8 year old Amit walked briskly toward his house. He occasionally sprinted toward his house keeping a keen eye on the open shops where he could spot a clock. Actually, the reason he wanted to see the clock was the time. It was already 7:15 PM. Fifteen Minutes past his father’s arrival time from office. He increased his pace.
His mind was recollecting the day before when he received a nice beating for coming late. Why was Papa so cruel, beating him at his slightest fault. He did not beat Anil much. So what if he is his younger brother, and just 4 years old. How was he supposed to know the time? Do any playground have clock on them. And the sun sets so late. What could he do? By the time he realized that it was already late, it was already past 7:00 PM.
“Please God! Let Papa come a little late today.” He prayed.
In another 5 minutes, he was standing in front of his house. Amit tried to determine if his father was home. He stood close to the door and tried to listen to any voices inside. Nothing. Just nothing. He smiled. Dad was not home yet. He pushed open the door. His younger brother Anil let out a shout “Dada”. Amit could have trashed him then and there. His mother called him from the kitchen
“Where have you been? Its already 7:30. You know Papa does not like you to stay out so late?”
Amit didn’t reply. He knew if he replied or give reasons, he would surely walk into trouble. Silence was the best defense. He washed his hands and legs. Papa was still not back from the office. It was strange because he would always be home by 7:00. He looked at the clock. It was almost 8:00 now. He was happy. He had just escaped a severe beating from the hands of his father. Amit put on the TV and watched the usual crap that came in the evenings. He was glad he didn’t had homework during summer holidays.
Amit’s brother, Anil was sitting on the floor with toys. Amit’s mom was prancing around checking for his dad every 10 minutes.
Another 30 minutes of wait and Amit’s mother was getting desperate. She grabbed the telephone diary kept on the table.
“Take care of Anil. I will just call Papa’s office from the nearby phone booth” his mother instructed him.
There was worry on her face. Amit glanced at her mother but did not say anything. He could tell from her face. She was tensed. His mother went out to call up Papa’s office. Why didn’t Papa call the neighboring Sheela Aunty if he was going to be late. Sheela Aunty was the only one in the building with a phone. He didn’t like to trouble her mother. Mummy was nice. Papa was so mean. Even mummy doesn’t like him. Papa was always shouting at him. Maybe he scolded mummy too.
Mummy was back in 15 minutes. One look at her face and Amit could tell that she didn’t have good news. He watched TV while his mother continued looking out. He looked at the watch. It was nearing 9:00 PM. Papa was two hours late now. Now even he was getting worried. The moving images on the TV was not making sense. He got up and turned the TV off.
“Amit, serve Anil and yourself food” His mother told him.
“You will not be eating?” He asked
“Let Papa come!”
He silently went in the kitchen and arranged food for Anil and himself. His brother roamed with his toy train oblivious of anything happening around. He glanced outside. Mummy was looking outside the window. He struggled with Anil to make him eat. Anil ran to mummy and asked “When is Papa coming?”
Mummy was worried and now she was angry. “Amit, make him eat” she shouted.
Amit dragged a crying Anil away from his mother. He scolded him to sit on the chair and started hand feeding him. A crying Anil chewed on the food, his tears mixing with the food. After eating himself, he made Anil sleep and switched on the TV. Anil was watching TV now. Amit went and stood near her mother. Mummy was looking out, searching for Papa.
Amit’s mind went back to the evening while he was returning home. His mind went back to his prayers to god. Had he asked that Papa should be late or something else? He wanted Papa to be late by minutes. But now, minutes have turned to hours. His mind started playing games. Why is Papa late? Has something happened to him? Is he ……… is he? He couldn’t bring himself to even think of death. Is he in trouble? What could be the problem? Why does a journey that takes 1 hour has already taken more than 3 hours.
What if there is really something wrong? How will mummy react? What will happen to them? What should I do? He started imagining things. He started imagining situations. He looked back at his brother. He was still happily playing with his toy train and watching TV. He watched his mother. She was intently watching the road.
His mind was controlled by fear. Fear of the future, rather an unsecured future. He thought of the time he had spent with Papa. The days when he use to bring toys for them. The days when he used to bring snacks for them. How Papa taught him to cross the road. How he held his hand and never lost him.
He came inside and sat on the chair. He couldn’t imagine a life without Papa. True he was very strict but he was his father. He loved his family. He worked hard to provide for the family. How could God take him away from them? He prayed again.
“God please bring Papa back. I will come home early everyday”
Another 10 minutes passed. Amit walked to the balcony to be with his mother. He was praying silently.
Then in the streetlight, a familiar figure walked briskly toward their home. Amit looked at his mother. She sat on the chair in the balcony. She smiled. There was relief on her face. The tension was over.
They both watched as his father walked to their house.
“Our bus was stuck on the road because of traffic for the last 4 hours. I wanted to call but I misplaced the number” Papa was explaining.
Mummy did not say anything. Amit guessed she was too happy to say anything. She took the bags from his hands. Anil came running. Papa picked Anil up and asked him all about the day. Amit sat on the chair and watched them. It was such a relief to see him.
Papa had his food all the time talking to mummy about the traffic and his bus. Mummy was silent but relieved. She eat her food in silence listening attentively to Papa.
The TV was still on and an old hindi song played in the background
Papa jaldi aa jaana. Gudiyon ke bazaar se aachi si gudiyaan lana. Gudiyaan chahe na laana Papa jaldi aa jaana. (Papa come home early. From the dolls market, bring me a nice doll. Even if you don’t bring a doll, come home early).
It was time to retire for the day. Papa made the beds. Mummy was washing the dishes. She looked more relaxed now. Amit looked at them. He was feeling much relived now. In the last 4 hours, Amit had imagined everything that could go bad in his life. In the last 4 hours he felt like he had grown-up.
Anil was still running around. Papa scolded him and everyone lay on the bed. Anil was sleeping in no time. Mummy also slept instantly. She had a hard day. Amit was sitting on the bed getting ready to sleep.
“Did you trouble mummy today?” His Papa asked
Amit shook his head with a big NO.
“What time did you come home today? Were you before 7:00?” Another question
Before he could reply, His mother mumbled in her sleep “He was home by seven. Now are you two going to sleep Or is this going to be a question-answer round?”
Papa had to back out. It always looked like Papa was in control but somehow mummy got the upper hand in arguments. Amit never understood. But Amit was not angry with his father that day. Even though he was asking the same questions, he was a different person for him today. He had realized that his father meant the same thing to him as his mother. Papa put off the lights and everyone was sleeping. Amit was awake trying to see in the darkness. He slept close to his mother as he always did.
He got up a little and saw Papa sleeping at the far end of the bed. Anil was sleeping between Papa and mummy. He got up taking care that he does not disturb his mother. He walked to his father’s side avoiding stepping on them, trying to find his way in the dark.
He slowly laid next to his father. His father seemed to be fast asleep. He let his body slide next to him, being as close as possible. He felt safe sleeping next to his father. Amit closed his eyes trying to sleep but somehow was unable to sleep. He moved a little trying to change position and then sleeping in a different position.
He lay with his back to his father trying hard to fall asleep. Suddenly he felt his father’s hand on him. Papa put his hand on him and pulled him closer putting a protective hand on him. Amit was suddenly feeling safe, feeling protected, feeling loved. He let his body loose. His tiny hand closed on his father’s hand. He shut his eyes. He did not worry now. He slept peacefully in the hands of his father.
If anybody could see, there was a smile on the face of father and son.