If at times, being a part of a family is a living hell then sometimes, not having one is also a living hell. To most of us, it is the need to be loved and the importance of receiving the affection we seek are the factors that dictate the lives we lead. Our ups and downs mean nothing on a professional level when our lives are saturated with misery as we cling to what we haven’t been given.
Part I: Heads
His unruly hair hiding half his face, his hands and legs trying hard to teeter through the mud, Vinay tried not to fall off as the bag on his shoulders weighed too much for his frail body. He was excited though. He’d been selected as a winner in four of the competitions, and he’d get prizes for them on the coming annual day. So, the rain hadn’t completely dampened his emotions and he expected an easy walk home from school. As much as he wanted to return home along with his friends, they had cycles and he had to always walk.
All throughout his journey, there’s only one thing that’d been running in his mind for an hour and that was how to ask his parents to come for the school’s annual day celebrations. They never attended any event on their own and even when requested, they always had an excuse ready. Even then, this year was special for him and he wanted his parents there. So, he decided to ask them politely and even explain the events and everything if needed.
Excited, he pushed open the gate and scanned the windows of the hall. There’s no one in it. So Dad wasn’t home. He walked in and set aside his bag and called his mother. There was no response. All right. She’s sleeping and is sick again. He felt sorry for his mother. He never knew why but he suspected there’s more to the story his parents told him about their love and the eventual marriage. This isn’t love. This can’t be.
He never saw any affection between his parents. His father loved him, sure, and his mother loved her son the way every mother would do, but was there ever a tinge of love between them? He’d no idea and there’s always one or more secrets lurking in those quarrels and shouts. They never ate dinners together, they never went out to see movies. They never did anything as a family. Vinay thought many times to ask his mother about this, but he couldn’t come up with the proper words and the embarrassment of hurting her caused dread in his stomach.
But again, there was no way he could have put it without hurting either of his parents. He’s fourteen and just beginning to understand and see things in a different way. Life wasn’t too reductive and binary enough like before.
Dad wasn’t home.
“Oh it was one of those days of too much work at the office” is what he used to think earlier. Now he certainly knew that Dad wasn’t home because he hated being here and there was definitely somewhere else he’d be peaceful and comfortable. A place where he met his old friends or probably, a place where he’d never have to see the faces of his wife and son.
His thoughts came to a halt as he heard a whimper from the bedroom. Realising he must attend to his mother, Vinay walked into the room to find her awake and smiling at him.
“I’m sorry about not making anything for you today Vinu.”
“I’m not feeling hungry maa.”
“Why don’t you go out and get yourself something?”
“I don’t want to go maa... it’s raining.”
“Oh... is he home yet?”
Vinay just nodded saying no and his mother’s face couldn’t help but reveal her sorrow.
In the end, it took Vinay four more years to stumble across the truth that he thought would set him free and cleanse his mind once and for all. But it only brought more burden and pain to his life. Initially, he thought it was one of those regular fights wherein in the end, his father would spend most of the night watching television and not eating at the table. But Vinay had no idea that this was going to be a different one.
His mother had been brave and patient and she always stood up for herself. Anything and everything could become a point of contention and Vinay at the age of eighteen was convinced that his parents were itching for a fight. It’s almost like they hated when everything was calm and fine and now didn’t even bother about him. They acted as if he had never existed.
On another rainy day as it drizzled, Vinay was back from school and from the gate, he was greeted with loud shouts, vessels crashing and steel plates clanking. Then he saw two figures standing six feet apart, one hunched and not able to stand properly, the other with a monstrous visage, ready to pounce on anyone. He did not dare to enter the home and hid behind the main door listening to them.
“I wouldn’t have married you if you were not pregnant.”
“Then maybe you should have had some restraint or at least help me ab...”
“We were having fun before things got serious!”
“I loved you.”
“I did too but not enough to spend a lifetime with you.”
“You should have told me that nineteenth years ago. We could have avoided all of this. We could have put an end to all this suffering and misery.”
“I had no choice. Everyone around insisted we should marry.”
“So you married me to torture and seek revenge?”
That silence was chilling and that was the end of it. At last, Vinay found the missing pieces he was looking for in the last couple of years. Though he knew his parents didn’t love one another, he didn’t expect such hate too. A couple of hours later, Vinay realised, it isn’t just hate but more of a man holding everything in his life against someone.
This addressed a lot of questions, but it also raised a slew of new ones that he hadn’t dared to ask either of his parents. For a time, his father and mother were together. The woman was madly in love with him, but the man was simply infatuated and looking for something else. Instead of facing this difficult fact and hurting her once, he decided to make her life miserable on a daily basis. The Gods, however, had other ideas, and they cut short the life of this woman and granted her some mercy.
After a long day at the office, Vinay returned all wet on his bike as it poured to see his father waiting at the entrance. He knew something was wrong but after a brief discussion with his father, he couldn’t help but control himself when he asked, “Cancer?”
“Yes. She lived with that disease for eight years.”
“Eight years? Why was I not told? It’s not that I lived in a different house.”
“Your mother insisted on that. She thought that’d make you sadder.”
“Sounds more like convenience. A betrayal if I have to choose the correct word.”
“Whatever... I don’t have time to argue with you about that.”
“You didn’t have time to tell your son about his mother’s health. So I don’t blame you.”
“That isn’t the story. See, I spent a good deal of my life living with someone I hate. Now I see this as a release, a release from everything that kept me chained. So I want to move out and live with someone I love.”
Fed up, Vinay pointed towards the main gate as he said, “Go on...”
“Yes, and as for you, you’re twenty-five and you have a job. I will leave the house and everything else to you. Just don’t expect me to take responsibility for your life. Even if I did, you’d hate me for that. I know this because I hate what my parents did in the name of responsibility..”
Exhausted, Vinay closed his eyes as he said, “You don’t have to explain all of that Dad...”
“Good. I will stay in touch.”
As the middle-aged man walked away, Vinay thought, “I hope not. I hope you forget that you have a son and live the life you always wanted.”