Wednesday 25 October 2023

Short Story 2023 Featured Writer, Sherene David

The Wish

It was hot. But then again it was always hot here. And here every day was the same for Patrick; he would wake up fully drenched in sweat, though he only wore his white sleeveless undershirt to bed and had the fan on all night. He would then proceed to his routine, toilet, teeth and tea; in that same order. The routine had worked for him for the past sixty years or so, and he found no reason to change it now.

Tea in hand he would sit on his front porch some fifty or so steps from his fence and gate and wait, phone in hand, for his children to call, they lived in the city and phoned Patrick to unsuccessfully reason with him into coming back to live with them. He liked that his family wanted him back and that he wasn’t an old reject shunned away; he had come out of his own will five years ago and intended to stay here until he died. It wasn’t his will to do so; he loved the city and had sworn to never return, but here he was, passing day after day, and liking this nearly abandoned town more as time passed.

Sipping his tea, he waved to the passersby who would shout out to greet him. Patty Uncle, for that was what the people here called him, was a local celebrity; they all knew him and he knew all of them; for what made him famous, was that he had come back. As far as people knew of this place, anyone who left here would never return and Patrick who had in his youth and prime left for the big city had come back after nearly four decades. And that too without his family. This strange reappearance of Patrick, now an old greying man made him the talk of the town, but he had only one thing to say, he wanted to die where he was born. So there he was, on his front porch ready to start this day too.

He received his call and graciously declined his son for the umpteenth time; No, he was not going to go back, and also no, he would not want them to come visit him for the weekend. He knew that they did not like it here and that meant that if they did come over, all his energy would be spent rejecting their pleas all day long. He had better things to do, much pressing matters to attend to. He was a busy man, even in his sixties and even in here where time seemed to stay still.

Call done, he got up from his chair and went inside his house, Rego Mansion, the house where he grew up. It was an old bungalow, with a slanted roof that extended over the front porch where Patrick had placed his easy chair primarily used for his morning tea and call. The roof tiles were probably red at one point of time but now they had a brown and greyish color. The house sat in the middle of Patrick’s ancestral land, he had inherited it from his father, and now it would go to his children after he was gone. The land was filled with trees and plants; two coconut trees by the front gate forming a natural arc and rose bushes by the side along the pathway leading to the house. Patrick walked out all dressed and locked his door. With a few kicks he got his old white moped started and was on his way.


Five years ago, he had received a call from his father, so Patrick packed his bag and took the bus and came back to his hometown. He, like his sons had tirelessly and fruitlessly tried to convince his old man to leave the town and live with him and his family, but Martin had refused every single time. Patrick had had no idea why this town was so important for his father; he had even felt great pangs of guilt when he had left the old man to his fate so many years ago; the oddly visits now and then barely stood for anything, but Martin was an adamant old man and so was Patrick.

But then suddenly he received news that his father was dying and so Patrick was going to say goodbye, to not only his father, but also to the wretched town. There wasn’t even proper cable television there let alone a cinema. Even though entertainment was one of this place’s weaknesses, to Patrick, there were worse things in this hellhole town than not having a movie to watch. Patrick had been seething in his hatred for the town and was more than ready to finish his bond with everything there. He would sell off the land and if that took too long he would leave it to its fate; an abandoned piece of land was not an uncommon sight in the town.

Patrick made the last few days of old Martin as comfortable as he could, picking up his father’s chores and doing them as directed by the old man himself. Patrick even tended to the garden on his dad’s insistence. Martin had died soon after, but Patrick had stayed on, first it was for a few days, then months and suddenly all his distaste for the town had vanished, he was, just like Old Martin, unbelievably adamant and had decided to stay on, continue the work that his father was doing all these years, his children had tried effortlessly to take him back with them and had finally given up and gone back to the city.

Five years since his father’s death, Patrick had taken up ownership of Rego Mansion, tended to his garden and was now the town’s beloved Patty Uncle. Though the townsfolk could not quite understand his presence, they nevertheless appreciated his being there. He would amuse them with stories of the big city; of restaurants and parks and many more things, however he would always end his stories with the same line, “But that compares to nothing when you’ve got the sea breeze and the fresh fish!” and for the people of the town this line meant that their little town was not so bad, after all Patty Uncle, the big city man preferred this place too.


On his moped, Patrick drove to the beach, and having parked his bike strode down for his walk by the waters. Waving again to his townsfolk he slipped into his thoughts strolling inattentively along the shore as the waves washed upon his feet. He thought about his father, and his father’s revelation about the town and the house, his decision to move back ‘home’ to carry on his father’s legacy and whether he would pass onto his children this secret that he had so dearly held onto for the past five years. Would he be willing that one of his young children would come back to a town that wasn’t theirs and carry on his work? They had their whole lives ahead of them and what Patrick would want them to do would be selfish. He had taken up the role after he had hit his fifties and that was thanks to Martin’s long years. Whatever his decision was he had to be quick with it, he was an old man and unlike old Martin was not going to make it to 93.

