The memory was thick. They were walking down a thin, winding road having a conversation that he would never forget. The year was younger; so were their dispositions to life. You could actually have these conversations back then. Father and son moments can never be in any less demand.
"So have you given the future a thought", he asked. "Ummm, not really," he replied.
"You plan to?", he asked.
"Well, right now everything's a rush. I'll chart my path soon", he said, not looking up even close towards his dad. He didn't receive a happy response. Neither was it an unhappy one. It was one of those you-never-know-what-he-means ones. More a but-I'm-sure-he's-not-as-pleased-as-ever kinda look. But dads will always be dads. Between them and their children, one's shoulder shrug is another's short intense gaze. They are sometimes equal their own children in stubbornness.
Then came the deathly moment of pin drop silence, except for the sounds of their footsteps. This has always been uncomfortable ground. Fear on one side and pride on the other. But you roll with it. Children will be the children they're allowed to be, and dad's, well, will be dads. Some have pot bellies. Some have dad jokes. Some just rule the Universe and are God himself, but have never slipped into the role well.
"You've gotta have a game plan, son. Waddling around won't get you far", he said. Looking someone in the eye and communicating is not something he, or most grown men, were skillful at. Blame society gender roles. When you carry the weight you carry, it ain't no joke.
"Yeah, working on it", he replied, hoping to end the conversation, at least that bit of it. Fingers crossed. They had an hour till they were to get back home. Mothers are better, he thought to himself. Plus, there would be a table full of food ready by the time he enters to take his mind off the heavy conversation.
He looked at his watch as he caught his dad also looking at his. It was like it was a dirty secret they both discovered they had that no one wanted to admit. His dad grunted, shrugged his shoulders with some speed and continued, "I'll put you across to Ravi. And Sarah too. You'll get a better idea of what to decide to do for your future."
"Ok", he gave in. It would be harmless, he thought. And he didn't have to decide anything after meeting them. He could have to but that was another bridge to cross that was at this moment a long way off. It can wait. Right now, the dying conversation they were having was sucking the very life out of the plants they passed by.
Like a perfectly timed lifesaver, he saw the car in the distance. The moment became ten times more lighter when his dad took out the car keys and he heard a beep felt so close to home. They got in the car, and started on their way home in silence that could kill a man. It was going to be a ride of some distance.
He wasn't sure if it was the wait to actually reach home, or the claustrophobic confines of the car, but something was making him stuffy. It could just be that air which had gotten thick again. Signal after signal, jam after jam, they passed by all sorts of scenes outside. Among all of it, he couldn't help see other children, some older and some young, without his present load. Suddenly the window glass felt jail bars. He heard a voice and he was suddenly too scared to turn around and see his own dad turn into a jail inspector. His dad was talking to him, with his eyes on the road ahead.
"See, son, I just want you to be ambitious enough to never miss a chance at success. I hope you're never satisfied with just enough. I want you to always outdo yourself. Never limit yourself. There's always something you should be hungry for, something more.", he went on. But he was lost, staring at the window outside his prison. He was scanning all the varieties of people he could identify. There were folks who looked as if they were just getting by. Some who were well off, enough. Some were clearly struggling. He noted that most of them were smiling-not just today, but whenever he saw their kind. They were not depressed, and he did give more than a fair thought to the basic economics of it all.
"You would not have the comfort you would have had if I didn't do all of this", his dad continued. He was well aware, apart from what was drilled into him, about his privilege. He also knew what of it he truly loved and what he would choose again, if he was buying. He was also grateful for all the little and big things that no one can go without: good food, a roof and love unending. He wasn't the complaining kind. But he never dug it. He did find some of it, unnecessary, sometimes a lot of it.
Lots more was on his mind. What's the cost of a smile you can always have on? What's the cost of access to a decent life you can work for? What's the cost of access to the physical fundamentals of life (provided even they aren't completely commercialised to be unreachable to most)? What's the cost of happiness and simplicity? Is it even an option anymore? Or do we have a price tag to live up to the moment we take our first breath? All the while his dad was mumbling away, as far as he was even interested in what he was saying.
Now, he had ambition, or something like it, and he knew he wasn't rich enough not to work for the rest of his life. He also had a vague idea about his future plans but they would form soon. He wasn't illiterate about the real world. He was a sensible kid. But he was still a kid who needed to figure out stuff and then see where he finds his happiness. It was going to have to take time. He deserved his own options, at least the chance to try and make them happen.