Friday 5 October 2018

Short Story 2018 Longlist, Aadithyaa

The Story of a Good Guy

‘Hello, Dad!’
‘Get on the 9:00 a.m flight to Ooty and reach Grandpa’s place. I am sending you the tickets.’
‘But why? What happened?’
‘Just do as I say, don’t trouble your tiny brain’
‘Yes Dad’

I got the call at 7:00 in the morning as I prepared my bed to sleep after a long day at work. He spoke in the exact same tone that he had for 5 years now. It all started when I left his house to follow my so-called dreams of being a writer in Mumbai. He lost an heir to his giant textile business and I lost my only relation. But he had every right to impose his authoritative, irritating tone on me. You see you don’t become a good writer by answering to queries of irritated Americans at a Call center.

I packed my bags in a hurry and sat in a cab. As I traveled I noted down the things to do in my notepad – 1. Change out of your pajamas, 2. Postpone breakup with Rabiah and 3. Be a good guy. I closed my notepad and looked out of the window at the beautiful sunrise. It had been years since I had seen one. I opened my phonebook to look for my Mom’s contact and muttered my ritual before closing it to focus on the small talks made by the driver.

I got down from the cab, paid the bill and as I started leaving, the driver asked me to give a 5-star rating casually. I asked – ‘Why?’ – with a smile. ‘Not all answers are told, some are experienced’ – he replied with an earnest smile, still preachy though. ‘Don’t worry. I will Mohammed. Thanks’ – I said with a nod.

As I completed my formalities, I noticed first-time flyers struggling with the procedure in contrast with the professionals whom even the airport officials identified by name now. But everybody at that security check had a purpose to travel while I struggled to find mine. I sat in my seat with my earphones plugged in, ignoring the usual commotion and the safety instructions. As I just about slipped into the dreams that started with the nap at the office, I felt a tap on my shoulder from a white hand with an even brighter diamond ring on the fingers. Fuck No! – I screamed in a heavy contrast to the soft melody playing in my ears.

Hi! – Rabiah exclaimed making a weird face while biting her lips. I banged my head on the window pane in disbelief. What are you doing here? – she asked me in a whispering tone. I got myself distracted by the heavy mustache of an old man sitting between us. Wait … was it the mustache or his fat belly? Something. I told her the situation and asked her how she ended up here? I sent you a message, saying I was traveling for a conference last week!. Let me guess you didn’t read it? – she answered and questioned at the same time. No, I read it like obviously! I must have forgotten – I replied with my trembling confidence. What’s the matter? – she enquired sensing something. Can we break up? – I requested.

What followed was tears, tissue papers, remembrance of good times, some unwanted attention from neighboring seats except the old man in between who continued his dreams, while I only dreamt of it. Her speech was impressive I must say. Her story of ‘Our moments’ suddenly painted the picture in a different light. At one point in time – Even I started questioning why was I breaking up with her? But thankfully, my consciousness struck me in the skies, as I realized how much filter and editing you may use, you still will be the asshole you are in your real life. As the flight landed, she said – Talk to me, please? I have only 5 minutes. Well then, do me a favor. Don’t try to sleep with my best friend within it then – I commanded and forwarded her my best friend, Charlie’s guilty pleading message that he had sent a year back. Prakash. Stop. Please. I can explain – she cliched the lines as I flung the bird to her face and walked away turning my back.

As I reached the steps of Grandpa’s home I saw a herd of people in white clothes blocking the veranda. That wasn’t the scene I expected as I got off the car and rushed inside. I saw Dad and called him to ask what happened. He told me exactly what you expected and I didn’t. When did it happen? – I enquired. About an hour ago – he replied with a dramatic face. What is he doing here, Raman? – my uncle enquired my dad with heated sweat on his face. I called him – dad said maintaining his calm. That was the last thing, I could have expected from you – my uncle shouted. What’s the issue Ratan Uncle? Can I not come to meet my Grandpa. Ha? – I asked raising his anger. Get out of here, before I slap you and throw you out – he retaliated. He is not going anywhere Ratan. It was our Dad’s last wish – dad announced. That may have been the first time I felt emotions in his voice in 5 years. Our dad is no more and so is his last wish, get rid of him – my uncle ordered breathlessly. Dad, why didn’t you call me earlier? What was Grandpa’s last wish? – I enquired ignoring the tension in the hall. Nobody wanted you here. Prakash. So get lost. Before I beat the shit of you – my cousin Aman interrupted. Stay out of this. Ok? I am not talking to you – I ignored him as I subdued my hatred for him in my words. Oh, I will. Once I get rid of you – Aman came close to intimidate me. Dad, answer me, please – I pleaded. Grandpa wanted to see you before he … – as his tears stopped him. When did he say that to you precisely – I quizzed him further. Two weeks ago, we were about to … – he said as I saw the most guilt filled version of my dad. You’re happy now, get lost – Aman interrupted again. Ok! – I said as I took a long breath before crashing my fist on Aman’s irritating face. Don’t fucking interrupt him again. Ok – I said as I subtitled my physical actions. To my surprise, nobody wrecked me back. I just stood there and breathed hastily as Aman was stopped by the heavy hand of my father on his chest. Let’s respect your Dad’s deathbed Ratan uncle. You tell me why you all are pissed off with me for no apparent reason and I will move out without seeing my Grandpa’s face if that’s what you want – I announced what seemed to me was a mutual ground. Tell me what’s in you, that he wanted to see you even in his last minutes. You hadn’t even met him in decades – Aman interrupted again but this time holding his palm to his face covering the redness. I don’t believe it. Can you stop fucking interrupting!!! – I screamed to get home my point into his tiny and thoughtless brain. And to answer your question buddy. “There could only be one reason. You guys were the scum of the earth and that my grandfather had to remember someone he met ages ago” – I replied in a statement pointing fingers at everyone present. Get inside – Ratan uncle said in a much-exhausted tone looking down, as I felt the truth echoing in his ears. My dad put his arm around my shoulders as he walked me inside.

Why is everyone pissed at me, Dad? – I asked him still drilling for the truth. How would you feel if your father or grandfather is dying, breath by breath and you are right there holding his hand and he only recalls some other name for weeks continuously? That’s why they are pissed off – he replied as he unwrapped the truth and got up to leave. And you Dad? Were you also pissed off? – I asked to understand the man within because he had been a mere machine to me all these years. How can I be? If the only thing my father wanted was the presence of my son – he replied as he somehow absorbed his tears in front of me only to flush them away as he walked back. Also, he transferred all his belongings to your name – he added from a distance with a smile while his tears dried up. 

That last statement didn’t quite stay with me I must say. Somebody loved me so much that they remembered me till their last breath and then there are others whose love you carry for years with no apparent reason only to be betrayed – I mumbled to myself as I pondered the reasons why my grandfather would have remembered me in his deathbed. I smiled as I recalled a line from today that I believe will help me in my quest – ‘Not all answers are told, some are experienced’. Preachy it may feel but in context its the truth – I mumbled again as I looked at the glowing stars on a day when moon betrayed the earth. As my quest began for reasons, I opened my phonebook and looked for my Mom’s contact and repeated ‘Be a good guy’ three times as those were her last words to me and my promise to her, before she shone brightly as a star in the sky that I looked at.

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