“Did you know that people live because they have to know their purpose?”
Dmitry sat next to me under the old Acacia tree. It was one of those trees at the back of the orphanage. There were no spectacles to see, but it was the shadiest. “This is my spot.” Although there was sadness in his eyes, still he smiled. “Sister Cecilia has guests. He’s back, and he brought his son with him. I heard from Anthony, the old man is a detective. He looks kind and weak, but his body says otherwise. He could be a good father.” He looked at the eleven year old me with his green eyes that almost resembled mine and said, “When I was your age, I’ve always wanted to be a detective. I wanted to prove my father’s innocence and take him out of the prison. He was the only one I have, but they took him. I was hungry for truth and that hunger molded my mind into a dream. Soon I realized that dreams can change due to circumstances and needs. Oh, how quickly life could change and living here for decades made me accept things I never did before. It changed my mind.” He touched my head like how Father Emmanuel always did. His hand was as warm as steaming milk during those very cold winter nights. “For the first time since I came here, I was wrong to think our orphanage would never have visitors. Give yourself a second chance. I think if Father Em’s here, he’d tell you the same.”
“I never thought you can give quite a preach.” Helen chuckled as she butted in, clutching the side of the tree. “Tell me what happens if you never learned your purpose?”
“Helen! I didn’t see you coming.” He gave a sigh as he continued. “Well, it means two things. One, may be because you keep changing the path towards that purpose. You were not contented, and chose the longer process. Or maybe you keep denying yourself to that purpose thinking it is not what you wanted.”
She looked dazed, but uninterested. ”What about the other reason?”
He cleared his throat and paused for a while. “May be you are not destined to know it from the beginning. You were close, but there was interference.”
Helen gaped. “Destined?”
“Accident. Murder. Suicide.”
“Okay, that’s creepy for a deacon to say. I didn’t know you believe in destiny or something. Anyways, Sister Cecilia wants to see you.”
He looked at his watch and cackled. He took a deep breath and said as he stood up, “The ball is in your court, Sammy.” I had no idea why he said those things; his past and his dream. Destiny. Innocence.
Helen looked at me in aversion. “I’m sure they’ll love to have you in their family, Helen.” I said in all tenderness I could. It was her who always wanted to have a new family, dreaming good life full of trinket and maybe hunky-dories. This could be her chance.
“Who would want a grand mal?” her voice cracked. “Stop adding an insult to an injury.” Her voice suddenly tensed, giving an obvious unexpected surge of disagreement. “Follow your greed, and let the people see your swinishness. Let them see the rotten bottled up inside you. I’ll be glad to see your back. Nobody needs loose cannon here.”
Sharp tongue, harsh words. I was the only one she treated that way. I didn’t know what made a chip in her shoulder that must have caused her growing hate of me. I was thinking about what she said, until I realized Akito was standing right in front of me. Reaching for my hand.
A dream. A loud whack woke me. The curtain danced as cold air swept into the room. Jitters crept at the thought of last night. Was it a dream too? I started to think seeing those had become a ritual. And then a man. Akira? Before I realized it, I was looking at my supposedly lost eyeglasses near the corner of the table.
I jumped and ran towards the door calling Akira’s name, thinking he must be home. He was sitting on stairs, hands on his head as if he was having a headache.
“I thought you’ll sleep at the office. You… you scared me last night. Did you forget the keys?”
“What are you talking about?” he said in a monotone.
Akito’s room was open. Papers and folders flooded the bed and the floor. For someone as organized as him, it was the first time I saw his room jumbled.
“You went in from my room. I can’t believe you could climb those walls. I mean, you’re like--”
“I just got home.”
That left me speechless, I froze. Seeing things I couldn’t explain made me believe in ghosts. My fingers trembled, adrenaline rush fading as my pulse throbbed in my skull. I felt it-- that person’s warmth, his breathing, and his strong arms that encircled me. Was that a dream then? What about my glasses? Why is that in my room?
Akira was not moving from his position. There must be something wrong. He would usually tease me, flick my head or wag my hair. “What’s wrong? What happened?” I asked.
He took a deep breath and exhaled miserably, then silence. Every sound was resonating; the ticking of clock, the beating of my chest. What he said next was even more… more… I couldn’t find the right words.
I felt my knees (no, my body) weakened. I couldn’t respond to that that my mouth remained open. I started shaking uncontrollably. I didn’t know what to do. Is this the right feeling? The right response when you lost someone? It felt like a bullet through the heart. I stared at Akira’s broad back. Suddenly, he was very far, I couldn’t reach him. Like we’re oceans apart. His loneliness, I couldn’t imagine its depth.
Akira left that morning.
It was the first time I felt the house empty. The person who gave me my second chance, he’s gone. Forever.
