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“Taliaka – is that possibly you?”
And yet silence. Aunt Mary stared at the mysterious lunch box suspiciously. It was surely time for lunch but she had not expected of Megan to give up cooking all of the sudden. She picked it up worriedly, from her doorstep.
“I know very well that your creepy school has its holidays, Taliaka – don’t you try to be funny.”
She said out helplessly, but out of natural curiosity, she ripped open the lunch box.
Taliaka grinned mischievously, who had been eying his dear aunt with great enthusiasm. His dark green eyes twinkled in naughtiness and his smile stretched beyond the diameter of his tiny but handsome face. He quickly backed away from his aunt’s house, retreating into the thick forest of blackberries and with compartments of mango trees now and then. He lifted his huge bubbly eyes towards the beautiful scenery as he walked towards his grandfather’s house. Like droplets of pure molten gold sprinkled with freshly extracted honey stood the mighty copper trees with delicate and velvety flowers, surrounded by an acre of barren yet dwelling ground, pierced with tiny chrysanthemums, blossoms, poppies, bluebells, marigolds, buttercups, jasmines and roses – seemingly it was a dark brown and rocky canvas with extensive patches of glitter scattered onto the surface so as to consolidate its depressive appearance. The sky spread out like an elastic light blue dress, bunches of white cotton candy clouds peeking in shyly, the sun crammed up in the mess and the flocks of larks and eagles chirping a mighty song as they tore through the silence – it was a simple scenario of gorgeous Mother Nature yet Taliaka couldn’t help but love this place. In every grasping sight of gold and jewels, there was a feeling of relief – and after a tiresome boarding school year, he was once again in his so-called abode.
Fang read through the newspaper with heavy eyelids. His wife, as usual, was preparing a heavy dose of Japanese food in the kitchen, along with a bowl of vegetarian food for her sister-in-law, Mary. The young adults of the family were still drowning in the bed, sleeping hour after hour after three attempts to wake them up. All of the sudden, Eliza broke into the lounge, panting and puffing hysterically. Fang diverted his attention to his younger daughter who was smiling in between her puffs. Then, very excitedly, she screamed:
Fang formed a pale yet satisfactory expression. He kissed his eight-year-old artifact and undertook the task to inform his widowed daughter of her son’s arrival. He ran upstairs, despite his old age and bad health, and knocked at her room. Then, out of impatience, he just burst in, saying:
“I have news to –“
Just as he was saying, he stopped, seeing Mabel who was in a trying situation. Mabel’s hair was gobbled up by a large bubble of chewing gum stuck to her hair, and her dress was covered in muddy water. She was tied to the wall with the help of adhesive tape. The victim of a smart prank was silent since her mouth was covered with a white tape which read proudly: ‘Courtesy: Le diable [the devil]’. Fang quickly removed the tape from her mouth. She murmured:
“I know. Taliaka’s back.”
Fang couldn’t help but giggle.
“Dad! He is a nuisance! I’m so sick and tired of him. Where is he now?”
Mabel growled, flailing her arms around after getting freedom from that irritating posture. Fang shook his shoulders and left as she grunted and growled, going into the dressing room.
Patrick, Angelina and Roane were playing with indiscriminate stuffed toys, with hardly any disagreement amongst them. August had just gotten up and really wished that there was some disagreement amongst them. After all, who enjoyed having triplets amongst them who don’t fight? It was a silly request on his part, but it was still too plain that they got along very well. Suddenly there was a push on his back as Megan, his wife, frowned at him.
“Yes Megan darling?”
“August, Uncle Fang is calling.”
August smiled and left with his wife to go see his Uncle. He glanced once again at his children and along with his wife, left to answer a family call.
Just then the door of the triplets’ room banged shut. Patrick was the first to gasp of the three. Angelina and Roane were at first too shocked to react but soon their hopeless faces followed petty crying.
Patrick groaned, packing up his toys before he got hold of them. However, Taliaka wasn’t there for toys.
“Hey what’s up, kids? I bet your school was buzzing! Denenz told me ya all did great – especially you Angelina. She told me you excelled the whole 6th grade! Man, you’re already grown up, m’lady – getting on with it! Still, man, my best lady here – Roane, you failed! Can’t believe myself sayin’ that, eh? Well, it’s okay, you can try next year. Then there’s you, old buddy! I missed you sooo much. You did great on the basketball team, didn’t you? Well, good ol’ kid you are. Taliaka’s proud of you.”
Taliaka went on and on, with no brakes on his tongue. It wasn’t until Denenz broke in, ruining his so-called reputation that he stopped.
“Hey brother – how’re you today?”
Taliaka was stuck in his steps. He so hated Denenz.
“Fine…’très bon’ [very good] to you.”
He murmured, as the triplets giggled. They knew that the only person who could stop Taliaka was his sister. He was nice to her, but only when needed.
