March 17, 2011
Francis picked his scooter key and switched off the ceiling fan on his way out from apartment. A visit to market was a part of his morning schedule. He had been living alone from last five years after the death of his spouse. His only son was making a livelihood with his family in Bahrain. Being lonesome was frustrating and confusing ever since the initial stage of his wife’s demise. Preparing a meal for one person was always an awful task. He had undergone the challenging times of grieving process. Financially he didn’t have a great run in his life. All along he had remained as accounts clerk in a local Parish school until his retirement. They had lived in a dingy house in a crowded downtown and always wished a financially stable environment for his son Denzel. Quite recently he developed the desire for a car was an aberrant issue.
Denzel found a well paid job in Bahrain after his post graduation. An apartment in a posh locality was bought and he asked his father to move to high-rise residence. Funds towards the necessities of life were moderately taken care. The empty spaces of isolated life continued to bother, however he had learnt to live with them.
Francis stepped out and locked the main door. He remembered the chores that included, visits to doctor, bank and market. The errand also comprised cleaning and cooking. Lunch and siesta were parts of his routine. He walked down from staircase and reached car park area. Though he was not the owner of any car, Denzel had reserved a parking space while buying the apartment. Additional fund was shelled out for the set aside square.
As he reached closer to his scooter he was left disturbed by a car that had blocked the exit. The area on right and left too was occupied by parked sedans. The car that obstructed the way out belonged to Jerome the secretary of residents association. The third floor resident Jerome had spent most of years in Kuwait before locating back to home country. He owned two cars, second was used by his wife. His wife would park her car in allocated parking space, where as Jerome would brashly leave his car at unauthorized spots. Francis’s parking place was his easy pick and prey.
Troubled by the incident Francis looked around for Venkat, the watchman. Venkat was a puffing outside the gate, dropped his cigarette and came running at him.
“Were you sleeping?” Francis frustratingly uttered. “How can you allow people to block the exit?”
“Sorry sir.” Venkat was apologetic. “I will call Jerome sir right now.”
Jerome took ten minutes to come down.
“How can you keep your car at my parking area?” Francis conveyed his dissatisfaction.
“But, where is your car?” Jerome teasingly taunted him.
“How do you expect me to take my scooter out?” Francis argued.
“I am sorry.” Jerome pacified him. “You know, we returned late last night and I left my car in a hurry.”
“You could have kept it somewhere else.” Francis was upset. “You seem deliberately annoying me. This has happened more than once.”
“Come on.” Jerome feigned in his attempt to smile. “Take it easy. How much space do you need for a tiny scooter?”
“The question is not related to space.” Francis firmly replied. “My son has paid for this place. You have no right to bother us.”
“How is Denzel?” Jerome diverted his attention. “Is he planning his vacation? I want to meet him.”
Francis remained silent without response. Once Jerome moved his sedan away from the place, he kicked the ratcheting lever. The quiet reaction of the engine made him to tilt the scooter and then kick again. Now the engine reacted. He drove away towards the main road. Majority of the occupants of that building had cars. Francis was one among a very few who didn’t own a car.
Going by the life style Francis did not have great passion for materialistic objects. However Jerome’s taunts had activated the requirement. Jerome’s conceited behavior had its reasons. He was swollen with pride by possession of two cars.
“My scooter is not in great condition by the prolonged use. It’s time to change. I think we should shift over to an economical car. Nowadays low cost cars are available.” Francis had appealed his son during last telecom.
“We will decide during my next visit.” Denzel had wrapped up without much enthusiasm.
Francis had never thought of driving a car at least until his retirement. Jerome’s constant gibes had paved way to this hidden desire. The necessity was triggered while living in the midst of upper middleclass neighborhood. About six months back he had managed to earn a driving license in his sixth attempt after enrolling in a driving school.
