Happy Birthday!

From wealth to outright scarcity, Jack takes his family for a ride not many fathers can afford. What remains in the end is, however, only joy, derived from grim acts. Happiness, after all doesn’t come cheap.

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?”

Win or Laws

Win or Laws
The transition from a mental state of hope to despair was grueling, taxing and exacting. Several years ago, a young woman had decorated opinions about being a lawyer for the National Court, the desire which fueled her zest to outmatch everyone else in her academics. Her career skyrocketed like a space shuttle without sufficient fuel to escape the gravitational force of struggle and rat-race and with an ambition of floating in an eternal weightlessness of success, riches and fame. The community that she grew up in was not encouraging in subjects of academics and career, owing to which Rita was more popular in circles dominated by white men and women. This formed a vital point for her community to issue her a cold disdain. 

Couple of years ago, she left her husband for reasons lesser known to the world. Rumours floated around saying that the loss of her baby girl drove the couple apart. However, the rumours were given only the credit that they deserved – not more, not less. Furthermore, her relationships with her friends remained square and invulnerable to her personal circumstances.

The flames of ambition of entering in the circles of the most renowned lawyers and judges were fighting against the storms of ennui and monotony. She was good at what she did – probably the best – but what she did was fight mediocre divorce cases, petty crime cases and cases related to family money that she wished she had, so she could run away and kick a restart to life.

She readied her bag to call it a day, when her boss, the man next to her father showed up at her cubicle. “Got to be somewhere else, champion?”

He always cheered her up. “Yup! Someone is waiting for me tonight and it must be getting cold. I better eat it before it actually does.”

Dan laughed heartily, he always did. “Well, I am sure that your dinner can wait. Come, see me in my cabin.”

They entered in his cabin.

“Here, have a look at this.” Dan slid a file across the metal-top table towards Rita.

Rita browsed through the file and made a mental note of all the key aspects of the case in hand. A murder case of the house-keeper. Time of death – early morning. Place of death – the living room. Potential suspect – Jake Douglas. Rita’s eyes widened. She looked back at Dan with sheer surprise and did little to suppress her shock. “Is this the Jake Douglas?”

“This is the Jake Douglas. The actor from The Night in the Train, The Bridge of the Blacks and Underside of the underside. This is him, Ms. Ferreira.”

Rita, shivering in anticipation. “And you handed his file to me, because?”

“Well, I will take it back this instant unless you hug it to your chest and run away.”

Tears softened her vision as she found this case as a breakthrough for her career. She was convinced that this case could be the fuel that her rocket needs. A case advocating an A-list actor in a murder incident would lift her up to all sorts of media: the newspapers, the TV, Press conferences and everywhere else. Owing to her size, she was in tears again, dreaming about the large area of the pictures that she will dominate.

She ditched her dinner and stayed back, burning the midnight oil. Meticulously, she studied every detail of the case and prepared herself with her meeting with the cop, Mr. Stan Morse later next day.

“Nice to meet you, Ms. Ferreira.”

“Call me Rita, please.”

“Alright. Listen, I don’t think there is any case in this. The housekeeper, an old lady who cannot run or fight back, was killed in the house, where only one man stays and it is that goddamn Jake Douglas.”

Rita did not respond to Stan’s comments. “Thank you for your inputs Mr. Morse, but I will refrain from making judgements at this point.”

Stan took off a bottle from his trousers and popped a pill as casually as candy. “PTSD,” he said. “Those rascals sitting on exorbitantly expensive and ridiculously uncomfortable sofas call it PTSD.”

Rita observed how Stan turned red, veins showed on the top of his balding skull.

“What do they know, eh? They sit in an air-conditioned room, counselling people in what they have never experienced. A fancy degree gives them the right to judge me? Do you know how a war feels like Rita?”

Rita nodded a negative.

“Bring to your eyes your worst nightmare, Rita and tell yourself that it is real. That is what a war is like.”

Rita brought her nightmare to her eyes. Her nightmare was not remotely linked with deaths or violence. Her nightmare was dying or fading away into death without achieving what he has struggled to achieve all her life – fame and respect. 

“Anyway, I am sorry for my outburst. It is just these goddamn pills.”

“Assuming that Mr. Jake is innocent, who is in the list of suspects? There is no one in this list I have. Has there been any advancements?”

“None. There is nobody who has entered the house or left the house in the last two days, except for his poor old black lady.”

“Thank you Mr. Morse. I will see you at the court hearing.”
As hard as it was, Rita had to bend over backwards to prevent her affinity to Jake Douglas from coming in her way of her judgements. 

“You know you are not a snowflake, right?” Jake’s words hurt like the friction from sandpaper. 

“I don’t believe I am, Mr. Jake. But thanks for the reassurance.”

“Ah cut the Mister and Missus crap, already. Let us get me some freedom, alright. Listen, I did not kill this lady at all. Now, go, save me or I will have you cut off from the case and would hire someone more attractive than that ugly ass of yours.”

