I Seek Him



___The string cots are lined outside, lined side by side. But my father is not there. Do you know where my father is, where my father can be found?

___My mother is there, my brother is there. But there is no sign of my father. Do you know where my father is—where my father can be found?

___“Papa,” I call.

___He does not answer me.

___“Papa,” I call.

___He does not answer me.

___“Papa,” I call.

___There is silence (only silence).


___I walk the streets in search of my father.

___“Have you seen my father?” I say.

___They look at me.

___“Have you seen my father?” I say.

___They look at me.

___“He was wearing a white shirt, white pants.”

___One of them smiles. Perhaps he thinks it is a joke, all a joke. But do you think he answers? Do you think he helps—even tries to help?


___My mother lives in a daze.

___“Mother,” I say.

___She does not answer me.

___“Mother,” I say.

___She does not answer me.

___She goes to the kitchen, she boils the water for the tea. She goes to the kitchen, she makes food. All day she is in the kitchen, making tea, making food.

___“Eat,” she says. “Are you ready for your food?” she says. “You are small children, the children must eat.”


___Food and food, there is so much food in the house. There is enough food in the house to last us for a month. But my mother is not satisfied. “Bournvita,” she says, “where is the Bournvita? Children do not like milk, do not like the taste of milk by itself. And if they do not have Bournvita, how will they drink?”


___My mother is concerned—concerned for the food. But my father, does she not care for my father? “Come, children,” she says. “Eat, children,” she says. “The children are hungry (always hungry). The children must eat,” she says.


___The string cots are lined outside, lined side by side. But my father is not there. Do you know where my father is—where my father can be found?


§


___I lie on the string cot, I think of my father. One time (a long time ago) my father went to Madras. It was dark outside, it was raining—the snakes might come—and I was afraid. Before going to sleep I said my prayers. I pulled on my ears three times, and I said my prayers.

___“I am afraid, dear God,” I said. “Take care of my father, dear God,” I said. I pulled on my ears three times and I said my prayers.

___I woke up, and my father was standing next to my bed. “Hello, son,” he said.

___“Papa!” I said.

___“Hello, son,” he said.

___“Papa!” I said.

___Outside the rain fell. But now it was not so dark. It was not morning, and it was not night. But now it was not so dark.


___I lie on the string cot, I think of that night. Now is it the same way? My father has not gone away, not really. He has gone on a journey (that is all). And soon now (any day now, any minute), my father will be back!


___I go to my mother (she is in the kitchen), I remind her of that night.

___She looks at me.

___I go to my brother (he is in his room), I remind him as well.

___He looks at me.

___Why are they so rude to me, so indifferent? Do they not care, do they not see?


___My father, my father (I seek him). Do you know where my father is? Will you be kind, will you be helpful? Can you tell?


§


___Fathers are great men (is it not so), are they not the best people in the world? Fathers are fathers, without them how can one live?

___One time I had to write an essay on war.

___My father helped me. “War is a curse,” he said.

___I had to write an essay on happiness.

___My father helped me. “Happiness is not a sellable commodity,” he said.

___I had to go to school, learn all the difficult things of the world.

___My father took me to school, on a bicycle himself he took me.

___The other children were rich, they came in cars, they came on scooters. When they saw my father (the bicycle he rode, the hole in his shirt), they laughed. “Is he your servant?” they said. “Your servant, does he not shave?” they said.

___They were cruel children, I hated them their cruelty. But then I was too young (and too ashamed myself ), I did not speak up.

___But now I am older (is it not so?). I will find my father, I will do it. The world may laugh at him, make fun. “No, no, my father is a good man,” I will say, I will insist. “My father is a good man. He is good!”


___And yet, this father I speak of, where is he? The string cots are lined outside, lined side by side. The bedding has been put on the string cots, how nice the white sheets look. A cool night it is, there are clouds in the sky (the kind moon). But there is no sign of my father. Do you know where my father is, where my father can be found?


§


___People come to the house, they ask us for some tea.

___My mother rushes to the kitchen, she boils the water for the tea.

___People come to the house, they ask us for some Coca-Cola.

___My father saved all the money he earned, he bought us a fridge. Proudly I walk to the fridge, I get these people the Coca-Cola they want. I put the Coca-Cola on a tray, I put the glass there, the ice in the glass.

___I walk to these people, I offer them the glass, the ice. The people are impressed.

___“A nice father,” they say, “he bought them the fridge. Perhaps he is not such a bad man. Perhaps he is not such a bad man after all.”


___And yet this father I speak of, where is he? Have you seen him, can you tell?


§


___I go to my mother (she is in the kitchen), I pull on my ears.

___“Mother,” I say, “has Father come yet?”

___“No, son,” she says, “not yet.”

___“Mother,” I say, “will Father come soon?”

___“Yes, son,” she says, “he will come soon.”

___But do I believe my mother—do I really believe her words?

___“Mother,” I say, “why did Father go away?”

___She does not answer.

___“Mother,” I say, “will Father come back?”

___My mother does not answer, she looks out the window.

___Strings of hair fall over her forehead. How nice the strings used to look in the old days: how brown, how wet. But now the strings of hair are dry, only dry. And the brown in the hair, how long since I have seen it. They say that the brown has turned some other color now, it has even turned grey.


