With Respect to Obsession
I felt weird. Moody clouds crippled the last legs of sunlight beyond the island’s harbor. A typhoon had rolled in. Its wind kept to a crescendo as warm November rain led to water cascading down the hillside road. I laid on my couch and shifted my head onto a forearm. Something was in my mind that I knew not many people could understand. I could tell someone about my thoughts. But knowing isn’t an understanding. Were my thoughts a consequence of puberty? Did they necessitate germinating more complicated thoughts? Was there some way I could express them? At the time, I didn’t know. I hung my head fully over a couch arm. The window shook. One by one, drops of water pushed to the sill while leaving paths in their wake like snails. I watched until my mind was swept into the opera singing outside.
During my morning Latin class, my teacher announced that she’d meet us individually in the hallway for our oral tests. I’d neglected to prepare myself the prior night. The skies had clouded and left little light where the teacher headed to.
A classmate walked up to me. “Bonam fortunam, Shu.”
“Bonam fortunam, John.”
A corner of his mouth bent, as did his eyelids, in pity.
My teacher soon called me out. In the hallway, she asked if I could describe my family with what vocabulary we’d learnt in class so far. I didn’t sweat. The skin on my chest itched.
“Who is your father?” she repeated.
My father? He was a businessman. He worked as many hours and days as the average adult on the street. He often left home for long periods of time to work on projects overseas. His line of work demanded much time away from home. People call my father dull or boring. They weren’t wrong. He never really managed to keep business away from home. Dad was like a dulled blade or a neutered pup; A fraction of his identity was stripped away when I was born. Part of life is about searching for meaning, joy, and satisfaction. For my father, his journey ceased with my mother. For him, death was the blindfold he never realized. The times he showed love were paltry. But what love that remained seemingly condensed. I knew by instinct that whatever rare affection he showed me was genuine. On the other hand, my grandmother never succumbed to depression. When Dad went on business trips, it was she who would make me smile. While Dad would chastise me for my mistakes, grandma would spoil me. She would berate him if he ever showed up glooming near me. I’d smile, ignorant of any worries. However, she eventually ran away. I’m not too sure how she did so. Dad said someone saw her hobbling down the hill where we lived. But I never had the good sense to ask why. Either way, she left near everything she owned to my dad.
We lived in an area sandwiched between worse-off families in the lower districts and more privileged families up the road towards the top of the mountain. It was only because of Dad’s inheritance that we remained where we were. Dad would make sure I knew we were always on the verge of returning to the bottom. That I could only go to school because of my grandma’s money. That grandma had left us because our lives were pigswill placed on a creaking pedestal.
In the school hallway, it felt like I’d teared up. I sniffled and rubbed my eyes. The more I thought of my family, the less I thought of class. I panicked. My thoughts grew less basic. I scratched my chest again. I was aware I’d deviated far from the teacher’s question.
Embarrassment returned me back to the present, crumpled on the living room couch. My thoughts aired outside my body like entrails. Memories of that Latin class would return to me again and again as more rain impacted the window. If I were to pivot my thoughts elsewhere, they’d inevitably return to that hallway. I cursed myself, shoved two middle fingers towards the ceiling, then muffled my scream as I clutched a pillow to my mouth. Drowsiness soon took me.
Whether the fault be yours or someone else’s, whether you’ve intentionally or unintentionally met a fault, you’d still enter a certain state of mind. Its arrival is ever discernable, like a dark spot on a blank canvas. If there were a symbolic appearance, I’d contrast a blooming flower to a mushroom spreading its crown to cover the ground.
“Shu. Here you are sleeping. Without ever finishing your work. Later—what will you plan to do? What are you going to do if I suddenly leave you? What then?” my dad pressed, clearly not using his mother tongue. His turbulent state made his inexperience with the language all the more apparent. He was standing beside me before I awoke. The day seemed as grey as yesterday.
Dad’s hair was disarranged with a few odd strands standing tall. Small pricks layered his chin. Moist cracks appeared on his lips. On one side, his shirt was tucked into his soft pants. The faint remains of a university logo were on his shirt.
