Coming Home


The separate set of feet echo mine so faintly that had if I wasn’t well acquainted with the sink or swim ways  of Lacun, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. It had always been a “to each his own”, “dog eat dog world”, my home. I snapped around in one quick motion only to find the alleyway as deserted as I had entered it. Still, I could not be sure. The dark backstreet was only dimly lit by the neon lights of surrounding shops and buildings. ” Keep your head down and forge ahead” Uncle S said was the ‘general rule of thumb’ in our world. These words which had become my life motto as a child and then my cage, crept back into my conciousness from some forgotten reserve of my mind. I close my eyes and let out a deep sigh, and continue walking, head held high.

 I never should have come back. 

But what choice did I have? Just how home is still home, no matter where go, where you run. Family is still family. Somethings you can never leave behind. I would like to pretend that I want to though, leave this place I have thought of as a cell forever, shirk those shackles in the guise of familial bonds. But the truth is, the moment I got the call, I was on the next bus to Lacun. It was a reflex. Whether it was out a sense of responsibility or whether I actually cared, is a question I can’t afford to muddle my brain up over for now. It wasn’t until I was halfway there that the realization of what I was doing sunk in. Uncle Z was dying and I was going back.

I had always thought Uncle Z was invincible. As a child, when I first came face to face with the cold and harsh realities was when my father died. It was baffling to me how one moment someone could be right here, smiling, singing, making grocery lists and promises to play catch, and in the next, simply cease to exist. For months I lived in the mortifying dread that my reality could crumble any moment, that any moment my mom, my sister, my dog could die. Even then, it was inconceivable to me that something as universal and inevitable as death could even touch my Uncle. Death was something all too human, he’d always had an otherworldly air about him. I still remember how he worked his magic on our sad, little household. How he helped an inconsolable widow back to her feet, how he brought back life and laughter to our gloom and doom family, how he held me and soothed me to sleep by chanting” I’m right here, I’m always going to be right here”

As a kid, he had always been my hero. Then I grew up.

My father had been killed during what was supposed to be your run of the mill mugging in our neighborhood. To my father the whole world was black and white, right and wrong. He didn’t tolerate injustice. So when some highschool punk, bouyed because of a gun in his hand demanded my father hand him all his belongings, he did not budge. And so my mother became a widow and me and my sister had to grow up fatherless.

Except we weren’t completely left to fend for ourselves. Uncle Z was much like my father, born with the same congenital stubbornness, he viewed the world in the same rigid extremities and lived life according to unyeilding strictures. They had but one difference, that made all the difference. Uncle Z believed in keeping to yourself and minding your own business. He never got entangled in any feuds or rivalries characteristic to our neighborhood. Many people sneered at his diplomatic ways, said he refused to take a stand but Uncle Z was undeterred. To him family came first and foremost. He only cared about protecting those most dear to him. So that’s how he lived life, by- ” keeping his head down and forging ahead”. It was the only was he knew how to survive.

Unfortunately, the ancestral bullheadedness had not skipped generation and I was born as obstinate as they come. Uncle Z had different ideas of who I should be and this often led to clashes between us. He felt as though I was a belligerent child and I felt like I was being governed by leash laws. We were constantly at loggerheads but our dispute finally reached it’s crescendo when I decided to go to college to become a writer. Uncle Z wanted me to stay right there in L and join his construction business. Writing was probably too flowery and dandy a profession to be taken seriously by him. He saw going off to college, away from home as a betrayal to the family. He delivered an ultimatum to me: I either had to choose my future or my family. 

I’d reached the doorstep of my house now, but couldn’t get myself to ring the doorbell. Memories from the last time I had been there were flurrying through my mind. Me, with my bags packed up: my mom with tear-filled eyes and uncle Z, with his back turned to the door; no words said.  It had been a decade since that fateful morning, things and softened somewhat. Not that we were the picture of fraternal love and affection, but our animosity didn’t go further than a few offhand taunts here and there.

“Has it been so long that you’ve forgotten where the doorbell is?” My sister’s voice cut through my thoughts and gave me a start. 

“Apparently, but no matter how much time passes by, you still remain a brat” I remarked, bringing her in for a hug.  She chuckled ” I guess something’s never change. So you’re planning on freezing to death on this porch or do you want to head in?

“Menace” I mumble as she uses her keys to open the door. And just like that suddenly I’m eighteen again. Nothing inside the house has changed. Nothing, from armchair with one wobbly leg to the chipped frame encasing my father’s memorial photo. Uncle’s old stereo he listens to during breakfast, still adorned the dining table.  He still hadn’t updated to a T.V. Typical. I guess somethings really didn’t change..  I try to rifle through my brain to recall the last conversation we had. It was on the phone, on Christmas. His robust baritone was peppered with the occasional frail cracks. I thought nothing of. I tried really hard to think nothing of it.

My sister calling out my name brings me back to the present for the second time today and I know it’s time. I can’t keep running from this. I do not want to.She motions towards his room and we start walking towards it. At it’s threshold, I take one last breath and decide it’s time to bite the bullet.

My hold world shifts. There he was, lying on the bed, needles sticking from his arm connecting him to IVs, a ventilator to help him breathe. Looking so small, so fragile, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The only other time he had ever looked small was when the news about my father had been broken to him. I am racked with such impossible guilt, I feel like I could crush under the weight of it. His eyes meet mine and I can see the shock in them. Which devastates me even more, had he really thought I wouldn’t come? We maintain our gaze and I can see that inside he is still the man he once was.  I still remember how he used to carry me and my sister around town, the both of us hanging on to his tree trunk arms, the smell of his pipe tobacco, how he used to buy us cotton candy whenever we had a bad day. All he had done was love me, fiercely. All he had wanted was to teach me how to survive in the same world that had taken his brother away from him. How could I have held that against him? Before I know it, tears rush to my eyes and I have no control over them. I let all of it wash over me, the guilt, the love, the memories.  I walk over to him and take his hand in mine. As I am noticing how it’s more bone than anything, I feel trembling, he has joined me in my crying. I know then, maybe Lacun wasn’t my home, but this right here, this was the only home I had ever known. I take his hand in both of mine, and hold it close to heart, this time I won’t leave without any words. In fact I wasn’t leaving at all. Holding his hand even tighter I tell him” I’m right here, I’m always going to be right here.”

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