Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Big Bad Wolf

The mother came home and served dinner for the children. The father would not be home until midnight. There was no point keeping any leftovers for him. He had started drinking again, a habit he had long left behind during his bachelor days. But the mother simply let him be. Perhaps that was the way for him to cope with their lost, she felt.

The usually playful and carefree younger brother and sister helped lay out the plates, something unusual in this household. The mother usually would have to order her kids to help her around. The usually temperamental younger brother was on his best behaviour today, as he was since a few weeks ago. The normally loud and tomboyish younger sister was as poised as a ballerina this afternoon, filling the cups on the table with juice.

The family was still on a strict vegetarian diet, as the Hindu religion required in order to pay their last respects to their loved one who had just left them. The father, of course, was not exactly observing this, since alcohol is considered unsuitable for a Hindu vegetarian diet. But of course, the younger brother and younger sister had no idea this was what was going on with the father.

It was food from the nearby Indian restaurant yet again. The mother had to do the morning shift and thus had no time to prepare lunch. But food is still food. And the family had their meal, with absolute silence. There was only the sound of munching and the sound of food being scooped with the ever-silver utensils.

And when their meal was done, the family took turns washing their plates and cups. The dishes were brought to the kitchen and stored in the refrigerator. The three then quickly washed up and got ready for a short afternoon nap. In the evening, they were not sure if the time was right to start playing their usual games with the neighbour's children yet. But there was homework and it had to be done along with some revision. The father would usually be there for this, but now it seemed as if the mother would have to step in.

The younger brother chose a storybook to read for the younger sister. It was something they always did with their loved one. The younger brother was not sure if he could read the story as lively or as beautifully as the loved one once did to them. But as the younger sister was concerned, anything would do for now. She just wanted it all to appear the same, as if nothing had changed despite the great loss. In somberness, the younger brother picked out a Little Mermaid storybook from the shelf. He then read it to his younger sister on his bed in his room, with her close to him, like a soldier about to die at the hands of the enemy, holding tight to the pillar of his fortress.

The mother being the adult, was naturally the most matured of the lot, but she was cooping the worst. In her bedroom, she held a picture of the loved one close to her chest and cried onto her pillow, so that it would absorb the sound of her sobbing and prevent  her children from hearing her. With the fan switched on at full blast, nobody could hear her from the outside.

Only I could hear her. Because I was in the inside. Inside the dark, gloomy room. And I shed a tear of myself, at the sight of my mother weeping uncontrollably... and there was nothing I could do or say to comfort her. Because she could not see me, or hear me, or feel me.

I was a ghost...

Mother was shocked to see father home early. He was guiding my younger siblings with their homework. And for the first time in weeks, there was a genuine sense of cheerfulness in their eyes.  The presence of father brought back some joy, if not all of it, which was lost in our family following my sudden demise. 

Demise. Sudden demise. My sudden demise. Mine? How did it happen? Well, I remember it clearly. Crystal clear. It was as if it only happened yesterday...

There was Che Mat, the head of the students' affairs department at the University of Geogetown in Penang where I was pursuing my degree. He was the biggest butt kisser and power greedy man I had ever known in my life. He would put on a show every time the vice chancellor of the university was around, making it appear as if he was doing a good job but in reality, he had students do his work for him. What irritated many of us was the fact he would never even make an effort to hide his ass kissing activities. He would just flash it in front of the students, disgusting us in the process. 

But what truly made him unpopular was his cronyism. He felt he had a duty to always look out for students from his hometown and give them high posts within the student body. His personal favourite was a boy from my class, Bong who was also the son of his close friend. It was no surprise to our seniors when Bong was made head of the student body while they, despite their seniority were denied the post. While other high ranking universities and colleges around the globe have electoral processes to elect student leaders, ours did not. It was like the de facto chief adviser of the monarch of a certain kingdom chose the prime minister and his cabinet members by himself without popular vote from the general public. No democracy. 