___The string cots are outside, they are side by side. But there is no sign of my father. Have you seen him, seen?


§


___At the end of the town there is a steep hill. Near the hill there is a cave. When my father was young, sometimes he would go there, hide. It was dark in the cave, but he liked the darkness (he did not object). Sometimes we would go there together.

___My father would teach me—teach me all the things of the world.

___He would teach me about love, he would teach me about hate. But especially—but only in the dark of the night when no one was listening— he would teach me about shame.

___“Shame, Father,” I would say, “what is shame?”

___“You will learn,” he said.

___“Shame, Father,” I would say, “from where does it come?”

___“You will learn,” he said.

___“Shame, Father,” I asked him one time, “have you known shame?”

___My father paused, he looked at me. “I am a small man,” he said. “Yes, my son, I have known it, I have known shame.”

___I heard the words of my father, I am not sure I understood them. But they were sad words, the words made me afraid.

___My father saw that I was afraid, he smiled at me.

___“Oh ho,” he laughed, “the son is with his father, his own father, and yet he is afraid.”

___My father lifted me in his arms, he held me to his breast. (I smelled my father’s mouth, I felt the rough hairs on his cheek.) And like this, like this (was he not my Papa, should he not do it?)—like this, like this he rocked me back and forth!


___The string cots are outside, still outside (can you see them?). And yet how empty the string cots look. My father is not on them, and I wait for him: I wait.


§


___It is dark, and I wait for my father. But he does not come. Mother says I should go to sleep, but I say: “I will wait for my father.” In the distance I see the orange glow of a cigarette, I hear a cough. “Perhaps it is him,” I say. I listen, I wait. But then nothing comes. There is no more cough.

___I pull on my left ear, and I pull on my right. I say the Gayatri Mantra, the special prayer. But there is no more cough.

___The night becomes day, and still I wait. There is an office outside the street: the people come in and out. They eat, they talk; against the wall outside the office they urinate. But my father, there is no sign.

___In the distance the sun begins to drop behind the high trees. No sign. In the fading twilight I pull on each ear three times. I say, “Ram Ram,” and I say again the Gayatri Mantra, the special prayer.

___No sign.

___A father goes away—why does he do it? A father goes away—where does he go? Does it happen—does it happen to other people as well?


§


___At the end of the town there is a steep hill (did I tell you about it?). Near the hill there is a cave. When my father was young, he would go there, hide. Sometimes we would go there together.

___It was dark in the cave, I was afraid of the darkness. But my father liked the darkness: he was not afraid.

___Sometimes my father would close his eyes tightly, he would make me close mine. And he would make me feel the darkness, he would make me touch it.

___I was afraid of the darkness, I would begin to cry.

___But my father would insist.

___I was afraid of the darkness, I would begin to weep.

___But my father would insist.

___The darkness, he said, was a good place, a kind place: and I should not be afraid. The darkness, he said, was a good place, a kind place: and one day he would go there, live.


___I lie on the string cot, I see now the darkness, I see it all around me.

___Is it there that my father lives?

___I see now the darkness, I feel it. Is it there that my father lives?

___What is this darkness, I do not know. From where it comes, I do not know. But my father is there (I know it): it is there that he lives.


___They say that the darkness is a place of calm, it is a place of rest.

___(Do I believe them?)

___They say that it is a place to run away, to hide.

___(Do I agree?)

___They say that my father is a coward (even that). He has run away from his family, run away from life (that this is what the darkness—what living in the darkness—means).

___I pity these people: how little they know.

___But then again, does it even matter? My father is in the darkness (he is there, not here): only there he lives.


§


___I go to my mother. She is in the kitchen, boiling water for the tea.

___I kiss her on the forehead: she looks at me.

___I go to my brother. He is outside, sitting on the steps.

___I bend down, I kiss him as well.

___He looks at me.

___A father goes away: why does he do it? A father goes away: where does he go? Does it happen (yes), does it happen to other people as well?


___Sometimes I pray for my father. Sometimes I weep. Sometimes I grow angry at my father (even that), sometimes I rage.

___But it is something that I must live with (is it not so?); it is just the way it is.

___Perhaps one day I will be wise, I will understand the darkness—understand what it means. Perhaps one day I will be able to enter the darkness—to touch it, to feel.

___But until then I lie on the string cot, I look at the stars. (How sad they make me feel.) I lie on the string cot, I think of my father. And I wait for him: I wait.



BIPIN AURORA has worked as an economist, an energy analyst, and a systems analyst. A collection of his stories, Notes of a Mediocre Man: Stories of India and America, was recently published by Guernica Editions (Canada). Individual stories have appeared in Glimmer Train, Michigan Quarterly Review, Southwest Review, Witness, Boulevard, AGNI, The Fiddlehead, The Literary Review, New Orleans Review, Prairie Schooner, Confrontation, Grain, and numerous other publications.

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