“Are we there yet?”
At the back of the car sat a kid so tiny her white, cloche hat only just peaked over the back of her seat. With every bounce of the suspension, her head lurched like it was only loosely bound to her neck. Then every once in a while, she would vanish from view, only to bob right back up again.
Finally, the car stopped. The little girl rushed out of the car and followed her family around the colorful and lively amusement park filled with foreigners.
“Swo many humans!” She exclaimed while looking around happily.
The father of the girl, who was carrying her brother in his arms chuckled, “people. You should use the word people, sweetheart.”
“It’s human beings in general but it’s more appropriate to use.”
“Apopo-yit?” This time, it was his son who asked, his big adorable eyes looking at him in confusion.
The father of the child smiled helplessly as he temporarily gave up on the idea of further explaining the word to his children. He brought the kids to the amusement park to have fun, not to teach them.
“You should leave your lesson for later, hon,” the woman beside him said, chuckling.
“Yeah, I think I should.”
And so, the parents showed their children around. They began trying every ride that was for young children to enjoy. The last ride they took was the Ferris wheel. While they were inside the carriage, the fireworks display began and it shortly filled the sky with colors. The sparklers were like flowers in the sky that mesmerized the kids. Every child loved shimmering things.
“Look, mama, it’s so pretty!” The girl exclaimed happily from the glass window.
“Pwetty!” Followed the younger boy beside her.
“Mama, let’s come back here on my birthday, okay?
“Eh? Here again? Why don’t we go somewhere else instead? Like the zoo?”
While the mother was busy explaining what a zoo was to the children, their ride shortly came to an end. Their father stood up from the seat and was about to step out of the carriage but the next thing that happened surprised everyone. He fainted in front of them.
The sight of his body falling on the ground was in slow motion in the eyes of the little girl. Everyone who saw him lose consciousness had their eyes open wide in surprise.
“Sisi!” The mother rushed to her husband’s side. She shook his body and kept calling his name but he didn’t wake up no matter how much she shouted.
“H-help! Someone! Call 112!!” She shouted in common tongue since they were currently in a foreign country.
The children on the other hand were confused at what was happening. They were too young to understand the situation. The girl went to her father’s side and gently shook his body with her tiny hands, “it’s not time to sleep yet, we are not at home. Why is papa sleeping here?”
She should have realized it back then… If she did, she wouldn’t have made things harder for her father. She wouldn’t have forced him to go out with her. Instead, she would have taken care of him at home with her mother and brother.
A strong breeze blew against the little girl, making her close her eyes for a moment.
“Happy birthday, Mengmeng! Qinqing!”
The girl opened her eyes and this time, her family was in the middle of the zoo with other guests. There were a few children around as well who happened to be their cousins.
“Jiejie (big sis), quick! Let’s bwow candle!” Mengmeng’s younger brother, Qinqing, exclaimed, his eyes sparkling so brightly while drooling at the cake in front of him.
“Don’t forget to make a wish first,” their mother reminded them.
“What are you going to wish?” The girl asked her brother.
His sister pouted then shook her head in an adorable manner. “We have so so so many toysh, Qinqing!”
“Everyone is waiting, Mengmeng, Qinqing,” their mother said, chuckling as she watched the two kids think of a wish.
“We’re getting hungry!” One of their cousins complained.
“Then wait more! Making a wish ish not easy!”
Qinqing nodded at what his sister said in agreement even if he already made up his mind on wishing for more toys. “Jiejie is right!”
Mengmeng turned to her father who was now sitting in a wheelchair. He has been staying at the hospital for weeks and to be able to see him attend her combined birthday celebrations with her brother meant more than anything for her. She looked at her brother and leaned, whispering something in his ear.
The younger boy didn’t understand most of it but he just nodded a few times as if he did. “Okay!”
“Okay! We’re ready! Bring it on!” She shouted, looking as if she was going to fight someone which made the grownups laugh.
