Away On Business

“Your Papa is away on business,” is what Mama kept saying to us. It was a blatant lie because in actuality Papa was dead. He had died in a motorcycle accident when I was around six and I had seen his dead body myself, complete with the cuts and scrapes on his face and hands. We both saw the body – me and my younger brother – so I never understood why Mama always told us that lie.
    We never openly discussed Papa, at least I didn’t. For years I didn’t know what to say to people when they asked about him except to shamefully repeat the lie Mama always told us. It embarrassed me and I hated her for this but I didn’t know what else to do. I was, after all, only a child and Mama was my only source of guidance. Sometimes I wished I could believe that Papa was just away on business so that I would be able to fit in better with the other kids at school. The kids who would always talk about what their Daddy bought them for their birthdays and how important their Daddy’s job was. Until I was in my early twenties I didn’t even have the guts to ask Mama what Papa’s job had been. I imagined it was something important and exciting. I knew that motorcycles had been his passion since he was a teenager and so I pictured him as a talented motorcycle racer. Sometimes I’d picture him as just a regular businessman like the other Dads but motorcycle racer was my favourite fantasy occupation for him.
    As I got older it became harder and harder to imagine that Papa was away on business. The lack of communication from him was what made it hardest. My little brother, Adam, often asked if there were letters from Papa and in the beginning there were and Mama would read them to Adam and me before bed. I glanced at one of these letters once and noticed that Papa’s handwriting was strangely similar to Mama’s. After that every time I thought of Papa I could only see his cold, dead face lying in his coffin.
    “Just admit that he’s dead, already!” is what I always wanted to scream at Mama when she sat up telling Adam about all the adventures Papa must have been having and how much he missed us all. “He doesn’t miss us at all,” I would think, “he isn’t even capable of feelings anymore. He doesn’t even exist anymore.”
    One day in middle school all the kids were talking about their parents. Everyone was bragging about what their fathers did and suddenly everyone was curious about Papa. Since starting middle school I had kept mum about Papa. I refused to talk about him and the teachers never questioned me about it (I later learned it was because Mama had clued them in to Papa’s death). On this particular day it was like nobody could continue on with their lives unless they knew all about my Papa and I started getting irritated. A big part of me wanted to just tell them all the truth, to say it out loud once and for all. To make it official, but another part of me worried about Mama and how she would maybe be embarrassed to have continued with this façade when I had known the truth all along. As much as I failed to understand her and as much as it angered me that she lied to us, she was the only parent I had left and I loved her despite everything.
    “C’mon, what does your Dad do?” the most obnoxious kid in class, Chip Havergale, asked me. “I bet he’s just a stinkin’ janitor or something.”
    This sent the other kids into shrieks of laughter. It boiled my water, though, and before I could stop myself I calmly stated, “Actually, my Papa died when I was really little.”
    The laughter suddenly stopped, as if a fuse had been cut, and everyone stared at me in discomfort. I should have felt a little smug because I had put Havergale in his place, but instead I happened to see Adam frozen just outside the group of kids staring at me with the worst expression I’ve ever seen. He looked at if his world had crumbled all around him and it suddenly hit me that maybe he didn’t remember Papa’s corpse as vividly as I did. Maybe Mama had started that lie in an attempt to allow me and Adam to keep our innocence but I, unfortunately, had just been too old to keep my innocence. But Adam was and did keep his innocence all these years, until I blabbed the truth to everyone in the playground.     
    “Just kidding!” I shouted suddenly. I needed damage control and that was the first thing that came to mind. “My Papa’s actually just away on business.” I chuckled unsurely.
    “How could you joke about something like that?” Chip Havergale questioned; there was a hint of acidity in his tone. “You’re kind of a bitch, you know that?” He turned and walked away with his friends, shaking his head. The crowd dispersed and all I heard were echoes of “I can’t believe her!” “How could she joke about that?” “What kind of person is she?” I didn’t say anything, or move even. I glanced over at Adam and he frowned at me in confusion. I gave him what I hoped was a reassuring smile.
    That night I walked by Adam’s room where Mama was tucking him in. I heard Adam ask her when Papa would come home. I stopped short and stared at the scene with wide eyes. I felt like I was drowning in guilt when I saw Mama turn a light shade of pink. “He’ll be home soon, sweets,” she said and for the first time I noticed how hard it was to lie to him. I suddenly felt this intense love for her and realised just how hard it must have been for her to lose the love of her life and pretend every day as if he was just away on business. I saw her, for the first time, as someone who needed protecting from the harsh realities of her life and wished that I could just let her hide out under my wing and never come to any harm ever again.
    I stood lost in thought outside Adam’s room until Mama got up and walked out of the room. She saw me and frowned with worry. “What’s wrong, kid?” she asked cupping my face in her hands. Tears began flowing down my cheeks completely out of my control and Mama took me in her arms and stroked my hair. “Oh, don’t cry, kid, don’t cry,” she said. “You Papa will be back before you know it.”