By now, Hank was quite ready to fling himself outside the window. The day was stretching out like pasta dough, not to mention, today was not exactly his luckiest day. He had been trying to locate the cell in his spreadsheet that has been throwing off his entire calculation for the last three hours, but it mostly went him mentally kicking himself for taking up another project he was unprepared for which was due very soon.
The fact that his work place was in an obnoxious downtown was let known by the fact that there were police sirens blaring outside his office window that were getting louder by the minute. Because of that, he could feel a migraine threatening to come up, and he wondered why on Earth his work place had to be a downtown.
To make matters worse, Betty, a stout lady in her 50s who refused to wear anything but pink, appeared with a big stack of papers. Hank let out a strangled cry, realizing that they had been review requests from interns. According to Hank, they were honestly made of the same stuff nightmares were made of.
After Betty left, Hank let his shoulders droop with a groan and slapped his forehead down on his cold, hard table with a bang. His pessimism was proving to be suffocating, and he found he was already exhausted although it was only midday.
His eyes suddenly caught sight of a card, sitting on his desk. “Be audit you can be,” it had read, causing a soft chuckle to erupt from Hank. The card had been a present from his son, Cole (who was seven now), for Father’s Day. Although Hank doubted his son even knew what ‘audit’ meant (it had taken several tries alone to get him to say the word ‘accountant’), he loved the fact that his son could guess exactly what it was that Hank liked- in this case, an accounting joke.
Hank could clearly imagine his son trotting on his little feet as he walked from shop to shop, earning confused looks as he asked for ‘Accountant’ related card. His big brown eyes were probably what got him a discount.
As Hank thought more of his son, warmth that accompanied them started to collect in his chest and he suddenly felt his energy return.
Yes, this was going to be a long day but he will get through it.
The day had dragged on like it had promised. So when the huge office clock rang, declaring the end of working hours, Hank’s colleagues rushed out of the door like children after the end of school day. It was quite a funny scene- grown men and women rushing off like that, but not that uncommon where Hank worked. Most of them had been hoarding private jobs, which Hank was sure that’s what they were running home to do.
For Hank, accounting was his first love and only job, and even then, he gave a sigh of relief, glad that the day was finally over, as he picked up his brown leather bag and marched towards his friend, Bert.
Bert had been standing, lost deep in thought, only stopping to give the folder laying in his hands an exasperated look.
“What’s up, mate?” Hank enquired.
Holding the folder on one hand, Bert let his other hand reach to his forehead and massage his temple which had been throbbing for a while now. “It’s just this old man,” Bert replied, gesturing at his folder. “He has had this house for forty two years now, but is in no shape, financially, to keep it in his possession any longer. The company is about to cease it within the next month and there is nothing he can do.”
Hank furrowed is eyebrows. “Doesn’t he have a family?”
“Well, his wife had died six years ago. He has an estranged son but any records of him were destroyed in the fire last year.”
The word ‘fire’ had been too extreme, Hank felt. The fire that occurred in their record room last year was quite small, although most of his colleagues were quick to panic. It was mainly restricted within the records room, and not much damage was done as most of the files had back up. The numpty who had been smoking there (carelessly) was yet to be found.
However, it wasn’t the fire that had caused Hank to fall in such a deep thought. It was the man Bert had been talking about. He felt familiarity the more Bert spoke of the man, and he was almost frightened to ask.
Is this what has become of his father?
Bert was the kind of person who had utter distaste for uncooperative clients. Yet, he spoke of the old man with immense amount of respect and sympathy, even though the man had been less than welcoming to the company’s men, and Hank felt his heart tremble with despair at every word.
Hank cleared his throat, swallowing the lump forming in his throat. “This man… What is his name?” he could barely whisper out.
“Oh. It’s Charles. Charles Fredrickson,” his friend had replied back. And that was all it took.
Hank gave Bert a quiet good bye and left for home in a daze.
The MRT ride back home had been long. The man who Bert had spoken of was so different from his father. His father did not sound like the sun anymore, instead, he reminded Hank more of a starless night sky. But he was still there, adamant as ever, guarding their house like a bull dog.
