Whenever a child is born, he first cries, and then, a few months later, his cries change into habitual giggles. But in Mark’s case, his cries were transferred to his parents. Not a day went by when they didn’t suffer under Mark’s antics. They wished for the idiom spare the rod to be eradicated from their life. It all was futile, and now, so many years later, their cries could still be heard. To give themselves some solace they together sobbed in the attic every now and then. They had made peace with their demon, which in this case was their son. However, today turned out to be a bit more than their benevolent tolerance.
It was the fifth time that Howard shut the door in the face of a couple for the day. He felt rude in doing so, but he was helpless, for he had grown jaded of barren couples knocking at his door for his son, harbouring their own selfish intentions.
Bridgette rushed to Howard as he returned to the living room after bitterly seeing off the guests.
‘What did they say?’ she said.
‘I didn’t wait to hear.’
It was then footsteps dragged along the stairs. The couple’s conversation suffered an abrupt death halt. Mark stood at the foot of the staircase. He wore a thin smile on his 12 years old face and condescending gleam in his eyes.
‘Why is it so hard to please you people?’ said Mark, ‘At least one would have been good enough for me.’
Mark walked up to the fridge and pulled out a wine bottle from it. Without giving too much heed to either of his parents, he drank a chunk of it. Bridgette looked at Howard for a second and then scurried towards Mark. She kept her hand on his shoulder.
‘What if someone from Africa adopts me?’ intervened Mark, ‘How exciting will that be?’
Mark’s words shook Bridgette to her core. Her eyes widened and jaw dropped a little. With hands like that of a docile tree amidst irked wind, she caught her son’s shoulders and stared into his eyes.
‘Mark, what is wrong with you?’
Mark shrugged off her mother’s hand and poured himself another wine, ‘Mom, Wendy is coming tonight. You and pops better hang in some motel.’
Wendy’s name sent a chill down the folks’ spine. Their eyes met for a second. Howard moved in his sofa. Bridgette immediately shook his head. Howard sunk back in the sofa. Bridgette turned towards her misguided son and caressed his hair.
‘Mark, you can’t do this. You know how her father is,’ she said.
Mark shot her an are-you-listening-to-yourself look, ‘So, you people should worry about it.’
Mark’s reply twisted certain vein inside the mother’s head. She closed her fist; her fingers further twirled inwards, threatening to maul her palm, and her body danced in a certain rhythm who matched more of a mosquito’s, rather than of a trance. But Mark didn’t notice her, and nor she showed any signs to him.
‘Mark, I’m telling you, don’t do this,’
‘Or what?’ Mark eyed her in annoyance, ‘You will beat me? Will ground me? Or; will send me to the institution?’ He waved his hands in the air as if indulged in some kind of ritual, ‘You people have had enough with us by punishing and threatening us with the stories about the institution. I just know that this is my important date, so don’t screw this up.’
Mark gave one last look to his parents and then disappeared through the windows.
Even minutes after Mark’s departure either of the folks found it hard to even twitch. Suddenly, life flushed back into Bridgette’s body. She spun towards Howard. Her face was distorted and resembled that of a crooked witch. Fumes escaped her nostrils and teeth peeked through her lips, threatening to rip her husband apart.
‘This is all your fucking fault!’ she screamed.
It was the first time she has behaved like this; something he abhorred, but she was right. Only if he hadn’t let his anger consumed himself and slapped Mark when he accidentally spilled ink on his important office papers. Even he thought he was justified in his action, but who gave him the right to judge what is just without considering the victim’s position. Nonetheless, he soon learned the folly of his behaviour, when Mark used his Child Privilege Right and requested for adoption to other guardians. When Howard came to know of this, he tried his best to dissuade his son by weaving a false narrative around it. However, in the process, he forgot that he was his own son, and whatever intellect, either virtuous or vile, he had inherited from him. He told him he has done his research and there were other children who have been adopted by other families and since then they are living happily. This scared Howard at first but soon realised CPR only entertains adoption with the intervention of Children Welfare Committee. Mark only intended to annoy them.
The father bit the bullet and hoped his son’s antics would wither with the growth of his boredom, but this was a whole new. To him, his son became the personification of an insane person who had been crowned a prince at ten. Everyone knew what a demon Wendy’s father was; brawling and breaking bones and noses of people in the bar was a charity work for him. One could only guess what hell he would free on learning his son’s mature endeavor indulging his daughter.
Howard thought for a few minutes, ‘Don’t worry, I won’t let this happen.’
Bridgette knew well about the limits of her husband’s homely dominance, so she scoffed. However, soon she learned she was wrong when her son stormed into their motel room at night, fuming all over. Bridgette feared Mark’s veins would burst if he didn’t calm down, but her son knew the better response.
‘What did you do?’ he demanded.
Howard looked puzzled, ‘What do you mean, son?’ he said, ‘Why aren’t you with Wendy?’
‘Because she has gone to some effin Disneyland tour with her father!’
Her mother realised the situation. A faint smile drew across her face, which disappeared in a second. She rushed to console her son.
‘Oh honey, I’m so sorry to hear this.’
Mark pushed her away, ‘Don’t pretend! I know you did this. You just see!’
With this, he left like a boisterous wolverine. Bridgette turned towards Howard, who smiled at her, ‘Told ya.’
Next day, the couple learned their son wasn’t bluffing when officials of the Child Welfare Committee. Showed up with an order of Mark’s immediate release from their guardianship. Their son had grown serious, as the adopting couple also showed up in the officers’ presence.
Howard and Bridgette’s faces stooped down. During the entire formality, they were unable to look at even each other in the eye. Their son, on the other hand, smiled triumphantly at them all along. The couple packed Mark’s belongings and saw him off at the front door.
‘Hope this will teach you some good lesson,’ said Mark, wearing the same prudent smile, ‘Sayonara.’
He left with his adopted parents. For minutes, his former folks stared in the direction of his disappearance without any expression.
‘Will he return?’ Bridgette shot a question out of nowhere.
‘They all do.’
‘In a year or so and he will be a changed kid,’ answered Howard, ‘The institution never fails.’
A thin smile appeared on Howard’s face. He turned around and slipped inside to fetch his favourite drink for the occasion.
– Nishant Verma