Short Story

The Journey

Prakash had tears in his eyes. All his classmates had stopped talking to him. He had been suspended for lying and beating a boy he really liked, Peter. He had wanted Peter to be his friend. Instead Peter was closest to Jayant. How complicated life was! Nine-year-old Prakash sat outside the principal’s office waiting for his parent.

Namrata had a son and a baby daughter. Her son was in trouble again. She was going to school to sort out issues with Prakash’s principal. Her heart ached. How could the school and the children be so ruthless! Prakash’s had been a difficult birth. It was a whole minute before he cried out as a new born baby. In certain senses, he was a bit slower than others. Everything took him longer. She wanted him, like many young mothers, to be the best at everything. And here he was suspended from school and ostracized by friends.

Namrata had reached school. She got off the cab and made straight for the elementary school office. She peeped in. There was Prakash, teary-eyed and phlegmy. As she entered, the secretary said,” Mr Lee will see you now.”

Namrata walked in.

Mr Lee, the principal, sat behind a blue tie and thick horn rimmed black glasses. He had a kind face and a happy smile. Unfortunately, it didnot look happy when Namrata entered. Namrata said,” Hi, I am Prakash’s mother. What happened?”

Mr Lee said,” Please sit.”

When Namrata sat down, he said,” It all started with Prakash verbally abusing the bus attendant. She asked him to put on his seat belt as the bus was leaving your condominium. He used abusive language and refused to listen to her. Peter, who was seated behind him with Jayant, told him to stop. Prakash grew more abusive and shouted back at Peter and Jayant. He was unmanageable. The younger children grew scared and started to cry. Things went totally out of control. You can understand his behaviour not only endangered his safety but also the safety of other children. Later, at school, he took the first opportunity to beat Peter. And then said Peter had abused the bus attendant and the teachers. Unfortunately for him and fortunately for Peter, the attendant and the other children in the bus spoke up for Peter. Later, Prakash admitted he had lied about Peter abusing the attendant and teacher as he was angry.”

Namrata looked down. She felt like crying but tried her best to look calm. In a voice that was almost at the point of breaking down, she said,” What are you going to do?”

“We will send him for counselling. We would also like him not to use the school bus for a week, apologise to Peter and write an apology to the bus attendant,”said Mr Lee.

Namrata said,” But the bus fees are already paid for the whole semester.”

Mr Lee was firm. Namrata was angry. It was unfair, a punishment effectively given to parents because they would have to drop and pick up their son to and from school. At least she didnot have to take him home immediately. She went to Prakash and told him,” I will take you home this afternoon.” Prakash was sent back to class.

In the evening when Namrata came to pick up Prakash, he seemed calmer. As he came out of the school, Namrata waved to him. He came towards her with a smile and they started their silent walk towards the metro rail which would take them home. Her baby daughter was being cared for by the live-in maid.

She told Prakash, ” See, how much trouble you are giving me. First, you fight with your friends, next you get yourself thrown out of the bus and I have to take you home in person. And every day you know, for a whole week, I need to drop you and pick you up.”

“Sorry mama,” said Prakash.

” What is wrong with you this year. First, you get chucked out of extended math. Then you fight with your friends and are forced to write an apology to the maid in the bus,”said Namrata.

“Mama the boys don’t like me and the maid just picks on me.”

“How can the boys like you? You did not skateboard as fast as them when I took you all skateboarding.No one likes slow coaches.”

” But, I was scared mama…scared of falling. It was so unstable.”

” See this is what I always say…you are always scared to try new things.”

Prakash was near tears. He had really tried hard to please his mother. Peter and Jayant were so much more confident and faster than him. They had mothers that did not push them to be the best all the time. They had someone to run to. His mother was always asking him for more and if he could not achieve her target, she would make him practice endlessly. In math, for example, he had to stay up till 1 am and practice so that he could score well enough to get into the extended group.

Prakash’s life was tough. He so wanted to play with everyone and be with everyone. But he knew he was slow. His mother said so. He tried his best to be fast but everything got muddled up when he was quick. Peter and Jayant were so quick and good at everything. Jayant was even in the extended Math group and Peter was outstanding in English! He wanted to be like them but he was too slow… At least that is what his mother said.

His teacher, Mr Marshall, was kinder. He didnot make demands of Prakash. He just let him be. Couple of times Prakash had manually tried to upgrade the grades in his test papers but his mother had caught him. And what a row ensued! Once, he had even tried to change the grades on his report card but, again, his mother’s fury knew no bounds. He had been grounded for a week. He had learnt it was pointless trying to hoodwink his mother. But, he was always nervous before and during tests as he was anxious to do well.

Namrata was reaching the end of her tether. The baby girl, Parinita, was pretty, winsome and smart, unlike Prakash, who was an awkward child. She was quick to pick up things. At nine months, she was crawling and gurgling ‘mama’. She had such pretty curls!

Namrata could not understand. In their family everyone was an excellent performer except for her son. The more she pushed him, the more he curled up and made a mess. Her husband was also always cross with her over the rearing of their son. He blamed her for everything! It was really not fair.

Prakash was a difficult child for Namrata. She loved him very much but he was always disappointing her. She knew he could perform and she wanted to show him off as did the other mothers, but she never could…

Next day, Prakash had to visit the counsellor’s office. The counsellor was a little, plump woman with a soft voice and infinite patience. Prakash liked and trusted her but he was too scared of his mother to say anything. He was scared that his mother would find out the truth about his being scared of her and punish him.

That night, Prakash had a dream… A dream in which the counsellor was dressed like a magician in a fairy tale. She was in a purple robe with gold embroidery and her hair looked like a halo of sunlight around her kind face. The magician counsellor took him by hand and blew some magic dust on him.

He felt as if he was sucked into a whirlpool and fast forwarded into a time where he was an adult. He saw himself as a scientist in a lab coat doing experiments with a large number of students looking on. Then, he saw himself walking down an alleyway to a large building. He was wearing a dark suit and a tie. He went to a huge auditorium filled with people. He walked to the dias and sat down with a bunch of other men. One grey haired man stood up and spoke into the mike,” We are gathered here today to welcome Dr Prakash Pathak and bestow on him an award for his scientific contributions to …”

Prakash felt himself glow. He was being sucked through a whirlpool again and then he saw himself sitting under the stars like a tramp looking at his toes peeping out from a torn shoe. He felt incredibly hungry and sad…

Again he was in a whirlpool and this time, he was back to his normal self facing the magician counsellor. She smiled at him and told him,” It is for you to choose the future. All you need to do is to stop being scared and anxious. Be yourself. Do the things you dream of. Believe in yourself and your dreams.” And she disappeared, leaving a whiff of freshness and happiness behind her.

Prakash woke up feeling elated. He looked happy and felt happy. He was not feeling apprehensive and scared, for a change. He knew his friends were right. He knew the way his mother treated their maid at home was not right. She was very harsh. Though he loved his mother very much, he could do nothing to alter her behaviour but he could alter his own behaviour and attitude, not just towards the maid and attendant but towards everything. He would stop feeling scared and try to find the strength and courage in himself to move towards his dream. It was difficult. But, Prakash had decided to start his journey towards becoming a world renowned scientist.

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