THE LETTER The rain was beating down on the green Mitsubishi Lancer as it sped recklessly along the bumpy Manzanilla Road. No one is his right mind would dare to be out on such a stormy day. Inside, the skinny blood-stained driver was wet all over. But it was not from the leaks in the eight year old car. Harry was scared and had been for more than an hour now. Sweat poured down his forehead. His eyes were wide open as he leaned over the steering wheel, trying to peer through the downpour. His face, once a study in tranquility, was now dark and stony, with heavy lines on his forehead and around his mouth. His cheekbones protruded more than usual and the wells in his cheeks were deeper. As he approached the beach, he willed his car into the coconut trees. That would have been a fitting end to his nightmare. But the vehicle seemed to have a mind of its own and he found it veering onto the sand. When it could go no more, Harry pushed the door open and jumped out, slamming it behind him. He pounded it as if it were somehow responsible for his state. When the car would not respond, as if it were a defiant child, he started to run away from it. The waves mocked him. The heavens were angry too: the thunder roared as huge raindrops bore into his flesh. His strength failed him and soon he found himself face-down on the sand. He had nothing left, nothing but the warm tears that escaped his eyes and somehow calmed him. Harry had grown up in the rural East Indian village of Warrenville. Being Hindu, and the baby of the family, he had to meet all his parents demands in spite of however unreasonable he found them: like their choice of a wife for him when the time came, or the fact that he had to spend hours at the temple on his birthday every year instead of being with his friends. Being the youngest male also meant that he had to remain at home with his parents even after he was married. Harry thought that his opportunity for independence would have been when he entered university. Finally he would have been able to live without his parents’ interference. He was going to be like other university students: partying, having fun with the ladies, embracing fads, seeing parts of the country that he had never been to, and eating lots of fast foods. He was going to be lord of himself. But time stood still that Thursday evening in late August when his parents told him that he had to commute to campus everyday. The news made his resentment of them grow. This is your way of trying to keep me tied to you, he mused. His culture taught him to submit. He did so on the outside, but vowed to keep his emotional distance. He looked for every chance he had to cut loose. How he envied his siblings. They were now married and were living miles away from their parents’ tentacles. As Harry lay in the sand as if he were at home on his own bed, his mind drifted back to the time just before graduating with honors from the Computer Science department at the university. His father’s colleagues were making appointments with him for job interviews but his resentment already had deep roots. He wanted no favors from them so he deliberately feigned ignorance at the interviews, much to the embarrassment of his father. Instead, he pursued and secured a teaching job at a public secondary school – a well-calculated move which aggravated his parents. They had higher hopes for him. “All these years and money we spend on you, and all you could amount to be is a teacher,” was his mother’s lament. “Why you couldn’t be like your brother and them?” He was secretly pleased at their objection. Harry had never expected work to be sheer pleasure for him. He found that he was a totally different person twenty-five kilometres away from home. His hazelnut eyes lit up whenever he chatted with anyone and his lips curled in a permanent smile. He always had a kind word for everyone and gladly assisted wherever he could. His students adored him. They grasped his lessons without difficulty for his gift was teaching. “Sir, you’re the best teacher in this school,” they would say. “You think you could teach us Math, too?” He had blushed. Harry made time to listen to them, to take part in their after-school cricket and football games, and to take them out on excursions at the end of each term. He felt like their parent – a good parent – the kind he vowed he would be. Being at work was the only way to be out of his parents’ reach, a place to enjoy some simple pleasures in life. But now he was on vacation and the two months now felt like too much.. There was no place to escape. Every torturous day was spent listening to his tormentors’ babble. “You know, Harry, you’re twenty-five years now. What you going to do with your life?” “I dunno, Ma,” he snapped. He did not want to talk. He never wanted to talk. “When you going to see about getting a piece of land?” No response. But she never gave up. “Boy is time you settle down. Your father and I old. We want to see you make something of yourself.” He drummed his fingers on the nightstand and let