow known of his impending death.

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