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EVERYTHING HAD REALLY fallen apart for good.

Dad gave up on everything; he didn’t even go back to his struggling real estate business. He neglected his personal wellbeing and hygiene. His beard was overgrown and he had barges under his eyes from not sleeping soundly. He became insomniac and upped his drinking level drastically.

Then he always whined and grumbled around the house whenever he was home, and broke several dishes in fits of drunkenness and unfounded rage. There wasn’t enough money to pick up most of the bills, and the house help was owed her salary for months until she finally quit.

The state of things around the house deteriorated even further. With Mary gone, it meant the whole place languished in filth. Alan had lost his zeal and was no longer interested in doing chores and his Dad didn’t give a damn.

A thick, stale odor soon pervaded the atmosphere; a sickening and unwholesome breath that hit you smack in the face when you came into the house. It was uninhabitable and desolate, and a perpetual gloom in the air was the only thing that remained.

No visitors came by anymore. No one was welcomed. Alan and his father lived together yet apart, sharing very little in common and not encroaching into each other’s space. Dad spent most of his day sleeping and, sometimes, Alan just went for a lonely walk around the neighborhood to get some fresh air in his lungs. At least, he was up on his feet, walking again.

It could sometimes be hard to breathe when you were indoors. You just needed that fresh breath in your face every now and then, like sharks coming to the surface for air and then diving again.

Alan walked most of the time.


He walked and thought about his life often; how messed up things had become. Then he thought a lot about his deceased siblings.

They didn’t have to die, certainly not the way that they did. It was so unfair. Thoughts like these evoked great emotions, brought tears to the eyes. Alan cried whenever he thought about Tim and Rachel. Even after many months, he his heart had not healed.

It was amazing what deep loneliness and despair could do to a person. As his mood sank abysmally, Alan grew adventurous just to burn up his pain, literally speaking. And he burned them down every evening, just sitting in his room and setting his pain on fire with stick after stick of cigarette.

The group of boys jumped him at the quiet neighborhood park. It was late in the evening, and Alan just wanted to be alone, as always.

He was reclining on one of the benches in the park, gazing up into the darkened sky and trying to catch a glimpse of the future to come, if indeed there was anything there for him to look forward to. He smoked some sticks as he let his thoughts drift far and wide to all sorts of places and notions.

Then the boys came and attacked him suddenly, four of them. They were local street thugs in the area; gang members who lay claim to the territory and bullied other kids. But Alan had never had any brush with them until now. They were young, about the same age as he was, and adorned funny haircuts and baggy clothing.

One knocked him to the ground, kicked him hard and laughed when he groaned and writhed in pain. Then the others joined in, kicked him some more until he spat out blood and lay still, after which they took the money in his pocket, his phone and cigarette lighter as well, and ran off into the night.

Alan got up slowly, clutching his chest. He had a cut on his cheek and he was bleeding from his mouth. He frowned, cursed bitterly, and then cried in despair as he picked his way home.

The very next day he met up with his mom at a restaurant not far from where she worked. They’d met severally since she left the house, a formal ritual which Alan found mildly unnecessary and tiring. Yet he met with her, obliged her whenever she called to ask how he was doing, if he needed some money and so on.

Alan had arrived a few minutes before she did, and as she came through the door in hurried strides, pulling her handbag around her shoulder closely, Alan watched her idly from his seat. He noted that she seemed to be livelier than the last time they met, which was only some weeks back. Her make-up looked good on her, concealing the scars.

But not entirely.

She equally took note of his appearance, noticed how gaunt and upset he looked, and the fresh cut on his face where one of the miscreants from the park had kicked him the other night.

It was the first thing she mentioned, looking alarmed.

But Alan tried to wave it off. “It’s nothing, Mom,” he said, looking at her quietly, and then around with bored interest. “I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not. Look at you.”

He said nothing.

“What happened to your face?” she asked him.

“Nothing,” he answered. “I fell.”

She said, “No, you didn’t.”


“Tell me, Alan; did your father do this to you?” she pursued, staring at him curiously. “Don’t lie to me.”

“No, Mom! My Dad isn’t a beater, you know that.”

She frowned tightly, looked away for a moment. Then turned back to face him.

“I was attacked, yesterday,” he said, casting his eyes on the table as though he felt ashamed to admit it. “At the park, some boys attacked me.”

His mother seemed instantly aghast and asked what his father did about it, if the police were called.

Alan snorted. “It’s OK, Mom. I’m fine. These things happen all the time.”

She seemed upset and uncertain. Then she finally sighed and called to one of the stewards, asked Alan what he wanted and then placed the orders.

While they were waiting for the meal to be served, Mom fixed her attention on Alan, observing him carefully. She felt inwardly torn up about her only surviving child getting more alienated from her by the day. Alan, she saw, seemed to be withdrawing into a world of his own. His demeanor was gravely aloof and upsetting to her, yet there was nothing she could do about it then.

“You do need to quit smoking now, Alan,” she told him, frowning unpleasantly.

He clenched his dark lips, said nothing. There was no use denying it, she was his mother, after all, and it was obvious.

“God,” she went on, “I was afraid of this; that you would wind up like you father.”

“I’m not winding up like anyone, Mom,” he retorted, quietly.

Mom looked at him, sighed but said nothing further on the subject.

The meal they ordered was brought just then and, hesitantly, Alan picked the little spoon from the tray and began to eat slowly. He kept his head low, eyes fastened on the food. But he realized his mother was contemplating him all the while.

“I thought you were hungry a while ago?” he said coolly.

Mom adjusted quietly in her seat, smiled uncomfortably as though caught off guard. Then she too began to eat. “How’s your father doing?”

Alan moved his gaze sideways to a couple of customers dining nearby, completely ignoring the question. He didn’t want to talk about his father, and he wondered why his mom wanted to talk about him, for that matter.

There was a moment’s silence. Interaction between the two was strained; no one was fooling anyone here. Mom knew it, and so did Alan. The bond they once shared was no more. Now they both seemed like good neighbors speaking over the fence and merely being civil with each other at best.

“You can still move in with me if you want,” she offered lightly. “It’s much better at my place, you know.”

“I know,” he replied quietly. “Thanks.”

“So are you coming?”

He shook his head. “No.”

“Why not?” She seemed somewhat puzzled that Alan was still choosing to live with his father, bearing in mind how much she knew he, Alan, loathed him, especially since after the accident.

Alan shrugged. “Dad can’t take it.”

She looked at him. “Take what? I don’t get you, Alan.”

He turned and stared back at her, his gaze cold and piercing. “Dad has nothing left in his life, Mom. He’s broken, bitter and frustrated. Everyone in his life is gone and he’s miserable nowadays. It’d kill him if I left him now,” he told her frankly.

His Mom paused again, this time for a longer period. She gasped quietly. Alan was obviously right, she reasoned inwardly, and it was noteworthy that he had the sense of mind to arrive at such a profound analysis of his father’s psychological situation.

Finally, she sighed, leaned forward on the table, reached out and placed her hands gently on his. “Listen to me, Alan,” she said, fixing him with an affectionate, steady gaze, “I know you believe you’re a man now and that you can decide what’s best for your life. That is great. I have no problem with that. But no matter what you do, don’t you ever become like your father. You hear me, Alan?” she said. “You can feel sorry for him, you can care about him. But the last thing you want to be is him. You are a very smart boy and it’ll really break my heart if you were to wind up like your father, Jonathan Prince.”

Alan gasped, staring at her. Then he clenched his lips and looked away quietly.

They ate the rest of their food in silence.

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