“Mengmeng and Qinqing wish that papa will become hwealthy again sho that papa can play with ush!”
When everyone heard the wish that the children made, especially the adults, the smiles on their faces became stiff. Everyone knew that it was an impossible wish, everyone but the children.
She should have prayed harder for that wish to come true… She should be praying everyday for her father to get well...
After celebrating their birthday, while they were on their way back to the hospital for their father’s treatment…
“The gifts I have for Mengmeng and Qinqing are at home.” The man’s gentle voice was heard which made the little girl wake up since she has always been a light sleeper.
Mengmeng remained still in her position with her eyes closed, pretending to be fast asleep just like her brother. She somehow wanted to eavesdrop on her parents’ conversation.
“You should have brought it with us earlier.”
With a soft chuckle, the father replied, “you can’t blame me if I forgot.”
A sigh coming from her mother was heard. “You should get some sleep; we still have time before we reach the hospital. I will wake you up once we arrive.”
It became quiet for a few seconds.
Mengmeng wanted to peek at her parents but before she could even open her eyes, a soft reply coming from her father was heard, “Li Bingbing, I love you.”
“I love you too, Sisi.”
The little girl who was listening to their conversation tried to suppress the smile that was trying to escape her lips. Oh how she wanted to open her mouth and exclaim, “Mengmeng loves mama and papa too!” But she was pretending to sleep so that has to wait.
She shouldn’t have waited. She should have just gone on with it. She should have told them how much she loved them… She should have told her papa before he went to sleep forever.
Upon arriving at the hospital, Mengmeng who fell asleep after eavesdropping was woken up by her mother. After successfully stirring them awake, Li Bingbing turned to her husband to wake him up next.
“Sisi, we’re here.”
But there was no response coming from him. It was then she noticed that the man who looked like he was sleeping was no longer breathing. Realizing this, her body was instantly filled with fear.
“Papa must be in a deep sleep,” Mengmeng said, yawning after.
“Papa, wakey wakey!” Qinqing reached out and began shaking his arm.
“No… no…” Their mother kept on mumbling. She snapped her head to the driver and shouted, “c-call the doctors! NOW! CALL THEM!!!”
“Time of death; 11:46 pm,” the doctor announced.
“W-what are you saying?”
“I’m sorry for your loss, ma’am.”
The woman fell on her knees while looking at them with eyes filled with tears. Her breathing became ragged and her tears wouldn’t stop flowing from her cheeks.
“Mama? What’s wrong? Pwease don’t cry.”
The mother was already informed by the doctor that her husband had limited time left but as days passed, he remained awake. Small hope grew in her. Maybe he was getting better? But instead of getting better, it was more like he was holding on just to spend his children’s birthdays for the last time. She was told that she should prepare herself but how could she do that? She was never going to be ready for the day her husband leaves her. Them.
As the woman continued to cry, the clueless children ended up crying together with her. Their mother was sobbing hard and it was only normal for children to copy their parents even if they didn’t know what was happening around them.
The day when their father left, he took their mother’s heart with him.
“Why is papa in a big box?” Mengmeng asked as she watched the coffin being placed down in the hole that was dug earlier.
“It is your father’s ride to heaven…” said the man who was standing beside her and holding her hand.
The little boy who was standing beside his sister blinked a few times in confusion. “Papa… lweaving?”
Mengmeng’s eyes became teary. “Why is papa going to heaven? Papa can’t leave us!” She pulled her hand back and rushed towards the pit for the coffin. “Papa, wake up! Don’t lweave!” But before she could try and jump down, she was pulled back from the hole. Arms were wrapped around her, trying to keep her still.
The child’s eyes were glazed with a glossy layer of tears.
“Papa! No! No lweave!!!” Qinqing shouted and tried to follow his sister but this time, he was stopped by the same man that held the girl’s hand earlier.
