The smoke cloaked him in the bitter scent of tobacco as he continued to pull on the cigarette and cooly exhale into the night. He honestly hated the taste but something about just doing it brought his turbulent emotions to a calm.
“Your mum wouldn’t like to see you do those things,” a gruff voice spoke behind him. “Put it out now.”
He followed the order with minimal resistance. Dropping the almost freshly lit cigarette, he crushed it with the heel of his shoes and patted his hands down the blazer of his suit before turning back to the owner of the voice. His father stood there with his overcoat folded over one bent arm and the other in his pocket.
“Why do you even do those things?” his father shot.
He shrugged and almost mirroring him, there was a sigh.
“You need to sort that out,” his father continued. “It’s a bad habit to have.”
He nodded without a single word. He thought he had grown enough to use words against his father, yet they still escaped him. His father inhaled and exhaled deeply before walking up to the boy until they were standing shoulder to shoulder.
“I apologize for my lateness,” his father confessed. “I know I didn’t miss much but still, it is my bad.”
“It’s fine,” he said meekly. “Like you said, you didn’t miss much.”
“Good, with that out of the way,” his father continued. “Why is it you are standing out here? The party is in there. You are the man of the hour.”
After a beat of silence, he inhaled sharply.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I thought I’d be excited for this. I mean all those years aren’t a small thing and I can hear the music and I am thinking ‘maybe just for tonight’ but every face I am meeting feels like a stranger to me. Is this even for me or is it for you and mum?”
His father looked at him with a slight sadness, but a dash of understanding rose to view and he began to nod slowly.
“I understand,” his father expressed.
“Please do not take this like I am being ungrateful,” he quickly jumped at his father’s tone. “I am just expressing what is in my head.”
“When I say it feels like strangers,” he explained to the silence offered. “It’s like they see nothing but the title. No one really sees anything beyond that.”
“My son,” his father erupted. “We are here exactly for that purpose. That is the focus of this whole celebration, is it not?”
“It is,” he said, softly.
“So what is this bratty tone you are taking on?” his father dug into him. “Where is the sense in what you are saying?”
He opened his mouth and without uttering a word, shut it. His father sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose muttering something under his breath.
“When I think I’ve understood you, why is it that every single time, you have to throw some mess like this in?” his father said, disappointment reeking from his breath. “Why can’t you just be straightforward and make sense?”
“Make sense?” he spat. “Make sense?”
His father looked at him sharply, slightly shaken by the daggers those words were spoken in.
“ALL I’VE DONE IS TRY TO MAKE MYSELF MAKE SENSE TO YOU,” his voice raised with every word. “THE FACT THAT YOU CAN NOT SEE THAT NOW IS PROOF THAT IT WILL NEVER BE.”
“Watch your tone,” his father warned.
“I’LL WATCH MY TONE WHEN YOU ACTUALLY HEAR WHAT I AM TRYING TO TELL YOU,” he turned to face his father.
“Did you ever think for a little bit that it is exhausting on me to just be a title?” he lowered his voice without diluting the acid in his tone. “I thought you of all people would be able to sit through this thought with me but you are just like the rest of them.”
“We spend those nights at the dinner table unpacking all this,” he continued to tear at his father. “Every night, I learnt how to meet you for you beyond just the titles and I thought you would be doing the same. I asked you to do the same. I asked you to see me. Clearly, I wasted my breath trying to get that out of you.”
“You know what? NO.” He raised his hand to his father’s slightly opened mouth.
For the first time, he felt all he buried boil up to the surface in a hot rage that burned his chest with every breath he took. All the control he thought he had melted away and all the cells in his body screamed to let it all out. However, he chose to walk every word out in slow breaths.
“I tried to package myself in this little box that would allow you to see me fully but somehow you still couldn’t understand me. I reorganized myself and the way I spoke, still the image of me in your mind remained one I don’t identify with and to be quite honest with you I don’t think I ever will,” he let out.
“I don’t fit in that box that you, along with a lot of the people in that room, want me to fit in and the fact that you cannot see me where I am…” his words trickled off as his eyes spotted his mother standing at the door.
He waved and she waved in response, before returning to the party.
“What do you see me as right now, standing in front of you?” He asked softly.
“My son, a capable practitioner, a successful man in your own right and today a graduate and valedictorian,” his father answered proudly.
“And is there space in all that for ‘just me’?” he asked.
He shook his head and dropped it before he began to walk back toward the party. He paused mid-journey, turned back, adjusted his gown and put on his cap.
“Thank you for coming. I really appreciate your presence. It means a lot that you could come to celebrate with me,” in a plastic, deadpan tone.
He faked a half-smile.