For my little brother/Letdown
|For my little brother by Enoch Leung
A Talk with God
The wind was blowing, ruffling through my hair, my shirt flapping in the breeze like a flag. The toxic smell of garbage was almost pleasant to me, as was the sunset blinding my eyes. In the middle of that sun stood a small boy, his back turned towards me, looking into the distance across the ocean at a horizon filled with red.
"Evan!" I called out.
The boy turned around, his face still concealed by the glare of the setting sun. "...Garrett?" he said softly, so soft that I wasn't sure if he actually said it or not.
"Evan! It's me, it really is me!"
The boy began running, running towards me. His arms reached out in front of him as he rushed to touch, smell, embrace the one person he longed to see again. I started to run towards him, my own arms wide open, ready to receive him the moment we met. He leapt forward, and I braced for impact. But it never came. As my arms came together around his body, he simply disappeared. I tripped, falling face-first into the ground, where I met the earth with a dull thud.
My eyes flickered open. The earth was replaced with the wooden shelf, the setting sun a view of the prison cell I was in, the ocean the huddled mass of sleeping boys.
Just a dream... it was just a dream.
Just a dream.
I covered my eyes with my hands and allowed several tears to come out. Just a dream! And it hurt, knowing that it was only one. I only wanted one thing then — to be able to see my brother in person. All my thoughts were focused on him, couldn't think of anything else even if I tried. My brother was all that mattered to me; even my own life was second priority.
Whatever you're doing right now Evan, I hope you're thinking about me.
Remember Evan: you're my lifeline. I'll always think about you, and that will keep me going. Don't forget about me... and I won't forget about you.
I sighed. The idea seemed so absurd now that I thought about it.
The rice tasted bland and dry in my mouth, a distasteful crunchy texture as I chewed on it. The vegetables were brown and discoloured, as if they had been left in the pot for too long. The pork was slightly undercooked in some parts, the red rawness of the meat clearly visible as I ate around it. But it was food, and it wasn't pagpag. I hadn't had anything to eat in almost sixteen hours.
"Everyone up!" the guards said gruffly when most of us were finishing up. "Everyone up and out! Don't keep us waiting!" They did an inattentive headcount of the masses as they vacated the cell, often missing the younger boys as their heads were buried and hidden behind the bodies of the taller ones around them. The last ones to leave the cell were a group of older boys. From what I had seen yesterday, they were the oldest, strongest, and most influential people in the cell. They dictated who could do this, who could do that, who got to sleep on the floor, who had to sleep on the shelves, and who got the slop bucket as their pillow.
"Let's go, you five!" a guard growled impatiently. "It's always you five that make every single bloody morning a living hell!"
The five were in no hurry to leave. "Have to eat my breakfast, sirs!" one of them said. "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right?"
Five guards, one for each of them, were beginning to close in. "You sure have a load of attitude, Ferdinand, but we've had quite enough shit from you. From all of you." The first guard removed a baton from his belt. "We've beaten the shit out of you and your ass-kissing friends before, haven't we? Seems like none of you learned a thing from it."
"Whoa whoa there, what'cha call me, sir?" He stood up. "I don't appreciate language like that, sir. Your mom didn't teach you to be a 'good little boy' when you were growing up?"
The guard stiffened, but the boy behind Ferdinand stood up. "Talk to me, bruh."
Ferdinand stepped aside. "Talk to my boss," he said, pointing to him.
"Neither of you are bosses of any kind," the guard snarled. "When I'm around, I'm God. And I can keep you in this prison for as long as it takes for the five of you to grow up. Instead of being on the streets, you'll be in here. Yeah, we have lovely accomodations here, don't we? 'Bout as comfortable as the shithole slum you live in. Hope it reminds you of home."
The "boss" approached his nemesis. "You've got yourself a lovely hotel for us here," he said sarcastically, "but you sure ain't got no control over the guests that stay in it. Go ahead. Fight me. I'm used to it. You wanna be tough like me? Come and get it. I'll give you scars to match mine."
