WHEN FATHER DIED: A SHORT STORY
Whenever I see him, my heart skips a beat. Yet, he’s been everything that you would not expect in a guardian for he was that, ironically. He did not guard me; he neglected me at the beginning. And from there, it was a slow journey into his heart.
I remember the first time I saw him. My father had passed away. I must have had a very cold heart for I remember the slight drizzle that day, I remember the feeble sunshine and I remember the shadows in our home, cast by all the drawn curtains but I don’t remember crying. I had mostly been taken care of by many of my aunts and countless housekeepers and my only memories of father are of him taking me into his lap every Christmas. He was always cheerful on Christmas mornings when we had his favourite pudding and he had a glass of claret. He would have a word to say to everyone. His eyes, sunken and lifeless on most other days would brighten and he would smile and look out of the window and would not lock himself in his study as he did every other day. I loved Papa on Christmas but on his funeral, I felt nothing. But I saw him crying outside my father’s bed-chamber and not like most people. He was crying silently, his lips were tightly drawn together and his face, devoid of any colour was hollow and dark and his eyes were dimmed. And teardrop after teardrop coursed down his cheeks. I remember feeling sorry for him, for him and no one else.
At that moment, I felt my heart beat with an intensity I’d never known before. I rushed into his arms and held him tight, crying in sympathy. That perhaps, was the reason why he accepted to take me under his care. For my aunts both had large families where I would not be a welcome addition. All their children were grown up and they were in no mood to do any more mothering. They much rather liked to treat me like a doll whenever they met me in the holidays.
And even now, I laugh at my first memory of him. After all was said and done and money affairs, tactfully settled between my aunts, I set out on the fourth night after my father’s death with him. He called a cab and carrying my possessions in his hand, we got in. All through the ride, he remained stiff and unapproachable but I was stricken with hunger. I had refused to eat all day, not out of sorrow but out of mischief than anything else. Everyone had been particularly attentive to me for they knew I was going away and they were making such a fuss over me that I had no time to eat. I liked better to listen to them coo at me. But he was no such person. Before starting out, he’d asked me in his peculiar deep, low voice, “Do you want something to eat?” and I’d answered “No” and the matter had been settled as long as he was concerned.
My peevish looks and fretful movements signified nothing to him. And so, we got into the train and it had just started chugging out of the station when I burst into a loud, drawling whine. I laugh at the memory of his helpless face. Only when I cry have I seen him looking that helpless.
“What is it, child? What is it?” he began. “Do you cry because we’ve left home?” he whispered gently, hoping to quell the commotion. “It’ll be alright. We’ll be back home again” he told me. But my cries did not cease. I loved that he was finally making me his prime concern.
Inarticulately, I tried to express that I was hungry, tired and felt dirty from all my running about that day. My clothes felt prickly and there was just a niggling bit of homesickness tugging at my heart but these I could not, and would not express in a way he understood.
“Oh, what is it?” he asked me desperately at last, settling to try bargaining with me. “Would you like this?” he said, holding out a crisp note in front of me. I grabbed it greedily but continued crying, but in a more half-hearted manner.
“Would you… would you like something to eat?” he asked me at last and I nodded and he was off in a second. When he came back, he was bearing a tray full of eateries. Cakes, brownies, part of a meat pie and jellies and whatnot. I suppose now that he must have asked the trolley-lady to give him whatever she had and there it was; a tray that made no sense, a tray full of sugar to quiet and calm down an already worked up, hyper-active child.
As I started hogging everything, he kindly watched with that half-smile that I know so well now. “There you go” he said when I had finished. “Tell me when you feel hungry again” he said, getting up again with the tray and I watched him, my childish eyes opening wide for the first time. Here was a person who I actually did not want to trouble but rather to please which was a new feeling for me at the time.