Gimpy lost the running race by a large margin. He was nowhere near the leading trio. In fact nobody was expecting him to win - except his mom. His mom, Rose, watched him loosing the race with a dejected look, from the stands.
On the way back, in the car, she gave a scolding to Gimpy; which she regretted later. Once inside the house, Rose rushed straight to the bedroom.
“Coffee?” asked her husband from the kitchen; he was enjoying his Christmas holidays, experimenting in the kitchen.
“Make it strong, I have a headache,” Rose yelled from the bedroom. Joe sensed the tension between the mother and the son, and guessed the reason too.
Gimpy threw his school bag on the sofa and climbed the high-chair in the kitchen.
“Milk?” asked his Dad.
“I want a Coke!” gimpy retorted, his eyes red and swollen.
Normally, Joe won’t allow a Coke to his son, but now he realized any form of negation would result in a burst.
He took a can from the refrigerator, “don’t tell your mom,” warned his son.
“Okay,” Gimpy grabbed the can, started licking the frost.
“Don’t” Joe warned.
“I am not going to talk to Mom.”
“Never ever never”
“I am serious this time.”
“I hear you.”
“No matter what”
“She hates me!”
“Oh! Gimpy,” Joe sighed, “All moms are strict, mine was stricter. But in the end, they all mean only the best for their children.”
“My mom is different!” Gimpy retorted.
“No. She is not.”
“You always take her side.”
“No, I always take your side.” He twisted Gimpy’s cheek, lightly.
“Dad, I lost the race.”
“Is it?” Joe had guessed it.
“Everyone can not win.”
“Someone has to lose.”
“People who lose, give meaning to the victory of the winners.”
Joe stopped. He stared at his son; and wondered from where the boy might have got that piece of intelligence.
“Go and play, I need to check your Mom.”
“I will play with Rex.”
Rex was neighbor’s new puppy. Gimpy had developed a liking for it.
Rose was on the bed, lying on her stomach. Joe gave a light tap on her shoulder.
“Coffee,” he said.
“Thank you,” she got up, sat at the edge of the bed, took the mug, “He doesn’t have the killing instinct.”
“Your son,” she said.
“You mean our son.”
“No he is your son. He doesn’t have a single quality of me.”
“Are you upset, because he lost the race?”
“No. I am upset because he didn’t want to win the race.”
“How do you know?”
“He doesn’t have the focus. He was waving at me, while running.”
“He is just a child.”
“He doesn’t have any talent.”
“May be he is just a regular kid.”
“I wish he had Ria’s gift.”
“Ria plays chess at the national level. She is younger than Gimpy. Mrs. Raman is so proud. You should see the look on her face; whenever, she talks about her daughter.”
This line of talk was not new to Joe. “Got a call from the old-age home.” he said - just to change the topic.
“Your Dad had a fight with someone.”
“I don’t know what to do with him.”
“Why don’t we get him here?”
“Never,” she said sternly, “He deservers wherever he is. I am treating him as he had treated me: tit-for-tat.”
Joe had heard that before. It was a losing battle. Roses’ father – since his wife’s death - was in the old-age home. His sons were abroad: settled. Years ago he was a bit biased towards his sons, and didn’t treat Rose equally as the boys. The old man has realized his mistake, of late. However, Rose has not forgotten the past. Gimpy adores the old man. But that is not a consolation for Rose.
Gimpy offered half of his Coke to Rex. Mrs. Raman, neighbor and Rexs’ owner, was reading a women’s magazine, sitting on the rocking chair. She amusingly watched the puppy and Gimpy, above her reading glasses. To her right, on the other side of the window, inside the study room, Ria was practicing chess. It was a daily, mandatory practice. Mrs. Raman had an eye on her too. The fact that, it was Gimpy who was playing with the dog and not her daughter made Mrs. Raman content.
“Gimpy, come home,” Rose called from the gate.
Gimpy didn’t reply.
“Rose, come here,” Mrs. Raman called out.
“Hello Lakshmi,” Rose wanted to say, but every one called her Mrs. Raman. “Hello Mrs. Raman.”
“Rose, do you fancy fresh Murukulu?”
“O! Dieting, is it?” Mrs. Raman measured Rose from top to bottom, “You look sexy!” she said.
“Are you wearing Wonder-bra?” Mrs. Raman giggled. She was known in her circle, for making such remarks. Rose ignored the question.
“Where is Ria?”
“She is inside, practicing - every day 3 hours. She will become a GM in 2 years.”
