a/n: If u never read the original Bad Blood, don't worry and don't bother! If you did, please check out my explanation for the revision on the former story´s last chapter. I hope you´ll like this! Please review and let me know what you think!
the day I died
Fina Aunty was eighty-seven years old when she bit the dust. She was an eccentric old woman, and the only living relative I had left who wanted anything to do with me. She was my guardian for the past seven years, since Mom had died when I was twelve––exactly one week before I got my first period; fate's cruel that way sometimes.
Fina Aunty never made a lot of sense. Everyday she watched A Streetcar Named Desire on her VCR, drank a cup of masala chai, and ate exactly fifteen grapes. Purple, never green. Every two weeks she would paint her fingers and toes aquamarine, though in her final few months, I was the one painting them for her.
Fina Aunty also wasn't my real aunt. It wasn't hard to tell, either. Where I was all brown and curly-haired, she was tall and pale, her wrinkly skin appearing almost translucent at times. Her hair was black like mine, but shorter and straighter; it remained shiny even as the rest of her aged.
Fina Aunty was technically my deadbeat, nonexistent father's aunt. When my mother––the goody-two-shoes, medical student daughter her devout Hindu parents had always wanted––fell in love with a non-Hindu boy and decided to stay in the US, they had told her to never come back. When my mother got pregnant and refused to get rid of it, my father never came back either. Mom didn't know any of his relatives––she figured they all lived in Brasil, where my father was supposedly from––but on my tenth birthday, Fina Aunty showed up. My mother was too kind to turn her away, and Fina Aunty ended up being the only good thing my father had ever done for his baby mama. He had taken her family, her home, and her heart away from her.
And a hiking accident gone wrong had taken Mom from me. Her last words to me were "Please help your Aunty make dinner tonight, okay, Sonam? She has no idea what she's doing. If it goes badly, just use my card and order pizza." Mom loved nature, and the set of woods an hour-and-a-half drive from the city was her favorite place to be. It reminded her of home in Kanyakumari, she always said. She had been hiking those trails for fifteen years with no problem, but some American tourists who were backpacking through the area came across her body two days later, mangled apart by what the police determined to be a bear.
Old age took Fina Aunty seven years later. Her last words to me were significantly more interesting. In fact, over the last few weeks of her life, she was always giving me odd bits of unsolicited life advice and telling me all about memories I was sure she'd never actually lived. She refused to go to a doctor, insisting she knew her time was coming and there was nothing the "foolish, tipsy-tapsy doctors at a hospital" could do for her, as she neared her "four hundred and fifty-ninth birthday".
Every now and then when she said nonsense like that I really wondered how mushy her brain was becoming, but then she would go back to being her intelligent, lucid self and convince me she was just fine. I wasn't exactly sure of how Alzheimer's worked, but I figured maybe it came and went like that.
One night, Fina Aunty walked into my room, her little old lady legs still as strong as ever––that was another weird thing: her physical strength hadn't appeared to deteriorate at all in her last weeks, which was the only reason I hadn't absolutely insisted on getting her to a doctor. She had woken me up, insisting she had to give me something.
"I made this for my child, but I never had one to give it to. It was your father's for quite some time, but I'm afraid he didn't want it. But promise me, Sonam, promise me you'll wear this," she had said, her voice an urgent whisper.
Baffled, I had accepted the tiny velvet drawstring bag she handed me and pulled it open to find a thin golden chain holding a beautiful gem. The smooth stone was a purple so deep it almost looked black from far way. It wasn't flashy by any means, an imperfect oval about the size of a nickel, but it didn't particularly look like something I imagine my father would've wanted to wear.
"So, you made this?" I had asked, disbelievingly, and Fina Aunty only nodded.
"You know, I was hoping to die back home, but I just don't have the energy to make it back there in soon enough time," she reached over and locked the chain around my neck, "I've always dreamed that, well, one day, you'll get to meet the rest of your family."
Oh, yikes. Going to Brasil to reconnect with my asshole father's family was never on my list of future plans. "I don't even speak Portuguese, Fina Aunty."
