I have finished washing the dishes, mopping the floor, and hanging the laundry to dry, but he’s still stuck in front of his laptop, watching Star Trek and whatnot. After the stroke, he’s forgot everything, lost the ability to talk–to do everything–really, but he still occasionally laughs at Two and A Half Man. Those shows are the only thing that makes him alive these days and I don’t have the heart to take it away from him, even though I need the laptop for school. I guess I can manage.
Once my morning chore is complete, I leave the house after I make sure the food is somewhere he can see and easily reach. I take my usual route to campus, where I meet this old woman who looks so helpless, I carry her groceries for her. She insists I stay for tea, but I’m almost late for class.
“Surely you can’t leave empty handed,” she says.
“I’m fine. Please don’t think about it.”
The senior lady smiles like she knows something I don’t.
“Who are you to tell me what I should or shouldn’t think about.”
“I’m sorry. But it’ll make life easier, won’t it? Knowing what others think?” I say, picturing him alone at home. I can’t remember the last time we had a meaningful conversation with each other.
Next thing I know, the woman takes my head between her hands and bestows me her gratitude. She says I can read minds now.
“I’m really late for class,” I say. I take off before she makes me stay with more nonsense.
I get to class in time. The room is louder than usual. Everyone fusses over the 10-page essay due today. I slide easily into an empty seat beside this boy I’ve been smiling at for the past semester. He’s cute, but not always the most diligent when it comes to assignments. He’s furiously typing down words on his MacBook Air. I give him some pointers so he’ll finish his essay before the class starts. His smile always brightens up my morning.
“Thank you,” I tell him.
“For calling me smart.”
He stops typing and frowns at me. “I didn’t say anything.”
I roll my eyes and turn my attention the lecturer.
“He has a bad case of hangover,” I tell him, pointing at the lecturer.
“How do you know?”
That’s a good question. I thought I heard the lecturer screaming for Panadol and wanting to throw up. A new thought pops in my head.
“Are you hungry?” I ask him again. “You’re thinking about spaghetti.”
He stops typing entirely.
“How the hell did you know that?”
Amused, I concentrate on the lecturer again. He’s silently collecting our essays on his desk, thinking about getting home early. I can hear his thought loud and clear as if he’s talking in my ear.
“Pick a number. Any numbers. Don’t tell me,” I say, trying my newfound talent once again. He looks at me like I’ve grown a third eye. “One thousand three hundred fifty seven.”
“No way!” he shrieks, essay forgotten.
That grandma wasn’t kidding. I focus on my classmates and I realize that the noise I’ve been hearing is all in my head. I easily eavesdrop on their inner monologue and I’m not sure whether I should be excited or overwhelmed.
“That guy is thinking of skipping class. She wants a new lipstick. That couple are cheating on each other and don’t know exactly how to break up.”
“That’s too much information.”
I think so too.
“Can you hear my thought?” I ask, mentally yelling at him that I want to jump him right here, right now. He shakes his head. Looks like this only works one way.
I fidget through the whole class. I’ve decided to go home immediately after this. I don’t even know what topic we’re discussing right now, because I can’t help getting into my friends’ heads. The same thing happens on my way home. I find strangers silently complaining at life and planning affairs. Fascinated at the fact that my thoughts are safe in my head but theirs aren’t.
“Dad, I’m home!” I announce. He’s still in bed, watching an episode of Star Trek he’s watched many times before. His cracked lips are frozen in a smile. I hug him and ask him what he wants for lunch today. I can get him exactly what he wants.
“Do you want to go somewhere?” I try a new strategy. I hear nothing. “Dad?”
His attention is back to the laptop and I’m not sure he heard me. I focus harder on him but this time I hear nothing. Maybe I’m not doing this right.
“Can you hear me?”
Nothing. I turn him around and look straight into his eyes, desperately attempting to figure out what he’s thinking about. I can’t even be certain he’s looking back at me.
“Do you know who I am?”
He leaves my gaze and returns to the Voyager. A sudden wave of hopelessness hits over me. I have expected so much out of this. Why should his mind be any different to the others? Is he even aware of my presence?
I call him again but his eyes are glued to the screen. It takes all the patience in me not to hurl the fucking laptop out of the window. He looks so peaceful and I’d give anything just to hear him say my name, even if it’s only in his head.
Feeling defeated, I feed him lunch. Not once he glances at me. And there’s so many things I want to ask him. Does he remember mom? Does he remember our late night X-Files marathon? Does he miss me like I miss him?
I collect his utensils and start my way to the sink when he makes that grunt he usually does to catch my attention. The laptop is closed and he weakly pushes the gadget towards me.
For you, he thinks.
I wrote this on 26 November 2015. It was a prompt an anonymous on AskFM gave me. The story was inspired by a personal experience. It’s been two years since I wrote it, and I still find it personally relevant. I don’t know how to feel about it.