“Dad…dad…wake up. It’s already 7. Wake up, dad. I’ll be late. Get up.”
Little Sam almost pushed his dad off the chair.
“Gosh, Sammy! What the hell are you up to? Do you wanna kill me? Have you lost your manners?”
Ben woke up with a jerk and snapped back at his son.
“You were not waking up, dad. I’ve been trying since long. We need to hurry, else I’ll miss the bus again. You are yet to fix my tie and pack my lunch.” Sam left the study, while Ben sighed rubbing his eyes. He felt haggard. As he yawned and stretched, he noticed the files on the table. They were staring back at him. Damn…I slept off. These files are still pending. Aw shucks! I had to prepare for the presentation too. Old man Scrooge will fire me today. I’ll be roasted and hanged in front of the entire office.
He heard Sam’s voice, telling him to hurry. With all the stress at work, and at home, he felt exhausted.
This boy…he’s 8 now. He needs to learn to do his own thing. I can’t leave my work and babysit him all the time.
Ben murmured as he arranged the files on his table. By then, Sam spilt milk, scattered cereals on the kitchen floor, and broke a glass bowl.
As he stepped into the hallway, he saw Sam running towards the toilet. “Sam, Sammy…Sam…what are you up to now? Where are you going? Aren’t you supposed to be ready by now?”
No reply from his son made him furious. Voicing some complaints and curses, he stepped inside the kitchen to make some coffee for himself. Tchah! Damn! What is it now? Ben removed his slippers and pulled out a small piece of broken glass from his foot. He looked around the kitchen and fumed in rage. The place was a complete mess. He reached out for the first-aid box to stop the bleeding. Damn, this devil of a son! The little rascal has to get into my nerves.
“Sam…come here right now, you nasty wicked fella. Sam….” Ben yelled in anger, but Sam was nowhere around. He secured himself inside the toilet. For, he not only messed the kitchen; he wetted his uniform too.
Aargh! I’ll miss school since the other set is in the machine, unlaundered. Dad is anyway mad for the mess I made.
His thoughts were disrupted by the sudden bang on the door. It was his father. He covered his ears and tucked his head between the knees, to stop the noise. The floor felt colder than usual. He curled up, shivering. The thud of his heart became louder and louder. His repressed fear, triggered by the incident, got exposed.
Slowly, Sam uncovered his ears; his body still shaking in fear. Somehow, the banging had stopped. He unbolted the latch and peeped out. To his surprise, Ben wasn’t around. There was a grave silence in the house. He looked around vigilantly and tiptoed towards the hallway. No trace of Ben. He went to the kitchen; all clear. He must be in the study. I better tidy the kitchen and sneak into my room. There, I will revise my lessons and practice math a bit. He might just forget about this later. Sam thought to himself and started to clean the mess.
An hour later, as he was about to enter his room, Sam heard a voice. He moved towards the sound and realised it was from the study. The door was left ajar, and Ben’s voice was quite audible. Sam crossed his fingers and took a step closer. Fear gripped his mind, yet, his father’s quivering voice, induced him to stay. All he got to hear were half-sentences.
“No, its . . . Oh, c’mon . . . But . . . I mean . . . Fine, I’ll be there . . . Yes, yes, by 10.” And then the disconnect tone.
Ah, he’s going to leave now. Thank you, Lord! He peeped through the gap and saw his dad stuff the files in his bag. Sam tiptoed back to his room. Shortly after, he heard footsteps and peeked through the window. Ben got inside his car and sped off. Sam dropped down on his beanbag with the harmonica and played his favourite hymn, The Old Rugged Cross.
The large wall clock in the hallway struck 12 am. Ben was awakened by the noise. He felt thirsty and reached for the jug. It wasn’t there. He flipped his head upside down to chase the sleep away. “Ouch!” His crown hit the edge of something sharp. He tried to find the switchboard, but instead, stepped on his cellphone. Ben picked it and turned the torch on. Ah, there it is, he murmured. But when did I move it so high? He climbed up on a chair and switched the lights on.
The ear-splitting shriek rocked the house, making Sam fall from his bed. He sat on the floor palpitating; awakened from the deep sleep. What in the world was that? Was it a bad dream? Streaks of light sneaked through the half-open door. He reached for the water bottle; it was empty. As he tried to stand, his whole body felt heavy. It must be from a sudden jolt. He grabbed the bottle to fetch water, and stepped out of the room, into the hallway.
Another shrill scream. Sam was aghast seeing himself in the mirror. Jeez, am I in some dream? He touched his face and stared at his hands. Unbelievable it was to Sam. He pinched himself to check. It wasn’t an illusion, but then the reality was unimaginable. The mirror…something must be wrong with it. He looked around, touched and rubbed the glass with his sleeves. Nothing changed. It must be some spell, like the one in the storybooks. Maybe some warlock put a jinx on me. But why? Was it because I’ve been naughty? He was in utter disbelief. Jesus…What do I do now?
Sam decided to check on his father. He went to his bedroom and study, but Ben wasn’t there. As he went down to the hallway, he was surprised to see the lights on. Ah, he must have slept off on the couch. Should I wait for him to wake up or… He peeped to check the sofa. Negative. He tiptoed around the whole house. No sign of Ben. What do I do now? He curled up on the couch and sat wondering of the mishap.
