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Hacktreks Travel

Hacktreks 2

First Chapters


2,194 Words too Short
Maggie Tiojakin
"Write something about me," he said. He was a rather short man with a boyish grin and a taste for good shoes.

I was twenty years old when my father came up to me and said, "Write something about me." He was a rather short man with a boyish grin and a taste for good shoes. He had only turned fifty that year of my second publication, but the brain seizure he’d had the previous year had deprived from him the youth which he deserved.
It was the way my name appeared on the cover of a teenage magazine. It was the illustration drawn specifically for the story I had written. Or, perhaps, it was just me – making my mark on the world. Anyway, it was a big deal to my father. Seeing my name in print twice in a single year gave him assurance that I wasn’t just making a fool out of myself – I am actually doing something.

We were on the second floor of his new office building. The wall behind him was plain and without any bearings, and on the desk was a framed picture of me and my brother when we were still very young, posing like superstars.
"What do you want me to write about?" I asked.
He shrugged, leaning back in his chair, legs on the desk, both hands under his head. "I don’t know. A biography, maybe. Anything."
I laughed, not because I thought he was being funny, but the fact that he wanted me to write a story about him. It was not the most common thing in our daily conversations. In fact, it wasn’t common at all. "Someday, Dad," I told him. "You still have a lot of years ahead of you, there will be more stories to come."
He didn’t say anything. His eyes were closed, but there was a smile on his face which, to this day, I could never erase from my memory – partially because the same smile had appeared on his face, two years later, on the day that I arrived from Boston for his funeral.

On January 8, in the dreadful winter, while half of the city’s population was still tucked in their beds, my phone rang. It was my mother. I was at my desk, at three-thirty in the morning, writing. She asked me if I had been asleep, and I said no. She asked me if I was sitting down, and I said yes. It was three-thirty in the morning where I was, as opposed to three-thirty in the afternoon where she had been (Jakarta, Indonesia), and I had been up writing – all night. Her panic-free tone of voice, at three-thirty in the morning, soon caught up with me. Something bad must have happened. Then she told me my father was brought to the ER – apparently, he was having one of his seizures at work. My heart stopped. I closed my eyes. For months I had been dreading this very moment – and there it was, staring at me with its large, red eyes. I promised my mother that I would get on the earliest flight out of the country.

I sat in my room that early morning, unable to speak. My mind raced. Will he die?
I dialed, quite frantically, my friend’s number in China, where she had been studying. She sensed something was wrong because I could barely say a word, and I was breathing rapidly. I asked her, in a trembling voice, to stay on the line no matter what. She did. I wanted to cry, but couldn’t bring myself to. I didn’t have any thought on how my father was being treated at the hospital, or how bad his seizure was. I felt numb. I paced inside my room with a phone receiver on one ear, and another ear stuck onto the radio, which I had been listening to minutes before I received the dreadful news. Suddenly, my body quivered as if from cold weather – though the temperature in my room was up to seventy-five degrees. What is it like to lose the one you love?

The radio newscaster, at four in the morning, excitedly announced the day’s program: songs were selected, interviews were readied, and once again, the dawn hit the city of Boston. When I finally got my voice back, after forty-five minutes of complete silence, I said to my friend, "My father just had another stroke."
It took a few minutes before the tragic news hit the other end of the line, where the afternoon sun was quietly setting into the night, and she breathed hard into the receiver, holding back tears. "I’m so sorry to hear that," she said. Trying to sound optimistic, she continued, "He’ll be okay, you know. Please, have faith that everything will be okay."

I stood near the window, staring at the backyard beneath me, almost amazed at how dead it looked in the winter. I put one hand on the cold surface of the glass, felt a tinge of freezing air pierce through my pores, and said, "I don’t think so. I think this is it." The time has come.

For twenty-two hours all I did was sleep. I missed nearly all of the meals served on the plane, and also most of the beverages. When I got to Singapore for a ten-hour layover, I eventually succumbed to hunger and went to get food at a 24-hour deli. Then, for no apparent reason, I broke down and burst into tears – barely touching the sandwich I had ordered. It was as though a veil had been lifted, and there in front of me was the face of love bathed in mourning.

Unsuccessful in my effort to stay calm, I made a few panic phone calls, none of which were to my family back in Jakarta. Tears flooded my heart and drowned my words within seconds. Friends who patiently stayed at the receiving end waited until my cries softened, and quietly spoke to me of hope. It wasn’t until hours later that I went to the nearest internet café and sat at one of the stations. I wrote a note to another friend: "It’s the most horrible pain one could ever feel, and I do not wish it to happen to anybody else – but I think that, as I’m writing you these words, my father has passed away. If it should set him free from the pain he had suffered, then I shall embrace his departure from the world with as much grief as relief."

