As promised, you can once more retreat into Ben’s strange world. Like last time, I would appreciate feedback, both positive and negative. Let me know if you, my wonderful reader, want still more of Ben on the blog.
Ben squinted as he looked at his watch. It was 2:45 pm and Mom still hadn’t come to get him. He wondered if she was okay. She would get late sometimes but she would always show up. The latest she had been was 2:30 pm, that too because she had finally landed a job interview (though ironically not the job) and couldn’t make it in time for Ben.
It had been exactly an hour since he’d been waiting by the gate, and watched all of his classmates go home – Josh, Khaleel, Melanie, even the teachers had left. There was only the feisty looking African-American security guard who kept looking at his watch, wondering when Ben would finally leave. “God, please let Mom be alright,” Ben whispered nervously to himself. There was only one thing left to do. Ben hung his backpack over his shoulders and decided to walk home.
His stomach rumbled as he opened his tuckbox along the way and gratefully devoured the shoddy corned beef sandwich and even the squishy vegetables that he had rejected only a couple of hours back. It would be a long walk home, one that he had never taken by himself before. But thankfully Ben understood roads well and though the walk seemed impossibly lengthy, he was sure of where to go.
His backpack seemed heavier with every step as Ben walked on fatigued, dragging his feet on the pavement in the hot afternoon sun. An hour passed as Ben trudged along, silently praying for Mom. She was alone after all. After Mom had lost her job as a receptionist at a hotel, she would be at home all day and not know what to do with herself. Sometimes Ben would urge her to leave home, to at least let her skin get exposed to natural light. Wane and drawn she would talk little, and Ben would take cue and keep mum. He still cared though, and he knew she would never abandon him – not without a good enough reason anyway, he thought wryly to himself.
“What a sight for sore eyes!” Ben exclaimed to himself as he at long last saw his red brick building come into view. It was a small two-bedroom apartment in a rundown building with graffiti all over it but to Ben it was home. He climbed up the stairs to the second floor, and knocked on the door. There was no answer and when Ben gently turned the knob he was surprised when the door flew open.
“Mom? Please be alright Mom,” Ben said feverishly. He ran to her bedroom and opened the door. And gasped.
She was lying sprawled, face down on her bed, the ashtray full of (Ben counted) twenty cigarette stubs. Next to her bed were no less than 6 empty cans of Budweiser. “What the h-h-hell, M-m-mom? Are you okay?” Ben tapped her shoulder. She stirred. Then she sleepily opened her eyes. “Yes, Ben?”
Ben sighed with relief. She was alive. He thought he would burst into tears. Mom was okay, and she was talking to him. “Whoa M-m-mom! I’m h-h-hungry! Think you could f-f-f-fix me something? I, er, walked home, right?” Ben said, smiling.
“Ben? I need to sleep. Close the door after you, will you?” She said, in a drunken stupor, her breath full of beer and smoke.
Ben exhaled slowly. She was SLEEPING. Sleeping as in – on her bed, safe and sound and she’d forgotten all about Ben, as though he didn’t exist. He fumed. He’d show her. “Sure Mom. Be right out,” he said as he quietly exit the door. She didn’t notice when he took the key and locked her in. “That’ll show her,” he said, seething.
Ben walked into the kitchen and felt repulsed at the pile of dishes in the sink, immersed in day-old gray dishwater. He found a clean bowl and poured himself some cereal and milk. Ben was normally a calm character, but when something infuriated him this much, he felt as though his heart would burst with anger. As Ben washed up after his meal, he decided to fulfil a promise of sorts. Let’s see what the Quran said about parents! ****ed up parents, he said looking at the closed door.
After a quick search on Google, Ben had found what he was looking for. Ben read the following words shaking his head and swearing.
“Your Lord had decreed, that you worship none save Him, and (that you show) kindness to parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age with you, say not “Fie” unto them nor repulse them, but speak unto them a gracious word. And lower unto them the wing of submission through mercy, and say: My Lord! Have mercy on them both, as they did care for me when I was young.” [Quran 17:23-24]
“Sorry God, You helped me out with Josh and everything but I’m afraid I don’t agree at all,” Ben said contemptuously as he switched off his computer. He wished he could tell someone how Islam and Allah hadn’t gotten it right at all and that parents could screw up their children’s lives by just being careless! What if Ben had been raped or kidnapped or even killed? All because of her.
Khaleel. That very ‘good’ boy. He deserved to read this! He would call upon Khaleel. Khaleel lived only a few blocks from Ben’s place, and if Ben could walk for an hour in the sun, he could surely walk for fifteen minutes to give important information. Thankfully Ben knew exactly where Khaleel lived for they had once dropped him home. His family lived on the first floor of a two-storey house a few streets away from Ben’s building. He left the house, the key to his mother’s room safely in his pocket. “Not like the drunkard will get up anyway,” he said as he left the front door unlocked as he’d found it.
