Monday, June 25, 2018

Weekly Visits

Written for: The Writer's Tower
Theme: Euphoria

Weekly Visits
by Lisa Kwan
I walk down the hall, flanked by notice boards boasting of students that had won awards, competitions, achieved straight A’s, their faces bright, innocent. I knew he wasn’t up there, but he was as talented, smart and beautiful as any one of them. I reach the “Congratulations on coming to school!” sign, which I scoffed at, right outside his classroom, and knock on the open door.
            The teacher, Ms. Manjeet, turns around, stopped at mid-sentence, surprise on her face. I take one step into the class and nodded. She comes towards me, and I whisper into her ear. Her turn to nod. “Tobias, your father is here to take you. You can gather your things and leave with him. Check with Hannah on what you’ve missed, okay?” Tobias’ eyes were already on me, as his teacher speaks, his eyebrows high, questioning. I made sure Ms. Manjeet doesn’t see, and then I wink.
            He looks even more confused, and hesitantly turns to pack his bag behind him. In the meantime, I thank Ms. Manjeet and wait outside the classroom, and I hear her continue the class on Subject-Verb agreement. I get a sense of déjà vu, but I just crack my knuckles.
            Tobias appears beside me, slinging the other side of his backpack over his left shoulder. “Is everything okay?” His voice is a little shaky, and I feel bad for scaring the poor kid. “Let’s get to the car first,” I lightly touch his shoulder and lead him towards the car park.
            “What’s going on?” he asks again, his voice hoarse. “Have you got all your things?” I reply instead, eyes looking straight ahead, poker-faced. “Yes.” “Then, let’s go.” He is silent. A million thoughts must be running through his head. Is something wrong at home? Did someone die?
            When we are out the school gates and the sun is shining so hard on our heads that I have head sweat, I turn to him, finally ready to put him out of his misery. “Toby,” I deliberately suck in my breath. He looks up at me, wordless, his eyes a hint of panic. “I have something to tell you.”
            He flinches, steals a quick look down and then back at me, as if he had convinced himself to be brave, to face me when I break the bad news, and it had to be bad, whatever it was. I exhale.
            “We’re going to the fun fair.”
            “I’m taking you to the fun fair. You said you wanted to go for your birthday, and today’s your birthday, so I’ve pulled you out of school to go. So do you wanna go or not?”
            “B-but I thought—”
            “What did you think I was going to say?”
            “Well, I dunno, like somebody died or something.”
            “Actually, yeah.”
            “What? Who?”
            “I’m just kidding. The fun fair thing though, we’re doing that.”
            “What! Oh my God, Dad, can you stop kidding around? You’re going to give me a heart attack.”
            “You’re too young to have a heart attack. Stop being so dramatic.”
            “But, what about school? What did Mum say?”
            “Don’t worry about school. I’m a very charming person, as I’m sure you know, and I’ve got your Principal, Mrs. Kuan, eating out of the palm of my hand. And what Mum doesn’t know, won’t hurt her.”
            I ruffle his head, and throw my head back to laugh. “Come on, kiddo. Your Magnificently Fun Day Extravaganza With Dad begins now!” He sideways-glares at me, frowns as if assessing if I was kidding, then finally smirks, deciding that I wasn’t.
            “Okay. You’re buying me cotton candy. And I’m gonna beat you at every game there is. You better bring your A-game on.” I stare at him. A corner of his uniform shirt is untucked, and his Monday tie is a little askew. But his steps have become springy, as they always do when he gets a little excited, his cheeks are red from the heat, and his dimples show. He looked like he still had his whole life ahead of him, but he is merely enjoying the present moment. And I soak it all in. This is what I miss.
            I wait till he looks up at me again. I wink. “Deal.”
            Even though it is a weekday, there is still a crowd. Amidst the tantalizing smells of all things fried and positively sinful, starkly reminding us that it is just about lunchtime, kids are running around pulling tired-looking resigned parents behind them, squealing excitedly at this ride or that, this snack or that treat. Teenagers, mostly in twos, strolled together, hand in hand, or arms slung over each other, laughing, kissing, giggling. I guess we had more than one truant at the fun fair today.
            I reach down to take Toby’s hand, and he pulls away. “Daaaaad. Come on, I’m seven.” I am amused. “Wow, Mister I’m-A-Big-Boy. Too cool to hold your dad’s hand now?” He shrugs, and something about the way he does, each time, hits me with the realization that he is growing up, faster than I’d like; but I guess the him now is all I will have.