Then one evening, the news came out. That Che Mat was competing for the parliamentary seat of his hometown. That was not good. Not good at all. This man had a reputation of playing dirty politics without even being involved with politics. And now he was competing in a political campaign, as a contestant? It was bad news for the students. 

A few days later, a reporter from a local daily from Che Mat's hometown visited our campus to interview members of staff and students on the guy's character as a person. I was innocently on my was to the library with my friends when we were approached by the reporter. So far, he had interviewed the dean and the big shots of the student body, who were Bong and Che Mat's other cronies no doubt and they gave a very good impression about the guy. I could not bring myself to do the same, not after everything he had done to our university. There were students with better potential to become leaders, but were left out. Instead, Che Mat identified them as hardworking young people, and instead made them his personal slaves; having them drive him around town, pick up his kids from school, buy his family food whenever his wife was not home. Then, he would bribe them by borrowing these students his car, or give them treats. 

And I simply blurted this out. My friend, who would have preferred to stay on the safer side were shocked to hear what was coming out from my mouth. But they could no longer take this tyranny, and they joined me in sharing their own personal experiences at Che Mat's hands. Seeing a group of us being interviewed, other students joined in to share their stories, mostly victims of Che Mat's slavery and favoritism. 

After that day, Che Mat never even came to see me. He retired a few days ago. But he did send Bong and his other cronies, or as some of my friends called them; dogs, to convince me to call up the reporter and take back my statement. But how was that possible, considering dozens of other students having backed up my claims with their own personal experiences that day? The next few days was hell. Che Mat's dogs would not leave me alone. Many of my stuff was stolen, I was called names, I could not go anywhere alone unaccompanied by my friends.

The story was then published. Since Che Mat was running for the opposition, it was easy to make a mockery of him via the mainstream media. News about his personality were splashed all across the front pages of tabloids and made headlines on the local news. More and more students were later interviewed to share their views. Less than one percent of the students were Che Mat's cronies, so one can tell how he fared in attempting to maintain a clean image. Even lecturers who had personally witnessed students' slavery at his hands spoke up.

I suppose desperation drove the man crazy, for days before the election, he came to me in person, asking me to take back my story, as I was the one the media often quoted when mocking him. Naturally I refused. But I should have known better that Che Mat did not come to my dorm that night all alone when all my roommates were out at the nearby mosque for it was Thursday night. I am not clear about what happened, but Bong and  a few of the student body big shots busted in and hit me hard on my head with something heavy. After that, I have absolutely no memory of what happened. But I must have died straight away. The blow was hard.

And the next thing I knew, I was right in my bedroom. Everyone was asleep when the call came that I had gone missing. As I tried to tell my parents and siblings that I was there, they could not notice me there. Then it hit me. I was dead. I was merely a spirit now.

Father drove all the way to the university and started asking around. Exactly 24 hours later, a police report was launched. Naturally, everyone on campus knew who to suspect behind my sudden disappearance. But Che Mat had a strong alibi. He was at home with his wife and kids. Also, his cronies were at his house that evening for dinner. He had almost ten witnessed to confirm his innocence and was free from police suspension.

Father could do nothing. Everybody wanted to help, but nobody could. Seeing father so helpless tore me apart. Father was always so heroic, and now here he was; an aged man seeking help from strangers but all in vain...

Then, my body was found days later, not in the swamp but burned some six miles away from Georgetown in a drain. My face was burned beyond recognition, but the police had found identification on my body. Also, my parents were called in to identify me, and they noticed the ring and necklace that I was wearing, which were gift from my late grandparents. I was there in the morgue when it happened. No son should ever see his parents break down like how mine did. It was ugly and unbearable to the heart.

Back to the present, at home; father apologized to mother for his constant drinking. It appeared easier for them to link my murder to Che Mat. I was generally a quiet and self-conscious person. There was no reason anyone would have such hatred towards me, so much that they would go all the way to burn me up to death. But Che Mat's alibi was too strong to convict him of anything. 

How hard it must have been for my parents to have raised me up from young. Like my younger brother, I was rather temperamental during my schooling days. But no matter what, they stood by me, and cared for me. They were always there for me no matter what happened. 