“Francis, I saw you driving a car beside an instructor. Do you plan start cab business?” Jerome’s funny remarks had annoyed Francis. The attempts to ridicule his status had led to the obsession of placing a car of his own in his parking space.
“The pay cuts have become common after recession. I think India is a much better place to live than Gulf countries.” Denzel had put across his opinion during last summer vacation, about a year back.
He knew if his son returns back for good, the possibility of buying a car was much higher. Francis wanted to enjoy some kind equality and self respect in front of Jerome and other neighbors. A tinge of urgency was mounting to foster the feelings of pride of owning a car.
He filled fuel on his way to bank. The bank statement did not show the usual fund transfer from his son. Denzel had turned disorganized in sending the monthly allowances. He withdrew some amount, settled electricity and telephone bills. The clinic visit was made for routine health check up. While returning from vegetable and fish market, he changed his mind and drove towards a car showroom. Their low cost car advertisement had recently appeared in newspapers.
The salesman was quite pleased to make a presentation in front of fleet of cars. Francis was engrossingly excited while stepping across sleek and shiny models. He was overwhelmed with urgency and anxiety to the point of owning it as early as possible. A brochure and application form was given before he stepped out of car showroom.
The exhilarated zeal dipped into exasperation as he stopped his scooter close to car parking area. Jerome had parked his car at Francis’s allocated parking square. He was irritated by Jerome’s bloated behavioral pattern. Frustrated by the incident, he called watchman. Venkat was not around. Infuriatingly he walked into elevator to meet Jerome.
“Hello. Now what happened?” Jerome opened the door and ignorantly questioned him.
“What’s wrong with you Jerome?” Francis was visibly upset.
“You seem disturbed. Why not join for a cup of coffee?” Jerome’s contrived attitude continued.
“I don’t know how to make you understand. I am pained by your repeated acts of nuisance.” Francis pleaded.
“Come on, there seems to be some mix-up.” Jerome theatrically replied.
“Why did you park your car at my place?” Francis raised his voice.
“I have left some space for your scooter.” Jerome clarified.
“That’s not the issue.” Francis argued. “Please stop bothering me. Would you please remove the car?”
“Take it easy. So much of stress is not good for health.” Jerome advised. “Just give me ten minutes. I will make the place clear for you.”
Francis turned his back with the loss of energy.
“Please keep me updated on Denzel’s next visit schedule.” Jerome loudly reminded.
Francis didn’t show any eagerness to react. He came down, collected shopping bags from his scooter and reached his apartment. His desire to drive a car had intensified perhaps stimulated by Jerome’s demeanor. Jerome’s assurance to remove the car within ten minutes went out of his mind while absorbed by domestic chores. He noticed the empty car space as he came down at 5 o’clock for evening walk. Jerome’s car was not in sight, perhaps gone for a drive. Francis rushed back, picked his vehicle key and moved the scooter rightly at his legitimate square.
Subsequent Friday, Denzel called from Bahrain. He informed his next month plan to visit for fifteen days. Francis was thrilled by the news. The agenda was prioritized. The list in order specifically contained the procurement of a car and to pass on a warning to Jerome to rein in his ways. He didn’t understand how anybody could be as immodest as Jerome? A word from Denzel could bring the required change.
By mid of following month Denzel landed without his family.
“Why did you leave your family behind?” Francis inquired. “I am longing to see your kids.”
“The summer holidays are not due yet.” Denzel explained. “You know, we are planning a visit to Canada during coming summer. Hence I decided to drop in.”
“Denzel, I think we should go for a low cost car.” Francis showed the brochure.
“Why do you need a car?” Denzel insipidly questioned. “Your existing 2-wheeler is more than enough.”
“It’s old and not in driving condition.” Francis persisted. “Shall we visit the car showroom tomorrow morning?”
“………….” Denzel remained silent.
“You will have to solve one more problem.” Francis expressed his discontent. “I told Mr. Jerome several times, not to park his car at our allocated place. However the guy is absolutely stubborn and obstinate. I would appreciate if you have a word with him.”
