Friday 15 September 2017

Short Story 2017 Shortlist Mohsin Sayyed

A Slap on the Soul

I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. "Ten, nine, eight, seven..."

He was surely unaware of my eyes on him. As he opened the doors the darkness of the room was cut down by the oblique ray of street light from outside. I could have caught him then and there to end this high profiled drama, but this is not I was interested in. I wanted to find the reason. The reason that had compelled him to do such a heinous act with us. When my wife Anu told me of it, I was forcing myself to believe it to be false. Rather I wanted it to be false. But here it was, the truth, as clear as crystal. As he walked out of the door, I followed him quickly making sure I was unnoticed to him. He opened the gate with his swift movement and took the scooty parked in the compound, out in no time. He was clever not to start the Engine before taking the vehicle a little distant. As I realized I ran again back to my bedroom. I started searching for the keys of my car parked at the gates to follow that Monster. I was losing time. Opening the drawers one by one I began my search. Anger was boiling within me, my eyes red. Anu woke up in surprise to find out the reason and smelled the rat. She wanted to console me to calm down. But I was undeterred.

Almost all the drawers and wardrobe doors were lying open but the keys were still hiding out of my sight. The silence of the night was disturbed by the chirk of the dashing furniture. I lifted the pillows, threw them down to find if the keys were lying on the bed. As I pulled and dragged the Bed sheet with my right hand with a powerful action, the key appeared from nowhere and flew before my eyes in a parabolic path. Quickly I lifted the key and headed towards my car. I was about to step outside the Living Room to find someone caught me by my hand. It was Anu for sure. Tears were rolling down her eyes as she watched into my furious eyes. Mercy! It was all I could read into her eyes. “Please forgive him this time. I know you are angry but for God’s sake forgive him’’ She begged. Her voice was real as she was aware of my anger. “He is too young to face your ire. Don’t forget that he is after all my son, your son, our son.” She continued. “I will talk to him tomorrow. He will be alright. Don’t go this time, Please.”

“He is not a son but a Criminal. I don’t know what is he up to.  Three times it has happened and this one is the fourth.” I replied trying to release my hand from hers. “Today he stole an amount of 10,000. His courage has reached its peak. I think it’s about Drugs that he is after. Your son is a Druggist, a Robber. I would teach him a lesson of his lifetime.” 

I ran towards the car and quickly slid behind the wheels. Within fractions I was ready chasing Abhay. My son has been the Apple of my eye. He was the one who soothed my stressed eyes. He was all that I loved the most in my life. I could have died a hundred times just to see him happy. He was my strength my aim for life. He was my admiration and the only heir to my name. Abhay was my pride. But today my Pride was shattered in the dark. I was ashamed of my son and of myself.

There was a constant bombardment of memories and thought on me. Suddenly, the flash of the incoming car from the opposite direction brought me back to my senses. I had already wasted some minutes finding the keys. Anu stole a few more. I was afraid to lose him this time. As I approached the main road I had to make a choice. Left or Right. Staking on my luck I took a left turn and rode swiftly. The Cars digital screen was showing the time to be five past one. I was desperate to see the glimpse of him. What if I lose him this time again.

“No way” I shouted to my doubt. And finally my luck stood for me. I located the Black Activa MH 12 U7000 riding a distance away from me. Though I couldn’t read the number but I was sure that it was the one. I began chasing it never to lose it again. I was pacing swiftly and I was behind it keeping a distance not to be spotted. Left, then a Right again a left and a right…..I did not know how many odd numbers of turns I had already taken. I lost the track of the road. I was well aware of every inch of Pune’s roads for I have travelled them for 15 years. I could have sensed each and every small pit on the road, each and every speed breaker without even looking at them. But not for today. I was blindly following the two wheelers deep in thoughts. I couldn’t concentrate on the Big ads welcoming the strangers on Pune streets. The celebs and beautiful models on the mega hoardings trying to sell their brand endorsements could not attract my attention towards them. All I could see was the Black Activa in the Darkness. 

