The Contrition

Kiet Vu, Guest Contributer

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It’s the middle of April. Flamboyants, grown in our schoolyard, started to decorate themselves with their small, bright red flowers. I love to look at them. They remind me about… summer vacation! It’s a symbol of summer, which means the desirable, the top-notch, the biggest vacation to most students, and I’m not an exception. I study my whole life for it. But the vacation is the only “reason” why I like summer. In fact, I don’t really have any favor with this season, if it even exists. There are really no such things called “four seasons,” since the only things I see are the dry season or wet season. It’s even worse when talking about temperature, which always ranges from barely acceptable to extremely disgusting. We had to suffer under the average temperature of about 27°C ( 77°F ). And it’s rising. At least my class, 7A3, was located at the right side of the school, which was lucky than lots of classes since we didn’t have to directly face the scorching light from the sun and winds frequently brought the refreshing air to my classroom. Still I was sweating like someone pours a bucket of water on you.  

But before even thinking about summer, we had a final coming in the next two weeks. We had to take exams in every single subject. This added up to about 10 different exams, therefore the amount of works we had were horribly insane. And the weather made it even worse! But although we had to suffer under these terrifying conditions, everyone in the entire universe knows that this definitely was not the right time to be absent from school. And because of that, not a single member in my class missed a day of school, except one person…  

“Where is Hoang?” I asked my friend.

“No idea” He said.

It’s very strange. If I know the person who doesn’t even miss a single day of school, it must be him. And this was the most stressful moment in school! I could not recall the last times he was absent from school. In fact, this might be the first time I didn’t see him this year.

To “satisfy” our own imaginations, I and my friends — we played as a group — came up with some “theories.” Initially, we thought about some truly “reasonable and positive” reasons, like he was on the vacations with family, slightly sick,… All of them were completely innocent and … “making sense.” But then, since it’s easier to come up with horrifying causes, we shift the topic to something more fearsome. We mentioned some of the serious diseases like diarrhea, cancer, HIV, brain tumor…  to accidents – suicide, hanging himself, jumping from the bridge.

“No, no, stop. That’s too far,” I yelled out loud. All of us were laughing like crazy. But what we didn’t expect is that anything could possibly happen.

The following day, Hoang came back to class while I was chatting with my friends. He slowly walked into class. His face was engulfed in the sense of misery. His eyes were red, mourning the deep despair inside his soul, like they were trying to tell us that he had just gone through something terrible. He silently got into his seat, took out his stuff and stared at the table. Lifelessly. He was not looking at the table, but at the suffering deep inside his desolated thoughts. No words came from his mouth. Definitely something really bad had happened to him, and our eyes headed toward his desk for a moment. I thought about our conversation yesterday and wonder if any of them came true. I looked at my friends and was definitely sure that they were thinking the same as me. We came to his seat.

“Hi Hoang. What’s wrong? You look sad!” I asked.

He hesitated for a few seconds, then he finally exposed: “My dad was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident. He has some skull fractures and is in critical condition.”

There was a short moment of silence. Everyone seemed to be stunned. We could sense his despair in every word he spoke out. There were more words in his minds, but they were never revealed. Trace of tears started to appear in his eyes. But instead, he chose to hid the tears within his heart. He was struggling with the reality, with his own thought. His distress was unbearable. He didn’t even look at us but instead, sticking his eyes at the table as it’s the place where he could express and share out all of his sorrow, where he could hide from painful reality, the fear of losing his grateful, only father. I didn’t know if I could handle this if I was him. We didn’t know other ways to encourage him than having some positive words, but inside our minds, we all knew that there would be almost no chance.

The following day, he was not in school. Few days passed, there were still no sights of him. It’s even worse when I didn’t know how to communicate with him. He didn’t have phone for himself, therefore I couldn’t text him or call him. He didn’t have a social media like Facebook,etc., therefore I couldn’t send him message or contact him online. He didn’t have emails, Zing Me (one of the site that I used to communicate with my classmates)… I didn’t know how to contact him! I didn’t like this feeling at all, but I could sense that something really bad had happened.  

