Story Contemporary: Where is Paul : Shail Agrawal

The wind was running in a spiral, whistling, hooting, ruffling everything on it’s way like a playful little child. Suddenly snow flakes came rushing down and joined the boisterous game. How could have little Tony hold himself back , “Dad, Dad! can I go outside and play in the snow? Please, Dad, promise, I will ever be so careful!”

“No! Wait, I am coming with you.” Paul replied in a firm and decisive tone.

How can he allow him to go out on his own? ‘ careful ?’ it is perhaps the most deceptive word, mankind has ever invented!, putting his raincoat on Paul thought.,

“And where are your boots and gloves?”

“Here, Dad.”Little Tony was all beaming with a broad smile .

“Come on , hurry Dad. You promised to make a snowman today”

“Yes I did and I will”

Little Tony didn’t believe that he really meant, what he said and he will really make a snowman today, yet he was happy that he could go out and play .

Paul was still lost in his own thoughts, Yes, his brother Tony was also careful , in fact very careful, even on that fateful day; that is what his mum keeps on telling him.

“Look Dad, I can catch the snow in my hand.”

Tony looked very happy-running around and rubbing his frozen hands again and again.

‘Catch what?’, Paul’s memory were playing hide and seek with him now.
‘You can not catch and hold on to anything in this world! Mum couldn’t keep Tony, though she loved him more than her life!’

Little Tony picked some snow from the ground and started rubbing it on his face.His brother Tony used to do the same thing — put it behind his neck— inside his shirt—-everywhere.

“No, don’t do that Tony. Don’t put it inside my shirt”, Paul whispered.

Little Tony stepped back -“But I wasn’t going to do that Dad—I was just showing it to you-”

Paul noticed how Tony looked exactly like him-same slant of head, same smile! Suddenly Paul’s eyes were sparkling—‘Here is his Mum’s Tony–his Tony, our Tony!’ Yes, he will take him back to his mum –and tell her –‘ Mum here is ourTony!’

The radio was still playing in the background—bad weather forecast— more snow on its way. Suddenly the door bell rang – loud and shrill. But Paul was still lost in himself, totally deaf to these outside noises . Enough was going on between his heart and head. ‘Mum was never unfair. she loved them both equally all her life. It is just because Tony is not there, she misses him more and keeps on talking about him. He should understand that —understand both her pain and her loss.

Once inside the house Paul’s eyes were searching Lisa. It is getting late for the party. He has to go to mum’s place–today is very special —

“Lisa—It is eleven in the morning.- the door bell is ringing, perhaps it is the milkman!”

Paul switched the radio off.

“Of course it is Friday today–milk-man’s pay time —how can I forget that ?”

Popping her head out of the shower Lisa reminded him.

“Where is the money?” He asked.

“ I put it in the envelope yesterday.” Lisa back in the shower replied hurriedly.

“And are you still in the shower? Come on hurry up! We have to leave in a few minutes– going to mum’s place to celebrate Tony’s birthday — all the kids are invited for 12-30.”

Paul was very restless to meet Mum now-

“Coming darling—coming.. Just relax and hold your breath for a sec. .. It will take us only few minutes to reach there.”

Lisa tried to calm him down .

But Paul was in a real rush—

“Is Tony ready–?”

“Yes!”

Clutching his muddy shoes and cap, Tony smiled and replied cheerfully.

Paul looked at him-‘Same red checked gingham shirt and navy jeans – yes it was Tony alright– all ready to go’.

‘He was nobody else but Tony. .Same angelic smile, same ginger hair ’

More he looked at him more he was sure of bringing back all the happiness for his Mother.

“Come on Tony, lets go to grandma’s ”

Paul’s mind was racing like the car— remembering each and every detail of that ill-fated day, still searching for each missing piece of that jigsaw, going through each and every detail again and again .

He was only four and it was a Friday

The phone kept on ringing and Little Paul hungry and bored, was continuously crying for his mother’s attention—.

It was too long since his play-mate, his brother – Tony went away for those piano lessons and he didn’t want to be alone anymore.

Half way to Paul mum had to return and answer the phone —

“ Hello,”

“ Hello, Helen – Sheena here-Tony’s piano teacher. Anthony has finished for the day. You can come and fetch him.”

“OK Sheena, I will be there in 5 minutes”

“Hello Helen— I just remembered Anthony wants to walk back with his friends today — that is if you let him. With your permission and if you don’t mind. It is a lovely day today and two of the boys live on the same street as yours —only a couple of houses away– Its only a short walk —hardly hundred yards and he is six now. The boys are quite responsible.– one is twelve and other ten. I can see no harm in it—infact this walk will do him good —–he is six now— isn’t he ?”

Sheena paused for the answer—-

But Paul’s cries were getting louder and louder— he was indeed hungry and very very uncomfortable.

