Chapter 1 – Formosa
"Ow," I grumbled as I hobbled my way down the uneven sidewalk to get to my house. I'd grazed my knee in a rather unfortunate accident with a football, my English teacher and some safety glue. It was something not to be discussed. I made sure to scowl at one of the many construction sites over our street, forcing me off my beloved sidewalk.
Evil construction aside, I did make it to my house, letting myself in just in case father had fallen asleep in the middle of the afternoon again. He was like that.
I checked the couch, and then my father's bedroom after. He wasn't asleep there. "Dad?" I called out, starting to wonder where he was. "You okay in here?"
I made my way to the kitchen. When I got there, I did not see my father. Instead, my uncle who I hadn't seen in years was sitting there, head in his hands.
"Uncle Antonio?" I said, rushing over to the side of the table. "What's wrong? Why are you here?"
My father and my uncle had never gotten along, so I didn't see the man often. I didn't know why, exactly. Father told me my uncle was lazy, a moocher and a lecher, but I was never too sure my father wasn't a little biased. I loved him, but he wasn't perfect. Grandpa told me Dad and Antonio were rivals back in childhood, one that was expected to be just your usual sibling rivalry, but grew out of hand.
Now, however, Uncle Antonio was here. When he looked up at me, his eyes were red and bloodshot, "Oh, Mei – and he started ranting at a million miles an hour in his odd Spanish-Portuguese creole (they had been born in an isolated border village, so they spoke on odd mix. Dad later learned proper Portuguese and moved to the city, something that apparently never went down too well with the rest of the family.)
"Um, I'm sorry, I don't know–"
"Que? Oh, of course!" Antonio came to the realisation and started speaking English. "Of course you don't what I – I was just so – Oh, Mei!" He sobbed, and I tried to prepare myself for whatever information could possibly be so bad. I barely even knew my uncle, what could cause this? "It's – my brother – your father, Mei, your father. He's dead."
It's hard to prepare for that.
"Wait... what?" I asked. No, he couldn't have meant that. He couldn't be...
"Mm... Apparently, it was a car accident. It seems like a terrible anticlimax for him; he always wanted to do things so important, he shouldn't have been killed just like... Apparently they wanted to contact you, but couldn't reach your cell phone."
"I ran out of battery this morning, and couldn't be bothered recharging it," I answered blankly. That was stupid, not knowing when...
"Aha... Well, I was the only other family they knew to contact. I didn't know where he was or what he was doing; I always thought he would have moved far away, one of the costs... The fact this was less than an hour away always took me by surprise."
"I see." We'd moved almost eight years ago, and I never fully understood why. Another fight between Dad and his brother. Since we'd moved about fifty miles, I never thought we were that hard to track down. I just thought the family didn't want to find us.
"I'm sorry," he said, wiping his eyes. "I – I should be – Your father is dead and you need someone to be–"
"You two didn't even like each other," I said.
"You didn't like each other, but you're..." I shook my head. "I'm sorry. This must be... He's dead and..."
"I see," he said vaguely. "I – Your father and I didn't hate each other, Mei, we just..."
"You hadn't spoken for the last eight years."
He sighed. "I know."
"...So am I going to go with you?" I asked. "Where will I go? You're the only family I know, even that, I've barely..."
"I know," he says. "I'm not sure. There's always your birth family."
"I've never met them!"
Uncle Antonio sighed. "I know, but I don't know what to do. With you, with anything. I'm sorry Mei."
I wiped a tear from my eye. "I doubt it's your fault."
Uncle Antonio stayed with me a few more days. I asked him if I was meant to go to his house, at least while we figured out what to do. He said no, at least not for now; it was too far away, given the chances I wouldn't stay there. It was patently obvious that he had absolutely no idea what to do, much the same as me.
One night, I overheard him on the phone as I was getting some food late at night. He didn't notice me, and continued his rather strange conversation.
"Yes... Yes, I know... She's..." he said. "It took quite a bit of effort to even find you..."
I was reasonably certain eavesdropping like that was not what I was meant to be doing. But I found myself unable to stop – what was going on? Was it something to do with me; with what was to be done with me now Dad was gone? If it was, didn't I have a right to know?
With that quite flimsy excuse, I listened on.
Antonio sighed. "She's lost. Confused. Grieving. What would you expect?" I was certain they were talking about me now, and hence felt rather more self-righteous in my spying. But I still didn't know anything.
"I don't know her. My brother and I... I haven't seen the girl since she was eight years old, not counting now of course... Yes, I know you–" there was a pause as whoever was on the other line said something. "But she's still one of yours! Not mine!"
I frowned. Yours? Who the hell was I meant to 'belong' to? My father was dead, and I was trying very hard to understand what was going to happen to me next. I understood that my uncle didn't really know me, hadn't talked to his brother for a long time nor really liked him to begin with, and didn't know where I was going to fit into any of this – but still, hearing him discuss me this way...
Who could he possibly be talking to?
I decided to postpone any reservations I may have about that small thing called privacy. He was talking on our landline, so I quickly darted upstairs to the extension (making sure to be quiet so he wouldn't hear me.)
