An exclusive excerpt from Moazzam Sheikh‘s short story, Sunshine published in The Best Asian Short Stories- 2020 (Edited by Zafar Anjum), published by Kitaab in 2020.
Dinner done, table cleaned, plates stacked away in the sink along with forks and knives; I anticipate Jojo’s second wind before he finally agrees to be led to his bed. He’s at the moment in the bathroom with his mother brushing his teeth as hurriedly as possible while she tries her best to reinforce the value of slowing down, self-discipline, and healthy gums. He has internalised flossing as something that’s meant to create a rift between children and parents. In the meantime, I use that interregnum to check the news on my laptop, flitting from one website to another— celebrities dying, protests in Paris and elsewhere, politicians’ promises and scandals, stock market plunging, rents rising, homelessness epidemic, opioid crisis, pedestrians getting hit by careless Uber drivers, drive-by shootings, Venice Film Festival winners, accusations of sexual harassment, swamis finding cure for a virus in cow urine, a temporary ceasefire, children in detention centres, young boys being blindfolded, a mass shooting in Texas. Feeling disheartened, depressed, even I move away. I am scared, startled.
“Turn off the lights, Dad!” he orders excitedly.
“Hey, hey, let mom settle down first,” I say.
“Gotcha,” he says as he exits the bathroom, looking all serious, like a miniature Toshiro Mifune acting the part of a samurai. Luna closes the door. Luna, that’s not her real name, but when I met her, her friends called her Luna, so it has stuck. I pretend to look busy wiping the counter area around the sink and burners, putting salt and pepper shakers and other paraphernalia in their proper spots, so he’d give me an extra reprieve. Don’t get me wrong. Of course I not only cherish the time spent with my boy—he’s eight now—I love every minute of our nightly ritual even as I feel guilty; he should be getting into bed a bit on the earlier side. That’s why I let him sleep late in the morning while Luna or I prepare his breakfast and school lunch. I know how to get him to school on time, which worries Luna because she believes I drive a bit recklessly. Perhaps, certainly faster than her, but it is more like I know which alternative streets to take if the usual ones are crowded. The issue of him getting to bed late remains a source of mild friction and lighthearted bickering between Luna and me. She concedes, a little grudgingly when I proclaim how important this playtime, this bonding between father and son, is. But we are also trying to teach him forbearance, which he seems to value less and less since he’s entered third grade. He was born with a backup supply of energy which he enjoys unleashing on Luna and me at whim. Luna is offended when I bring up my theory about children as being hyenas. Unless taught otherwise, they’ll nibble on their parents’ ankles till they buckle. It gets worse usually if one of the parents is too soft without being able to implement early discipline. The more the parents treat their children like a “heina,” the more “heinous” they can become.
“Go change into your ‘jamas,’ ” I remind him as I do almost every night.
“After we play,” he tries to assert.
“Nope! You change first, then we play. Or it’s bedtime now,” I say with a mixture of authority and mirth.
Protesting, he goes to his room, but I can hear the sound in his head going okay, okay, garbanzo bean! I break into a smile. Luna’s out of the bathroom, smiling too, shaking her head. I am done with the kitchen. Not spic-and-span, but good enough, good enough for Luna to lord it over her sister whose partner can barely boil water for tea.
Excerpted with permission from The Best Asian Short Stories- 2020.