Things my parents don’t know
Where’s the paper? asked the father.
"It must be where it’s supposed to be," answered the mother.
And so began a usual morning in the house but this wasn't going to be a usual day.
"It isn't where it’s supposed to be, so I asked you.”
“Hmmm” she sighed, tucking one end of her saree in her waist.
“Do you know it or not?" Slight irritation in his voice.
"Check your son's room. He got up early and left without taking breakfast. He must have taken to his room and left it there."
"Did he tell you where he was going?" Saying this, the father entered the son's room.
"No" with a slight grunt as a warning.
She muttered “19 years of marriage, he still doesn’t knows that questions distract me from cooking.”
The father saw the son's organized room and smirked at the discipline. "It would be easy to find the paper here," he thought and went straight to the study table.
Everything was neatly stacked. Laptop in place. Pens and pencils in their stand. Some papers with a weight on them on the right corner of the table, looked like a printout but definitely not the newspaper. With his hands on his hip, he sighed and scanned the room.
Nightstand was immaculate with a lamp and clock. He saw some paper beneath the pillow. He thought it was the newspaper. With anticipation, he lifted the pillow but to his horror, it was something that was beyond his expectation.
They were a bundle of photos. The first one was a wedding where his son was the groom. Afraid, he dropped the stash on the floor.
Spoiling the perfectly made bed by Sitting on it, "How could this be?" he whispered.
Picking the stack of photos, he called for his wife. The sense of emergency and alarm pretty evident in his voice.
"What's wrong" she asked, with the undertone of fear in her own.
"Look at this" and handed the reason of worry to her.
The first picture was a wedding photo. Her son was in a suit. It looked like a court. "Our son is married" she asked in disbelief.
The second picture was of him kissing a girl.
"What is all this?" She asked herself aloud.
"I think this is of their honeymoon" the husband said showing the third picture where the couple were holding hands on a beach.
"What is all this" she asked aloud again.
“There is one with him on his knee and engagement ring in one hand. It is scandalous to say the least.”
"What is all this" she asked in desperation. Hoping her husband would be able to answer something.
"Is something burning" he asked in alarm and they both ran to the kitchen.
She switched off the stove and looked at her husband
"What is all this?" she muttered again and continued. "It isn't making any sense to me. How could he do all this?"
"Why didn't he tell us?"
The mother wanted to say something but kept her mouth shut.
"What is wrong with the kids these days? Just two minutes back, I was thinking about the discipline I had instilled in him." the father questioned the ceiling.
Mother rubbed her hands.
"I feel we have been pretty open with the kids. Why won't he tell us?"
“It is because of you,” the wife said and gasped. She held her hand over her mouth, not sure how it slipped.
“What?” he turned to look at her.
“Yes. it is because of you. You have always been too strict on him.” she found confidence as she spoke.
“If it is me then why didn't he tell you?”
A moment of silence. They both looked at each other.
“Don't get upset on me. I know you are as worried about him as I am. It will be ok.” the husband reasoned.
"What do we do now?" What will happen of us?
“I am here. We will be ok.”
“We had dreamt of his marriage. He didn't even invite us?”
“What can we do? Let him come. We will ask”
“What will we do till then? I will not be able to eat Why would he click a picture in this suit? He must have borrowed the suit. From whom and when? Wonder how the girl is. She is wearing such a short dress in this proposal pic.”
“She must not be expecting her picture to be taken.”
“I bet she can't cook.”
“She will learn.”
“Hmmpf” said the mother condescendingly.
“Or we will hire a cook”
“I am not dead yet. I can continue to cook.”
“Oh! I meant later when you become old.”
“Why will I become old and weak?”
“I meant.. you know what I meant.”
“I very well know what you mean.” With a heavy sigh “What if they don’t want to stay with us? If it was arranged marriage, things could have been different.” With this the mother turned around.
The father touched her shoulders and said "Dear, we need to relax and wait till we know the truth. Let's call him."
"You relax and you call."
"Okay, I will call."
The father went to the living room and dialed his son's number. With a worried look he said "He didn't pick up."
Let's try again.
The father tried again and again but each time, his son didn't pick.
"Let me try it"
"The phone is switched off. See what you did."
"What did I do?" raising his hands in exasperation.
"You called him so many times that he switched off the phone.”
Father looked with disbelief.
“He purposely switched it off because of you. Everything happens because of you. Now what? My head is spinning”
“I am feeling worried too”
“What will we do? I am feeling so tired of all this thinking”
“He didn't say anything before leaving”
Ignoring the question, the mother started sobbing “Our only son. He too is gone.”
“Don't cry like this, Dear. He isn't gone.”
“Yes, You see, everything will change.”
“I didn't even get to dress up for the wedding. What will society say?”
