Beautiful Boy – Short Story
By: Sayantan Ghosh
The day could have ended like any other. School got over like it would on another day, the bus passed through the same dusty lanes like it otherwise always did, the little beggar boy with one hand came as usual to sit with Caul near the railway crossing and watch the trains pass by. Everything was in order, until he got home. Mother looked exceptionally beautiful that day, she was Irish. She was wearing a pale green skirt and a worn-out white top; and her dazzling pearl necklace that was his favorite. In fact, that’s the first thing he noticed as soon as he came upstairs to meet her that day. She hadn’t dressed up so cautiously in years, he remembered. And the way she looked that afternoon was exactly the way Caul would pester her to, as a kid.
He ran upstairs with a 12-year-old boy’s enthusiasm and looked for her, but she was not inside her room. She had an old gramophone that her father had gifted on her 12th birthday, one she had got to India when she had come. Caul hadn’t heard her play anything on it in a long time either. He hadn’t seen her do so many things in so many years now. She had aged like an old house which was once filled with people, love and laughter. But with time was desolated and remained stranded for years before it got tired of waiting for the earlier inhabitants to return.
The house where they lived was an old bungalow and adjoining her room was a giant balcony. Caul and mother would often sit there and watch the sun go down on them. He noticed she was standing on the ridge and staring at the setting evening sun. Her searching eyes would always look for Caul whenever she heard his footsteps rushing upstairs, once he was back from school or the park; always in a hurry to tell her about everything that constituted his day. He could see mother’s silhouette from inside the room, and the dimming sun behind made her look almost angelic. Then she smiled at him.
She looked weary and weathered; perhaps with all these years of indifference from people she once cared about and left home for. There were thick lines of black underneath her eyes and her hands were bruised with marks that people said she had done to herself. Yet every time she smiled, Caul forgot about all his worries and wanted nothing but to embrace her and go to sleep. All the yelling he heard in school for not concentrating, and then at home from father who wanted Caul to grow up to be just like himself, seemed meaningless then. Unfortunately, he was nothing like his father. Caul was young and playful and he loved poetry and birds. Father loved zoos.
And he won’t let Caul sleep with mother, because he said mother had gone crazy in the head. Even when he went out of the house to earn lots of money, he left behind people who would not let Caul sit with mother or speak for long. He paid them more money than he ever paid attention to Caul. Mother used to tell him stories of her childhood, but father would always say that all Caul needed to know was mathematics. So she would live upstairs on her own, and Caul would live below with his nannies. All the conversation he could have with mother was through her gramophone. She would play folk tunes from Ireland on it, and Caul would sit on his window downstairs and listen to them; just the way he used to while he was little and growing up in her arms.
Mother had remained confined to her room for many months, and evenings were the only time when Caul got to see her face that brightened his otherwise dull days. He would run upstairs looking for her, she would look at him and smile and silently ask him to come and sit near her. He waited all day for those few moments. Her stories had turned into silences as days went by much like an actor who had forgotten her lines, but just her gentle hand touching his skin, her enduring strokes past his curly hair comforted him enough to last another day.
That evening was like any other, only she looked ethereal. He had to tell her how he sat with that beggar boy with one hand, his only friend, and threw stones at a passing train. He knew mother won’t like it and will perhaps scold him a little. But she hadn’t scolded him in so long. He looked at her as she turned towards him and the sun went down behind her. It was all part of some cosmic design, he thought. He kept his school bag on her bed, and started walking towards her.
“Mother, are we going somewhere?”
She nodded and said, “I am.”
Then she smiled again as tears rolled down from her tired eyes. Caul had never seen anyone smile and cry at the same time before that day.
Then, she turned her back towards him and jumped off the balcony.
Caul stood there like a figure made of wax, and waited for mother to come back. He heard the thud, then someone screamed and then a lot of people murmured. Only he remained immobile. He believed she wouldn’t leave before hearing all his stories. Then people came looking for him, and tried taking him away. But he fought them and didn’t let them move him even an inch; from where he saw her for one last time. Then the night passed, and he slept off on mother’s bed by himself. When he woke up in the morning, the first thing he thought to himself was that the only person who used to play with his hair, was now gone.