“I don’t know,” I instinctively whispered. I was completely awake from the shock of hearing his ravenous voice looking for blame. I gnawed on my tongue with my canines as I fumbled for an answer. “I’ll go homeless…?”
He sounded shocked as well. He didn’t hide his frustration.
“Go home? Who do you think will take care of you? Who’s going to take care of you, dress you, feed you—you still think you have a home?”
“No, I said I’ll go homeless.” My heart raced.
“How long do you think your tuition is going to feed you? Are you just going to lay in bed, do nothing, and play games all day? You think—”
“No. I said homeless. Amazing, I had to say it three times—”
“Homeless. You won’t last too long out there, I’m telling you. You have to start thinking rationally. What skills do you have? And what good hobbies do you have? Your cooking skills are below amateur. Do you think you could even cook for yourself if I left you? You don’t have any notable skills. How do you think you’d survive? Make money? You’ll be crawling back soon. And are you thinking about boarding schools? I have to put you in. You can’t survive here long.”
I stared at the ceiling and wondered what it was I was supposed to do. I left my glasses off, as if I could take cover behind the blur. It felt nice being backed into a corner. There was unusual warmth emanating from somewhere. From knowing this was such a real event. Knowing I was out of options. Knowing I screwed up. Dad seemed to know it was time to wake me up. He knew he’d had enough of something as I’d turned 16. And he couldn’t even come out for my birthday. Nonetheless, I felt guilty—I didn’t know for what reason—and that guilt smothered my mind.
“Useless. You have to think of something.” After venting his anger, he stomped to his room.
Perhaps it was then, as I heard him slam his bedroom door shut, that I realized I loved being oppressed. I didn’t feel regret from having done something wrong. Rather, I felt a special joy from being conscious of the fact that I had no other choices left, if according to my dad. I couldn’t help but believe my dad. When I awoke, I was in an ugly psychological state: its love I would never comprehend if I’d not been in it. I knew to preserve the state. For if I left it, I would forget its warmth—even if it only hurt me. Only I understood what its ugly warmth meant for me.
Dad was right. Probably. I knew I couldn’t depend on him forever. He always ranted about not having enough money. I also barely had any to spend. What little I carved out of my yearly allowance was put into buying video games. Nothing was ever left in my wallet after my other necessary expenses like groceries and textbooks.
I hastily wore my coat, grabbed my personal items off our shoe rack, and rode the apartment elevator down. Reflected in the elevator door were red eyes behind hazy glasses tearing up in frustration. I felt my pocket for my wallet and phone. When I was confident that they were all with me, I stepped off at the lobby.
Ideally, I imagine, at least one of two parents should lend a kinder touch of love to their child. That person is stereotypically the mother. That person was my grandmother. It’s probably not the best way to put it, but I believe I’d had a mother in her. Nonetheless, whenever the authors of my schoolbooks wrote of maternal love, my head would warm, and I would yearn. On the street, my eyes leaked searing envy at children accompanied by their mothers. It had been four years since my grandmother left us. By the time I’d decided to cross the bridge over to the lower levels that day, I had forgotten what it felt like to have a mother. The road seemed dull to match the color of the sky. Occasionally, the chatter of parents lit up the sidewalk. I stared longingly from behind a family walking the crosswalk. They were complete. How does it feel to be complete? I longed to ask. What does it feel like to have a mother? I’d often begin a couple journal entries asking the latter question. However, the words would end there. I’d erase the beginnings of my entry, scar the paper with pencil lead, and my dad would walk in and chastise me for my progress—he’d made me start a journal so that I could be accustomed to writing. In the end, I never finished a journal entry. My reflections always derailed to nostalgia. Sometimes, I wish I could release my curiosity onto a friend. I’m starving for a mother’s touch. I didn’t want to be weird, so I never let my thoughts out.
The area we lived in, and most of the places above us in the mountains, were purely residential areas. Malls and shopping districts, stacked by public housing, populated some districts of the lower levels. During blackouts, you could see from my balcony a lonely river of light snaking its way downtown. It was beautiful. Meanwhile, the view on ground-level of dark buildings blending into the night sky atop bright shops was always an overbearing sight.
