Daddy had been reading out his story to me, the story which he had written when he was about 12 years old. From this story, I had come to know about Uncle Ben’s history. This was probably the tenth time he read it but I wasn’t bored. I can never be bored when Daddy reads Uncle Ben’s story. I can share it with you, too. After all, you deserve to know the story as much as I did.
So it all started with Daddy meeting Uncle Ben near his school where Uncle Ben was selling little candies. They started meeting each other every day, without Granny’s knowledge. Daddy used to cycle to a bad neighborhood, called the Dark Alley, every afternoon. Man, if I did that Mom and Daddy would ground me but when Granny came to know about it, she just yelled at Daddy, told him of the dangers he could have gotten himself into and took him back home. But Daddy had been real friends with Uncle Ben and he couldn’t just go like that. So Daddy met Uncle Ben at places like fairs and bus stops occasionally. Finally, Daddy decided to tell Granny about his friend. He’d been afraid earlier, afraid that Granny might think badly of Uncle Ben but it turned out that she actually thought he was a very fine boy and deserved to go to school. She started paying his school fees and she even adopted him a few years later.
Of course, Daddy had written it in detail. But I’ve only ever listened to him and never actually read it. And it wasn’t quite as boring as the story I’ve mentioned.
Oh! It’s past bedtime! I’m afraid I have to stop writing now. Mom will be very annoyed if she finds me awake at this hour. Good night, Diary! Sweet dreams!
The moon is partially covered by the clouds and the night sky appears in its usual attire of stars pricked onto the pitch black fabric. It reminds me of the nights I had spent as a kid in Arch Lynn, with Mom singing me to sleep. But not all nights had been peaceful. Especially not the ones which I had spent in terror of the nightmares which would only relent on my waking up, thoroughly shaken by the horror within.
I have been standing in my balcony since evening. Since I read the story to Tessa. It was agonizing, as usual, but Tessa had been very stubborn and I had to read it to her. Lie to her about everything. But it is the right thing to do. One thing I’ve learned after being a parent is: Sometimes you need to lie to protect your loved ones. And that is what I’ve been doing. I’m sure she’ll forgive me. She’ll understand.
The sound of a knock pulls me out of my reverie. I know it is Ben. And I know he is here to tell me what he tells me every time I read to Tessa.
That I need to tell her the truth.
I knock and shoulder the door open. He is standing on the balcony as I expected. The fresh air clears his mind but clearing his mind isn’t the right thing. Telling the truth to Tessa is.
“Why don’t you just tell her?”
“You know it’s not that simple. It’ll never be.”
“But she deserves to know. She ought to know what a jerk her Uncle Ben was when he was a kid. You can’t hide my past from her forever.”
“Ben, I’ll tell her eventually. If I tell her now, she might not think well of you. And well, I hadn’t been the epitome of a good kid either. What kind of examples will we be for her? It’s true that I want her to take her own steps in this world but I can’t risk her following ours. Besides, Tessa is just 8 years old. She needs time to discover that everything isn’t rainbows and cupcakes. And I need time to figure out how to reveal the truth.”
Everything isn’t rainbows and cupcakes. This, I had known since forever. Tessa is my niece but as much as I want to protect her from the dark side of this world, I can’t protect her without making her aware about it. I know that Zac is right about her needing time but the truth is I’m afraid of what she might think of me when she’s of age and Zac tells her about my history. He might as well tell her now so that I can get it done with. But for once, I need to be selfless. I need to support Zac. It’s the least I can do after all the kindness his family has showered upon me.
“I’ll be with you when you do it.”
“You thought I’ll let you escape the awkwardness just like that?” Zac smirks at me. “Obviously, you’ll have to be there with me.”
I give him a shaky smile. I can see the memories prowling to hurt me. Rip me apart. Again. But I just can’t help it.
Once the flashbacks start, they flood my mind.
I remember meeting Zac near his school, thinking of what a great opportunity he was to make money. I remember mixing the drugs in his lemon juice every day, as instructed by Uncle Dusty. I didn’t know how this would help us but Uncle Dusty had assured me that this was an integral part of his plan. His plan about which I came to know when it was too late. He had intended to sell Zac to a dealer and on my protests, he had tried to convince me, saying that it wouldn’t hurt him and the dealer would return him in a few days. I had known that some people in the Alley drug kids and sell them for slavery but I hadn’t known that my uncle’s plan consisted of doing the same thing. Nor had I known that I had helped him do it. Usually, in the Alley, when we drugged kids, it was so that they can go steal some money from their houses and bring it to us, without ever remembering that they’d done it. But my uncle’s plan had been terrible and as much as I’d wanted to stop him, I hadn’t known how. Finally, I had taken the step which I’d thought was right. I had decided to tell Zac’s mother, Lily, about the whole situation.
Fortunately, I’d found her near Old Henry’s, which had saved a lot of time. I still remember how kind she’d been. She’d taken pity on me and had forgiven me whereas Uncle Dusty had been thrown behind bars. Lily had rewarded the ragpicker by appointing him as her house cleaner, although she’d made sure that he’d bathed at least ten times before entering her apartment.
Zac had been completely drugged, thanks to me. But after a few days in the hospital, he’d recovered. I’d gone over to his place to apologize, thinking that he would never forgive me. But Zac and Lily are the kindest people I’ve ever met and I owe them everything. Not only had they forgiven me, but also given me a home to live in, my own clothes to wear and a school to go to. They had become my family.
I seldom visited Uncle Dusty. If I did, it was only when I was so disgusted with myself that I needed someone to dump the blame on. And later, when I returned home, I would look at myself in the mirror with more disgust than ever.
Uncle Dusty died a few years ago. And I learned to live with the guilt and to try to get over it, without blaming someone else. Sometimes, you learn to move on only after saying a final goodbye. I don’t know who was to be blamed or who deserves to feel guilty, but one thing I know for sure is that being with Zac and Lily has helped me to actually find and like myself, to enjoy the little moments of happiness, to make good memories and to live a better life. They are my family and so is Tessa, and I will do anything it takes to make sure that nothing of such sort ever happens to her.
“Hey, are you okay?” Zac’s voice drifts through the memories.
“All of us experience dark times but it depends on us whether we wish to be our own star or stay helpless in the darkness.” Zac smiles and gives me a hug.
I return the embrace with the surety of the better times and good memories ahead of us.
I might not have been the best company for Zac but when the dark times had arrived, I had made the right choice. I had chosen to be the star. And if they ever come again, I’ll be ready. Because I know that in this dark world, there are people worth living for. I’ll be the star again if required.
The star burning through the dark times.
So this was the final chapter in the Company series. Thank you for waiting so long for this and do let me know if you liked it by hitting the “Like” button and commenting down below. I’d love to know what you thought of my first shot at short story writing.
Do comment down below if the last chapter caught you by surprise or if you expected something like this. Also, if you didn’t like it then let me remind you that all of your suggestions and tips are appreciated.
The other chapters are as follows:
Thank you for reading!