Thursday, 26 June 2008

of exams (part 6)

John began to walk around the house aimlessly after finishing his meal. He rubbed his stomach in satisfaction. There was no doubt of the butler’s cooking skills. His eyes got back its glow and began to twinkle with happiness. He explored every corner of the ground floor, going in and out of rooms that were all over the house. He walked into the study room. It was filled with lots of books. In the centre of the room was a long table made of the finest oak wood. It was so clean that you could see your reflection on it. He took a book and flipped through it. “Weird symbols again,” he thought. He put the book back and went to the next room. It was the music room. He saw a violin on the mantel top, together with its bow. A grand piano occupied the centre of the room. It was white and old, about twenty years old. The white keys were yellowish and the black keys lost the shine that it once had. He looked around for a moment and saw nothing interesting. He proceeded on with his adventure.

“Lunch time Master John!” called out the butler at about noon.

John hurriedly walked to the dining room and ate together with the maids and the butler. It was roast beef with potatoes and coleslaw. It was good. They all ate in silence. John used his hands to eat as he was not accustomed to forks and knives. He couldn’t stand the silence and decided to break the ice.

“Well, you all know me. But I haven’t gotten your names yet.”
“I’m Alfred,” answered the butler.
“I’m Janet,” said the plump maid. She was a bit short and round, but always had a smile on her face.
“And I’m Anna,” said the other maid. She was tall and bulk. Her skin was tanned and her features were sharp.

“Nice to meet you Alfred, Janet, and Anna. I want to say thank you for all that you’ve done for me these past few days.”
“It’s our pleasure, young master,” replied Janet.
“What are you going to do after this?” asked John.
“Oh. Nothing much. Just a bit of cleaning up.”
“Can I follow along?”
“Sure you can.”

After lunch, John followed Janet to clean up the music room. She began to dust the picture frames and shelves with a feather duster and told John about her history in this house. John stood patiently by the door and listened to her stories. Janet continued talking as she proceeded to wipe the piano. As she wiped the keys, she accidently pressed one of the keys and the sound echoed through the room. John’s heart began to pound. “What was that, Janet?” “Oh, nothing. Just the piano.”

Piano... piano...” he muttered under his breath as his face became more and more excited.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

of exams (part 5)

The boy’s face remained expressionless. He was tired out by the amount of walking he had done. Three months, to be exact. And that wasn’t something easy for a boy who had barely lived a dozen years. His uncle ordered the butler to show him to his room. It was evening already, and the sun had started to set. Nocturnal animals started to creep out of their homes in search of food as darkness covered the land. His room was small, barely five metres wide. It contained a chest of drawers, a closet, a bed and a table with a table lamp on it. The table had a layer of dust on it, and the corners of the ceiling had cobwebs on it. It was an abandoned room, not used since Mrs. Colby’s mom had passed away and the maids never bothered to clean it, explained the butler to John. His tired mind barely took in any of the details in the room and dropped on his bed in exhaustion. The butler apologised for the rude behaviour previously and then took off to do his usual duty. The boy nodded and dozed off.

He had slept barely for two hours when he woke up again. The piano in the house was being played again. He could hear every note and every mistake made by the pianist, but he did not know who was playing what. He could hear the sounds outside the house. He could feel Mother Nature playing its own accompaniment to the playing of the piano. He smiled. It was soothing. All his tiredness faded away as his body swayed along with the music. He grew more and more ecstatic as the music gradually climbed towards the climax of the composition. He began to hum along, stopping a few times only to smile. Soon, the music stopped, but the tune was still alive in his brain. His mind started composing a sequel to the piece he just heard. He twisted and turned in bed, not being able to sleep even though it was 4a.m.. Regardless how tired he was, his mind just could not stop thinking of the tune he had just heard.