Che Mat? Che Mat...

And there I was. In Che Mat's mansion. Now I am sure how it works for me in my current dimension. I can be anywhere I want to be with anyone I want to be by simply thinking about it. 

He seemed unhappy. There was no fake grin on his toad-like, scared face. His cronies were with him. Funny, Bong was not with them. Che Mat later revealed to the boys that Bong could no longer face his guilt any longer for having killed me. So, Che Mat had sent him to live and work with some relatives in Australia. But that was not the thing bothering him. His wife had left him. And she had taken their kids with her.

Had this been under normal circumstances, meaning: had I been alive, I would have rejoiced Che Mat's sorrow. But there was sadness in his eyes. But this man did not deserve sympathy. His wife did the right thing by leaving him. If his kids grew up with him close, they might even end up like him. 

His cronies did a great job cheering him up that night, telling him that their families back at their hometown would vote for him no matter what the government and the mainstream media do to tarnish his reputation. Apparently, the story of my disappearance was making headline nationwide. But nothing would stop him from running for office. His people, those in his hometown, they stood by a social contract; one that bound them by  duty and honour. They would stand by their people no matter what. He will become a member of parliament, he cried out in pride.

No! I could not let this happen! Not a man like this! Never a man of this nature! Think of the people! Think of the future of this land! My anger knew no boundaries. I broke everything in sight. The television set, the costly china, the glass table, the paintings on the wall, the chandelier, everything. 

But, wait? How was this possible? How was it I could touch this things? How could I reach the chandelier which was hanging a few feet above me? Was it my anger? Could some intense emotion I feel heighten the impact of my presence? 

Che Mat and his men stared around in horror, not knowing what was it just happened. Ghost! One guy yelled out in fear, and the whole lot of them ran out of the mansion like little children being scared off from a ghost house at a carnival. 

It was too painful to see my little sister sleeping there on her, her tears still not dry. I could not touch her, unless I was furious over something. I tried to wipe her tears, but failed of course. So, I placed my hand on her head, pretending I could still touch it, as I told her the story she had always wanted me to read to her, but I refused. It was Little Red Riding Hood. For some reason, I had always feared the Big Bad Wolf ever since I was a kid. And I never read her that story. So now, though it was too late, I tried to whisper the story into her ears.

"Oh, Grandma... what big ears you have. All the better to hear you with, my dear. Oh, Grandma... what big eyes you have. All the better to hear you with, my dear. Oh, Grandma... what big teeth you have. All the better to..."

"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Daddy!" my poor little sister simply woke up and ran to my parents' room, telling them about her nightmare. As I listened to her story, I was stunned. She had dreamed of wearing a red hood like the girl in the story, and was on her way to the woods to visit me with her basket of goodies. But then, I turned out to be the Big Bad Wolf, just like in the story. 

I assume the nightmare took its toll on the poor girl. She threw all her storybooks on the Big Bad Wolf away; Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, even my brother's Twilight novels! 

Each time I was in the room, it was as if she could feel my presence. She would hug one of my parents and hold them closely, telling them she feels scared. She can hardly close her eyes at night if I am with her. Why did she have to fear me? I did nothing wrong. Why was I a Big Bad Wolf to her? 

Finally, my parents turned to someone they could not really understand -  a psychic. He was also a Hindu priest and had cured many possessed patients and cleansed haunted places. Being more of a secular Hindu family, my parents never fully believed in psychic abilities. But now, when modern medicine could not help my poor sister, they had to turn to religion. 

As if reading me from a book, the priest could tell there was indeed a powerful supernatural presence in the house, and it was right here right now. 

Well, duh...

Even though he was not told of my parents having an elder son who was recently killed, the priest asked for something close to me for him to use to sense my presence even more closely. Shocked, my mother quickly rushed into my room and took the ring that I had been wearing all these years. As the priest studied it closely, while chanting some Vedic verses, he suddenly threw the ring across the room angrily and yelled at my parents, demanding to know on what ground did they believe I was dead. Taken back at the priest's sudden change in behaviour, they claimed to have found my necklace and ring on my body. The priest made it clear before leaving that my parents continue looking for me as his senses told him I was still alive.

