Monday, 31 October 2016

The Thin Line

Whatever he told her, all his reproaches, moral sermons amounted to nothing. They held no value for her. Nothing he said could conquer her rage, her hate that she felt towards her father. He thought she was unreasonable, that she was a soul possessed, that she was not being her rational self. Ha! How easy for him to pass judgements on her state of mind. What did he know of her suffering? He, who lived in a cocoon of illusion, protected by his dreams and hopes that were kept alive by their father, a man who had never wanted them, who saw them as an obstacle till they started to move on without him. That was what made him come back. He couldn’t bear that he wasn’t important to them anymore. And Ayyan was the first one to fall in his trap. How could he ever know the state of misery she lived in? The reality he lived in now could afford him to preach and stick to ‘morals’.
Mama followed Ayyan and Samar would have followed too had she not heard their conversation that day and everything that happened afterwards. It wasn’t her he had come back for, the old, frail woman who was stripped off her beauty and youth while raising her children alone. Yes, she had made mistakes. She had failed to support her children at times they needed her most. But she was there. Unlike Aba who left when he thought things could never improve. He said he had given up on her but what about them? Clearly he had given up on them as well. His own children had become hopeless for him. Mama never left though. She was always there. Even if it was in a dark corner, where she covered, scared of light, powder all around her.
‘You haven’t changed one bit.’ She had heard her father’s contemptuous voice floating out of the half open door. ‘Look at yourself in the mirror! Look at what you’ve become.’
‘I can’t. I don't want to.’ Mama’s voice was choked with tears.
‘Don't you pity anyone other than yourself? How can you be so selfish?’
‘I tried, Ahmed, I tried so hard to change. For you, for the children but I can’t. I’m so tired. Please, I’m begging you. Please, as a last favour to me.’ she pictured Mama on her knees while her father backed away.
‘Don't expect anything from me. I regret coming back at all.’
‘No Ahmed, please. Look at me, have some mercy! Please I’m begging you.’ She couldn’t hear anymore. Mama had a fit that night. They took her to the hospital but she was stable quite soon and came back the next day. Aba stayed, albeit grudgingly. She looked cheerful and so Samar decided to forget what she had heard.
Two days later, Mama was gone. They said it was an overdose but...Mama didn’t take those pills anymore. She had quit long time ago, Samar was sure. Mama would never lie to her, especially when she knew how much it distressed her. Or would she?
She drove on, overtaking a lorry and ignoring the honking that followed and pushed the accelerator harder in anticipation of seeing the man society called her father. She couldn’t forgive him. Not after that night. He had to pay for what he had done. He had to pay for stealing her mother away from her.
‘You’ve lost your mind,’ Ayyan had said when she told him the truth. ‘You don't know anything.’ Her tears stopped flowing and she threw a vase in his face. His most beloved vase. That gave her some satisfaction.
‘You are wasting your life in your hatred!’ he yelled, wiping blood off his forehead. ‘Just sit down here and listen to me please.’
‘You listen to yourself. Listen to your own excuses, you sound pathetic!’ she pitied him. Her hate had cleared her head while his love has deluded him.
She could see his mansion now. They had lived in a three room apartment all their life while he strutted around in his palace. After taking a few deep breaths, she reconsidered her plan. But her mother’s picture on the dashboard, her beautiful smile steeled her resolve. The gun was in the glove compartment and her hand didn’t shake as she held it in her hand.
‘You?’ he was shocked. And drunk, she thought with disgust.
‘Who were you expecting?’ she spat. He shuddered at her tone and staggered toward the sofa.
‘She is no more.’ His eyes, already red, started leaking.
‘You don't have to inform me. I know, I was there. I saw her and I heard her!’ she yelled. He looked up at her in shock and then broke down, reminding her of her mother’s tears as she begged him do what? She shook her head, pushing the question out of her mind. It didn’t matter, he was a pretentious snob who had taken her mother’s life.
‘I see you have a gun in your hand.’
‘It’s fated for you.’ She said as savagely as she could but he didn’t give a reaction. He didn’t even try to stop his tears. That was when she realised it was grief that deranged him, not alcohol.
‘It was hers. She loved it. I told her not to buy it but she wanted one so badly. Said it made her feel safe. Happy.’ He smiled at the memory. But it dissolved in a moment. ‘Just like that first syringe. My fault, all my fault.’ he was blabbering now. ‘I should have known since the beginning but I never tried to see the symptoms. I shut my eyes and let her ruin herself.’ Samar wanted to tell him to stop talking. She didn’t want to know that but she stood there, dumb.
She remembered once when she was around 10, Aba had taken her and Ayyan to a fun fair. Mama wasn’t feeling well and said she wanted to stay home. When they came back in the evening, the house was dark with Mama nowhere to be seen. After looking around the house for 10 minutes, Aba found her hidden in a closet. She was unconscious and her nose was bleeding. She had to be taken in emergency. When she came back home after a week, Aba wanted her to go to rehab but she promised she would quit. Get better on her own. She didn’t want to be away from her children or from him.
Mama stood by her word for a few weeks but couldn’t any longer. Their house became hell that night. Samar had never heard Aba speak so loudly. She was crying into her pillow when he came inside and told her they were going away.  
‘Where?’ she had squeaked.
‘A good place.’
‘Will Mama be fine there?’
‘She is not going.’ His curt reply prompted more tears. Noisy tears.
‘I don't want to go without Mama.’
‘Baby she will come in a few days. I promise. If we don't go, she will never come to us.’
They were at the door when the police arrived. Aba was arrested for taking the children away forcefully. He never came back.
Sometimes she would think about that night and thought if life would have been any different if Aba really had taken them away? Would Mama had really come to them, baggage free?
‘Now she is gone. She begged me to end her pain and I screamed at her. How could she do this to me? Was this why she called me back?’ she was brought back to the present by his incessant ranting and crying. He was in a pathetic state. She was starting to feel pity for him.
‘When I first saw her...she drove me crazy. Till the end of her life, she drove me crazy. Wanted everything on her own terms, well THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN!’ He started crying loudly again. ‘For the first time, I tried to stop her. And she...’ Samar stared at him as she remembered her mother had once told her that there is a thin line between hatred and love. She realised she had just crossed the border. Her father stood up and faced her.

‘WHY ARE YOU STANDING THERE? WHY DON’T YOU SHOOT?’ her mother had demanded the same of him. And his refusal had not resulted the way he wished it would. Could she live with this guilt all her life? If he took the same decision as her mother, she would end up guilty either way. Her hand twitched. The pistol hung in mid air.

This short story was published in Mag the Weekly issue of Oct 22-28, 2016

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