Heavenly Prizes Part II of III

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic
Heavenly Prizes Part II

Submitted: June 14, 2013

A A A | A A A

Submitted: June 14, 2013

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X

"I will soap your back."

"Great idea! Keep that open." He whispered and pointed to the door with his eyes.

We stepped in and he turned the tap on. it started with a pleasant noise of water hitting the ground. I held dad as he held the wall with both hands. If I hold his chest from behind, it’s like pressing myself into a very soft object. It isn’t the same as doing it from the front. So, I stayed behind him and started with the chest. I rubbed the soap, and rubbed, rubbed the froth, and so, moving my hands around his shoulders, arms, under-arms, back, belly, bum, and his crack. Fancy a carefully carved statue made of rare marble mined from the miles down fire ravaged depths of the earth. The best artists finely chisel each part with utmost attention, and rubbed with hands so sensitive to give it the texture of a wax, and finally, it comes to life at a touch. My hands ran, somewhere hastily, somewhere slowly, below waist, and between the legs. He stood facing the shower with his head under the cold water, frequently coughing and raising his open mouth under the water, swishing it around before spitting on the wall. His both hands remained rested on the opposite wall. I wanted to, if I could, lift him up to turn him around, but not now. I wanted to explore a bit more of receiving passionate warmth from it, but not now. There’s no time today. I noticed I had already lost my excitement, when he spoke.

"Hurry up, can’t stand here all day." He spoke silently with a deep tone, and cleaned his nose. He moved forward towards the shower and let the water run on his back. I gave a final rub from the shoulders down to clean the remaining soap. I could perhaps do it all day long, and I knew that he would let me, but I know patience and wait delivers the sweetest fruit. Later, perhaps, after dinner!

"Be quick." He said and left the cubicle as quickly without turning around. I also had one quickly. Mom ready slightly later, and we all went out for some fun. We parked the car and walked on the promenade towards the mall. We both held on to mom’s arms on either side. Their domestic conversation made the walk terribly slow for my gaze to attract the rise of the sunset. A profusely bleeding orb, the visage of whom covered with brush strokes of rusty gold paint against long horizontal puffs of grey clouds touched on the edges for silver lining took its slow motioned dive into the western horizon. The moon played hide and seek in a friendly playful spotty faced toddler gesture. A burning charcoal colour velvet quilt covered a quarter of the sky, and dew droplets sized twinkles of little stars just peeping out under a grey blanket in the east. Birds darted at a bullet speed in and out of trees. A tender breeze, unceasingly replenished the refreshing salt in the eyes, so soothingly combed the hair, and as gently wiped away the moisture from the surface of the skins. Just a teasing taste of salt air to set your mind on some queer game of chance encounter. May be I should make a note of this. My idea of penning a poem if such an agreeable circumstance made the availability of some writing aperture just formed and unformed as dad shouted out at the approach of the mall.

"Oh, there is a nice spot. Grab that one. You know, I hadn't thought how hungry I was. Jack, shall we just attack the kitchen." Dad pointed to a dining table and rubbed his hands tightly. Mom thinks its funny.

I know dad is only speaking figuratively with an air of care in his clear voice. I think dad makes it sound funnier. It wouldn't be quarter as good told by anyone else. We sat down for some grilled food, cold drinks, topped with a table game with dad. Just half way through it, by chance, bumped into another friend with his folks. It always happens as I am about to beat him.

"Hello! Hello there! Oh yeah, we met yesterday. It was great. How are you keeping? How’s work, oh a week off? It will fly by. We all need time off from time to time. Congratulations again by the way. A quick drink on me for a proper celebration. Why not! Gosh what lovely dress, where did you get it? I think my sister brought it over last year from somewhere abroad. How sweet"  – such pleasantries being exchanged between my parents and Mr and Mrs Croft. I know congratulations is just an excuse for an extra drink to squarely lay the dice rolling in the middle. Hope not for too long because I had plans for the night. They decided to have a drink together. Damn, I was left with croft to have a cold drink. Girls joined us. Not sure how they managed to dodge their parents. Probably saw croft and immediately deserted everything at hand just to swarm around him. The conversation hit off with exploring each other’s mind. "Hey, fellas, what’s up? Jack, how are you? still exhausted or what? Where are you planning to apply now? Any offers yet? Anywhere will take you. no trouble!" Talking about educational material can be so tiring. You can only keep it going for so long, carefully, laugh it off without becoming the laughing stock. Naturally, their mind wondered to some dance accompanied with music. they all proposed in one voice and decided to visit the club for some thrill. It always happens after exhausting out each other’s study plans. What a bore – I was thinking whilst thinking of something else. I wondered if dad would join us, which seemed unlikely as he boldly refused when I offered to take him with me just so I could stay in his company. He preferred Crofts’ company more than mine. They will force more rounds of drinks and get him to talk about political affairs, or use his commerce skill, without saying much themselves. He doesn’t need my protective advise. Sure he is wise enough to take care of himself.

"We will be staying here for a while. Just join us back here when you are finished with the club." We ran towards the club as though it would take off if we failed to catch it in time.

"Catch my head Jack or it will stay behind." On the way back mom drove and dad craned his head over the passenger seat asking me to massage it. I happily extended my arms over from the back seat and played with dad's hair. Mom thinks its funny again. She has no idea about speaking figuratively. She will be in a fit of giggles if I explained. It was quite late into the night when we arrived back home; dad slumped on the sofa. Mom in the bedroom. I helped him take his shoes off.

"Oh, that’s a relief." He rested his head on the back of the sofa and put his arm over his face, as I unlaced and took his tight shoes off. He wriggled his toes in his socks. I took the socks off. If he doesn’t want me to do anything further such as polishing his watch or helping with his cuff links, he usually says; enough of that for now. This he says without looking at me, which I know to mean that I have taken a step further than required. Now he doesn’t even have to move away from me which he did in the beginning, as I have learnt to respect the follow up unspoken command.

"Did you enjoy the evening?" He touched my hair in a way that a hairdresser does when applying the first cross of his scissors.