"Portuguese?" Fina Aunty stared at me, her hazel eyes sharp yet still, her memory awash. "Oh! Oh right. Portuguese. Good idea, Sonam," she added, a look of sudden realization coming over her, as she reached out again to rub the stone of my necklace between her thumb and pointer finger.
"Why don't you get to bed now?" I had asked, having amused her long enough, and wanting to get back to my Intro to English Literature assignment.
"Of course, my dear. And remember, never trust a panther."
I'd nodded, my attention shifting to my laptop screen, "Yep, Aunty. You already told me that last week."
She had gotten to the doorway by now, but still wasn't ready to leave, it seemed. "And if you see your father–"
"Tell him the cat's in the cage, right." That was also in last week's lesson. "Got it, Aunty. Goodnight. Love you."
"I love you, Sonam, my miraculous, marvelous, magical little girl. And eat more strawberries. They're good for you, and pink!"
I had smiled despite my slight annoyance, and returned to my paper. Four hours later, I was ready for bed. As I'd tucked myself in and moved to close the blinds, my hands had stilled as a shooting star fell across the sky. It had happened so fast I almost thought I imagined it. I'd closed my eyes, anyways, and made a wish. I wished that Fina Aunty would stay with me as long as she could, and that I wouldn't be alone when she finally left.
Fina Aunty died in her sleep that night.
Her funeral, as requested, was a small affair. I drove forty-three miles outside of Vancouver to a lavender field in which to scatter her ashes over, with only my best friends, Grace and Tyler, and my neighbor, Mr. Minh, for company. At sixty-seven, I figured Mr. Minh was a little young for Fina Aunty, but they'd always been close. I think I saw him crying at the funeral, even.
Grace helped me pack up all the stuff that had accumulated in the small apartment I'd lived in for the past sixteen years, and Tyler helped me move three-fourths of it into the dumpster downstairs and the rest into the empty bedroom in his much smaller, much cheaper apartment. My new living situation, with Tyler and his roommate––Alex––wasn't exactly the most pleasant, but given rent prices in Vancouver, it would do for now.
I was currently attempting to get ready in the bathroom that I shared with the two boys, while Grace complained about how long we were taking.
I had, in their eyes, experienced more trauma than any college freshman ever should in the past month, which I suppose was correct. Their prescription: a well-deserved night of getting belligerently drunk and flirting with anything that could recognize a beat, which I suppose was also correct. I even acquiesced to letting Grace dress me, which was why I was now in a pair of jeans two sizes too small and a low-cut, v-neck velvet top that may have looked better had I actually had enough cleavage to fill it out.
When I was finally done wrangling my long curls into a high ponytail, I exited the bathroom for Grace's perusal. I was wearing eyeliner and lipstick and Tyler was acting like a stupid boy when he saw me, so it came as a surprise to me to see Grace frown.
"What? Do I look funny?"
"Not at all," Tyler replied immediately, his eyes glued to my chest.
"No, you look good," Grace quickly offered, also staring at my chest. Well, that wasn't too surprising. "It's just that…well, the necklace kind of takes away from the top's intended purpose, you know what I mean?"
I didn't know what she meant, but I nodded and moved to take it off, but for the life of me, I couldn't get the darn clasp off. I tried sliding it over my head, but it wouldn't fit past my chin.
"Can you help?" I whined, when my arms started getting tired.
After a good twenty-three seconds of tinkering, Grace made a noise of frustration and stole a hair-tie off my wrist to tie her shoulder-length dirty blonde hair back, before scooting in closer to the back of my neck to get the chain off.
"What the fuck is up with this clasp?"
I shrugged, just as Alex joined us.
"One of you get this fucking necklace off her, will you?"
It appeared neither of the boys had great luck either. In the end, we gave up and left Fina Aunty's silly necklace on me. Though Grace was slightly upset, I personally thought I still looked pretty good. And after two shots of Fireball, she forgot about the whole thing anyways.
"She's haunting me from hergrave!"
"Slow down, slow down," Grace waved her hands dramatically, before taking a sip of the guava smoothie I'd made her. "This is all because of that necklace?"