“ Helen–Mrs Wood, are you still there—-?”

Waiting for Helen’s response Sheena asked again.

“ Yes—OK Sheena I must go and attend to Paul now. He is very hungry.”

“ Does that mean ‘yes’ for Tony, Helen—”

“Yes!”

Mum replied hurriedly , after all it was such a small distance only to walk.

At last she could put the phone down . She picked Paul up and started to warm his food. After changing and washing him, she would have fed him–it was already passed twelve –thirty. Paul is always a very patient and understanding child.—she sighed.

“And a grown-up adult also– still to this day Mum..”

Paul mused himself—

Finally when he was just about ready to get his food, the door bell rang very loud and shrill as if someone had gone frantic or something was very- very wrong —as if some child was scared of something—-something very nasty indeed-and his little fingers are panicking in a rush— that reminded her of Tony.

“Tony my baby—-”

The plate dropped from her hands as she ran hurriedly-restlessly— towards the door—-

But it wasn’t Tony —Instead a very sick and worried twelve year old—–

“Mrs Wood— something very bad has happened to Tony— He is hurt—very badly hurt”

“How badly? what are you talking? where is he?”

Helen couldn’t believe what she was listening-

But the boy could hardly speak. He was in a shock

“What has happened to my Tony—?”She shook the boy vigorously

“ No,–”She cried again and again, disbelieving every word, that boy was telling her.

“Mrs Wood, He’s been run over by a car. Honest to God we were very careful—walking very safely—Only on the pavement –I was even holding his hand, yet a car came—-right there onto the pavement — and banged straight into him. He was thrown like a ball —-didn’t even cry—-just spinned in the air then thrown — blood all over him. There—look, he is still there— you can see him, even from here.”

Pointing his finger he was showing Helen where Tony was lying unconscious in a pool of blood and tears— breathing his last —perhaps .

“ See, he is still lying there. –just round that corner. Mrs Wood. –come quickly—-hurry— He is bleeding. Please come now.”

Helen ran and ran —those few meters —just round that corner were so far away from her that day—

After reaching there, she just slumped and collapsed by the side of her wounded Tony. Her baby was lying in a pool of his own blood —uncared–unattended—All this blood and dust, all over him—in his eyes–in his nose— everywhere —-and worst of all, he was not responding to her calls — her affection— to nothing in fact.

Probably he was unconscious–but then why was he all blue and still—Helen couldn’t think anymore—–she didn’t want to think anymore— she fainted switching herself off..

She does not know even to this day what happened afterwards— who called the ambulance or did what —-she went into a total denial.

It’s only Paul who knows exactly what happened after that—-He was the only member of the family left to look after everything —-and that also at the tender age of four .

Paul felt the chill in his spine — perhaps the car window had been left open as he tried again to close it again—-

Those years are perhaps best forgotten and put behind— Yet still why he keeps on remembering, how he stayed in numerous homes and shelters—away from his sick and lonely mother—

Is it just a feeling of guilt or he still wants to mend those frayed times—Paul hurriedly wiped his falling tears—he didn’t want to look like a weakling in front of his six year old son. Anyway things are different now —since then he has managed to look after his mum and everything else very well— in her own house–in front of his own eyes.

As long as his circumstances will allow him, he won’t let anything hurt his mum now–no, never again. —-

Aunt Edna was very kind and gentle— she used to often give them things, they couldn’t afford—always ready with the bread and butter stuff at least—In fact she sustained both of them —helped them as much as she could

keeping the house running and keeping both Paul and mum in it,

It is twenty nine years now to that ill-fated day –life has moved on —he has married Lisa— even got a son, but mum— she is still there — trapped in that same Friday —by the side of her dead son.—- lost in his memory forever —circling in her own dark shadow all alone and confused.

Even if Paul wanted he couldn’t enter into her imaginary world—Three is definitely a crowd there, in her heart–It is only Mum and Tony always— How can he call her that Tony is no more, He died long time back?—–

“Tony”

Paul’s face went blue in pain–

“yes dad—did you call me —–popping his face from the gap of the back seats little Tony asked”– smiling and cheerful as always.

“No—yes —Paul murmured to himself—-”

“Why do you keep on calling my name again and again then”—-Tony asked innocently—-

“Because I love you so much—-because I want to be with you all my life”

Now Paul ‘s tears were flowing unashamedly .

He remembered how his brother Tony is no more yet mum prepares all his meals each single day. For twenty three years she has read the same bed time story to him —every single night of his life Paul has listened to it and pretented that Tony is listening to it. Tony’s room is still there to this day as he left it . Even today his football kit gets ironed and washed— school-bag ready—-lies in the corridor sad and neglected— waiting to be picked up .