"Sure sir, you bet I did." I stayed below the sofa resting my face against his knee. I moved directly against his legs to put my arms under his thighs and held them there. He put his hand on my ear and moved it up and down which made my face sink further into his lap. His thighs felt extremely warm as if my face was pressing against a heated surface. I smelt my own warm breath which had moistened the fabrics of his trousers. I felt his upper leg muscles twitching under my face. My hands pressed tighter under his legs. It was even warmer under the legs. I wanted to take him to a secluded place but the present position felt a lot better than any other situation that I could think of. I felt some sweat on my hands. I pulled my hands out and held him from the back around his belt. My back shivered slightly with a cold breeze through the window. I felt his hand massaging my back, with a precision in his jab no more and no less than the ideal dose, after which he began to comb my hair with his fingers. Long, long time may have passed in silence as we let it, so that I was just about to doze off, and suddenly my knees felt the hardness of the floor. There, came the Sound of the bedroom door opening and closing, followed by the sound of mom’s footsteps in the corridor.

"Get me a beer from the fridge, will you? Look for the one most chilled." He put his both hands under his head.

I got up straight away and headed to the kitchen. Mom arrived in her night dress with a hair brush in her hand.

"I am going to make myself a tea." She announced. "Anyone care to join me?"

"I am fine." Dad’s response, as well as a wave of the hand without looking up to mom. He does this wave of hand when he is busy and doesn’t need a reply to his speech.

"I am fine too mom."

"I will prepare a warm night drink for you. last night was a bad one. I was so tired. It will help you sleep better. I know you didn’t sleep well last night." Mom said as she entered the kitchen whilst I was searching for the most chilled beer, touching each can to check its temperature.

"I will sleep fine mom. Dad is coming to talk to me."

"Any talk can be done later tomorrow. He is also tired. It’s been a long day for him." Mom’s tone touched a slightly stronger note at the ending. It was going to be hard to persuade mom.

I found dad asleep on the sofa with head resting on the back and his mouth open, when I brought the beer out. I wanted to just stare at his face without waking him. So I stood opposite him with the open can of beer in my hand.

"No need to wake him, and never mind that." Mom’s hushed voice pointing to the still chilled beer in my hand, as she brought her tea out of the kitchen, and a glass of hot drink for me. Smashing, now he won’t get a chance to appreciate my skill in searching for the most chilled beer for him. Mom kept brushing her hair over tea whilst I drank my drink. Neither of us spoke. Maybe, to avoid disturbing dad. She sent me to my bed straight after finishing my drink.

In the bed; hope he walks in soon. I should ready myself for his arrival. I should keep awake at least in case I hear his footsteps later at night. I kept the lights on to take another look at that smile when he does walk in. This time I will not sleep so quickly. I stared at the ceiling and suddenly found myself blinking hard at the ceiling listening to the noise of the alarm clock. I looked around for dad. No sign of him. Lights had been switched off and alarm had been turned on. A night wasted. No matter.

Mom and dad already up having tea and reading papers. ‘Good morning’ exchanged.

"Dad is going to spend the day with you today. I have to be at Nan’s. Just as well I had taken this week off." Mom spoke sipping her tea without raising her head from the papers. Dad looked up with such a bright spark in his eyes. I could have just gone over to touch those eyes, but instead I headed to the bathroom for a wash up.

"No worries mom. We will have a great time." I shouted out whilst washing my face. Some time ago I used to jump up and down on his lap every weekend as these were the only days we had breakfast together. During the weekdays, he is almost out of the door as I begin to wake up, and evenings are too tiring for him. But, I felt a slight hesitation right now of carrying out such an activity. I am not entirely sure why it just doesn’t come to me, anymore. Anyway, a day with dad; rightly so, just us together. I craved to be in his company. He is so wonderful to be with. He never gets annoyed with me no matter what I do. I am most at ease with him. Someone I cannot bare to part from. I have been the happiest of all since the first day I met him. Somewhere in my mind, I figured from day one that he was meant to be... has been created.... or made for me? I had felt that my whole life was going to be different in a way that hadn’t been previous to meeting him, like meeting a long lost loved one which spells an end to a miserable period of searching for something but being unsure as to what it is. Finding a lost treasure, maybe. Yeah, that’s it, I mean. I knew that it was a test for me. If I didn’t look after my treasure, it would be taken away from me. Why should I want that to happen? Only a fool wouldn’t take such a prize seriously. What other news do I want early in the morning? Excellent news! I shall make the most of today. Wow!

 

XI

"So, what are we doing today dad?" I couldn’t wait to get out of the bathroom. But, asked this question casually in mom’s presence holding the towel around my waist.

"Dad is going to dedicate the whole day to you. I am just here for breakfast which we are going to have together, after which I have to leave soon." Mom folded the papers and gathered her hair around the neck to put a hair band around it.

"I have a surprise plan. I know you would like it." Dad’s smile stretched, and he winked at me. I couldn’t believe it. I had just been thinking about a plan, and he has taken a fancy to the same idea. He is now beginning to treat me like an adult. Winking at me, like he does with his grown up friends. All sorted.

Breakfast just wouldn’t finish fast enough. I tried to eat as fast as possible, but mom poured more food in my plate. She thinks I am hungry to be eating so fast. However, dad ate as slowly as possible. What’s wrong with him? Not focused enough on the task ahead some time, I know. At last the breakfast finished with each second stretching to an hour. I hurriedly helped mom clear the table and fill the dishwasher, to ensure dad gets ready sooner.

"I am going to take you out somewhere nice for the whole day. How’s that? Would you like to spend the whole day with me without your mom? Do you think you can manage? Hmm." He held me close by putting his arm around my shoulders.

"Off course dad! I would prefer nothing but just your company for the day. My wish has come true. We can go play tennis, or go the club for tenpin, or do whatever." I put my arms around him and jumped up and down on my toes. I couldn’t wait for the special day to begin its course.

"He needed a dad!" Mom’s voice as she headed out of the bathroom to the bedroom to get ready. Actually, I would like to be referred as his friend, but I don't think mom is in a position to understand yet.

"Ok, pack your kit, and wear some nice clothes and shoes. Can you pack a kit for me as well?"

"Sure sir." I ran back to my room, packing fast, running to their bedroom, packing fast. Mom and dad both were getting dressed, but I didn’t care to pay any attention. I was ready in under five minutes.

