“Mum, help me, I want to be normal again” - Peter was sobbing.
Since his mother married the second husband, Peter had lost meaning of his life. When the smoke he inhaled made him euphoric, the only thing he remembered and made him happy was his childhood days with his mother alone.
He never knew his father. He was told that he died in an accident when Peter was only 2 years old. His mother Maria, was a hard working lady. She always had something or the other means of earning money, enough for a living for the two of them. After Peter started going to school, Maria worked even harder. They had enough food to eat, cloths to wear. The small rented room where they stayed was always kept neat and clean. Peter was always among the first 5 intelligent students in their class. Life was moving smooth till Maria met Thomas. Peter was thirteen, the most delicate stage of life. He did not approve his mother’s decision to get married to Thomas but his opinion was not asked.
Soon after they got married, Maria and Peter moved in Thomas’s place. Peter became the no.1 truant in his school. While his friends were in the class, he slept under the mango tree. Maria never noticed the changes in her son’s behaviour; she was too occupied with her own problems.
Nobody had seen Thomas in a sober state after 8pm in the evening. After parking the Land Rover 110 with a SU number, Thomas usually visited the local bars to booze 2/3 glasses of local brew. When he reached home he would make noise, for no reason he would beat Peter and Maria. Once he was asked by his cousin to stop the foolish acts; he abused back his cousin “How can I stop being a woman? A man has to show the power, the authority. Neighbours have to hear the man’s controlling voice and know his dominance of strength and power. Without beating the wife, one looses the man’s respect. I am the man of my house.” His cousin stopped visiting him. In the 5 years of their marriage, Thomas had failed to make Maria pregnant. He insulted his doctor who diagnosed him “sterile”.
Since Maria got married to Thomas, bruises on her face had become beauty spots. Peter had forgotten how his mother looked without the spots. He himself had sores and bruises on his legs and buttocks. He had requested his mother to leave Thomas and two of them should go back to their own place again. “I am a married woman” was the only answer he could get from her.
“Hey you, why aren’t you in the class? Trouble? Come, let me help you.”
Peter inhaled the smoke for the first time, got choked. Coughed a bit.
“Don’t worry about the cough. You will be OK soon.” The man was telling him the truth, Peter felt good. The smoke boosted his mood. The man promised to help him the next day also.
Daily, Peter would wait for the man anxiously without going to the classes. 2/3 puffs made him feel good, could forget the tragedies at home. He enjoyed the peaceful sleep under the mango trees.
The next week, the puffs were no more for free. He had to pay and he wasn’t prepared for that. He had to work or else he would be reported to the school authority. He was asked to sell some small packets. For each packet sold, he was offered 2 puffs. He didn’t have to go far to sell. The customers would come to him, wherever he was asked by his savior to sit.
He could not sit for the National primary school leaving exams. When the exam results came out, his name was not printed. Maria wanted Peter to re-sit for the exams. Thomas disagreed. For the first time and only time, Thomas and Peter had a common opinion. Peter started doing business-shoe polishing. His friend circle and customer size increased. He was always jolly and happy.
At 16, Peter had become a successful drug user and seller. One day his shoe shine station was raided by 2 unknown customers. Showed him some papers which he did not understand and collected all the small packets he was selling. He was brought to the police lock up. Served in the juvenile jail for 1 year. He promised his mother and to himself not to smoke again.
On the same day he was released, he hit Thomas; he could not tolerate seeing Thomas hitting his mother. He persuaded his mother to leave Thomas, but Maria remained stuck to her same, century old answer “I am a married woman.”
The next day he looked for his savior. Found him. The savior rewarded him for not revealing his identity; Peter was given a treat- holiday tour of stone town.
The first nervous experience of sitting in a plane made him feel like a small boy again. The small boy remembered the stories told by his mother of flying to places to see the world when he would grow up to be a nice man. The memories made him needing a puff badly.
As soon as they came out of the airport, he was offered the puff. From then on, he took over the job of supplying the small packets to the wealthy tourists loitering at the beach of stone town. His job did not last long.
He was arrested again. When he was released after 6 months, he visited his mother and told her that he had decided to stay separately, but if she would agree to leave Thomas, they could stay together again. He knew the answer beforehand, but he tried.
One day while coming back home after shopping, Maria saw a young man sleeping on the foot path, snoring loud. No passersby was paying attention. Maria looked twice and recognized her son.
Peter was admitted in the Rehab centre. Discharged with improvement.
Hardly 2 weeks passed, he was sent to the rehab centre again. Peter dreamt of becoming a normal boy again but the damage had been done. It was too late.
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