“I will speak to Uncle Jerome.” Denzel smiled and comforted. Francis didn’t understand if his son really comprehended the seriousness of the problem.
However he decided to settle both the issues conclusively before his son’s departure back to Bahrain. By evening Denzel visited Jerome’s home without asking his father to join. His son’s failure to return within expected time left Francis worried. He called Jerome by landline.
“I could be late. Don’t wait, you may eat.” Denzel advised.
Denzel appeared at the door by midnight. He felt the smell of liquor from his son’s breath. A disheartened Francis did not bother his son with any question; however a question did bother him. Did his son visit Jerome’s place to rein in or to develop an emotional chord?
Next morning, father wanted his son to accompany to car showroom. Denzel had different plans for the day.
“I could be late, may have to visit some friends. I will join for evening meal.” Denzel informed.
The mystified condition was beyond his ability to understand or assume. It looked as if Denzel was refusing to reveal something. He hoped his son would open up after couple of days. The constant state of worry and urgency had to be avoided. He decided to press his agenda through a slow and steady process.
By evening 6:30 pm Denzel was back at home. He looked far more renewed and freshened up than normal. He joined for rosary after the shower and uncapped a bottle of whiskey soon after prayers.
“You must have had a long discussion with Jerome.” Francis probed while picking his glass. “I hope henceforth he will stay away from our parking place.”
“………” Denzel remained tight lipped.
“I think we should plan for the car before you fly back.” Francis pressed his point. “It will give a sense of value to our car parking place.”
“Cheers Dad.” He sipped his drink.
“Why don’t you speak up?” Francis experienced the uneasiness.
“Why do you need a car Papa?” Denzel replied softly just audible enough to be heard. “You are not aware of the nuisances of maintaining a car. It’s no joke. Owning a car is like having an additional family member. It adds up to cost of living.”
“It looks like you have no issue with Jerome.” Francis’s jaw dropped.
“How much space do you need for a tiny scooter?” Denzel sounded like Jerome. ”you are burdened by unnecessary and unwanted worries. I have solution to your problem.”
“What kind of solution?” Francis was riddled.
“I can understand. It’s not easy to live all alone in an apartment. It could lead to depression and despair.” Denzel explained. “Life is taking a different turn at our end. This is our last season in Bahrain. As summer comes, we would be migrating to Canada. Financially I am short of funds. I have no other option, but to sell this apartment. Luckily the buyer is ready.”
“Who is the buyer?”
“Uncle Jerome.” He revealed. “He is paying a good price. Moreover his son in Muscat will transfer the funds to my account in Bahrain. No issue.”
Francis sensed the faintest inkling. Perhaps his son wants him to join in their process of migration. Conceivably the proposal of living in Canada wasn’t really harsh. Life could be fascinating while breathing alongside of his son, daughter in law and grand children. The very idea stimulated his quiescent energy to stir up the exuberance.
“Now tell me, when do you want me to relocate to Canada?” Francis sounded jubilant.
“What would you do in Canada?” Denzel hurriedly replied. “You will stay here in a local senior citizen’s home. It’s managed by Catholic nuns. I have spoken and you will have to shift by next week. They will take care of you. I am sure you will enjoy a peaceful and trouble-free life with many others of similar age.”
Francis failed to figure out the status of his existence. He was almost knocked down by an object emerged from darkness. The course of his future was about to be locked in a square with hardly any options open.
“Isn’t it a great idea?” Denzel slanted the bottle for one more drink.
“I have a last wish.” Francis replied with deadpan expression.
“What’s your last wish?” Denzel withdrew his stretched hand at the glass and looked at his father.
“Before I leave this place……” Francis paused, kept his glass down and innocently pleaded. “Could you please arrange a rental car for about one week? I want to experience the pleasure and pride of placing a car at our allocated parking area!”