Kong Min felt it in his chest where his heart should be: a sudden strain where all his muscles suddenly contracted resulting in a sinking feeling that literally sucked in all life and breath he could barely muster anymore: like an anchor docking a ship. He struggled to breath and he collapsed for a while, a little unsure of where he was and how he got there in the first place. He could feel the flush of his cheeks and the veins in his arm bulged out. A tight knot formed at his throat.
Then, pin-drop silence.
A stinging noise irritatingly buzzed in his left ear and when he finally rebalanced himself and got back on his feet, recovering his breath (suddenly remembering with an awkward realisation that he was actually human), he felt a sharp and powerful tug at the collar of his shirt. His eyes opened wide open as he was pulled two centimetres away just as a Bentley with an umber brown and white convertible rocketed past.
Kong Min was still a little dazed by this and despite concerns from bystanders, he merely shrugged them off and continue to walk. His condition was of no surprise to him. After all, walking around with a human heart powered by the metal palladium in order to stay alive could mess with your head in excruciatingly creative ways.
“Gods above, how much I hate this pathetic excuse for a home,” muttered the 19-year-old Malaysian as he trudged through the quiet and gloomy neighbourhood cobbled with stones that jutted out of shape.
Checking that his Mercedes was actually locked, he continued down a new path down the smoothly paved walkway where yellowed and dowdy leaves paid no mind to the apparent disgusting décor that they had made to it. Unlike his usual raggedy style that he used to wear about himself overseas from home, he now made sure that he was dressed at his best as he smoothed his hands over his black shirt, black suit, black trousers and even darker wingman sunglasses.
He had purposely parked his Mercedes far away from Father’s too. He did not need to know he had made a life for himself in Shenzhen, China. He had no need for his busybody relatives to ask him about his private life (god, he hated it when they had done that) and with crocodile tears, beg him for a tenth of his fortune because they had debts to pay, they had mouths to feed and just because they were his flesh and blood.
Something had then caught his eye: he took four steps backward and peered down into the alleyway. There, he saw the kids shouting and jeering as a buff kid with reddened cheeks puffed hard and good as he tried to wrestle another kid, but muscularly superior to him, to the ground. In a swift and flurry move, the latter one rolled backwards and pushed the other kid away from him. Taking advantage of his opponent losing momentum, the muscular kid then brought him down.
Huh, Kong Min reminisced. The kids in the neighbourhood still had fights in that alleyway. He remembered when he and Maven, his Indian partner-in-crime used to come here and go into the fights as well although Kong Min was more of a co-ordinator than wrestler or brawler. He hated that place: the street where the foundation was based on was made out of sharp pebbles and sudden depressions in which one would break their nose.
He did. Five times consecutively.
Kong Min carried on looking at his steps, one foot after the other. Then, from the corner of his eye, he caught a tint of dullish grey on a vehicle. Looking up, he saw the plate number clearly. It was Father’s car.
Oh crap. He was home.
Fifteen minutes later, he smoothed his hands over his suit for the millionth time. The procession was to take place soon. He would have to go in one way or the other.
He could handle the body, he supposed. It was just some forgotten cousin brother from one of his uncles on Father’s side. Not worth coming back to, but his lover, Marsya Ali forced him to.
“Pay your respects to your family,” she chided him.
He knew Marsya was in the house already because he could make out her silhouette by his mother’s bedroom window on the first floor beneath the balcony. But he already knew that she was going to be there anyway.
He wanted to take a step forward but he could not. He was paralysed at where he was standing. His lips trembled and his chest rose high and low, heaving. The attacks were coming back again. He cleared his throat and leaned against the car, waiting for it to subside.
The car felt newly waxed and smooth like a baby’s skin. Of course, Father had it waxed. The old man was rich. In a way, he was grateful because most of the thirty-somethings that he knew got successful at life had rich fathers. A sturdy house must have a good foundation, he supposed.
It was such a weird thing to think about as of the moment. Nevertheless, he was glad that his sunglasses had hidden the pain in his eyes when he heard the door click open. It was not Marsya nor his mother. It was his second aunt.
