3 years ago.
Nathan, 21 years old.
Liit Town, Muwin.
"Come on! Come on!"
"Up, up, up, up, up!"
Nathan was bench-pressing a barbell that was stacked with 270 pounds of plates.
His face was red as he gritted his teeth.
"Come on! Come on!" said the spotter who was lightly touching the center of the barbell.
Thick veins appeared on Nathan's neck and forehead as he continued to push the weight.
He tipped his toes.
His lower back was beginning to rise and rise, almost to the point of reaching a bad form.
But thanks to the years of lifting, the muscle memory of his body subconsciously prevented him from doing so, holding him just a half-step away from doing a bad rep.
"Push! Push! PUSH!"
Nathan was stuck in the middle of completing the rep.
He couldn't push anymore.
His forearms started to shake and his shoulders felt like it was going to pop any moment.
This was his first time bench-pressing 270 pounds.
Just a week ago, his highest was only 260 pounds.
And a week before that, it was 250 pounds.
It was too early.
As he was about to tell the spotter to grab the barbell and assist him in returning it to the rack, he thought about what happened back at Latif City 2 months ago.
He thought about the police officers…
He thought about his father…
He thought about Karen's parents…
He thought about Vincent…
He thought about Karen…
He thought about Vincent and Karen naked and passionately kissing…
All of a sudden, he was fueled by rage and a new surge of strength ignited inside of him.
He pushed the bar up in the air, completing the rep.
With the rep finally complete, the spotter grabbed onto the bar and assisted Nathan in returning it to the rack.
Nathan immediately sat up.
"Hah… Hah… Hah…. Thanks, bro," said Nathan breathlessly and held out a fist.
The spotter, who was actually the gym instructor, fist-bumped him.
"No problem, bro."
The spotter returned to the counter to check his phone.
Alone, Nathan clicked his tongue.
'Damn those people! I wish they all drop dead right now!'
Does he still love Karen?
It would be a lie if he said he doesn't have any positive feelings left for her.
It would be a lie if he said he doesn't miss her.
It would be a lie if he said it never crossed his mind to call her.
It would be a lie if he said he never thought about leaving this town and go back to Latif City.
She was, after all, his first love, his first girlfriend and a person that he shared a lot of memories with, both good and bad.
On the other hand…
As much as Nathan hated Karen and Vincent to the point that he wanted to strangle them to death, he was also someone, in the end, who wants to live in society and enjoy its benefits.
He doesn't want to spend his life behind bars.
Since that incident 2 months ago, all he did was focus on his job to forget about the pain and work out 6 times a week to release his anger.
After catching his breath, Nathan checked his watch.
'About 40 minutes to go before the gym closes.'
Today was a Saturday.
Saturday was the holy day for the Iklas religion.
However, on this particular Saturday, it wasn't just a typical holy Saturday for Iklasians.
Today was the final day of the celebration of the Holy Week where the prophet Zalimun climbed Mt. Makanalah and wandered inside a cave for days before encountering God on the 7th day and received the holy teachings.
At 12:00 noon, everyone was to head to the church and attend the mass which will then be followed by a feast.
Although Nathan wasn't particularly religious, thanks to the household he grew up on, Liit Town was a small town on a tiny island with only about 2,500 residents.
So given that this town had a small population, there naturally was this sense of a so-called "tight" community.
There's also the fact that most South Muwinians that believe in Iklas have a low opinion on those who don't share their beliefs.
So if Nathan wanted to live a peaceful life here, he had no choice but to adapt to their mindset -- at least whenever he's around them.
Fortunately for him, he had relatives here and he didn't say or do anything stupid so far so he was welcomed with open arms right away in the first few days he got here 2 months ago.
If he was a total stranger, it would've probably taken him much, much longer.
Nathan stood up and head to the water dispenser which was beside the counter.
"I'll be going now. I'll see you guys later at the mass!" said a man who just came out of the locker room.
"What the hell, bro? You're going already? You barely lifted anything," said another man.
"Yeah, bro. I need to go back home to help my wife."
"Under~ Under~ Under~" Another person started chanting a slang term.
The term "under" meant someone who is submissive to his/her partner. It was a term commonly used against men here in Muwin.
