by Rrashima Swaarup Verma
He turned around and glanced at the house. A red, two-story, brick structure, he could see it clearly from his vantage point on this particular bench. His mother always said that the earthy tone of the colour gave a warm look, particularly on cold, winter evenings but now he felt as though the house seemed to wear a permanent veil of sadness around it. Almost as if it was grieving too. As if it too, was dealing with the same sense of abandonment, the same sorrow, the loss.
‘You need to move,’ his grandmother had said to his father when she’d come to visit over the summer. ‘Too many memories. You both need a fresh start.’
‘We like this house,’ David had protested then but his grandmother had looked at him sadly and then patted his head. People often did that to him, particularly when they wanted to dismiss something he’d said.
‘It’s only a house. A house is nothing but bricks and mortar.’
He’d looked at his father then. With a slight shake of the head, he’d given him the reassurance that he was seeking. ‘Don’t worry. She doesn’t understand,’ his eyes had seemed to say. David had nodded his agreement then. It was true. She didn’t. No one did. After all, who else could understand that it wasn’t just a house. It wasn’t just bricks and mortar. It was….so much more. It….understood their pain. Wrapped its arms around them on those chilly nights, giving them the warmth that they craved. Engulfed them, sheltered them from the harshness of the prying words, the questions, the world. Took care of them. Shared their grief.
‘A house can’t grieve.’ Even his best friend had looked at him, bemused, the first time David had mentioned it. ‘Your grandmother is right. A house is made up of bricks. It doesn’t feel anything.’
‘Our house does.’ David had shaken his head stubbornly. Then he’d walked away. Away from people who didn’t care, didn’t know, didn’t understand.
‘David? David? Are you coming?’
His friend’s voice snapped him out of his thoughts. David turned and sighed. Without waiting for an answer, Roman had run off with the others. Within seconds, he would be engrossed in the game. They’d count the players, make teams. Soon the park would be filled with the sounds of laughing boys and girls. Boys and girls who weren’t like him. After all, their worlds had remained blissfully unchanged. While his had come crashing down.
He used to be one of them. A time not so long ago, when he’d run with the others, the grass soft beneath his feet, the wind whipping his neat, short hair behind him. Now his hair was no longer short. It was long, badly in need of a haircut. And he no longer ran with them.
A sudden gust of icy wind blew across his face. Shivering slightly, David wrapped his woollen scarf more tightly around his neck and then looked up at the sky. The sun was hanging low by then, a muted sienna in a clear blue horizon. David stared at it. The sun, it was so much like the pain he carried around. At this hour, he could look at it without shielding his eyes. It was manageable, almost passive. At other times, it seemed impossible, unbearable. Changing, shifting, moving. Yet constant. Always there. Omnipresent.
It wasn’t as though he hadn’t tried. Oh, he’d tried. Tried to make up for the loss, tried to be in two places at the same time, tried to be two people, tried to do the impossible. But the more he tried, the more David felt the loss. How couldn’t he? There were innumerable stark reminders everyday of how their lives had changed forever. The late homework submissions, the painfully quiet dinners, the absence at the school fair, the missed bedtime stories. He didn’t even come to the soccer field anymore. But then, could he really blame him? After all, he was a….what was that word their neighbour had used the other day? Simple parent? No, single parent. He was a single parent. Even to David’s 10-year-old mind, it was clear what that meant. He had to do everything singlehandedly.
The sound of the familiar horn made him turn toward the road in surprise. He’d forgotten to wear his watch today but David didn’t need a watch to tell him that it was far too early for him to be home. Now he parked the car on the side, switched off the engine and opened the door. David watched him with a beating heart. He didn’t like unusual, unexpected things. Out of the ordinary. Admittedly, they were usually harmless but sometimes, just sometimes they meant that something had happened, something that would change someone’s life forever.
‘Is everything ok?’ David looked at him anxiously. His father, a tall man with a long stride, had already crossed the distance between them and was now only a couple of feet away.
‘Yes of course.’ Peter Alvares lowered himself into the bench. ‘Just thought I’d wrap up early.’ He noticed that David exhaled then, visibly relaxing. He smiled at him. ‘Do you want to watch that Christmas movie tonight?’
‘Or we could go into town and see the decorations.’ He knew that the Chowrasta was always beautifully decked up this time of year. Besides, he wanted to see his son looking enthused about something. Of course, it wasn’t easy, after all, Christmas had always been such a warm, special time of year for them. Until…
‘I would really like to just go home please.’ David started to rise from the wooden bench but his father coaxed him back. ‘Let’s sit a little longer, shall we? It’s nice out here.’
