The cloudy tangerine sky seems an endless, dappled ocean of light. Passers-by walk along in front of me, enjoying the cool evening zephyr. The street is surrounded by houses, some vacant, some brimming with life.
Standing under a tree on the other side of the street, I observe a family walking back to their nice, homely bungalow. A tall man, late fifties, his arm around his beautiful wife, smiling and laughing merrily. The woman has a leash in her hand, at the end of it a Golden Retriever trotting along with them, tongue lolling, tail wagging happily. A happy family.
My happy family.
Or at least it was, until 14 years ago.
I thought that this would have been easier, but I can’t do it. I can’t go back to them. I can’t do that to them. They’re happy. I’ll let them be happy.
Finding a nearby park, I sit down on a wooden bench, and unable to hold it in any longer, bury my head in my hands and start weeping.
After a while, I hear footsteps coming towards me and feel someone sitting beside me. Looking up, I see a teenage boy with a kind face staring at me. I wipe my eyes, try to force a smile.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asks me. ‘Why are you crying?’
For a second, I consider telling him that nothing’s wrong, making up a lie, or simply getting up and walking away. But something tells me that I can trust this boy. So I tell him. I tell him that my name is Pinaki Roy, tell him that I was an ungrateful little brat when I was young, that I always fought with my parents, that I treated my one-year old brother horribly, just like I treated everyone else. I tell him that I showed no responsibility, no appreciation for how hard my parents worked to give me the best life any kid could possibly hope for. I tell him how one day, when I was 16 years old, I finally had a long overdue falling out with them. My dad yelled at me for being so ungrateful, and I in turn told him that he had no right to say anything to me, being a college dropout and such a disappointment to his own parents. When mom told me to show dad some respect, I mocked her for being a simpleton, not even being able to operate a computer. Dad, who should have punished me for being such a jerk, gave me two choices – I could stay with them and change my attitude, or I could leave and try to make it on my own. Out of sheer pride and arrogance, I chose the second option.
And now everything’s changed. I am a father now. I have a job, responsibilities. I’ve gone through some things. I know their value now. I regret every bad thing I ever said, ever did, to them. I want nothing more than to be back with them, but it’s clear that they’re happy without me. They don’t want me back, and nor should they.
The boy listens to all this without saying a word. Finally he smiles at me and says – ‘You never asked me my name.’
‘I’m sorry. What’s your name?’
‘Debanjan Roy,’ he says, and it’s like getting hit in the stomach. He’s so grown up, my little brother. Tears flow freely down my cheeks as I hug him tightly and apologize for everything I ever did to him.
‘I won’t go back,’ I say to him, pulling away. ‘I won’t bother you anymore. Go and be happy with your parents. They’re the best parents anyone can ask for.’
Saying that, I get up and start walking away, when Debanjan calls out behind me – ‘Wait!’
I turn around. ‘Do you know why we got a dog?’ he says. ‘So that mom and dad didn’t feel so alone. Choco is just a substitute for you. They’re not happy, dada. They may look it, but they’ve spent the past 14 years sad and miserable, hating themselves for having failed you as parents. They just want you back, and the only reason they haven’t tried to track you down is that they feel you don’t want them back.’
I stare at him, dumbfounded. No, that’s not true. They haven’t failed me, I’ve failed them. They feel guilty? How can they…?
Eventually, I let Debanjan guide me back home. Heart hammering in my chest, I ring the doorbell. Immediately, Choco’s barks fill the house. I hear dad admonishing him to be quiet. A second later he opens the door. The moment I’ve waited for so desperately is here. I expect him to slap me. expect him to close the door on my face. But he simply stands there, a blank expression on his face, tears forming in his eyes. A few seconds later, mom comes to the door too. Choco just keeps barking as the three of us stare at each other for what feels like eternity.
Then, slowly, in unison, we step forward and hug each other, years of anger and resentment put aside.