out a heavy sigh. He knew what she was going to say next. He had endured these sessions a thousand times before. “How are things with you and Sally? She’s a real nice girl, you know. I think that she would make a good daughter-in-law.” “Ma…” he started to protest but was rescued by the sound of the postman’s bell. The letter he received was going to have a lasting impact on his life. It was from his old university buddy, Michael. Physically they were complete opposites: Michael was tall, of African descent, from Tunapuna, where he spent most of his free time playing basketball or working out at the gym. He was very dark-skinned with big round eyes, thick eyelashes and lips. He was the only child of his parents and lived alone except for the maid. His parents were usually out of the country on business or pleasure. Michael had stopped caring a long time before. He had made the adjustment well by surrounding himself with many friends and pastimes. He also had a knack for computers and it was because of this common interest that Harry and Michael had become friends. Harry envied Michael’s forced independence but Michael thought that Harry was the lucky one. At least Harry had full-time parents. . After graduation, Michael went to the University of Miami where he excelled in the Master’s program and was snatched up by IBM. For Michael’s annual two-week vacation, he wanted his best friend to visit him in Florida. He sent Harry a plane ticket and detailed plans for the two weeks: visiting the Everglades, Disney World, the Planetarium, Sea World – all the places Harry had only heard of or seen in the movies. Harry’s mother saw the glow on her son’s face as he read the letter. “Who’s the letter from?” “A friend,” he offered, all signs of earlier frustration disappearing. “I’m going to Florida.” “Florida? Boy don’t go squandering your money.” She was quick to voice her objections. “Michael sent me a ticket. It won’t cost me a cent.” “Oh, I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head. “Maybe you should talk with your father first.” “There is nothing to talk about!” he shouted. “I am going.” She was shocked by her son’s outburst but struggled to maintain control. “You are not going anywhere and that is final.” “Where it is he wants to go?” His father’s voice filled the room. “He wants to go to Florida. Said that Michael sent him a ticket.” “Look here, boy. You’re no man in this house and if your mother said you can’t go, you can’t go.” “I am sick of this place. I never get to do anything. I’m a prisoner and you’re trying to run my life.” He tried to storm past his father, but the big man grabbed him at the elbow. “Who do you think you’re talking to?” the white-haired man boomed. Harry struggled in vain. “Just let me go, all right.” With a jerk of his hand, his father threw Harry to the ground. He landed on his bottom and knocked his head on the nightstand. “You think you’re a man. I’ll show you.” The quick-tempered man pulled his broad leather belt from his waist and raised his hand to strike his son. Harry panicked. He had to protect himself. He was no longer a child. He would not sit there and let this man abuse him. The first lash came and instinctively Harry reached out and grabbed the belt. “Stop it, Pa.” His words were even and deliberate. His chest rose and fell with every breath. “I am not a child anymore.” His father paid no attention but started kicking him and pounding him with his fists. Harry rose to his knees. With one hand he tried to shield the blows and with the other, he reached over the bed and grabbed the letter opener he had used only minutes earlier. He stood up and answered his father’s blows. “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!” he bellowed as he stabbed his attacker. The old lady screamed as she tried to wrench the weapon from her son’s hand. He pushed her with his free hand and she fell like a rag-doll against the wall. He could not stop himself. He had all these years of anger, resentment and hurt to get rid of and now was his chance. Repeatedly, as though possessed by a demon, the metal punctured skin until his victim succumbed and fell face forward on the blue bed sheet. Only when Harry saw red liquid spouting from his victim’s neck, and only when it got into Harry’s face, did he realize what he had done. Showing no signs of remorse, he rushed out of the house and jumped into his car. That had been more than an hour ago. The events of the day seemed to be a dream. But they were too vivid to be a dream. Was he really that madman? He knew the answer. He was that beast that had assaulted his father. What was he going to do now? He could not return to that house now. Death would be a sweeter sentence. Yes. He deserved hell. At least he would not have his parents on his back. The rain had stopped now. He got up with the same ease as if he were getting out of bed, took one last look behind him and turned and walked resolutely into the ocean, welcoming his watery grave.
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