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Swing With Good Vibes
A couple of months ago I ran in to a bit of trouble with the good old police officers of Manson County. There had been a serial vandal on the loose which is very scary stuff for a relatively boring county like Manson. Said vandal would graffiti famous quotes about everything from imagination to identity all over town. Not only was this guy’s penmanship beautiful but the content itself was moving. While most of the inhabitants of this dull county scoffed at his work and dismissed him as a hooligan, I took an instant liking to him. If anything he gave me something to look forward to when I walked home from work every day. On the fateful evening of June 3rd, 2011 I happened to cross paths with him.
It was just another night and I was eager to get home and surf the web when I heard the telltale whoosh of a can being sprayed. Giddy excitement filled me as I sprinted to the source of the noise. Lo and behold, the infamous vandal of Manson County was four feet ahead of me, putting the finishing touches on his latest work of art. I looked at the wall and read the quote: “Real eyes realize real lies.”
“Radical”, I breathed, grinning from ear to ear.
Mr. Vandal dropped the can startled and stared at me, ready to bolt. I recognized Theo Miller, the minute he twitched. You see, Theo was that quiet kid in every class who so seldom spoke you often imagined what his voice would sound like. He moved to town during freshman year and on top of being a skinny freshman the poor guy had Tourette syndrome and couldn’t catch a break. People were harsh and I was too much of a wimp to stand up for him. Eventually the kids got bored of mocking him and he did his best to become invisible. This was all two years ago and I still feel a pang of guilt every time I pass him in the halls.
“Calm down,” I raised my hands, “I think what you’re doing is pretty awesome. It’s about time something interesting happened round these parts.”
His lips turned up tentatively as he mumbled, “thanks.” This was probably the first thing I’ve heard from the guy in about two years. The second thing was “run”.
He was gone before I could even ask him why. I didn’t need to though, because in the next second I was tackled to the ground by an officer who was in dire need of a full time membership pass to the local LA Fitness.
I’d never been to the police station for questioning before and was a bit disappointed. My hopes of being interrogated with the good cop/bad cop routine I so often watched on Law and Order were not met. A young officer not much older than myself asked me what I was doing there, if I was the serial vandal and what I had to say for myself.
I couldn’t rat on Theo, after several long years of hiding behind his shell he was beginning to come out. I, for one was not going to stand in his way. So I took the fall. My father came to collect me. He barely looked at me when I was sentenced to 100 hours of community service. When he finally did glance my way while I was being scolded by Mama at home, it was like he didn’t even know who I was. Ouch.
Since then Baba has avoided me like the plague. I can already picture the disappointed expression on my mother’s face when she’ll serve my father a plate that she has saved for him. He’ll thank her and apologize for missing the meal and promise to make it up to her. She’ll look at him and mumble that “he has to do what he has to do” before smiling at him and saying that all is forgiven. This conversation will happen in whispers, so as not to wake the sleeping house. I’ll hear it though, I always do.
I know in Islam we are taught to respect our parents and I do try but every once in a while my irritation gets the better of me. Clearing these negative thoughts from my mind, I rush to the bus stop where my friends are waiting.
“Why the long face?” Patrick inquires whilst scrutinizing my features.
I’m not one of those people who go off on these massive tirades on the injustices they are forced to suffer at the hands of their family units, so I just shrug. The great thing about Pat is that he knows when to leave something alone. The not so great thing about him is that he is a firm believer that comforting physical contact, such as hugs and fist bumps, are all anyone really needs to feel better.
He smoothes the creases between my eyebrows, stretches the corners of my lips to form a smile and finishes off by slapping my cheek. The sudden stinging sensation brings me back to reality. Grinning Patrick pats me on the back. His complete disregard for personal space does not even anger me, such is the way of Pat and I have grown accustomed to it. We bump fists and I head over to the others.
I greet Ayoub and Joey but they are so engrossed in a conversation about Doctor Who and an assortment of paradoxes that they hardly notice my presence. After a couple of seconds they spare me a glance an offer nods of acknowledgment. Satisfied, I head back to Pat whose mind seems to be miles away.
I knock on his forehead. "Wake up sweetie your pancakes are ready." My impression of his mother’s lilting voice is quite impressive if I do say so myself.
Snapping out of it, he focuses his green eyes on me. "I only wake up for bacon."
"Guess you’re going to be comatose then," I sigh.
We’re laughing at this little exchange and I’m starting to feel better when Patrick shoots me a mischievous smirk.
