There were a huge range of amazing submissions to last year's Student Writing Competition. This series celebrates the best of the lot. Read on for Lilith Tupuola Fa'alogo's short story A Family Affair.
A Family Affair
Asa and her Mum reached their final left. Four hours of pylons, mountains, pine and finally, something was looking back.
“We should be here. We need to be here,” Mum had said, firmly.
The car began to slow as a brown villa emerged from the concealed and well-kept driveway. A polished balustrade wrapped around the porch detracted from ill-fitted bricks slathered on each wall and a broken window on the home’s second storey. Bold letters greeted Asa as they entered through the gate. Welcome.
The car pulled in, and a damp lawn pushed back. Asa and her Mum climbed out of the car and joined hands at the hood. Mum smoothened out her puletasi - a black with gold printed small flowers at the ankle and a top that matched. Asa tugged at her own and adjusted her hair. Both wore frangipani at the left ear, fastened by a hair clip.
“We don’t know him,” Asa grunted.
“We pay our respects. This is your family.”
As Asa walked towards the house, cars gathered and parked around the porch and by the house. Each seemed to point to a special sort; a white car, elongated at the back with an open boot. Marshall Services, it read.
“The hearse is ready,” a distant voice shouted.
On the porch, an easel cradled a large portrait - a small boy with curly hair. His face, cheerful, occupied the piece. His cheeks, like Asa’s, were concentrated below the eye and like Asa’s, his eyes were small – dark, like her Dad’s and protected by glasses.
Asa and Mum reached the door.
“Oh, you came,” an older lady opened the door and smiled forcefully.
Her dress stood out amongst dark shadows inside the house. It was a white puletasi – no flowers, print or frangipani in her hair. She hovered by the portrait. “How old is your pepe, now?”
“Ioe. Asa’s ten.”
Mum slipped off her shoes and greeted the lady with a cheek kiss and hug. Asa did the same and the lady smiled - warmly this time, but still with force.
“The girls are in the first bedroom to the left. You can say hi. Introduce yourself.”
Asa walked towards the door. Her knees buckled as she edged closer. The floor was lined with linoleum, a foreign ground.
Under the bam bushes, under the tree. Clap. Clap. Clap. True love for you, my darl-
Asa poked her head inside. Four girls looked up. The room didn’t resemble a place of sleep. It was dimly lit with fairy lights, a sole source of light. Behind the girls, each wall and window was draped in siapo – tapa cloth stretched across the floor and walls with turtles, shapes and flowers decorated in each space. Asa walked inside. Of the four in the room, three played hand games. The last sat on an armchair next to the casket, upheld by a small bed frame covered in cloth. Out of the casket, white material poured out. “Hi, Asa. We’re your cousins,” the eldest said, sitting on the chair. “Your Dad’s gone out, but he’ll be back soon.”
“Hello,” Asa whispered.
Her voice faltered as she hovered by the door. The younger three continued to stare. Each wore a white dress that had creased from sitting. Chairs tempted Asa, but she stood longer, staring at the casket – smaller than her Mama’s, whom Asa had since outgrown.
“You can say hello to him. It’s okay.”
Asa took a breath. She remembered what to say.
“Tulou. Tulou... Tulou.”
She ducked as she walked past the girls who continued their game. She planned to greet them, but their hands were occupied and mouths full. When we get married... we’ll have a family...
Her fingers traced the white casket until she reached the seat and felt the casket’s tulle.
She peered inside the casket. His face was prettier in person. Younger in person. The boy’s cheeks were sunken and his complexion, cold. He wore a white shirt with a white tie that his glasses would have matched. His hair was gelled back and lips, pursed. Asa extended her arm toward his forehead. It looked like hers.
“Don’t touch him,” Asa’s youngest cousin said.
She stopped the game and frowned,
“It’s irreverent. My Mum told me. Don’t touch his face.”
Asa’s heart dropped. Ten minutes earlier, she was staring at a stranger’s house – attending a boy’s funeral. In Lai’s room, she was sitting with his sisters. Authority. Cousins that homed him, her Dad’s son. Her own brother.
Asa turned bright red. She clenched her stomach and held her cheek.
“O-oh, I won’t. I’ll just look,” her voice wavered.
The girl smiled triumphantly,
A tear fell from Asa’s eye. She caught it with two hands. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Another one followed. She clutched the casket and pinched her leg, embarrassed and feeling cornered. Out of place. Asa smiled at the boy anyway,
“I’ve come to visit you with my Mum, actually. You’re my brother.”
She stared at the casket and the eldest girl smiled.
“It was nice of your Mum to bring you, today,” she said to Asa,
“This is your family, too.”
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