A school of students swam out of school gates after being dismissed for final period. The winding-down Friday evening served as the sea, with the spent sun spilling lazy shades of pink and orange over a buzzing concrete reef.
One student made his way directly home, sparing no time for goodbyes. His feet beat down on the pavement, and he navigated all the way back to his yard on autopilot. The KFC he passed along the way really treated his nose, but he wasn’t going to eat. The spring weather was generously warm, yet the student wore a black sports jacket over his blazer anyway. Cocooned in that polyester and nylon, the homework he carried in his backpack weighed him down a little and he really didn’t like wearing ties. It’s okay. He didn’t live far from his school. As a matter of fact, our boy would be home in the next few minutes.
Fob on the security door, right into that stinking lift and then a brass key is produced to take care of a dirty lock. The front door is opened and…
‘Pops, I’m home!’
‘Ah mah boy! Mah boy!’
Franklin laid his backpack down on the couch opposite his father’s armchair in the living room.
‘Franklin. How was school?’
Taking off his jacket, and then pulling off his tie, and then taking a seat to face his father, Franklin replied:
‘Was alright. Just ‘nother day. How you pops? You eat that spaghetti I made you?’
The old man beamed a fatherly smile right on over to his son.
‘Mah boy! Delicious! Delicious!’ and he clapped his hands together in delight.
Just when Franklin was on the verge of relief, he spotted a pizza box tucked under his father’s armchair.
‘Pops, pizza? Serious?’
‘Ahahah, mah boy I’m telling you. Your spaghetti put me in the mood for more Italian food!’
The old man began to chuckle warmly, so much so that Franklin couldn’t help but laugh a little himself. In the background, the television was showing Eggheads — a repeat of an old episode. Trying to guess the answers, Franklin found himself slowly becoming bemused at the impossible difficulty of the gameshow’s questions.
‘Who would know that?’ He found himself absent-mindedly call out.
‘Franklin you’ve got to be clever. These guys, they are very clever.’
The babbling from his dad was being tuned out by Franklin subconsciously. That is, until, our boy heard his father say:
‘…And listen, your teacher. Your teacher, she called me. She called me.’
Franklin’s face flushed with embarrassment. All of a sudden, his body prepared itself stiffly and his eyes focused in on his dad.
‘…Says you are working very hard. Says you are top of your classroom. Mah boy! That’s what I want to hear. Very good. But you must keep going.’
Unbelievable. Franklin had specifically requested that Ms White not call home. She did it anyway. His imagination would now haunt him, eating away at him as he would wonder just what a mortifying exchange there would have been over the phone between his father and his teacher.
Laid out on the couch, the television was no useful distraction from the discomfort he was feeling.
But Franklin’s emotional powerlessness was swept away as he noticed his father beginning to nod off. He got up onto his feet and called out “pops” to test his father’s response ability.
‘Yes, yes. Sit down Franklin, I haven’t forgot.’
The old man, without opening his eyes, reached into the pocket of his grey trousers to bring out his wallet. Franklin walked over and took the wallet off him.
‘Pops, you’re tired, I know. But stay awake. I need your help.’
‘I know, I know. Wait.’ The words, coming out all slurred, weren’t reassuring. It was only 6pm. It wasn’t even 6pm yet. It was only approaching 6pm. Franklin had plenty of time, our boy would be alright. It just would have been easier to have his father help.
Standing in the middle of it all, Franklin had a tremendous vantage of the living room mess. This was even despite the curtains not being drawn. What little light there was, was artificial: from the television, from his father’s chairside lamp, from the torch on Franklin’s phone which he was now using to search the room. It was all stashed under his sleeping father’s armchair. In a black plastic bag. Five, maybe six, empty cans of Special Brew. He pulled the bag out along with the pizza box from under the chair. He binned it all, not even saving what was left of the pizza for himself.
It was clear to Franklin that his father was done for the night. He wouldn’t be up to help, or do anything. So, the night-time routine began early. He helped unbutton his father’s blue Oxford shirt so that he was now in his beer-stained vest. And then he helped take off his father’s slippers. He considered helping his father also take off his belt, but Franklin wasn’t bothered for all that hassle tonight. Guess his father would be sleeping without his pyjama bottoms.
‘Okay pops, time for bed. Get up, let’s go.’
His father was snoring.
‘Pops, come on. I can’t carry you.’
Franklin laid a firm hand on his father’s shoulder. He shook him gently.
‘Mah boy. Such a good boy. You’re…you’re a good one Franklin.’ His father stumbled over his words before he stumbled out of that chair. That lamp smashed onto the ground and the light was out.
‘Sorry. I’m tired, I’m tired.’ His father said without opening his eyes.
‘Don’t worry pops. It’s okay. I’ll fix it. Don’t worry.’ Franklin repeated this over and over almost as if he was trying to put his dad into a trance as he supported him over to the bedroom. His father took off his belt and trousers before flopping onto the bed, over the duvet. Franklin made sure to lay his father on his side, and monitored his snoring for about five minutes before leaving the room.
Back in the living room, Franklin drew the curtains open to let in what was left of the dying sunlight. The television was still humming in the background. Dragon’s Den.
“Hi, my name is Dan, and I am here to ask for a £25,000 investment in my business, Print-Quick Solutions, for a 25% stake in equity.”
The television was turned off. Franklin continued to clear the room a little before he could get down to work. As he swept the floor of crap and crumbs with a dustpan and brush, he eyed something peculiar tucked away behind the couch. A two-litre bottle of Coca-Cola filled with some urine.
Once the living room had been cleared out enough, Franklin sat himself down in the armchair. He pulled out the stack of utility bills that were due to be paid and piled them on his lap. He then took out the two debit cards in his dad’s wallet and placed them on top of the first bill. Franklin used his phone to calculate exactly how much would be needed, and compared it to the amount available on both cards using the bank statements his dad received yesterday.
There was just enough to pay what was owed. Our boy was sure. Our boy was… less sure. Our boy, our boy realised that no, there wasn’t enough. Paper cut by a receipt that laid hidden under the stack of bills, the receipt was for a Domino’s pizza ordered today. It was charged to one of the cards.
There was a note written on the receipt in sloppy blue biro. It read:
Franklin, this Pizza is my gift to you. I am proud of you. You are a very good student, please keep working hard. From your pops, God Bless You!