SHORT STORY: A BOY'S FIRST BIKE
All 5 feet 8 inches of Harit Singh's body wanted a bike. It was all he had ever wanted. He expected it on his 18th birthday. His dad had promised him that he would get one once he was 18. That was, on his 13th.
Parikamal Singh had never thought that Harit would remember. But he did and rather vividly at that. As Harit ushered in his teenage, Parikamal sat on the old brown couch in their living room.
Young Harit looked up to his father and asked with immense desire, for a bike. All the cool kids in school had one, then why not him?
He had said: "Daddy, I want a bike, everyone in school has one. Even the least expensive one will do."
Parikamal had looked into Harit's innocent and wishful eyes with great guilt that night. He could not tell his son of how the 1000 rupees in his pocket would barely be enough to live through the month.
He could not tell his only son that they were poor. He could not say no to this adorable little boy he had helped conceive. Parikamal looked at his wife Amruta and then turned to Harit.
"You are too young for a bike Harit. It isn't safe. I will buy you the most beautiful bike in all of Manthan Nagar but only once you turn 18."
Parikamal had given himself ample time. He would have a better job by the time Harit turned 18, he would have more money. They would even have a 22 inch TV by then. And so a father promised his son a dream.
Harit understood. It was obviously unsafe for him to ride a bike at his age. Other kids apparently had parents who didn't love them as much as Harit's dad loved him.
So for all these years Harit had been a good kid, an ideal son, an average student; for schools didn't teach what Harit yearned to learn.
But he was wonderful at sports, he made his family proud at many an inter school game. Things however did not go as Parikamal had planned. Amruta had fallen from the terrace around the time, when Harit was 16.
She was drying papads to make some extra money & help run the house. She had endured pain when she fell, but for the month that followed, brain surgeons had given her much more than that pain.
Parikamal's dream of giving his family a perfect lower middle class life had withered away. Much like the money in his bank withered away footing the bills of surgeon after surgeon.
Amruta died at age 38. Parikamal lost everything. Harit wasn't a young boy then either.
He knew his mother was no more. He wasn't sure there was a god but he wished there was one. For then and only then would it have been possible for his mother to find comfort in heaven. Harit found solace in his diary, he confided in it. Parikamal never drowned in his sorrows either.
He never drank to sleep & he never cried. He had to be strong for Harit. And for Harit there had never been a man as manly, as his father.
Parikamal worked three shifts during his exceptionally hard days. And two shifts, during his hard ones.
On his 18th birthday Harit woke up and walked to the earthen water pot, close to the door of his house, leaving behind his diary on his bed. Parikamal walked up to Harit's room, only to find it empty. He saw Harit's diary there... he picked it up and read the first page that came into view.
Harit had written about how everyday since he had asked for the bike, he had wished he could undo it. If only he hadn't asked for it. If only his mother didn't need to sell papads. He had blamed himself this whole time. If only he hadn't been greedy. If only...
A tear trickled down Parikamal's face as he flipped the pages. The tear found it hard to traverse the ample wrinkles on Parikamal's tired, righteous, lonely and aging face. Parikamal went out, to tell Harit how it was never his fault. He found Harit by the door, drinking water.
Harit smiled at his father on that morning of his 18th birthday. Parikamal ran to Harit and hugged him. He held him as close as he could to his body and whispered into Harit's ears: "It wasn't your fault, it was no ones fault." "Your mother loved you with all her heart & you loved her with all of yours. "
Harit did not know what had made Parikamal do this. He could not absorb or fathom what could make his father cry. He looked blankly at Parikamal. "I read your diary..." Parikamal explained. But before Harit could say a word, Parikamal flung the door of the house open and said, "Happy Birthday".
Outside the door stood a bright red motorcycle, gleaming in the light of day.
Harit looked at Parikamal, his eyes as full of tears as an overflowing goblet. He kissed Parikamal on the cheeks and said: "Now I know why mom fell in love with you. She loved you because you love like a real man should..."
"You love beyond your means."
And with those words, Parikamal knew that his little boy was now, a man. From inside the house, on a wall, in a frame, Amruta smiled. In that moment when Harit and Parikamal sat next to the bike; that picture really was, worth a thousand words.