Short Fiction

Cage


     Words by Min Naung 


 Jason felt sick. It had always been painful but this time, it was unbearable. He slammed down the laptop lid and threw it on the bed. At that moment, the door opened a little and a head peered out from the gap. It was Aunt Gracia.

“Is everything okay?”

“Yeah. Just a small argument” Jason replied. 

She smiled at him understandingly and left the room.

Jason sat down on the bed and reflected over what had happened. After all, this was only one of the usual Skype conversations with his father Tim. The things that they talked about were nothing new. Why was he feeling so sick this time? It was almost as if seventeen years of pent-up feelings had burst out inside him. Maybe he was tired. Tired of these ‘conversations’ that he had to bear. Tired of his life. Tired of everything.

“This is the last straw.” Jason said to himself as he pulled out the suitcase in his wardrobe and started packing. He put in as many clothes as he could and other necessities – a towel, a toothbrush and a packet of soap. He took all the money in the drawer and his chequebook as well. Overall, it didn’t take more than 15 minutes. When he was done, he left the suitcase leaning near the door and sat on his bed. All that remained was to wait. Aunt Gracia usually wouldn’t sleep until 9. On days like this, she would go back to her room as early as 8:30, just to give him some space. He waited till 10 to be safe and left the room.

It was dark outside. Aunt Gracia had a habit of closing all the doors and lights before she went to sleep. Good thing he remembered to bring a torchlight. He navigated his way across the dining room, tiptoeing around the chairs and table in the dark and reached the entrance. The door could only be locked from the inside so he left it there, and hid the keys under the doormat. On the days he used to come back home late, that was the place where Aunt Gracia put the keys so that he could enter without Tim noticing. Aunt Gracia wouldn’t know he had left and hidden the keys under the doormat until the morning.

He already had a plan. He would take a taxi to the garage in Hlaing, and sleep there. Since Tim left, he was given all the keys to his house and other buildings the family owned except for the important ones related to the business. He would stay in the garage till morning and then he would go to Bago, either with a taxi or a bus. From there he would move north, far away from Tim’s associates who would try to find him as soon as his absence became news. Beyond that he didn’t know anymore. Maybe he would do odd jobs to keep himself alive. Maybe he would find something or someone to support him

         The street lights were not working. Even in a wealthy neighbourhood like this, electrical outages were a common occurrence. Jason pressed the button and switched on the flashlight and proceeded slowly along the street. The entire neighbourhood seemed dead with the darkness. There were no pedestrians – not even the sound of the pure-bred dogs in the neighbouring houses could be heard. It took about five minutes, but Jason soon reached the main road, and saw a taxi approaching. He raised his hand to stop it and smiled as he thought of Aunt Gracia. She would be too afraid to take a taxi at night.

“The drivers could be robbers. They could take you to some unknown place and take all your things. It’s in the news.” She would say to Jason.

But he didn’t care.

The taxi sped on with high speed before coming to a stop near the lamppost. Jason walked to the driver and told his destination. Scrutinizing him suspiciously, the driver charged Jason 2000 kyats more than normal. Jason felt infuriated but he didn’t have time to complain. The longer he stayed in this neighbourhood, the more chances there were for him to be discovered, even under the protection of the night. He glanced back to the dark street where his house was, and hurled the suitcase into the backseat.

        In fact, Jason’s life could be considered perfect. There was no reason to leave like this. His family was wealthy enough and Tim was quite liberal with pocket money. Jason received a good education, and got into a good college. He didn’t face any serious challenges in his life, nor did he have any serious deficiencies. He wasn’t athletic, but he had a satisfactory body and no major health problems. He even had a girlfriend entirely devoted to him.

So what was the problem? He could find one – Tim. Ever since he was young, Tim was obsessed with America, and Tim wanted his son to have the same obsession. Tim would buy him storybooks from America and read them out at night. Even when he was barely old enough to talk, Tim would take Jason to the study and play with the globe together. Jason would have to find out where California is, New York is, and so on. Tim’s everyday actions and talks always had something to do with America. In fact, even in his sleep, Tim would probably dream about America.

