A short story: Being Played

I’m at my first book signing. A boy is asking questions.‘If there’s one thing you must do, without a doubt, what would that be?’

The intensity in his eyes brings the surprising answer to my head slow and unbidden.

My head whirls back to that time.

**

“It’s okay, you. Go for it. I’ve got your back” he said, slipping an arm around my shoulder.

I look at the person who has given me everything in life, from a home to the most basic of necessities like food and shelter. Not to mention a kickass education and a blissful life. I look at him and wonder how I got so bloody lucky in life.

Growing up till the age of six in an orphanage that could have seen better days but never did and eventually crumbled over our heads (thankfully killing none for it was school time; and the caretakers saved themselves in the nick of time) and then being adopted by the man I now call father.

Neither father nor the orphanage people know how it came about that I was suddenly his little girl. This is my construction of the event:

He was passing by in his ambassador, getting back home from work when a building suddenly collapsed. The car stopped in shock, and so did the little girl running back from school. She must have given him a gist of herself and the place she called home. He must have been in shock too – for he picked her up and walked towards a group of people near the rubble. He arranged a time for when the orphanage head could come see his home and the official documents could be done up. And voila! The little girl got new clothes and toys and a nanny – and the best person in the world as her father.

“Father… it’s a huge risk… I know” I stammer.

His hand still draped over my shoulder, he pulls me in for a half hug.

“Don’t worry about it. You want to try getting into Oxford? Okay. You’ve worked so hard at school; you must give it a shot and apply. You want to read all your life? Do it. You want to write and only write? So be it. It’s a fantastic idea!” he said.

I can hear aayamma (nanny) in the next room muttering ‘Her father is a doctor… and she wants to write stories’ the scorn in her voice almost chokes me. She goes on …’what will she do after spending all her father’s earnings? When he is no more, how will she support herself by not earning? …and what is he thinking letting her pursue this profession? … normal people don’t go for engineering and the likes for no reason…these two are so impractical’..

I thank father and go to my room.

It’s scary and unpredictable a step; the thousand-and-one consequences and implications flash through my head for the umpteenth time.

But then I think of father and what he said. My head feels less clammed up and my heart feels lighter. Father meant what he said. He’s got my back, again and always.

I start with my application process.

I cannot believe it when my acceptance letter comes in, or the scholarship.

But for me the greatest relief had been when my father had encouraged me to apply. This exuberance on getting accepted, this was secondary.

**

He is still in front of me, waiting for my response.

I stare at the boy asking me the question – if there is one thing every human must do, what is it?

The answer forms in my head slowly:

If they ever find a person who needs to fly … flap away to find themselves… but are stuck due to worldliness ( or the lack of it?) … they should… could … Push and reassure and support that person … with no thought of any worldly gain… they must.

I look at the man who has been my saviour in this lifetime, and answer the boy’s question – “To set free those who need to fly, and watch over them through the blues, especially”. 

The boy nods his head and withdraws. The signing officially begins.

When it’s his turn, I write ‘Thank you for being you … the gamble paid off father!’

And he whispers ‘You think I didn’t know it would?’

***

I see what she writes on the old man’s book. I hear what he whispers to her. And I would almost cry with the pain the realization brings in.

Here was a father who gave in his everything, his love, support and belief, so that his daughter could fly. I think of my own boy who was now earning a pile in banking. He always had a knack for money, my boy. But I remember how it wasn’t always this way. How he wanted to pursue music – music that I had heard as noise back then. How he dropped it and went to college to pursue something more practical. He still strums his guitar on Sundays.

I find it beautiful now; he tells me it’s nothing great. 

He shuts the bedroom door and stays at it for hours together on Sundays. He never makes me feel guilty for taking it away from him; his passion. I tell myself in this world it’s important to be this way. Isn’t he happy and well settled now?

After signing her father’s copy she signs mine – and I hear my son’s reply to my thought. “No father, I am not happy. I try, for you, for this world. And I will keep trying till one day it will kill me”.

What have I done?

I gave him all the support and luxuries of everyday life.

Why did I forget matters of the heart?

As I drive home to my wife, the guilt wrought tears refuse to stop.

**

His guilt about not letting their son pursue his passion is killing him.

She reads what her husband recorded in his journal. It was something she never did before.

He went on long walks, got lost staring at blank walls, and smiled blankly. At first she thought it must be the newly retired phase. Then more than a few months crossed, and he continued to be the same way. That’s why she had decided to look into his recent entry. She had found the one he had written about the book signing. Guilt was eating him up.

If her son had shown anger or resentment for their cajoling him to not pursue music professionally, there would be far less guilt. But no, he was a calm and sweet boy who never laid it on them. It would eat her son too, slowly, his distance from it; it was already eating her husband alive.

If only they could live in her past for just a minute.

She would never tell them, for she saw red when it came to comparisons.

Comparisons only seemed to belittle someone or the other’s life. Sure, there could be positive takeaways and life altering lessons; or there could be self criticism and sadness.

Her father was a small time businessman. Her mother was a meek homemaker. They were that lethal middle class family who wished to climb up the ladder and fast. She was the first of two daughters. She wanted to pursue statistics – she loved the subject. Her father was baffled and wanted her to do something that would serve well when she got married. She was his ticket into the other side – money and deals and living life king’s size. She went to an arts college which taught them how to be good housewives. She had raged and stormed and thrown tantrums – it was intellectual suicide! Nothing worked against him though. To domesticate her, he started using violence. It started with slaps and pushes; soon everything at home was used to tame this wild side to her. She came to know all belts and sharp objects that she never knew existed at home. 

Her mother was too scared and oh, the beauty of it all – she thought it was correct that this was done. 

Daughters should accommodate and listen to their fathers, it was only right. Her sister was not privy to this, she was far too small.

Just as the torture was escalating she had got her first ‘rishta’ (offer for marriage). She accepted it without a thought and was lucky that she married a decent good natured man. The one good thing she was able to do was get her sister out of that house and fund her studies. Her sister was a good journalist now.

What she would have liked to show her husband was that he should feel proud of himself. He slogged nine hours a day for more than thirty years to support his family. He gave his wife and son all the affection, care and respect he could. He never raised his hand or shouted like a brazen man. He treated them like his.

Which was much more than what she could say of her own father. Really, couldn’t the man have just asked her? 

What she would have liked to show her son was that yes, just as statistics was denied to her so was music to him. But music wasn’t beaten out of him and hanged up blue and black. He could still learn, he could still pursue it. All his father did was what all fathers would do – worry for his son’s future. In her heart she knew her son understood this to be a fact – he must have realised that even if his father had said no to learning music professionally, he could have stuck to his choice if he really wanted to.

Though in no way would it make her husband’s guilt die (it would subside a bit perhaps) or her son’s agony abate (but she knew how painful it was to be denied your passion), she wished for them to realise what a good life they’d lived.

And really, with the advent of smart phones and a gadget obsessed world, learning had become so accessible and flexible. An hour a day after work was all her son needed anyway – why get depressed and play every Sunday for hours like a lost soul?

She had got back to her statistics this year, quietly and purring in satisfaction.

She didn’t tell the kitty party ladies though – YouTube had to be used for episodes missed and propagating gossip, not learning statistics.

Ah, how she had missed it!
~AK

The amazing sketch accompanying this wonderful story (ahem!;D) is made by Aditya Soral. One can find his sketches on his insta account @adityasoral. 

Do drop by again! Cha!

😀

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