Out of the door, I threw both bags in the boot and waited for dad. He wouldn’t hurry up, slowly giving some last minute instructions to mom at the door. Then I saw him walking to the car in the back view mirror. He forwarded himself so reluctantly at the slowest of pace, I swear I suppressed the urge to go out to give him a little badly needed push. I composed myself and in vain tried to look cool and relaxed. I had already taken the hood off for him to jump in, but no way. He opened the door touching the handle really gently and held his gaze at me smiling from the corner of his eyes. Are we going to hit the road today, I thought as I threw my head back in an impatient agony.

"Today you will learn to be patient along with plenty of discipline." He goes, with a new kind of smirk and put his jacket on the back seat.

"Dad, that’s your new jacket. Are we going to a party?" I sounded reluctant as I wished there to be no such arrangement. I would hate to have dad mingling with others whilst I would be left at the bar sipping some cold drink. I just hope dad has something more exciting in mind to coordinate with my idea of a good day. I can put forward a suggestion of course, but let's first get the surprise unwrapping.

"Not a party, the jacket is for the dinner in the evening if we have the chance. Right now it’s just too hot to wear it." He unbuttoned his shirt. I couldn’t bear to look at his chest. It moves with every breath. The right time will come soon, so I stared at the road. Suspense excites me, however, for me, it is psychologically impossible to stay excited in perpetuity. you always want to quickly get to the bottom of a puzzle.

"Are we going into a room?" I asked nicely in case that was part the surprise.

"Room? Maybe. I am going to settle you for once and all as you have been quite unsettled lately." He turned his face to me. Such a smile to give me a hellish heart beat. My patience which had been resting on the brim for a long time was beginning to boil over. I leant over and stroked his shoulder with my head. He lifted his arm above the steering wheel and gripped my head under the arm. I wriggled myself free. He gave a small laugh. We hit the highway. If there is a room it must be in a house, and perhaps other people in it. Whose place is it, and when do we get there? What will take place and most of all if I don’t find it exciting at all? But there have been no clear signals. So, you see, as I am powerless to affect of the outcome, resulting in an urgent desire to resolve uncertainty, I could perhaps minimise the impact by some advance knowledge of the facts.

"How far is it?"

"We should be there quite soon. It is just a little out of the town."

"Ok, give me a brief overall description of the place, please."

"Sorry, can’t tell. The brief description is a surprise in itself, I should think!"

"How do you know I am going to like it?"

"I just know it because you have been calling for it." I was surprised that he was prepared to dedicate the whole day to my plans. He is very caring after all. As a signal of respect to his caring attitude, I suppress my feeling of uncertainty and stop asking questions. The important point is that I trust his moral maturity. Therefore I conclude, I have placed my faith in him.

"Dad you will enjoy it too because it might be you getting surprised." I pressed his shoulder in a comfortable and friendly gesture.

"Just seeing you getting settled will give me a lot of pleasure." Dad smiled to the traffic ahead.

"Now close your eyes as we are just about to go through the gates."

My eyes opened wider.

"Please. Best put your head on your knees." Dad slowed down the car and looked in my eyes.

"Ok, ok." I had to follow the command for him to take his eyes off me and speed up the car. I felt the car turn and drive a short distance, then go through some gates, gear up, down, reverse; perhaps an uneven surfaced car park. The car halted and engine switched off. The place seemed quiet and away from the main road. The sun burnt my neck. I can smell something clinical.

"No, no don’t look up yet." His hand gently brushed my neck and pressed my head down.

"All this wait is going to prove its worth so much so that you are going to love me. But let me get out first."

 

XII

"Right, you can look up now."

COUNTY TENNIS CLUB

"You are their new member." I heard dad’s voice.

"Wow dad!" All I could say. I thought I would freeze. I just wanted to get out of the car and run towards it, jump up and down really high, roll on some bonnets. Having a grown up boy conscious was just about to betray me. How to control myself? It’s not easy. I stood up and held the windshield rim.

"Dad I love you, I love you, I...... "

Once inside at the reception, introduction with the coach, signatures on some docs, shown indoor courts, outdoor courts, practice rooms, gym, members rooms, and finally the cafe where we sat with the coach. From the conversation it turns out one full week stay over for coaching. I am thrilled. It’s funny you know; dreams and reality are two different points of a spectrum. Well mostly they don’t meet. They do, but only in books. Or it happens to someone else. I pinched myself.

"Lots of students are around during this week. I would have all the time in the world for training, get to meet lots of people, make new friends, and most of all learn to be independent;" according to the coach.

"Dad, this is the best surprise ever."

"I knew you would like it."

"Like it? This is what I have wanted all my life. My whole school wants it. It will be in the bulletin. I just have to make the most of this opportunity. I haven't even prepared. Haven't practiced a single day."

Dad looks so calm as if it is all too normal. "Entirely up to you. You are never without choices. You are a big boy now." The coach's eyes shot from him to me and he gave a deadly smile at that. What dad meant to say was, 'I am a grown up boy now!'

From dad’s perspective it all seem like walk in the park. Over here, the competition kills you. People have been taken out dead through exhaustion, as one of my friends had reported in the class about his cousin. Well, although I am much stronger than his cousin, that doesn’t mean I am through. This place is a different matter entirely. They have high expectations, which I can confidently say, I am perfectly well placed to deliver. I need to reassure dad, just in case. "Dad all I will do is practice, practice, practice."

"Will you take care of yourself over this week?" He wiped his lips with the side of his finger.

I had been too thrilled to consider the last strategic development. I suddenly felt a painful sting in my heart. I sat back on the chair and looked towards dad. He was looking at both me and the coach but carefully studying my face it seemed. Finally his eyes settled on me. I let out a huge sigh and wiped the back of my hand on my nose. A week’s stay over without dad tore a piece of my chest from the inside. It hurt. I felt being pressed to the back of the chair with something heavy on my chest. I couldn’t have got out of the chair, had I wanted to, through a sudden feeling of paralysis. I stared into blank until I felt dad’s hand press mine. The coach said something which went past my ears. Then he left us alone with some parting excuse. Dad didn’t move from the chair but kept his hand pressed on mine.

"Don’t you like this arrangement?"

"You don’t know what it means." My voice took its time to become audible. I leant forward and put my hands on my ears. My eyes fought some stinging tears.

