“You look surprised.” I turned at the sound of Nath’s laughter. He was driving us through the neighborhood he used to live in, and the place was a bit shocking to me. Some people stared at us, or rather at Nath as the car drive by. We had picked up some car parts from the repair shop he had intended to visit, and now we were heading for his childhood home. The neighborhood wasn’t what I expected it to be. It looked more rural, with flats dotting the landscape — a lot like the farming city I was from, but these people didn’t keep gardens or farm animals.
After a while of driving, Nath pulled the car to a stop in front of a flat. He took in a deep breath, and I turned to look at him before reaching out to squeeze his thigh.
“Your mother lives here?” I asked, and he bit down on his bottom lip.
“I suppose. This was where I last interacted with her.” I hummed to myself, looking at the house. It was a small one coated with green paint. The garden looked like it hadn’t been touched in years, and I didn’t see any signs of someone being inside. It didn’t look like someone lived there.
“Are you sure she still lives here?” I asked, and Nath just looked on at the house.
“One way to find out,” he said, unlocking the doors before coming out from the car. I came down too, following him to the front door. Nath took a deep breath and just stared at the door, it was only when I reached out for his hand and gave it a squeeze that he let out a sigh and made to knock on the door with his free hand. He knocked once, twice, three times, and at the fourth time, I was starting to think that no one was home, or that no one lived there at all.
I could see that Nath was about to give up, but both our eyes went wide when he heard a noise at the other end.
“Who’s there?” A voice said from the other end as we heard footsteps from the other end. “I’m asking who’s there? Is it the mailman?” The obvious female voice was higher now, and Nath squeezed my hand. He was shaking, and it seemed like he didn’t want to talk.
“Ma...” he trailed off, and the questions from the other end just paused. It went silent, and I wasn’t too sure what was going on or if his mother was going to open the door.
“Nathaniel?” her voice was quiet now, almost like a whisper. I looked up at Nath, watching him rub his eyes with the back of his hand.
“Y-yes,” he stuttered like a little kid, and the front door clicked open. I turned to look over at the women who was standing at the door now. She was small, around 4′8. Her eyes were wide with shock, and her dark skin paled when her eyes met with Nathaniel’s. The two stared at each other for a good minute. Nath’s mother looked away first, and her gaze quickly moved to our joined hands.
I couldn’t really read the expression on her face, it was masked with so many others that I wasn’t sure what to think. She but her lip, looking away from our joined hands back to Nathaniel.
“Is this who you’re with?” she asked in her soft voice and Nath just nodded. He hadn’t had much to say since she opened the door.
After a period of silence, she spoke up. “He looks like a nice person,” she said, and it was then Nath looked her in the eyes again. They were wide, and a small smile and made their way to his full lips. Nath had told me that he was the carbon copy of his father, and while he didn’t look much like his mother the smile they both had on their faces looked similar.
“Would you two like to come in?” she asked, and Nath nodded, and so did I. She stepped aside, letting the both of us in. I looked about the place as we made our way through the small hallway before making our way to the living room. It looked like what Nath had described to me on our way here, plain and decorated with religious ornaments of all sorts. I was familiar with some of the pictures hanging around, but my church didn’t have statues about the place.
“Take a seat. I’ll go get you two something to drink,” she said, leaving us behind in the living room before walking out to the main hallway. The sounds of her footsteps soon faded away, and I went ahead to sit down beside Nath on the long sofa.
“I thought you said she wasn’t religious anymore?” I asked, turning to him. Nath’s eyes were scanning the room.
“I thought she wasn’t,” he said, fiddling with the rosary on his chest. He was dressed differently today. He was in black slacks and a dress shirt.
Soon after his mother came out with a tray of with a juice box and three glasses on it. She placed it on the center table before pouring each of use a cup.
“How have you been?” she asked after a while of all of us staying silent. “I’ve been worried, and I didn’t know where you went or where to start looking,” she said, gazing at Nath. She was sitting across from us with her feet crossed, and her hands gripping to the tumbler glass filled with orange juice in her hands.
“I just hoped that you’d come back one day, and sometimes I started wondering whether you ever would, or if you were even in this world anymore.” Her shoulders slumped, and she let out a loud sigh before taking a sip from her glass.
“I said and did a lot of things. I’m not blaming it on my break down, but I was overwhelmed and felt I had been cheated out of my reward from God,” she said, and Nath just looked straight at her, not saying anything. “‘Why would you make my son gay?’ ‘Why would you torment me like this?’ Those were the types of words going through my head then, and I felt faint, scared, and most of all cheated,” she added before sighing again.
“Since you left I’ve had time to think and reflect. I was treating you as a penance for what happened, and when you didn’t turn out like the perfect testament I wanted I got angry,” she said, and Nathan looked down at his feet, unable to meet his mother’s eyes.
“But you’re not any of that, you’re just my son.” Her voice was shaky now. “You’re not my medal for overcoming trauma, you’re my son,” she repeated, and she started to tear up. She dropped her glass on the coffee table beside the sofa she was sitting up. Nath got up and headed over to her, kneeling by her chair before giving her a hug. I felt like a foreigner just staring at them, so I looked down at my feet until they pulled away from each other and Nath stood up.
His mother smiled at me as Nath made to sit beside me.
“I did a lot of soul searching for the past few years, and eventually found myself in church again. I’ve been praying for you to come back ever since. I’ve missed you so much, and I’m sorry for treating you the way that I did,” she said. “You’re the fruit of my womb.”
“You’re not an extension of my life, you’re your own person,” she said. “So, I shouldn’t have reacted like the food I made went bad.”
I watched Nath cringe a bit, but he didn’t say anything in response to that. I’m sure he was happy about the sentiment, but the mention of church — any mention of church got him like that.
“Well, how are you?” she asked, turning to face me instead. I felt a bit flustered by the sudden attention.
“I’m fine,” I answered as I felt Nath’s hand take mine before giving it a squeeze. Squeezing it a bit. We talked to his mum for the next few hours. It was nice to watch them catch up, and I did tell her about myself from time to time. We left her flat with her number and a couple of homemade pastries. When we were in the car I noticed how quiet Nath was being.
“Nath?” I called out, and he looked at me from the side of his eye before turning back to face the road.
“Thanks’ Mathew,” he said as we made a turn. “If you hadn’t convinced me to reach out to her I might have just come over to this town, get the car parts and left.”
A smile formed on my face as I hummed. Nath had turned on the radio went we got in so soft alternative music was playing.
“I’m glad things turned out like they did,” I muttered, looking down at the box of pastries that he had given me. “She doesn’t hate you,” I added. If anything, the woman was happy to see him.
“Yeah.” Nath’s voice was a bit choked, but it sounded overwhelmed with happiness, not sad and woeful. I turned, spotting the smile on his lips as he hummed along to the music in the car. I smiled too. I was glad things worked out.
“She said she went back to church,” I said in a low tone. Nath looked at me from the corners of his eyes before shrugging.
“I guess religion is a way for some people to find themselves. Everyone’s different. Different strokes for different folks,” he muttered, and I hummed in agreement.