i presume,

"do I look like I care what people think ?" – Will Smith in Hancock


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flicking the title from a bestseller novel for my first ever short story may not be a very good start.. But I could not think of a better name.. Sincerely hope Jhumpa Lahiri would understand..

” Angel she is ! ” he thought.

“come here sweetheart, let me give a hug”, he said, to his daughter who came out of her room dressed in a pink laced frock. Her eyes were gleaming with happiness.  It is her birthday today.

“I wish you many more such happy days in your life my princess”, he said.

“Thanks pa, but you are not dressed up yet ?” she questioned him.

“Going to change honey, just came back from the baker. Look,  I have brought your birthday cake “, he pointed to the unopened box on the tea table.

“It is good and I love it” she acted a little annoyed, ” Now you go change first”, I have kept the package on your study table. ”  She knew her father would have brought her favorite.

“In a moment honey, what time your friends are coming you said ?”

“Pa.. U should go see the doctor sometime. How many times should I tell you !, Rammi, Sam and Boxer should be coming in now anytime. Others a little late, by or six or so. “, she continued with her false tone of anger. And he had already started walking towards his room.

In his room, he picked the new suit his daughter had bought him and could not help staring at it with surprise. In spite of a corporate career that span over nearly a decade, he had never worn a suite.  Today his daughter insisted that he should wear a suite. She is going to present her father to her friends, in a party that would start in a short while. And he accepted, he knew he could not give her a better gift on this day.

In the hall, she picked up the cake and unpacked it. The round black forest cake had very little cream on the top. Just the way she liked it. Just enough to hold the 15 lighted candles that will be put on it in a short while. When she placed the cake carefully on the center table, she noticed that the cake had her name written on it, as any birthday cake. But this somehow felt different.

Her father rarely called her by her real name. He always used the pet name instead, except when he really wants to get her attention, like when she is upset with something and he is trying cheer her up, or when he is really angry with her, or when he is trying to demonstrate his affection for her.  So as she grew up she learned something intuitively. And it was so naturally imbibed in her head that she never cared to even think if it is true or not. But she felt that, her father is always a little high on the emotional side, whenever he calls her by her real name and not by her pet name.

Father and daughter lived in a flat on the outskirts of the city. They moved in here and when she had to join school, as this place was closer to school. He was in his late 40s. He was living a modest life with his daughter. He had taken an early retirement and he had enough money in way of savings and investments to live for another 20 years without any financial trouble. He was considered a success by many, professionally and financially. He strongly believed that happiness multiplied when shared.  But the social norms that defined man as a social animal often intrigued him and more often, failed him. He was very careful in designing his life as a front row audience of the happenings around, but at the same time not to draw the ire of the world by being an outcast.

He did not invite any of his friends today. He did not want to invite anyone today.  Over the years he has learned to be happy by himself. He has forgot what it feels like to share a happy moment with someone else except his daughter. He had learnt to unlearn it. Today, like this day of every year, he was in happier moods. He was proud of his work as a Dad. His daughter was all he had and all he wanted her to be. And today, looking at his girl turning 15, he congratulated himself for the job done well.

The first group, the best friends gang arrived at about 5 pm.

” Hello uncle,  you look different in a suite “, exclaimed her daughter’s friend Rammi.  ” Thanks dear, how r u all ” he replied.

” We are doing good unlce. U look good in this suite ” said Sam, in a little louder than required voice. Boxer standing next to him chuckled.

He never remembered what their real names were.But he knew that Rammi was the closest of all to his daughter. She is the one with whom his daughter never had any secrets. Rammi lived one floor above in the same apartment with her parents and one baby brother. Rammi and his daughter have been going to the same school since the last 6 years. They took the coaching classes together. They went out on weekends together. They spent time together at home.  Except the time they went to sleep, they could always be  seen together. He also knew that he appreciation from Sam was more intended for his daughter to hear, than to appreciate his dandy looks. He had been aware of the obsequious advances of this boy to impress his daughter. The silent chuckle of boxer only confirmed  his thoughts.

He couldn help his thoughts that started to wander, searching his poor memory for his 15th birthday, when a bursting balloon brought him back to the present. The trio had started to do  simple decorations in the hall, sticking around some color papers, tying up balloons, spreading out clown caps etc. They were her best friends. Unlike father, daughter  had a gregarious personality. Where her father rarely did any thing to seek social acceptance, daughter not only went for it, but also she was sought after quite often.  When it comes to choosing her friends, she had complete freedom. She and these 3 others, often spent time at her home locked up in her room. Her father never bothered to intervene or object anything they were upto. She was not great in studies, but her father never objected her as long as she got a passing grade. She was not the most beautiful kid in her class. But she had this charm that only people who are  extremely confident of themselves exude. Her friends liked her for her unassuming nature even when she did something remarkable. More than that they liked her for her utmost composure in times of difficulty.

