Sunday, 1 February 2009

Uneasy lies the head.... a short story

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

He knocked gently on the door, but got no response.

‘Son’, said the father softly first and then more firmly. ‘Open the door. Please.’

‘Go away !’ , said a feeble voice from inside. ‘I don’t want to see anybody.’

‘But you must let me come in. We must speak about this.’

‘No !,’ shouted back the voice. And switched on the stereo. The volume made his intentions very clear.

Aggravated, the father turned the door knob and found the door opening readily.

‘Son’, he said again, ‘be sensible. Let me help you.’ His son now reached for his headsets.

The father shot out his hand, grabbed the headsets away. Then, in a fit of rage slapped the stereo shut.

The son was taken aback. His father had seldom reacted this way.

Perhaps the father should have been more liberal with the stick. Now, his son, stubborn, was used to having his way with people around him and did not handle adverse opinions very well.

‘Son’, said the father again, bringing his rage under control and feeling very sorry he had not controlled himself better. He wanted to be seen as a good role model and it would not do to lose self restraint when dealing with his son.

‘Your mother said you poured milk over your jacket so you wouldn’t have anything to wear to school. You are making a new excuse everyday to miss school. Yesterday you hid your clothes away so we couldn’t find them. Today this. On Monday you said school had been closed due to the snow. All lies. It cannot go on like this. Be brave. You must go to school son’, said the father.

‘I will not’, was the immediate reply. ‘They all hate me. All the other boys and girls make fun of me. Nobody loves me.’

‘They do’, said the father, scratching his forehead thoughtfully, slowly. ‘They do. Everybody loves you.’

‘No’, was once the stubborn response. ‘Only you think so. Yesterday, I saw on the desk one of the boys had scribbled a drawing of me. With no front teeth, a geek hat, and pot belly. They make fun of me for my height. The call me Stiffy because I don’t smile and walk erect. I feel so different. I will never go back.’

The father nodded as in agreement. His son had been saying that for many days now, but always ended up going. This week things had taken a turn for the worse. He would need professional help soon. The attitude was not positive. The father felt frustrated at his inability to do anything.

‘Son,’ he said. ‘We are different. So is everyone else. Isn’t that the beauty of life ? You should be so happy to be with different people. You are so special. I am special. Be proud of that and share that feeling.’

‘Why should I be happy ?’, was the prompt retort. ‘I am not special. You keep telling me that. Tell me why I am special.’ He crossed his arms and sulked, staring angrily out of his window. There was a soft snow falling, but the ice in his bitter heart was harsh.

The father felt sad for his son. And tried to encourage him. ‘Remember’, he said, ‘of the time you set up the computer for me. I simply had no idea how to do it. And it was you who got mummy and me to use the cell phone. And DVD player. You are so intelligent. And you teach us so much at your age.’

The son looked up. His father saw he was making progress. There was good in everyone. Always enough to be proud of. He would help his son make it through this.

‘But’, continued the son in his attempt to hear more about himself, ‘that doesn’t impress people at school. They want to know if I can tell jokes, sing and dance and get drunk at the parties’.

‘Maybe you should do that’, said his father. ‘I mean, tell a few jokes, sing some songs, dance…It can’t be so difficult can it ? But keep away from the smoke and drinks. It is a bad habit.’

‘Ok…go on’, taunted the son, ‘tell me a joke. Let me see how well you do.’

The father winced. He was no good at this. Young Stiffy was a chip off the ol’ block. But he racked his brain to come up with something. ‘Well’, he began, ‘you could tell them that your father says your mother is an avid writer. She writes cheques all day long ! ! !’ He grinned feebly, hoping the son could see the funny side to his pathetic attempt.

Their eyes did not meet for a while. The father twiddled his thumbs restlessly. There must be a better way he thought.

He tried again. ‘I heard yesterday that there are national weeks celebrated in your school. Have you tried to participating those ? They must be so much fun.’

‘No’, said the son, ‘its only for the larger countries. Like the Indian students, the French, British and the American students. The rest of us just watch and enjoy the show. ‘

‘Isnt that good enough ?’

‘But I am sure you are learning so much. I hope you are associating with the Indian boys.’

‘What ? ? They are a nightmare. The dumbest bunch I have ever seen. I think they will all fail and the school will be held to some conspiracy theory for failing Indians. People worry about brain drain…..this bunch is a great example of drained brains. Please, don’t speak about them.’

The father bit his lip. Surely , he thought, there must be a silver lining to this dark cloud called school.

‘Ok’, he ventured again, ‘ but what about the French ?’

‘Je ne comprend pas ! ! ! ! Je ne sais pas ! ! ! ! Its all ‘n’est pas’ with them’, he said , his face contorted mockingly . ‘And most of them stop working half way through the day anyway…..supposedly some law that says they need work only 35 hours a week.

