Parousia Short Story Contest Shortlist

I

     The alarm bell rang out and Michael Johnathan silently cursed as he dragged himself out of the bed, the previous night drinking spree has created a bad hangover. He walked to the toilet and vomited the last night intake.

    “I’ve got another hangover, that’s just good.” He said sacarstically and started to wash his teeth. After having his bathe and taking his breakfast which was cereal, he laid down on the sofa and started surfing the net. Working in a consulting firm has made him have a share of the luxurious side of the city. He earned pretty much money and spends his leisure time hanging out with friends and business partners in exclusive night clubs and vacation homes. After working with the consulting firm for ten years, he decided to accept that year’s festive leave and not to work through out the festive period. Christmas was in a week time and he had no plan. His phone rang and he frowned when he saw the caller ID. It was his mother’s younger sister, Miriam, who was always trying to reunite with him after the death of his mother. He totally withdrew from his family when his mum died in a ghastly car accident five years ago. Why was she calling him? Should he ignore it like he always do?

    “Miriam.” He said pensively after deciding to pick the call.

    “Michael! Thank God you picked my call. What’s up with you?I’ve been so worried and I didn’t want to come over in order not to invade on your privacy.” Miriam said.

    “Hmm…yeah. I appreciate that. How is Johnson and the kids?” He asked and rubbed his forehead, all he wanted to do was to hang up on her. Why was she always in a happy mood? He felt like she was happy about the death of his mum, which was ridiculous. He just couldn’t forget her effort in organizing a perfect burial and meeting the guests with that infectious laugh.

    “They are all fine. I was thinking it’s going to be a great idea if you can come over for Christmas celebration and maybe stay till the New year’s celebration.” Miriam said.

    “You know that I don’t celebrate things like that.” He replied and cursed under his breathe.

    “Are you at work?” Miriam asked, ignoring what he said

    “No.” He replied.

    “That’s a surprise. Why aren’t you at work?” She asked.

    “Well, I decided to accept my festive leave. Just want to spend some time alone.” He replied and stressed “ALONE”

    “That’s good, you need some time to rest and I hope you’ve been sober?” She asked.

    “Yes.” He lied.

    “I’m so glad to hear that. You have to know that your cousins, Johnson and I want you over for Christmas.” She said

    “I’m going to do whatever I like. Say hello to the kids and Johnson. Bye.” He said and hung up. He walked to his bedroom to get the keys to his vehicle, he needed to clear his head. He walked out his house and stood by his favourite car among his collection of exotic vehicles. He ran his hand through his hair as he tried calling his best friend.

    “Pick the call! Damn it!” He said and grunted.

    “Hey yo man! What’s poppin?” A deep masculine voice said over the phone.

    “Hey Daniel, I’m good. Can you meet me at Nishan’s bar?” Michael asked as he got into his vehicle.

    “You know I don’t drink anymore.”Daniel replied.

“I want to talk with you, not buy you a drink!” Michael said and drove out of his garage.

“Ohhh…..OK. I’ll meet you there in about thirty minutes.” Daniel responded.

“That’s good.” Michael said and hung up.

He drove to the bar and ordered a drink, he no longer had the hangover feeling. He saw his friend approached him and he was carrying his last child, Anastasia.

“Hey man, can we please go to a restaurant?” Daniel asked and frowned.

“Alright.” Michael replied and they left the bar without touching his drink. He knew it was because of his child. They walked to the nearest restaurant.

“M.J!” Anastasia said and chuckled. Michael picked up the four year old girl and turned swiftly on a spot. The little girl laughed and Michael smiled. Anastasia was Daniel’s third and last child from a eight years old marriage. Michael always

wondered how he managed to have a beautiful home. They settled into a chair and ordered nonalcoholic drinks.

“What’s happening?”  Daniel asked, his curiosity getting a hold on him.

“Miriam called me.” Michael replied and sighed.

“You picked her call?” Daniel asked and raised his eyebrows.

“Yeah.” Michael replied.

“All thanks to God.” Daniel said and laughed which made Michael to roll his eyes. Daniel knew all about his withdrawal from his family and his struggle with alcohol.

“She invited me for Christmas and New year’s celebration.”

“You should go.” Daniel said with all seriousness.

“I won’t go.”Michael replied with the same tone.

” Really? When are you going to stop this childishness? Your mum died five years ago when you were 27 years old. You were mad and angry, that’s understandable. Your family didn’t cause the death of your mum, you’re a full grown man now and you should be able to reason well!” Daniel said. Michael tried to stay calm because of the presence of the little girl.

“I know what’s best, alright? You having both your parents in your life till now, can’t make you understand all these.” Michael replied with an edge in his voice. Daniel knew his friend was always over sensitive when it comes to his parent. He lost his father and elder sister at the age of five, in a plane crash and then lost the only person he was holding onto, which was his mum in a car accident.

“What do you want to do for Christmas?” Daniel said and cleared his throat, he tried to change the topic.