"What does it mean?" I could only hear dad’s voice, as I couldn’t look in his direction. A prized possession was just about to be snatched away from me, for a week which seemed like an immensely indefinite period.

"I will be away from you for a week. I don’t want to be. You are off work this week as well. Why can’t my coaching start from the time you return back to work?"

"It is starting next week. Didn’t you hear the coach?"

I didn’t hear it? I suddenly felt awkward. It happens to stupid people who pay attention to only part of the statement. How could I have let this happen, and in dad’s presence? I probably would have controlled the situation if I was by myself, but now there is no escaping. I was overexcited and childish at best. After the sting, I have a large visible gash. Sting didn’t matter, but this was hurting badly. This act of infantile behaviour is going to lower my head in shame for the rest of my life. I know dad loves me enough to forgive such a mistake, and probably he hasn’t noticed it, but I overstepped the mark in frenzy. I am not capable of repaying his kindness and love. I hope to do it one day when I grow up, which I thought I already had. A well deserved apology in order.

"Dad I am sorry I did not pay due regard to the coach giving dates. I should have been attentive." I looked towards my knees. My eyes felt too heavy to lift. I felt unworthy of that chair or that place. I prayed in my mind for dad’s forgiveness. I wanted to joke and laugh with him once again to the end of the day. I didn’t want to ruin the day, especially today, for him. Will he still manage to keep that smile for me which he has been keeping since this morning?

"The coach hasn’t given any dates. He has just agreed to the dates I gave them over the phone. Now he is just printing some papers for me to sign."

I could have just got up and wrestled him to the ground but I managed to stay silent.

"Happy?" I was so pleased I didn’t care to respond. I didn’t need to. In our minds I had passed over my agreement.

"Would you like a quick snack, before we go for a walk in the grounds?" He got up from the chair.

"Whatever you want dad." I slapped his back. He is a good sport. By the smirk on his face, I guessed he had played with words. I won’t forget, even though I should have spotted it much earlier. Blast.

Snacks over. Dad took coffee after the small meal and kept saying how delicious it was and well arranged everything was. Today is his day. I will happily wait in eternity for him to finish his meal, or whatever.

We walk in the grounds. "You know, this several acres of reserve belongs to the club. You can set your horses free over here." Dad points out to the horizon from one end to another. Dad seemed too busy thinking out loud; the way that my extra curriculum credits would be reciprocated by higher education institutions. He rested his arm behind my neck. It felt like a soft cushion had been placed on my shoulders for that extra comfort to enhance my posture.

"The mind is a precious little miracle. It’s fragile at the points of inexplicable injustice, a total drag on these pivots. And yes, can make life so admiringly charming, rewarding if you can crack its little complex codes. You know Jack, Emotional resilience and social adaptability is the name of life. Being ready is not enough. You need to actively call for tests of time to gain that tiny bit extra perfection which can give you the edge. Once you have been through this place, you are on to a winner. I mean, in life, generally. You will only appreciate its beauty long time from now, whenever you happen to stumble upon chances that would require your mental agility, adaptive attitude, and concentration. And those chances are not rare, hmm." he pulled me closer and attracted my gaze. I have no idea what he meant, but it sure sounded like a fair sport and a little sort of pre-battle advice dispensed with wisdom. I couldn’t possibly let him down, even if my life depended on it, I thought.

Back in the pavilion, conversation with fellow guests, staff, coaches, players, apprentices, evening fall, drinks at the bar, dining room. The day passed quite quickly, perhaps in my excitement I didn’t look at the time. Fall of the dusk upon us. Drive back home. I settled in the car and began to reflect on the day. The whole school will be shocked.

"Dad, can you tell if it is a dream or reality?"

"What is?"

"You."

"Touch me."

I put my hand on his heart and felt its beat. His skin was slightly moist with the warm air. I felt like putting my lips to it as I had been overcome with emotions by his relentless kindness through an unconditional caring attribute. Were I to be capable of conveying half the feelings that swirled in my head, he would immediately be incapable of whatever he is doing. However, there is the presence of uncompromising situation, thus disturbing the possibility of such a gesture. Postpone request.

It was just past the day and the rush hour traffic was slow. Overhead lights rolled past us, each time giving a bright glimpse of his strong features on the face and the breathing chest. Each time, I see a spark lighting up in his eyes that fades away slowly until the next light. We hadn’t taken the car hood off. A diamond rolled away off his temple leaving a liquid silver trail by the ear which was about to vaporise in the warm interior. I have a distinct feeling of its aromatic attribute. I wiped the sparkling perspiration off with my finger and tasted it. Then I wiped my finger below the ear to the neck and tasted it. It is the medium of his soul.

There is something captivating in his taste, which I have never tasted elsewhere, that I am sure makes my eyes transfixed. The feeling is of as intense a pleasure as winning a hard game or gaining the top score in exams. Except that it is momentary in its time span. It has to continue in its progress or be brought to a halt, which is only possible if I hug him or he kisses me, or at least rub the back of my head. He was staring straight ahead to the slow traffic at cars darting in and out of lanes, change of junctions forcing speed alteration and consistent manoeuvring requiring attention. I longed for him to rub the back of my head.

"Dad, I don’t think anybody in the world has as good a dad as you." I also stared out of the windshield, where I can see his reflection. His stance remained unchanged and eyes stayed focused on the traffic. Another spark lit up in his eyes.

"Do you think so?" He spoke to himself with a tone more serious than I expected to receive. Perhaps, he is still mulling over my training, and staying away for the week. This is the first time I will be away from home. Dad does it all the time, on his business trips, and it doesn’t seem to bother him, although I have never asked come to think of it. Can’t be very difficult. Exciting, may be. I will think about it when it starts, but for now I have a company to attend to, and the longing returned to me.

"I don’t think I will ever be in a position to repay your kindness or ensemble an alternative restitution to utilise your affection, at least fully." I sounded to the best of my ability composed and confident. I watched his reflection, in which he threw a brief glance at me and a smile at the traffic, raised his arm and rubbed the back of my head. I could barely conceal my joy to which he looked surprised in his reflection. This is one of those times when I wish we were not on the road, somewhere where no one else existed around us, but just me and him. I could easily spend hundreds of years with him were we to be in the space with nothing else around. He is a buddy.