And I was right.

On the last day of the week, I had a period with my literature teacher, who was also a head teacher of my class. Head teachers are the ones who are in charge of managing the activities and teaching one of the subjects for their classes. Every class will be assigned to one head teacher, and my class is not an exception. We had her on that day, in the first period. She came to class at the time the bell rang, as usual.

“Sit down, class,” she said. My teacher was a energetic and optimistic person, she always came to my class with jovial attitude, and with a smile. But not today. Something wrong happened on that day: My teacher seemed to be quiet and depressed, and I guessed that maybe she didn’t have a good day? She sat down, took out her microphone and plugged it into the electricity output, ready to make a weekly announcement, as always. This time, it was not a normal one.

“Class, you know that Hoang hasn’t been in class for nearly a week, right?” she said. Her voice seems to descend. It can’t be... Did my foolish prediction become the reality?  Please no!

“The reason why he didn’t came to class is because his house is having a funeral. His father passed away in the hospital due to motorcycles accident.”

My class fell into silent. The old fan on the wall was constantly spinning, making a repeated sound as they kept slicing through the air. The clock, hanging on the left side of our classroom, kept ticking as the time slowly passed by, reminding us that how precious our lives are. We could even hear the voice from the other classes, as some of them were talking like there was no teacher in the class; other teachers were instructing, teaching their kids… But contrasting with my class, sound was the concept which was not even exist at that moment. Or perhaps, we were listening to one of the scariest sound that nature offered: Silence. It could bring the worst tensions to us as easily as it treat them. To break the strained feeling, our teacher continued with her announcement:

“This evening, our class leader will pick ten people from our class to visit his house. The taxis will come and pick you up at 12:30 PM.  You should be back in time for P.E class if you are able to. Our class will also bring flowers and do the contributions.”

But in the end, I was not too surprised. The truth had revealed itself before it was told, and we couldn’t avoid the reality, but only to accept it. I wondered how his life would be after this event, but it would be very tough. Hoang lost his father when he was only in 7th grade, and his family lost the trustworthy, valuable member who could support the family. But suddenly, I realized the other frightening truth, that it could also be me. I could possibly lose my family at anytime, just like Hoang, and there was no way to know or to stop it! We could see people in our life, meeting and talking with them, and the next day, they could disappear from the real-world. Forever. And it could be my relatives, my friends, my families… Why are our lives so short and fragile? This question stucked in my mind like an anchor. And the more I thought about this, the more I lost my way in the tangle of unknown. The fear of death crawled inside me as the Grim Reaper would take away lives of my families, my fellows,… in any moment. But I had to escape from those petrifying thoughts and stayed focus as the class was about to begin.

 

My class finally finished at 12:00PM. We decided to stay for a moment to choose the people who would visit Hoang. I was one of the people who would visit him, with some of my close friends and few more others in our class. While I was packing up, I heard a girl, who was also going to Hoang’s house with us, laughed buoyantly: “Haha, I will skip P.E class, yay”.

“What? How could you say that?! That’s the reason you go?”

I could not control my words at that moment. I spitted words out like bullets into her face. My face was covered with a red,  I yelled at her with disgust: “You don’t deserve to go! Just to skipping class? You are not even his friend! You are not allowed to do that.”. Throwing away my self-control, I almost sweared in front of the class, which was the rare things. The number of times I sweared when I got mad could be counted on the finger tips. My voice, furious and stuffed with anger, could be heard thousands miles away.