“I’ll probably stay at home, I’m already regretting accepting this leave.” Michael replied and relaxed when her realized his friend tried to change the topic.

“Do whatever makes you happy, just know that you can always come over to my place.” Daniel said.

“Yeah, thanks.” Michael replied. They stayed for awhile and left. The week finally went by without any important event. The Christmas week came and Michael was already having a change of mind about going to his aunt’s place.

II

He drove to his aunt’s place on a Monday morning. It was a three hours drive to the country side. He watched the whole community as he drove slowly and he was overcome with nostalgia. He parked in front of his aunt’s house and got down. He walked to the door and found out it was locked, he made the mistake of not telling her that he was coming. What if they’ve moved away? He decided to stay for an hour and go to his house if nobody came, he won’t bother calling her. After waiting for thirty minutes, he saw a car parked beside his car and his aunt’s family came out. He walked out of car and his aunt screamed.

“Michael! Oh my God!” Miraim screamed and rushed to him. She gave him a tight hug.

“Hello Miriam, it’s nice seeing you again.” He said and cleared his throat. His cousins also gave him tight hugs and Johnson, his aunt’s husband, patted him on the shoulder. It was like welcoming a prodigal son after wandering for many years. They all went into the house while his cousins helped to carry his travelling bags inside. He settled into a sofa and felt uneasy.

“When did you arrive?” Miraim asked and opened a can of iced lemon drink which was served with chocolate cake.

“Hmm…..about 30 minutes ago.” Michael replied.

“We were still at the community church. The special Christmas programme has begun. Everyone is looking forward to Thursday, Christmas day.” She said and smiled.

“How have you been?” Johnson asked.

“I’ve been good, just the normal work routine. Work and a couple of drinks with friends.” Michael replied.

“Drinks?” Miriam asked and narrowed her eyes.

“Ahem….not getting drunk tho.” Michael lied and averted his gaze.

“M.J, are you going to stay till New year? You have to stay, I’ve got lot of things to show and tell you!” Lizzy, Miriam’s first child chipped in.

“Me too! I have things to show you.” A tiny voice called from one of the rooms.

“Trust me about dishing out the latest gist.” Badmus, Miriam’s second child said while pressing Michael’s phone. Michael cleared his throat and it was obvious that he was confused about what to say. The last time he saw his cousins was five years ago, at his mother’s burial. The fact that they embraced him and acted as if nothing was unusual made him speechless. Lizzy was already a sophomore in highschool, how time flies!

“Why don’t you kids let your cousin have some rest? Let’s go and prepare lunch!” Miraim ordered and her kids sauntered after her.

“The kids can be like that sometimes,  we all missed you. Welcome home.” Johnson said and patted him. He left the sitting room and Michael was alone with his thoughts. He’s a 32 years old man full of grive and soaked himself in work and parties. He tightly shut his eyes as he fought tears from spilling out. Would things have been different if his sister, mother and father were alive? He was still in a confused state when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Are you okay?” Lizzy asked.

“Yeah, I’m good. Just a little headache.” Michael replied, he was actually having headache.

“Should I tell my mum?” Lizzy asked and crossed her arms over her tummy.

“No, I’ll be fine. Just need a good sleep and probably one of your mum’s best cuisine.” Michael said and forced a smile. Miriam was a good cook.

“Alright, let me show you to your room.” Lizzy said and lead him to his room. The room was large, and he guessed it was intentionally created for guests. He nodded in satisfaction, he didn’t want to sleep in a cramped bed. He sat down and removed his sneakers.

“Do you live in a big house in the city?” Lizzy asked which startled Michael, who didn’t know his cousin was still in the room.

“Well, yes.” He answered.

“We are going to Father Cloepard’s house this evening, will you come?” Lizzy asked.

“Who is Father Cloepard? And what do you want to do there?” He asked

“He is one of the ministers at the church. We sometimes go there to share the word of God and have dinner. He is a close friend of dad.” Lizzy explained.

“No, I can’t go. I’ll prefer to relax because of this headache.” He replied, tho he knew he wouldn’t have gone even if he didn’t have headache.

“Alright. Get well soon.” Lizzy said and left. He sighed , closed his eyes and fell into a deep sleep. He finally woke up to a raging headache. He cursed and stumbled out of bed, the room was dark and the house was silent. He finally found the switch and put on the light. He walked to the sitting room and found a note on the table. The note stated that the family was at Father Cleopard’s house. He walked to the kitchen and microwaved the food left for him. He tried to eat but realized he had no appetite. He strolled to the sitting room and sat down. He eventually passed out on the sofa prior to the time the family arrived. They walked in without realizing he has fainted on the chair.

“Your cousin must be used to sleeping on the sofa after having an hectic day at work. Wake him up.” Miraim said. Lizzy walked up to him and gently tapped him.

“M.J, wake up.” She said and realized something was off. She shook him and got no response.

“Mum! Call 911! M.J’s fainted!” Lizzy screamed in a panicked voice.

