I probably won't be posting much during the month, so I guess this is me signing off... yet again? :D
The day Antartica finally declared independence was the day I saw my first true gob. I know, I know, I shouldn't say "gob". But that's what we called them back then, before it started becoming offensive. Of course, I had seen gobs before. Some of my teachers were gobs. But like I said, I wouldn't call them "true" gobs. Not after meeting Dulkhan "Magwitch" R.1128.9x. Compared to Dulkhan, my gob teachers were mindless drones, and when compared to my human teachers, they were even lesser beings. I cannot say this enough - Dulkhan was a true gob, in every sense of the word, good or bad... and I am fairly sure he was proud of it.
The day I met Dulkhan was also my last day in school. My secondary education was completed. What awaited me was the entrance exams for the great universities of Negara. I was not one of the top students in my school, but my results were good enough for them to have considered me for the better universities in the country. I thought about what university I wanted to enter, and that made me think - yet again - of what was it that I truly wanted to further my studies in. I came to a conclusion - sadly, yet again - that I did not know. I still needed time to think.
In fact, I was thinking this over when I left my school for the very last time, and had said my goodbyes and wished my fellow students good luck. I mulled over it while walking over to my younger sister's school. And I pondered over it some more while I waited for her school hours to end.
My younger sister's name is Nouha. We were very close. Every day, after school, it was routine for me to walk over to her school, wait for a few minutes until she came out, then we would walk home together. I guess I could say that she even looked up to me then, her big brother, wise in all the ways of the world.
It was on these walks home that we had all sorts of talks, discussing together about people, the nation, the state of the world. Really deep stuff. Not all the time, of course. That would have been really depressing. Other times we talked about what we wanted to eat when we got home, what we should get for mother, who would be slaving away in her sewing room at home, or what we should write in our weekly letter to Father, who was stationed in Antartica, doing research on behalf of the Government. We had all sorts of talks. Together.
But today would be different. The bell rang, and very soon after that, the students came pouring out of the school. The school's main building was more than a few hundred years old. It was rectangular in shape, beige incolour and was four floors high. Open corridors ran along one side on each floor, and on each end of the building there were stairs that led up to each floor. The building had minimal decoration, the only attraction a line of inspirational verse from the Qur'an scrawling along the third-floor corridor balcony in gold, ornate script. The other buildings that circled the main building were obviously built later, but they too were designed in very much the same spirit of the main building. Each building had an inspirational Qur'anic verse on its third-floor corridor balcony. Between these buildings were open spaces, paved with cement, for student sports or otherco-curricular activities, and these open spaces started to fill with crowds of students on their way home.
I spotted Nouha walking amongst them, and waved. She smiled, then waved back.
"Hello, Nabhan," she said when she reached me. "So today is our last walk home."
"Don't say that," I said. "I can still walk home back with you for a while yet. It's not like I'm rushing off to university already."
"But it won't be the same. You'll be more concerned with grown-up things, and you'll start growing apart from me and you'll ignore the petty affairs of your younger sister."
"Don't be so melodramatic. Of course it won't come to that. You'll always be on the forefront of my mind." I tapped my forehead and smiled.
"Have you decided what university you want to go to?" she asked.
I kept silent and looked straight ahead. She looked at me and frowned. I ignored her.
We walked through town, passing the tired row of shophouses where in previous years I had bought sweets, my comic chips, my game discs, or groceries if I was running errands for mother, reaching the outskirts where our house was. My family was lucky to have a small garden with our house, a luxury in urban areas. With so much land being protected under Government law for tree-growing, having a garden seemed a little extravagant. But being a government-funded scientist, my father received a few benefits here and there. They didn't pay much, but they tried to make up for it by giving him gifts once in a while. Like this house with its garden. And the steam-powered generator we have in the back.
We were near the house. If I closed my eyes, I would have known we were near because of the chugging and hissing of the generator we used to power our house and even now I could hear it. I could even see the white plumes of smoke that floated slowly into the sky from behind the house.
I once asked mother why the Government would give us a steam-powered generator, when they could have easily afforded to have given us a cell-powered one instead. She gave me a stern look and started scolding me for not being grateful.
"At least you have a generator! Other people have to survive with just fire and wood to make do," she said.
I never mentioned it again. Some of our neighbours didn't have a generator of any kind that I could see, and once in a while I would see them light a fire in a kitchen window. I had never thought about that before. Other people not having any generators.
"Hey, Nabhan, you haven't answered my question," my sister said. "Lost in your thoughts? What were you thinking about back there?"
"Nothing, just wondering," I said.
"Wondering about what?"
"I said it's nothing."
"Okay, but you should really start choosing a university already. Mother's very worried about you, you know."
"I know. I know."
We reached the door to our house. I dug into my pockets for the front-door keycard, but Nouha started tugging my arm.
"I'm going round the back," she said.
"I'll follow. Let's surprise mother," I said.
There was a very narrow corridor between our house and the neighbouring one, and each side was walled up high. There were no windows in the walls and inside this narrow corridor, sunlight seemed to shy away from bursting in. The air was damp and colder in here and I told Nouha to hurry up. I was never comfortable when I walked in the corridor. It truly gave me the creeps.
I gave out a sigh of relief when we came out the other end, back into the warmth of the sunlight. The steam-powered generator was noisier back here. The back door led straight into the kitchen, and mother usually left it open so the wind would always air the house. If she didn't then the door was usually unlocked anyway.Nouha peered into the kitchen window, trying not to fall against the hot metal plating of the steam-powered generator that sat chugging underneath the kitchen window.
"Hey, careful," I said. "Don't scald yourself."
"I can't see mother," she said. "I think she's in the sewing room."
Nouha opened the back door, quickly kicked off her white school shoes and rushed into the kitchen. She ran straight for the sewing room which was adjacent to the kitchen.
"Mother! We're home! Surprise!" she said. But then Nouha just stood in the doorway to the sewing room looking in. She seemed disappointed.
"What's wrong?" I asked. "Where's mother?"
I took off my shoes slowly because they were tight and always a pain to take off quickly. I walked to where Nouha was and then she said, "There's a note."