The first thing she saw when she opened the door, was him. Lying on the couch, dead sleep, still, with that gentle snore. The snore, that familiar soft toad’s croaking, reminded her of how long she hadn’t been home.
And she remembered that night when she first found him sleeping on the couch when she came home late. She woke him up, and asked him why didn't he sleep upstairs instead. Rubbing his eyes with one hand and stroking her face with the other, he replied,
“Coz the bed’s not a resting place without you.”
The house was orderly, much to her surprise. Maybe not spick and span, and certainly not as clean as she'd have kept it had she been around. But clean it was, nevertheless. The dining area had fresh flowers on top. The curtains were neatly drawn behind the lace. The kitchen sink was empty and dry.
She remembered those days when he would walk in from work, drop the bag onto the floor, tear his shirt off and have it flung across the hall, grab her hand, plop her onto the couch, collapse into her lap and fall into a deep sleep. She remembered the times when she complained and scolded him for being such a mess – and messy too – yet his reply, though said when half asleep, brought a smile to her face,
“Coz you’re the one thing right in my life. The rest doesn't matter as much.”
She saw the stethoscope on the dining table, and a tear came to her eye. She remembered how hard he had worked to become a doctor. She remembered preparing coffee as he studied late into the night, preparing for the final specialist paper. And all the char siew pao she sneaked into the doctor’s rest stations in the wards for him to gobble in between duty hours! The day he finally walked out of the panel interview rooms – the last and most difficult part of the final paper – beaming with joy and pride, he took her hands, fought back his tears and whispered into her ears,
“This is all that I’ve worked for, and this is all that you truly deserve.”
Near the stethoscope was a loaf of bread. She then remembered that particular evening when she had stumbled across a tupperware in his bag. There was a sandwich, with butter and sugar, but the bread had round holes all over. Weird, she thought, and as she took the sandwich out to throw it away, she saw the loaf of bread on the table. Expired, and mouldy. Angry, disappointed and hurt, she confronted him. She yelled and shouted at him. He would take her out every Sunday night to the nicest restaurants in town, and he was eating mouldy bread on weekdays. How could you still eat mouldy bread? How could you spend so much on me and starve yourself? She finally succumbed into his arms, and his soft response broke her heart into a thousand pieces,
“I’m sorry that I can’t give you the best that you deserve, but I’m never sorry that I give you my best that I can afford, in whatever way possible.”
Just a few more years, and I promise you that things will get better.
He coughed, and her thoughts stirred. She turned around, just in time to see him turn over onto his other side on the couch, and the gentle snore went back into rhythm. She gazed at a tired man, a weary doctor, a burdened soul. She remembered those young and youthful days, when they had exchanged ideals of the future and talked about what life would be next time. And when it came to his turn, he never really talked about being a doctor.
And one day, while they were both lying on the green pastures in New Zealand on a lazy weekend – breaking away from their different routines and classes in uni – she asked him again about his dreams. Don’t you want to save the world?
“I'd rather be a champion in your heart than try save the world.”
They had returned to Malaysia together. While he was still a houseman and they, a young couple, every morning before the sun rose, she would send him off to work with a flask of hot coffee and an apple. How he would routinely turn around at the door, put away his bag and the flask, hold her face, kiss her on the forehead, look her in the eyes and say,
“I’ll come back and get you... after saving the world.” And that cheeky smile all over his face!
And he never failed with that promise. No matter how late and how tired, no matter the number of calls and the overtime duties, he still returned to her. He would be grouchy and grumpy, complaining of backaches and sores, but he still came back. Didn’t that matter enough? Shouldn’t that matter enough?
Somehow she survived those years of being there for him, but after he became a specialist, after he came back from serving in Somalia with the Malaysian peacekeeping troops, things changed. The fire in his eyes, the ‘going-out-to-save-the-World’ spirit, the passion of healing and treating patients, simply disappeared. He would no longer come home with that usual smile on his face. He no longer grabbed her from behind by surprise and spun her around. He just simply put down the bag, took off his shirt, gently dragged her up the stairs, and slept on her lap. No more conversations, no more laughter, no more surprises.
So when an offer came from Price Waterhouse, she took it up. It wasn’t that she wanted to leave him, rather she no longer knew how to stay on. And that night when she broke the news to him, he just looked down at the floor, stumped, and asked quietly,
“When will you come back?”
She was walking out, bitter, hurt, and disappointed. Why don't you fight for me?Why don't you at least stop me? Why let me walk out? Couldn't you at least tell me how much you'd miss me?
And he said right before she opened the door, "Darling, I need you."
You need me? Is it just the lap that you use as a pillow, or am I the cheap servant that manages your house? She regretted the way she lashed out at him as his reply came softly,
"I need you because I love you."
2 months ago, when she walked out with the luggage bag, she hated herself so much. She despised herself for leaving the man that stood by her, the only man that fought for her, the only man that would cry for and over her. 2 months of staying with her parents made her realize, that while he needed her to manage his life, she too simply couldn’t live without him.
The TV in front of him was on, volume at its lowest. She pulled the remote out of his hands, intending to turn it off when she recognized the video that was on TV. It was the video they filmed together when he first left for NZ, a year before her. How they had teased each other on the camcorder, how they had laughed and joked about meeting hot chicks and cute boys over in NZ, and how he finally looked straight into the camcorder and said,
“Darling, my home is built in your hands.”
Now sitting beside him, she finally realized that she was more than just a wife, or a lover, or a girl that was always behind and beside him when he needed her the most. Home was never a home without her. His home was built upon that relationship, that love. And that night when she walked out on him, his home disappeared, his home left him.
Home is never a home without you.
She snuggled up to him, allowing him to wrap his arms around her. If she could, she would never want him to let her go, ever. Feeling the warmth of his chest and listening to his heartbeat, she knew that it wasn’t by chance or mistake that she had finally sent in the resignation letter and repacked her belongings. She had worried about how she’d have to walk in, pondered about how he would react when she walked in, and even had a whole ‘I’m Sorry’ speech ready in her pocket.
Those worries? Flew out of her mind and along with the rolling tears, when she heard him mumble in his sleep, right into her ears just like old times,
“Darling… I’m home.”