I turned 12 today. One more year and I will be in my teens! Not that we had any extravagant celebrations for the occasion. Being raised by a single parent, I know better than to expect a whole lot of gifts, but mom did buy me the new basketball that I had asked her for.
However, ever since I got that letter from dad on my sixth birthday, it became the one gift that I most eagerly await this day every year. Although what I wish for infinitely more is for him to actually come back to us! But the letters have their own charm and when you know they represent your only chance to know about your father and his whereabouts, they become immensely valuable. It thrills me to read about his exotic travels and his heroic exploits. I get the goosebumps as I visualize him fighting valiantly against the pirates or learning the subtle nuances of fighting from the Samurais.
But the delight of his words and the pride of knowing that he is fighting for a greater cause last only so long. The charm of his amazing feats fades in front of the harsh reality of his having abandoned me and mom for more than six years now. Yes, it’s been that long since I last saw him! Wasn’t I just a baby then! I have faint memories of our family visits to grandfather’s farmhouse and of our frequent trips to the beach. I also vividly remember going to my first basketball game with him. How ecstatic I was that day!
Gripped with nostalgia, I sometimes complain to mom about his absence from our lives. But she just loves him too much. She tells me how true love is about sacrifice and understanding and those lyrical sorts of things. But to me, all that is no more than some philosophical bullshit. The bare truth of the matter is that my father is not here with me today; that is never around to take me to the park, nor to help me with my science project; that the third chair on our dining table has been unoccupied for as many dinners as I can remember; that every Saturday, I have to make do with Chris’ father’s cheering in the football game in our school. He didn’t even care enough to write me a damn letter on my birthday.
For all of mom’s attempts to fight the situation bravely, I know that dad’s absence pricks her too. There are days when she becomes completely solemn. Deafening herself to my incessant cries for this and that, she simply stares blankly in my direction. It’s only when my shouts become intolerable that she comes out of her trance. As she chides me for my careless behavior, tears rolling down her cheek, the tremor in her voice is unmistakable. She says she has a headache and that I shouldn’t give her more trouble. But I know why she is really aching.
Sometimes I wonder what’s really keeping dad away from us for so long. Maybe he has found some other woman on his travels. Perhaps he has a new family and has forgotten all about me and mom. After all, failed marriages are not such a rarity these days. Mom truly loves him and would not consider anything of this sort even for a second, but what if he is taking advantage of her innocence? What if every time we are struggling to make our ends meet with mom’s meager income or being threatened by the landlord for failing to pay the rent, wishing desperately that dad were with us, he is blissfully vacationing with his new family, completely oblivious of our troubles?
Perhaps I am just being way too skeptical. Maybe dad has been sending me letters all along but the stupid postal system loses them in transit. Better yet, maybe he plans to surprise us by showing up at the door out of the blue someday. Maybe he planned to reach home today and give me the best birthday gift ever. Maybe he is only a little late. Maybe the doorbell will ring as I am writing this. Maybe. I hope so. Desperately.
PS: This piece is a part of our hostel’s creative writing entry for this year.