Betrayal is the only truth that sticks.
Arthur Miller (American playwright and essayist)
Mikael, exhausted with keeping his lips sealed and holding back tears, finally let the warm stream of unshed blobs fall and wash over his face. His little body shook with every trickle. The guttural pain subdued with the warmth of those big pearls. A mere eight-year-old, but forced to man-up well before his time. She had left him by the streets with the condition that he could come home only if he felt genuine regret for his mistake.
“I hate to scold you. Why won’t you understand you need to be the best, otherwise Joshua won’t accept you? You need to be the best.”
“But mother, I got all my answers right in the other subjects. Father would never visit us, even if I got a 100 just like last time. You lie all the time.”
Marie was furious with his reply, and she landed a resounding slap onto those tiny cheeks. Her eyes burned with tears as she let go of her son's soft palms. Mikael’s initial shock gave way to a slight whimper and finally, he sat down by the crossroad, wailing for comfort. He realised how his harsh reply hurt his mother.
Joshua was the heir of his grandfather's wealthy business empire. Thinking over to the last time father had visited, Mikael realized it was when he was about three years old. He would turn nine this winter. Mikael recalled all those wonderful encounters Marie used to recite to him; happy days they had spent together as a family. He had a new family now, back at the mansion. Father was now just Sir Joshua, a stranger for him.
Marie refused to accept the truth, and she cried herself to sleep every night hugging his pillow and shirt. She had lost a part of herself, trying hard to survive. Time aged rapidly, but the wounds healed at extreme leisure.
“Come back home, dear. We don’t need any money. Mikael misses you. It’s hard to live without you. Don’t you miss us?”
Mikael had seen Marie beg Joshua to return every day on the phone. The calls became scarce and then one day the phone stopped ringing. With not even his voice to keep her company, she broke down. She had her wires clipped, and she started acting strange. Convinced that Mikael would be the link, she started pressing him to be the best version of a vision, the perfect little boy; the perfect heir.
“Mikael, you need to study hard. If you are good and behave like a young master, your father will come to see you. Yes, he will come to visit us. You are his heir; his only son. You need to be prepared and make him proud. Make mother proud. Won’t you do it for me?”
To appease his mother’s tattered heart, Mikael gave in to her pleas. He was skilled and hardworking. Everyone at school loved him; his neighbours loved him. He was polite, smart, had a sweet demeanour; excelled in his studies as well as in sports, art and music. In short, he was Marie’s pride.
Initially, Mikael believed his father would come, and with him being perfect, he would stay back. They would be a sweet, cheerful family again. But all those 100s unacknowledged, all those medals lying inside his mother’s cupboard, all those certificates of applause and appreciation left untouched inside his file made Mikael anxious.
“Why won’t father call? The teacher said I was a good boy. Mother, when would father come home?”
“Yes, Mikael. He will be so happy to see you are such a good boy. You have made me proud. I know father will be proud of you. He is very busy, so we must be patient, dear.”
But for Mikael, the spot his father had was dissipating away to a blankness he wanted to elude. Marie was restless and pushed Mikael to extremes. She blamed him for being an unfit son. But would subdue under her guilt and caress her child, soothing him with the truth that his father was indeed gone, never to return to their side; for she had failed him. She was an unfit wife, a woman of low birth. Marie remained faithful and never really moved on. Neither did she blame Joshua for the heart-clenching betrayal nor the abrupt abandonment of her and their son Mikael.
Tired of waiting with no answers, Mikael had one day gone to seek Joshua. He walked up and peered through the huge black gates of the mansion. Two little girls ran around in the lawn calling Joshua, ‘Papa’. He smiled and picked them up into his strong arms and looked at the beautiful lady standing beside him. They looked lovely together.
With hope lit in the tiny pair of orbs, a six-year-old in search of his rainbow, Mikael yelled out those forbidden words, “Father!”
Joshua stiffly strode up to the kid who was his replica; the same dark, gorgeous brown strands and sea-green eyes. He recognized but disregarded the tiny little hands spread out, begging for a hug. He barked out in disdain, “Whom are you looking for, boy? Who are you? ”
“Don’t you recognize me, father? I am Mikael. Mother said you would come. I have been studying properly. Please come home. We miss you.”
Immediately after, Mikael was at the receiving end of a jerk and a slap. The guard had placed Joshua’s reply onto his face. The child's eyes expected his father's soothing face and loving smile. But he was taken aback at the indifference Joshua expressed to the guard's harsh actions. Mikael's hope shattered. It finally dawned on him. Father had moved away. He didn’t want them. He was happy with his new family.
Thinking back now, he had said the truth. Yes, his mother was a liar, but she lied with the burning hope that the man in the mansion would return to their humble abode. She was naïve, hurt and hopeful. He had to protect his mother's heart. He had to become strong and rise beyond his father. Wiping back his tears, Mikael walks across the crossroad to wrap the hands of his distraught mother into his small yet warm embrace. The truth about his father will have to wait.
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