"I want to do something for you." I played with his biceps of the arm closer to me and almost whispered into it. Dad laughed at the windscreen. His arm shuddered against my face. Through the shirt I can feel his pulse beating warm blood which will be passing through his heart. It was the laughter of a winning player, though no one had been defeated. He breathed through his lips that sounded like a whistle. He tapped on my face with the other hand. The temperature in his blood rose.

"Ok, let’s stop for a cool drink. That’s what you can do for me right now." He let his hand back on the steering wheel and looked out of the window for a place to drink.

"I had a warm drink in my mind." I rubbed my face further into his arm feeling his heart on my ear.

"Your mom will fix you a night drink." He still laughed from his throat with lips tightly closed.

"I was hoping to get it from you."

He placed his hand over my head and pressed it further into his arm. "Jack, ask for my life and I will not refuse." Dad’s response came from deep throat, however a little on the passive side. Affection can also be burdensome at times as well as a one sided tedious bore at other. The thing is that humans can have a tendency to get a passive stage set in when absolutely cornered, and let anything be done to them, which means they have shielded their emotions. The fluids in the body dry up causing a scowl of the face. On any account it is going to take away that spark of the eyes that glows like thousand candles. The energy vanishes which is meant to facilitate a smile, so spontaneous to break a deadly silence.  These are the two most wonderful attributes of dad without which days will seem long and nights endless. So best, settle with a cool drink, for now. "Where are we stopping dad?"

We went into a brilliantly lit noisy cafe and sipped our drinks at the bar. There is the sound of loud chatter over the stereo mixing with the humming noise of the air conditioning flu; each competing to extend its rims in the enclosed aquarium. Outside, through the windows, the motorway is a long way away although I can feel the overcast of its heavy traffic. Someone heading somewhere, to someone, from someone, one of whom is going to be alone. Give it a break, I say to myself. My head shook at the thought of cold sighs and blackest shivering nights. I let this wave of pointless deliberation quickly brush past me. Much nearer is the dim flow of overhead lights, in the parking, each time spreading to a short brightness as more cars continued to pull in. Each engine produced its  final grunt accompanied with a wink of the headlights to the darkness. Cheerful groups awaiting for others to empty out of the cars. Then the groups form a single file, arms in arms with matching steps as if partaking in a parade. Even nearer is the genteel warmth of a single human which is part of me. I want to just briefly mingle with its warm haze. I gazed at dad looking into his drink and wiping sweat off his brow after which our eyes met. He was thinking of his work which is still few days away.

Our conversation is diverted to my favourite subjects when I do join the university. Dad is fine with my choice. I thought of the time when I was intending to study drama and music. My plans have changed to study the rise and fall of civilizations, the defeat of the successful by the barbarian, the increasingly unpopular rulers and their submissive populations favouring religious ceremonies over social carnivals, priests for teachers and the noble for farm labour, followers free and expression forbidden. Probably not far off the mark from drama and music. I have a feeling that I have found something precious at the loss of something that I cannot pinpoint. There is a void inside me that is gradually filling and closing in itself. A keyhole glimpse into it is a frightening matter, inside it is still as wide as before the healing process began. I wonder if it will stay as wide inside when it finally closes at the surface.

"All the other players are way too experienced in the club. I will have to practice twenty four to compete with any of them."

"That’s why you have the coaching."

"That’s true dad, but I think the coach doesn’t realise the intensity of the lessons required for me. One week doesn’t get me anywhere close to the most junior level."

"It’s not about the length, but the effort."

"What’s the difference?"

"It is about how much you think into it and put in that extra effort during each coaching, even if the coaching is for an hour. Anyway, he is best placed to judge your present capacity and coach accordingly."

"Dad, I am worried that you might not be pleased with the results. If anything, I am thinking that I might come out worst than I go in."

"I am not looking for any results. I think it will be good for you to experience that place. You are not obligated to produce any results to the club or to me. There are no exams. It is a lifelong learning experience for you and not for anyone else, although."

"Although?"

"Although, you know Jack, whatever you learn from there, I will love you all the same. You will always be the best son in the world for me. I am quite content with that." He winked with a seductive look.

I imagined his hand going on my back. I fell for that look. That settles it. I smiled at dad without saying so.

"When you are ready, my precious player!" He blinked slowly at the last word which made me laugh.

"After you!" I bowed to the greatest champion and walked after him. His face reminded me of a passage in the faint blush of berries intensified by the rain. “You know, it is worth all the sermons in the world to have a son like you.” I said to him in a manner closely resembling to that of the headmaster, and put my hand on his shoulder whilst walking out of the cafe. "When no one is watching, I am going to hold you close and see that you are brought up well."

Dad looked at me with an easily spreading smile and tackled my neck. “You know, when no one is watching, I am going to throttle you.”

He is in a brilliant mood. It would be good to wrestle with him. He is bound to lose today, since he looks exhausted. But wait, isn’t that cheating?

 

XIII

 

Back home, quite late already it seemed as I could scarcely make out a bloody shadow deep into the western sky, as we enter into the drive. The rest of the universe looked dark and with a subtle gloom off the south looked exceedingly dark. All the stars waiting above the dust. Maybe a little wave of breeze will take the humidity away and provide just that well sought after breath.

"is mom going to be surprised at my affiliation with the club?"

Take it from me, she has already been surprised. Lest you receive double affiliation." 

We entered almost together through the door, and we find uncle Fills sitting with Mom. Both of them sitting on either end of the sofa, and hands tightly clamped between their cross legs, as if it wasn’t too hot already.

"Hello jack, I came by to say congratulations to you." Fills uncrossed his legs and put his hands on his knees. It didn’t look as if he was going to get up. I practically stepped backwards. Dad looked as if a stone had been dropped on his head. He found it difficult to utter hello to Fills – "hello Fills" - with such unease as if forced to mention a great deal of pain to the doctor but not sure which part of the body to mention first. I personally find it very fascinating to watch dad whenever he is at unease with people. His manners change to resemble a stubborn child, his eyes narrows, and his hands go into his pockets. Any further unease and his lips get pursed up. Last time, it was about the cancellation of his important business meeting flight at the airport. I am pleased to admit it to myself that it has never happened to him in my company. It would be interesting to watch Fills’ reaction.

