My father hauled his collar strongly. Reno didn’t fight back even though he framed my father’s figure with his towering body. One fist could knock him out if Reno ever wanted. His mouth gaped, inhaling. The neighbors had no bravery to nigh or even retrieve them both. I managed to get up with all the remnant energy and finally made it on my third attempt. I staggered to reach both of them.
“You want the money, right? Please let him go.” I had no other choice except to swap the money with Reno. We needed that money, but Reno’s life was at stake. My father immediately grabbed the white envelopes from my hand. Without any arguments, that tall and skinny man, in a disheveled dark t-shirt and jeans was leaving us behind. The crowds disperse.
I couldn’t blame any of them who did nothing to help Reno out. Their own lives seemed more miserable. They stood side by side with affliction and consumed the disappointment almost every day. The pains were the only things binding their body and soul. I read that through their sorrowful faces and shabby clothes.
“Are you okay?” That was the first question coming out of Reno’s mouth after tidying up his school uniform. “Your wounds need treatment.” My appearance looked heartbreaking: tangled hair, bleeding mouth, reddish eyes, chafed hands, and crumpled uniform. “Let me take you to the hospital,” he offered.
“What do you think you’re doing? Do you think you’re a superhero?” Reno’s face turned pale. My sentences jabbed him.
“Don’t be too rude, Ilana. At least, you are safe from now.” My mom interrupted.
“We lost that money, Mom.”
“It’s better than losing your life.” My mom approached Reno. A smile appeared on her face. “What’s your name, dear? Thank you for coming at the right time and rescue Ilana from her father. Get inside and try our best drink if you don’t mind.”
“Just ignore her. Come on.” My mom reached Reno’s hand and guided him to the house. That boy willingly followed her.
The door’s height didn’t support Reno’s body so that the boy hunched to pass through it. Reno observed around the room. My father’s rampage left the debris inside the house. It was the worst place where all the stuff scattered anywhere, stifling the room. I cleaned the mess my father caused in silence. Reno intended to help me with the cleaning. I refused and asked him just to stay where he was. In the next ten minutes, I let myself be locked in my world and so did he.
My mom just got back from the nearest small store to buy a half kilogram of sugar and finished preparing a tea. The way she acted undoubtedly showed that she categorized Reno as a very important person (VIP) guest. Ten thousand left in her pocket was already gone.
“I don’t know whether rich people drink tea or not. But, I made this special for you. You’re our first guest.” My mom served a cup of tea. Reno was sitting at the only chair we had. In my mom’s opinion, the rich only had a fancy drink as milk and juice. They didn’t drink coffee or tea. Reno explained that a tea ceremony was even one of the Japanese cultures as well. My mom was wondering where Japan was. The only country besides Indonesia she had ever heard of was Malaysia.
I was staying in the corner after cleaning the mess, watching them. I just felt reluctant to mingle with them after arguing with my mother regarding Reno’s coming. To be honest, contrition caged me. Judging and confronting the boy who had saved me from my father’s brutality with my rude words was quite embarrassing.
“Thank you.” Reno sipped the tea.
“I hope you like it.”
“Sure. It’s good.”
“I take that as a compliment.” Then, they both exchanged stories. My mom asked many things about him, including his parents. Reno shared his childhood experience, being chased by a dog. And they laughed out loud together. Happiness had never come to my mom’s life before. But, today Reno brought that joy to this house.
“Come and visit us more often,” my mom said before Reno left our cot. That boy just nodded his head and smile.
“Thanks,” I murmured when we passed the gate toward asphalt road.
“What for?” he asked without looking at me. He might count the steps he took since he just highlighted the street in front of him.
“For drawing a smile on my mom’s lips,”
“Don’t mention it.”
“Please! Don’t come anymore.” He tipped his head, turning to me. His gaze was wondering why. “My father can do anything. You’ll be hurt.”
“I don’t mean to ....”
“It’s okay. I won’t.”
“Thank you for your understanding.”
“I like your family, your mom. At least, you’re luckier than me.”
“How can you say so? I think your mom is lovely, too.”
“I have no mom, a biological mom. She has passed away.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“By the way, you need to have a walk five hundred meters from here to take the taxi.”
“See you.” He halted after some steps forward and looked behind, waving his hands to me.
It’ was too hard to wave back, not because of my bruised hands but the mixed feeling. A part of my soul wanted him to come back. On the other hand, I never wished to cause any pain in his life. It must be so sad to live without a mother.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered to myself.
My mom had been waiting at the door when I got back to our rented house. Her cheek blushed. I could find jollity in her look.
“He’s a good boy,” she said with pride.
“And rich,” I added.
“What’s wrong with that?”
“We are not in his level, Mom.”
“Is that what your school taught you?”
“Who preached you that God judges people by their wealth?” Her question silenced me.
The students entered the school gate guarded by the security guard. A teacher in charge was standing at the gate checking the students ‘attire and attributes. Sometimes, some students disobeyed school regulations to wear proper. Others got punishment for their stylist-dyed hair. They adapted popular celebrity hairstyles just to fit with their community.
I passed the checking. Someone grasped my shoulder from behind. Nina, my cousin had stood there. Her beautiful face with perfect sculpture: pointed nose, big round eyes, and thin lips sneered at me. I responded sincerely with a smile.
“What have you said to my dad?” She talked about my uncle’s visit. “What did you and your mom beg this time?” she investigated me curtly.
“It’s enough. I ask for nothing.” She grabbed my right arm and spouted the poisonous words.
“There won’t be the word “enough” for the parasite like you and your mom.”
“Please. I don’t want to debate on this with you.” I moved away. But, then what she said broke my heart deep down.
“The parasite shouldn’t be here or anywhere. You’re like blotch on a white gown. You’re a stain for this elite school.”
The tears almost streamed down my cheek. It hurt like being stabbed by sharp a dagger. But, I never allowed the pains to vanquish me.
“What are you waiting for? Come on. Let’s get to the classroom.” Vera accosted me when the time tied me up for a while. I tried to hide my sadness behind my forced smile. “All right,” I escorted Vera who had proceeded to the building where our classroom was located.
The lift took Vera and me to the second floor. It was my first time using the lift. Getting upstairs by lift was something I avoided. But, Vera persuaded me to take the lift for time efficiency. It needed less than one minute to get to the next floor. I directly averted my gaze from Nina who had been standing opposite me when the door opened. It was not my choice to ignore her wherever in this school. She forbade me to reveal her true identity.
This time, bumping into her here felt like opening the worst book. But, sometimes my curiosity drove me to turn page by page. A certain page presented the toxic words about how she humiliated me and my mother. The others just contained stories in which she tried hard to hide our relationship as a cousin. Her circle was the only reason why she did so. She worried about losing her friends because of me.
I knew who I was. Avoiding Nina on any occasion was the best way to secure her life as well as position in the school. So, I just stared at the floor when she gave me a sharp look. Hastily stepped aside and ran to my classroom.
A blue invitation card lay on my desk without a name on it. I glanced around the room. Nobody seemed to enter the room before I did. The arrangement of the seat didn’t change. I was wondering who sent the card? Was it addressed to me? I never received any invitation cards before.