Opposite sides of a railway track
Some stories are like railway tracks. They run parallel, forever destined to be inches apart but never intertwine, except for a brief moment at a crossing where anything is possible and even destiny can be persuaded to change its course.
It was 9:15 PM. My dad and I were on our way to the supermarket three blocks away from home to buy a tub of chocolate chip ice cream. Chocolate chip was my favourite.
The neighbourhood was dark, the street lights were always busted. Crappy municipal officers, my dad always said. The streets were dimly lit by the few apartments that had their lights on, and by the moon.
The moon was eerily bright that night, I remember thinking.
The place was deserted and very silent. But we had made this walk many times before.
Mom had asked us not to go, but I insisted and my dad caved. My dad loved me, and I really wanted chocolate chip ice cream.
We were passing an alley when the man jumped out of the shadows, right in front of us.
Your wallet and phone, the man said.
He was holding a knife and he pointed it at my dad.
I froze. My legs shook. I felt faint. I was five.
My father, not quite the fighter but not one to back down either, pulled me by my arm so I was safely tucked behind him and said, I don't want any trouble. I'm not carrying much money neither do I have my phone, so just let us go ok?
Look man I don't want to kill you, just give me your wallet, the man with the knife said.
I clutched my dad's leg and peeped from the side. I saw the man's hand tremble. I could tell he was nervous.
What I couldn't tell, was that he was also desperate.
I'm going to walk away now, and you'll let us go, ok? My dad said.
I was very scared. Just give him what he wants papa, I yelled.
Listen to the boy! The man with the knife screamed back.
But my dad had seen the thief's hand tremble. My dad was also a man of principle who worked very hard for every penny that he earned. He wasn't going to give it away that easily.
He won't attack, my dad decided. He took a step back, and then another, with me at his backside being pushed slowly away from the man with the knife and closer to our home. Closer to mom.
The man panicked and lunged forward.
Just give me your bloody wallet, he screamed.
My dad raised his hand and threw a punch.
The man with the knife thrust his arm forward wildly. I'm pretty sure his eyes were closed.
But he didn't miss. He stabbed my dad right in his chest. My dad fell to the ground. I just stood there. I was five. I just stood there and stared.
I watched the man take my dad's wallet, look at his lifeless face, look at me, and then run.
He left the knife in my dad's chest.
I think he was crying. I don't know. Everything was a blur. Everything has been a blur ever since.
We haven't had anything to eat in days dada, I said as I ran to my dad who had just walked in.
It was 8:30 PM, almost dinner time.
His white shirt was greased and dirty and so were his pants. Both hadn't been washed in days.
None of us owned shoes.
He worked at the bottling plant all the way on the other side of the tracks. It was running out of business. Or so my dad had been saying to mumma for months.
I know sweetheart, he said, and walked to my mom.
It wasn't a long walk, we had just four light yellow walls and a brown floor that made everything - the hall, the bedroom and the kitchen. Nature was our toilet.
I haven't gotten paid yet, I don't know what to do, I heard him tell mom.
I couldn't take another night without food.
It's been two days. We have to at least feed the kids, my mom said.
My brother was asleep on the floor. I don't think he would mind another night without food. But I was very hungry.
I'm very hungry dada, I said looking at dada. I knew he loved me and he'd get food. I don't know where he used to get that sweet bread from, but it was tasty and I was really hungry.
Can we please eat tonight? I persisted.
My parents exchanged a look. They were sad. But I was very hungry. I was also five. I didn't understand poverty yet.
I ran to my dad and hugged his leg. Maybe we can have some of that sweet bread? I said in my most sweetest voice.
Ok, he said. Ok. I'll do something.
He walked to the corner where mama kept the plates and pulled out the knife we used to slice the tasty bread.
That was a good sign. He was going to get bread.
He really loved me.
We were going to eat some food.