Akira must be planning to burn the documents in Akito’s room. Newspaper articles about his mother and sister’s death, clippings, pictures, and lots of pages with ‘Top Secret’ stamped on it. Was he looking for something? If yes, then what was he trying to find in a bunch of papers with words that seemed all Greek to me? I would never know. He did not mention anything about his work life before. Even Akito never did.
I sat on the floor gathering my thoughts. Until I cried for the first time.
I remembered the last time I saw Akito, he was asking me to call him ‘dad’. Whenever I did, there was a tingling feeling, a feeling of longing for someone to call ‘dad’, and a feeling of finally having one. It was a nice feeling and embarrassing at the same time. Akito would tease how my face would become so red. His voice on the phone, calm and lively as usual last night, I never thought that would be the last time.
There was a blinking red light below the escritoire that you wouldn’t notice unless you are lying on the floor. I stared at it for almost a minute and finally went to it. It was an old phone, almost low in battery. No calls, no messages. And an envelope with a note saying ‘Friday, 5pm Ground Zero’.
Inside the envelope were unclear green and black pictures, may be captured from an old CCTV, with red markers encircling a man’s face. All Friday but different times and dates stamped on the photos.
Friday. Not sure if the note was weeks or days old. Or if it was referring to this coming Friday. I started researching on Ground Zero but found nothing noteworthy. I didn’t know what this was to Akito. Or if he already met the person who wrote this, or if he even knew the person in the flesh.
Detective George Yan took a sip in his coffee as he walked towards us in the café nearby our neighborhood. He was a long time friend and partner in crime of Akito. It was almost a year since I last saw him in Akira’s mother and sister’s death anniversary. There were rumors that he was actually ‘in to hiding’. Akira said he had been taking the cases Akito thought as nonsensical and laughable. He was a very nice and humorous person. Akira usually called him Uncle Gin.
Seven years ago, on the day when he learned Akito resigned as a police officer, he seceded the next day. They were like brothers.
“Do you drink coffee, Sammy?” I shook my head. “Your father must be somewhere dribbling right now. He loved coffee so much; he wanted it dark and bitter. T’was like water to him. Like those cases he loved handling- the darker and vicious it is the better. ”
“What about you, uncle? I’ve never seen you in forever. Some said you were running away from something. Women? Debts?” I joked.
He hee-hawed. “You two must’ve missed me. I was with your father for months tackling something in that region.” He dropped his voice to a whisper. “Region 56.” Akira’s head fell from sleeping; he was exhausted considering the funeral and at the same time his work. Uncle asked him to go home first and so he left. “Rumors are spread like wildfire, but it doesn’t carry much of everything.” He continued. “Maybe just a part of that ‘everything’.”
“Uncle,” I said. Uncle George looked up as he turned a page of his newspaper. His eye bags appeared darker and heftier; it was like looking at a forty-six years old man in his sixties. “I didn’t know you two were going out of the country. And why at 56? Did you see Father Gab and the others?” He shook his head and cleared his throat. “What happened? How did father--”
“Your brother has a good reason for not telling you anything about it.”
“He’s being unreasonable. I need to know too.” I admonished.
He took a few long sighs, running a hand over his cinereal streaked scruffy beard. “You have a point and I know that. Of course he knows that too.”
“Is it accident, really?” I asked, trying to connect it to the dream (yes, a memory) I had with Dmitry, and what he said about purpose and that second reason. “Just what ifs.”
“It is.” He remarked without hesitation. He seemed sure. “It was raining that day, and on the way here, the car slipped.” Scratching his temple wistfully. “He was careless. He was a very adventurous person, I never once thought it could end his life.” The atmosphere suddenly melancholic, the silence was hurtful. “If he went there with me, I shouldn’t be here with you. I must’ve died with him.” His voice crashed there, and sipped in his coffee. “Whoa! I guess you got your curiosity from the Mizuki boys. Is that what you get living with those jokers?” He sneered. Probably pulling himself out of misery.
“He called the night before he…” A lump suddenly grew in my throat stopping me from saying it. His eyes narrowed. I cleared my throat. “He said I should go visit Dr. Khali again.” His expression seemed interested.
“What did you tell him?” he asked. I shook my head. “Do you like her? That Khali?”
I nodded. “Do you? She’s kind. She’s a female, so I think we had a connection. I felt that she understood me.”
“Of course, that’s their job. You know…” he uttered snapping his fingers and making a face I couldn’t describe.
“No, I wasn’t talking about that.”
“You should see her. Akito wanted that.” There was a thin pause. “How’s your studies? I heard you’re being bullied. Is that true?”
“It’s fine. I have friends. Finally.”
“You met him? The kid…” he looked up with his brows furrowed. It seemed he couldn’t remember the next words. “Uh, I forgot his name.”
He hummed thinking hard. “He has a tattoo and--”
“Oh a tattoo, yeah, I think so. Almost every boy in that school has ink on their bodies. Abominable.”