“What if he was trapped by some mafia or some Gang of that sort?” “No!” “God be merciful” “Since how long he is after all this? Days, week, months or Years….He is only 17, not even mature enough to understand the cruel World, and he does this!” I was sensing an uneasiness in Abhay from quite a long. Rudeness was thriving within him and he would express that in his wordings and in his actions. There was a constant quarrel between Abhay and Anu and I always ignored him understanding his  adolescent age. No day went without a fight. He respected me, adored me, loved me. I was not his father but his friend. He shared everything with me. His set of girlfriends was our favorite topic. When we played the Xbox, I would win every time I lost from him. My loss was his victory, his joy and within him I was more victorious. I never ever remembered raising my hand on him. I forced myself to scold him, but could never ever succeed. But things were changing fast between three of us. Abhay, was somehow a changed boy. He had stopped sharing things with me. He had stopped playing with me, laughing with me. Innocence in him was waning fast. I could remember the last ugly encounter that took place for the first time in our life. In the evening I was back from the Office when as usual I was welcomed with a quarrel between Anu and Abhay. I was tired and expected someone to bring me a glass of water, someone to ask me for tea. I was urging for one such smile from my only son or my wife that could have relieved my tired soul. But no, this was the new order of the day. Anu’s voice was reaching its limit and so was Abhay’s. I was not left with a choice but to interrupt. “Why don’t you understand your mother Abhay. She wanted your good.” “All she wanted is her will. She is not a mother, she is the biggest enemy I have” Abhay busted. Anu was literally crying now. “Look what he is saying. Look! I am his mother and he is cursing me. I have failed myself.” “You have failed me, it was my mistake to be born in this ugly family. I am ashamed to be born here. Born to you and this man standing here. Now don’t cry crocodile’s tear.” “Why are you not saying anything to him?” she faced me and continued. “I will leave this house. I cant live here anymore.” “Stop making that drama. You are a Dian, I know you are a Dian.” “Abhay!” I shouted to the end of my voice. It was going out of control. He was staring at me furiously. 

A stare that an enemy can see in his enemies eye. He was breathing fast with eyes bulging to its fullest. “Don’t look at me like that. Take your eyes down. Take off your eyes from me.” He was undeterred. “You don’t jump in middle now. You are no different than her. You are the culprit behind her.” he said in a stern voice pointing his right index finger at me. I was taken aback. How can he do this to me, his father. Anger was taking its toll on me. I could feel my heart beating fast. I lost my senses and whipped my right hand on his left cheek. It was a tough shot. Anu was all staring at us. He fell to the ground but in a flash returned with teary eyes and shouted at me again, “You both are Morons and Murderers.” “Morons!” Before I could realize anything I slapped him again and threw him on the sofa and went for the bat kept behind the Main door. I raised it high to hit him just when Anu caught my hand begging me to calm down. Tears in her eyes. She was shivering and I lowered the bat. I held her shoulder in my hand and took her to the bedroom. Abhay was lying on sofa, Still crying. 