"Lol… I can't help it, bro. My in-laws are present," said the man as he waved his hand and headed towards the exit which was near the counter.
"Take care, bro."
"Thanks, bro. See you guys at the mass."
As the man passed by the counter, he tapped Nathan on the shoulder, who was right beside counter drinking water from a plastic cup.
"Nathan, bro, I've got to go," said the man and held out his fist.
Nathan put down his cup and fist-bumped him before saying, "Sure, sure. Take care, bro."
"You too, bro."
Nathan resumed his workout.
Nathan was walking down the street, heading home.
Although Liit Town was just a small town on a tiny island, there were a few things he likes about this place…
One -- Everything was just a walking distance.
Two -- It wasn't noisy compared to living in a city.
Three -- It wasn't crowded and there were actually places that you can just be alone and relax other than your own room.
Four -- Fresh air.
Five -- Almost everything was cheap here, such as the bills, rent and food.
And speaking of food, the main source of income here was fishing.
Living here, Nathan was able to eat all kinds of sea creatures that if he ate them at a restaurant in a city, it would cost him at least 20 times more than what he would pay here.
And the worst part? As a 6ft-tall man who works out, the typical meal size that an average person would be full with will never be enough for him.
Nathan passed by the market to buy some fruits for his relatives living with him at his grandfather's house.
He stopped by a fruit vendor.
The vendor was a woman in her early 30s.
"Good morning, Nathan. Done working out?"
As a new face in Liit town and someone who came from the city and also had relatives here, everyone knew about Nathan but he doesn't know all of them.
And if there was something he didn't like about this place aside from their die-hard take on religion, it was that most people here can be nosy sometimes so one had to be in their best behavior at all times if they want to maintain a good reputation.
Nathan looked at the vendor and couldn't help but notice that she had a bruise around her left eye.
In truth, the woman tried to conceal it with makeup. However, she must have forgotten about it and accidentally wiped the sweat from her face with a cloth while she was working.
Compared to the north, the South Muwinian culture was truly a patriarchal society and had strict gender rules.
They expect men to act as men and women to act as women -- nothing in between. Each gender had their own roles to fulfill.
And although men are expected to treat women with respect, if a woman acts or does something that is deemed to be improper, a man that is related to her has the right to hit her.
Given that Nathan grew up in the central region of Muwin and didn't really associate himself with South Muwinians that much, he, of course, found the practice somewhat barbaric, particularly the part of hitting women.
To him, as sexist as it may sound, most men are just naturally superior when it comes to physical strength. Anyone who would think otherwise is a fool brainwashed by movies or whatever source of lies they've taken it from.
Regarding this woman in front of him, well, he chose to ignore it.
Who was he to question other people's culture and beliefs?
Who was he to tell people what's right and wrong?
And the most important part, he doesn't know the context of the story to what led to the bruise.
Was the person who hit her just an animal who loves to hit women for fun?
Or did this woman do something wrong that made it "reasonable" to hit her?
"Good morning, too. Yes, and I'm headed home right now. Six oranges, apples and bananas please," said Nathan as he handed her cash.
Whatever trouble this woman was in right now, he didn't want to be part of it so he wanted to leave right away.
The woman took the cash and started putting fruits he requested inside a plastic bag.
She gave the plastic bag to him along with his change.
"Here you go."
Nathan quickly left.
Nathan arrived in front of his grandfather's house.
As he was making his way through the front door, someone called out his name from behind.
It was a little girl's voice.
Nathan turned around and saw that it was his neighbor, Jadaa.
She was this 13 year-old girl who likes to ask Nathan about city life.
She dreams about growing up one day and go to the city to live there.
Nathan wasn't related to her or whatsoever, except being neighbors.
As for why she calls him "uncle," perhaps it was because he was sporting a goatee and had long hair which makes look older.
And add-in his body size, he also looked a bit intimidating.
"Hello. Good morning."
"My father bought me this dress from the city for the mass today. Isn't it beautiful? This is what the people in the city also wear, right?"
The clothing she was wearing a cute red dress that reached way below her knees. It had white frills and a big yellow ribbon at the back.
Nathan flashed a warm smile and said, "Yes, it's very beautiful. And yes, people in the city also wear that."
