An Ode to You

Ahmad Al Hafi

I was in the 6th workshop, wait I’m there right now!
Before I entered the workshop, I was listening to “An Ode to My Family” by The Cranberries. I began thinking of my father, and his point of view during the tragedy of August 4, 2020.

Father, I know you will never read this, and I believe that is what gives me confidence to write this piece that I am writing at this moment. How are you doing today? Wait, do not answer that. I know you have customers in your shop today, a busy day tending to the dust and what not. You are a man who still mystifies me to this day. People say you and I are similar in many regards; how we react to things, how we love to joke, and how bad we are at communicating with our loved ones as they have us figured out, and we have to come up with new ways to talk to them if we do not want to be predictable and boring. Was that fateful day the same to you as it was for me? I really think that there were many parallels in our points of view now that I look back.
I was in the mountains in our summer place while you were in your shop, as usual, tending to the closed iron door to evade the government’s orders of strict quarantine. I remember you had your mask down and never wanted to give in to the pandemic. It was early in the morning when I woke up to an empty house with no one to give me company but the walls. I had finals for the summer semester the next day and was “diligently” studying for a pointless online exam after I made myself a hot bowl of instant noodles to wash down the feeling of loneliness associated with the pandemic. I remember needing an order from the post office nearby and begging you to pick it up for me; you, however, insisted on keeping up your stake-out to keep on attracting any potential customer looking to secretly shop away from the eyes of the Government. I call my brother asking him to pick it up for me, and he dismisses me saying the car broke down and that Dad is not doing anything to help. An hour later…at 6:02 PM I received a call from my brother asking me to help him get the groceries home as they brought back a lot. There is no need to tell you what went down at 6:07 PM….but anxiety. The anxiety of phone lines crashing down, the anxiety of having to find you and checking up on you to see if you were still breathing, seeing that you were out on the streets and not behind your safe iron door. I remember relentlessly calling you along with Mommy just to see if you were safe along with my sister. We still do not know how the ringtone of the landline penetrated the iron door in order for you to pick up the phone. When we told you that she was missing and not a word was heard about her, you managed to sound so calm yet so frustrated and scared, as if you were trying to reassure us by sounding nonchalant about this. Your wife was in shambles trying to piece herself together while watching TV, your son was experiencing de-realization as he had only graduated college and found himself thrown into yet another excruciating ordeal. Your phone never left your hand, always annoyingly and inconveniently phoning me when I wanted you around the least, but not on that day, you had more to care about than knowing what I did at 3:03 PM. You had a daughter to save; it only took you a few minutes to tell us that she was safe and no longer missing. You speeded home, and you came back with your usual smile and songs you sing to me when you come back that always annoy me. Your daughter was with you, but you smoothly put her back in bed and kissed her goodnight. We had dinner so casually, and you just moved on to watch TV like the usual daily routine you follow everyday. You reassured us that all of our properties were undamaged, and restricted us from talking about this to move on with our day.

I remember begging you to let me join in on the restoration efforts, and you said the same thing you always do, that I am not grown up enough to join them in this effort, even though there were people who were younger than I was. You still think I am not as mature as they are. I am graduating from college, I have proven my artistic talents to you, I have shown you how I can survive and live independently, and yet I am still your Blousou (the pet name I’ve yet to understand its meaning, heck, even you don’t get it). What is it in your Blousou that you see? What is this untapped potential you think I haven’t tapped into yet; why am I still incomplete in your eyes? Is it your instinct to protect me? Do you think I am an item in your shop that must be fixed? Will my art never be good enough in comparison to your three other children who went down the path you conditioned them to go down? Every time you and I bicker, these are the questions I have in my head; the ones I never dared to ask you. Not just because I’m scared, but because no matter how unpredictable you think you are…I am so many steps ahead of you, just as you are so many steps ahead of me. As I write this piece, I think of you in your shop, flashing the item you were ashamed to flash before, never falsely advertising it anymore as something it cannot ever be. Your son will make it through because he is the one who takes after your tenacious spirit; he is the one who will shine the brightest, and he is the one who will make you proud.

You shared your vulnerable thoughts with me yesterday, and truly showed me how scared you are from the unknown and how security is what you want to pursue more than anything. However, I will respectfully decline your wishes. I understand you want to protect me, but you will not be here forever to protect me. Your love is one I will not remember fondly, but your tough persistence is not exempt from my fond memories. My pursuit to prove you wrong while not villainizing you, to appreciate you while shooing the thorns away, to need you without damaging my pride, and to love you without a condition is one that might take me places, higher and better places that will lead me to my destined success.

Father, you are the cause.