I hid behind my mum, shy, nervous, clutching onto her dress as a man walked through the doors. A huge box in his hand overflowing with grapes and red apples. I had never tasted these fruits before, these new fruits, one soft juicy the other crisp and sweet did not exist where I had come from.This strange man with his nice big box of strange fruits. It was custom in those days to bring fruits as gifts when entering one’s home.
He looked so big, a little scary and worn out. I looked at my mum to see her near to tears, beyond happy overjoyed at the sight of this strange man at the door. He put his box down on the table happy to be here, pulling out the chair and sitting on it.
Appa I came to call him. Appa meant dad in my language. Such an unfamiliar word on my tongue. At the age of 6, my dad came from London, enrolled me at my first school, taught me my alphabets, disciplined me, bought me my first ice cream cone, took me to the zoo. He was a scary man, strict. I grew up afraid of him. He would beat my brothers when they were naughty, hit me on the head when I got my answers wrong, made the boys do Thoppu Karanam (common punishment where they had to grab their ears and do sit ups), using thin tree branches as canes.
We came to know dad as the man that disciplined us, kept the kids in line, kept us educated, working day and night to pay the bills and put food in our bellies, providing us with a life that he never had, giving us options. A man I never truly knew and still to this day I wonder as I pass him on this street, strangers. I know he cared for me, does he still? After all the violence he has seen, all the people he has lost, after all the nights he has worked, the sleep he has lost, bringing me to the person I am today, was I allowed to have my own beliefs. The second time he fell into depression, the paranoia, I had set that off, my actions, my beliefs, my values that were different. I grew to tell myself that I couldn’t blame myself, that he has been through so much growing up, all his bottled emotions. I could not be blamed for falling in love. Parents were to be supportive, loving understanding. I will not judge someone on their so called ‘cast’. I will not fall prey to gossip. I refuse to make those my beliefs.
Walking around on tiptoes, I dare not touch his belongings. He has grown paranoid, more short tempered, suspicious of everyone around him. He hides it well, words rarely spoken.
He is a different man.
The stranger at the door.