Today, when Hank thought of his father, he no longer remembered the red face of his father or the ugly words that were exchanged amongst themselves the last they saw each other. Instead, his thoughts were accompanied by strings of golden memories he treasured. One of his favourites was the tree house. He could still remember his seven year old self tip toeing on its wooden floor, feeling mighty as he glanced down on his neighbours from such a height. The tree house had been a present from his father for his birthday. His father had been exceptionally gifted in carpentry and the tree house had been a creation of his. There were times when his father would struggle while building it, but he refused to take any help from Hank or Hank’s mother, Trudy. Hank got his stubbornness from his father, and this was one of the reasons why they still remained estranged.
Nostalgia enveloped Hank like a loving old friend, and he felt tears gather at the corner of his eyes.
It has been so long. He did not even see his father during his mother’s funeral. Now, he was exhausted of carrying the bitterness and wanted nothing more than to reunite what’s left of his family. After all those years, he could feel his heart call out for his father today.
So, Hank would do what exactly his mother asked him to do- listen to his heart. It was about time Cole met his grandfather anyway.
Charles decided not to go for the morning stroll today. The park would have been nice, but the autumn wind had rendered him lethargic. Instead, he settled on the worn out chair on his patio with a nice hot cup of tea. Well, nice had been an exaggeration. He could barely get the kettle started but it was no use over thinking. He could not afford to develop a taste.
He would doze of every now and then but his house would creak and he would wake up.
His house was no longer vibrant and full of life like it was in its sapling days but it did possess an unflappable soul and would make its presence known. The house shuddered on the soil, wishing the morning light would come all the sooner to warm its weary walls. It felt so alone, so empty. How long had it been since it heard the laughter of a precious child? How long had it been since it felt the coolness of fresh paint or contained the fragrance of Sunday dinner?
In the old house, sections of ceiling hang limp in the stagnant air. Fragments of plaster lie damp over a long dusty floor, their only purpose to soak in the seasonal rain. Cold water seeps through window frames, rotten and blistered, to nurse the mildew and rise up wallpapers that peel. The cupboards are a time-warp of long forgotten brands that barely lives on even in the memories of the elderly. All around are the artifacts of a life lived and hastily abandoned sepia photographs.
Charles had this house built shortly before marrying Trudy. She had made this house a home, and because of that this house now hosted memories he would forever cherish. Trudy had given it a life.
The house was long overdue some maintenance but Charles could no longer work without his lungs giving away within moments and his joints creak in complain.
Charles was rudely interrupted from his reverie by the roar of an engine. A white car was parked just outside his property and Charles suddenly felt fear gripping his features by its slender fingers.
“They have come to take my home away from me.”
Charles jumped up, ignoring the stabbing pain of his back and knee joints. He gripped on his walking stick with both of his hands, where his knuckles had gone white. He did not stop to think whether they were shaking because of age, fear or anger, because he had promised himself he would defend his house with his last dying breath when their letter to confiscate his home had first arrived.
When the car doors swung open, Charles felt shock wash away his fury.
If someone were to bring a mirror from when Charles was in his 30s with his reflection still cast on it, then Hank would be the result. Only his eyes- his eyes had been Trudy’s. They were, however, disappointingly shielded with a sun glass and Charles felt a scowl draw on his face.
With Hank’s face returned Trudy’s last words in his ears that Charles taught himself to dull before. “Forgive him. It’s been so long, Charles. Forgive him. Bring our son him,” Trudy had whispered through her dry broken lips on her death bed, which made Charles’s insides churn and heart bleed.
This time, the words rang louder and more urgently in his ears.
The return of Trudy’s words stripped Charles’s ego and reduced it only to shrivel, but he held on to it, raising his head high, as Hank inched closer to the fence gate.
However, before Hank could touch the rusted, iron handle, the wooden gate flew open, revealing a small child rushing with his tiny hands open. He was charging towards him like a bull, only unlike a bull, the child’s smile brought warmth in Charles’s chest, and Charles could feel his heart beat merrily for the first time in so many years.
Charles was steadier on his feet than he expected when the little boy hugged his waist because he only wobbled a little on the impact.
“Hi Grandpa!” the boy shouted, staring at him with Trudy’s eyes before dissolving into fits of wet, gurgling laughter, that put the sun back in the sky.
With those words, Charles let go the last of his grudge as he thought, “It’s time we welcomed our son back home, Trudy.”
By Nazifa Rafa from Bangladesh