But that was impossible to confirm. After the postmortem, my body was sent back to my family and was cremated according to Hindu rights. There was no way my DNA could be tested now to confirm the body was not mine. 

Tough my parents seemed to find it hard to accept the priest's words, it then hit me. Why was I still here? Why haven't I moved on to the after world? Was it because I want to seek revenge from Che Mat? Though I despised the man, I had no plans of killing him, though stopping him from contesting in the elections would be good. 

If I could get into my sister's dreams and scare the life out of her, why can't I do the same with Che Mat? Like before, there I was right in his presence, accept he was in the middle of a swamp. I remember this swamp. It was somewhere in Province Wellesley, on mainland Penang, not too far away from my university. I had been here once on an expedition with some of my course mates. But this place, this spot, this particular spot where Che Mat, his cronies and myself were standing on... it had some significant importance to me. But I could not remember why. 

Che Mat's boys were digging in the mud. I assumed they were looking for something until I witnessed the horror that was being displayed before my very eyes. It was Che Mat's wife. Dead. Being carried out of his van and into the hole in the muddy ground. His boys then covered the body up with the soil dug up. 

What in the world was going on? But then, it all came back to me - how I died. No, the postmortem report was wrong. No, the body itself must have been wrong. I was not burned to death. I was buried right here. In this swamp. It all came back to me at once. 

After Bong hit me, I had died instantly. When Che Mat could not detect a pulse on me, he panicked and starting spanking Bong for killing me. Bong was all in tears for he never intended to kill me, just scare me perhaps. They wrapped me up with a duvet and carried me down to their van. There were not many students in the area and it was easy for them to get by. My body was carried away across the Penang bridge and into the swamps of Province Wellesley. My body was dumped into a hole in the mud and left to rot. 

That was how it happened. And now Che Mat's wife was his victim. His own wife! As Che Mat walked onto the grave next to the one which will now be his wife's, he noticed the soil was soft, as if there was nothing beneath it. He started digging with his bare hands... for my body. There was nothing. It was empty. My body was gone. Where was it? 

I was alive. I had to be. The blow was strong. But then where was I? Then what am I now? Some spirit out of a living body? Someone had found me and taken me back with them. The priest might just be right. I was alive, somewhere unknown to the world. But where? How do I find myself? 

Bong was somewhere in Australia, his way of coming in terms with his guilt. But he played some part in my alleged death. I should feel some kind of strong attachment to him, shouldn't I? But why was it each time I tried to think of him, I can never reach him. Was it because Australia is too far away from my reach?

But that should no longer be a problem now. Bong was right in front of me. Perfect! If I could  make Che Mat feel my presence, then this guy should not be a problem too. After all, he was directly involved in my so called murder as well. But for some reason, my emotions were not steered. Not even a little. I was supposed to feel angry towards him for what he did. But no. I hardly felt a thing.

But I followed him back to wherever he went. By night, he was in a tiny flat with an old man he called his uncle. And there it was. My body. On the bed of one of the rooms. Bong asked his uncle how I was doing. Apparently I had not waken up. My heart did a somersault. Alive, I was...

I tried everything, to get into my body. But I just could not. What was happening? Was I supposed to avenge my death? Or must I expose the truth about Che Mat to the world? What did I have to do in order to get out of my coma? Boy, this was even more stressful then having to find my body all this time.

Bong was in his own room. Why was he back in Australia? Tomorrow was the elections. Was he here to provide moral support to his mentor? Was he here to celebrate the highly anticipated victory? But Bong did not look like he was in the state to celebrate. 

He took out his wallet and opened it. There was a small photo; one where he was receiving some dumb award from the university specially designed for him to win by Che Mat. Bong held it close to his heart and started to sobbing uncontrollably, like how mother did with my photo back at home. Unlike mother who was missing a dead son, this guy was missing his era of popularity that he had lost thanks to his own actions! Why you...