Lost in these thoughts, he was completely unaware and a bit taken by surprise when he felt someone next to him; a quick jerk of the neck eased his startle and he spoke rather loudly and a little in panic,

“Why don’t you creep quieter next time Mel!”

“Sorry Patty... That really was not my intention, you know that-” said Mel trailing off.

“Mel, I know that, but my reflex doesn’t though, neither does my heart, man, announce yourself next time! From afar, maybe a ‘here comes Mel!’ Or ‘Mel approaching’ or anything” finished Patrick.

“I did old man,” retorted Mel, “Several times actually, yelled out your name but you kept on and I thought you were having a stroke!” then gasped taking a long breath, for a startled Patrick had given Mel a fright as well.

“What is it Mel?” asked Patrick shortly, “I’m not having a stroke and you clearly didn’t run down the beach to resuscitate me, so tell me!”

“Easy Patty,” said Mel,

“Delnaz told me your kid came into town, the girl, and I said to Del that I’d look for you to tell you that.”

Patrick’s heart skipped a beat, “Jo’s here!”

“Yes, Patty! Jo’s here!” said Mel, mocking Patrick,

“Why is your head a little off today, man? Maybe you are having that stroke.”

“Oh, okay genius, why couldn’t you lead with the news that Jo is here-- and who told Del?”

“Del says she saw her drive in through town, swears it was Jo and that she was headed to Rego Mansion”

“I have to go then Mel, thanks,” and saying so turned around and walked as fast as he could, from behind Mel yelled, “See you in the evening then”. But Patrick was out of his earshot and his brisk walking had turned into a slow jog.

Melvin John was Old Martin’s caretaker, when Martin let him and that wasn’t very often. Now he ran a small roadside all-purpose store with Delnaz, his wife. For Patrick, Mel was his closest and only friend in the town and the two, along with a couple more, would play rummy every other night. It was a distraction that Patty was thankful to have.

Back on his moped, Patrick rode as fast as he could,

"Why is she here?’ He spoke aloud to himself, this was not like a phone call that he could simply add to his routine. Jo being here could derail things.

He had made it clear that he did not want them to come. But Jo wouldn’t listen, just like he didn’t and just like his father didn’t, theirs was a family of stubborn people, it was a generational thing. And why hadn’t Bobby told him anything about Jo coming over when he spoke this morning. The siblings had ganged up on him and Jo even more resolute than her brother had definitely overpowered and bullied him into silence thought Patrick. Bobby, he could handle but Jo.

As he neared the house, he saw her from afar, she was there on his porch, slumped on his chair, her hair was tied in a huge bun that stood right on her head, it added a few inches to her height, Mouth open, she was looking into her phone all the while looking up now and then, waiting for him. Then when she spotted him, she waved, Patrick gathered his courage stopped his bike and got down. He wouldn’t let her break him!

Jo was Patrick’s baby girl; she was his firstborn and his favorite. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for her and Jo who knew this was a clever and cunning manipulator. For the last five years however his steel reserve had lowered Jo’s confidence of breaking him. She would drive over, try to convince him and leave disheartened; but this time she came prepared. Patrick noted the big suitcase by her side as he walked in through the coconut arch. Her face had a sly smile on it.

“I’m leaving when you’re leaving.” She said, “And don’t you worry, I quit my job”


Several uninteresting days had passed, since her arrival. On the day she arrived Patty had tried unsuccessfully to send her back, she too had reasoned with him into going back, both conversations had hit a dead end. The next day onward, Patty would wait for her to start the ‘leaving’ conversation but she had surprised him, she would go on with the days just as he did and when he would try talking her out of the house she would only say, “Let’s leave together”.

Jo caused no disruption to his daily routine, yet she was always there, living out his decision with him, making every moment that passed harder for him. What was Jo doing with her life, spending it with him in an old family home in a nearly abandoned town? The stubbornness had to stop somewhere, maybe it was time to change their inherent pattern of stubbornness, maybe it was time to leave with her, forget what Old Martin had asked of him or at least tell her why he had decided to stay.


“Your grandfather called it ‘Mrijick’” said Patty.

The both of them sat on the porch on a brisk hot morning, Jo was quietly sipping her tea when he spoke; she lifted her head but kept quiet, he continued,

“When I came here to care for him during his last days, he would insist on working in the garden, caring for the house and I begrudgingly took over for him, I would do everything he wanted done while he stood by the side and inspected the quality of work, he’d say, “Oh look! you haven’t tended to that rose bush yet, or what about having that leaky pipe fixed?” or something like that.”

Patrick spoke slowly, considering each word before it left his mouth, “He wanted the house in order. As it had always been, and he was dying, so I complied, even if unhappily!”

He was sure Jo would think him crazy if he blurted it all out. He had thought Old Martin was crazy after all. But he wasn’t telling her to convince her. He was telling her so that they could both move on. She, to her dazzling career and life in the city, and him here, in Old Martin’s ‘Rego House’. 

