The first time she finally notices something is wrong is when her father comes into her room with a cup of warm tea. He never does that. He’s usually in the master bedroom alone (no more mother, she’s with her brother overseas) poring over his paper (work) and making phone calls (office) and the television (because news is essential to life) and keeping to himself. The only few times she does see him is at the dinner table, where they chat and talk about news, politics, day to day happenings, occasionally admiring their home’s decor before each go their separate ways.
Asking what’s wrong only elicits a wry smile, as he pats her once on the head, bestows a customary kiss to her proffered teddy bear (twenty years old now, as old as she is) and then leaves, setting the tea down. Pu’erh. Its calming scent wafts through the room, but she isn’t settled. Not yet. Instead she peeps her head out of the door.
She watches her father pace aimlessly in the house, not stopping, down the long hallway from the master bedroom, through the living room and back. She knows he brought papers home again (work) and he has a ton of emails on his Blackberry (complaints, orders, daily accounting reports), and the television showing that match between Chelsea and Fulham (football fanatic). But deep inside she knows too that he cannot work.
The silence of the house is palpable. No more screams, cursing at the screen to STOP FEEDING YOU NOOB, no more loud music blaring through tinny speakers, no more coming in and stealing the Reese’s on her desk or poaching her teddy bear, no more laughter and no more heavy footsteps of a man-child far too big for his not-yet-mature self. No more rifling through the snack cabinet searching for the elusive cookies and rice chips. Now is the echo of keyboard in her room, and the pacing outside.
It will get better, she tells herself. It will get better when the first year passes and when her brother alone in cold England air adapts. He will learn to wish for Hong Kong’s overheated summers and mild winters when he’s overseas, and he will learn to despair in the heat and yearn for England’s balmy cool when he returns home. Her father and her mother too will learn to live without first her brother, and then her when she leaves for exchange.
But the first month is, for now, unnatural silence.