“I heard you got detention fifty eight times this year– what a ‘remords’ [remorse], isn’t it?”
Denenz said, proudly posing her French-Italian accent. Taliaka sneered at her and turned away. It wasn’t fun defeating Denenz in any argument. He knew that he had already lost. He silently left the room, with mild tears in his eyes. Although the kids called to him to come back, he simply headed to the garage. He didn’t want to come back to his so-called home every year. However, he didn’t have a choice.
He knew very well that he did not belong to this house or its people. That was the very reason he took boarding school in Canada, a continent away from Europe – while Denenz was royally educated in a private French school, with increasing trips to her father’s homeland, Italy, every winter. While he spent most of his time in the chilly hostel room, with manner less boys flinging undergarments at him as he studied monotonously – she was treated like a princess. He hadn’t made a guess that he was not their child – his mother, when for the first time, decided to send him to boarding school, told him.
“…you better not get on my nerves with your pleading, Taliaka. If that stubborn woman hadn’t left behind you as a burden upon us I wouldn’t have acknowledged you as my son. You were never amongst us – just a result of a hideous mistake. You aren’t worthy of our family name, but father has compelled me to do so.”
He didn’t know who that woman was and what mistake she spoke of, but he knew very well that he was an unwanted child. The only person for whom he was staying here for was Aelbaar. He was a great source of inspiration for Taliaka. Aelbaar wasn’t adopted or unwanted, but he was deaf and dumb. He was ignored by the family due to his handicapped state, but Taliaka felt empathy for him. Whenever Taliaka felt unloved he’d go to Aelbaar, who was usually shut down in a lifeless room in the corner of the house. There, he’d hug him tightly and Aelbaar would smile innocently. Although he was fifteen years old, Aelbaar was very good in sympathizing with Taliaka. Taliaka could talk to him for hours, without fear of being heard or disliked. He also realized that without him, Aelbaar had no one to spend time with. Taliaka would often write him dialogues and he’d write back – infact Taliaka was the one who taught him simple English. His mother, who was Taliaka’s Aunt Megan, hadn’t bothered to do that. Taliaka often solved math problems using his assistance, and Taliaka would steal Grandaunt Mary’s mini-television and they’d watch cartoons for hours.
Whenever his mother would say things like ‘it’s in his blood’ and ‘like father like son’, he’d often ponder who his parents were. Were they Pranksters? Clowns? Comedy actors? Or even Robbers? Gangsters? Murderers? Or were they Terrorists? Politicians? One of the Taliban? These questions teased him most of the time. His best guess was that they were one of the Taliban. His complexion and features were much like those people, but he consoled himself saying that there were many other countries around the Taliban areas. Maybe they were peaceful old Indians. Or Pakistanis. Yeah – maybe.
Mabel tapped her right foot angrily as she waited for ‘him’ to arrive. Mary had just arrived, and had seated with her son August and his wife Megan. This reminded her of her dead son Kyle, once married to Mabel. Alongside, Fang was reading the newspaper, periodically calling the triplets, his own daughter along with his daughter’s young maiden to come and eat. By the time he called for the fifth time, the children had piled up in one corner of the table, hungrily looking at the food brought onto the table by Fang’s wife. However, they had to wait until ‘his’ arrival. ‘He’ came with careless steps, humming a nursery rhyme as he proceeded. ‘He’ was stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Grandaunt Mary. ‘He’ realized that he was in big trouble as far as his mother was concerned. ‘He’ stopped guiltily in front of his mother, who stopped tapping her feet and snapped at him:
“YOUNG MAN! You are such the ‘L'associé personnel du diable’ [Devil’s personal associate]! You treated me like dummy! You injected me with a sleeping drug just so you could play your little prank! Impossible of you! And what do I hear? My aunt was harassed by an anonymous lunchbox containing garden snakes? Or whatever – the point is, you are in trouble.”
Taliaka gulped down his saliva as the children stared worriedly towards him. He had made up his mind to apologize sincerely. However, she didn’t give him a chance.
“No – no food for you, for the rest of the week. Starve, if you must, but my family will not pay for your food!”
Taliaka quietly nodded. Your family doesn’t need to pay for anything I have, he thought. He never wanted all of this ‘luxury’ in the first place. Nevertheless, Denenz felt shattered.
“Mama – no! He’s ‘diabolique’ [Devilish] but he is ‘famille’ [family]. I don’t want such pain for him. Spare him ma, please.”
“No spare! None at all! He starve, he die - non tracassé [not bothered].”
She said firmly, and signaled Taliaka to leave. Denenz felt she’d soften a little after sometime, but Taliaka knew very well there was truth in her words. As soon as Taliaka left, Fang put his paper down, and shot her eyes at his elder daughter, who was offended by his gaze.