He fell silent for a while, looked at Jo, who was listening attentively, so he continued, “In my head I wondered what he would say if I told him I was going to leave the house abandoned after he was gone, but I stayed quiet, I could not, because he had cared for this house as if it were his own limb, and when he was living out his last days, I didn’t want to break his heart by telling him I would leave soon after and abandon his precious house. One day, right on this porch, he said he called it ‘Mrijick’, because that is what his father called it. The Mrijick, he said was the spirit of the house, I asked him what that meant, was the house alive? I believed him to be groggy or hallucinating, but he was lucid, as clear as he had ever been. To his last day, Jo, Old Martin was the man he had always been. That very stubbornness, that very gait. If he weren’t so exasperating, you’d actually find him funny too!

But let me continue, Old Martin said, “No, Patty, the house is not alive, but she holds the spirit.”

I could hardly believe him. All those years he had spent alone in this house, away from family, children, grandchildren was because he was caring for a ‘spirit’, he might as well have said he was raising unicorns.”

Jo listened without a peep, Patty breathed heavy then looked inside the house, then looked back at her,
“What does the spirit do?” I asked him, seething on the inside as I thought of his wasted life, “It protects” he replied, “You wouldn’t believe me Patty, but it is true. I’ve seen it, it roams the house.”

By this, I had had enough, I wasn’t going to encourage his whims anymore. But he continued, “My father, told me of the Mrijick a few days before he died, and so I was left the caretaker of the spirit. The house is where it was born and it could not leave the house, if the house was left without a master, if this spirit was left without a caretaker, then it would moan and howl and lament its abandonment.”

I spoke back to him curtly, “So, Pappa, you are the caretaker of a magical, celestial pet, and if you leave then it will cry.” He raged in anger at me, “It has been in our family for centuries, it protects our heritage and our lives and you call it a pet!”

I snorted my disbelief at him. He was not going to convince me of whatever this madness was. But he was on the path to convert me; so he continued, “Patty, when we die, the Mrijick absorbs our spirit and we live within it, and in caring for it, we care for our ancestors, our family, your mother... And when we abandon it, we leave behind all these people, and that will cast us in darkness. The wails of such a pure spirit will surely curse us.”

Pappa died that evening. And the thought remained in my head, soon after all of you came and we had the funeral, I decided to stay behind a few more days and close up Rego mansion for good, but each day that I stayed there, Pappa’s words would echo relentlessly in my head, I found myself caring for the house, tending the garden, watering the rose bushes just as he had before me.

It wasn’t that I was caring for some spirit Jo, I have been here five years and I haven’t seen anything in the house, no supernatural pure spirit roaming about, but I feel the need to care for the house, because that was why he called me back from the city, because he believed in this life that he led. And I felt I needed to respect his life. He had let me go to the city knowing too well that he would be the last caretaker of the mansion and even in that fear, he let me live my life, the way I wanted to.

Being the stubborn man that he was, I was certain that the news of his death would be given to me by Mel but when he called and asked me to be there with him, I knew how important it was to him that I knew of his reasons and why he had stayed back. So I did too.”

Several minutes of silence passed. Neither of them said anything. But Jo realised something, Patty wasn’t going to leave. He had bound himself to the dying words of his father. Then Patty spoke again,
“I didn’t know what I would do with this story of my father Jo. Was I going to pass it to you or Bobby so that one day you may have to leave your happy comfortable lives to come take my place when I was  gone or let this fairytale end with me? But I know this, that when I am truly gone you can decide on your own, just as I did. But for now you have to live your life where your life is.”

“I’ll leave tomorrow.” Jo spoke softly, “But I will be visiting you often. Whatever it is that you are fulfilling, you don’t have to do it as a lonely old man, like big pappa.”

Patty laughed, he liked that his children liked him, because for most of his life, he had resented his old man. Then he went inside came back dressed in his outerwear,

“Ready for the beach?” he asked as he walked to his moped. “Sure” replied Jo, “let me put on my shoes.”

She walked through the living space and as she entered her room, there it was. At first she did not know what she was looking at. Her eyes seemed hazy and her vision disturbed. Perhaps it was some sort of smoke that was passing through, and then it became clearer, the iridescent, and subtly smoking ball was staring right at her. In it she almost thought she saw her mother in the opaqueness of the smoke, Jo stood frozen at the sight. The ‘thing’ slowly approached her and as it came nearer to her it vanished.

Was it a hallucination? Had she imagined it all since she somehow wanted to believe in the story she had just heard? Was it real? Composing herself, she walked back out and sat on the moped, still trying to understand. Maybe it was like what happens when you watch a horror movie, you have a few frights here and there until you slowly forget about the movie. Jo decided she was going to keep what she had seen to herself. No reason to tell her father that she had seen the spirit that he hadn’t for five years. She wasn’t certain how he would react and she wasn’t sure of what she had seen anyway.

Patrick’s moped slowly moved maneuvering the potholes efficiently. As they neared the beach, Jo asked, “Do you think mom is part of the Mrijick too?”

“Well,” said Patty, “that’s as good a guess as any, and if she is, then better in the Mrijick than anywhere else.”

No comments:

Post a Comment