Success is Finding a Place for Everyone
“Peter? Peter!” Anne called him for breakfast about seven times in a row now. Breakfast was the last thing on his mind. In fact, with Anne’s terrible cooking, even on a Sunday morning he would rather think of work than breakfast. “Goddamnit Peter! Can’t you just sit down and enjoy a meal with your family?” With Peter being stressed for the new job, Anne was trying as much as possible to make Peter feel comfortable. “Honey, I’ll be down in a second,” he finally replied as he gave himself a last glance in the mirror. By this time Anne had already made it to the doorway of the bathroom. She had accidently carried the spatula with her from the kitchen, and fiddled with it as an excuse not to look Peter in the eye. “Zeke’s got that musical tonight.” She said, slowly calming herself down. “Musical? Uhm… Refresh my memory?” Peter smiled a little to make up for his ignorance. Anne just ignored him and went downstairs. Peter was in his prime being an educated man with a good job, a cute family and money that came from all directions. What else feeds the male ego more than this type of security? Even Peter himself admitted that he had a lot to lose, and considered himself a man of high esteem. Tall, well-built, Caucasian and quite handsome for a thirty eight year-old. It was no doubt that many people struggled and strived for the life of Peter Richardson. “Okay let’s go young man” despite hearing his father speak, Zeke continued to watch the morning news. Just like any other 15 year-old would do, he gave the TV a blank stare, as if he was not at all interested. But by God, was Zeke interested in that news report. Zeke was different from what his father expected. He had an afro hairstyle and made sure to always accentuate his striking cheekbones. He was light of complexion, but claimed rather to be black, since his mother was mixed race. He was quirky, sassy and showing every ounce of his character reacting to the reporter’s closing statement: “Is gay okay?” Peter gave him the cut-the-nonsense-and-let-us-leave look and it worked. The whole way in the car Zeke argued with Peter about how people who were considered as “normal” were unfair towards people who were of different sexual orientations and preferences. The argument was uttered with such passion, that Peter almost felt as if he was the reporter on the morning news. The conversation soon lead to Politics, how the United Nations are not doing enough and that generally speaking everybody in the planet is either racist or does nothing about racism. Finally when the car stopped, Zeke said his usual line: “Dad, do I really have to go?” Peter knew that Zeke was faced with the challenge of finding himself, and dealing with related bullying, but somehow, he could not be sympathetic. Peter only wanted Zeke to be the perfect son, and could not ever see how hard that could be for a Richardson. “Yes son, you just don’t worry about them. Okay?” he sighed.
Zeke was not at all a bad boy. He was not a good boy either, but he was certainly a genius. Despite being in touch with his feminine side, he was not gay. Many people expected him to be, since he was always defending the right to be homosexual. People never really saw that in fact, Zeke was the ambassador for most minorities in his school. Asians, invalids, geeks, anybody who was under-represented by society, really. That is why not being the captain of the football team, or the man getting all the ladies was not a care for Zeke. He was more troubled by getting a sponsorship for Pablo to continue high school, and making his best friend Melissa see that models hide behind the effects and illusions of photoshop and make-up. He even started a campaign called “The Right to be Different”. It was not approved by the Student Body, on the basis that it was “interfering with the academic progress of learners”. “And I don’t see how that makes sense” Zeke explained to Melissa. “I mean, it’s not like anyone can learn in a place where they don’t feel welcome anyway! Just because everyone in the student body has friends and money, doesn’t mean everyone else is in the same situation! How would they like it if I decided I didn’t want to be their stupid Erik” Zeke was working himself up over social injustice again. “Zeke let it go. Life is unfair, and no matter how much potential you have to make things better, if you don’t want to lick the Student Body’s ass, you won’t get anywhere. People are too afraid of failing. That’s why they need to work out systems to make them feel like they’re doing all right. Besides, you’re the only one at this point who knows the Phantom’s part, if you quit they’ll cancel the musical.” Melissa said with almost no hope. “But it’s not fair. Not everyone was meant to go to college and work behind a desk for the rest of their lives! And I won’t watch the system screw all of us over with their-” The bell for homeroom interrupted him. He sighed knowing he would have to face the frustration of keeping his big political mouth shut until recess.