One thing to talk about Second Aunt was that she was all old and wilted out. All of her logical sense of the world and how it usually worked had been blunted and she knew not sometimes the difference between black and white. With the same damned buzzing sound in his left ear, he coolly pushed himself away from his aunt’s embrace that may as well have disgusted him and walked himself in uninvited.
He was not going to show any of them any big tears. Nevertheless, standing there in front of almost everyone made him feel like a gigantic idiot. Faces turned and mouths gaped open. Champagne continued to pour into glasses but the hands that held them remain as frozen as an ancient statue. Some disapproving eyes turned away from him and spoke behind their hands; some gave him the hairy eyeball.
This was his family. The people who play their cards close to their chests and pretend to be as sorry as sorry can be whilst throwing darts at him behind his back. Just for the sake of it. His eyes went from relative to relative and solemnly nodded. However, a rather old and slouched figure of an Asian-like grandfather walked towards a direction parallel to him but both of them: young and old stopped in their tracks when their shoulders touched.
The old man held out his hand and Kong Min shook it.
“Father,” Kong Min addressed dryly.
“Boy,” his father replied in a gruff tone.
Suddenly, they heard some scuffling at the staircase. Father and son turned to those stairs and found that it was Kong Min’s mother and Marsya there. After a solemn embrace, Kong Min couldn’t take it anymore and pulled Marsya aside from the crowd.
“What’s wrong?” Marsya asked, concern glimmering in her eyes.
“I am not ready to tell them,” came the monotonous reply.
“Look at me,” she said sternly.
He didn’t. So, she made him do so and firmly held his face looking into hers.
“Even if you are not ready, who do you think could stop time and let you just dig your own grave? You can’t just go on like this forever.”
This was the same thing he told his brother before. This happened years ago when he was just ten. His own brother shaking uncontrollably in his bed as spit drooled uncontrollably from the corner of his lips. His hands bent like a dog’s; he watched his brother pitifully as he descended into madness. Then, he told him he could not go on like this. Mom and Dad existed for a reason. You should have turned to them before. You should have turned to your friends. You should have turned to me.
But you didn’t.
Kong Min gave a soft kiss on Marsya’s forehead. He wanted it to go on forever. Just the two of them. But now he had to reserve more time for someone else.
Father sat next to the tea table at the garden and did not bother to see his son come up to him. Yes, his son: The Great Engineer, the da Vinci of Asia. He always remembered his boy as a thirteen-year-old arrogant rebel who wanted him to give away his inheritance to him first so that he could travel to China and do some research he knew not what. He had no time to ask. His son left without a goodbye.
“I know you are still angry I left when I was so young, Father,” he sensed Kong Min’s dry voice.
“But I had no choice. The doctors you sent me to are all bullshit. You were wasting your money. They couldn’t fix my heart. I could have died sometime in one of those ridiculous treatments the ‘doctors’ gave me. I was not going to let that happen.
“That is why I took the money and ran. I knew palladium could be the answer to my heart problem. Thalassemia is hard to just ‘cure’, especially in an underdeveloped place like Malaysia. But I did it, Father. I did it. Now, I am tall, I am healthy and I am 19.”
Then, Kong Min squatted in front of his father’s unforgiving gaze.
“But I am dying, Father. Palladium is intoxicating my blood and is poisoning me. I thought that I could find a way to stabilise the palladium in my chest during those six years. But Heaven has a way of screwing with you at the very last minute, right?”
His father’s eye squinted a little in shock, no doubt. But his gaze remained unwavering. Kong Min sighed and stood up, preparing to leave.
“I am not expecting pity or sympathy, Father. I am just telling you to prepare my funeral arrangements soon. I don’t know when and I do not know how, but it will happen. Perhaps I really am just another thing that shouldn’t have existed under natural law. I just labour at the thought of having self, thinking I was somebody when I am nobody. In fact, everyone is, in a way. Human consciousness is such a bitch of evolution.
But in the end, you will see, Father. How easy it will be to just let go of life at the very last moment. That holding onto it all your years was meaningless. And I want you to look me in the eye when you do find me, Father. I want you to think to yourself, “How much did you suffer, my child? Was it painful?””
Kong Min left before the procession even started. But he made a mess of the pantry. The glassware was smashed and the porcelain was flung all over the place. No one dared get in his way.
Driving away, he muttered to himself, “Fuck... Damn this place... God damn this place...”