"Hello Fills, thank you." I went over to shake hand with him. Dad sat on the opposite chair holding something in his pockets on both sides, and looked at mom, apparently disregarding the hand shake business. I twisted the dining chair on its leg and sat next to dad.

"Oh, Fills came to the hospital to see mom. I told him about our Jack and he wanted to personally congratulate him, which is nice. I thought Jack would like that." She smiled at me. Fills lived with us in a different town, until dad came into our lives. I think mom and him lived like a couple. Fills just was not the type to play sport with me. He worked a great deal, and studied his work in the nights. I learnt very little about him during our time together. He is the complete opposite of dad in terms of personality. Spending time with Fills is like getting off the dining table feeling distinctly hungry, or wishing you had rather gone supper less altogether.

His social interaction is minimal, physical movements calculatedly stiff, and playground activity zero. He only mixes with people of much older age then himself, holding serious nightly sessions talking listlessly over legal issues, moving only to lift their glass, or a bulky ream of papers to pour whatever plastered wisdom over its contents in an earnest desire to untangle the complexity, and certainly never to be daunted by the longest word whichever way possible to paraphrase its meanings in different scenarios. In the end, concluding nothing useful even at the bottom of a bottle, shortly before dawn breaks. The most they get to is sentence correction. Discussion about serious matter is only a cover for getting blind smashed. I know he consumes comparatively high volume of alcohol giving him a flushed and untidy look. In my view, the greatest error in Fills’ composition is his inability to laugh or as much as offer a smile. He is someone, with good education, however lacking in intellectually artistic taste. I would put it to a sloppy arrogance. Given half the opportunity, he would even forget his education, be misguided by the weakness of his inner man, and return to be a dull and thoughtless person, which sooner or later shall prevail.

He doesn’t tell jokes. He is mainly quiet. I have hardly ever heard him speak outside his work circumference, outside of which by habit he treats others as unwanted objects whence he slowly turns his eyes sideways over playing his imperfect disapproval. He talks through people. This makes him unapproachable. I think, he burns himself with a quiet jealousy of a fetish out of his capacity. Only if he could learn to be frank, which might bring a little improvement in the way he greets people and commences his probing.

"Thank you for visiting us uncle Fills. I appreciate your thoughtful gesture." I spoke in my turn, mainly to break the oppressive silence, as I wished his visit to be as short as his smile. Fills never attempted to smile. He proceeded in a way that a new warden addresses a long timer inmate.

"I am sorry about this hastily arranged visit. I didn’t have a chance today to buy anything. I shall arrange to send you a gift tomorrow. What would you like?" Fills spoke in his ambitious grandeur and waited for my response. I didn’t feel interested enough to receive anything from him. We had had by any comparison an absolutely cheerful day, and I didn’t want it to end into a dull and boring gift haggling night. I looked at dad, and it seemed he hadn’t recovered from the blow of encountering Fills. I am not sure if dad had ever met him before. Wait, I think they knew one another before dad met mom, the second time round.

"A box of chocolates would be fine of course. Wouldn’t you like that Jack?" Mom put a statement instead of a question and scratched her head as she spoke.

"Well, that is a snack. I hear you are on to sports. I was thinking of telephoning the tennis club for your annual membership that includes coaching. It is quite famous for its coaching and supervision. How is that for an end of school present?" In the way he raised his bushy eyebrows before the end of the recitation! Fills cannot make a surprise announcement. He spoke in an authoritative way as if reducing a prisoner’s sentence. I thought he placed a little too much pressure on ‘supervision’. Fills plays a haughty salesman with a spectacular betrayal of his nerves. I just caught a glimpse of discontent in his dry eyes when he brushed his look past me.

The atmosphere in the room still felt hung and stuffy and very hot. I wanted to open all the windows, and breath out of them, but dad’s presence kept me bound to my place. At least I wanted to play a game of ping pong with dad to celebrate the end of our joyful day with some sweat, which didn’t seem likely as I felt my energy draining away, and my chair somehow increasingly gaining in size making me look terribly diminished. I could just disappear into my room, but I also must be courageous to face the swarm of hatred. What dad said this afternoon about mental agility.

I saw a week smile for the first time on dad’s face as he looked motionlessly towards Fills. I thought dad was refusing to breathe, as well as foregoing the least of any antique politeness to the visitor who had just put an offer. Why the offer does not hold any value despite being of the same value as the one in the morning, I cannot tell. Mom looked bemused. What satisfaction will it give me to accidentally smash such a present in the chance of it being an object.

Causing hurt as a mean of retaliation is best left to the sodden wretch. In thinking like this, I was smitten with a nervous prostration that caused a slight shiver around my chest contracting my shoulders. Hopefully just in my mind, otherwise who shivers in searing heat. Luckily the house is quite roomy with extremely high ceiling preventing the build up of that daunting oppression in a time like this.

"It is a thoughtful gesture uncle Fills, but dad has already taken care of that. Mom is right, Just chocolates would be fine." I noticed his smile returning back to him as he cast a look of condescension to the air where dad sat.

Oh, you are thinking ahead of me Peter. He placed an emphasis on ‘are’ in an interrogative tone. It wouldn’t go down well with dad. Dad responds to interrogations with a deathly silence followed by an explosion. As this drama was going to be unfolded I eagerly awaited for the next chapter. Would it not be rather convenient for all to leave me with dad to have some fun to end our excellent day, when an evening can seem too short and the dawn break still millions of miles away. They might want to play this drama some other time, out of my face I should hope. No wait, dad is a precious gift and I wouldn’t have him suffer any drama with Fills. Actually it is Fills who need to be monitored for few adjustments for he is totally lacking in empathy, for one.

"Well, I knew it would be good for him. Coaching that is. Scruples, honour and a true statesmanship are convictions perhaps based on doctrine rather than micro supervision." Dad let out his breath after posing a rhetorical question. I think dad can read my mind.