Things started to get worse and worse. I remembered that she tried to defend or argue back but I didn’t even record a single word that she said in my memory. My diabolical anger was immensely increased by million times for every word she said, caused me to be deaf from other people’s arguments. My anger was not controllable. I was like a devil. Nothing better. I insulted her with some of the strongest words that my language ever offered. Some of her friends tried to protect her, but my mind was full of toxic and hatred toward that girl. We shouted at each other as if we were having a gang fight. Eventually, the limit had been reached. I shrieked with an incensed feeling: “People can take my spot. I don’t go anymore.” With the last bits of consciousness I had left, I left the class behind without looking back or any hesitation.

The temperature outside was ridiculously high. The sun probably wanted to cook me for lunch as it kept striking through my skin using its spears of light. I could confidently said that I was in the middle of a frying pan. And I hated my uniform! It made me felt even worse as I could feel more and more heat coming, which was extremely uncomfortable. Also, the sweat made my clothes stuck to the body, which was itchy and annoying. I just wanted to get home ASAP.

Eventually, I had time to rest myself a bit. Laying on the bed, I thought about my actions. And I started to feel what I have done was totally wrong. I tried to convince myself that I did the right things, but I couldn’t. The longer I spent time thinking about it, the anger started to descend and the sense of guilt slowly filled in the spot. I hated myself. The remorse feeling was oppressive then. I had just created the hatred, the tension against my classmates and acting disrespectfully in front of everyone in my class. Moreover, I threw away the chance to meet my friend, Hoang, just because the evil force, the exasperation, was manipulating my mind. It would have been much more better if I knew how to control myself.

I came to P.E class. Walking into the school, I looked around as my classmates glared at me like I was a serious criminal. Not so long after that, my friends, who visited Hoang, came back right at the time my P.E class started. This was the first time I saw some of them with a sight of tear on his eyes. One of the others said that: “Hoang asked us that why you don’t go?”. At that moment, I was completely speechless. I thought about the feeling of betrayal that Hoang had. And I didn’t even want to defend myself. I deserved it. I didn’t even want to forgive myself. I thought that he would hate me forever, and I had to live with this guilt…

Hoang finally came back to class the following week. Again, there were no words coming from him. He looked like he was from the death. His face was lack of joy or any positive emotions, but only sadness. At least, I was relieved a bit when he came back because there was only one week away from the finals. The sense of guilt still cursed me like a ghost and I couldn’t pardon myself. But I had to talk to him. Not for any forgiveness, but I just wanted to at least say something.

“Hi… Umm. Do you feel better?”

“Yes.” No emotion.
“I’m sorry. I really wanted to go, just…” I didn’t know what to say more.

“It’s okay. I would prefer not talking about this.” He cut short.

None of us said anything more. I didn’t even know what to say. But at that moment, I felt like I was not deserved to be his friend. What kind of friends acted like that? Definitely, the thing I knew was that the guilt would haunt me for a long, long time. I felt ashamed about myself.

And I totally deserved it.

 

—–

 

One year had passed.

I was having breakfast, in my break time, with him on the stone chair after buying it from the “canteen”. To be honest, I think it’s hard to consider it as proper breakfast, since it only consists of some noodles and 2 piece of small meatballs. That’s even generous. I could even eat all of them in one bite. Or maybe I had big stomach.

My memory of the past suddenly came through my mind. I could still sense the feeling of regret. Most importantly, I felt that I needed to talk to him about something.

“Hoang, I need to ask you something?” I said slowly.

“What?”

“Um, remember the thing last year?… Still you hate me?” I asked.

“No. I thought you were busy and didn’t want to go. It’s ok.” He answered, his voice low.

My heart stopped for a moment. This was what he thought as a reason for nearly a year? His words struck through my heart like a piece of arrow. Leaning toward him as the speed of light, I immediately explained to him what had happened on that day and tried to defend myself. He only answered with some simple nods. But at the same time, I realized that maybe he was right. I was busy with my own anger, my own selfishness that I didn’t have time to visit him. I was busy insulting other people instead of visiting him when he needed the most. I was a truly bad friend. I would never forget this as it might be one of the most expensive consequences I had ever caused in my life.

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The Contrition