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That was the last time I saw my brother - by S.H.

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The Unexpected Turn

Degree student-inmate from institution TM1

2nd Prize

“There’s no love like the love for a brother.

There’s no love like the love from a brother.”

- Terri Guillemets

There he was sitting alone at the back of the courtroom. He looked deeply distant. There was so much depth in his face it was like staring into a chasm. We locked eyes for a moment and then I was shoved forcibly into the pulpit to face the judge. As soon as my sentence was read, I turned around only to see his back exiting the door. He disappeared so decisively, it was as if he wanted me to feel the abandonment. He had come just to leave me. To express explicitly that not only was there no one there for me but that no one wanted to be there for me. That was the last time I saw my brother.

When we were kids, my brother and I were inseparable. We were each other’s shadow and perfect partners in crime. When mother caught us in our mischief, we relished being in hot soup together. We would sneak into our block’s attic area to trap bats. We would tunnel through the neighborhood sewage system in search of the ninja turtles. We would go fishing at the reservoirs and throw slippers at the surrounding rambutan tree tops to shake off their fruits. At home, we could spend hours playing Nintendo duels and assembling Tamiya racing cars. We shared a double-decker bed and he would let me sleep on top. Most of the time, we were a perfect family portrait until the unexpected turn happened. My father stopped coming home.

“Remand XXXX, we have received a call from the hospice. Your father is in critical condition, he is dying of stage 4 cancer. On his behest, prison is permitting you compassionate leave.” I stood shell-shocked at the news. In an instant, I could feel a prickle in my chest both expansive and painfully specific. My mind was churning memories I thought I had forever forsaken. I told the warden I needed a moment.

Ever since, mother’s suicide, I have harboured hatred for father. I blame him for our unwarranted suffering caused by his abrupt and absolute absence. It was remarkable how my mother persevered. Such a love endured so much cruelty, I was even fortified by it. Inevitable, it drove her over the edge, literally. At my mother's tombstone, I vowed never to stand before my father's grave. Currently, I was wrestling with what to do. My conscience was coaxing me to go and make amends but my consciousness was raging against filial piety. In the end, it was my mother who guided my resolve. I suddenly remembered the last conversation I had with her just before she jumped. She said, “Son, take care of your brother and always be the bigger person.” With that I made my way to see father.

When the curtains were pulled, I could barely recognise my father. He looked like a Holocaust refugee with tubes plugged into his emaciated frame. It was only when I peered into his glossy eyes that I caught my reflection emblazoned perfectly in his pupils. Suddenly, he tugged my hand like he was holding on to dear life and said, “Son, please forgive me for the things I have done to you and for the things I have not been able to do for you.” His words hit me like a truck. I was overcome with such immense grief that I was unable and unwilling to do anything about it.

It was like a fit of weeping that you cannot fight down, of tears that have been submerged for too long and welling up from deep within you; dissolving whatever resists them, liquefying and flushing it away. I spent the remaining minutes burying my head into his stomach as father cupped his hands around my head like cradling a womb. When it was time to leave, I approached my brother who had stood vigil at the foot of the bed and whispered, “When father dies, please do not inform the prison. I have received my closure and given my father his peace. There is no need for me to attend the funeral. Our story is done.”

Something must have pierced his mind or transfixed his vision in that scene at the hospice. Or perhaps it was his disbelief for acceding to my bizarre request. Ever since the episode, our relationship has waned and his visits to the prison have tapered off. Every meeting we had was a veneer of concord bound to unravel. Every time we talked, it was to smother the other in circles and absolutes, casting desperate blame spells and relentless accusations. By that point it was” you ALWAYS do this” and “why do you ALWAYS do that”. And when we were not arguing, we would be filling the room with a noxious fog of tension such that when he walked away, his cloud of disapproval hovered over me. Clearly, we had exhausted all our ugliness; we had nothing to inflict upon each other but uncomfortable silence.

I guess we all struggle with forgiveness and that is because there are times when the trespassers against us seem too deplorable. I had to suppress all my anger to reconcile with my father. Thankfully, providence enabled me to execute it on my own terms without compromising my oath to my mother. I had seen my father at his death-bed without having to be at his death. Perhaps for my brother that was unacceptable and he detested me for having maneuvered him to condone it. In his case, forgiveness will be daunting.

If he pardoned me, it would seem he was encouraging my ego to foster. But it was not self-gratification that I was after. All I sought was healing. And so I console myself that the current strife I had with my brother is his personal ordeal with healing; even if it means deserting me. Still, I pray I will not have to wait a lifetime like my father, to be reunited. Looking back, I am sorry I did not call out to my brother when I had the chance to at court. Now I cling to a desperate hope that the day will come when I will see him turn around.

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