"Well, let’s have some drinks to that." Mom tried to smooth things over and still failed to bring a cheer into the atmosphere that there hung like some depression on a man who feels a glow of no one’s eyes and the glee of no one’s mind. The heat on my face faded when I recalled the time I spent with Fills; unhappy and most boring were the times when I longed to bypass the dull boredom which was like trying to avoid the heavy rain under the overhang of a withered hedge. I was plainly ignored or taunted by sneering gestures at every possibility if ever our paths crossed. And I ignored everyone even more so. Late in the evenings, a chilled air felt through my bones at the time of returning home when the heart ceases to feel pain but just sends a deadened sensation to the rest of the body. I am the person just to be stared at like an object that takes up more than its allotted space. Gut reaction told me that everyone else were returning back home in the receipt of caring looks, where someone waited upon them, that someone, just one.

There were those whose modest means provided no obstacle in taking a great pride in taking the utmost care and the handful expenditure of resources in making their children appear cared and wanted and perhaps loved. They helped with their homework in whatever subject they were able to, basked at their grades, subtly bragged about their wit, and went to great lengths about making loving gestures in public. Above all, they did not scold them in front of others. They did not look down on them.

The forsaken ones left to find solace in redemption tried harder to somewhat fit in, only to make clumsy mistakes instead. Whoever likes an irksome blundering goof. The endless foul ups hardens your facial muscles that give away nothing. What is it like to feel a useless burden upon oneself and shamelessly put upon those that come into your contact. I unwillingly learnt to carry that burden, contemplating deliverance, and searching for recovery at every turn. The recovery points didn’t just turn me away gently but kicked harder. There ought be a solution to the worthless misery. Perhaps Learning is something not natural to me. Overacting, over-reacting, exaggerating facts, hiding the truth, not telling as it is, all became a routine state of being. The lonely road to perdition is just as taxing as the road to redemption.

Just now I dreaded his presence which can easily make me lose confidence or rather fills me with an irritable nervousness, which must be shaken away with all the effort that I can muster up. It ought to be achieved. My chest rose and with it my chin.

"Well, the answer to good delivery lies in practice through coaching." I spoke like reading out a newspaper headline. Fills’ eyes shot up for the first time at my face and as quickly turned away withholding every other possible reaction. I can see through though. It is him getting the surprise.

I just need to wash my face. Dad got up and went to his bedroom. His footsteps sounded heavier than usual. I was just about to follow in the same direction to take some finely tuned words of a gifted orator, for respite.

"Jack," dad shouted from his bedroom.

XIV

I went over without excusing myself. There stood dad out of his stubbornly attitude and more like a father, buttons undone from the collar down, one foot on the bed, one elbow on his knee, and hands joined together posing an imperial splendour. He had an identifiable air of a commander who steers the course of nature with his carefully chosen words. He looked serious enough as if ready to address a large audience. He hadn’t washed his face. His eyes came from the door through which I had just entered, and closed in on me. He unclasped his hands, and motioned me towards him by raising one arm to my shoulder height. I almost got pulled towards him.

"You know the greatest gift is patience under great infliction. Nobody can give or take it from you. You are blessed with it because you are not afraid to learn." Dad spoke close to my mouth and hugged me tight, tighter and held me there for a good while in an ever increasing pressurised brace. The pressing became so hard that it emptied my lungs of air to which I needed to breathe in strongly. His shirt was wet with sweat. The profound smell from his chest felt so strong that the wet vapour went straight into my nose and stung my eyes. However, there is pleasure. I tried it once again. His hands rubbed my back. He rubbed his face in my head where I heard a louder breath through his nose. I looked up. His eyes looked red. There, I smelt a silent emotional outburst. He was making up for what according to him is a lost time between us. He held my face up and looked around on it as if ardently inspecting the minute perfection of the features on it.

The warmth I felt was unbearable to contain. For a moment it all felt unreal. I gripped my fingers on his sides that dug into his shirt. He suddenly let me go and we both looked to his side where the shirt had got a hole. Then the silently shared laughter ensued.

"Dad, when the ground is clear, we can play a game of ping pong."

"When the ground is clear, you will catch up with some sleep because I have a plan for you early in the morning."

"Is there another surprise early morning tomorrow? Another new membership to a club perhaps?"

"Actually yes. I am getting you a gym pass so you can build some strength here." he shook me from the shoulders.

"That will be useful for my tennis." We walked out hoping to say goodbye to Fills. it was quick as he was about to leave. All done and dusted. Look forward to tomorrow. It is already here, I said to myself and went into my room. I stared up and found myself staring at the bright ceiling early to the sun rise. I sprang out of bed.

Xiv

And the beautiful morning arrived pretty soon. I had visited mountain tops, glided in the air, taken long jumps to cross rivers, safely landed into freshly ripened plantation. It took place throughout the night that would tire out the fittest of all. But I was in bed whilst having been transported to another world. And now I felt fresh, hungry, and in need to see dad. There as usual I find him on the sofa in a lotus position holding a paper.

After breakfast, we are ready to go to the gym. Mom filling the dishwasher left the bread knife on the dining table. I had this idea. Why not throw it to her. As I take the aim, the knife will lodge into the door, mom will take the knife after being surprised. One practice shot first. I held the blade in my fingers and aimed it to the edge of the bathroom door which was facing me. I rang the shot and the knife lodges directly into the centre of dad's thigh who happened to be coming out of the bathroom at that very moment. Dad looked down and without showing any emotion looked straight ahead at me or behind me it seemed. What have I done. I held my face. That beautifully carved out of a marble thigh covered in protective soft flesh and now red blood dripping out of it. No, I screamed. My feet froze and instead of running forward, my body fell forward. Mom came running. Total confusion.

 

By the time ambulance arrived, dad was drifting in and out of conscious. Evening fell and I did not let go of his hand during dressage, medication, cleaning, doctor, nurse, visits. I could not leave the hospital room. I wanted to die in that position.

 

"Patient's bath time." The nurse announced, looking sleepy, tired, old, very uninterested in the task, as he began to assemble the toiletries. I wanted to rub soap on dad and did not want anyone else to touch him. Least of all him. I hated the blue uniform of his with some prejudice whilst his back was turned to me. I felt some heat rising in my cheeks.

 

"No dad, you are still not better. I cannot leave you." A warm drop from my eyes fell onto his. I kissed his saliva from his lips and tasted its medication.

"You must go home and have rest. I shall be fine. I know it's not your fault. Some things happen." Dad held my face in his hands and spoke around my lips.