She  was growing up to exactly what her father wished and hoped her to be, someone who would live a happy life. Not a successful one. But a happy one. Not a rich one. But a happy one. Not a famous one. But a happy one. Unlike other kids, she never got to hear angels and dwarfs in her bed time stories. It was about the intricacies of life right from the beginning.  She will always remember the evening she came home crying from her language class. She was not a quick learner but she had immense interest in learning new languages. Something had gone wrong in the class and her tutor had insulted her in front of the whole class. When her father found her weeping, he said,  “Listen kid, at times you may feel that you have lost everything you could, when you are a grown up you may even question the point of mere existence, you may feel like you are always at the receiving end of the unfair life  and you are not worthy of anything anymore. Hold on to it kid. Just don’t lose the grip of life, no matter what it takes, just hold on to it. Remember that anything that doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger.  When you feel you are stuck in a dark tunnel, muster all your courage and strength just to reach that end and when you emerge out on the other, you will be surprised to feel that you more stronger than you were, before getting stuck in it”.

Gradually all of her friends had arrived. Music started. Birthday wishes showered. Cameras clicked to snap friends hugging with the birthday clown caps on. Foam sprays spewed all over the birthday girl. Plates clattered. Glasses tickled. Pretty soon the hall looked too crowded for just about 15 guests. 15 teenage guests. He could see the straining energies of the kids trying to be in their best behavior because he was still around. He felt out of space, the only adult in the hall.  He decided he would go out for a while once the cake is cut, so that the kids would have some time for themselves.

“C’mon kids, its time for the cake “, he shouted out loud, after making sure they were not expecting anyone. Everybody gathered around the center table where his daughter had already taken position, as if she was the center of a holy ceremony.   He walked to his daughters keyboard and played the birthday notes on it and the rest of the gang joined in singing with him.  It was heart-full for him, when his daughter blew the candles and extended the first piece of cake to him. Her friends swooped in on her immediately, as if we they were waiting just for this to get over. When they let her go, after  what looked like a complete 10  minutes, she was a complete mess with cake all over her face hair and dress.

She turned around, looked at her dad and said sheepishly ” thats why i said i wont wear the new dress for the cake cutting “. He, in reply just smiled and mimicked her mockingly.

He decided to take a stroll down the community park.  It was a November evening, and the city was notorious for its winter.  The moment he shut the main door behind him, he felt like he is stepping out of a different world, back to his to calm evening. The noise died out in just 10 steps away from the door.  He decided to sit in the park for a while and be back by dinner time. He walked down the stairs and he could notice the raised eyebrows and occasional complements.  He was not surprised. He entered the park, wished good evening to few joggers, and went straight to his usual place.

He came to a bench which not many people knew existed. It was amidst a bunch of high grown croton  plants, so it stayed hidden. He was thankful for it, for he liked to be in the park, but he did not want to be in a crowded place. He had always liked to sit here and read something, facing the lake watching the black necked swan wafting gracefully in water amidst the other ducks. It did not have a family, it did not live with the birds of it’s species. It was hard to tell whether the ducks regarded him as a friend or an enemy, or even worse, just indifferent.

He could see the swan from where he is sitting, drifting on the water with his usual grace. But he looked rather timid today. He was a little quicker and perky than usual. He swam to one end of the lake pulled a small green weed sort of a thing out of the water. It was a bread crumb, or a fish, or probably something else, he could not make out from distance. The swan brought it back to the opposite end and dropped the weed-like thing in front of a duckling that had decided to stay at the edge of the lake for whatever reasons.  The duckling eagerly picked it up and devoured it completely.

He let out a small sigh watching the swan returning to the water with the gracefulness back in its swimming. He could not help a small smile that escaped his lips. He heard himself calling his daughter, in a low voice, by her name. Her real name.

He remembered.

Twelve years ago.  Another city, in another country.  A man, who valued friendship more based on what one can do and endure for the other. A man who understood relationships as the trust and love for each other. A man who was regarded as a success in his profession by many. A man who had stopped believing that he would be loved again. A man and his unprofessed love. A man who had started regarding sex as a natural need and called prostitutes once in a while. A man who felt no shame in his act.  A man who loved kids.

He remembered.

The crying 3 year old when he left the orphanage after the festival celebrations. The shocked reactions of his friends when he discussed his plans to adopt the child. The disapproval from his parents.  Their prophecy predicting the doom of his marriage prospects, if any left.  His firm decision to adopt the kid, exactly on this day, twelve years ago. The red tape turmoil involved in the adoption of a girl child, by a single guy who never married.

He remembered.

The small sized photo frame that he took out of his draw today morning and kept it under the reading lamp, by his bedside.

Back in the apartment, his daughter picked up her phone to call her dad to inform him that she was going out for dinner with her friends. Little did she know, that her name was a bigger part her father’s life, even before she was a part of it.

Written by SV

March 10, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Posted in short stories

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