“I almost forgot to give you this”, he whispers conspiratorially.
I stare at the pack of Marlboros in his hand and groan. For the past month I've been trying to kick this addiction which was actually a habit I was pressured in to. This is the last time, I assure myself as I take the cigarette which he had already lit for me.
Rhythmic chugging alerts us that our ride is near and surely enough the decrepit public bus is heading our way. After boarding I settle myself comfortably next to a window and watch my house, wondering what time I should return tonight.
"Excuse me young man but is this seat taken?” an elderly man leaning on a cane asks me. He is referring to the seat in front of me that I had unceremoniously rested my feet on.
"No, sorry," I mumble sitting up properly.
He smiles politely and thanks me as he sits down and faces my direction.
His is a face I am quite familiar with. I've spent countless moments of my childhood staring at it mesmerized as my grandfather enchanted me with tales of heroes and their mythical foes.
"Grandpa?” I croak.
“Adam," he nods.
What in the world is going on here?
"Grandpa, what are you doing here?"
Pausing then, he just stares at me for a bit. Finally, "I need to talk to you," he answers.
"Adam", he encloses his weathered hands on top of mine, "you must listen to me for what I am about to tell you is of the utmost importance.
"Ok", I nod, curious to hear what he has to say.
"A little birdie has informed me that all is not well in this odd little family of ours. Would you care to tell me exactly what is going on?"
"I don't follow."
"Adam, what is going on between you and your father?"
Oh for the love of God not this. I sigh while rubbing the ridge of my nose; a mannerism which I had acquired from none other than the man before me.
"Things just aren't the same anymore," I mumble.
"Care to elaborate?" he pries.
"Not really..." I glance up and see him gazing at me patiently. I sigh, “When I was a kid I idolized Baba and he would constantly tell me: ‘Do what you think is right, Allah (s.w.t.) is watching you even when people aren’t.’ Then things happen and I end up following his advice and what do I get? A cold shoulder, that’s what.”
"I see," he chuckles "Adam, did I ever tell you about your father's adolescent years." I think about the sparse murky details I know of my father's life before he became my father. "No not really," I shrug.
"The generation your father was born into was quite an eventful one. He was a born activist fighting for every cause from world hunger to negative portrayal of snakes in movies.”
“The latter is a cause?” I snort.
“Apparently so”, he chuckles. “Anyways Hashim was a devoted lad but his constant rebellion led to his expulsion from university.”
Baba told us that he never finished university but the reason behind his early departure always remained a mystery. I knew my dad liked to stand up for things, I even remember going to a couple of rallies with him when I was younger. We don’t do those kinds of things together anymore. We don’t do anything together anymore.
“How come he doesn’t approve of me taking a stand?” I ask my grandfather. “What are you standing up for?” he answers my question with a question.
“Someone,” I say thinking of Theo.
“Does he know that?”
Come to think of it, I never told Baba the actual story in fear that he would have Theo punished.
Grandpa tenderly pats my hand, "What I am trying to tell you, is that you're father has struggled a lot throughout his life and he doesn't want his children to have to go through what he did. I know it may be difficult but I hope you can understand. And you know what? I'm sure he would listen to you if you just sat down with him instead of harboring all these negative vibes. It's just not cool you feel me?"
My grandfather's eyes twinkle as I laugh at his impression of a teenager, well at least his version of a teenager. Maybe it is time I had a little heart to heart with my father.
Glancing at the cigarette in my hand, the old man sighs. "I see the best of your father in you and I only hope that that potential does not go to waste."
Shame reddens my cheeks as I avoid his gaze. My grandfather suffered from lung cancer after years of smoking and here I am just lounging around with his poison dangling lazily in my hands. It suddenly becomes very difficult to look him in the eye, especially when it feels like he can see right through me. The bus comes to a stop and he rises quite gracefully for a man his age. Before I can inquire about where he's headed he turns to me.
"You're a good kid," he winks.
Suddenly the bus stops and I lurch to the left.
"Wake up you bum!" Pat shoves me repeatedly.
I look up and find that the aisle my grandfather was just standing in is empty.
"Where did he go?" I mumble whilst rubbing my eyes furiously.
Pat squints at me in confusion, "Where'd who go?"
"My grandfather," I reply while looking around the bus fervently.
He runs his fingers through his hair, "Dude you kind of fell into a deep, coma-like slumber the minute we got on the bus. Are you feeling alright?"