Dusk was beginning to settle in by then and the late evening shadows had started their daily game of hide-and-seek between the trees. In the distance, Peter could see the children running around, silhouetted against the golden light emanating from the many old-fashioned lampposts that dotted the sides of the park. It was getting late and the mothers waiting on the other side had started calling to their children. The children, however, continued their game, seemingly oblivious to their mothers’ voices. Peter and David watched them for a few minutes, sitting side by side on the bench.
‘Roman’s good, isn’t he? Passes so well.’ David looked at his father.
Peter shrugged. ‘I think he’s a little reckless. Doesn’t have your presence of mind. Besides, he can’t dribble.’
‘I love dribbling!’ The sudden smile instantly lit up his face but then it disappeared as fast as it had come.
‘I remember.’ Peter nodded then. Sliding closer to his son, he wrapped his arm casually around his shoulder and looked at him. ‘Why don’t you play with the others anymore? You used to play every day.’
‘You used to come every day.’
He’d said it without thinking but they both looked instantly embarrassed. David knew that he hadn’t meant to hurt his father, the words had just slipped out unintentionally. Of course, that didn’t mean that it didn’t hurt. In fact, it was often the unintentional, the unexpected things that hurt the most.
He looked down at his hands. The skin on his right forefinger was still a little tender where he’d clipped the nail too short but it was beginning to heal. Pulling on his mittens, he shook his head then. ‘I don’t want to play,’ he said in answer to his father’s question. ‘I don’t like it anymore.’
‘What do you mean?’ Peter looked surprised. ‘You used to love soccer.’
David didn’t answer. Why didn’t his father understand that he didn’t care about soccer anymore? He just wanted to go home. Home to the house of bricks. The warm, red house that would surround him, encircle him with those lost memories that seemed to elude him everywhere else. Stuffing his hands into his pockets, he stood up. ‘Let’s go home Dad.’
Peter looked at him for a few seconds and then rose from the bench. They were just turning around toward the house when a ball suddenly flew past the bench, landing with a hard bump at Peter’s feet. Without thinking, he kicked it swiftly back toward the players. The ball rose up and then soared high into the air, across the ground and past the astonished players, crossing the goal line, all the way between the goalposts and under the crossbar. Even as it touched down with a sure thud and then finally came to a halt, the awestruck silence gave way to a sudden, thunderous applause. Even the group of senior citizens sitting on benches at the far end of the park were clapping. As for the players, there was simply no stopping them. Shrieking with delight, they rushed to the corner of the park where David and his father were standing, crowding around them in delight.
‘What a magnificent kick, Mr. Alvares!’
‘We didn’t know you could play like that!’
‘Were you in any team before, Sir?’
Peter smiled around at the excited children, admittedly very embarrassed at the attention. Let alone telling anyone about his brief career as a soccer coach after college, he hardly remembered much of that time himself. The only person who’d known about his passion for sports had been David’s mother and she was gone. Even David hadn’t known. Peter turned toward his son, visibly red in the face.
He was staring at his father in mute astonishment though the pride was palpable on his face. His father. His father. Who would have guessed that the serious software engineer who spent more than 10 hours a day in front of a computer screen, could kick a ball like that?
‘Show us how you did it, Mr. Alvares,’ begged Roman then even as David looked on proudly. ‘Please!’
‘Yes, we never saw anything like this before. Show us, show us!’
The chorus went on and on, rising to a deafeaning crescendo until finally, David’s father put his hands to his ears, shaking his head. ‘Not now kids. Some other time. David and I have to go home now and…’
He looked down at his son in surprise. He was standing in the middle of the group of children, holding the ball and smiling at his father. Peter smiled back at the little boy who’d won his heart the moment he’d kicked his way into the world. The little boy who’d cried himself to sleep for months this past year. The little boy who’d won his heart all over again by being so brave, braver than his father could ever have imagined.
‘Come on Dad. Show us how you did it.’ Smiling back at his son, Peter Alvares took the ball from him. Clasping his hands around it, he then led the way to the soccer field, all the children excitedly running after him. As for David, he was finally running with them again, his long, wavy hair flying back in the icy wind while the house of bricks stood quietly in the corner, watching him. Just as his mother had said, it seemed to emanate a special warm glow on cold, winter evenings but today there was an incandescent radiance about it that no one had ever seen before. It was going to be a good Christmas after all.
About the Author:
Rrashima Swaarup Verma is a writer, columnist and poet based in India. Rrashima’s writings are regularly published in leading national and international literary magazines, newspapers and periodicals including Spark – The Magazine, Indian Review, Indian Periodical, West Trestle Review (California), The Writers and Readers Magazine (UK), Active Muse, Women’s Era, Women’s Web. Rrashima has participated in and moderated several prestigious book launches, book discussions and poetry recitations. Rrashima’s first book “A Break In Love” is a contemporary, urban romance novel and has recently been published.
Rrashima is also an ardent traveler and writes a monthly travelogue for her website. You can visit her website www.rrashimaswaarupverma.com to read some of her work.