“Is that what you are worried about? Society?”
“We will get him married again, properly in front of everybody but we will have to live with the girl he is getting. What will we do about that?”
“Do you want to eat something?” the father asked trying to distract her.
“No. Who could eat?”
"Your BP will drop if you don't eat" he said with sincerity "and make you angrier" he said to himself.
"Do you want to eat?"
“I could eat. Weren't you cooking something?”
Remembering that it burned, the couple went to the room. "Where did you find the photos?" asked the mother.
“It was under his pillow. I was looking for the newspaper and saw a sheet of paper and this.”
“What was on the sheet of paper?”
“I didn't see it after seeing these.”
“Let's see it”
Holding the paper, the father said "Things my parent’s don't know."
"This is what was remaining!"
"You must see how organized he is though."
"Who makes a list like this? Is this a joke? What is going on?"
The father didn't answer. He was busy reading the list.
"What is on the list?"
The father didn't answer again.
"Does he have children also?"
"I don't think we should read it. We already know too much"
She snatched the paper from his hand and read.
"Smoked 17 times, Visited red light area. Got engaged to the girl of my dreams. What have we done wrong? It is all your fault. You have always been too strict.”
“And you have been too lenient. I think it is your fault”
The mother started crying. "I did what the Internet told me. You had taken us to the God forsaken place in America. For so many years I told you to go back to India. This would never happen if we were in India from start and not just 2 years."
"You are not a good mother. Don't blame it on all this."
"This is what was left to hear. After all these years." She said between sobs.
The telephone rang. Both sprung out of the argument and bolted towards the phone in the living room.
"Hello" said the father with a shaken voice.
The wife looked at the husband with anticipation. She saw anger return to his face as he yelled "I don't need to take any loan. Stop calling."
The father sat down on a nearby chair with his head in his hands. He had always been a strong and calm man. This was the weakest she had seen him. She figured that she had to be calmer and stronger.
She put her hand on his shoulder and sat on the sofa besides him.
He looked up but didn't meet her eyes. She looked at the door.
"What are you thinking?" he asked.
“Maybe we need to calm down and breathe.”
After few deep breaths, she got up and immediately went towards the phone “Maybe his sister knows something.” She dialed but the call went on voicemail. “What is the time?”
“Maybe she is busy with lunch.”
“Yes. 12 already. Where did the time go?
“Half day is gone in this and we still don’t know anything.”
“Yes. Half day. I could have finished so much work in this time.”
“Work work work. This is all you think about. This is all you care about and...”
The door opened. Both the parents looked at it and the son walked in.
“Where have you been? What’s going on?” the mother asked.
“What’s with your phone? Did you purposely switch if off?” the father desperate.
“Let me take a breath. I came as fast as I could.”
“Where had you gone? Mother repeated.
“I thought I would come by breakfast but ...”
“What is all this? Where had you gone?” holding the papers close to his face.
“You went in my room?”
“You answer the questions.” declared the father.
“This is a surprise. I am...”
“More of a shock.” father interrupted.
“Let him say what he was going to say.” mother interjected.
“I am a part of … This is fake. I am helping my friend with a small funny play. Jeez. You guys. What did you think?”
“So why was this hidden?”
“It wasn’t. I made the list at night and kept it… near my bed.”
“Under your pillow.”
“It doesn’t mean anything.”
“What about the photos?” the mother asked.
“What about them? They are fake too.”
“Why the photos?”
“He wanted to test me as a backup actor.”
“Yes. Backup. Nothing serious. Just for fun.”
“Fun? Do you know what we went through?
“Why did you? Why didn’t you just call me?”
“Your phone. You switched it off.”
“The battery was low. Repeated calls must have caused it. I didn’t get time to charge it in the morning. I had to do some urgent work for this play. I thought I would come back by breakfast.”
“Do you know what we went through?”
“I am sorry. I didn’t think you will go to my room. Nothing is sure now. Hence I didn’t say anything. This is just for me to test myself. It is a complex world. I am not sure what can happen.”
“Do you know what we said to each other? We thought you will leave us and go away.” mother sobbed.
“Jeez! Ma! Where is your faith? Why did you create this for yourself.”
“He is right! We have created this unnecessarily.” sighed the father.
What are you creating today?
Sunayna Pal:: "Born and raised in Mumbai, India, I moved to the US after my marriage. A double Postgraduate from XLRI and Annamalai University, I worked in the corporate world for five odd years before opting out to embark on my heart's pursuits - decided to raise funds for NGOs by selling quilled art and became a certified handwriting analyst.
"Now, a new mother, I devote all her free time to writing and Heartfulness. Dozens of my articles and poems have been published and I am a proud contributor of many international anthologies. My name has recently appeared in The Fathom, Dear Anonymous, and Cecile’s Writers.