by Meghana Singh
He looked at his name etched on the new mahogany desk plate. ‘Mark White Marketing Manager’ it said, in curvy gold letters. He swivelled in his new, fancier chair. The glass wall behind him looked over the busy city. He slowly got off the chair and trudged towards the wall. Cars snaked through the lanes, pedestrians trotted on the sidewalk, the noiseless commotion pumping through the streets like blood through veins. Shifting his gaze from the view outside, he looked at his reflection. Languid, sunken eyes stared back at him.
The promotion had not come as a surprise. Mark had been able to ideate and execute three, extremely successful marketing campaigns in the past ten months. The relentless hard work had sapped him of all energy. Or rather, the effort he put in without the concomitant desire had made it a stressful experience.
The cool September air soothed Mark’s furrowed brow as he walked out on to the pavement. Feeling a little sick, he entered a park nearby. He sat on an empty bench, taking the silver, oval-shaped locket out of his shirt and holding it in his hand. Kids frolicked around the swings and slides. Young men, women and children could be seen pacing the perimeter of the park, playing badminton and leaping to catch Frisbees.
Mark’s eyes settled on a couple of young boys playing on the swing. One seemed to be about eight years old while the other must have been twelve or so. The older boy was gently pushing the swing on which the younger lad sat. The younger boy suddenly slipped and fell on the ground with a loud thud. He began to bawl. The older boy rushed to him and crouched beside him. He took out a handkerchief and tied it around the boy’s bleeding knee. He hugged him to his chest, stroking his hair. Then, he carefully walked him out of the park.
Mark held his locket close to his chest as he saw the kids walk away. He stared into the distance, memories of another promotion he’d got three years back flooding his mind.
He had come home early that day, blabbering excitedly about his promotion in front of his misty-eyed Mom and proud Dad. His brother had been sitting in a corner, engrossed in his cell phone. ‘John, I got promoted!’ Mark reiterated smilingly. John responded with a curt nod of his head and disappeared into his room. ‘He’s been having a rough time at work’, Mom explained. ‘Oh!’ Mark exclaimed. ‘I should go talk to him’.
John opened the door after a minute of knocking. ‘Hey! You got promoted, eh? I am so excited! I have decided to host a grand success party for you!’ he cried, patting Mark on the back.
‘That’s really sweet of you, John!’ I said, beaming at him.
‘Woohoo! This is going to be a party you’ll never forget’, he piped. He sounded thrilled and his eyes were gleaming. His right hand twitched, just as it did when he was really excited or angry. Of course he’s excited, Mark thought to himself.
It was a cool Sunday evening. Mark merrily walked up the gravel path leading to the house. As he entered the living room, he was dazzled by the brightly decorated room. A gigantic poster on the opposite wall read, ‘You are now the boss, still the cool guy and, as always, the favourite son, Mark White! Congratulations!’
Mark liked the message, except for the ending. Why would his brother call him by his full name? Feeling a little uneasy, he turned his attention to the people around him, waiting for him to acknowledge their felicitations. The huge crowd was spilling over to hitherto undiscovered nooks and crannies of the room. John had invited practically everyone they knew.
Just as Mark began to look around for his brother, he heard his voice ring out of the speakers hung on the walls. ‘Mark!’ he called out. ‘You achiever! We are all so proud of your achievements, aren’t we? Mom? Dad? ‘Oh come on, don’t be shy. You simply love him, don’t you? Come on! Say it out loud then!’ ‘We love our kids!’ Mom and Dad shouted with a grin.
John held the mike tighter, his right hand twitching uncontrollably. ‘Do you know how much Mom and Dad love their brilliant son? So much so that they converted my toy room into a study for Mark when I was just five. A genius needs a study, after all. My toys sat there in the attic, probably ruing the day my parents bought them for me.’
Mom and Dad stood stiff as a statue. Mark moved a step ahead without an agenda. John continued, ‘Mark…Mark White is a living example of the victory of the intelligent, the wise and the fittest over the ordinary. Unremarkable achievements like winning the high school basketball tournament or getting a job faster than my fellow peers who have college degrees- these are trifles in the blinding light of Mark’s remarkable feats. What a man! Let’s clap hard for him!’ John cried hoarsely.
He took a long swig from the glass of whisky in his hand, his step faltering. He tottered down the steps and walked towards Mark, his cold, hateful eyes boring into him. Mark extended a hand towards him, as if to hold him close and soothe him. He noticed John’s quivering lip, the moistness of his angry eyes. A flash of immense sadness flashed on John’s face before it turned flinty again. He quickly turned his back to Mark and shouted into the microphone, ‘Please cheer for Mark White. For the living legend. Come on, don’t let the claps die! ’ he shouted and charged up the stairs.
I rushed behind him. ‘John, what’s wrong? It’s just a promotion. It’s not such a big deal.’
John quickened his steps, ploughing through his room and out into the balcony. ‘Nothing’s a big deal for you because you’ve never had to struggle. You’ve always had a smooth life.’
‘Our lives are not separate! Your troubles are mine, my victories yours.’
‘Haha! Such poetic words! You can’t ‘market’ your bullshit ideas to me, Mark!’
‘John, calm down. You should go rest for a while’, Mark insisted worriedly, taking the glass out of John’s hand.
John snatched the glass back and threw it on the floor. A loud shatter followed by a louder silence. ‘Don’t you dare tell me what to do you insufferable know-it-all! Don’t you tell me what to do!’ John screamed, staggering close to the low balcony wall.
‘Hey, mind your step!’ Mark urged, moving forward to pull John away.
‘I TOLD YOU NOT TO COME CLOSE TO ME’, John shouted. ‘I’ll be successful soon. I’ll be much, much more successful than you!’ he bellowed. Everyone from the party had now gathered around. Dad cried, ‘John, calm down my child! We love you!’ His voice shook as he tried to console him, looking utterly distraught.
‘Stay away Dad! Go smother Mark with your limitless affection for him. Don’t deny him of attention on his special day. Leave me alone. LEAVE ME ALONE!’ John shrieked, shaking his fist. Losing his balance, he toppled over the railing.
‘John!’ Mark screamed, rushing to the railing. He sprinted down the stairs and out of the front door, darting towards John.
John lay on the ground, shaking hard, blood gushing out of his head. ‘Mark, you c-a-n now ha-ve what-e-v-er w-a-s left of Mom a-n-d Dad’s a-tten-tion!’ John whimpered. His sad eyes looked defeated as he turned his neck to look at his parents.
‘So-rr-y for le-tt-ing you do-w-n, M-o-m and D-a-d…’ he whispered, tears falling down his face. The sound of a loud siren filled the air. Frantic steps marched closer. Mom extended her hand to stroke John’s head but before she could, his neck flipped to the side and his eyes became cold and vacant.
‘Hey, could you pass me my Frisbee?’ a young girl cried. Hardly able to see anything, Mark rummaged through the grass, wiping his eyes with one hand. A boy ran up behind her. ‘My sister keeps throwing the Frisbee in all directions. We have almost lost it five times in half an hour!’ he lamented.
‘Teach her’, Mark said. ‘Teach her how. Be by her side, gently guiding her way. Don’t complain. You are lucky you’ve got someone to care for, to fetch Frisbees for…’ Mark spoke quietly.
Gently, he flipped his locket open. There they were. Him and his brother. Eyes glinting, lips turned upward in wide smiles. By each other’s side. Forever.