It was 2 am when Martin woke up to the sound of clanking metal. He got up from his bed and looked out the window. The lights of the porch were still on. This meant his father was still working in the basement.
It was no surprise since he knew his father’s routine very well. Martin was not as naive as an average nine year old boy would be. He realized his family was different, which used to bother him a year ago. Now, he has made peace with the fact that he will never know what family picnics feel like. He will never feel the warmth of his father’s hug and neither will his birthdays be celebrated like all his friends’.
Martin’s father, Kevin, was a scientist. He set up a lab in the basement where he carried out his researches and experiments. The basement was a restricted quarter. No one but Kevin was allowed to enter the lab. He stayed out all day and came home at night. The only time Martin saw his family together was at dinner and those couple of hours were his least favourite.
The dining room was hushed by an unknown trepidation. The only sound was the clatter of spoons and plates and his mother occasionally asking Kevin if he wanted more soup. Martin noticed the beads of sweat on his mother’s forehead, as she nervously rubbed her fingers on her fist in father’s presence. Suddenly, Kevin stabbed the fork on the table and looked at his son as he clenched his jaws. “What are you still doing here? You should be in bed right now. GO.”
Kevin’s behaviour was unpredictable. Some nights he would remain quiet the entire time they ate. Sometimes he would beam and talk about the top secret project he was working on; an invention which will leave the whole world in awe. Some nights he would get so angry that his eyes were the deadliest thing Martin ever looked at. It was because of those nights he despised dinner time. Even on father’s good days he would remain apprehensive.
Every night after dinner Kevin would sit in his lab for hours and work. Nobody knew what he did. Even his co-workers didn’t seem to be aware of his project. For several days, Martin wondered what his father was up to. Why does he become furious over trivial matters? Why was mother so frightened of him? Was he always like this or were his experiments affecting his behaviour? He remembered asking all those questions to his mother once.
“You are too young to understand the situation, Martin. Please, don’t ever ask these questions again” would be his mother’s reply.
Martin decided to find out what father did in his lab. He thought maybe it was his work which could give an explanation for his odd behaviour. His days were becoming unbearable. He did not want to live like a prisoner. He wanted his parents’ love and affection. He did not care about the life-changing invention his father talked about. He didn’t know what he would do after he found out what was in the lab. Martin didn’t even think he would understand such advanced science. He just wanted to be happy and for that he was willing to try anything.
That night, as always, they sat together at dinner. Father was quiet the entire time and mother had the same expression she had every day — as if something horrible is going to happen. Martin observed his father carefully and his indifference bothered him. How can someone completely ignore two human beings? Was he thinking about his project? Did his failed experiments enrage him? “Tonight I am going to find out,” thought Martin.
After meal time was over, mother was busy cleaning the table and father went to the basement. Martin pretended to sleep until mother finished her chores and went to bed. After about an hour, Martin got up and peeked outside his bedroom. The lights were off; mother had gone to bed. He crept out of his room and stood in front of the closed door to Kevin’s lab. He heard faint clanking noises coming from inside.
He felt a strange calmness taking over him. He knew he would get beaten to a pulp if father sees him here. If he even gets a hint of his presence, Martin would be thrown out of the house and his mother will stand there watch helplessly. He did not fear the consequences anymore. All this time fear caged him. He won’t let it control him now. The wooden door had a long lightning bolt shaped crack which was 3 inches wide. “Father may have put an axe through it” Martin thought. He stood on his toes and peeked through the gap. What met his eyes grasped him with utter horror and confusion.
He saw his father hunched over a small four-legged wooden table hammering a small piece of steel. A filament bulb hung low from the ceiling just above the table. Except for that, the entire room was empty. It was poorly lit and the shadow of cobwebs painted the walls. Where was the laboratory that was supposed to be here? Where were all the equipments? Where was the invention father boasted about?
Martin ran to his mother. All his senses became numb. He didn’t know what to think or what to do. “Mother, mother, wake up,” Martin shook her vigorously. His mother jumped up by this sudden jerk. She looked beside her to check if Kevin was here. “What happened Martin? Why are you here at this time of the night?” she asked in an alarming tone. He was panting as he said, “Father, Fa..ther.” She jumped out of bed and grabbed him by the shoulders. “What did he do? What happened? Tell me quick.”
“There is nothing in the basement, Mom. Father is working on nothing. There is no lab, neither is there an invention.”
Mother looked relieved. She sat on her bed and looked down, “Yes I know.” she said in a hopeless tone. Martin’s eyes widened. “Sit down, Martin. I think it is time you should know. Your father has schizophrenia. It is a mental illness, where one loses the capability of distinguishing between real and the imaginary.” Her voice cracked and she hugged her son as both of them cried. “He takes pills prescribed by the doctor. I am sorry dear I had to hide this from you. I couldn’t give you the childhood every kid deserves. I was so busy trying to be a good wife that I forgot to be a good mother. Please forgive me, sweetheart.” She kissed his forehead and wrapped her arms around him tight.
Martin’s life could never be normal but it sure was better. His relationship with his mother improved. She took him out for ice cream and tried to fulfill the little wishes of her son. Martin now was more considerate about his father’s action. He no longer felt bitter around him.