I rushed down the streets as if I was being chased. The other walking pedestrians probably leered at me like I was some bumbling idiot. Then, as I stopped crying, the clouds began to pour. The drops were soft, but soon fell heavily. There was some downhill that I traveled before I made it near a shopping district. I began to wheeze. I waddled along the sidewalk, with water dripping from my coat, like a drenched duck just out of its pond. Ahead of me was a convenience store with its green and red banner shining faintly in the humid and rainy day. Everything in the world was blurry as if I’d forgotten to wear my glasses. And there was a certain peace and focus in this unfocused world. It was like the world was telling me to stop and just listen to the sound of tires dividing the river above the road—periodical, even mesmerizing— until everything goes silent. When the pedestrian light turned green, rolling tarmac pebbles sang with rain pattering on steel roofs. The cacophony momentarily broke my trance before the latter replaced the previous sound I’d been habituated to. There was a big LED ‘7’, the iconic sign of a convenience store chain. It grew larger and larger before disappearing from my view because I’d turned and entered the building left of it.
The walls were made of white concrete and grey tiles. A short hallway led to its main stairwell lit by bleak blue lights—a color scheme that matched every other industrial building there. The building felt rugged. At a far corner, cobwebs clung to a junction box. Dust layered the walls as if the building’s interior had never been cleaned since its construction. Going up two flights of stairs led to a store lit passionately yellow in contrast to the rest of the building thus far. Noren covered the upper half of the store’s doorway.
“Welcome.” A woman greeted me while sealing cardboard boxes with duct tape. She was bending down in a white store uniform and didn’t bother averting her eyes from the items she was packaging.
The store, I realized (or maybe I knew), sold adult toys. I’d often eyed its store sign from the streets. Curiosity surfaced whenever I passed it on my way to the supermarket. Although, I think I went there that day whimsically. There were all sorts of toys on display: strokers, rings, strap-ons, dildos, and many more. It was fascinating seeing all these toys we treated as taboo at school be on open display. I felt like I’d stumbled into a secret area which no one else knew, and simultaneously one that I could never share. Dad would’ve yelled at me if he found me there. My dry chest itched in nervousness. Having browsed next to the store counter for a while, I stopped and stared at one item. A promiscuous lady covering her private parts was drawn on the box in a manga art style. A shy tutor. The name was written besides some Kanji I barely recognized. Feeling some interest, I took the box to the store lady.
“Hang on a sec,” she said, still busy sealing shipping boxes. I looked around the store idly. Awkwardly. After a while, she stood up, straightened her back, and asked if I needed some help.
With a sudden change of mind, I asked, “Actually, could you recommend some toys?”
“Well, uh, sure? I…think this one’s popular,” she said slowly, pointing at a box near the entrance. A short moment of silence entered the store. “I can’t really say much else since, you know, I’m a woman.”
Right. I’m acting stupid.
“Yeah. I think I’ll take another look around myself.”
I returned the box to its original placement and slowly made my way towards the back of the store by browsing along the walls. There were various kinds of male masturbator packaging, from realistic to cartoonish. Some had a sort of bestiality theme going on. Others were either tentacle or monster related. A few in one section were just plain old fleshlights in professional, non-sexually explicit boxes. I eventually came to where the toys along the wall were replaced by an assortment of dildos and anal beads. A girl was taking a picture of a box on the shelf in the female section. She wore a white blouse and a grey blazer. A similarly dull grey skirt draped and opened around her knees. On her right shoulder hung a blue school bag. Her appearance indicated she was from my school. I felt my heart jump when she turned to look at me. That was Chiai. At the cue, my heart trembled against its cage. We stared at each other for what seemed like forever. I did so in shock while she wore an emotionless mask. Her eyelids rested gently above her pupils. Suddenly, she pointed her phone towards me. I reached out to block the camera hole, but she deftly grabbed my wrists with her free hand. Her expression remained unchanged.
“Out of place. Out of school,” she said, matter-of-factly.
Chiai placed her phone in a side pocket of her bag. Maybe she’d let me go? I parted my dry lips, but she pressed her index finger perpendicular against the open gap. Footsteps near the counter pounded the ground. Once. Twice. The skin near her eyes and cheeks curved as she smiled. Then, she left the store. A gust exchanged for her presence, rustling the noren on her way out.