            His steps suddenly accelerate slightly, almost unnoticeable, but I do, and I see why—we are approaching the bumper cars, his favourite ride. He holds back, as if hesitant, clears his throat. “Hey, we’re at the bumper cars.” He nods. “Did you know that bumper cars run on electricity? They get powered through the poles that connect the back of the cars to the wire grid at the top.” Toby points to the ceiling as we arrive at the queue.
            “Really?” I act surprised.
            “Yeah. Electricity is converted to kinetic energy—that’s movement—and also, heat. And it’s based off of Newton’s third law of motion—that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” I raise my eyebrows at him. “I’ve been reading up,” he mumbles, embarrassed, and shifts his weight to his other foot. I am struck by how smart he is, how curious, how brilliant. I am in awe. He is after all, only seven.
            He is quiet, but his eyes shine, and I know he is almost impatient, a bird about to burst forth from its nest. “Let’s go,” I turn and take a few steps away from the cars. He stares after me, crestfallen. I pause and turn back to him, beam wide like an open wallet. “Daaaaaad,” he whines. I grab him into a wrestler’s embrace, squeeze him tight despite his protests. “This cool-boy attitude you’re trying to pull is so not working,” I playfully punch his face. He proceeds to deny it, but not very convincingly, as we get in line.
            “You suck, Dad,” he finally ends his rant. “Language,” I reply. “Sorry.” But I am smiling so hard.
The final credits of the movie scroll up and fade out to black. I glance to my right and see that my wife is asleep, and lightly snoring, her mouth open. Thankfully, she had suspected nothing, even though our little “skit” to explain how I had finished work early and picked him up for ice cream was a poor performance, to say the least. Either that or my wife was one damn good actor.
My eyes sweep over the coffee table where three pairs of feet were miraculously propped up on between the dishes from dinner earlier. Pizza and birthday cake for dessert was a roaring success, well applauded by both Toby and my wife. You can never go wrong with pizza. And who doesn’t love birthday cake? Wishes were made, copious kisses were planted on a seemingly reluctant recipient, and laughter heard throughout. The movie of choice was of course decided on by the birthday boy (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the hundredth time) and (grudgingly) accepted by all.
And on my lap, Toby lies, where his slightly-too-long fringe covers his eyes, and a tiny bit of cream sticks to the corner of his lips. I thought to wipe it for him but didn’t for fear of waking him. My left leg is asleep, tiny pins and needles running up and down it, and I yearn to stretch, but instead, I continue staring at my son.
I think back to the day he was born, and remember thinking that nothing anyone had ever said to me then had prepared me for the arrival of my son, a little ball of angry, bawling red; the overwhelming fear and sense of responsibility that consumes you at that moment, and all moments since, the love, the joy. The anticipation of nurturing this little creature whom everyone says has my eyes, my chin, my way with words, my devilish grin, into the man he is meant to be, a man I would be proud to call mine. He is one that I am already proud to call mine.
A flash of the world spinning 360 degrees, the steering wheel, the roar of metal against metal, his screams. What is this? A glitch?
He stirs suddenly in spite of my best efforts to be completely still. He frowns, wrinkles his nose, blinks up at me, relaxes. “Hi, dad,” his voice croaky. “Hey, buddy.” We are silent for a moment, eyes and hearts connected. “Best birthday ever,” he whispers. I inhale. “I love you,” I place my hand on the top of his head, draw comfort from the warmth, try to absorb it, sear it into my memory forever. My heart is full, overflows, spills over like a waterfall over Toby, over the coffee table, filling the room. Intense joy.
Just like that, everything fades out to black, and I am hit with sudden panic, screaming inside. “No!” I shout. “No, not yet, please! Give me more time!”
My heart falls as I see the familiar white coat come into focus. I am sweating. “I’m sorry, Mr. Daniel. Your time is up,” her eyes are soft, almost apologetic. She proceeds to remove the IV lines from my wrists, the neurofeedback EEG sensor cap that feeds the images to my brain. “But I need more time,” I plead. She is a statue. “Please. I have more money.” She finally sighs. “Just…please. He is—was my son,” I grab her hands, desperate. She gently pulls away.
“We don’t recommend that our patients spend too long in one session, Mr. Daniel. Maybe at the next one? Make an appointment at the front office, and we will be waiting for you next week, okay?”
I slump into my chair, resigned. Till next week, Toby. I’ll see you again soon.

The End

© Copyright of Lisa Kwan 2018
Written 24th June, 2018

Author’s note: Written for the Writer’s Tower, for June 2018 theme: Euphoria.

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