Ecce Homo

Sorry for the lack of output over the weeks. Been busy with my exams. Here’s a story I submitted to a competition about a month ago. It didn’t win. No worries. Looking back I realized I had made some parts of it too hard to read.

Anyways, I’ve been stealing time to work on another story. Hopefully I can get it out within a week. In the meantime, hope you enjoy this one :)

He’d been sitting by the phone each day at that same time and place for the past thirteen years and three months when it finally rang.

He never admitted to himself that he’d been waiting. But when those afternoon hours came he always found some implicit excuse to be seated on that couch, the cushion closest to the phone now threadbare and warped in a permanent concave deformity as though in intelligent anticipation of his scheduled sitting on it. On some days he would turn on the television and on others he would bring with him some book or magazine. But the sounds and bluelight projections and printed inkmarks on the page never registered any meaning in him because that subconscious peripheral layer of perception beyond the control of his will was trained on the phone beside him even if he wouldn’t admit it to himself, as in a first date the nervous young man pays no attention to nor perceives the taste of that dinner he puts into his mouth and swallows and digests because he is too focused on the lady in front of him even if he tries not to show it or perhaps even he himself being unaware of it at the time.

The words his son said on the phone were the exact same words he had used to open their last conversation, eight words menacingly ambiguous, almost threatening: “Hey Dad. I have something to tell you.”

The memory of that last conversation tormented him. In those thirteen years and three months the scene played incessant and fastidious in his mind like some broken cerebral projection on the backflesh of his closed eyelids.

He remembered the exact date. It was during the celebration dinner of his son’s university graduation ceremony. His son had graduated with high honors in engineering and the big companies had already started contacting him with prestigious job offers and guaranteed managerial positions. He thought of how proud his wife would have been (Is, he told himself. Not would have been. Is. Wherever she may be.) at what their son had accomplished. At what that little tyke contemplated in her final days from the confines of her deathbed would grow up to be.

Yet that evening in his son’s favorite Japanese restaurant his son sat quiet and spiritless. That ubiquitous soysauce air of Asian cookery hung dense over them like some foreboding effluvium of his inner disquiet. The soup in his bowl had long stopped steaming and a thin white lipidfilm had coagulated on the surface and the glaze on the rice had dulled to a cold matte.

“You’re not hungry?”

His son raised his gaze and looked him directly in the eyes but made no reply. He studied his son’s face, that face in which he had so many times contemplated his wife’s eyes and forehead and nose and his own mouth and chin.

And then his son said those words. Those eight words. He blurted them out, rather. As though in his mouth they had lain dynamic and volatile pushing against the fleshy oral walls of his lips and just waiting for the opening of it so they could gush forth with such fury attained from just the long built up and escalating tension much like air escaping out of a released balloon. And after this he didn’t wait for an answer from his father. As though the eight words were merely the envelope of the message, the impertinent and therefore disposable preface.

He remembered his reaction after his son said it. His jaw unhinged and dropped, exposing the chewed rice and shrimp and seaweed. He closed his jaw and swallowed.

“What?” he said. “What?”

“Shh. Not so loud.”

“What did you mean to say?”

“Dad please. We’re making a scene.”

“How long ago.”

“How long ago what.”

“How long ago have you had it. Felt it.”

“Long ago. High school maybe. But it’s only last year that I recognized it and put a name to it. And accepted it.”

“And you never told me.”

“No. I didn’t know how to tell you.”

“Is it…an attraction?”

“Yes.”

It was only now that he grasped it in its full extent. Like some pavlovian reaction triggered by that three-letter affirmative. He felt his heart leave him, abandon him as though he heard it beating from some distance outside of him in some curious hollow reverberation.

“But,” he said. “But.”

“But what, Dad?”

“It’s not natural.”

“Sorry?”

“It’s not natural. You can’t do that.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s written in the Holy Book, son. God created a man and a woman. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the Will of God.”

“Will of God? Will of God? Hah. And who put this in me in the first place? This attraction, who implanted it? Was it not Him? Would I be having this in the first place if it weren’t for — ”

The father slammed his fist on the table. Water leaped up from the glasses and brimmed onto the table. The other customers watched them from the corners of their eyes but he paid them no mind. He pointed his forefinger at his son, his quivering forearm bulging and tense with sinews and jerking accusingly at each accented syllable as he said, “Don’t you dare blaspheme His Name. I’ll strike you on the mouth. I swear it. I don’t care if the whole world sees it.”

His son hung his head and said nothing.

“Oh Lord,” the father said. He buried his face in his hands. “Where have I gone wrong?”

The son looked up. “What?” he said.

“Did I deprive you of something in your childhood? Did I do something wrong in raising you? Is it because I never married again?”

“Dad. You didn’t do anything wrong. There’s nothing wrong with me.”

“Nothing?”

“What are you saying, Dad?”

“Look at you. You’ve grown up to become a fag. Sleeping with other men? A life of sin. What an atrocity. What — ”

A cold splash. He breathed in sharply at the sudden coldness and wetness. His son stood across the table panting with the empty cup in his hand, the remaining drops sliding down to the floor. The customers in the restaurant stared at them directly now. His son put the glass on the table and did not say another word and walked out of the restaurant.

When he came home that day his son had left. In his room his cabinet had been emptied. He had left behind a note. He had moved in with his partner. There was no need to look for him for he had already found a job and could support himself. No need to worry about him. Nor remember him. Thanks for everything.

