Tuesday 10 August 2021

Aftab YusufShaikh, ShortStory 2021 Longlist

Examination Results

When the class teacher announced the date for the results of the First Semester examination, the first thing that came to Shams’ mind was not the actual result but the additional comments that the teacher will pass on to father when he comes to the school on Open House day. Only one marksheet had good comments on it. That was in Class One. The teacher had written, ‘Good in drawing. Very helpful.’ That was the last time some praise came.

Father entered the classroom, the teacher smiled courteously and gestured us to take seat on one of the benches. There were several other parents with their children sitting on the benches talking and bickering and laughing. The teacher was busy with Rajapure’s mother as the girl stood by her mother’s side. She was the most favourite and smart student of our class. How proudly she must have left her house and without a care! Shams envied her for this.

A few students later, the teacher called out Shams’ name. His hands shivered and fingers went ice cold as he moved towards the teacher’s desk.

‘God knows what she is going to tell about me!’ wondered Shams.

‘Please sit, sir.’ She told father and presented the marksheet, ‘here is your son’s beautiful marksheet.’

Father silently studied the marksheet, Shams kept peeping into the sheet giving side glances to the teacher. When father was done, he said, ‘The result seems fine. He needs to work on his mathematics though. Correct?’

‘Yes, the marks are not that bad. And if he works on his maths, he can perform better.’

‘Sure. So, how is he in class, miss?’ he asked, knowing the obvious answer.

‘Oh, don’t ask that! Every teacher is fed up with his mischief. Only Sister Flory loves him, and he is a poor lamb in her class. I am constantly sending in out of class. Pulling ponytails, passing comments, cracking silly jokes, what not!’

Father looked down, not once at Shams, and said, ‘Mischief is all because of me. His mother has always tried to correct him but it is my undeserved love that is spoiling the boy. I am sure he will stop his mischief.’

‘A little bit mischief is fine, after all it is his childhood. But disturbing the class cannot be tolerated for long.’

By now, the whole class was looking at them. Shams was melting with shame and he only wondered how furious father might be. After taking care all these years, spending hard earned money on every unfulfilled wish and getting this disappointment and embarrassment in return. It would have thrown such an ungrateful child out of the window if I were father, Shams thought in spite of himself.

‘Do not worry, miss, I assure you he will mend his ways. You will have no complaints anymore.’ Father looked at the teacher and he was not asking anything to Shams. But the boy was foolishly nodding his head.

‘I hope so,’ said the teacher, ‘Thank you for coming.’

Father came out of the class first, Shams followed him. Friends, classmates, mischief-partners were passing by. Everyone with their parents, everyone seeming like they are the most innocent of all sweet children in the world. One avoiding the eyes of the other. As they were walking down the stairs, Shams saw, squinting his eyes, Kaustubh was standing outside the Principal’s office on the first floor.

Thanking his stars, he moved ahead with a smile. He had been to the Principal’s office but never with father and never on Open House day. Father hadn’t uttered a word since he finished his conversation with the teacher. Shams had always been troubled by this silence. It would be easier to bear if father slapped and thrashed him in front of the teacher or in the corridor outside the classroom. It must have finished with that. But he will not do that. He will be quiet, acting as if nothing happened and this was a torment for Shams.

The school building was now, way behind, and they were in the market. The vegetable vendors shouting out loud in a singsong, the funny man who sold water filter pouches with his merchandise hanging all over his body, singing, ‘Paanichaankepiyo!’ The same line suggesting his customers to drink filtered water was repeated at least in five different tones and varying tempo.

For Shams, this has been the most contrasting portion of his life. This market route with rotten memories of reaching school in the morning. He tried his best to get late but the aunties returning after dropping their kids at school would become most worried. ‘Hurry up! The gate will be closed!’ they would urge and Shams would fake concern and run a little ahead. Once away from the gaze of the ladies, he would slow his pace and walk even slower. But in spite of all these efforts, the school gate mostly closed only moments after Shams was inside the premises.

On the other hand, returning home from school in the evening was always memorable. The hustle bustle of the vegetable market, the crowd of students and their parents bargaining and hankering with the equally determined vendors. The curve that moved down towards the main road, the school building, the biggest place Shams had access to and the slow-paced traffic, all of it had emotional value for him.

Presently, when he and father reached the end of the market lane and were at the crossroads of the main road, father asked him, ‘You want to have some sugarcane juice?’ It has always been a routine with father to take a stop at the sugarcane juice shop right at the edge of the market lane. Either this or the coconut shop before it. The coconut vendor had a huge thumb almost half the size of the rest of his hand. He held the coconut in his big thumb hand and hit it with his thick knife. Breaking open the coconut he placed a steel glass under it to collect all the water. Shams liked it. Not more than how he liked the sugarcane juice. The sugarcane crushing machine kept on making tinkling sounds as it had small bells tied to it. Shams would sit down casually on the wooden bench and wait for the juice to be presented in a tall glass.

The father and son drank from their glasses and took some home in a plastic bag for mother. When they were finally at home and mother asked about the results, father spoke before Shams could say anything, ‘Results are fine, he is just weak in mathematics. The teacher said he will do better in the next exams if he works a bit harder.’

‘Hard work is not your son’s cup of tea!’

‘Don’t say like that, please. I am sure he will work hard and bring good results. Will you not, son? Will you embarrass your father again?’

Shams was amused as well as sad. ‘I will never embarrass you again, Abbu.’ He said. He was expecting father to pull out his waist belt and make a stripped tiger out of him. But here he was, taking his side and showing too much confidence in the son who had always hurt and shamed him. Shams was very much ashamed on disappointing his father only recently taken such pains to show his around the city and entertain him. Father must have noticed this embarrassment on the son’s face because as soon as they were out of mother’s gaze, he pulled the son closer and said slowly in his ears, ‘Son, we cannot change our destiny. Nor can we change anyone else. I cannot change you. Only you can change yourself. What you knowingly do with yourself, is your destiny.’

Shams had hung his head in shame and couldn’t utter a single word. Father continued, ‘Don’t lose hope. Remember, what you get in life will always be better than what you never got. Never lose hope. A believer never loses hope because as long you keep hope, you are proving the power of God.’

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