Art & LiteratureEnglish PagePunithavel

The Castle

A Short Story

By: Kumar Punithavel

Kumar Punithavel

Sunthu and Shanthi were enjoying an ice-cream at a restaurant. Somehow Shanthi felt a bit uneasy, as Sunthu had changed a lot, lately.  Previously, he was ‘all work and no play’, hardly interacted with the son or daughter. But lately he is all-out to take the children on outings, help them with their homework etc. Shanthi had an eerie feeling that Sunthu was up to something.

“Darling, if you don’t mind can I ask you something?”, Shanthi asked, out of the blue, wearing a charming smile on her face,

“Of course you could ask, ask anything. What is it that you want to know, dear?, a somewhat surprised Sunthu replied.

“Darling of late you are coming home early and spending so much time with children and me; even taking time to help with the kids’ lessons and homework. The change seems out of the ordinary. I feel as though there is something in your mind that you are hiding from us”.

“Not really, dear, I am, as usual, trying to be a good husband and a good dad”, Sunthu replied.

“No, I don’t believe you, you are lying. It’s written all over on your face. You are not a person who can hide things easily. Come on darling, spit it out” Shanthi said somewhat annoyingly.

“Don’t be stupid Shanthi, what is there to hide from you? It’s something that I found out recently has enlightened me. I was going to talk to you about it when the time comes. Now that you have asked, I will show you what I had found that woke me up”,

Sunthu got up and walked to his car and fetched his briefcase. He took a day planner from it with an envelope protruding out of its pages. “Read this letter”, Sunthu handed over the envelope to Shanthi. Shanthi, with her big eyes opened like a full bloom flower, stared into his eyes, as she was pulling the letter out of the envelope.

“When I cleared my mother’s room, recently, I found this”, Sunthu said.

“To my darling son Sunthu…

I am very much sure this letter will find you one day, better early than late. I am writing this letter as your father’s wife and your mother. I do not know how lengthy this letter is going to be, but please read till the end.

When I got married to your dad, I was a lecturer at a university in Ceylon. Due to the repeated communal violence, we decided to migrate to Canada hoping for a better future for you, our children. In Canada, dad’s first job was car jockeying, a part time job with a car dealership. Unable to manage with the mere minimum wage, dad took up a dishwashing job in a restaurant, in the evenings. As you and your sister were too young, I could not go to work, and stayed as home maker, like thousands of young mothers like me.

Dad hardly got time to spend with you both, but he worked hard and, in due course, had slowly rose up to be a salad bar cutter, and later to a chef. 

I would wait for your dad to come home, sometime late, if the restaurant was busy. While he was building up his career, you two were the only company to me. We played together. When you leave for school, I would wait for both of you to return. When you get home you will tell lots of stories. I enjoyed listening to them, even if they were boring or repeats, learned a lot about other cultures and it was truly fun.

Slowly you grew up, and you did not have much to communicate to your mother. The only modes of communications were in the form of orders and messages. No more stories and no more fun. You will inform me that you were going out; I was forbidden to ask where you were going and when you would return. Yet, I would wait for you two return, to serve your favourite dishes, only to put it back in the fridge or be dumped in the bin. You two would never know or appreciate how eagerly and with how much love your mother had prepared those foods, neither you would never know with how heavy my heart was, when you two were returning home and go to bed ignoring your mother sitting and waiting in the living room.

In the meantime the restaurant owner was getting old and wanted to sell his business. Since your dad had been a loyal and long term employee and, had developed a good rapport with the owner, Mr. Reginald, the owner, had offered the restaurant to your dad to buy, at a reasonable price and terms along with an offer of a small loan too.

Dad had a dream of becoming a wealthy person so that he could enjoy all that he had missed and could retire a wealthy man too. With the purchase of this business he had made his dream come true. Soon he had purchased another restaurant. All his gains have turned into my losses. My waitings became more and more prolonged; only the walls knew of my loneliness. Eventually, dad brought you into his business and you ended up managing the second location.

Success bred more successes and we moved to the house that you live in today, a mansion in an affluent neighbourhood with a flashy sports car parked on your driveway. But the price your dad had paid to achieve all this was enormous. His health got deteriorated. First, he developed diabetes, and later he got pressure too. Slowly he became bedridden and his movements were restricted within the four walls he lived. He lost the will to live. He would want to communicate with no one, not even with me. I became his walker but he lost interest in that too. He would spend most of his time watching TV or read on his iPad, but would still have no time to talk to me. When he had lots of time to talk, he couldn’t, because he was busy with his business. Now he had all the time in the world but he couldn’t, because he didn’t have the energy and will.

Occasionally when I go out, I watch young couples of your age, how they were so enthusiastic in pleasing each other with all kinds of playful activities. I bet many of such women too, were like me; wanting to enjoy those rarest moments they get to be together.

You may wonder why am I telling all this now, or what was the use of telling these now. There are some good reasons. Listen to me my dear son. Like you children told me hundreds of stories, when you were small, I too wanted to tell hundreds, if not thousands of stories, to your dad, however, I was never given that opportunity. But you, from the next generation with a different cultural upbringing can change the ways of your dad’s generation. May be it was in your father’s thinking that he had done all this so that his children wouldn’t have to go through all the difficulties that he had gone through, to make a living here. It might have been a noble thinking and a sincere sacrifice, however, he never realized that all the wealth he had made was at the expense of his wife’s pain and suffering. I don’t even know if he had ever realized that, nor had he ever had time to realize it. This is why I am telling you all these. I wanted to tell this while I was alive but you didn’t have time, even to look at my face.

You have a wife and a daughter at home. You may not even realize that they too are waiting for you. You are so busy with your business. You wouldn’t know how much your younger sister, Meera, loved your father. When she had tome to express it to him he was already bedridden. When I take her to her school, when she was young, I saw many dads kissing their kids before leaving them off. Your sister never had that opportunity. Finally when he wanted to talk to her or kiss her, she was far away, in the US, She was hardly be able to listen to him in the last stages of his life.

This is life, my dear son. Don’t let Shanthi inherit my pain and suffering. Don’t make her write a letter to her son, like me. Money is the foundation on which life stands, and it is essential, I agree. You have enough wealth to go around for few generations. Your kids too will find their way of making their livings. I urge you, change your habits; spend time with your family; have pleasant conversations with your wife and kids; find time to take them out; life is to live but not necessarily without your loved ones; don’t prolong someone’s waiting at home for your arrival. Otherwise, by the time you were ready and willing, you may not even have a voice to tell what you had in your mind”

Shanthis eyes welled up when she finished the last sentence. An intense look of her penetrated Suntha’s eyes. She took her phone out of her hand bag and dialled a number. ‘Mom, for some reason I felt that I should call you. How is dad doing?” Sunthu had to wait for a long time to regain Shanthi’s attention.

“Money is the foundation on which the castle of relationships built but that is not to say that the castle to be ignored” Sunthu was heard lecturing his son and daughter, during a BBQ family event at his backyard…