The next morning, he was found sound asleep by the butler who came to his room. Looking at his face, the butler decided to wake him up later. Breakfast was served to Mr. Colby who was up and ready to go to work. His eyes were glued to the newspapers in his hand as he munched down his breakfast and downed it with a cup of coffee. Once he finished eating, he rushed off to his workplace. It was 11a.m., and John finally woke up from his sleep. It had been the best sleep ever for him. All his life, he had never slept that peacefully and comfortably. He wiped the drool off his chin and went to find the butler. He passed by the toilet and saw the butler inside shaving. He wondered what the butler was doing as he had never seen someone with a blade and white stuff all over his face. The butler ignored him and continued shaving. John waited patiently outside. The butler finally came out after cleaning his face. He politely asked John whether he was waiting to wash up.

Wash up? What’s that?”
“Don’t you know? It consists of brushing teeth and washing your face etc.”
“No sir. Never heard of it my whole life.”
“Come. I’ll teach you.”

After washing up, both of them went to the kitchen to get breakfast. The butler, an excellent chef, began to prepare the stuff and asked him what he would like. “Anything would do,” said John. A three egg omelette with ham, tomato, mushroom and cheese plus two slices of toast was served in an instant. “Enjoy, master,” said the butler as he placed the food before John together with a cup of orange juice. John hurriedly gobbled down the meal as his mind was on something else. He was still thinking of the tune he had heard yesterday on his bed.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

of exams (part 4)

His ears jiggled. He could hear sounds coming from the house. It was the sound of a piano, but he knew not of it. “What was that?” he wondered. He was taken to the study room and asked to sit and wait by the butler. A man, aged about 50, wearing a pair of spectacles, walked in while puffing at his tobacco pipe. He took a seat behind the large antique rosewood study table that was neat and tidy. He took off his glasses and looked at the boy. Satisfied, he leaned back and took another puff from his pipe. “So, young man, what may I assist you of?” he asked, politely yet in a firm tone. The boy trembled slightly and thought for a while. Then he dug deep into his pockets and produced a yellowish photo that had its corners nibbled off. He handed it over to Mr. Colby. Mr. Colby took the photo and put his reading glasses on. He inspected it closely then looked at the boy, and took another look at the photo again.

“Say, young chap, what are you trying to prove by bringing me this picture that is old and stained?”
“My mom asked me to find you and show it to you.”
“What name do you go by?”
“My mom used to call me John Colby.”
“Used to?”
“Yes. She died last spring.”
“And your dad?”
“Two years ago.”
“His name?”
“Wayne...”

Mr. Colby froze at his seat. This was none other than his own nephew, son of his brother that had left the family to work so that he could get his education. It had been 17 years since he walked off, and he never contacted the family, only sending a large sum of money every month by post, with no sender’s address. That photo brought back memories. Taken when he was only 10 years old. Crystal droplets began to form at the corner of his eye as he stared blankly at the old photo. His mind began to playback the days when he and Wayne played at the field together. They were the best of buddies, and the closest of brothers. He got up and stood at the window that overlooked the vast fields of his home. He wept. It was uncontainable. He never got to repay his brother for that sacrifice he made. That was love. Love was never about receiving, but of selfless giving. It was a sacrifice that led him to achieve what he had achieved. He wiped his tears off and turned back to the kid. He could see Wayne’s face reflected on John’s face. They had the same blue eyes, and cheeks that were narrow and long. He summoned for his butler.

“You are to treat him as my own son. Do what you have to do.”

John was taken to eat. A meal he had never experienced in his life, coming from a poor family. Before this, all he ate was stale bread and beggar’s stew, and more than once he had to starve as his family did not have enough money to buy food. He gobbled down the meal. After that, he was taken to have a bathe and haircut. Clothes were bought for him and he was dressed up. He had never experience baths; neither had he ever dressed up in cotton-made-clothes that were extremely comfortable. It was as if it was paradise. Once he was done, he was brought before the family. Mr. Colby, his butler and his two maids. His wife laid in bed as she was sick and in no condition to move around. No one could recognise him after the makeover, not that anyone did in the first place.

