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He saw them, all right. Through the little window, one he could barely reach on his tiptoes, of the treehouse. The treehouse that had been the reason for his…

“Slight jealousy” is what he had told his wife; she who didn’t share the gene he inherited from his side of the family and had passed it on to his son, Anpag. The gene that had gotten him the tag – of The Fat Dad – that he wouldn’t go to the extent of saying he despised but certainly thought was rather unfair.

But his wife knew better. She knew that the boys, except Anpag of course, doted on Mompy’s father, who they affectionately called The Cool Dad. She knew not being called “cool” (and, what made matters even worse, being identified by the one physical characteristic he got from his familial genes) bothered her husband. Maybe not to the extent that he would harbour a grudge, but she knew it was more than “slight jealousy”; maybe it was animosity.

But she didn’t want to be a trigger in a war principally dominated by male ego.

“I mean, why The Fat Dad?” he had once remarked to his wife. “Why not The Serious Dad? Or maybe The Serious-looking Dad? People at work are always saying I look so serious.”

He was right. With his handlebar moustache, a mouth that never smiled when it wasn’t required to, eyes that seemed penetrative (but were much warmer and friendlier, as those close to him would confirm), he seemed unfun to anyone who met him for the first time. Like one who lives by adages like “rest when you’re dead” and “why would you walk when you can run.” And the good old “early to bed, early to rise, makes you happy, healthy and wise.”

Okay, perhaps the last one is an exception. He does like to wake up early; but that doesn’t imply he is alien to fun. He is not as rigid in is persona as he looks, even less so when you get to know him.

Bandem’s father, on the other hand, is the definition of inflexibility. Anpag has told him a lot about Bandem’s dad, and many of these things were displeasing bordering on unsavoury.

Which is exactly what sometimes worries The Fat Dad.

At this point, we should clarify that The Fat Dad is not being used as an offensive title. We are calling The Fat Dad so because that is, in fact, what the boys call him; save his own son, who might not agree with his friends over this but has never openly opposed it.

Bandem…  There is something about him, from all that he heard from Anpag, that The Fat Dad can’t shake away. Perhaps Bandem reminds The Fat Dad of his own childhood. Of his own parents, and their persistent disappointment over The Fat Dad’s choices – his friends, his grades, his lifestyle.

To the underconfident kid that would grow up to be called The Fat Dad by his son’s friends, the consistent disapproval buried him under a mountain of insecurity; instilling in him a fear of…

People. And the things they said, and the way they behaved around him.

This fear and the resentment as a result of it pushed him into finding solace in things he knew he couldn’t let down.

Books, movies, football.

From the couple of times The Fat Dad had a chance to converse with Bandem, in the little capacity they were, he saw the 15-year-old as a blast from the past. The slight tremor in the kid’s voice, using the word “sorry” repeatedly, not maintaining eye contact were all signs he suffered the same pain.

The first time The Fat Dad noticed these little nuances in Bandem’s behaviour, which he could identify almost immediately having experienced them himself, he felt a tug of wanting to… do something. Reach out to the kid and tell him that it was all right. That the mountain of insecurity was only a temporary hurdle; that once Bandem grew legs strong enough, scaling it would be as easy as… breathing.

Which is why he would constantly ask his son, Anpag, about Bandem. How was Bandem doing? What did Anpag think of Bandem – as a friend, as a person? Did Anpag think Bandem was… any different from the rest of them?

Anpag did recognise the unmistakable concern in his dad’s questions, but he also felt a tug of envy. He answered his father’s inquiries as well as he could. We can suppose The Fat Dad’s indulgence in Bandem’s life was perhaps why a definitive crack – no matter that it was hairline and barely even noticeable – appeared in the two boys’ friendship.

And, so, when The Fat Dad happened to see Bandem in that treehouse – anxious, desperate – he knew the kid was in trouble.

“Is he dead?” someone, who wasn’t Bandem, spoke.

The Fat Dad craned his neck, far enough to see the boy sitting on a little stool in front of Bandem. This kid was visibly shaking. The Fat Dad looked over Bandem to see if he was shaking as badly. Bandem wasn’t. And that, for a reason he neither thought nor would have been able to decipher had he given it a chance, made The Fat Dad feel proud.

But when he heard the tremor in Bandem’s voice as he worded his answer, the reality of where he was and what he was seeing struck him. “I… I don’t know,” Bandem said.

Had the boys… killed someone? And, worse (and maybe even stupidly), brought the body back here? How they could have carried it here, unless there was a secret tunnelway they used to transport it, didn’t cross the Fat Dad’s mind.

And it never would.

“Hey?” someone called.

At first, The Fat Dad didn’t hear it. It was when the voice called out again that his mind registered the voice.

“Hello?” the voice said again.

“Hmm?” The Fat Dad wheeled around, guilt-faced. “Oh, hi Ryan!”

Ryan Arda – The Cool Dad – stood in the doorway to the backyard; wondering what Anpag’s father was doing staring. “Can I help you?” he said.

“Yeah, I just…”

And, with that, The Fat Dad went over to Ryan; and he put what he had just witnessed at the back of his mind.

Only for a while.

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