‘Ask me again papa, why I don’t want to go to school.’

‘Son’, said the father, ‘you must try and participate. You must cooperate. Every school has its challenges. You cant run away from them. I know how you feel.’

‘No you don’t ! You cannot even begin to imagine the exclusion I face everyday from the other kids. ‘

‘Surely you have met some challenging students here ?’, asked the father.

‘They’re all challenged’, came the irreverent reply.

The father gritted his teeth trying to kill the sudden bursts of anger this pointless conversation was building in him.

‘It seems my closest friends are Venkatesh, Devesh and Avijit. Much as I like them, it is so unnerving. Everyone now and then, these guys find empty seats near me and promptly sit there talking about themselves. All their worries. That’s all that matters to them. I nearly fell asleep on Dev’s shoulder last week. It is painful. I have had an overdoze of them. And no one else wants to talk to me.’

The father tried to change the subject of discussion.

‘What about the teachers ? I am sure they find you to be a hard working intelligent person.’

‘No. They hate me as well. The way they look at me, you would think they all think I am the cause of all their troubles. They ask me the most difficult questions and sometimes I think they ask me all their questions. One of them brings these post-it notes full of questions, tough ones.

Another ponders his questions rubbing his long grey beard. Looks at me like he can see into me and has decided I have a troubled childhood or something. Keeps saying I should meet him in his office after school hours. The other day, he was encouraging some students to drop eggs from the first floor windows. And one of the students looked at me in such a menacing way. I was scared father. The egg was going to become his weapon. Really scared.

The worst is the day after the teachers receive their pay checks. All I get is glares and snide remarks when I get the answers all muddled up. They act as if I am the cause of all their grief. What did I do?’

‘Maybe’, said father, ‘you should make friends with the security guards. Surely someone will talk to you on your level.’ That wasn’t a very bright thing for father dear to say. The son looked at him with a pained look.

‘How about the girls ? Are you interested in anyone ?’

The boy drooped his head further into his shoulders.

‘I could talk to Mansi if she stopped dancing. But I’m not very good at it you know. ‘

The father was aghast to hear him speak this way.

‘But you are learning are you not ?’

‘Maybe I should have joined the army. Should I look to become a priest father, he asked ?
Show me he way.’

With that he fell into his father’s arms.

The father gently patted his boy’s head. ‘I know things look bad. But they always work out. Happened to me when I was at school. But I slowly made friends. I just had to keep trying. I was stiff too. But I just being nice and helped when I could…..and finally I was accepted.

Then when I thought all was well my schooling years ended and I enrolled at university. It was the same struggle all over again. Only more painful because I had to move away from home.

It was always the same, young man. Be good and be helpful, and you will find your place in the sun. Why, I met your mother at university and never felt luckier in life.

Just be brave and do your best. You are a lovable chap.’

The son brushed away his tears and kissed his father. ‘Ok dad’, he said, ‘but not today. Just give me one more day and tomorrow I will be ready to go again. I promise.’

The father smiled feebly, knowing he could do no more than hope for a better beginning the next day.

‘Ok son’, he said, ‘I believe you will be ready tomorrow.’

He stepped out of the room as he saw his son reach for the Game Boy console. MTV, Game Boy, texting……maybe these toys were all encouraging solitude.

The father walked to the kitchen. Mother, unfortunately was not too happy to see him come alone. She guessed the mission had been unsuccessful and to show her indignation, slapped his breakfast before him.

‘I tried you know’, he said.’He will be ready tomorrow’.

‘It cannot go on like this forever. He must learn to look after himself’, said mother.

The father poked at his scrambled eggs in a curious way, perhaps hoping that the eggs would give him the answer.

The phone rang and woke him from his stupor. He guessed it would be the school and prepared himself for the interrogation. ‘I’m just the father you know !’, he wanted to shout. ‘Ozzy Osbourne has more influence on my son than I. Call Ozzy, don’t call me !’

‘Hello’, he said into the phone.

‘Yes’, he replied to a comment on the other end.
‘I understand’, he continued, ‘you are concerned, and thank you very much for your support.
I have just checked in his room …….Yes…….. Yes, he will definitely be in tomorrow. No……a medical examination will not be required.’

Slowly, the conversation came to an end.

‘Yes Isabelle’, he lied firmly and finally,

‘Dean Pekka is still suffering from a stomach bug. But I’m sure he will be in school tomorrow.’

The old man hung onto the phone for a few minutes before returning to his cold and scrambled eggs.

venkat, 2004.
Insead, the coolest plot on the planet. No hard feelings, dean.

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