Sunday, August 30

Family Man (Writer's Cramp Entry, 26.8.2009)

Prompt: Write a story or poem about an employee that just got fired. It can be from the employee or the employer perspective. (845 words) Vinod sat in his car and thought about dying. Simple, he thought. Much simpler than what he had to face. The engine of his nine-year-old Toyota chugged and spluttered, rocking the whole metal frame even though the car was crouched idle. He barely felt the air conditioning, and it was at its maximum strength. His wife Shanti kept on nagging him to buy a new car, something like their neighbor’s Proton Persona, sleek and sporty, and Malaysian-made. Vinod wasn’t against local products, but he had his eyes on a Mercedes Benz for the longest time. His uncle Shanker drove one, a white E200. How the rest of the family envied the old man for being able to afford the money-drain. But not Vinod. He was closer to his eccentric, single uncle more than he did his parents. Uncle Shanker always let him drive around in his car while he sat at the passenger seat, smoking his cigar. Vinod shook his head to banish the idle thought. He would never be able to afford a Mercedes Benz, and after what happened today, he couldn’t afford a Persona even if he traded in this hunk of scrap metal. He thought about his wife. She would be in the kitchen right now, hands white with flour as she kneaded dough to make chapatti for dinner. Seeing her in the kitchen was always a welcome sight. Her waist had grown much thicker than when he first met her thirty years ago, and there were wrinkles on her face and white in her hair, but she was still the light of his life. And he could not bear to enter the house, to face her bearing the bad news. He couldn’t bear to see the disappointment on her face. But more than that, he was ashamed to enter the house to face his son. Kumar had just received an acceptance letter to a university that offered a twinning program, with the last two years in Australia. The boy couldn’t stop talking about it, not to the family, not to his friends. With Vinod’s salary, he would be hard-pressed, but with a little budgeting, he should afford the tuition fee. Should. Not anymore, now that he lost his job. Vinod shuddered thinking how to tell his wife that he could no longer pay the mortgage, how to tell his son he would not be able to afford a university education. The shudder turned to spasms, and before he knew it, hot tears were streaming down his cheeks, collecting in his thick mustache. He wiped the tears away but more came out from his blurring eyes. The last time he cried was when he was a little boy. His father had beaten the tears out of him. Only girls and sissies cry, he had said. Real men don’t cry. Ever. But Vinod was crying now, alone, in his car, at the driveway in front of his house. Outside it was already the purple-black darkness of twilight. When he arrived home, the sky had been red with the evening sun. He had not noticed the passing of time. Vinod knew he should walk through the front door and confront his family. With a heavy sigh, he turned off the ignition. Dying was much simpler, and less painful. But he was a man, and his family mattered above everything else. When he opened the door, the expected scents of dhal and curry did not greet him. Nor were there sounds of commentaries on football from the television in the living area. The house was dark and quiet. “Shanti? Kumar?” The crinking of metal on metal heralded his wife’s coming from upstairs. Shanti held on to the banister as she stampeded down the narrow staircase, gold bangles covering both wrists to mid-forearm clanking against each other. Thick necklaces bounced with each heave of her bosoms. Even at home, dressed in fading forest-green sari, she wore her jewelries. Vinod felt a tightening in his stomach; he would no longer afford to buy her more. “Shanti, what happened? Where is Kumar?” His wife stopped for breath at the base of the staircase, one hand on the wall for support. “Football game with his friends. Have you heard?” The two sentences came out in one rushed pant. “Is everything all right?” Thoughts of his termination and the future of his family were pushed back. There was urgency in his wife’s voice. “Your Uncle Shanker. He just passed away.” “What?” Vinod staggered and leaned against the wall. “Heart attack. I know how much you love him, Husband.” Shanti adjusted her sari and closed the gap between them. She held Vinod in a fierce hug. Vinod could only stand there frozen. “Uncle…” “His lawyer called. Uncle left you his car and his estate. Everything.” Vinod thought his heart stopped beating for a few seconds. He hugged his wife and this time, he let the tears flow unstopped. “Uncle…” Vinod cried for the loss of his favorite uncle. But a small thought pierced through his anguish. He would own a Mercedes Benz at last.