‘Before I even began to think about what I would say, I was already holding my tears back. For this conversation, emotions had no place. For this person, the word emotion had no definition.’
To be loved with its whole sincerity, such a rare feature we find only in a few. If parents were to be an exception, would that statement remain true? That is the question I now ponder on but back then, while holding that phone in my hand, my thoughts were off. While I held that phone emotionless, emotions were fuelling through.
I panicked but just for a few seconds and then replied,
'Dad, it's me...Rahal.'
I could hear my father breathing heavily yet he stayed silent. My dad... my brothers once told me how grateful we all should be to him. When I heard his story, my feelings towards him changed drastically to the point of crying for causing him so much misery in the past. Mohammed Salim, my dad, has never in all my life shown a hint of anything other than stress, frustration and pain. In turn, that stress led my father to become an extremely heavy smoker that further led him to having multiple operations for multiple reasons. Everyday, my dad would have the same routine which never changed. Go to work, come home and sit on his sofa constantly smoking and thinking. The television would be on, automatically set to the news channel, yet his thoughts would always be elsewhere. I know this because one day I tested that theory by turning the volume off yet he remained in his thoughts not saying a word. My dad can't sleep at night, he would constantly ask one of his sons to massage his legs but rarely ask me. Feeling sad for his son massaging him for too long he would ask my brother to go to sleep yet the pain would always be there and my dad would bare this all night.
'Dad... I called to tell you I'm okay and I have a place to stay. I need to do this.' I carried on while he stayed silent yet listening to every word.
My dad was thoroughly strict with everyone he had power over, any word against his rule would be the greatest sin for us all. We never knew what the punishment would be, maybe a beating which was okay for us but the one punishment we hoped never to get was to leave the family and the house. Only those who got that punishment did something really terrible that hurt my father. The reason why we didn't want to get chucked out of the house was not because we were afraid we might not survive without his protection but because we loved our family way too much to even think of a life without it. The fact that I not only did think of running away but actually did it, I could only assume how much pain my dad would be in right now. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be far fetched to assume a heart attack yet I still ran away. So in a sense, the reason I called my dad was not to assure him I was okay but it was really the other way around, I wanted to know whether he was still alive. Most of my brothers had education taken away from them by my dad as they all needed to work in the family business except me. They were all deprived of their right to learn just so we can stay rich, that was my thought before I understood the whole story.
'Dad, please say something...anything?'
Mohammed Salim was born in a small village in Pakistan, where his father was respected by the whole village. In my visits to that small village called Jhang, I would constantly ask my relatives how my dad was like as a child and their stories would always baffle me. Did you know my dad used to run away from home nearly every night with his friends to watch a movie? As my father grew so did his dreams to provide for the whole family and by whole family I mean 6-7 sisters and 2 brothers and then their children! My grandfather and grandmother both passed away before I was born. My dad made an oath to do whatever he could but never to see his family in poverty and sacrificed his education to achieve this goal as soon as possible. Yet his experience in life and in business was beyond crazy as he would sometimes explain technical terms that I would learn in university in his own way without having heard of the term before. However through a misunderstanding he was accused for a murder he did not commit and was driven out of the country by the locals or they would have killed him. My dad came to London and did all sorts of odd jobs such as a cab driver and an engineer, I think. My dad fell in love with my mum on first sight and married her as quick as possible...just like that...he just saw her, fell in love and got married. Throughout his whole life he made wise investments and learnt from his mistakes, slowly when I learnt more and more about what he did the more I respected my dad till the point of making him my role model.
'WHAT FUCK DO I SAY YOU FUCKING IDIOT CHILD!' My dad's breathing rate rapidly increased. The familiar sound of his heavy breathing and coughing instantly gave me a vision on how he would look like.
I have still not explained the reason why my dad is the way he is right now. Once my dad was tired from focusing on the family business and the threat from Pakistan had died out through all those years, he wanted to work on a new project and start a new life with me and mum back in Pakistan. See the reason why I was the exception to the late night massage and working in the shop was only because my dad thought of me as his last chance of being a good father. He wanted me to have a life my brothers didn't, he wanted me to learn so much that I could stand up for myself, to give the family an educated individual that would have an independent life. He was not the sole reason to my freedom, it was my eldest brother's dream to have me live a life that all my brother's wished for everyday of their lives. Most of my life my parents would travel a lot primarily due to business reasons and it was my eldest brother that took care of me. My mother hated the distance I had from my parents which was the reason why my dad also chose me to go with him and mum to Pakistan to start a new life. Back then I thought my parents hated me and were forcing me to go along with them which only made me cause them more trouble when I was in Pakistan.
'Dad, please just understand me for once. I don't want to live in that house, I don't want to be part of the family business, I hate having a bloody curfew, I want to experience a bit of life alone. I want to do what you did. I want to be an author... I want..'
'Oooh Shut up you bloody fool! You don't know anything about life. You'll be a stupid beggar next to a gutter, writing fucking books doesn't give money!' My father responded.
My dad had given my brothers the family business and took me away to Pakistan and that was when everything went downhill. After the recession, many investments were lost and many stores closed down. My dad had his own assets and properties that gave him enough money to finally relax with mum and stay away from the stress of business. Yet my father endured his sons' excuses and came back to London constantly, sold most of everything he owned just to keep the family business alive. The only reason behind this action was because he did not want to see his children in poverty. He gave away everything he had just to keep his children who are all married and with kids to maintain a life better than most. When the moment came when he finally thought everything was going to be okay, he had to give everything away and enter the world of business again when he didn't need to. That is the undying love of a parent and that is the reason why I hated myself for everything I had done to them. Now again, my father remains in the same routine and being constantly checked up by the hospital for any abnormalities while under heavy medication.
'That's what I mean dad! How will I ever know anything about life if you don't let me explore. This doesn't mean you won't see me, I just want to live life on my own accord now.' I tried explaining to my dad in hope that I do not have to stay away from them. If he could just accept my decision I could visit my family whenever I wanted. I just wanted to scream out to him, Let Me Fly, hoping he would hear my cry.
'Rahal, listen closely..' I pushed the phone against my ear in hope of hearing him forgiving me, 'You are not my son any more. Don't ever fucking come back, I DON'T WANT TO SEE YOUR FUCKING FACE!' After a few moments of loud coughs that left him breathless he resumed, 'Don't ever talk to us or I will break your fucking legs. I will kill you, you bastard child. You want to live alone then go. Get lost.'
With those last two words said, the phone call cut off insisting I should add more coins to continue on with the conversation. I had a feeling my father already had the intention of ending the call. I looked down the road and at the telephone booth and then at the road again. I closed my eyes to see my parents for the last time. I knew that over time it would get a little more difficult to remember their faces so for only this time I kept my eyes closed for a long time. I began remembering what my mum said to me once some time ago. She told me no matter what happens, I would keep my head held high, achieve success in all it's directions and to have a happy family of my own one day. She made me promise her I would keep those goals and I had no intention of breaking that promise. With a promise already kept and some more made, I walked on. In hope to achieve those promises and see my family once again, I walked on. I was sure, that they would accept me once I became successful. As I walked on towards my flat, not once did I take my eyes off of my mum and dad. Not once did I slightly forget the last time they smiled at me, not once did I forget my mother's warm embrace and my father's protection. Not even once that is until I finally reached my flat.