Rita bottled her ferocity. She felt her affinity for the highly famed actor evaporate like fuel. “The police have found no other suspects as of yet. Little would you know about how things work in the real-life, so let me tell you exactly how this will go down.” Rita was riled up in fury. “There was a murder of a black old lady in your house during ungodly hours. The cameras prove that the only person coming in and out of the house for the last two days was your housekeeper, who is now dead. If your best defense is going to be that ‘I did not do it’, then pray to God that capital punishment is issued to you. That way you will die early and will be saved from the assured defamation that will be launched at you, while you get your ass raped in the city prison.”

Jake stared at Rita, holding his tongue. Rita was hardly sure about the reality anymore. A few nights ago, the idea of defending one of the most popular actors swept her off her feet; now, the same idea brought her back to her feet. 

“That is right, Jake. May I now kindly request you to shut your attitude up and let me do my job?”

“Sure,” he murmured. “You being my lawyer, I might as well tell you the truth, Rita.”

“I already know it. What I want to know is why.”

“You know how it is with famous people, Rita? People are greedy around me like it is their lunchtime. Why am I single? It is not my attitude; my attitude is the outcome. I am yet to find someone who loves me for me, not my money, not my fame. This housekeeper duped me into recording some words I spoke while rehearsing an act. She got it doctored and threatened me to go to the court with the tape and shame me for life unless I paid her her ransom.”

“Marvellous. And you decided to just kill her in your own house, with your own hands. Wow. Only if you were as smart as the Jake on TV.”

“Yes. I did it, alright. Because it’s easy. And I’m Jake Douglas. No prick can threaten me into misery.”

Rita prolonged her stare hoping for it to drill a hole through his chest. Emotions aside, Rita. It’s your job. Do it. 

“So, you’ll still fight for me? I mean, after knowing that I am the culprit here?”

“I don’t care what happens to this society Jake. This world has showed me only the ugly side of the moon. I am not letting it take away a stepping stone to success, too. I will fight and we will win.” It’s my first and probably the only chance at earning a name that they’ll regret they ever subjected to shame. 

Jake sighed.

“In the meantime, may I tour your house and look for information that could benefit the case?”
The tour took longer than she imagined. Superficially, she crossed ever corridor, every room and every corner to look for loopholes that could be used by the police or the opposite party. Mr. Stan must have taken care of it, she was certain. 

A small room at the corner, facing the garden was open and Rita took note of a childish bed with cartoons printed all over them. The size of the bed was too small for Jake to place his head on and she was aware that there isn’t any kid in the house. To crosscheck, she asked and he confirmed. 

“There is nothing there, Rita.”

She didn’t listen. She lit the room, the blue and the pink of the walls were coming alive. The walls made her feel confined to the room, crushing her presence between the four walls. Chocolates, comic books, toys and every thing that a kid would fantasise about. Except for one black book. 

Jake saw Rita storm out of his house, stomping away. He’d expected worse. “Rita,” he called out, but he got no response. “Rita, you said you don’t care about anyone, right? What’s wrong now? Come back here you-” he held his tongue and witnessed Rita fly away faster than a bird.
A week later, the court hearing began and ended. Jake observed the blinding fury with which Stan interacted with his lawyer. “How could you as a woman?” And “How is it that you could defend a monster like him?” And “Might as well you marry that insensitive son of a bitch!” And “I’ll make sure you end up a big fat black widow!”

The outburst was deafening and nothing like Jake has seen before. Stan’s eyes widened, his face reddened and his limbs shivered. Rita let it all hide under the rug until the jury was out, defending Jake innocent and due to the personal circumstances, the old lady killed herself. 

One branch of this success was celebrated by Jake, while the second one was a trade off for fame, name and endless popularity or the lack thereof. 

The night following the case, Jake met Rita upon her request. “How can I help Rita? Don’t worry about the payments. They’ve been made and I’ve added 30% as a variable fee. 

Rita was drowned in gloom as Jake could sense. She was fumbling in her purse as she spoke. “You think you’ve won, haven’t you?” She pulled out the book she took from Jake’s house. “Yes, I still don’t care about the sorry world that has served to pull my leg every time I climb. But I care about my world.” She shoved the picture from the book on his face. 

“This was my world, you god-forsaken son of a bitch!”

It took seconds for Jake to switch to an ’actor’ mode. “Rita, it was all a mistake. I swear I’ve left it all behind. I’ve realised that the more crime I do, the more I’ll end up doing. Believe me, the housekeeper was just there at a wrong time. She wasn’t supposed to come that day.”

A speeding white van came to a screeching halt at he mouth of the alley where they stood. A group of strong men abducted Jake and before he could realise what befell upon him, he was half way to hell. 

Rita stood there, welcoming the rain, cleansing her of her sins. With her arms outstretched, she peered through the falling tears of her angel at the sky. “I hope you know that mamma did this for you, baby girl.