Upon my arrival in Jakarta, my mother took my hand and gave me the news. My father had died the day before my plane landed – the medicines could do nothing to sustain his life. I neither flinched, nor shed a tear. I nodded, and asked, "Did he suffer?" My mother shook her head. I nodded again, "I’m glad."
The last time I saw him, he was lying in a coffin all dressed up as if for a big ceremony – exactly how I once imagined he would look when attending my future wedding, or my brother’s. There he was, one of the two most important men in my life, tucked in his deathbed. I bent down to plant a kiss on his forehead, and something sharp pierced through my heart. It was odd that after all the conversations we had had, every minute of it, we never got to say goodbye. We were so close even when we were apart, and yet on that fateful day I had lost him forever. Is there anything I could do to bring him back?

There is so much that are left unsaid, it’s difficult to begin. It’s been almost six month since the day I received the tragic phone call from my mother, but everything passed by with such a speed I didn’t have time to breathe it all in. Once in a while I’d see his face among the crowd, or in a dream. The first few days after his cremation, I quietly begged him to leave me alone with my peace. I couldn’t spend more than five minutes reaching back into memory of what life had been with him inside it – I felt as if I was running so far ahead of time it would be impossible to retrace all of my yesterday’s. I needed a closure. I escaped, instead.

"Write something about me," he said. He was a rather short man with a boyish grin and a taste for good shoes. He was a crowd-pleaser, an entertainer, a best friend to everyone he knew. He loved his children with such a frenzy that could set the whole world on fire. He was a son, a father, a brother, a friend, a husband, and more. He believed that life ought to be lived in the best possible way, and that hearts are made to love. He was the kind of man who kept everything only to himself, who loved and feared ceaselessly, who would put himself in danger for others. He liked to be left alone, but couldn’t bear the sight of an empty room. He loved like a poet, but was in constant fear like a child. He was a miracle worker to most of us, especially to us, his children, because he’d done so much in his life while receiving very little in return. He wasn’t the most perfect father figure in the world, but he was the best thing that had ever happened to me.

"Write something about me," he said. He was a rather short man with a boyish grin and a taste for good shoes. He liked to watch action movies, play tennis, and eat grilled bacon. He disliked wandering through crowded places, tasting western food, being lied to, and holiday seasons because they gave him reason to step out of his office. The day his marriage to my mother crumbled into pieces, so did the whole world seem to him. He wanted, more than anything else, for us to experience life the same way most other children do – without the trauma of having divorced parents – therefore, he saw to it that we are loved as much as any other child. He hated, more than anything else, to be set apart by oceans and continents from his children – but he learned that loving is also about letting go, so he sent me and my brother abroad for better education. He accepted god as a greater being, the master of the universe who existed in the hearts of those who had faith – therefore, he continued believing in the spiritual.

"Write something about me," he said. He was a rather short man with a boyish grin and a taste for good shoes. He kept every single letter, postcard and email I had sent him in his drawer. We used to go to the movies together on Saturday afternoons, and he would unfailingly miss two-thirds of the movie as I would hear him snore beside me. He told me stories of growing up, of living against all odds, and of how both luck and misfortune had journeyed in and out of his life. He told me that the secret of living a happy life is to live it honestly, and fully. We both believed he would live forever, and we made a pact that we would one day travel the world together. Unfortunately, our paths would sooner be set apart than set to cross one another. He had a stroke, and everything changed. His laughter was then constantly burdened by shame, instead of glory.

When he was recuperating from the first stroke, he had to learn how to walk again, like a child – so we walked together, one arm around each other, for what seemed to be the longest walk in our lives. His illness had taken from him the spirit of a man I used to know in my younger years, yet he was never a lesser man for it. I remember thinking that my father was not at all a super hero; he was not immune to the pain and sufferings he had to endure, nor was he born to save the world – but he was an extraordinary man nonetheless, in ways I can barely explain. He wasn’t the most perfect father figure in the world, but he was mine.

"Write something about me," he said. He was a rather short man with a boyish grin and a taste for good shoes. He once told me that death is as natural as the tree that grows from beneath my feet, now I’ve learned that death is like a twister – it comes and goes without warning, but when it does come, it leaves a messy marking on earth’s ground that will probably take years to overcome. And when it goes, once you escape its threat, it leaves you breathless – therefore, you are given a second chance. I wish I had been there during the last hours of his death. I wish he had seen me for the last time. I wish there was a way that I could say goodbye. Most of all, I wish I had told him that I could never write about him simply because there isn’t enough words to.

© Maggie Tiojakin July 22nd 2003



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