“Mabel – tell me something.”
“Yes – father?”
“What am I to tell Agnus?”
“She is coming home tonight.”
Mabel’s lower jaw dropped down abruptly, with a tint of joy on her face. The entire family was shook by his words. Although the children had no idea who this Agnus was, they were also very excited. Mabel lifted her herself from the table, saying:
“Well – if she has the guts to come by our door after committing such a sin ten years later, I have nothing to say. She might as well take her son with her.”
Fang closed his eyes, murmuring:
“If only I could tell you, Mabel. If only.”
Taliaka didn’t know why all of the sudden, his mother had lifted his punishment, saying that he was about to meet the truth of his life. Was she sending him to the orphanage? He was clueless, but he pondered anyways. This might be it, he thought. Goodbye fake home. It was nine o’clock. The Father Clock chimed proudly, as Taliaka darted downstairs. Everyone seemed prepared for his departure, seated in the living room. He was astonished to see a simple lady dressed in black waiting for him. Her black hair reached her knees and her deep grey eyes stood out very promptly. He stopped in front of her, waiting for his mother. The woman hugged him, kissed him on the cheek, asking him his name. After a brief conversation, learning her name, he asked her:
“Why are you here?”
She didn’t have a precise answer, but said:
“Since your mother is my sister and I wished to meet her before I leave for London next morning.”
“Correction, Agnus. I may be your sister, but definitely not his mother.”
Mabel retorted, entering the room. Fang was disturbed by her dialogue, since he didn’t wish to uncover such details to the young children. He signaled August and Megan to take all the children away. Denenz, however, refused to leave. Although threatened to be grounded, she remained strong on her decision. Therefore, she remained amongst the elders.
“Mabel – about that –“
“Not a word now! I have bore enough on account of the fact that my father asked me to take his responsibility. You trapped my husband and committed the most hideous of sins – had it not been because of you he would have not committed suicide! It was the fear of the birth of your child which forced him to sink in such guilt that he couldn’t bear it, though I know he was never the person at complete fault. You provoked him, and for that, you cannot be forgiven.”
Fang stood up, trying to explain. He could see his daughter filled with hatred.
“Mabel, listen to me –“
“No father! No – no way. She took my husband, and then my son died. My real son. Not an illegal son with disrespect for his elders.”
Mabel glared, and shot her eyes towards Taliaka, who had pretty much understood the whole story.
Fang cried out, looking at Agnus desperately. Agnus placed her hand on her face, sobbing at the lies she may have said.
“Mabel – he’s not my child. My child died in the hospital that day – not yours.”
Mabel stared insolently at her sister. Denenz, being a mere six-year-old, couldn’t seem to make out much. Taliaka, however, simply folded his arms. He was irritated by this. He felt like a football – neither Mabel’s son nor Agnus. Who in the world was his mother then? Could they at least make up their minds?
Mabel did not utter a single word, but she wanted an explanation.
“That day – when our children were born, my son died when he came under the car – not yours. I learnt that it was really my son who had come under the car when I went to London and opened my suitcase. The cloth my child was wrapped in – was pink while yours was blue. However, I remembered exchanging their clothing after bathing them an hour ago. I then sent a letter to dad asking to get the DNA test done and see if my suspicion was right. But didn’t he do anything?”
Mabel and Agnus stared at their father. Fang turned away, unhappily.
“I wanted to punish Kyle – for betraying me, creating dispute in my daughters. He treated you like pieces of meat and nothing more, like every other man. He respected not your identity, but merely took your female nature in consideration.”
“But in doing so you destroyed my life. What wrong did I do, Granddad? I didn’t even know when I was born. Although – if I had a voice in my birth, I would have rejected to be born.”
Taliaka said, his innocent words piercing the old man’s heart.
Mabel could do nothing but stare at her son. The boy she looked at with such hatred and spite – her head boiling in repugnance towards him and her eyes wanting to tear this sight away from reality – how could she be such a woman? Had she made her own son say: “I would have rejected to be born.”? She wept violently, and ran towards Taliaka. Then she hugged him tightly, sobbing uncontrollably.
“Please forgive me Taliaka – please.”
Everything stood still. Taliaka’s one word had everyone’s heartbeat on the run.
“Not until you give everyone justice.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just because Aelbaar is physically impaired, doesn’t mean he must be an outcast. He is very smart boy with an inquisitive mind. He deserves to be treated similarly, according to what is equitable. I want him to see things. In his sight, he will find that silence is a dialogue itself. He will live in his own dimension – if you give him a chance.”
Fang had retreated to a corner. Hearing this, he murmured:
“Kyle said the very thing many years ago. We didn’t accept it then, what makes you think we will now?”
“Just because man was barbaric centuries back, doesn’t mean he still has to remain so.”