Chapter Three: Where Does Truth Lie?

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: August 16, 2016

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Submitted: August 16, 2016

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Thick, black glasses makes the dark circles less pronounced. A hoodie and old jeans concealed the gradually surfacing bones. I reached under my bed for the make-up, and apply a thin layer on my cheeks, partially concealing the posturing cheekbones. A baseball cap covers up missing patches of hair. They’re starting to grow back, but better safe than sorry. I can feel my back getting damp, and my face itches. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it – putting in so much effort into a lie. Then I look at my baggy eyes and sharp jaw, and I just have to do it.

I check myself in the mirror one last time and forced a smile. Walking downstairs, I inhale the scent of coffee and French toast.

“Morning, Ma!” I called.

“Morning, Johan,” she replies, and frowns as I step onto the tiled floor. “I told you, no shoes in the house,”

“I’m going to have to put them on later anyway,” Plus, any floor is dangerous for naked shaky feet.

I sit down in front of my breakfast. Ma sits down beside me, puts on her glasses and looks through yesterday’s mail. I sip on the coffee as I look over at the letters. My hairs stood and I froze, a pitchfork made of cappuccino stabbing my tongue. I set down the cup slowly and forced the hot coffee down my throat. Beads of perspiration trickled down the back of my neck as I stared at the letter. Printed at the top left corner was the familiar logo of Golden Crest Hospital. No, I ripped it to shreds, I got to it before anybody else. Did they send another one?

I heard my teeth chatter slightly as I asked, “What’s that, Ma?”

“Hmm, let’s see, it’s a thank you note from the hospital to all the blood donors from last week,” she said, still scanning the text through her glasses.

I let out a soft breath in relief. “Oh,” I replied as I wiped my damp palms on my sleeve.

“I’m going off, Ma! Wassalamu’alaikum!” I called and head off without waiting for a reply.

Walking down the same old pathway, my mind turns on autopilot mode, and zones out. I drift back to Golden Crest Hospital almost half a year ago. I was lying on a hard, uncomfortable bed. I had just finished my chemotherapy. The ache in my chest suggested that it wasn’t really effective. I watched as Dr Morrison and Pa talked about my condition. Both men had a tired and flustered look – baggy eyes, bright pink cheeks, sweat-stained shirts. When they concluded how serious it was, I could tell through their distant looks, they were racking their brains thinking of options to save this feeble teen.

“There is someone who might be able to help,” Dr Morrison suddenly spoke. “A former colleague of mine. She’s working at another hospital in the next state, but we can still try,”

Dr Morrison’s words hung in the air. After a long silence, I could tell Pa knew it was my only hope. And so, once my condition was stable, Pa sent me home, and drove off with the doctor in search of a miracle. They didn’t find anything. It was a homeless man who found what remained of Pa’s car at the bottom of a cliff.

Ma came back, and I lived with her ever since. I found the letter a few days after she came back. Pa had kept left it in his study. She didn’t know, I realized. I was determined to keep it that way. I ripped the paper in half, right between the words “diagnosis results: positive”. I tore it up so bad a shredder would’ve been proud.

“Are you hiding the truth?” a heard the angel in my head say. “Have you forgotten what your religion has taught you? Truthfulness and righteousness will be rewarded, but falsehood and telling lies will only brand you as a liar in the eyes of Allah!”

“No, what you’re doing is ultimately for the good of your mother! Hence it’s the right thing to do!” the devil fought back.

I snapped out of the trance and stared at the little shreds of paper. I gave it one last, hard look, into the bin they went, and no one else knew of its existence. 

I sit at my usual spot, taking out my notebook and pen from my sling bag. I am greeted by the familiar symphony of clicking, yelling, swearing and the occasional interlude of fists slamming against tables. “’Gank’ him! Go now!” was what I could make out from the teenagers around me. We might be of almost the same age, but we have very different reasons for skipping school. I enter the same words into the browser search bar, and click to the 3rd page of search results. Immunotherapy. Engulfed in information, I slowly read through the medical report. I take careful notes of what I read, cross-referencing with other websites and reports on the way.

Satisfied, at last. I pack up and head for the door. I feel slightly nauseas, but manage to keep my balance all the way outside. I took in a breath. Big mistake. Lungs aching, I bend over and started coughing. Water bottle in hand, I wait patiently and painfully for the coughing to stop. I feel the warmth of blood on the palm over my mouth. I’m not surprised, but the young woman with the dog certainly is. So is the man in the suit. Still coughing horribly, I shuffle into an alley, hiding from the rest of the world until my coughing stops. Worry and fear envelop me as I feel my lungs about to burst. I catch a breath, and just as it started the coughing, it put me out of my misery. I take deep breaths and slowly drink some water. That was something I have never experienced before. That cannot be a good sign about my condition. Even so, I am not about to let my condition spoil my plans for today.

I get off the bus at my daily stop. I pull open the brightly painted metal gate and head into the centre. The children playing outside gave me curious looks. Their innocent eyes may deceive many, but I for one know the pain that lies within. Their expressions seem to be talking to me. Why do you hide? Look at us, we don’t hide but we’re still happy! I knit my brows for a brief moment and walk up to the donation box. I reach into my pocket and retrieve a crumpled ten dollar note. I smooth it out, say a little prayer and drop it down the slit on the lid.

“Ah, Johan!” I voice calls and I jump a little.

“Assalamu’alaikum, Mr Lee,” I reply. “I was just donating some money,”

Mr Lee smiles. He tells me how much he appreciates my contribution to charity, and how it has helped many of the ill children here.

“I’m just doing what my religion taught me to do. To always be willing to lend a helping hand whenever I can,” I say with a prideful smile.