Crash! And the lamp by the bed just fell and broke on the floor... courtesy to me of course. Yes! I was getting my presence-ness back! As Bong turned to face the fallen lamp, his wallet fell on the floor too, revealing a few other small photos kept inside it. I looked at them closely, one by one. 

The truth then just hit me. No. It came slapping my face, spanking me mercilessly. It was clear to me know. I should have known earlier. I started to feel lighter, as the surrounding air swallowed me into its light breeze...

I watched from afar as Che Mat got onto the stage. His once horrified face due to the events of the few past days was now fully transformed. The old look he was once famous for, the look of pride and glory that always used to shine outward from the acne-scared face of his, was now back, shinning many times brighter than before. Because glory was once again his. 

The young man who was sitting beside me all along, the young man who had saved my life, the man who I once hated but now owed my life to, got up and walked right up to Che Mat as he was giving his speech. The look of horror slowly came back as his grin evaporated from his face. There was no reason for the security officers in the hall to arrest this young man as he did not look like a threat to anyone. 

"Look into my eyes," the young man commanded with a forceful voice. "Look into my eyes and tell me that you were not responsible for three murders in order to secure your place as an MP!" 

As Che Mat continued to stare down at the young man in horror, reporters from all across the region started talking his picture. Meanwhile, in the background, a certain video clip was being played in the LCD screen. Che Mat, in horror that made him quiver like a child, was confessing to all the deeds of evil he had done.

The video clip showed this young man, who once I had assumed was the dead Bong, was simply standing before Che Mat as he shivered on the ground. "How come you're alive? I killed you, with my own hands!" To which the boy who looked like Bong asked, "Why did you kill me?" "Because... because you wanted to go to the police, and confess we killed that Indian boy for spreading bad stories about me. Is... is my wife here too? But even that can't be... because your friend and I... we killed her too because she wanted to go to the police too! Why are you here? You want revenge?"

The townsfolk of Che Mat's hometown, had never shunned upon one of their own kind with such hatred before. Following that video clip, it was clear that Che Mat was confessing to Seng, Bong's identical twin brother of his crimes. I was finally conscious after months. The police later took my report. I remember clearly being hit on the head by Bong. Before being burned to death by Che Mat, Bong had written to his twin about my murder and involvement, and his plans to confess to the police. But he was killed by Che Mat and my accessories were placed on his body to fool everyone that it was my body, while in reality, the late Bong had taken my body to his uncle's home nearby when he realized I was still breathing as he buried me in the swamp. 

Che Mat's wife, having known of her husband's involvement in my alleged murder became suspicious when Bong, an already close family friend went missing. She probably was murdered as she too started asking lots of questions and also wanted to go to the police. Bong's twin came to their uncle's house and started to care for me, hoping I would wake up one day and help reveal the truth behind his twin's disappearance. But last night, after discovering that Seng was not Bong, and realizing that my alleged burned body was actually Bong's I suppose it was high time I finally awoke from my coma and reveal the truth to the world.

Overjoyed at my recovery, Seng and I traveled to Che Mat's home that night in his hometown and waited until he was alone, only to scare the hell out of him and force him to confess his wrongdoings. Though Seng wanted to end the demon's pathetic life then and there, I stopped him for I did not want Seng to end up like Bong. We left as Bong fell asleep in fear, probably waking up the next morning, assuming last night's events was merely a nightmare. Well tonight was his real nightmare. It was not only the end of his political career, but also his life as we know it. 

Che Mat quickly got down from the stage and rushed out of the hall through the back exit. He was obviously trying to run away. But a huge group of people ran after him. There was no way he could escape. Every reporter for every TV channel and newspaper were present doing a coverage. Their eyes suddenly turned towards Seng and I. They swarmed us with their questions and camera flashes.

But all I wanted to do was to get home. It was not like I had really left, but to truly feel my family's love now, that would be priceless.

I was going home...

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