She gestured at my neck, where the very same necklace was clashing with my waitressing uniform. My hair was falling out of its ponytail under my Paulo's Pizza orange baseball cap, and I hardly had the energy to fix it as my arms were still sore from attempting to get that clasp off all morning. I was sitting in Paulo's patio, slumped over in a chair with my socked feet up on Grace's lap in the seat across from me. I really did take the term "break" to heart.
"This is the third shift I've worn this thing and Luca's starting to get pissed off," I explained, "We're not supposed to wear jewelry to work. The first time, I said that this was how I was coping with the loss of my recently deceased guardian, but he's not buying it anymore. I can't get fired over this shit!"
"Capitalism," Grace groaned, with a roll of her brown eyes, before reaching over to my neck. "Why don't we try and break the chain––? You could just get it fixed at the mall later, with a new clasp," she added, upon noticing my look of protest.
I was unsure, and as I fingered the gem in thought, it seemed to be radiating heat. Before I could think about that peculiar sensation further, Grace was pulling at the chain hard enough to choke me.
"Ow! What the fuck, bitch?"
"Hold on, bitch!" More tugging. "This damn thing––" tug "––isn't––" tug "––working!"
"Okay, enough, enough." Rubbing at my sore neck, I reached in my jeans pocket before tossing my key ring at Grace. "Try it with my pocket knife."
Later, as I walked home from the urgent care center with two brand-spanking-new stitches in my neck, I reflected on what probably wasn't my smartest idea. The doctor had even recommended I avoid riding my motorcycle until the stitches were ready to come out! At least it had gotten me off the rest of my shift at work. It really had been such a shitty day.
With that thought, I decided to treat myself to a completely undeserved M&M ice cream sandwich from my favorite vendor. The spot was two blocks back, but I could make it there in one if I cut through an alley. Self-care, am I right?
Whistling slightly to myself, I walked with more of a bounce to my step. It really was the simple things, I thought, hardly noticing in my self-satisfaction the man who had suddenly emerged from behind a dumpster. With a gun. Pointed at my head.
Of all the fucking luck.
Sure, I lived in a giant metropolitan city second only to Hong Kong in terms of global costs of living, but I'd made it nineteen years without once being mugged. It was like I'd become a magnet for traumatic incidents lately.
"Wallet," the man barked, his beady eyes darting all over the alley, one hand holding the gun firm and the other stretched out expectantly.
I tried and failed to stifle a giggle of hysteria as I reached into my bag for my small, worn out brown wallet. I knew for a fact the only things in there were a debit card I could call the bank to cancel as soon as he ran off with it, a punch card for the bubble tea shop near my old apartment, and four dollars and fifty-seven cents. Honestly, the biggest loss I'd suffer would be my bubble tea punch card. I was only two punches away from a free medium drink. Oh well, I figured, as I tossed the rather patient gunman my wallet.
I expected that to be the end of it––looking him over, it didn't seem like he wanted to kill me, he probably just really needed some money––but he glanced in my wallet for two seconds before tossing it on the ground.
"Alright, never mind. The necklace."
I blinked. Come again?
"The necklace, kid. Now." He ran a hand through his shaggy hair in frustration.
"Uh, well, you see, it's fake. I doubt it's worth more than a few––"
"I'm not playing games, bitch!"
Yeah, remember what I said about him not seeming like he was going to hurt me? Maybe I was just a little bit, slightly, tangentially off about that.
The vein in his forehead seemed to grow bigger as he glowered at me, his finger shifting on the trigger of that suddenly very scary-looking gun.
In an attempt to appease him, I lifted my hands to my neck and tried to take the necklace off. It, of course, didn't work. I flopped my hands around the back of my neck for a bit longer, hoping he'd really believe me, before he yelled at me to hurry up again.
"Look, I can't get the damn thing off, why don't you try?"
He gave me an "are you fucking serious?" look, before attempting to do just that. With his gun now pressed directly to my temple, he worked on the clasp with one hand.
