" Did you ever happen to experience this kind of thing when you were a child? You were alone in your house, but you heard a voice coming from the ceiling, talking to you?"
As he speaks, he is dragging the heavy wooden ladder into the west room of the old house, the room he had lived in as a child. I look at his reddened face, the sweaty swirl of his hair, and the bottles of beer rolling around the floor next to the couch and I think to myself that he is really drunk.
"Yes, I did." I respond vaguely.
"I did, too." He laughs and moves the ladder to the middle of the living room and puts it in place.
"My parents were always away from home when I was a kid, and both of them worked. My dad was a teacher and my mom was a doctor, no way to take kids to work. And worrying about any accident that may happen to me, they had to lock me in the house. I was not allowed to go anywhere. Do you think that could be considered abuse? Ugh ...... Anyway, I was lonely as a child."
He shakes his head and begins to climb the ladder.
"At that time, I could not read and write and the house was empty. The only fun was talking to the voices from the ceiling. I don't know where I got so much to say at that time, I talked with the voice on the ceiling all the time, I could talk until my dad got off work. That voice from the ceiling knows quite a lot, you know, more interesting to talk to than to kids next door. I was precocious, I did not want to play with the kids next door - well I was not able to, was locked in my house, not able to make friends of my age. And those adults, who care to listen to a kid? So, when someone was willing to listen to me, even though it is just a voice from the ceiling. I treasured it." He says.
I ask, "You didn't think that was strange?"
He thinks for a while and continues,
"I was too little. I didn't understand anything. Just know that there is a friend on the ceiling. Me and my parents, we didn't talk about ghosts and gods in our family. My parents are educated people and didn't believe in that kind of thing. So, when I told my parents about that voice, they thought I was making up stories. But-"
He does not finish his sentence, because suddenly his hand slips. He seems to fall. I have the intention to help, but he is halfway up the ladder and too far from my reach. Thanks to his quick reflexes, he doesn't fall down.
"But they believed it later."
He grasps the ladder and finishes his sentence.
Sober people should know better than to climb the ladder by now. But he takes a startled breath and continues climbing up again.
"Did I ever tell you about the time I fell off a ladder as a child?" He asks.
"No." I answer.
"It was also summer, I cut up a watermelon at home by myself and asked the voice if he wanted a slice of watermelon. The voice said yes, but the watermelon was far from his reach. I was particularly enthusiastic, and said, 'It's okay, I will take it to you.' And I rushed back to the backyard and moved the ladder out. I cut a slice of the reddest watermelon, holding it in one hand, and began to climb the ladder, I just wanted to share it with my ceiling 'friends'. Just like this."
He says and demonstrates the action.
He is holding the ladder with one hand and looks shaky.
"Be careful not to fall." I warn him.
"Oh, it would have been nice to have someone say this to me at that time. Anyway, I fell. I didn't know how I fell, but my parents said that they came home and saw me on the floor unconscious, and they rushed me to the hospital, and I was in a coma for seven days before I woke up."
You are very lucky. I think to myself, looking at him.
"Granny came up from her hometown to take care of me. When I woke up, I told them what happened, my parents were…okay, but granny was terrified. She dragged my parents out to give them a scolding. They then began to feel that things are very serious. Only then they began to believe these…ghosts. Later, our family moved away from here. But even if we moved away, from that time on, there has always been a smell of burning incense in our house. I have never get used to it."
He frowns, smiles bitterly, and points to a pile of Buddhist medals and jade pendants on the couch that he has thrown aside.
"Those are the ‘holy’ things my parents beg me to wear, to guard me against evil spirits. I can only take those things off when my parents weren't around, and believe me, those things are annoying. And they didn't come in handy at all, because…
"When I got back from the hospital, that voice was gone. I couldn’t hear it anymore."
He looks a little sad.
"But...this time when I come back, I seem to be able to hear it again."
You can hear my ass. I think. But my mouth says, "Really?"
" Why would I lie to you? It is not always possible to hear. I can not hear it when I'm awake, I can not hear it when I'm asleep, but I can hear it when I've had a little beer, or in the evening, or in the early morning, when I'm not very conscious, hey - I can hear it." He squinted his eyes, as if trying to recall something, "I tell you, when I was a kid, I always thought that voice knew a lot and was an adult. But now that I think about it, it seems younger than me now. Strange, isn't it?"
I ignore his question.
"So what are you going to do?" I ask absentmindedly, looking at the beer bottles.
"Nothing." He says. he seems tired, twirling his wrist, which carries nothing to ward off evil spirits.
"I just thought, this time, maybe I can meet the voice once. Just once."
By this time he has climbed to the top of the ladder. I see him saying "just one time" while extending his hand and pressing his palm on the ceiling. My heart jumps. He stares at the ceiling and giggles.
This drunkard, but his hand is really warm.
Warm and full of life.
"So, what do you say?" He asks.
Only then do I slowly bend down towards him and put my cold hand over his face.
"Yeah," I reply softly, "I have been waiting."