Through and through, I am gray. An equal balance of good and evil, pure apathy to everything.
It’s common sense that murder is one of the most abominable sins to commit, but I find it hard to care even when my co-worker is breaking down in the middle of the office. Everyone rushes to comfort her, to soothe her with promises that her husband is now at peace, but I stand to the side. The most I can do is acknowledge her tears with a listless glance, and I’m back to typing away on the keyboard.
It makes me wonder if that makes me evil. The scales tip ever so slightly.
“Y’know,” Jose begins in his lazy drawl, taking in a large inhale of his cigarette and sighing. “It wouldn’t hurt for you to try and pretend you care.”
I know. I flick the ashes of my own cigarette at him, and he scowls back. With an uncommitted shrug, I exhale, and smoke puffs from my lips.
The gray of the smoke ruins the clear blue sky above, but it fits perfectly with the ruined alleyway and me.
Another thing that should be normal is parents lighting up at the pitter-patter of footsteps scurrying to greet them at the door. When the doorknob turns and the little boy smiles at me, something twists and grips at my heart.
“Papa!” he cheerfully greets. “You’re home!”
Home feels like a bitter word on my tongue. It’s unrestrained anger, nail marks on my skin, and tears on my cheeks as I hide beneath the bed. This ruined apartment isn’t home, but just temporary solace from the rain and the sun, a place where I can stare endlessly at the paint-chipped walls. But I don’t bother correcting the little boy.
“I’m home,” I say half-heartedly. I lift my hand to his head, but something grips my arm, and it falls back to my side. I ignore the disappointed look on his face and let him take my coat and things. It somehow feels bad, watching such a tiny body struggle to take them. He guides me to the table where a meager meal awaits me.
“I tried my best!” The bandages on his fingers prove his words. “I—I hope you enjoy it!”
It’s too salty, but at least there is something to eat. I do not say anything to him, but he smiles as he continues to watch me eat.
I tell him to go back to his mother. There is no future for him with a deadbeat salaryman like me. One of these days, a corpse will return to him, and he will have nowhere to go.
He shakes his head, innocent face still smiling at me like I deserve it. “My home is with you, dad. Mama is too busy holding hands and eating at restaurants with the weird uncle.”
It feels like punishment to have something so deserving of everything I cannot offer him near me. I look at him, and the thought of leaving him alone within these apartment walls run rampant through my mind. I see his smile, and I wonder what will happen to it if I tell him of all the regrets I carry on my shoulder.
If I tell him that he was never meant to be, will he finally leave me be? The sick temptation grips me like a vice.
“I’m not a good person, boy.” My voice is raspy and the lingering hangover pounds at my head with every syllable. “You’re better off living with your mother. She can give you toys and food, and you won’t have to cook and cut your hands anymore.”
“Why aren’t you a good person?” Damn children and their curiosity. “You work hard every day to provide for us!”
And then I begin to speak.
“I think of leaving you alone. Every day, I don’t know how someone like me can face you. All I can give you are cheap clothes and groceries, and I don’t know how to comfort sad children or angry children or children of any kind!”
I reach out for him—he doesn’t flinch, and somehow that makes me only cry harder.
“You don’t deserve the life I lived, son.” His hair is soft. “You deserve everything in the world and more.”
I wonder if he’ll break under my touch, like how I used to at my father’s hands back then. His tiny hands reach up to mine and squeeze.
“Pa isn’t a bad guy. He says he wants to leave me alone, but he hasn’t. You say that mama is better, but you give me more love than she does.” He nuzzles into my rough palm. “I don’t want toys if mama doesn’t play with me. But here, I can cook food and eat them together with you every day.”
I am at a loss for words.
“You’re not evil, pa.” He grins. “Because I know you’re always thinking what’s best for me.”
I tell myself I’ll leave him, but I can’t. His tiny body may shatter under my hug, but nothing can stop the onslaught of tears as I hold my dearest son close to my heart. His small arms hug me back, and it’s the first time in my life that I have family.
I am still gray, but for this little boy, I can be human again.
“Not joining me for a smoke break?” Jose asks. “Now that’s a surprise.”
“Cutting back,” I grunt to him as I continue to type on my keyboard.
“Well, at least join me for a drink after work.”
“Not happening, either. Gotta buy groceries and cook.”
Jose snorts and lightly slaps the back of my head. “God help you. Having a kid made you boring.”
He’s joking, I can tell, and I chuckle and shake my head.
“Then the least I can do is invite you over for dinner.”
Jireh Dacanay, 17, is a Grade 12 HUMSS student at Davao Christian High School V. Mapa Campus. Writing for over 10 years, they continue to seek new ways to improve their writing style so they can write a novel that will make Philippine literature known all over the globe.