After a few seconds, he muttered a few curses under his breath before holstering his gun and warning me not to move or scream, letting me know he wouldn't need the weapon if he really wanted to hurt me. I nodded in acquiescence, letting his fingers drift back to the wretched piece of jewelry, right before he let out a bloodcurdling scream.
I heard––more than saw––him drop to the floor behind me, and swiveled around in shock. He was convulsing on the ground, looking as though he'd been tased at 100 volts higher than the recommended force.
I glanced around widely, but there wasn't a cop to be seen. We were still the only ones in the entire alleyway.
The man was clutching his fingertips to his chest, his face twisted in pain, and despite his earlier threats, I felt concerned.
"Are–are you okay?" I began, reaching out to him before he shook his head, screaming, trying to scramble away from me. "Hey, wait, maybe I should call for help––"
"Get away! Please, just get––" he struggled to pick himself up, then half ran-half wobbled out of the alleyway.
I let out a huge breath and stood in the same spot for what felt like fifteen minutes but was really probably only three. Bending down to pick my wallet up, I thought about the image of the man on the floor again and shook my head to clear it. Probably he had glaucoma or something, that caused seizures, didn't it?
Shaking my head again, I figured I could ask pre-med Tyler about it. With that thought, I hurried on home, all thoughts of ice cream sandwiches and Fina Aunty's cursed necklace forgotten.
That night, I dreamed of a tiger chasing me in a strawberry field.
For the next week, I wracked my brain trying to remember all of the weird things Fina Aunty had been talking about in her final days. There were a lot of references to my family, a lot of warnings about jaguars––or was it panthers?––and recommendations that I eat plenty of fruit. I wasn't sure what any of it was about, as I had no interest in my deadbeat dad or zoos or altering my diet. Unfortunately, I couldn't recall anything important or special about the necklace.
I felt silly, thinking I was just being paranoid and perhaps it was just a darn-hard-to-get-off necklace. Knowing I kept a lot of Fina Aunty's things in some boxes yet to be unpacked, I wondered if perhaps I could find a bag or receipt from the jewelry store she'd bought it from.
On Saturday morning, Tyler and I set to work looking through Fina Aunty's belongings. Four hours later, we'd found nothing interesting besides some rather scandalous letters from Mr. Minh, a bunch of notebooks full of literal nonsense and scribbling––seriously, we'd even Google Image searched the text and it proved to be no modern or ancient language, just scribbles––and a stack of photos.
While Tyler kept looking, I ended up distracted by the photos. My mother must've been the one who took them, as many of them were of me before we'd even met Fina Aunty. As I thumbed through various memories – my ninth birthday at Disneyland, my first violin recital, Grace's thirteenth birthday party – a wave of both depression and nostalgia overtook me.
"You okay?" Tyler checked in, lifting his head from the pile of bills he was sorting.
I blinked away the tears that were threatening to appear, nodding, "Yeah. Just missing them, you know?"
He smiled sadly, his dark eyes warm, and rubbed my shoulder. He looked like he was about to say something before seeming to forget about the idea, tugging on one of his dreads the way he always did when he was nervous. I would be too, having no idea how to talk to your recently orphaned roommate.
I went back to flipping through the photos, more rapidly this time, before stilling. I didn't recognize anyone in this photo. There was a man, maybe in his early thirties, sitting on a sofa holding a swaddle of blankets with the slightest hint of a baby's face showing. He was looking right at the camera, laughing apparently, but still appeared a bit caught off guard.
"Who's he?" Tyler inquired, resting his chin on my shoulder and prying the photo from my hands.
"No idea," I murmured, flipping through the rest of the stack to see if there were more of him.
"He looks Latino," Tyler commented, "but the eyes are throwing me off. They look almost purple. Colombian? No… Brasilian maybe?"
I ignored the uncomfortable chill settling over me and snatched the photo from Tyler. "He doesn't look Brasilian."
I paid more attention to the photo this time, noting the paint on the wall, the furniture, the books on the coffee table. The titles read Pathophysiology, Oncology and Bioethics, and Anatomy and Physiology II. I pulled at the collar of my shirt; it suddenly felt tight and itchy.