I rose up and found the nurse standing above us.

"If it is not received it is not given properly, but can it be received without being given at all.  Love, the greatest potion of all, does not even require personal attendance." I caught a glimpse of his white teeth and a pleasant smile in his eyes.

"I wish to stay with my dad." I politely offered my availability in a courteous tone. 

"And you can. Mr Francis, you can free up this bed now. Your X-ray is here." The doctor almost upon us laughed. "Just this final dressing would suffice. How are you feeling? I can tell you. You are perfectly intact. Luckily, it was only a flesh wound. No more knife play young man." the doctor smiled at me.

How will I ever forgive myself. I will let dad be the guide on this.

 

XV

End of first term. It has been just over three months during which I rang home everyday to speak with mom, but dad, always out early in the morning and back very late at night. Mom said "dad’s work schedule is quite stretching." He is travelling a lot. She passes on my message and he asks after my "welfare." He is saving all the holidays for my first term so we can spend some family time together. I missed him a great deal as there were times I could have used his support, advice, or just his company. I miss his guidance at home and at playing fields. In fact I imagined his face in every person that I felt some affinity to, briefly or long term; other students, academic staff, and the likes. Whenever someone shouted out my name I imagined it to be him.

Dad is coming to pick me up. I hurriedly packed my stuff and just hung around at the gate to see dad’s car approaching. I imagined him walking towards me. I have mastered this great trick. I thought of running to him at such a speed which will destabilise him. But I won’t let him fall. He will soon realise how much strength I have built up. I smiled by myself. I almost felt him and smelt him in a way that I shook my own chest with my hands to feel real. Finally, by the time he arrived, I had forgotten all about my trick. He drove straight through the gate and stopped right at my feet, and as quickly got out of the car. I could just fly into his arms. No matter how much and how tighter he is hugged, which is what I did, he doesn’t mind at all.

"Oh boy, how are you? Great to see you. What have you been up to? Only got your messages from mom - I miss you dad. Didn’t you have anything better to say or leave a bigger message for me, at least? Haven’t seen you in three months. Etc." I didn’t reply to any of his questions. I was completely lost for words. I wouldn’t have been able to speak anyway. My arms got locked around him and my body refused to shake off the present.

"Ok let’s get your stuff and hit the road." He shook himself off me and waited for my reply. "Is it all ready, packed?"

I still couldn’t speak. I took him to my room. My roommate had already left in the morning. So we had privacy.

"Ok, let’s just quickly pack and get out of here." He almost began to scramble into my roommate’s stuff.

"That’s not mine dad, just relax."

"What’s your roommate like? Is he friendly with you?"

"He is cool. He is doing different subjects. So we don’t really spend much time together."

"Ok, what about these books. Are they all going with you? He began to take books off the shelf."

"No dad, these books stay here. I have already packed what I need."

"Right. I was just adjusting them actually." He put them back and turned to me where my shoulder touched his chest. I couldn’t get the temptation of rolling around on the floor with him, or perhaps taking him to the shower, out of my mind. "It’s quite a nice little room. Who cleans it? What do you do for food, drinks, recreation?" He was moving around so fast and firing questions that I didn’t have a chance to speak my part except for replying.

"You have lost too much weight. Look at you. You have changed during these three months. Independence from parents you see. Look, your chin has visible bristles." He touched it.

"I think I have some pubes. Would you like to see it?"

"There now." He held my face in his hands and moved his face closer. I smelt the warm air out of his nose. "You have been working very hard. It is time you learnt to relax. This is your first break. I will make sure you enjoy every possible moment."

"Don’t you want to have some lunch? You haven’t had any breakfast either. I can see you are looking week and tired." He spoke slowly keeping the same position. His hands became moist perhaps with the sweat from my face. I really had forgotten about the breakfast for excitement of meeting dad, and making sure that I had done every last minute packing. I didn’t speak and just looked at him. The idea of food made me instantly hungry.

"Let’s just get out of here first and go somewhere nice to eat." He tilted his head keeping his eyes on me, and finally let go of my face. I felt that I had no option but to accept his request.

"I am ready dad." I picked my bag and shut the door behind me.

We almost ran towards the car, and drove off as soon as I could get my stuff into the car.

During the journey, he put his hand on my thigh and pressed it a little. I pressed his hand with mine. I can see he is going to talk about my studies.

"Do you think you are now getting used to looking after yourself?"

"Well, there are just the usual classes and quite a good canteen. It’s hardly looking after myself. They have quite a good schedule for studies, sports, gym, etc." He pressed his hand a little harder and took it back to the steering wheel. I thought he looked puzzled and almost worried as his smile diminished after a short while. I couldn’t figure why as I was still physically quite well, so there was no need for him to look worried.

"Have you made friends or is studying quite hard?"

"Well, we are only in the first term yet, so the studies haven’t really begun. We are just going through the introduction to other departments, some alternative subjects, and all."

"Friends? It’s important to familiarise yourself with the wider world as a natural course of social duty and identification. Everything is not written in books."

"Sure, some friends but none any close yet. There are quite a lot of international students, so they are taking their time to settle. What have you been up to? Mom said you were just always busy or abroad."

"Just keeping busy at work when you weren’t around, to come back home to." His face tilted slightly towards me but eyes kept straight ahead whilst speaking even though the road ahead was clear. I caught a glimpse of stiffened upper lip with the lower lip widening. I think he misses going to the gym with me.

"You are very hungry. You look it. We can go to my club and eat. Would you like to rest at the club for a while after eating? You can go for a swim if you feel like. We can spend the afternoon there."

"We can go the club tomorrow. It’s already late afternoon. We can just get a quick grub around here." I suggested the faster option as I was looking forward to going home with him. I didn’t want other people’s presence for the whole of the afternoon, at least not today. He accepted my offer with “as you wish” rise of eyebrows.

We stopped at the cafe where we sat on a table opposite one another. I was still on soft drinks, but had few sips from dad's beer. Dad, mainly talking about my life at the university. His eyes still gave a spark whenever he looked at me. I became deeply affected by his presence. I thought of holding his face in my hands and kissing it. Such a beautiful thing to have, so close, and yet not being able to show affection. Of course I don’t w


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