“Abominable?” he laughed. “Lady, that’s what you call art!”
“Don’t tell me you have one?” He was making a sympathetic tsking sound, shaking his head side to side. “They look like bad guys trying to look cool to me.” I explained. I closed my eyes and swallowed hard. “Uncle, there’s something I think I need to show you.” I reached for my bag to give him the envelope and the note I found in Akito’s room. Maybe he knew about it too. Not sure if it is somehow connected to anything, but it was still Akito’s. Most of me wanted to at least know a little of his work, a curiousity. This classic play-detective-game was to blame. As I was about to pull it out, his eyes suddenly grew and held a hand. He gulped superlatively, eyes shifting eastward and westward. Why all of a sudden? Did he know what I am about to show him? A quick glance over the shoulder-- just a crowd of people I did not know who obviously love mud in their system.
“I forgot there’s something I needed to buy.” He clarified with a mumbled curse. Or maybe I was just being pessimistic, as usual. Before I could say anything, he stood up, finished his coffee and said his goodbye. Followed him outside as he immediately got in his old tinted faded blue car.
“Sammy!” An all familiar voice called. Ichigo. The last on my list: see someone I know from school. She was running towards me in her six-inched wedge heels and eyeblinding flowy yellow dress. “You brat! You should buy a cellphone or any damn thing where I can contact you anytime, anywhere! It’s frustrating when some idiot is hardly reachable.”
“Are you talking about me?”
“Who else would it be?” She hissed as she pulled me back into the café and flashed a gleaming white smile. “Coffee?” I shook my head. It was like déjà vu. She raised her hand, waving to someone.
“What are you doing?”
“Menu and order.” She said innocently.
“It’s actually self-service here. And that you’re actually waving at a customer” She looked disappointed finally taking her arm down.
“I’m sorry about your father.” Yup, those words. I was thinking what Akira felt whenever someone would drop those words. To my point-of-view, he didn’t like it at all. It was the same expression I eventually learned these past days. And of course, my very bones knew from the beginning that sympathy was not enough unless suffered the same fate. A grim and a fact.
Akira will be fine.
“Did my brother tell you?”
“He told Charles, I heard it accidentally. How are you? How’s your brother?”
“It’ll just take time. I need a job. I don’t want him do all the work, I have to help him.”
Her mouth curved downward. “I think I need that too.”
“Why?” I asked in terror.
“I’m broke. My parents cut me off. My bank’s drained. They don’t know where I am, and never heard from me. I’m driving them nuts the way they’re driving me.” She laughed. “I’ll ask Tasuki. He has a hotel. It’s not a five, but it’s still a hotel.”
“So, what did you come here for?”
“Oh yeah!” She took the paper bag. “It’s all blue. They’re all my babies and I’m giving them to you.”
“But-- What for?”
“Tomorrow’s party, dummy!”
I realized tomorrow will be Friday. “Time sure flies. I didn’t realize. I don’t like parties at all… thank you, though.”
”Ditto. But they were really busy at school. I heard the council is doing a lot of effort inviting people. I was actually absent the whole time too.” She laughed. “So if they bully you for not helping, you’ll have me.” We both giggled. “I hope the seniors will love it, it’s for them after all. We can drink somewhere after the party.”
“By the way, have you heard of Ground Zero?” I asked unthinkingly, lifting one shoulder. “Maybe you know?”
“You mean earth”s—Oh wait… Isn’t that a code or something?”
“I’m not sure.”
“I think it’s a casino hotel…” She shrugged. I took the note and showed it to her. “Yup. That ‘Friday’ just confirmed it.”
“Really? It’s not a code then?”
She leaned closer and hinted, “It’s actually referring to prostitutes.”
“Prostitutes?” I repeated and she nodded. I didn’t know this about Akito, but really? I chuckled with the thought. I guess that explained the old phone. But what about the pictures? Must be from a case his doing. Maybe I was just over analyzing things.
I went home and saw Akira sleeping soundly in Akito’s messy room. He was still wearing his navy blue long sleeves, black pants and shoes. He was so tired he didn’t have time to take a bath. Since his dad’s death, he had been coming home late from work, heading straight to his room, no talking, and no eating. He would lock himself. I was left wondering what was in his mind as well as what he was feeling. I never had the chance to talk to him.
Moreover, since that day, there was this tang, a redolence of pervasive cigarette smoke in my room. Prominently at nights, never during the days. Menthol when inhaled, absinthial in maw, and gravelly in the gutter. A soothing feeling in loneliness, but not fear... I was sure neither Akito nor Akira smoke. They were health conscious.
Maybe it was just my imagination. All maybes. I grabbed my specs, examined it as I lay in bed.
No lights, just the moon. I was expecting another horror, but the feathery stench towed me to Zs.