“What! Oh Christ!” Miriam shouted and dialled 911. Few minutes later an ambulance arrived and the whole family drove to the hospital;as they tagged along with the ambulance. The commotion at the hospital made things worse. The nurses were trying to resuscitate him while wheeling him to the intensive care unit. Lizzy burst into tears and couldn’t stop blaming herself.

“Oh mum, he told me! He said he was having headache and told me not to tell you. I should have told you, maybe he wouldn’t be in this state now.” Lizzy said and continued to cry.

“It’s going to be fine, stop berating yourself.” Miriam said and hugged her daughter.

“He’s not going to die?” Abigail, Miriam’s last child asked.

“No, he’s not going to die. Come here.” She said and gave her deep hug. The next hours was chaotic, they were finally able to revive him but he wasn’t in the state to talk. They couldn’t go home that day, they returned the following day.

III

“Will he be able to celebrate Christmas with us?” Badmus asked and put the last angel on the tree.

“I hope so.” Miriam said and sighed.

“Where’s Lizzy?” Miriam asked

“She’s in her room.” Johnson replied and sighed. Miraim left the sitting room and walked to her daughter’s room. She knocked on the door and was asked to come in.

“Are you okay?” Miraim asked and stood at the door.

“Yes, mum. Can I go and visit him?” Lizzy asked. He was already recuperating at the hospital and visitation was allowed. He was diagnosed with severe anxiety which wasn’t really shocking to Miraim.

“But we’ve agreed to go and visit him tomorrow after church. We can all celebrate Christmas with him at the hospital.” Miriam said.

“Yeah, I know. I just want to see him today.” Lizzy replied.

“Alright, don’t be late to come home.” Miraim said and sighed.

“Thanks mum.” Lizzy said.

She walked into the hospital and enquired Michael’s ward number from the nurses at the desk, he was in room 104A. She got to the door and nervously swallowed her sputum. She opened the door and walked in. Michael was on the bed when he heard the door opened and he thought it was one of the nurses who wanted to check on him.

“Lizzy?” He called out and blinked

“What are you doing here? I thought y’all are supposed to come tomorrow.” He said again. Lizzy walked towards him and sat on a chair bedside the bed.

“How are you feeling?” She asked and ignored his questions.

“You haven’t answered my question.” He replied.

“Hmm…just wanted to see you.” She said and averted her gaze.

“Well, I’m good.” He replied and sighed. The two remained silent and the silence was getting uncomfortable.

“I’ve got something for you.” Michael said

“I’ve got something for you.” Lizzy said. They both stared at each other and laughed. They stopped laughing and burst into laugh again. The tension was gradually fading.

“Well, hmm…what do you have for me?” Lizzy asked and chuckled.

“Ladies first, tell me what you’ve brought for me.” Michael replied. Lizzy opened her bag and brought out a wrapped gift.

“I decided to give you your Christmas gift in advance.” She said and smiled.

“Hmm….can I open it?” He asked.

“Of course.” She replied. He slowly unwrapped the gift and saw a Bible covered with a beautiful leather fabric and a golden cross. He silently stared at the gift and fought the tears coming down.

“Are you okay?” Lizzy asked

“Yeah, let’s see the gift I have for you.” He said and forced a smile. He brought out a box tied with a pink ribbon.

“What’s this?” Lizzy asked and chuckled

“Open it.” Michael replied. Lizzy opened the box and saw diamond earrings. She gasped.

“M.J! Why did you give me this?” She asked and stared with wide eyes.

“Well, let’s just say a Christmas gift in advance. Wanted to give you tomorrow, I’ve got some presents for your siblings too. I heard two nurses discussing about the ball that’s going to be held at Avenclanche High School. That’s your school right?” Michael asked.

“Yeah, but how did you buy it and how did you know the name of my school?”  Lizzy asked why still gapping.

“I saw your pictures in the sitting and you boldly signed the name of your school on some of them. I ordered the gifts online.” He explained.

“Oh, that’s so thoughtful of you. But this gift is expensive!” Lizzy said.

“Is it as valuable as what you gave me?” Michael enquired.

“M.J, thanks for the gift.” Lizzy replied and they both became silent.

“You’ve been diagnosed with severe anxiety.” Lizzy said.

“Yeah, I wasn’t surprised.” He said and sighed.

“I’ve been running for most of my life and I think it’s caught up with me.” He said again.

“But you know you can always come over to our house. And I would like if you can attend next week service with us. How about that?” Lizzy asked.

“That’s going to be a great way to start.” Michael replied and smiled. Lizzy threw her arms around him and gave him a deep hug.

“You should know that mum’s always worried about you. Christ loves you and wants the best for you. Promise me you won’t pass out the way you did, I was so sacred!” Lizzy said and tears rolled down her cheeks.

“I promise you.” He said and let the tears he’s been holding for the past five years flow out. Michael’s eyes fell on a piece of decoration on the Christmas tree in the room, the paper was cut into letters and read “SILENT NIGHT”

“That’s my favorite Christmas song.” He slowly said.

“What?” Lizzy asked

“Nothing” He replied.

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