“John, you look just like your father.” Mr. Colby remarked.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

of exams (part 3)

He was rudely interrupted by the butler that came to answer the knock. “You! What do you bring at such a time?” he blurted out in an irritated tone, with a scowl on his face.
“Is this Mr. Colby’s house?” said the boy in a trembling voice.
“Are you blind?” snapped the butler back angrily. “There’s a sign that’s right before your eyes and you have the cheek to ask me that?”
“Can... can I see the master?”
“The master is in bed. Whatever you have will have to wait for tomorrow.”
“But...”

The gate slammed shut onto his face. His sentence was never heard by the butler as he stormed off into the house. “... but... but I don’t have anywhere else to go back to...” he stuttered, in a timid voice. His body was weak, and he was in desperate need of food. Fatigue got the better of him and he crumbled to the ground, barely conscious. He took a handful of the maize and barley in his pouch, ate it, and snuggled against the cold, bare stone wall of Mr. Colby.

The sun rose the next day and brought light back to the land. Still in his sleep, he could feel the sun’s heat licking at his ankles. He woke up with a shudder, wondering where he was. Then he remembered. He knocked on the gate once again, sending its echoes through the house that had barely woken up. The butler opened it up with a snort. “You again! You do have a tendency to come at the ‘perfect’ time, don’t you? Come along, and touch nothing, or you’ll regret the day you set foot on planet Earth.”

Sunday, 15 June 2008

of exams (part 2)

He crossed a little bridge that went over a dry creek, now filled with moss, patches of small vegetation here and there, dry braches and leaves. He walked and walked, until he came to a huge gate that seemed like the only entrance to the mansion that lay before his eyes. The walls surrounding it were ten feet tall, and had ivy hanging from it. The house looked abandoned and had a sense of creepiness. A plague was embedded into the wall, stating:

Colby’s Residence.
44, Winsor Road.


He was illiterate. That plague held no significance to him other than a decoration on the wall with weird symbols on it. Food would have been much better. He clenched his fist and rapped on the knocker. “Hello!” he yelled, with every last bit of energy in him. “Anybody home?” By then, the moon was the sole light provider to nature, and the stars danced in the sky. There was a faint rustling of leaves in a distance, and the sounds of the lizards and hoots of the owls from the forest that was not too far away. He could also hear the howling of a wolf that stood on a huge boulder. He began to tap his feet on the ground, subconsciously. It brought a smile to his face, and a tune to his brain. It painted a placid picture in his mind. He began to hum out a tune, and that brought much pleasure to him.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

of exams (part 1)

His fingers gently ran along the outer walls of the houses he passed by as he walked along that lonely path. The mould had grown a layer thick on the stones that were used to make the path. The paint on the wall was shedding, and the wall cried out for a new coat of paint, much to the ignorance of the owners. The loose flakes fell off into the ditch as his fingers gently caressed the wall. The cold winds were blowing gently. The trees stood stark naked. The streets were painted with a warm colour with orange and yellow as the leaves that came off the trees covered the streets. The sky was reddish. The trees’ shadows grew longer as the sun slowly disappeared, dipping into the horizon, as though the sea was swallowing it up. The streets grew darker, and the air colder as nightfall crept in. The moon was faintly visible, though the sun had not gone completely.

He shivered as he quickened his footsteps. It was cold, and his thin, filthy and soiled shirt that was tearing apart did not offer much resistance against the winds, or warmth against the cold night air. His feet were aching from the walking he had done, barefoot. His hair was scruffy and unkempt, and his lips were dry and cracking. His throat longed for water, or any form of fluid that could quench his thirst. His pants, once denim blue, was now the greyish and had holes here and there. He had nothing with him, except a bag of dry maize and barley, plus a leather water bag that was empty.

“Just a little more. Just a little more... Hold on and be strong.”

He grew faintish. His teeth were chattering. His fingers were numb. It was only sheer determination, and the dying words of his mother that made him continue his journey.