This incident took place almost two months back but I could feel like it was yesterday. Since that day we both did not talked to each other. I tried many times but could not connect to him. Yes and no was all I could here when I asked him anything. Things were not ready to come to normalcy and then this incident of serial stealing appeared from nowhere. The honking horns of the fast moving vehicles were adding to my already occupied brain. Suddenly I saw Abhay stopped at a point. He met someone ahead of me. I too stopped. They talked briefly and the person handed him a packet. To my surprise the man sat behind Abhay and they started again. By now I was quite sure of his intentions and my fear was turning to be real. The drug culture in the city was on a rampage and news of youngsters being caught was a daily phenomenon in the newspaper. His bike was taking momentum and I followed fast as I could. After a chase of around 30 minutes he stopped his vehicle at a deserted location. There were already two three people standing there. I parked near a closed shop at about 100 meters away from them. I slowly came out of the vehicle and was slowly approaching the place. Suddenly a white colored Omni van appeared there. All five people flogged the van.
My mind was out of my head. The slide door of the van opened and a hand reached out to shook with the boys. Immediately one of the boy handed the white packet inside. I could see Abhay counting the money and later gave it inside the van. One by one all the boys started entering the Van. When it was full Abhay stood outside facing the people inside, this blocked my vision inside the Van. He had given almost an amount of 20,000 to druggists. This was his fourth time that he stole money from home. I was inching step by step towards the car. A cool breeze was dashing against my face romancing the sweat buds formed on my forehead. I did not care now who would see me. I had covered one third of my path towards them. Suddenly there was something illuminated inside the Van. Fire! It must be for the cigarettes. Or it may be for burning some sought of Drug. I could not be sure. Within no time the light was glowing powerful. At once the crowd in the Van started shouting, boasting in pride and clapping. They were enjoying their devilish fun. I carried on pace and reached near the Van. Abhay was still facing inside unaware of my presence. A hand flashed again and I could see Abhay inching his hand to take the custody of the Taboo thing. As he touched it I ran towards him and catching his shoulders turned his face towards mine and slapped him with the limit of my strength. 

Shot! And a Silence! Silence all over. The light in the van was extinguished and the dim light of the Van was illuminated. My palm was still erect, still stiff and still hot. The darkness appeared to be darker than usual. It was a slap, not on the face but on the darkness of heart. It was a slap on the soul. My heart was beating faster. Tears were running Abhay’s cheeks. I was on the brink of facing the biggest nightmare of my life. When I peeped inside the Van, I almost peeped inside my own ugly soul. I was peeping into my sins. I was peeping into the purity of Abhay’s heart. I saw inside, an old man in his 70’s with a specs drooping over his face. His grey hair were shining in that blurred light. The boys sitting around him were classmates of Abhay, his best buddies. And now I got to know about the packet, yes there was a white cake with words inscribed on it, “Happy Birthday Dadu”. There were seven candles standing around the cake. And the old man was struggling to munch his bite of cake as he saw in my eyes. This is the same man who gave me birth, gave me my name and whom I used to call Dad. Tears were running down my eyes. Tears were running through his eyes. I felt ashamed of myself. I had sent my Dad to an Old age home six months back and today it was his birthday, 73rd or 74th I don’t know. Abhay did all that he could to give his dearest grandpa a Surprise. He wanted to surprise him at the midnight hour. But he was still lying on the ground crying. I pulled him up. His eyes still moist. I wiped his tears and was feeling his soft moist skin with both my hands. I hugged him, tightly as I could. He allowed his emotions to sail free and cried with a noise now, “ I am Sorry Dad. I am not a bad boy.” I released him and looked in his deep innocent eyes and in a broken voice murmured, “I am sorry my son, I am sorry. You are good but your Dad isn’t. You are an Angel born to the Devil. Please Forgive me.” This time he hugged me tight. My father was standing there watching both of us. I folded my hand to apologize with a teary face. He hugged me. Abhay hugged both of us. The boys began singing, “Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to all of you.” All clapping and all giggling.

Indeed, it was a new Birthday. A Birthday for me, for my father. A new birth for Father-son relation. That day I took my Dad home never to lose him again. Meanwhile I learned that Abhay bought an hearing aid for my father as his birthday gift that had costed him 8,000. The Arrangement for the Van and Cake took around six-seven thousand and rest amount was spared for the next day’s Celebration. Yes next day I arranged for the biggest celebration that ever took place in my entire life. I don’t know if my father will ever forgive me, I don’t expect him to do so. But I could never forgive myself. And I could never stop praising and loving my Angel, my son, Abhay. He has lived up to the saying, The son is the Father of the Man. He is my pride, the Apple of my Eye.

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