I walk into the garden of the small chapel by the old school hesitantly. How long has it been since the last time I was here? After mentally counting the years, I figure out that it was almost twelve years. As I take a few steps towards the door, I can feel my heart beat racing. I push the door and find myself inside. I look around me. Twelve years and nothing has changed; the pale blue walls, the tiles, the wooden benches, the statues of Mother Mary, Father Joseph and Jesus Christ. I can even remember the candle holder. I cannot explain the sudden rush of emotions inside me as I stand there. It is so peaceful, so quiet. It feels like I’m home finally.
I came here a few times when I attended the primary school. As a child, I had been curious. Being from a Hindu family, I had never stepped in a church before. One day, I had just walked in and something about it attracted me. I believe it was the décor, so modest and not imposing. The statues seemed friendly. Of course at that time I could not stay long. My parents would be angry if they would find me here which was why I would go there only four times during the six years I spend at the school.
I sit on the bench, take a deep breath and close my eyes as I hold the heirloom which once belonged to my grandma. A few months before passing away, my grandma given it to me. I was the youngest grandchild but yet, I was also the one who spend a lot of time with her. I had promised that I would always keep it with me. It was a necklace which my grandpa had given my grandma. It was an antique piece, no one would find one of these nowadays. It was handcrafted, gold with an engraved design. I never wore jewelry but I always kept it with me. It was a memento of my grandparents.
I look around again, glad the church was empty. I do not know how to pray. I have never been drawn to my own culture and never got involved in the prayer sessions. I do not have anything against them but I was never comfortable. I do not know if I am a believer or not. I just know that being here feels right, I am home. I can be the real me. No one will judge me. I am safe here.
I close my eyes, and start to relate my little story. Who am I talking to in my mind? I have no idea but I know that he will be listening to me and not judge me. No one will stop me from confiding myself.
I look back into my childhood. I always thought I had the perfect life, perfect parents, neighbors, and friends. As I grew up, I realized that I was wrong. I could see my parents arguing all the time, I could understand the world better. How I missed the innocence of childhood where the main fear was being reported to my parents for not doing my homework.
I never lacked anything. I lived in a big house. Had all the material things needed and much more. We were not poor people and lived a comfortable life. I had nice clothes, great videos games, books. Yet, I was not happy.
I have not really enjoyed high school. I could not mingle with the others. The sudden change from one environment to another was a real gap to me. I used to go to a mixed school in a different city and now I was in a high school in a completely different place where all the students were girls. There was also this competitive mentality there. It was something I hated. The girls would say that I was arrogant and during the first three years I had been by myself pretty much. I hated the high school environment.
My father was an impossible, arrogant man. He could be really cool as long as everything went by his rules, his decisions. I did not have a thing to say unless I was agreeing with him. In other words, I was not allowed to make any decisions by myself. I was only aiming at being good at school, bringing in good grades which were hard. I was an average student and going to one of the best schools meant that the level was much higher, more severe and the teachers were not very encouraging. I used to dread the time I had to bring my report card to be signed. He was never happy about me and god knows how much I tried, how hard I’d study but to him, it was never enough.
He also had a bad temper, one minute he’d be really fun, the next minute he’d be angry and making noise. I always wondered why my mom stayed with him. He always had something mean to say and I would get nervous for hours, sometimes days.
How foolish was I to let my father rule over me? That was such a major mistake. I was not allowed to make my own choices, even career based and like an idiot, I let him make these choices for me. I was forced to study Economics when I hated it. I believed that when I would leave high school I’d be doing what I like but he never allowed me that luxury. I found myself being forced to apply for a degree in finance. How I hated it. I struggled again. I was also not allowed to go to parties which were held at a nightclub, no boyfriends, not even outings because ‘the boys would be drinking and misbehaving’. Why did I let all that happen? Stupid me wanted to make him proud for I believed I let him down when I received my final results in high school. He said my results were a disaster. Why? Because I never got an A.
He also managed to make me believe that I owed him a lot. I was nothing without him. I bet he did the same with my mother because she too never said anything to him. My father was one to judge people by their qualifications and professional life. He wanted me to be like him and I wasted years trying to be what he wanted instead of being me. My biggest fear was his temper and how he would behave with my mother when something was not going on like he expected it. My mother was a nice woman, just too nice for him. She was wise but he never allowed her to work and make a career. She’d never really admitted it but during small conversations we both had, I could see that she had killed her dreams for him. He enjoyed that we depended on him. It meant he ruled. It was due to his bad temper that she never tried to change his decisions.
I could not complain to anyone as well. No one would believe me if I told them was my father was really like. Those who knew him said he was a cool guy. After all, we always act like everything is perfect. My own best friend does not believe that he’s such a type of person when I told her why I was sad.
Finally, I had enough. I started realizing that I was wasting my time, living like a robot in a place where someone was always shouting. How could I call this place home? I was always nervous when I needed to return here. However, I had this fear me. I never dared to go against him but I knew I needed to or I would end up being a bitter woman and drive myself crazy.
I open my eyes, feeling so much better now that I have confided myself here, knowing no one could judge me. I guess this is like a therapy for me. I never told anyone where I was going today. I had been feeling so down lately and remembered this place I used to love.
I finally smile, feeling re energized. My head is light. I know what I need to do now. There’s no way I will pretend to be what I’m not. It will be hard but I know there’s one place where I can always come when I want to. I look at the time. I’ve been here for nearly two hours. I get up from the bench, feeling courageous and I see a sister walking in. She smiles at me, as if wishing me good luck in my life ahead and I give her a genuine smile before leaving the church.
Months have gone by since that day. I now live in a small room by myself in a small complex. The rent is affordable. The furniture is not great but I have what I need. The area is safe. I live very close to the beach. I have dropped out of university and I am now working as telemarketer. I earn a decent salary and I enjoy my job. My neighbors are nice people. The owner of the small complex is a cool old woman and she does not mind if I pay my rent late. Sometimes when I return late from work, she is still up and offers me dinner which I never refuse. She does not ask me about my past and why I live alone and I’m thankful for it. We get on quite well. During the weekends I cook and often have something for her. Cooking is my passion. Whenever I try a new recipe, I like to add my personal touch to it. I guess this is something I inherited from my mother. She has always been a wonderful cook. We always said we should have opened a restaurant together.
I miss my mom. We talk on the phone often but it is not the same. I’m glad she understands me and does not hate me for leaving the house.
On the day I had gone to the church and made my decision, things had changed. I had announced to my parents that I did not want to continue studying or go for a career which I knew would never make me happy. My mother was quiet about it. My father was furious. He tried to scare me again. He also told me that as long as I stayed under his roof, I was to do what he wanted me to. This time however, I was not nervous at all. I packed my bags, taking only what I needed, some money I had been saving for some time and the heirloom from my grandmother. My dad calling after me, telling me that I would be back here after a week maximum.
Now, I am living my life. I have my ups and downs but I am happy. I do things for me and not to please someone else. I may not have all the material things I may wish for but at least I am me and that is just what matters.
As for my dad, he does not contact me. We work in the same city and sometimes I do see him passing by in his Mitsubishi Lancer while I leave from work but we don’t talk. I don’t miss him that much. We never had that special relationship like I did with my mom. Maybe someday we’ll be on speaking terms again. That would be up to him. If he can accept me with my choices and the life I want to live, I will be happy to see him again.
I go to the little old chapel by the old school frequently now. I sit there, sometimes for hours, the heirloom in my hand and chat with the little friend in my mind who never judges me.