There’s a child trapped inside my father.
He yearns for validation. He cries to be understood. Like a child he’ll ask questions, he asks twice, sometimes three times, to be assured. He doesn’t want to disappoint.
“Must I do it now?”
“When is the absolute latest you’ll need it done by?”
“Can you remind me?”
and much to my mother’s dismay, he’ll ask (rather earnestly to his credit);
“Is it your top priority that I get it done or is it a more ‘meh’ kind of thing?”
His curiosity exceeds him. Excited by the most mundane events of his teenage daughters’ school-lives, he will demand every detail of our day. He will pause thoughtfully when he can’t keep up before insisting that we go back and help him understand. He finds it essential to be able to visualise the colourful pictures and white window-panes of our four-walled classrooms. He needs to live these moments, like when we learnt the nuanced history of Communism or roared with laughter after one of the boys shot quickly back at our teacher with “Okay Boomer” when a story that began with “back in the day…” had been attempted. The child inside softly repeats our stories over again and slips himself a private giggle each time.
He hides behind the curtains and underneath my bed. He’ll paint his face and plan his performance meticulously, careful not to reveal the blueprints of his attack. He sneaks up from behind, throws us over his shoulder before stretching out his soft hairy fingers to begin the merciless tickling. He’s often pleased by his successful attempts to catch our friends off guard with his sarcastic comments and unfiltered candour, and revels in the sight of their stupefied features. His humour is an acquired taste.
It is not rare that we find the dogs come trotting out of his bedroom with bow-ties and top-hats or lilac ribbons and painted nails. We often find him chuckling alone, thoroughly amused by his own existence or the asinine little puns he’s cleverly created out of his- ‘thin h(air)’.
The child will whistle a tune, which gradually progresses into a hum and gets lost amid the dreadfully tone-deaf voice of my father, who delights in his lack of harmony and sings past the forgotten lyrics, replacing them with his own. We subtly turn the radio on in our futile attempts to drown out his dissonant chords.
He’ll suddenly hear a phrase of a song and sing it incessantly, convincing us to remember it for him, eager to satisfy his memory and growing more frustrated with each repetition. But then he’ll stop, easily distracted and persuade us to play the newly released Bollywood songs or Ed Sheeran’s latest album, excitedly shouting,
“Play it again! Play it again!”
and then, satisfied, he’ll smile to himself and announce, “I like Ed,”—as if they have been best friends for years.
He retreats when introduced to the unknown. He’ll smile shyly and then place his solemn mask on for a while, before he inevitably interrupts the silence and begins his incessant chatter. In fear of what the silence holds, he rambles on, filling the empty voids. Most times he doesn’t even require an honest listener, just someone to sit beside him with their earphones plugged in while he appreciates the sound of his own voice.
There are times when we find him lonely, his eyes have just watered. When he is confronted by the realisation that all the other little children around him have grown up and he’s been left behind.
But worst of all, sometimes I find him broken, frustrated, the child slowly dying. When he looks in the mirror and watches as the unforgiving wrinkles fight to appear, his chestnut hair slowly thins and silvers, his vision begins to blur and his once light and lively limbs begin to tighten, the life pushed out of them to make room for the pain that overwhelms.