“Salim over there especially likes the tricycle you gave him,” he beams, motioning to the skinny pre-schooler on a blue tricycle, a nurse following him with his drip stand.

Suddenly, I start coughing again. Though this one is not as bad as the last one, I still feel the need to leave immediately. I say my goodbyes hastily, hand clasped around my mouth.

“Are you alright, Johan?” Mr Lee gives me a concerned look.

“Yes, yes, I’m fine,” I force a smile. “I just had some spicy food and it’s irritating my throat,”

“Well, drink lots of water when you get back, and…” I wave one last time and turn on my heels before he can finish. Heading towards the bus stop, I slow down my pace to catch my breath. The coughing fit goes on, and I feel warm liquid escaping the gaps between my fingers. I clamp another hand to my mouth and lock myself in a porta-potty. After what feels like eternity, I rinse my red-stained hands and gurgle until the red hue on my teeth is gone.

I get off the bus and walk the rest of the way home. The late afternoon sun soaks my hoodie in sweat. Just take it off, my body tells me. No, you can’t take it off, I thought. Do you want them to see your scars? I sighed.

“You can’t keep hiding it forever. You need to start speaking the truth, people can help you!” The angel starts the same battle he has lost many times before.

“Telling others will not help, it’ll only make them feel sad. What will they think of you? You will lose your freedom! You must not let them know.” The devil replies. I zip my hoodie tighter.

“But if you do not tell them, you will lose your life! They may be happy when you tell them you are well, but are you not worried about what will happen if they find out? Do you not feel the burden of carrying a lie everywhere, in front of everyone, every moment of your life? You will lose all hope if you do not accept the reality!”

It’s already too late, I thought, it’s better this way to hide it. I force a smile as I walk past my neighbour’s house. I see Mrs Henry reading on the porch.

“Hi, Johan!” she chirped. “How was your day?”

“Assalamu’alaikum, Mrs Henry. I’m okay,” I say with the most life I can muster. We chat for a while. Then, I feel a sudden pain in my chest. In shock, I quickly say my goodbyes and head home.

My smile was instantly wiped off as I turn back towards the path. Taking breaths of air now is like breathing in flames. My lungs ache and sting. The path feels like it’s made of cotton. The sudden worsening of my condition is really worrying. Even though it’s only a short walk, I make t home drenched in cold sweat and panting profusely. I sit on the front porch to catch my breath. Perhaps it is time to tell them, before it becomes even worse. Lungs still aching, I open the door and call, “Assalamu’alaikum, Ma, I’m home!”

“Johan, come here now,” I hear Ma call from the table. “There’s something I need to discuss with you,”

I walk into the house and sit on the chair opposite Ma, feeling slightly nervous. She looks at me for a good half a minute. Shaking slightly, I ask her what’s up. She pulls out a letter and my heart skips a beat. I get goose bumps head to toe. She hands me the letter and I expect to find myself staring at the letter I ripped to shreds months ago in disbelief. Instead, I find myself looking at something much less frightening. It’s a thank you note, this time for me.

“I never knew you had such a kind heart,” Ma said, “donating your lunch money to charity, no wonder you’re so skinny! You should’ve spent your lunch money on yourself and asked for more to donate,”

I still cannot believe my eyes. I relax for a bit. “I want to help those children, Ma. I want to help them as much as I can, give them what I no longer need but they do,” I reply. “Sharing some of my lunch money may mean one more day for one of them, who knows? Our religion taught us that everyone is equal, right? And it’s also our duty as Muslims to give and help the ones in need in any way we can. I feel that those children deserve what I have too,” since I’m pretty much one of them, I think. At least they’ll have a better time going through it than me.

Ma stares at me, appearing to be deep in thought. The only sound I can hear is the ticking of the clock. Finally, she smiles and tells me that I am right for giving, and she is proud of it, but she just doesn’t like to be kept in the dark.

Up in my room, I change and do my prayers. After that, I lay in my bed, and was quickly pulled into a deep dream. I find myself in a room. A blinding light shines in my face, I have to squint to see around me. Thousands of needles pierced my lungs with every breath I take. I realize I’m wearing an oxygen mask and lying on a gurney. I hear a soft whimpering, slowly getting louder as I notice it. I look my right, and I see Ma sitting beside me, choking back tears. When we lock eyes, she sniffed and said, “It’s going to be okay, Johan,” she wiped away a tear. “The doctors are doing everything they can,” I try to say something but to no prevail. I try to move my hand, but I’m too weak to even lift a feather.

A doctor walks briskly into the room. Ma immediately stands up and asks him a fury of questions, but I cannot hear them. All I heard id that I am in critical condition and past the point where any hopes of me living another day are slim, much less recover. Ma bursts into tears and begs the doctor to save me. I feel tears running down the side of my face. Out of nowhere, a harpoon punctures my chest. Ma holds my hand and urges me to hang on. I can feel the aching slowly surging through my veins and to my head. Throbbing violently, my head feels like it may burst any second. The excruciating pain slowly turned into numbness, and I begin to lose my senses. Ma’s sobbing is gradually drowned out by a low hum in my head.

“It’s too late,” the doctor says. “Why did you hide? Why didn’t you speak the truth?”

“Remember what Islam taught you. Truthfulness and righteousness will be rewarded, Johan! Keeping the lie will only harm you and the ones around you!” the voice of the angel echoing in my head.

I jerk up, gasping for air, chest aching, head throbbing. It was only a dream, I thought. I sit on my bed, taking it in. The pain in my chest is worse, and the throbbing in my head can only mean more trouble. I feel myself getting weaker with every passing minute. Mustering every last atom of strength, I jump up, rush for the door, and hope it’s not too late to speak the truth.

 

 


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