Just about the time that the homeroom bell had rung, Peter too, had found himself suffering a little frustration. He was stuck in traffic, and this morning was his morning. Peter was promoted to Senior Auditor and he was really looking towards making a good impression. He looked over to the left of him. Down below he saw a little Asian lady in a battered up 1998 Toyota. In the idleness of the traffic, Peter’s mind began to ponder on how unsightly this woman was. She had a black mole above her lip, with eyebrows slightly more tamed than a wild gorilla, and her lips were grey and chapped. She was focusing on the road, “as if she had anywhere worthwhile to be,” he thought to himself. Disgusted he looked over to his left. A poor looking couple was having an argument. He figured that they might be from the South, since it was only people from there who were as savage to throw empty coffee cups at one another. It surprised him that such poor people even knew what Starbucks was. Although Peter was never openly racist, he thought to himself about how sad it was that white people could be that unruly. He moved his eyes from car to car, wondering why less fortunate people were even allowed on Los Angeles roads. They were just hindering the people who really mattered in life from keeping society together, according to his opinion. “Life would be fully functional without them,” he thought. He finally escaped the traffic, and stopped at McDonald’s. “Good morning sir, how can I help you?” a feminine voice came from behind the counter. Peter hardly looked up from his cellphone and said: “A black coffee and a breakfast muffin please”. He was so intrigued by the email he was reading that he paid no mind to what was happening around him. He was still in awe of the fact that he managed to surpass his own mentor in a shorter time than what he had thought. He made for his car with the package in his hand, reading the email for the umpteenth time. The only purpose of the email was to confirm when Peter was expected to be at work, in which case was just the usual; 7:30 am. It was clear that Peter expected a lot from himself. He took pride in his Richardson ancestry, and this email was one of many factors that proved the quintessence of his family name. Of course he would obsess over something that small, as long as it reminded him about how well he’s been living his life.
After the first day of his new job, Peter was almost bursting from his seams to tell his family of his experience. As he opened the front door, proudly he called: “I’m home!” There was no response. Again he called, but there was no answer. He went upstairs to see what Anne was up to. She was sitting in the room brushing her hair. Thick, brown and beautiful, just like the woman she was. She sat and stared at her hair and as usual could not look Peter in his face. “What’s wrong?” Peter asked casually. “He was looking forward to the musical” She replied. “He is so bright, so talented, but has no way of expressing himself.” She kept on saying things like this, until Peter finally responded: “Look, I missed one musical, and maybe a few parent teacher evenings, and I can’t always take Zeke to ballet practice or whatever other gay activity he wants to take part in. But if I did that, if I compromised my success to support such temporary things, what will become of us? I had a busy day today, and there is no way I could have gone to that musical! Okay!?”She retaliated: “But I ain’t worried about the musical; I’m worried about our son. And I’m worried about you. Zeke doesn’t do ballet, and he ain’t gay. And you don’t know nothing about that because you don’t know nothing about your son. But really you don’t know nothing about anything that ain’t a part of you!” Peter hated it when Anne spoke this way. She continued:” And how can you say these things are temporary when it’s what matters to our son? Don’t you think childhood memories are lasting?” Peter was slightly annoyed that Anne was not at all bothered by Zeke’s lack of manhood and strangely great urge to always take part in things that are meant for girls or boys who have little talent or status despite the fact that Zeke could do better. “Zeke is a Richardson, and he can’t even do anything that is expected of him! If he was really half the man he was supposed to be, by now, he’d have found his own way to that musical. He would have had something better to do than go to musicals anyway!” He was furious now and stormed out to unfold some of his long-coming frustration onto his son, but Zeke was not there. Anne spoke from behind him: “Yeah, he ain’t there. He wouldn’t let me persuade him to go to the musical, so he just left. He figured that if the lead actor didn’t pitch, the musical wouldn’t go on. He said that it interferes with academic progress of learners. Since practice is mainly during spare periods, he said the time could have been used to catch up on school work. That’s so unreasonable, when I asked him why he thought that way, he said he is just trying to ‘adopt the thinking patterns of the student body’. And I don’t like the sound of that. He practiced so hard” Peter was confused, “So he didn’t go to the musical?” he asked. “No, he told me he would prove that just because all the popular people wanted the musical to happen, didn’t mean it had to happen. Just as easy as they cut his hands off with the ‘campaign’, he would cut theirs too. And then he just stormed out. For now let’s just find him? Before his anarchy gets out of hand. I didn’t phone the police; I rather waited for you to take responsibility of your son”
“We’ve been to Chadley’s, Melissa’s and Pablo’s already. How many more friends does he have?” Anne said as she switched the radio station. To Peter, it was amazing that his son had that many friends at all. All Zeke ever spoke about was gay rights, politics, the economy, war and racism. He did not see how anybody would be around him on purpose. By this time, it was already dark, and Zeke’s parents were beginning to get worried about him. They decided to drive by the school’s road, since many of the juniors in Zeke’s school lived there. There was silence almost the whole time until they were about a block away from the school. “Pete?” Anne broke the silence. “What is happening to us? I don’t mean our marriage or anything. I mean us as a whole. Humans. What would dissuade our son from doing something he truly enjoys?” She was deeply concerned.
“Me, if he really enjoys this musical stuff so much.”
“But what’s wrong with it Peter? What’s wrong with being different? What’s wrong with being inferior? If Zeke is so good at singing, and so passionate about social equality, why can’t you support him?”
“Because in today’s society, you can’t get very far if you don’t do everything you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed do it. It’s been done for centuries. There aren’t any two ways about it. You’re born, you join the football team, you finish high school, and then you go to college just to fail some subjects and smoke pot. You eventually get your degree, you meet the right girl, get the right job, and then you get married. Then you go through some childbirths, moves and promotions and then before you know it, you remember nothing of it, get sick and kick the bucket. If it’s so perfectly worked out, why would you change it?