"You mean it?"
"Of course! I would never lie, especially on a holy day."
Jadaa smiled brightly as she spun around and looked at her dress.
She was pleased.
Whether Nathan was lying or not, it doesn't matter to him.
When it comes to children, he always had a soft spot for them because unlike adults, they were true to their nature.
In most cases, there were no hidden meanings or motives when they speak or act.
And even if there were, it was easy to spot a mile away.
But of course, although Nathan had a soft spot for children, this doesn't mean he wanted one -- well, not at the moment.
Firstly, he was still 21 years old.
Secondly, his financial status isn't stable yet.
If he were going to have children, he wants to be financially stable first so that he can provide them a good and stable life.
"Come pick a fruit you want," said Nathan as he opened the plastic bag of fruits that he was carrying.
"I'm already full. I just ate."
"Do you have candies, though?"
"I thought you said you were full?"
"I have a special space inside my stomach for candies."
She was being called by a woman from her house.
"I've got to go now or mother will get angry at me!" said Jadaa.
"Sure, sure," said Nathan and chuckled.
When he reached the front door of his grandfather's house, he could hear the voice of Jadaa's mother.
"Didn't I tell you not to go outside and play? You will get that dress dirty and you won't have anything to wear at the mass!"
Nathan just shook his head and smiled.
He left his flip-flops at the entrance before entering.
His grandfather's house was a two-story house that was mostly made up of wood and was built about 60 years ago.
Here, aside from his grandfather Sakhr who was already 95 years old, there was also his uncle (his father's younger brother), aunt and one of their children.
His uncle's name was Mabrook and he works as a teacher at the local high school.
His aunt's name was Mariam and was a housewife.
Both of them were in their mid-40s.
As for their children, they were both were males.
The eldest was Maaz. He was 25 years old who didn't go to college and continued living here in Liit Town but rarely comes home.
Meanwhile, the youngest was Malik. He was 20 years old who is currently studying at Banya City College and didn't come home this weekend due to some reason related to school.
Banya City is one of the cities in the southern region of Muwin.
"Nathan, you're back. I've already prepared food. Come eat first," said a woman.
It was aunt Mariam.
In this household, they usually have breakfast together before 7:00 am during the weekdays and 9:00 am on weekends.
"Okay, aunt Mariam. But I need to change first," said Nathan and then passed her the plastic bag.
"What's this?" Mariam took the plastic bag and opened it. "Oh, your grandfather would love these."
Nathan climbed up the stairs and went to his room to change.
His room was on the second floor and didn't have a door.
The reason why it didn't have a door was because it was removed by his uncle Mabrook about 10 years ago.
This room that Nathan was staying in was something he shared with his cousin Maaz.
There were two bunk beds.
But given that Maaz rarely comes home, Nathan never felt he was sharing it with someone.
As for why the door was removed, it was thanks to Maaz.
When Maaz was around the age of 15, he started doing drugs and would sometimes take them inside his room.
But one day, aunt Mariam caught him.
When uncle Mabrook found out about it, he beat Maaz so badly that he needed to be assisted for a week whenever he goes to the toilet.
However, just about a week later after his recovery, he was caught again doing drugs inside his room and the same thing happened.
In the next several months, there was no incident because Maaz stopped doing drugs inside his room.
But one afternoon, uncle Mabrook received a call from his phone that Maaz was sent to the local clinic due to overdose and he almost died.
Fortunately for Maaz, someone "found" him unconscious in the forest so he was sent to the clinic right away.
Furious and helpless, uncle Mabrook decided to remove the door of Maaz's room.
In uncle Mabrook's mind, it would be better for Maaz to do drugs inside his own room because at least they could spy on him and prevent him from overdosing rather than having him overdose at some unknown place.
Of course, during the years that went by, they tried to have Maaz rehabilitated as well. However, things only got worse and he began to associate himself with some dangerous people.
As for the reason they had Nathan stay in this room, they were aware about what happened to him 2 months ago before he was sent here and feared that he might do something crazy like commit suicide or something.
And given that they've noticed that Nathan hasn't tried to date or showed any interest towards another woman ever since he came here, they were getting a little worried.
I hope you guys enjoyed this chapter. Thank you for reading!
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