Portrait of A Father

I was planning to study, I swear. But instead, I fell asleep on my desk and dreamt about my father.
In my dream, my sister and I were standing on a piazza, facing an empty stage.
We were not alone. There was a couple with toddler in tow, a little boy holding a red balloon, young lovers who wore matching shawls, and a lanky guy who came on a bicycle. There was even a hotdog vendor nearby.
Soon, my father stepped onto the stage. He wore a perfectly pressed white shirt underneath his black suit, and held a tambourine in hand. His hair covered half of his face. He was followed by a jazz quartet.
My father tapped the standing microphone twice. He cleared his throat, and began to sing, solo. His voice was deep and husky. And that song… It was so familiar.
“Do you know what the title is?” I whispered to my sister.
“Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” my sister answered. Her eyes were glued to the stage.
When it came to the chorus, the musicians began to play their instruments. Ah, they were doing a jazzy version! Somebody in the audience started to clap. And soon, everybody was clapping to the beat of the tambourine.
My sister and I were singing along too. I didn’t know the whole lyrics, but when it came to the chorus, I had become vaguely familiar with them.
Out of a sudden, there came a loud thundering sound from the sky. When I looked up, the clouds were already dark. I barely registered what was happening when someone shouted, “It’s raining! It’s raining!”
The music halted, and everyone started to scramble. I felt a cold sensation on my skin. I looked for my sister, but she was already gone.
Run to the shelter — that was the last thing on my mind, before I woke up.

I had left the window open. It was raining heavily and the water leaked inside. I quickly closed the window. But too late, my book had already turned soggy. The best I could do was to blot it with paper towels.
Now that I thought about it, why had I dreamt about my father? I hadn’t been thinking about him or anything. And it had been a couple of years since I had last seen him.
He had walked away from his family eight years ago.

My father was a jazz singer. According to my mother, he was pretty good, but not dazzling enough to be a superstar.
One day, he headed out for work like usual. But somehow, he never returned. Just like that. No letter, no phone call, no explanation. Nothing.
My mother called the restaurant he was supposed to perform at. The manager told her that my father had never showed up. He didn’t give notice to them either. The manager was pretty pissed because he had to find a replacement. But if you’d ask me, there is never a shortage of musicians in need of paying gigs. It shouldn’t have been that much of an issue.
But it was different for us. We only had one father. And now that he was gone, he left a gap no one would be able to fill.

My father didn’t pack up a single piece of clothing. Until today, my mother kept all of his belongings. I’d suggested selling or giving away his stuff, but she always stood against it.
“Your father will return one day,” she persisted.
But I didn’t share her optimism. After all, eight years had already passed and we had not heard a single bit of news about him. To tell the truth, I couldn’t even remember his face. The only thing I will always remember was the outfit he’d worn on the day he’d left, a perfectly pressed white shirt under a black suit.

The door opened and cut off my thoughts. I turned around and saw my sister.
“I didn’t realize you’re home,” she exclaimed. “You said you were going to study at the library.”
I smiled sheepishly. “Changed my mind, too lazy to walk.”
“Are you studying?”
I nodded.
“I’ve got some spare time. I could help you, if you like.”
“That would be great. It’s Math. You’re good at it, aren’t you?”
“Not that good, but better than you.”
We both laughed. She pulled a chair and sat next to me. True enough, my sister was much better with numbers. She only glanced at the question, and was already scribbling away the answer. It took her less than a minute.
“Here, all you need is to subtract this part.”
“Thanks, Sis.”
“Can you handle the rest?”
“Uh-huh.”
She was about to leave when I stopped her.
“Wait,” I said. “I know this is out of the sudden… but… Do you remember how Father looked like?”
“Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know… I guess it just popped into my head.” I scratched my hair. “I mean… There’s no photograph of him in our house. Don’t you think it’s kind of strange?”
My sister smiled. “That’s because he hated to be photographed.”
“Why?”
“He has a scar on his face, somewhere around here.” She pointed at the area above her left eyebrow. “He got it when he fell down from the ladder. It wasn’t very obvious. In fact, I thought it looked kind of cool. But Father was very particular about it, so he always grew his fringe long enough to cover the scar.”
“Ah, that explains. But honestly, do you think he will ever return?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe he will, maybe he won’t.”
“Aren’t you angry that he left?”
My sister thought about it for a while, before she said: “I’ve been angry, but not anymore. I’m still disappointed though. To be fair, it doesn’t feel like he’s totally gone. He’s still around somehow. You know what I mean, don’t you?”
I kept quiet.
“Actually, he wouldn’t have been able to make a decent living performing in this small town.” She paused. “Did you ask because you’re missing him?”
I shook my head. “It’s hard to miss someone you barely remember.”
“True.” My sister smiled, and turned to the window. “Look, the rain has already stopped.”
“That was fast.”
“Strange weather, isn’t it?” She dragged me out of my chair. “You know what, sitting here the whole day will only make you feel depressed. Let’s go out for some fresh air and buy ourselves a hotdog.”
“Hotdog?”
“Yeah, I was planning to buy hotdogs, but then suddenly it started raining. And now, I’m really craving for it.”
I laughed. “Fine, let’s go get some then. But where will we find hotdogs?”
“The cinema should be selling them. And we can go to the CD shop on our way home. You like that song, don’t you?”
“Which song?”
She whistled the tune of “Can’t Get My Eyes Off You”.
I stared at her. “How did you—“
“How did I know that you like that song?” she cut me off. “You were singing along and bopping your head like an idiot.”
“No, I mean…” I thought of several ways to phrase it, but none of them sounded right. In the end, I simply asked: “How did you know I was there?”
“Of course I know. I was there too, silly. Now, hurry up, hotdogs are on me. But if you take too long, I might change my mind.”
I snickered and followed her out. We were both singing aloud in the middle of the street, causing a little boy to turn and accidentally release his red balloon. Across the junction, a lanky guy on a bicycle passed a pair of lovers wearing matching shawls.