“Not everyone is the same. Not everyone thinks like you. Back in South Africa we have a motto: “Party mense kan 9-5 en party kan 5-9. Maar sonder mekaar kan hulle nie lewe nie. It means that some people were built to do things differently than expected, but these differences interlock, and cover all the holes that a general system is too broad to cover.”
Anne went on stating her case, and as Peter was seeing the light in what his wife was saying, he looked over to his left, a 1998 Toyota pulled over in front of him. A rather unsightly Asian lady got out and stopped him. Peter rolled down the window to hear her say: Zeke is over at my house, in case you were lost you can just follow me.” Shocked at how eloquent this lady was, he just nodded. She got back into her car and led them to a beautiful house just around the corner of Zeke’s high school.
Although it was not as big as Peter’s accountant budget house, but certainly very inviting and neat looking. She let Peter’s car through the automatic gates, and then invited Peter and Anne inside the house. It was warm, and wooden. Peter and Anne were expected to remove their shoes, as in any traditional Japanese home. They toured through the hallway into the guest lounge. “Welcome to my home. My name is Mai Kurotsuchi.” She said. “I’m Peter and this is Anne” said Peter. “Please excuse me, while I call my husband, and let Zeke know that you have arrived.” Mai disappeared into the hallway. The house was so well-kept that it almost felt sacred. Although Anne was pleased, Peter was skeptical, and could not believe that such a beautiful house could be associated with the woman who inspired his morning epiphany that inferior people had no place in society. Mai and her husband entered the room each carrying trays of Japanese sweets and tea, respectively. “The boys will be here soon” she said. The Richardsons enjoyed the hospitality and company of the Kurotsuchis for a while and even more so after Ren, Mai’s husband invited Peter to look at his “workshop”. The language barrier or perhaps Peter’s judgmental nature put him under the impression that he would be looking at woven bamboo baskets or katanas made from cheap American alloys. Peter’s theory of non-typical people sank even further beyond relevance when he saw about twenty guitars hanging from steel and nylon guards in Ren’s workshop. Ren’s scruffy hands reached for a sunburst coloured electric guitar, and handed it to Peter. “This one of my favourite, but also… baby. I finish yesterday.” Peter played a few riffs, allowing his childhood spirit to consume him. Suddenly as if he had never thought anything bad of the Kurotsuchis before, he was making comfortable conversation with Ren because the two had a mutual interest. It turns out that Ren had crafted state of the art custom guitars since he was fourteen, working under his own grandfather. Ren did not graduate and met his successful wife when Mai was a lighting technician for an event that Ren supplied guitars for. It was odd for both Anne and Peter to believe that an old Asian lady has for years done something that mainly white boys who play video games and eat pizza all day do. As Ren was showing Peter some more of his great works, Peter couldn’t help but look out of the workshop’s window. There was a tarmac with some chalk lines drawn on it. He heard the strong voice of his son giving commands, and a more whimpering little boy’s voice apologising. He could not help but zone out from Mr. Japanese and his awesome guitars. He looked over at his son and the tiny little Asian boy. They were playing football. More specifically, Zeke was teaching Yukino, Mai’s son how to play football. And that’s when things became clear to Peter, that being captain of the football team would be a waste for Zeke, if he knew there was that one little boy who never had the chance to play football.
Suddenly Peter realised that all Anne is trying to do is to make Peter see that life is deeper than just succeeding. And that Zeke was trying to prove to the world was that having it all means nothing when there are people who will never be given the chances they deserve.
Author’s note: Success should not be determined by the fluency of the body, but the intention of the soul, the passion of the heart, and the willingness of the mind.
I feel that people should not force their opinions of success on others, and each person should feel welcome in society. People who are intellectually challenged should not be denied the opportunity to be scientists, but rather encouraged to work harder at it. People who have the smarts to be accountants, can be singers if they are equally as good at and passionate about singing. What use is succeeding in life, if the amount of people suffering is almost 100 times more? So if you are a person of great wealth and status, a Peter, I challenge you to put someone who is otherwise incapable in a position to achieve what you have. In the case of this story, I made the main character’s son, Zeke my instrument of change, eventually it strikes Peter that even a person as young as Zeke is willing to make sacrifices for humanity. Zeke had a chance to be glorious and do the musical, but instead, he contributed to Yukino’s ability to be glorious. Life is about being able tuck yourself in at night and say: “Today I’ve contributed to someone’s life, in a way that no other could. And while people die, legacy lives on.” If Peter goes on the way he did, nobody will truly remember him. But Zeke will always be remembered for his selflessness and passion for social justice.
Thank-you to all the associates of this competition for allowing me to spread my opinion and possibly contribute to wildlife preservation.
By Adél February from South Africa