        So Tim’s happiness was indescribable when he got a chance to apply for a green card. A citizen there was willing to marry him, and he moved to America once he got the green card. Without a shred of concern, Jason was left behind with Aunt Gracia, Tim’s sister. As Tim’s son he was also eligible to receive a green card so Tim applied for it immediately, and Jason was to follow him and live with Tim’s new family as soon as possible. In the meantime, Tim arranged Jason to attend a 2-year college in the city and get an Associate degree. After that, Jason was supposed to go to New York and apply for a public university there.

        “Here. 7000 kyats.”

The driver grudgingly took the money, irritated by the labyrinth of narrow streets he had to navigate to get there. Jason had originally intended to ask the taxi to stop somewhere nearby and walk to the garage on his own, but he was unfamiliar with the place and wasn’t willing to wander around the place at night. The extra 2000 kyats also refrained him from feeling sorry about inconveniencing the driver.

The garage had been abandoned even before Tim left. Nobody from his family came here, except for Jason and his few friends to have a small party in secret. But even then, it had been months since Jason had come. It was a perfect place to spend the night.

A homeless person was sleeping near the garage door. Trying not to wake him up, Jason slowly opened the door. Inside was complete darkness. Heaving a sigh, Jason took out his flashlight again and walked inside.

Jason chose the place with the least dust, and cleared the spider webs. He found an old dust cloth on the table, checked if it was clean enough and used it as a mat. It would be another long wait again. Buses started operating only at 6, and he had many hours to spend before he could leave. Suddenly, he felt dry and cold, and regretted not bringing a blanket or a jacket. It would be cold when he got on the bus too. If Tim and Aunt Gracia saw him, they would be surprised. They never thought him as capable of taking risks. How would Aunt Gracia react when she discovered that he was gone? For now, she was sleeping soundly in her isolated room, oblivious to all that had happened, thinking that her nephew and brother had an ordinary argument, just like old times.

        Tim’s plan was generally fine, except that Jason wasn’t too keen on going to America. One of Tim’s greatest disappointments was that his son didn’t share the same obsession for America as he did. But a green card would never hurt, so Jason didn’t really object to the plan, despite his hesitations. It wasn’t like Tim would listen to Jason either way.

The plan became objectionable when Jason started facing restrictions on his education. Tim wanted him to become a doctor, or if that seemed too impossible, a lawyer.

“Why not go to a law school? Answer LSAT while you’re attending college.”

Tim would always say before he left, and he continued to annoy Jason with those so-called ‘advices’ on Skype. Jason’s teenage dream was to take music as a major and join the showbiz eventually, but the lack of a secure job freaked him out when he grew old enough. So Jason settled for what he considered to be a relatively safe psychology major with good job prospects, but Tim didn’t agree to that either. As someone who still couldn’t escape from the traditional values of his generation, Tim believed that a doctor, an engineer and a lawyer were the only ‘respectable’ careers that one could have. Well, Tim knew enough about his son to know that making Jason an engineer was out of the question, so he was pinning his hopes on either a law or a medical career.

Suggestion turned into arguments, and arguments turned to heated fights. Soon, Jason was making sure that he was always offline when Tim was online. Because oversea calls are expensive, Tim asked from Jason a compromise. They would talk to each other twice a month only. In return, Jason must be present every time Tim wanted to talk.  Every conversation left Jason gasping for breath.

Lately, Tim started to have a different tone. Tim wanted to make him drop out of college altogether. “Schools are getting expensive” he would say. Jason knew that he was being influenced by his new wife, who didn’t put much value on education. Not that Jason was too keen on it either, but at least he believed a degree was worthwhile to get. And the more conversations they had, the more determined Tim became. And the last conversation was serious.

