I am king of the world! I raised both my arms as my scream echoed along the mountain ridges. My father, who was holding on to my legs as I perched on top of him in a piggyback, joined me in unison. Our cries reverberated all throughout the mountains. I felt my ears start to tingle at the repetition of noises.
The fresh scent of pine trees engulfed the mountains, the birds have been singing their lullabies non-stop, and the warm fuzzy rays of the sun have touched the earth’s surface with delicate caress. It was always this lively and radiant when he was around. It was always during spring time where he would randomly appear in front of our doorstep carrying a dirty white bindle on his right shoulder. He had this smug grin plastered on his face before we even get to him. Who wouldn’t? Every time he got home safely from his duty as a soldier deployed in other countries, we thank fate for giving us the chance to be reunited again.
We had this routine as far as I can remember. My father would stay with us for a while and then leave. The last time I saw him was three years ago. It might have been lonely and sad, but mother made it a priority that I never felt indifferent from the rest of the children. I still had a happy childhood. Our communication with him was constant and it still felt like having him nearby. Even though we’re miles apart, I can say that our relationship has transcended beyond the boundaries of proximity.
During his stay, we would spend every second together. We’d spend the first days of his stay swimming on the cool waters of the nearby mountain lake. Sometimes, he would piggyback me so I could reach the deeper areas of the lake I can’t go into alone. We’d play around a little then try to catch the largest fish we find barehanded. One time, things got a little out of hand. I saw a very large fish resting behind a fallen tree trunk. Being born a brave soul, I wanted to impress my father. So, I stealthily crept closer. When I was about to grab its head, as if it read my ulterior motif, it jumped out of the water and slapped me in the face using its tail. You could picture the surprise on my oblivious self. I stumbled backwards and hit the water hard. When I rushed to the surface, I see my father red from laughing his heart out.
Luckily, the fish got its just deserts. Father was able to catch it, with several failed attempts of course. Mother cooked a hearty fish soup for dinner after. He didn’t get clumsily tackled by the fish like I did though. He was a pro at everything, even at things he just started doing. There’s one thing he’s not supposed to do though. It’s his personalized taboo: cooking. When he tries to enter the kitchen, the spirits of the worst cooks history ever produced possess him. Everything he makes, we feed to the rats and they die. There’s something good with his talent though, we save money on pesticides.
When we get tired of the lake, the three of us would go camping in the woods. I accompany him, in a piggyback, in hunting for squirrels while mother prepares the broth. I watch in awe as he expertly catches one after the other. He was so fast that I never got the chance to realize I was already carrying six squirrels in my hand! When we return, the vegetable broth would be almost finished and he’d skin the squirrels and roast them on the pit fire. He’d tell us stories about his job as a soldier overseas while we eat our dinner around the campfire. I’d choke halfway on his stories when he gets near the climax especially his near death encounter with terrorists. I could see my mom’s half-baked smile. Although she was glad father developed a talent in escaping death several times now, the thought of him finally succumbing six feet underneath still scares her. I don’t blame her.
Christmas came. Father was still with us, it was a very rare occasion.We played in the snow and skid on the slopes. We even attempted to create a human-sized snowman, a feat we can only achieve through father’s assistance. Mother clothed the snowman with her worn out knitted scarf. I gathered two similar looking twigs for hands while father put rocks on the face to resemble eyes and a smile. Indoors, we spent Christmas eve with a hot cup of chocolate while we silently enjoyed each other’s company by the fireplace. I wordlessly muttered thanksgiving for the best Christmas present ever: my father.
The time finally came when he’ll leave us. He piggybacked me to the front door where several other men in uniform were waiting for him. This will be the last piggyback I get, I said to him, I’ll grow big enough you can’t even lift me. We hugged him tight. Tears were never an option. His latest thoughts of us should be smiling. I tried holding back my tears to no avail. My face was profoundly confusing, smiling genuinely with welling up tears. He chuckled and wiped the tears from my eyes before they were large enough to fall. The three of us circled into a hug, they were on their knees so I could join them. Finally, he let go and climbed the army vehicle. He smiled, we smiled. The engines started and they began drifting away. I waved non-stop at their slowly disappearing silhouette. I made sure that they were nowhere in sight before breaking down in tears. I cried, it will be a long time before I get to see him again.
Several years have passed. I can swim on the deepest parts of the lake and catch any fish my eyes land on. I taught myself to hunt, nowhere near as good as my father though. He was still the best. I wonder when will be the next time I get to see him. Only time will tell, I guessed. My mind was decided, I would follow his footsteps. I enlisted for the army before getting my mother’s consent, I know she’ll never let me. I passed. The rush of adrenaline at the mere thought of all the possible scenarios waiting for me was overwhelming.
When I told my mother, she broke down in tears. She knows she can’t stop me when I already decided. I had grown a thick skull while going through puberty. Blame the hormones, blame them. Dinner was unusually silent, everything was eerily hushed. The atmosphere was tense, I know she’s upset.
“Does your father know?” she asked.
“Not yet,” I replied. At least, she’s talking to me. It would hurt carrying this pang of guilt when I leave. She continued stuffing her mouth with food like the conversation never happened. Time was ragingly slow, I couldn’t concentrate on eating anymore. Minutes turned to hours. We still sat in silence. No more food to eat to ease the awkwardness.
“First thing in the morning,” she said managing to break the muteness, “You will tell him. Then, you’ll have my blessing.” Those were the words I’ve been dying to hear. I held her in my arms in a tight embrace.
Morning came. Time to tell father. I slowly paced to the spot where we usually scream the air out of our systems. With flowers on my hand, I reminisce every single moment I shared with him, especially the last piggyback he gave me almost 10 years ago. I knelt beside the mound of dirt and laid the flowers there. There lay a stone with an encryption saying, “In memory of a loving husband and great father.”
With a smile, I proudly told him,”Father, I’ve grown up how I wanted myself to be. Just like you.”