Paul has watched it all painfully — often choking on his own tears—weeping silently in his own room over this futile situation yet helped his mother in every way exactly how she wanted —playing her fancy—word to word, letter to letter.— letting her do whatever she wanted to do—-relive that memory again and again—-even enact in it.
In short — he has sometimes even looked after and baby-sat his own lost brother.

He and Mum celebrate Tony’s birthday on 11’th of March each year–every year. And today again they will celebrate it, but today’s celebration should be a special one. No more tears for his Mum. So absorbed she has been in Tony’s memory that she has lost herself —She has forgotten that Paul is also her son–not dead but alive and well — with all his needs—and always by her side.

He cannot remember if ever she has called him by his name or even noticed him that how sad or unhappy he has been, bearing it all alone— bolting it all inside.

Even at that tender age, when all the children of his age used to play football he just used to iron his brother’s football-kit only because his Mum wanted it.

It is not her fault. Her shock is too severe and her loss too great.

She never noticed how quickly he grew up trying to fill the void in her life . He is her shadow, her right hand. There for her without any identity… always unnoticed .

It used to hurt him a lot then, back in childhood. But he didn’t mind the pain now, as long as mum is happy. He just wanted her to be happy–very happy and normal —like all other kid’s Mum. After all she hasn’t been happy for the past god knows how many years.

He often wanted her to call him by his name like all other mums do—atleast once in a while–that’s all his lonely childhood begged for—thats what Paul begged of her even today– like she keeps calling and replying to his dead brother again and again—coming precious– coming my son !

He has only adjusted himself now just about—though still not forgotten his only remaining wish . But all his happiness lies in her mother’s happyness —He is going to give her back hisTony today —same six year old Tony—-His very own Tony. Paul looked at his son and smiled.

Wiping his tears, wiping them hard again, he looked at his son and smiled,–ignoring that stabbing pain which was ripping him apart—No he won’t call his brother dead now–because he is alive and well sitting next to him in his own car—going to visit his mum.

Paul tried to imagine how Mum will look when she smiles He wanted to see her smiling—atleast a twinkle in her eyes —for such a long time they have been just sad.

Though Tony’s room gets cleaned everyday, today’s special. And so he has made a special effort for it—

It was all decorated with balloons and buntings—after all Mum is going to get her six year old son back today—–

In his excitement Paul didn’t notice when he reached Mums house—-Aunt Edna waved and asked him to stop. She opened the door as always,

“Is everything ready”—–he asked

“Yes even the cake —-as you asked in the shape of a car-”

“Good”

Paul mumbled and picked smiling Tony up .

“Mum”, his heart was jumping in his mouth but his voice was all controlled,“Look Mum, Who is here! It is our Tony!”

Mum was dazed at first then slowly she got up from the chair and then she ran with open arms towards his Tony. kissing and cuddling him she stood there holding him tight into a long embrace. .

Where were you Tony, where were you? You naughty boy!-frightened me to the death. I asked, never to go out on the road alone, didn’t I? But you didn’t listen. And where is Paul? Paul, your younger brother, Tony! Where is Paul! I asked you not to leave his hand . he is so small.— doesn’t know even how to cross the road yet.”

“ Paul—Paul!— where are you? Come inside now!”

She was calling his name now again and again.

“Yes mum I am here, I’m here right beside you.”

Paul replied with the same intensity and urgency in a happy though choked voice-But she wasn’t listening. She kept on talking to her Tony only ,

“I asked you not to leave your brother for a second while playing. Go and fetch him. Tony, are you listening? Paul—-Paul! My son, my precious little one, come inside! I have warmed your milk. Your dinner is also on the table.”

Paul couldn’t hold his tears back–she was calling him—his own Mum— after twenty five years — calling him by his own name !

“Yes mum, I’m here! Standing right next to you,” Paul moved forward and put his throbbing head in her lap. Mums’ eyes were still as cold as her far away voice, frozen in her burried past.

“No not you, she stepped back . See, I’m calling my son Paul. He is only four and it is getting dark .There is lot of traffic around, cars and other nasty things on the road. You see, he is so small, very small. And soon it will be very dark and cold indeed.”

In her worry and agony Mum burst out crying.

“No mum, please don’t cry. Look at me, your Paul is here. He is a grown up man now. Waiting for you—for this moment, all his life.”

But she didn’t look at him, just ran towards the door.

“We know Mrs Wood–we understand.”

Holding gently by her shoulders Lisa tried to calm her down.

But Mum suddenly turned and shook the slumped Paul by his collar, looking straight into his eyes. Paul’s tearful eyes were begging —begging for all the lost affection—lost twenty-five years—-there was a tiny spark of hope lurking in the corner of his sad eyes —Hopefully mum would recognise him today.

Shail Agrawal