Sad faces were irritating. Pitying gazes were worse, and those were the ones I got from Mom and Miki as our taxi ride rolled along its merry way. I gazed out through the glass window and wondered: what the fuck was wrong with me today?
Mom sat at the front passenger seat. I couldn’t see her face, but I could see her hands flailing around madly at the taxi driver, pointing here and there and to me once in a while. To my right was a pale-faced Miki, saying words so fast that I couldn’t lip-read them even if I tried. I kept on telling him that I couldn’t hear anything he said, but I didn’t even know whether I had spoken out about it or whether it was all in my mind.
The quietness was more than unnerving. I hated it. It felt like I was the person at the end of a joke; the last one to appreciate the jest. The lingering mood was even worse: more depressing than being stuck in a lab with a bunch of old, white-bearded, chemical-smelling professors.
Unbearably long and silent, the ride stretched on and on under the lit lampposts, past the crowded evening streets of Jakarta and its lazy pedestrians. Finding no other interesting things to look at outside, I turned back towards Miki, whom had resigned to an emotionless stare with a stiff-backed position. When our eyes met, I only saw the distress that I remembered seeing long ago, when we were barely old enough to fend for ourselves.
Since the first time I looked squarely at his face, Miki always had a calm, solemn look that made me think of the greyish-black Hindu statues adorning the temples of Bali. It made me feel safe all the time, because I knew that nothing would disturb the peace of our lives. But whenever it faltered, I felt the peace we tried to maintain crumble bit by bit.
The taxi stopped at the entrance of a large hospital building with a small halt. While Miki paid the taxi fee to the driver, Mom ushered me quickly towards the entrance. I didn’t have to read the large sign on its front to recognise that we had stopped at the Southern District General Hospital. The infamous place had existed for more than fifty years, and was the number one hospital to go to for its top-notch service and affordable price ranges. With its large glass windows and pristine white walls; beige tiled flooring made of ceramic; a large waiting area filled with metal-backed chairs occupied by patients of all ages; and the large reception zone we were headed to with its long, polished white surface. As we walked together, I felt a cold breeze from the air conditioner and shivered involuntarily.
Miki said something to the female receptionist once we arrived at the front desk. While I waited for him to finish his talk, Mom came towards us and uttered a few words I couldn’t catch with a look of utter despair. I tried to tell her something about my condition, but how could I, if I didn’t even know if half of the things I said came out correctly?
I must have said something wrong, because the frown on Mom’s face deepened and her face began to scrunch up in pain. And then, without saying anything, she cried.
Mom is crying, my mind screamed. The Shilla Warouw that never cries is crying and opening her arms and holding me tightly in her arms and I don’t know what to do now.
Please don’t cry, Mom, I begged desperately with the words I said but couldn’t hear. If you cry, what can I do to stop it?
Mom used to cry a lot. And even when she wasn’t crying, Miki and I could still see the remains of the tears that rolled down on her cheeks. Her brown eyes would turn red and swollen from all that crying, and her face would be stuck in a permanent gloom that neither of us could fix. And when she cried, we cried along with her. It wasn’t only because we were her sons and felt the bond between parent and child.
It was hard to explain. Maybe we cried because were afraid of her – because with those cries came the ferocious nature that lay dormant inside of her. Maybe we just felt bad about it, although we weren’t the ones who made her cry in the first place. Maybe I’m just making excuses because I can’t explain anything.
I decided to clear my thoughts and forget the tears on Mom’s face. I closed my eyes and slowly, silently counted to ten. In the privacy of my mind, I asked myself: would things have gone differently if I had read about the musical and refused to come? Would I still be able to smell if I insisted on buying a different kind – a better kind of birthday gift? Should I have ordered the things I wanted at lunch instead of letting Mom choose? Should I have taken the bus instead of the taxi and risk being late?
My count ended, and I opened my eyes.
How strange, I thought, when my eyes didn't open. I certainly felt them open, but I saw the same darkness that I would see if I had them closed.
I closed my eyes again, this time counting to three, and opened them.
They were still closed.