The room was dark, and the sneaking light from the approaching dawn wasn’t enough. All he could see through his partially closed eyelids was a silhouette. Sam sprang up alarmed and stared in awe. Moment’s muteness, and they both screamed their lungs out, followed by pin-drop silence.
“Sam?” One pointed at the other.
“Dad?” The other retreated in fear. And they both said aloud, “What happened to you?”
“I don’t know. I think it must be some warlock who cast a spell on us. Where have you been, dad?”
“Nowhere. I mean, I went to the office in the morning. Then, after a heated discussion with my boss, I left in a fit of rage. On my way back, I stopped at the park to relax for a while. I was sitting alone on a bench, when an old man joined in. We spoke for an hour or so, and then he asked for a lift. I can’t remember what happened next. I just woke up feeling thirsty, and when I switched the lights on…”
“Huh! Of all things, this?” Ben mumbled in anger. “This is ridiculous. Sam…tell me if you know anything.”
“I don’t know a thing about this, dad. I was in my room for the whole day. It’s the scream that woke me. When I came out to fetch water, I noticed myself in the mirror, and… I’m scared dad. You think the warlock is still here?”
Ben paced around the room, tensed and worried. What the hell has happened to us? How is this even possible?
The situation was as serious and funny as it could be. Sam looked at his altered dad. This is a good time to apologise.
“Dad, I’m sorry for yesterday. I didn’t mean to mess and irritate you, yet, …” He hung his head in remorse. Ben stared at him for a while and said, “Sam, maybe this is a good time for us to talk. I have something important to tell you.”
Sam wondered what it was. Jeez…will he send me to the boarding school? He wanted to ask but refrained.
“Sam, you must have wondered why I didn’t keep a nanny for you. Well, it’s because I was scared. I thought of appointing one, but then it reminded me of my own childhood. My parents used to be busy with their work and travels. They left me at the mercy of an abusive governess. I never got a chance to tell my parents. I was afraid it might repeat with you.”
Sam swallowed the lump in his throat and tried to comprehend what his dad was saying.
Ben continued…“My parents…I grew up seeing them quarrelling and unhappy. It made me sad, and I was scared of having my own family. He cleared his throat, and after a brief pause, said, “Sam, I am not your real dad.”
An astounding revelation it was. He couldn’t grasp the words. Did I hear it right? He’s not my real dad?
“What do you mean by, you are not my real dad? Yes, for now, you are different, but once everything becomes ok…”
“No Sam. I mean you are not my real son. One night, as I was walking back from a night’s stroll, I heard a cry. It was from the dumpster. As I peeped in, I saw you there, swaddled in a furry blanket. There was no one around, I checked. I brought you home and kept staring at your beautiful face. Several times, I thought of reporting to the authorities but couldn’t. You came as a ray of hope and I named you Sam.”
Suddenly, everything seemed so puzzling. First, the change, and now his father’s words… Sam couldn’t hold his tears.
“Sam, I’m sorry. I know I haven’t been a good dad to you. Now, if you wish to find your real parents, I will try my best to locate them. But before that, I need to fix us back. And, I guess I know exactly what I need to do.”
There was nothing Sam could say. He simply listened to what his dad was telling him. Is he serious, or is it about the spell? He couldn’t decide. Ben tried to ease the situation. “Now, cheer up, you little devil. Let’s fix this together. But for that, we need to be strong like your spidey guy, right? Let’s make some yummy, healthy breakfast. I’m starving. Aren’t you, Sam?”
The weird situation united them in an undefinable way. Sam fetched the essentials from the shelves, while his dad prepared breakfast for both of them. Ben cracked a few jokes to cheer his son. He even promised for a beach holiday once Sam gets his summer vacation. The house echoed with their laughter. Sam was somehow happy about the change. He felt contended. For a moment, he wished things to remain the same. He always wanted his father to spend time with him. And it happened that day, for the first time in years. The change seemed to be a blessing in disguise.
It was 12 in the afternoon when Ben left the house. He had no choice but to take Sam’s bike. Somehow, he found it hilarious. He missed biking and was happy to get the chance. Off he went to find the old man he met at the park the day before. Inside, Sam took the remote and cozied down in front of the TV, fearlessly.
It was almost dark outside when Ben returned home. Sam was sound asleep, holding on to the remote. He freshened up, prepared supper all by himself, and went to wake Sam up. He stared at his son and smiled. The realisation struck late but he was happy and thankful to the mysterious old man. When he went to the park this afternoon, the guy was waiting for him. He welcomed Ben with a wide grin, for he knew well of the outcome. They shared a hearty laugh and Ben left with the assurance, for things to change back to normal.
“Dad, when did you come back? Where did you go? What happened?” Sam was anxious to hear it all.
“It’s alright Son. We don’t have a thing to worry about. Everything will be alright. Whatever happened, was meant to happen. And I’m happy that it happened. Going forth, I promise to make things better for us, Sam. I just need you to help me out. We have to be a team from now on. Will you help daddy?”
Sam nodded with a smile and gave a bear hug to his dad. “I love you, dad. I promise to be a good boy.” And they laughed their heart out. “Let’s enjoy our supper, first. Later at bedtime, I’ll tell you a story, about how the ‘warlock‘ swapped the bodies of a father with his naughty little son, and of course, what happened next.”
The giggles and laughter conveyed the message of a happy beginning.
Connect with Penmancy: