This story is by Samran Akhtar and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Mr. Ehsaan had no interest in small-talk or seeing his neighbours. Every day, before sunrise, he peeked through the living room window of his two-bedroom bungalow. He stood in anticipation, opened the door, and collected the newspaper off his driveway. The paperboy greeted him with a wave as he dragged his rickety wagon, eyes riddled with sleep. But today, Mr. Ehsaan noticed another boy, probably five years old, struggling to maneuver his bicycle down the sidewalk. He wasn’t a paperboy, but Mr. Ehsaan didn’t question any further and turned to walk back inside.
It was the rumbling that he heard first, followed by the truck skidding off the curb. Mr. Ehsaan twisted his grip around the newspaper as if he’d wrung a dog’s neck.
He crossed the street. The training wheels on the bicycle had dented into themselves. He got on his knees and hoisted the bleeding boy on his lap.
Mr. Ehsaan wanted to enjoy the guava juice with scrambled eggs that awaited him in the kitchen. Involving himself in other people’s problems was the last thing on his agenda.
He cared deeply about his reputation, about what people thought of him. Some of Toronto’s businessmen, architects, and real estate agents lived on his street. Not knowing them made it easier to maintain his reputation as a civilized gentleman with a distinguished career.
Over the years, he’d learned that Mrs. Sheila turned on her lawn sprinklers at 7 AM while the Thompsons let their cat out into the garden.
He perked up as the door of the Ford truck swung open, followed by heavy footsteps. The scruffy man’s shadow stretched across the sidewalk.
“I’m in so much shit, oh God!” said the man.
Mr. Ehsaan put his finger to his lips, trying to quiet down the idiot. He didn’t want the neighbours squinting through their windows, shaking their heads.
“What were you thinking?”
“Is he dead?” The man bit his knuckles.
“Relax. He’s breathing.” It was faint and gentle. The boy’s face was bruised, and his forehead cut open. The blood had stained the rocket ship printed on his shirt. “Call the police. Everything will be fine.”
“No, no, no,” said the man. “Can’t do that.”
“Are you serious? Call.” Mr. Ehsaan’s irritation tempted him to shake the man, wake him up to see the injured boy.
“I’m sorry, man.” Before Mr. Ehsaan could respond, the man got behind the wheel of his truck and drove off.
Mr. Ehsaan loved only one thing other than cleaning people’s teeth; he enjoyed being alone. But now, without thinking, he picked up the boy and hurried back into his house.
He glanced through the window after setting the boy on the sofa. The bicycle sat on the sidewalk. He watched as a car passed by and then another. Slowly, the world was waking up.
He picked up the receiver, dialled 911 then put the receiver back down. He despised the idea of ending up on TV. He thought about putting the boy back where he’d found him as if he’d stolen an autumn leaf off the ground.
The boy whimpered. All Mr. Ehsaan had in his medicine cabinet was sleeping pills, eye drops, a pack of cigarettes, and an empty box of anxiety pills.
He was a dentist, not a doctor. He wiped the blood from under the boy’s chin. Taking the boy to a clinic meant filling out forms and answering questions. So, he drove to the corner store, grabbed medical supplies and took care of it himself.
He noticed the boy drifted in and out of consciousness when he returned with gauze, rubbing alcohol, and a bag of candy.
Mr. Ehsaan was reluctant to start a conversation, fearful that the boy’s young ears would remember his voice. But it was the boy’s blue eyes that terrified him more.
An hour later, after dressing the cut, he rested the boy’s back against the couch and handed him a bowl of lentil soup.
“I don’t like soup. My stomach hurts.” The boy’s voice quivered, and tears welled up, making his eyes shine bluer. Mr. Ehsaan remembered how his father would slap him on the cheek when he refused to eat what was put in front of him.
“Try it. You might like it.” The boy looked up then grabbed the spoon, and started slurping away.
“Thank you.” The boy groaned as he took the bag of candy. Mr. Ehsaan waved his hand as if rejecting the gratitude brought him peace.
Before the boy left, Mr. Ehsaan put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and gently squeezed. “Remember, don’t tell your parents I helped you.” When he was satisfied with the innocent promise reflected in those blue eyes, he let go of the boy and watched him stagger down the street. The boy’s arms clenched around his stomach as he disappeared at the bend in the road.
That night, Mr. Ehsaan took an extra sleeping pill, but when he awoke, the boy running to his parents overtook his mind. He called his secretary and cancelled his appointments; he then reclined in his armchair, put his feet up and turned on the TV. He watched the news then stood at the window. When the phone rang, he leapt across the room to pick it up.
“Just making sure everything’s alright.” It was Jeremy. He worked at the same clinic and lived seven houses down from Mr. Ehsaan.
“Of course. Everything’s fine,” Mr. Ehsaan kept it short.
“Alright, well, tell us if you need anything.”
The next day, Mr. Ehsaan called in sick. Luckily, the phone didn’t ring again. He brewed a cup of chai with extra milk and read a story about a school shooting. Two paragraphs in, he rolled up the newspaper and threw it back on the coffee table.
He noticed a police car parked at the curb. He watched as two officers knocked on Mrs. Patel’s house, then Mrs. Sheila’s. The two women had the same expression of horror when they answered the door. As if the officers had announced their arrest.
Mr. Ehsaan hit his shin on the table. He threw the dirty plates in the sink, put on his morning robes and took a deep breath. He turned the handle when they knocked on his door.
“Good morning, sir.” Mr. Ehsaan noticed the officer’s central incisors as he spoke. They were the whitest he’d ever seen. “Are you aware of a boy that was struck by a vehicle yesterday?”
Mr. Ehsaan wanted to tell the truth, but he’d be called in to describe the man and then the truck. He’d have to answer the officers and the boy’s parents. His picture would end up in the newspaper right next to a paragraph for his neighbours to read. All he wanted to do was shut the door and crawl into bed for the rest of the day. “No, sir, nothing.”
“Are you sure?”
He shook his head and watched as the officer scribbled on his notepad. “Has the boy said anything?”
The officer wrote down the house number, 3759, written above the plaque that read, “Dr. Ehsaan Malik.” His eyes squinted, teeth clenched together. “He’s in the hospital. Unconscious.”
When the officer left, Mr. Ehsaan wiped the sweat off his forehead, rushed into the living room, and ripped the phone off the wall.
He occupied himself by dusting the TV stand, the pots of cacti on the windowsill. He vacuumed the carpet and organized the books in his study by size.
That night, he slept only two hours. The sleeping pills had stopped working. His mind had gotten used to the sensation of being lulled to sleep.
The next morning, he noticed the two rolls of newspaper, along with today’s, sitting next to his Toyota Camry. He saw orange posters nailed to light poles, tree trunks, and one left on Mrs. Sheila’s front porch. He staggered into the hallway, and surely, one had been slipped through from under his front door.
He skimmed the paragraph, but the title summed everything up. “He Killed My Son.” Forcing himself to continue reading, he learned that the boy died two days ago from internal bleeding. In the picture, the boy sat on that same bicycle with training wheels, birthday balloons in the background. After one look at those blue eyes, Mr. Ehsaan crumpled the poster and hurled it at the door.
He stopped looking out the window, stopped watching TV. The newspapers were surely a stack on his driveway, as the patient files on his desk at work. Mr. Ehsaan quivered as the constant terror of seeing a neighbour, continued to grow inside him.
It had been a week since the officer had knocked on his door. He heard the creaking of the paperboy’s wagon outside. A loud thud on his door nudged the memory of the incident; the Ford truck, that dented bicycle, those blue eyes. Mr. Ehsaan swallowed half a bottle of sleeping pills, laid down on the sofa, and cried.