A solitary yellow lamp sufficed the meagreness of the room that Jack and his daughter, Petra occupied. The four walls of a battered house was where they had camped since the past few weeks and Petra agreed that it was better than the previous arrangements that her father has been able to provide. It was a euphemism for having illegally occupied. She knew it was only a matter of time until they would be found trespassing and would be thrown out like garbage, but the anxiety associated with that anticipation stopped bothering her five houses ago.
Petra was approaching her 16th birthday and she had now started to believe that Jack’s promises of being able to afford her education for Medical Science were beyond his reach. Just like the previous hundreds of times, she did not let his failure bring him guilt. Nevertheless, she remembered Jack’s lessons vividly. She knew the organs, their placement and also how to cut open each one of them.
“What’s up, skank?” barged in Tom, her elder brother, with a brown glass bottle in his hand and ugly insobriety on the rest of his body. Petra resisted her fury. But no matter her restraint, these words rang in her head like a bee in a bonnet. She hated those words, she hated that abuse so much that it made her cringe out of helplessness. She knew he only envied her for going to school and acing it despite the social difficulties, nothing else. Deep inside, she felt that he loved her.
“For the last time, Tom, this is not the way to speak to family!” Jack’s voice boomed across the walls of the dilapidated room as he got up, and stared at his wasted son with bloodshot eyes.
“Alright, jackass,” Tom responded with noxious apathy and found himself a corner behind where Petra sat and passed out into momentary bliss.
Jack could not meet Petra’s sorry eyes. “Whatever happened with mom and whatever is happening to Tom is on them. It is not your fault, dad.”
Jack was taken back to the days when they prospered in a house four times bigger than this and moreover, a permanent house. His salary as a surgeon sustained them on pillars of safety, security and prosperity. What missed was love. While Jack had given his all to Mary, his wife, she had her love reserved for someone else. Despite having given her several chances, she did not budge and continued with her external love affair. Her destitute paramour influenced her to run away from Jack, which she did. Had the misery ended there, it would have been mercy for Jack. But, Jack’s fate was written in a sour mood. Mary went after his wealth.
After a few months of her running away, she sued him for his money under the pretext of spurious charges, which her genial husband couldn’t defend. While he lost his job, his reputation, most of his savings and his house, he was surviving through his two children, the burden of whom Mary did not want to deal with. One of those two children, Jack knew, would only spell his doom.
Tom, an under-achieving student, broke under the pressure of parental expectations early in school. What the parents deemed motivational, Tom saw it as a deluge that pressured him to the ground face first. Whatever hopes he had of trying harder at school melted away along with his parents’ relationship. Now, he had an excuse for failure. Hiding behind an excuse felt easier than studying hard for school. But, as life had it, no choice is bereft of consequences. It was this first step that took him towards befriending failure and reclaiming accomplishments that fate snatched away from him. He stole, borrowed and begged for his indulgences and he learnt exactly how to. Influence of intoxicating habits started to weigh heavily on his relationship with his family, what was left of it.
His unfiltered anger cut through every fibre of love of warmth that Jack and Petra had for him and his constant abuses made it only easier.
“I know it was not my fault and yet I seem to be the one down in the dumps, no?” He brushed away his tears. But those tears returned nimbly when he saw his son on a path of self-destruction. However, this time, Petra did not sympathise with Jack. She did not feel sorry for Tom; not only was he undermining her father’s genuine love and care, but was also abusing it.
“I promised you,” he said sobbing with giant drops of tears in his eyes. “I promised you to make you a surgeon like I am.” He repeated these words until he cried himself to sleep, his hands clasping Petra’s, knowing little that she abandoned that dream long ago, given the circumstances.
One evening, she returned to the borrowed room from school. The walk back was long and it was almost dark by the time she reached. Upon entering the door, she was surprised to see the room so dark and his brother not around to insult her.
When she dropped her school bag in a corner, Jack appeared and handed her a pair of surgical gloves and showed her a tray brimming with surgical tools. “Happy birthday, sweetling. Come, walk with me.” He took her to the centre of the room and turned the yellow lamp above them on and Jack was pleased to note Petra’s joy. “I know I may never be able to make you a doctor, but the least I can do is to walk you through an autopsy. You remember the drill, right?”
Teary eyed, she affirmed. “Yes, dad, I remember.” She jumped with joy and then Jack pulled off the sheet that covered the body. Tom’s dead eyes looked straight up at Petra’s lively ones. Her blood turned to stone in that moment. Her face took a menacing turn under the yellow glow of the solitary lamp above her. Jack saw her quickly shake her fear off, snap the surgical gloves on, hold the scalpel expertly in her right hand and saw her speak to the corpse. “What’s up, skank?”