One of the guards exited the cell and headed towards us. "Let's go," he barked. "Your friends in there are unfortunately going to be out of service this morning."
They led us off. Those who attempted to stay behind to watch the proceedings were forcefully dragged by the collar of their shirts. I did not see what was going to happen, but as I turned a corner, I thought I heard a baton cracking. The guards led us into the yard, a prison yard paved in its entirety with concrete and asphalt. The latter showed signs of aging, with weeds protruding from the crevices. The yard was divided down the middle by a sturdy barbed wire fence; on one side stood all the adult inmates, on the other stood the younger ones. I was in the latter group, and though I saw no reason to talk to anybody on the other side, I didn't have anyone on my side either. The only person I wanted to see, to talk to, to feel the presence of beside me, was my brother. Even if we could exchange no words, I wanted to be able to see him, and him to see me.
"Garrett?" a voice barked.
I looked up.
That was my name. I stood up. "Here, sir."
The guard turned to look in my direction. He was wearing a peaked cap, polished boots, ironed uniform, much like all the other guards in this place, and was carrying a clipboard. He motioned for me to come over. "Someone wants to see you."
I followed. Who wants to see me? I didn't know anyone here yet, and I haven't done anything wrong in prison. At least, not yet. The guard led me out of the yard and back inside, the glow of the sun replaced by the sticky humidity that clung onto my skin, my clothes, my hair, and wouldn't go away.
"Who wants to see me?" I asked, somewhat timidly. The baton was clearly visible on the guard's belt. I eyed it nervously.
He didn't respond right away. "Someone important. Someone you know."
Someone I knew?
We came to a door. Before he opened it, he turned to me and said, "It's your mother. And your brother."
My eyes instantly lit up as soon as I heard that. My brother... I was going to see my brother! But that moment faded quickly, as I was faced with the grim reality of the situation I was in. I had promised him that I would come home, that I would not fail, and that I was doing it for him. What was he thinking now, knowing that I was behind bars?
And my mother... oh no, my mother... She knew the secret now, for sure. She now knew what we had been hiding from her on the very last night I was home, that I had planned to run away in search of a better future. For myself? Or for my...?
"Let's go!" the guard growled. He had the door open already. I walked in, heart in my throat, afraid of what I was about to see.
The room behind the door was quiet. Only two other inmates were in there, speaking with their visitors, minding their own business. Prisoners were segregated from the outside world by a wire mesh, small enough for fingers to get stuck within. The guard led me to a chair; seated across was my mother and my younger brother.
The guard pushed down on my shoulders, forcing me roughly into the chair. "Five minutes," he barked. "Don't be obnoxious."
Slowly, I turned my head to look up. My mother had tears in her eyes, a face of anguish. "I'm... I'm sorry, ma—" I began.
"What has happened to you..." Her voice cracked over the last few words.
I swallowed a lump in my throat. "I... I did it f-for... for Evan. I... I wanted him to be able to, uh, go to school..."
My brother sniffled, and I could see a tear coming down his face. "I didn't mean for things to end this way... I just wanted him to not have to be a scavenger for the rest of his life. I did it for him, I really did. I wasn't looking to make myself rich... It's just... I couldn't bear seeing him in that landfill. I—"
"That's enough." My mother suddenly became stiff and cold. "That's the crummy excuse your father and your older brother gave to me, and look at where they went. Your father could be dead right now; Julio could be on the streets mugging people. I can't even fathom what you might be capable of doing in a few months' time!"
"Ma! I didn't want to do this... I just—"
"You've turned away from me, Garrett! Why would you just walk away and leave us behind? Your father and older brother both said they were going out to find money for the family, and they both instead found money for themselves. How am I supposed to know that this is going to be any different? You are even the first to get themselves imprisoned! If your father ever got arrested, I was never told anything about it."