"Hey, Sonam… He kinda looks like you, don't you think? I mean, if it weren't for your hair, and your eyes, and the shape of your head."
I shook my head. "Nuh-uh."
I continued to stare at the photo as Tyler called out, "Alex, come look at this!"
The walls were a bare, muted pink but in the corner, half outside the frame of the photo, was a framed painting. Of sunflowers.
As Alex entered the room and began marveling how, you know what, after he thought about it, the guy in the photo had my exact nose, I tried steadfastly to ignore the framed painting sitting on my nightstand. The one of sunflowers that my mom had painted herself. The one that had sat in her bedroom for years.
Knowing my mom had a habit for captioning and dating all the photos she took, I turned this one over, slowly, almost closing my eyes before telling myself not to be so dramatic.
Sonam, December 1995.
I tried not to freak out, and I did a pretty good job. I just needed to focus on my breathing and put this behind me.
Inhale. It didn't matter that my mom would've been finishing up her last year of medical school in 1995. Exhale. It didn't matter that I'd never seen a photo of my father, and the only thing my mother ever told me about him was that he was apparently Brasilian––inhale––and had "the most beautiful eyes". Exhale. It didn't matter that I was born in November 1995, and likely would've been the same size as the tiny little bundle in that man's arms. Inhale. It didn't matter.
"Alright, you know what?" I began shoving all the photos into my backpack, and putting the rest of the boxes back under my bed. "I think we're good for today. Let's get lunch?"
Tyler didn't try to bring the photo up again, especially after I punched him in the shoulder the last time. But now, with the same photo shoved deep into my backpack, I headed out in search of Grace.
I knew she was on a date with Alicia Suarez, and by date I mean they were probably hanging out on her twin-XL mattress, and by hanging out I mean––Okay, you probably get it. One text from me had her cancelling her plans and promising to meet me at our bubble tea joint.
As different as we were, Grace was my favorite person to talk to. The easiest person to talk to, really, and of all living people who knew the deal behind my father, she was likely to be the most understanding.
As I knew the route to the shop like the back of my hand, I paid little attention to the street signs and focused instead on organizing my thoughts.
The odds were high that whoever the baby was in that picture was me. However, there was little to no evidence to suggest the man happened to be my father. After all, Mom had said he disappeared before I was born. Mom said he wanted to abort me! And the grinning man in that photo did not look like he was holding something he didn't want. I'd heard stories about how having a child changed people and all that, but something was still up.
My mother was always honest with me about my father, even the bad parts. She was a very sensible woman––a doctor, after all. But she always did some real stupid shit where my father was concerned. She got pregnant before getting married or finishing med school; she'd gotten a matching tattoo with him; she'd even tried to go to Brasil once to find him before Fina Aunty discouraged that idea. Knowing all this, I determined that Mom wouldn't have lied to me unless it was for my own good.
That put to rest some of my nerves, and with a renewed spring in my step, I moved to cross the intersection, when a loud honking noise had me pausing, my hand reaching up to press against my chest––the hilarious dramatic way the actresses do in the movies––clutching that stupid gemstone as I did so.
I feel like moments like these are where people think everything seems to slow down, but nothing could've been more false. In a matter of no more than two seconds, I noticed two things. First, a car was about to hit me. Second, it was a Mercedes. I wondered idly if the lawsuit money I won out of this would be enough to pay my tuition and get me my own place, before I realized it might not be worth it if I was paralyzed from the neck down.
I should probably, I thought, get out of here.
Before I could think another thought, everything went black.
I didn't faint, I didn't feel an impact, I just suddenly felt…nothing. It was like every sensory interpreter in my body had gone to sleep. This lasted for a few seconds before the most interesting thing occurred.
An invisible force was pulling all my limbs in different directions. Every single bone in my body cracked in two. My fingernails were ripped from their beds. My head was going to implode. It did implode. I was dying. How long had this been going on for? It felt like hours, days. Or maybe it had only been a few seconds? I couldn't take it anymore. I had to be dying. I wanted to die. Oh my Ganesh, I was dying.