Tim outlined his plan. Jason was to quit college, and apply for an online diploma while waiting for a green card. Then he would move to America to work in Tim’s business. Jason was appalled. To quit the college he was attending, where he was just starting to have new friends? To attend an online course in a country where it used to take half an hour for Facebook to load? Tim said that with an online diploma, he could still apply for a college in America or a job. No doubt his stepmother’s genius was behind this plan.

They had a fight, and Jason left the conversation. Tim would be fuming to have his plans, and skype call, rejected, but Jason couldn’t care less. Tim had been exerting too much control in his life and Jason was determined to stop that, even if it meant leaving home. He would become homeless like the guy sitting near the door outside, and that would show Tim the folly of his plans. He had driven his own son to destitution.

        There was a screeching of sirens outside. Maybe a police car, or an ambulance. Jason couldn’t differentiate. He had never been in this area at night before, and he surely didn’t like the experience. In the silent of the night, he heard some mumbling outside. The homeless guy was probably roused from his sleep. Jason felt the urge to get up and walk around, but the silence and the darkness forced him to remain where he was.

Jason was prepared to share the same fate as the homeless guy outside. The money that he had brought would all be used up. There was the chequebook which was under his freedom to use, but without much money in it. Unlike the homeless guy, Jason still had some hope. He could work – handle manual labour, maybe – in a factory or workshop. The only thing for him to do was to leave as soon as possible.

He thought about May. She would be worried sick if she knew what had happened. She was sweet and cute, but too plain. Their relationship had stopped being exciting months ago. Every day, at school, she would bring him lunch and they would eat and talk. After he finished his classes, they would go out together to some place and talk again. Sometimes his friends would join in and that would make it fun, but most of the time, it was just talking and talking. She never seemed to get tired of talking, nor did she have any problems with him. She listened to everything he said without any protests. In fact, she was too obedient that it started to bore him.

        May was calling him. Jason didn’t want to go, but he had to. He had never disappointed May before. He was always a good boyfriend, albeit one who is tired of her. But when he reached her hand, May was no more. Instead, he saw his mother looking at him intently. Beside her, Aunt Gracia was crying.

Jason woke up. He felt dizzy and tired. Sunlight shone brightly through the window, and the unexplored garage from yesterday was naked before his eyes. He took some time to reacquaint himself with his surroundings. The dusty table and spider webs remained the same as the night before. The concrete floor was bare and cold the same way. The indifferent broken windows, the empty space – everything was as it was. He realized that he had finally left home. Stretching himself, he finally prepared to leave. It was probably 7 in the morning.

The homeless guy had already left, and nothing remained that reminded Jason of his existence. But Jason left the door unlocked – there was nothing worth preserving in the garage, and the homeless guy could sleep there if he wanted. Jason stood still in front of the garage for a few minutes, but finally picked up his suitcase and left. He walked along the narrow street and made a turn. Before he had barely walked for a minute, he made another turn again. In the rainy season, these places would be flooded with mud.

Jason’s hands started to ache. He should have put less things in the suitcase. Would he really be able to give up every comfort? Tim wasn’t super rich, but at least he could afford to give him enough to live on. Did it really matter if he got a degree or not? Did it really matter if his wife was annoying? And May – could he really bear to leave May? Just because he was tired of this stable relationship that didn’t mean that he could cut her off like that. And what about Aunt Gracia? He thought about how his mother in her last moments, entrusted him to Aunt Gracia. He virtually grew up in Aunt Gracia’s care. Mother? Why did he dream about her? It had been so long.

It was a rare occurrence, but he found a taxi before getting to the main street. The driver was probably happy to get his first customer. He rushed to carry Jason’s luggage and put it in the backseat. After Jason had settled inside, he asked;

“Where are you going, son?”

In Jason’s mind, he was planning to say ‘bus station’, but he accidentally blurted out,

“Home.”

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