"And now that you're here, I can only hope that prison will keep you out of trouble, keep you off the streets, keep you from going down that path. At least I know where you are at night." She jabbed my brother. "And I hope this teaches you a lesson as well! Now that you know where your brother is, I hope you won't have any intentions of joining him in there!"
My eyes slowly turned towards Evan. He had remained silent the whole time, watching me, observing my roughed-up appearance. I knew that he felt I had changed dramatically from the last time we saw each other; for better or for worse, I couldn't be sure.
"I'm... I'm sorry, Evan," I said softly, trying to reach out to him, halted by the wire mesh.
He placed his own hands on the mesh, trying to reach me. I felt the tips of his fingers, the only form of physical contact possible. "I'm sorry too, Garrett..."
I glanced over at my mother. Her face was buried in her hands, and she remained almost motionless. "What happened the day I left?" I asked my brother.
"Mother was quick to notice you were gone. At first, I told her that I didn't know where you went. She went around the neighbourhood, asking everyone if they had seen you. I had to go out onto the hill on my own... I felt like crying! I had never felt so lonely and vulnerable in my life before. By the next day, my mother was sure that you had run away from home like dad and Julio, and she was certain that I knew something about it. She made me confess, made me spill the beans. I told her about the conversation we had. I told her about your plans. I told her that you said you were doing it for me. At the end of it, I was crying, and I couldn't stop for hours. I felt like I had betrayed you, and myself. It's my fault, Garrett... I should never have told her anything."
"How did you find out that I got sent here?"
"A police officer came to our door. He gave mother a letter that said you had been arrested the night before. She immediately left the house and headed towards the prison, dragging me along. I was crying the whole way. I thought you had failed, that you would never come home."
"No," I said firmly. "No, I have not failed. I will come home, Evan, I promise I will. I will find a way."
"In here?" There was doubt in his voice. "I'm scared at the thought that you'll be here forever!"
"Stay positive, Evan, stay positive!" I was beginning to stiffen. "Don't stop thinking about me. Just think about the good times we spent together. Listen, I'll do whatever it takes for me to get back home. In the meantime, I need you to stay at home and take care of mom, okay?"
My mother broke out of her frozen state. She got up from her seat. "We're going, Evan. I've lost another son; I can't stand it in here any longer." She grabbed my brother's arm and began to drag him away.
"Ma! Mother!" I gripped the mesh, as if to rip it to shreds. "I'm not trying to be like Julio! I want to come home, I really do!"
She ignored me, continuing to march onward like a soldier. My brother had stopped fighting with her grip, almost completely surrendering to her will. "I never break promises!" I shouted. "Don't lose hope in me!"
I got no verbal response. The guard opened the door for my mother, who turned around and grabbed Evan's shirt with both hands for better leverage. The last I saw of my brother was a look of complete disbelief plastered onto his face. Soon, the door closed behind them. It felt like the door to my own house, my own family, being slammed shut inches before my nose. I called for them over and over, begging for them to come back, but only succeeded in aggravating everyone else in the room.
The guard came over. "Huggy time's over," he growled mockingly, grabbing me roughly. "Come with me."
I did not fight him. Whatever strength I had left was gone. He pushed me along, my body as frail as a bag of bones, giving way to whichever direction he chose to shove me in. He opened the door to my cell and virtually tossed me in. With a sharp flick of his wrist, he locked the door and strode off, almost eager to be done with me.
I climbed up to the spot where I slept and lay down. The scene of my mother's departure, my brother's face, the door closing behind them, kept replaying in my mind non-stop. My mother has left me... my brother has lost faith in me... the door to my own home has been closed.
I really am stuck here forever, aren't I?
I turned my body to face the wall, shielding my face with my arms and hands. The cell was empty, the other boys still out in the yard, while the five troublemakers could've been anywhere. I let loose all the tears that had been bottled up within me, like a volcano erupting after centuries of being dormant. The water took bits and bits of my vision away, blurring and distorting it with greater and greater intensity as time passed. Eventually, my sight disappeared, and all I could see was black.
|For my little brother by Enoch Leung
A Talk with God