“That is so nice,” Rose said passively.
“Yes. It is wonderful to have a gifted child. She beats Mr. Raman blindfold! Though, I have warned her not to do that. It puts a lot of pressure on her young mind. Sometime I wish, she were not such talented, but a regular kid like Gimpy. She is missing a regular childhood!”
Rose let the comment pass. Gimpy with the Coke got her attention. That alerted her.
“Did you give him Coke?” she asked Mrs. Raman.
“No. He came with it. I wondered though. I won’t allow a Coke to Ria; may not be good for her brain cells.”
Rose ran to Gimpy and grabbed the can, “Who gave you this?”
“Dad,” Gimpy said sheepishly.
She dragged him with his elbow, on the way, stopped at the window, knocked on the glass pane, “Ria, how are you?”
“Fine aunty,” Ria said.
“Teach some of your chess tricks to Gimpy.”
“He doesn’t know how to play.”
“I know chess,” said Gimpy, “But I don’t want to win.” Rose sighed.
“I am going to get a big kite,” Gimpy said.
“Call me when you fly it,” said Ria.
“Okay,” said Gimpy.
“Bye now,” Rose said and dragged Gimpy along.
Gimpy grabbed a fistful of Murukulu from Mrs. Raman’s plate. Rose made him put half of them back to the plate.
“Bye Mrs. Raman,” Rose said. Mrs. Raman said bye and amusingly watched the departing mother and son.
On the way, Gimpy let himself free from Rose and ran inside the house.
“Gimpy start the shower, I will see you in a minute,” Rose shouted behind his back.
Inside Gimpy saw his dad on the sofa.
“She wants to kill me.”
“Who?” Joe asked eagerly.
“Mom,” With that he ran inside the bathroom and latched it from inside.
“Where is he?” Rose followed closely.
Joe pointed to the bathroom. She found it was locked.
“Gimpyyyyyyyyyy! Gimpy open the door.”
“Joe. Joe, come here?”
“He has locked himself inside.”
“He will be fine. He has done that before.”
She started taking rounds outside the bathroom.
“Are you sure, he will be fine?”
She sat on the floor, against the wall; and started biting the nails unconsciously.
“Why did you give him a Coke?”
“How many times-“
“Gimpy open the door!”
Gimpy didn’t reply.
“Did you find what he wants for Christmas?”
“Not yet,” he said.
Gimpy never told his parents what he wanted for Christmas. He told only Santa. Every year it was an ordeal for the husband and wife to find out what Gimpy wanted; and on top of that they had to make it look like as if the gift was really from Santa.
“I know what will please him,” Rose said.
“I bought a guitar for from. He will like it. Even if he shows a little bit of talent, I will make him a pro.”
“I think we should give him some time.”
“He had enough time.”
Gimpy came out of the bathroom drenched, with a towel wrapped, gave an accomplished look to Dad, ignored Rose and went straight to his room.
Of late, Rose had noticed her son’s detachment. She was expecting it in his teen years. He was becoming difficult day by day. On the other hand, he had a strong bond with his Dad. He would tell his Dad things which he won’t tell Rose. She coveted that kind of love. Not getting that created a void in her.
On the dinner table, Gimpy was circling the food with the spoon; and stopped only after realizing his Mom was watching.
“I don’t like it,” he said.
She sighed. She didn’t want to scold him again.
“Eat ten spoons,” she begged.
“I will eat five.”
“Fine,” she resigned.
“What did you ask Santa?” she tried to cheer him.
“I know what you asked.”
“No. You don’t”
“Yes. I know.”
“Hm, let me guess,” she acted like thinking, then as if it suddenly came to her mind, she said: “A musical instrument?”
Gimpy waited. He didn’t like Mom’s trick.
“I don’t need a guitar,” he said, pushed the plate away, and ran inside.
“Did you tell him that?” she asked Joe.
“No. He must have seen it.”
They finished the dinner in silence.
On the Christmas Eve, they attended the early mass. Father and son had erected a six-foot Christmas tree. Joe had still not figured out what his son wanted for Christmas.
In the study room, Rose was checking Gimpy’s home-work. The homework question got her attention: The most important 5 things in your life – the teacher had asked.
She saw Gimpy’s answer.
1. Dad, Dad and Dad
5. Father John
She stared the list for a long time. Her eyes blurred. Joe came to the study, searching something. “Anything wrong?” he asked. She handed him the book. He read the list, but couldn’t make out anything.
“My name is not in the list,” she said. “Even the dog has made it to the top.”