"Yeah -- actually no I'm not. I have to head home." I get up and rush off the bus. "I'll catch you later," I shout over my shoulder.
Ten minutes later I'm in front of my house, still trying to make sense of that scene on the bus. Was it really just a dream? It was so vivid I could have sworn it was real. Eh, maybe I'm just losing my mind. My grandfather will know what to think of it, or at the very least make some sort of joke out of the bizarre incident. He should be here about now. Sliding my key through the
door, I enter calling his name in my best old man voice. Instead of the wrinkled fellow coming to greet me I see Mama sitting on the foot of the stairs with tears streaming freely from her eyes.
"Hey, my impression wasn't that bad," I joke trying to lighten the mood. If anything, my mother is overly dramatic and I wouldn't be surprised if her despair was over a burnt meatloaf. When a blubbering sob unlike one I've ever heard from her escapes her trembling lips, worry seizes me.
"M-mama what's wrong?" I hug her hesitantly.
She glances at me as if noticing my presence for the first time.
"Channel two," she whispers, her voice hoarse.
I don't even remember moving but suddenly there I am, crouched in front of the TV watching the site of a train crash on local news. Apparently there was a freak engine malfunction and the train crashed in to another train and burned.
My grandfather was on that train.
No one made it.
Not one person on that train is alive.
They're all dead.
No matter how I say it the facts are still the same and nothing can cushion the blow. Images of my grandfather fill my mind. He taught me how to ride a bike, how to pray, how to skip rocks and mentored me through countless other milestones in my life. He can't be dead. People like him don't just die. The air is suddenly very thick and I begin to hyperventilate.
Stumbling to the backyard, I fling open the back door and fall to my knees on the damp soil. I will the tears to come. There are so many horrible feelings, or bad vibes as my grandfather would say, raging through me but for some strange reason my eyes remain dry. I sit on our rusty swing and stare at the sky unsure of exactly what I'm searching for.
I've been sitting in the exact same spot for a couple of hours now. I should probably go and help my mother with the kids, most of whom don't comprehend the concept of death yet, but I just don't have the energy. The ancient swing set shudders as someone sits on the other swing.
Baba nods at me, "Adam."
Barely able to form coherent thoughts, I simply nod back. We sit there for a couple of minutes in silence, but thankfully not the awkward kind.
Finally Baba breaks it, "You know it seems kind of fitting."
I gape at him in obvious bewilderment; I'm clearly not the only one losing my mind here. Sensing my shock he continues, "I mean think about it, did you ever imagine a man like that rotting away in a bed. I'm aware of the morbidity of my statement but it just doesn't fit."
Does the fact that I kind of agree with what he's saying verify my insanity? Grandpa was eccentric, he was out there, he made an impression and men like him don't just fade away.
"He left with a bang," I whisper.
Baba smiles, "Sure did."
"Too bad it feels like someone is slicing through my gut with a machete," I mumble.
He looks up at the luminous full moon. "And that young grasshopper is life."
I’m pondering over life all philosophical like when he throws something at me.
"You're supposed to say think fast" I kid and abruptly stop swinging when I see a box of nicotine patches in my palm.
"How did you know?"
He shrugs, "Because I'm your dad, meaning you've inherited my lack of slyness."
"Well there goes my ego," I sigh theatrically.
He smiles and I know it’s time to come clean. “Baba you know the incident with the graffiti, it wasn't--”
“You,” he finishes off my sentence. “The strangest thing happened this morning. This boy, Theo he said his name was visited me at the office and told me a different version of the events that took place the night you were arrested. Those graffiti quotes Adam, they may have been impressive but they were unnecessary. Those are people’s homes, vandalizing them is violating people’s possessions. For the longest time I worried that my constant rebelling against “the man” had distorted your view on society. I couldn't even speak to you about it because it was all my fault and anything I would have said to you would have come across as hypocritical. Then I found out the real story and I have never been more proud of you kiddo. I just wish you would have told me sooner.”
He looks over at me and the pride radiating from his face is enough to render me speechless.
Swinging peacefully in the moonlight with a nicotine patch on my arm, a sense of calm slowly envelopes me. The aching pain in my heart is assuaged by my father’s silent melodic
Quran recitation. Though I am fully aware of the emptiness I will feel over the loss of my grandfather I can’t help but smile at my luck in having had the good fortune of meeting him at all.
May God have mercy on his strange little soul.