His Phantom Pains

Fiction by | August 10, 2008

It was already dusk when he arrived at the gate.

His eyes were immediately riveted to some children playing under the huge Christmas tree. A mango tree that was decorated with Christmas lights stood close to it.

He took out an old cellular phone inside his pocket. No messages. He squared his shoulders and heaved a great sigh. He looked at his own hands, which were already weary from pushing his own wheelchair. He tightened his grip on the wheels even more and turned them slowly forward. No one noticed his arrival when he painstakingly tried to squeeze himself through the main door.

When he opened the wooden gate, it created a slow creaking sound that made the people in the backyard stare at him. His own son caught sight of him and greeted him with words of welcome, asking him how the trip was. The wheels rolled smoothly over the concrete pavement as his son pushed his wheelchair to a huge dining table in the backyard. I have not visited this place for many years, he said to himself.

Living with his daughter for seven years, he had already given up his own house to his eldest son Edward. He knew that taking care of him took much of his daughter’s time. But he had no choice.

He slipped his hands inside his pockets and took out his phone again to check if there had been any messages. Nothing.

His son caught sight of him and said, “Flor texted me yesterday. She said she was still processing her visa.” His words were straightforward and brisk. He spoke like an equal. “I guess life here is really that hard.”

“I see,” he said, and pocketed his phone again

His daughter-in-law said, “Is Flor going out of the country?”

He was about to say something but Edward said, “Yes. It has always been her dream, right, Pa?”

His son’s wife pushed her hair off her right shoulder and said, “Well, if that’s the case, then no one could possibly stop her,” and drank her glass of soda in one gulp.

He caught sight of his son when he cast a wary glance at his wife. His wife looked away, pouring more soda into her glass.

Then suddenly he felt a throbbing pain in his right leg. He tried to suppress it, make it unnoticeable. Must be because of the cold weather, he thought. He looked around him, and saw the children running towards the tree.

His son must have noticed him looking at them, because he said, “They are all your grandchildren, Pa.”

His wife laughed and said, “Five grandchildren, can you believe that Pa?”

He feigned a cough to ward off the pain in his leg. He thought of something sensible to say. “It must be hard dealing with five children,” he said.

“Yes, you have to really keep an eye on them,” his daughter-in-law said. Edward fell silent as he was grilling the barbecue.

“Why don’t you eat, Pa?” his daughter-in-law asked him politely.

“Oh later, later…” he tried to smile, putting his cellphone on the table.

He felt a sudden rush of emptiness that didn’t seem to fit in with the festive mood. He pressed his hands on his leg. The pain is throbbing again.

He looked around. Edward’s phone was ringing. His son took it out and answered it. He saw his son frowning as he was talking to the person who called him.

When Edward put the phone on the table it created a solid sound against it. “What’s wrong Ed?” his wife asked.

“More problems at the office. Those people are so clueless at assessing land taxes,” he said sourly while turning the barbecue over. “I can’t even take care of my own children because I have to work overtime cleaning up their mistakes,” he said finally. After some thought, he fell silent, and said, “Sorry, let’s eat now, Pa.”

Edward put the plate with the grilled barbecue on the table, shoving his father’s phone far from his reach.

He wanted to reach for the phone to check if Flor had sent any messages. Or maybe he should have greeted her Merry Christmas. Yet it seemed to be out of his reach now.

His son was now putting out the fire. His daughter-in-law tapped her husband and they went inside the house.

He looked at the phone one more time, pressed his leg harder and tried to chew the barbecue. Burnt and too sour, he thought, but he ate it anyway.

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