He walked into the restaurant at exactly 1 pm, which was the time that they had decided to meet at. It wasn’t a very large place and a quick glance showed that it was mostly empty.
Shiv requested for a table for two. “How about that one?” he said pointing to one in the far corner.
Seating himself, he self consciously began reading the book that he was carrying. The fact of the matter was that the book was only a crutch and the words meant nothing. Over and over he kept reading the same paragraph, unable to absorb any of what was written.
Barely a minute had passed by and Shiv jumped up, noticing a man in his 50’s standing beside him. Unlike Shiv, the older man looked somewhat composed, with a slight smile on his face.
“May I?” he asked gently, pointing towards the chair across from the younger man.
Shiv nodded but words wouldn’t come out of his mouth. In fact he felt himself freeze, except for the feeling of his heart pounding, until the man gently touched his arm and asked him to have a seat.
The waiter came by to take their lunch order and Shiv managed to find a little bit of his voice. Very few words had been exchanged between the two men, mostly because Shiv would respond to everything in monosyllables.
Their lunch order arrived in a few minutes but neither one of them made any attempt to even begin eating.
“I can imagine how awkward this must be for you,” said Dinesh. “It’s just as awkward for me too.”
Dinesh continued speaking as Shiv, refusing to make eye contact, began playing with his food.
“You’re probably wondering why I got in touch with you. Why, after all these years, I wanted to meet you. I have no idea what you think of me but I’m sure whatever it may be, isn’t very good.”
He paused and looked towards Shiv, who now began glancing towards the older man. Dinesh couldn’t tell if those eyes were filled with hatred or indifference.
“I don’t hate you, if that’s what you’re thinking,” said Shiv quietly, almost as if he was a mind reader. “It’s hard to hate someone that I have no memory of.”
There was silence for a minute as both of them began picking on their food.
“Yes I do dislike my dad,” continued Shiv. “But I can’t think of you as being that man. I have no mental picture of my father so no, I don’t hate the person sitting in front of me.”
The wave of emotion that had overcome Shiv upon seeing his biological father, had passed. Always articulate and well spoken, he had regained his composure and was somewhat in command of himself once again.
“You’re probably wondering why I wanted to see you after all these years,” said Dinesh once again.
‘Are you dying?”, Shiv blurted out.
The older man smiled but didn’t say anything.
Continuing to speak, Shiv said, “For the longest time I wanted to meet you, mostly just to see what kind of a man leaves his wife and 3 month old son and doesn’t care to even find out what condition they may be in.”
“I’m not proud of what I did," Dinesh responded. "I thought I was the modern day Buddha and wanted to attain Nirvana.”
Shiv laughed out loud. “And?”
Dinesh didn’t respond. He seemed to be getting more flustered with every passing minute. Shiv almost began feeling sorry for the man sitting in front of him, who all of a sudden looked older than his years.
‘Your grandfather passed away a couple of months ago,” said Dinesh. “He left all his money and property for me, but I have no use for it.”
“Neither do we,” said Shiv getting a drift of where this was headed. “Giving us money isn’t going to make everything okay.”
“I’m well aware of that, but as I said, I have no use for it.”
“So give it away to charity,” said Shiv curtly.
Dinesh, dug inside a small bag that he was carrying, pulled out an envelope and pushed it towards Shiv, who at this point was starting to get angry.
“I don’t want anything from you,” he said, louder than he had intended to.
Dinesh stood up to leave. “The cheque is in your mother’s name. Do me a favor and give it to her. That’s all I ask.”
Shiv felt his eyes turning moist.
“I’m not asking for your forgiveness,” said Dinesh. “That would be unrealistic. But if someday you decide to get in touch with me, maybe we can get to know each other. Not as father and son, since I've never been a father to you. Just as two human beings.”
The young man couldn’t speak and turned away, embarrassed to have gotten emotional in front of a stranger. By the time he turned back, Dinesh had left.
For the longest time Shiv kept sitting in the restaurant, having sent away his plate of food almost untouched. Each time the server would come towards him, he’d order another coffee. After ignoring several calls from the newspaper’s office he worked at, Shiv had switched off his phone. Finally when he felt ready to leave, he turned his phone back on and began going through his call history. He stopped at the number he had received a call from yesterday. From a man who wanted to meet for lunch.
Shiv saved his number as ‘Dinesh’.