Fiction: The circle: What goes around comes around

Richa Khare

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John woke up to the sound of his father coughing badly. “This has become every day’s story”, he grumbled and removed his warm blanket to get up from the bed. He entered his father’s room and found the medicine in the side drawer. As always, his father was sitting in his bed coughing uncontrollably. At night, his bouts were particularly bad.

John gave medicine to his father and came back to his inviting warm blanket. He had done his duty of a good son. Now he could sleep peacefully without any load on his conscience. He didn’t care whether the coughing improved or not. His wife was deeply asleep on the other side. He hugged her and slept instantly.

The next morning he woke up late and dressed up hurriedly to leave for work. Today, a new manager was taking place of his old boss. He worked as a salesperson at a car showroom. He didn’t have time to check up on his father’s health. But as an afterthought, he instructed his wife to check and message him. This should be enough to keep his conscience clear.

When John reached the showroom, the new manager had arrived. He was already meeting the staff and looking around. John went directly to greet his new boss. The new manager was a smart and elegant man who looked far too young for his post. “Hi, I’m Alex”, he shook John’s hands firmly.

John instantly liked his new boss. There was not a single streak of arrogance in Alex, much unlike his older boss. The whole day went by in Alex meeting everyone and looking around the showroom.

As the days passed, John admired and liked Mr Alex more and more. He didn’t leave a single chance to get into his good books. John saw a good chance of promotion in keeping Alex happy. In a step towards this goal, he decided to invite Mr Alex for a family dinner at home.

John consulted his wife and after getting her affirmation, invited Alex and family for dinner in the coming weekend. One day before dinner, John’s wife raised an important issue. “What are we going to do about your father and his coughing?” John immediately saw her point. It can prove a real embarrassment if his father keeps on coughing like every day and the guests can hear it.

They both had become habitual of the sound and rarely any guests came over so it wasn’t a problem. But this time it was different. John didn’t want any mistake. The coughing sound can be upsetting for the guests while they were trying to eat. And he didn’t want to upset Mr Alex at any cost.

He worried deeply about what should be done. They didn’t have any family or friends nearby where they could send his father for a day. After much thought, he decided to shift his father in the storeroom in the backyard for a night. It was cold there but he could arrange a heater. It’s just a matter of a few hours, he thought.

The next morning, John went to his father’s room and said to him, “ Father, there are some bugs in this room so I have scheduled a pest control today. You need to move somewhere else because the smell will be bad for a day or two.” His father mumbled something about never seeing a bug in the room but didn’t protest much.

John shifted his father along with his medicines to the storeroom. He arranged for a temporary electric heater. After helping his father lie down in a bed he brought from the guest room, he seemed pleased with himself. “I solved the problem and father won’t be uncomfortable or cold here as I’ve arranged the heater. I’ve also placed all his medicines on the table here. What a caring and empathetic son I am.”

The night came and he looked after all the arrangements. His wife had gone out of her way and prepared a feast suited for a king for today’s special occasion. He kissed his wife gratefully. “How lucky I am to get such a loving and caring wife and such good opportunities in my life. This is all result of mine being a good human being.”

Mr Alex and his family reached on time and enjoyed a relaxed evening in great company and good food. They all had a good time and everything went very smoothly without any hiccup. Mr Alex was very informal today and he shared a few personal moments with John and praised him in front of everyone. “ Mr John is a very valuable asset to our company. He has always worked hard and is a very understanding and caring person. I personally like people with great value and integrity. John, you’ll go a long way in your life.”

John was very happy with these words and was confident that he’ll get the much-awaited and coveted promotion this time. After dinner, Mr Alex asked John if they could have a walk in their backyard. He wanted to discuss important things about work. John, in his haste, to keep Mr Alex happy forgot that his father is in the storeroom in the backyard.

They started walking and Mr Alex discussed some serious issues which made John sure that Alex has something important in his mind for him. Suddenly, a coughing sound came which brought John back to reality and he immediately saw his folly. “Where is this coughing sound coming from?”, Alex inquired. John assured him that it was coming from his neighbour’s house where a child was sick.

But then again the sound came, this time more persistent. Alex moved in the direction of the sound. John became worried. As Alex reached the garage, John asked him to leave it and move. But Alex kept going. He opened the storeroom door and found an old man sitting on a bed and coughing uncontrollably.

Alex went near him and saw a cough syrup lying on the side table. He picked it and measured a dose and helped the old man to gulp it down. Alex was looking carefully at the old man’s face. Suddenly, he asked, “Are you David sir?” The old man now looked at Alex for the first time and said, “Yes, but who are you and how do you know my name?”

“You can’t recognize me because many years have passed. But how can I forget my favourite teacher from school? I’m Alex, Alex Sebastian. Remember me?” Now David looked more closely and said in an inaudible voice, “Alex Sebastian, yes I remember you were the naughtiest child in my class. Every teacher used to punish you.”

“Every teacher but you”, Alex continued.”You saw that I was suffering at home because of my alcoholic father and sick mother. You made sure that my family problems never came in my way and I focus on my studies. Today whatever I am in my life is because of you.” Saying this, Alex hugged David and started crying.

By this time, John had come inside and saw both the men hugging. “Do you know my father?” John asked. Then Alex told him how David had helped him reform in his childhood. How he had helped Alex to change his ways and walk on the right path towards a bright future. “I owe him everything in my life.”

John was pleased to hear this and thought that he has earned another brownie point. Suddenly, Alex asked, “Why is your father in a storeroom on this cold night?” Now John couldn’t decide what to say. Another strong attack of coughing started as if on cue. Alex understood everything in an instant.

“So, you were worried that your boss will not like an old man coughing and that is why you kept your father out of the house in a storeroom? I was not expecting this from you. I thought you are a caring person.”

“But I do care for my father.” John started pleading. “It was just one night and I had arranged for a heater and kept all his medicines there.”

“So, that is enough? Is this the way one should treat their family member?” thundered Alex. He had become agitated and hearing his loud voice everyone came out in the backyard.

“You don’t know what place David Sir hold in my heart. I can never bear this treatment for him. And even if he were someone else, I don’t approve of such behaviour towards our parents.”

John was listening to everything with his head down. He now began to understand his mistake. Whatever he was doing for his father wasn’t enough. Nothing can be enough for our parents and family members, this he understood now. We have to give unconditional love and respect without patting our backs.

“I’m sorry sir. I made a big mistake by being ashamed of my father. I should’ve introduced him to you all without caring about his cough.” John was genuinely ashamed and sorry, Alex understood.

“Our parents are special persons placed by God in our lives. Ask me the importance of parents, who never got the love of a father and care of a mother. My whole childhood, I was taking care of myself and my mom. My father was never there for me or my mom. I can give anything for a happy childhood filled with parents’ love. You should be grateful to God for blessing you with such wonderful parents.”

John wanted to bury himself at that instant. “I’m very sorry.” Saying this he started to cry and hugged his father. “I’m happy that you realised your mistake. Always be happy and take care of your father.” Saying this Alex left the house.

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