He crumpled the note and clutching it tight sat on the bed. That bed on which so many days he had lain beside his son and tucked him in and read out loud to him those gaudy storybooks in a distinct voice for each character human or otherwise and after his son had closed his eyes and fallen asleep he would behold in that face the striking likeness to his deceased wife which renewed on his lips the barely whispered, almost telepathic promise-prayer to her that he would take care of him. As his arm quivered in that squeeze he questioned how much of this was an outcome long preordained in some divine transcendent plan or if instead a deviation how much accounted for by inadequacy or omission on his part. And what he could have done to prevent it.

And the days passed and he sat beside the phone even though he wouldn’t admit even to himself that he was waiting for a call. Yet when the phone finally rang he didn’t even wait for it to ring a second time.

His son opened the phone call with those same eight words. No greeting. No how are you doing. As though the phone call were but a seamless continuation of that last conversation, those thirteen years and three months compressed into a trivial pause for a gasp of breath.

“I’m all ears,” he said.

“Dad, I’m sick.”

He swallowed. “Is it bad?”

“Well. The doctors say it’s AIDS.”

“AIDS?”

“Yeah. It’s a disease of the immune sys — ”

“I know what AIDS is.”

“Oh. Well. The doctors said I had it diagnosed too late.”

“So they can’t do anything about it?”

“They said that they’ll try their best. But that I can’t hope for too much. So.”

He felt his throat tighten and dry as he heard his son start to sniffle. It sounded exactly as it did when his son was a small boy. “So?” the father said.

“So that’s why I decided to call.”

That very afternoon he took a taxi to the hospital. He sat at the back and the driver must have seen him eyeing the unfamiliar streets and alleys through which they passed.

“Not from this town?” the driver said.

“No. Visiting my son. He’s sick.”

“Hope he gets better.”

“Thanks.”

“Got other kids?”

“No. Only him.”

“What a pity.”

“Never really had a choice. Wife passed away not long after he was born. I never thought of marrying again. Didn’t feel right.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Thanks. How about you, how many kids?”

“Eight.”

“Eight?”

“Yes sir.”

“Ouch. How’s that been?”

“Difficult. Not going to lie. But a hidden treasure. Yes sir. I always thought God manifests his delight in man through children. Each child born is His renewal of hope in mankind.”

“Or His ending it.”

The driver looked up at the rearview mirror. “Sorry?”

“Each day I see the horrors and sins of which man is capable and more and more I get to thinking that it’s man who will be the downfall of man. That if God wants to end the world He doesn’t have to create some grand calamity or antichrist. He just needs to keep creating more men.”

“You think that?”

“Yeah.”

“You believe it?”

“I don’t know.”

When they arrived at the curb of the hospital the taxi stopped and he took out a bill from his wallet and held it out to the driver. The driver turned and grasped at the bill without pulling and looked him in the eye. “Hey listen,” he said. “Listen. You got me thinking. It’s easy to see a thin fabric of time and from that conclude that man is hopeless. But woven together and contemplated from a distance the tapestry of man is replete with his glories and endurance and compassion. The dark threads now only serve to bring out the splendor of his spirit. Man will prevail. I’ve lived long enough to see it for myself.”

“You keep the change.”

When he got into the hospital room his heart sank at the sight of his son. Or what was left of him. His face was emaciated and his arms thin and frail. The blanket covering him outlined a scant form pathetic and pitiful. As though what remained there were the final traces of some slowly expiring specter fading back into the realm cognate to its existence. A network of plastic tubes covered him and one tube terminated taped to his arm and another inserted in his nostrils. That pneumatic life-essence warm and organic running through him (an extension of if not the very same that ran through his father watching him now behind a stifled sob and at a point in time his mother, before her own breath had expired to air) ran through those tubes, pumped and sustained and alimented now by the heartless and artificial bosom of some sinister hospital contraption of man’s clumsy contriving. He looked at his father and smiled. The sad hopelessness in that smile only served to make him look more pitiful.

“Hey dad.”

“Hey.”

A silence ensued. The father looked around the room. The walls whitewashed and bare save for a wooden gaunt Christ with his feeble arms outstretched in cruciform hanging over the bed of his son. He could not help but compare which of the two was more wretched, more miserable: the dying creature or the vanquished Creator.

“No one ever come to visit?” the father said.

“None.”

“Not even your…your…”

“Partner?”

“Partner.”

“I moved out and left him two years ago. Things didn’t work out between us.”

“Did he hurt you?”

“No. He was just seeing others. We decided it was best if we separated. So.”

“You moved out and lived by yourself?”

“Yeah. I found my own apartment.”

“How come you never called?”

“I didn’t know what to say.”

“Oh Christ.”

His son’s bony shoulders began to shake violently and a drop of water splashed and bloomed on the hospital bedsheet. He brought his tubed hand to his face. The father contemplated his son in that vulnerability and abjectness and remembered those days when his sick wife and he by her bedside would watch the small child at play, the father wishing and praying that the moment would never end, that the inscrutable limbo from which time proceeded would somehow renege — dry up and close down, freezing that moment in an eternal frame.

His son looked up at him. “Dad,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

The father felt a warm spell gush against his face. He sniffled and looked up. As though in so doing he could keep the tears from flowing out, much like tipping upright a glass to stop its spilling. Again he saw the Christ looking down at them with that conclusive expression, though whether of reprobation or sympathy or even forgiveness, he could not tell. He dared not.

They could not be stopped. Two preliminary tears, one on each eye, slid down his cheeks. Ever since his wife had passed he had thought that there was no more left in him. But now they began to stream out in abundance.

“I’m sorry too, son,” he said. He bent down and kissed his son on his cold forehead.