It was too late, however. "I will have to think about what you have told me tonight," an unfamiliar voice in an accent I wasn't too sure of said. "I thank you, however, for contacting me about this. My best wishes to both you and her."
I heard my uncle sigh deeply. "...Fine then," he says. "Adios. Call me soon."
The other man hung up and I did too quickly, just in case Antonio figured I was on the other end of the phone. I closed my eyes and slumped against the wall.
There wasn't anything to do. How could I explain to Uncle Antonio I was angry because I was spying and overheard him discussing me? Eavesdropping has never really been a traditional method for getting the moral high ground. Besides, what would I say? What would he say? Who on Earth was he talking to anyway? Did I really want to know quite yet? I was already tired and scared after what had happened to my father; perhaps it was stupid, but I couldn't bring myself to try and make that worse yet.
So in great confusion, I went down the corridor and back to bed.
Uncle Antonio and I had to chose things for the funeral. A casket, flowers and such. Antonio kept trying to help, but he... really wasn't. He kept choosing things he thought Dad would have liked, and maybe, for themselves and the style, he would have. But not for a funeral. Dad was always very picky about funerals; they should be as solemn and as simple as possible.
"Are sure that's right?" Antonio said at the collection of flowers I had selected – all white, lilies and blossoms. "It doesn't fit him."
"It's what he would have wanted," I said. "He wouldn't have wanted this to be a colorful occasion."
Antonio looked like he might cry. "That's not fair," he said. "We loved him so much. We should be able to celebrate who he was."
"You hadn't spoken to him for years!" I snapped. There was a pause. "Besides, it's not about us."
Antonio said nothing, and I sighed.
"Come on. Let's just pay for these. Then we'll have lunch."
I picked vaguely at my noodles, trying to pick out pieces of capsicum. I hated capsicum. Whose brilliant idea was it to put that in noodles?
"So," said Antonio, clearly really uncomfortable. "...How are you feeling?"
I stared at him. "My father is dead. How do you think?"
"Sorry," he said. "I didn't think. It's just... he was my brother too, Mei. I may not have spoken to him for awhile but..."
I sighed. "I know. I"m sorry," I said. "I've been cruel about that."
Antonio didn't respond. I frowned.
"Why did you and Dad stop talking?"
He looked back at me and winced. "That's a sort of complicated story," he said. "I'd rather not talk about it, if it's possible."
"...Oh," I said. I was still very curious and confused, but I didn't want to push. Some part of me wanted to ask about the phone call the night before, but I doubted he would answer honestly, and the good it would even do.
In a moment, my uncle took pity on me. "Look, I once told your father something, alright?" he said. "And he... wouldn't believe me."
"Is that all?"
"It was something somewhat important."
I nodded slowly. I still didn't fully understand, but I also felt I wouldn't get any more information about this.
"Why did you come back for me?"
He gave me an odd look. "Que?"
"After he died," I said. "I mean, sure, they called you, but... you hadn't seen me since I was eight. You probably could have, and should have refused. Someone I actually know would have taken care of me... and then I probably would have gotten shuffled off to social services," I said.
"You're my niece. I couldn't abandon you like that."
He gave him a look. He sighed.
"I – I miss him," he admitted. "I always have, long before he... I still can't believe he's really dead. On the other hand, it feels like he's been dead for years. That doesn't make any sense, does it?"
"No, but I think that's understandable, given the circumstances."
"I never wanted to lose him from my life," Antonio said. "We fought a lot – a lot – but he... I wouldn't even have told him if it wasn't for..." He took a long gulp of water and plastered a fake smile on his face. "Oh well though. That was years ago; there's no use worrying about it now."
"Shh," he said. "Hey, look at that. You've barely touched your noodles."
"There's too much capsicum in them. I hate capsicum."
"How can you hate capsicum?" he asked. I shrugs. "I don't know what I'll do with you."
I couldn't sleep the night before the funeral. I had these horrible visions of my father; of what he would think of all this, whether he would hate his brother being here, whether he wold allow me to put him in the ground like that. None of it made any sense, but I couldn't help it. It was hard to understand that my father was actually dead; that we would put him in the ground and it would be over.
My uncle Antonio, I think, had sneaked out to pick up some extra groceries or something. He hadn't told me that (he thought I was asleep), but I heard him open the fridge, curse and then his car start going, so I assumed it was something like that.
A few hours into my restless turning (at approximately two AM), I thought I heard a knocking on my bedroom door. I blinked a few times, wondering if I was really that sleep deprived and hallucinating. Who knocks at your bedroom door at two AM? It was probably just Uncle Antonio asking where something was, but wait, wasn't he out?
I'll admit, when I made my way to the door I was a little frightened. Nightmarish visions sprung to life of my father being right behind that door, ready to destroy me for being willing to put him in the ground. That wasn't what I found, though.
I man I didn't know was standing on the other side. He was an Asian man, taller than me, with an unnaturally calm demeanor. "Mei Fernandez, I assume," he said.
"...Who the hell are you?"
He smiled slightly. "My name is Kiku Honda," he said. "Please get dressed and come out of your room. Keep your cell phone, if you are frightened. But you may wish to talk to me."