“He is just a child; he is not serious.”
“Oh yeh? He is serious enough to put you on the top!”
Joe didn’t say anything.
“Why should I be the bad person?” Rose continued, “You never raise your voice to him: A saint in his eyes. Are we playing good-cop, bad-cop here?”
Joe sighed: “Now, com’on Rose”
“You must be very happy,” she said sarcastically, “You have been mentioned thrice.”
Joe felt awkward. He didn’t want an argument on the eve. “I will talk to you later,” he opened the door to go out.
“Go to hell!”
She threw the book at him that missed the target and hit the closing door.
Outside the bedroom, Gimpy was eavesdropping. He straightened himself when he saw his Dad coming out.
“Is Mom fighting with you?” he asked.
“No,” Joe gave a passive reply and went to the balcony. Gimpy followed. Joe was about to lit the cigarette, but stopped seeing Gimpy. He never smoked when gimpy was around.
“I will smoke like you, when I become big,” Gimpy said.
“Only when you become as old as me,” Joe stressed. He knew Gimpy had tried a cigarette behind his back. He had noticed the missing cigarette. He knew it was only a child’s curiosity and nothing more.
Rose would have killed Gimpy.
“Is Mom fighting with you?” Gimpy repeated.
Father and son spent a few quiet moments.
“Gimpy, why mom’s name is not in your top 5 list?”
“I don’t like mom. She hates me,” Gimpy said firmly.
“That is not true.”
“You don’t know her,” Gimpy said, and added: “Dad, can you change mom?”
The question amused Joe. “No,” he smiled, “It is too late!”
He wondered how to convince his son.
“Mom likes Ria more than me,” Gimpy complained.
“That is not true!”
“I won’t give my kite to Ria.”
“Ok. I will help you to make one.”
“I don’t need your help, Grandpa is getting me one, tomorrow”
“Grandpa is not coming for Christmas.”
“No. He is coming. I know.”
Much later, after Gimpy went to bed, it suddenly came to Joe as a lightning. He found Rose in the bedroom.
“I know what Gimpy wants.”
“Is it? Did he tell you that?”
“No. But I am sure.”
“What do we do now?”
“We can’t do anything. It is past midnight now. Your Dad is 3 hours from here. It is out of question. I will tell him something in the morning.”
He went to sleep. She continued reading the book, in the bed lamp.
Sometime in the night, Rose woke him up: “Joe, I am going to get Dad.”
“Now?” It took him some time to realize her suggestion.
“What time is it?”
“Do you want to drive at this hour?”
“I will take my chances. I have been thinking, last couple of hours.”
“I will come with you.”
“No. You stay with Gimpy.”
She took the car out from the garage. Joe came running, waving her to stop.
“What?” she rolled down the window.
“Get a kite.”
“Is that important?”
“Yes. Very important. Don’t come home without a kite.”
Gimpy woke up earlier than usual and searched for Grandpa in the whole house. He didn’t find Grandpa, but found his Dad in the kitchen.
“Where is Grandpa?”
“I don’t know. Is he supposed to be here?” Joe mocked surprise.
Gimpy didn’t say anything.
“Dad, Santa didn’t grant my wish this year; how is it possible?”
Joe took a long breath. This is the time – he thought.
“Gimpy, there is no Santa!”
“Why do you say that?”
“I am telling you the truth. There is no real Santa!”
“But Santa gave me all the Christmas presents.”
“Your Mom bought all those presents,” Joe told Gimpy how his Mom arranged the gifts, every year.
Gimpy fell into silence.
“So, Mom is Santa?”
Not bad, Joe thought. “Yes” said he.
“Where is Mom?”
“I don’t know; she went out in the morning.”
At this time, Gimpy saw the car entering the gate. His Mom got out, Grandpa followed with an enormous kite. Gimpy’s face lighted. “Grandpa!” he ran to meet him, crossing Rose.
Rose met her husband on the way to the bedroom, “Thanks Joe,” she said.
“No, I am fine. I will sleep for a while.”
She sat on the edge of the bed. It was long trip. She needed a long sleep. The door creaked behind her back.
No one responded. She turned, and found Gimpy at the threshold. He ran to her; jumped into her arms. The momentum gave her a backward jolt. She managed with some difficulty. His tight hug pained her. How much heavy he has become, she realized. How long she had craved his warmth. Now that he was in her arms she felt complete.
“Thank you Mom,” Gimpy said.
Note: If you liked this short story, you might like my other short stories as well. Click here for more.