“E-e-excuse me? Is this Khaleel H-h-hussain’s house? I’m a c-c-c-classmate. My n-n-name is Ben,” he said nervously as he knocked on Khaleel’s front door.
A woman, who looked like she was in her mid-thirties, with a long scarf loosely covering her hair opened the door. For a moment she looked confused. Then she seemed to remember. “Oh of course, Ben! Come in my boy,” she said in heavily accented English. Ben walked in to the overwhelming smell of curry in the comfortable but small apartment. He removed his shoes as he saw Khaleel’s mother doing the same before she walked over the carpet. “I’ll just get Khaleel. You could sit here,” she said gesturing to the couch.
Ben made himself comfortable on the sofa and looked around him. He found outlandish calligraphy on the walls and apart from the curry, it was a pleasing little house, well-kept and furnished in colours of light green and yellow. Khaleel stumbled out his bedroom and could not hide his surprise at seeing Ben at home. “Ben! Are you, I mean how did you find – never mind! Hey man! How are things?” said Khaleel giving Ben a friendly slap on the back. Ben reminded him how he and his mom had once dropped Khaleel home and without wasting much time, Ben conveyed that he was here to discuss something important.
When Khaleel inquired what it was that Ben needed to say, Ben, full of emotion, stammering and stuttering over his words broke into a prolonged tirade about the Quran and what it said about the parents! Why wasn’t the ruling ubiquitous, Ben asked? What if the parents were screwing up their children’s lives? What did this Allah say then?
Khaleel appeared bewildered. He didn’t know Ben had been thinking about the Quran since that day in the computer lab after which Josh and the boys just hadn’t left him alone. Khaleel shrugged. “Ben, I really don’t know. I guess parents love us, right?” he responded hesitantly. Ben stood up to leave. “That’s all I w-w-wanted to say, r-r-really,” he said pulling his jacket over his shoulder. As he about to leave a voice interrupted him. “Ben, if I might have a word?”
It was Khaleel’s mother. Ben looked at her inquiringly. “I heard you two boys talking, and I wonder if I might tell you both something?” Reluctantly, and only to appear polite he walked back to the couch, his mind made up. Nothing she would say would affect him.
Khaleel’s mother did speak with an accent, but her voice had beautiful lilt to it. “You know Ben, when I went through the labour of having Khaleel and his sister, I thought I’d die. Every single day when I was pregnant, and then every moment after the children were born, it was only about the children, I couldn’t think without them anymore. And parents falter too, you know? They get tired, they get depressed, even hopeless. That’s when they need us the most. I get angry with Khaleel and I know there are moments when he gets hurt. But that doesn’t mean I will ever stop loving him,” she said gently.
Ben thought of his own mother sleeping peacefully back home. Was she depressed? Most certainly. Hurt him? Defnitely. Lonely? For sure. Hopeless? Yeah, totally. Did that mean he was supposed stand by her and all that crap? What had she done for him anyway?
As if on cue, Khaleel’s mother spoke. “And we don’t realize how much our parents do for us, do we? It took an hour just to give Khaleel his bowl of morning cereal when he was small, but his father and I made sure we did it. We drive him around, love him, are there for him – am I right young man?” she said to Khaleel. Khaleel smiled sheepishly. “’Course Ammi,” he responded.
“Maybe they do make mistakes at times, but they’re human too aren’t they? Parents love us, and we should never doubt that! And just showing them kindness doesn’t sound too hard does it? Imagine the reward you get for it from Allah! Maybe their mistakes are not intentional. Maybe they’re in a lot of problems themselves,” she continued.
Ben squirmed uncomfortably in his seat as he thought of his mother back home. He should hurry home and check on her, because maybe, just maybe, she wasn’t to blame. Perhaps it wasn’t her fault. Ben left Khaleel’s house with an abrupt goodbye as he briskly walked back home, his heart racing. He got home quicker than he had gotten to Khaleel’s and ran up the stairs. Near the building he saw the 911 rescue van and wondered what had happened in the area.
To his utter surprise the front door was open and there were people inside. Someone – the police, had unhinged – or broken – his mother’s bedroom door. She was lying white and motionless near the entrance of her room, her cell-phone beside her. “She called 911 just before she passed out,” a paramedic informed a shocked Ben.
“She’s alive, but only just. It appears she might have had a heart attack, but we are not completely sure. She must be rushed to the hospital. Your mother was trying to leave her room, but realized she had asked her son to lock her in before leaving. She just about managed to say that to us on 911 and collapsed right after. Lucky for you son, or you might have ended up in jail for locking up your mother! Oh by the way, we found this under her pillow,” With that the paramedic handed Ben a small white envelope bearing the words “To My Ben” written in his mother’s barely legible scrawl. As they lowered her on the stretcher, Ben silently pocketed the white envelope. A solitary tear slipped quietly down his cheek.
To be continued…