Li Bingbing, who was hugging her daughter from behind, tightened her embrace. Her lower lip quivered as words slowly made their way out of her mouth, “Mengmeng… it’s okay… papa will visit us sometimes…” She refused to release the child who was trying to squirm her way out of her hold. “Sweetie… it’s okay… it’s okay…”
Suddenly, everything went dark and in the middle of this darkness, a woman in her twenties was seen. She was hugging her knees and her shoulders trembled as she cried.
“Don’t leave… Papa, don’t leave. Please don’t leave… I’ll be a good girl so please don’t leave…”
A television suddenly appeared in front of the woman. It turned on, giving light to the pitch-black room.
“Is it on?” A familiar, gentle voice was heard.
Mengmeng lifted her head upon hearing the voice she has always yearned of hearing again.
“Happy birthday, Mengmeng.” The man on the screen was looking at her with warmth in his eyes. “I missed you.”
Her lips trembled as she looked at him. “Papa… I want to go to you…”
“How old are you now? Ah… you must have grown up to be as beautiful as your mother, hm? I wish I can see how pretty you’ve become. I bet Qinqing is as handsome as me now, huh?”
Ah… this was another one of his recordings…
Her father left 16 recordings for her and her brother. It was the birthday gift he was talking about back then. He had prepared everything before he died. Even in this video recording, he looked so thin and weak. He was wearing a bonnie to cover his bald head. If she remembered correctly, this was the last recording she watched on her 16th birthday. Even if he was not her real father, he spoiled and showered her with love. Even if she was the daughter of another man, he had always treated her as his own.
She was enslaved by the nostalgic memories, lamenting the cruelty of reality. She believed that by giving way to sadness, she would be free of agony, but... the pain never disappeared until she was reminded of the person who had a piece of her heart.
“Ah… my children are really growing.” He smiled from the television screen. “I know that you both may feel alone at times as you navigate those new waters. I know that there may have been times when you both cried out for help in every way possible, but that is how life goes. Life is always unfair. That’s reality.”
She lowered her head as she continued to listen to the recording, the same words that comforted her years ago. He had always given words of wisdom in every video he recorded. They were the same words that comforted her during her dark days.
“You must always keep in mind that you will never be alone. I never went anywhere. I’ll always be there for you. My children, even if the entire world turns against you, I will always be your ally. I promise to be the lighthouse that leads you both in the dark. I am always keeping an eye on you. This is something you should never forget.”
As soon as the recording ended, the television disappeared. The girl panicked when the room became dark again. Her only source of light was gone and now she felt like a blind person because of the darkness around her.
“Papa? Papa!” She stood up and began looking around. “Please don’t leave me again!”
This time, the man’s figure appeared in front of her, glowing. In that dark, cold room, the light coming from him was enough to make her feel safe and warm. He reached out and gently cupped her cheek.
This warmth… she never thought that she would be able to feel his warmth again after all these years. It felt so real.
“In the darkest days, when you feel inadequate, unwanted, and unworthy, remember whose daughter you are, my angel. If there appears to be no other option, make your own decisions. Make love your highest principle, and you’ll be okay, I promise. I want to see you grow more and more so live, Mengjie. You can’t come here yet.”
Suddenly, the light coming from him grew and covered the entire room, blinding her and forcefully making her eyes shut.
Her slender fingers slightly twitched as her eyes moved under her closed lids. Shortly, her long, dark lashes fluttered as she slowly squinted them open. Her eyes were black, not soulless nor lifeless. Instead, they were like two pristine stones of onyx. She felt as if she had just risen from deep seas rather than waking up from a dream she couldn’t recall.
The woman seen in the middle of the bed has hair as black as coal which contrasted against her pale complexion. As her eyes adjusted from the light in the place, she found herself in an unfamiliar room.
‘Where…?’ She wondered groggily.
She could hear a computerized beep coming from the side of her bed and when she turned her gaze to look at the origin of the sound, she saw a heart rate monitor with the lines continuously going up and down and was in sync with the mechanical sound.
Hospital… she must be at the hospital… right?