The story has been published as part of my book available on  26 words : A to Z of Short Stories on Amazon

Shilpa sat in the balcony sipping her hot coffee, she was staring at the nest that the sparrows had made on the ledge. She had been so preoccupied these days with Naren that she fallen behind on the cleaning and upkeep of the house. The balcony had specially become very messy with all kinds of odds and ends being dumped there. She will have to get this place cleaned, She will do it once the sparrows leave.

Naren, her 16 year old son was still sleeping. Last night had been particularly hard, with Naren having fits and nightmares throughout the night. He was in a lot of pain, Shilpa had spent the whole night along with her husband in their son’s room. Naren had just been back from the de addiction centre after 4 months of detoxification program. The last year had been hell for them. They had been a picture perfect family up until thag, both Shilpa and her husband being successful bankers, living in a posh urban society , Naren was enrolled in one of the biggest schools in the city, until last year when they realized that he was addicted to Cocaine. He had been caught with it at school and had been promptly rusticated from the school. Following that, Shilpa had quit her job to take care of their only son full time.  It was a long journey for them now to get him back.

Shilpa and Dhiren had never realized when their son had got entangled in the web of addictions. As both their jobs were highly demanding, there was very little time that they actually spent as a family together. Though both of them consciously tried to spend as much quality time with family as possible.. Screen time, TV time etc were all regulated at their house but as Naren grew up and entered his teens, he started spending more and more time alone. He preferred to be locked up in his room for hours or hang out with his friends rather than be cooped up with his parents. This was natural and all kids his age did the same thus, it never really bothered them so much. It was now that Shilpa realized that in her own way, she had also been relieved when the demands on her time had become lesser and lesser from her son’s side. She was able to pursue a lot more of her own interests and was happy. They both failed to see the warning signs that their child exhibited as he drew further into his own cocoon, maintaining a distance from them. They did not think much of it, when he asked them to increase his pocket money either, they knew peer pressure could be a bitch and they did not want their son to feel left out. They did not mind either, when he asked for frequent night outs and stayed over at friend’s places. Shilpa failed to notice when exactly one of her rings had gone missing, neither did Dhiren remember when was the last time he had actually seen his Tag Heuer watch; they promptly replaced the day maid and hired a more recommended one from a reputed agency.

It had come as shock when they got called by the school and were informed that Naren was missing classes and was performing very poorly in his studies. He was failing to pay attention in his class. Back home upon confronting him they had come to know that he had become highly addicted.

Naren tossed and turned on his bed, his throat felt very dry. He felt weak all over and was very tired. He had been sober for 4 months now and it was still as difficult. He did not know when it all started, the first time was when he joined the boys in his class for a puff of smoke, that was 2 years ago. It had felt like his throat was burning and he spluttered out but kept at it, it would be totally uncool to not be able to do it. Later that week they had a party and they all went out to a club, Naren accepted his first drink without hesitation, he had seen his parents down the occasional peg at the end of the day. He was now old enough to do it too. The parties were where he started making more friends, friends who introduced him to cool things, like the white powder everyone was sniffing; his friends had promised it was a better high than the occasional toke or even Vodka. In the beginning it had been fun to try it out, soon the 14 year old was unable to live without his daily hits. He started missing classes to go hang out with his friends. He found that he was able to concentrate much better after a hit, so he would try some before an exam, but he just needed it more and more. Once he slept through an entire paper, he was so hungover from his high strung night shenanigans. The He fudged the report card before showing it to his parents. When the call from the school came, his parents had been furious and Dhiren lapped him across his face, for the first time in his life. Right after getting slapped, Naren could only think about how badly he needed a hit right now. When his father locked him in his room, Naren could barely stay calm, went into the washroom and found his emergency stash.

Shilpa grimaced while thinking how late they had been to act even after that. They had tried locking him up, scolding, beating and threatening him to try and stop him. It had taken so long to realise that their son was addicted and they had to treat it as a real disease. Naren was in real physical pain when he was in withdrawal. They took him to a doctor who referred them to a de-addiction centre and a counsellor. Seeking therapy was an option they had not wanted to explore. His treatment had started later with a programme for detoxification and rehabilitation chalked out. Shilpa winced nowadays to look at the hollow shell that her once beautiful son had turned into.

She wiped her tears and went to the kitchen to make some breakfast for him. She wanted to make his favourite gobi paratha for him. Later that day she took him for his scheduled session with his therapist.

Two weeks later, things were looking much better, Naren was feeling better and his face had some of the previous colour back in it. He looked a little healthier too, Shilpa moved away her eyes from his face. She did not want to jinx it. They had just come back from a round of morning jog, when the phone rang, Dhiren’s father had been taken seriously ill and was admitted in a hospital in Chandigarh. Dhiren and Shilpa were extremely worried about how they could take Naren along, there will be too many questions if their relatives saw him. They decided to leave him alone for a day, Shilpa was supposed to come back the next day and Dhiren will stay back in Chandigarh until his father got better. Naren promised them he will not go out of the house. Shilpa made him promise to call her every hour.

Naren spent the day watching TV and eating junk food. It was late at evening when he felt very bored; he picked up his mobile and called his friend to chat. “Are you alone at your house then? Listen I have a new designer one with me, want to try it? I know you are in Rehab, but you have been sober for so long bro, a little celebration will not harm, what do you say?” Naren wanted to say no, he remembered the painful nights and the writhing pain but it had been so long, surely a very little bit will not harm. He will ensure that he just has a single shot, not more than that. “Ok, come along fast.”

It was a new drug, a designer combination that he had never tried before. It had been so long, Naren felt free, the sense of euphoria came rushing back, he was happy again, painless. He savoured it. The night breeze was so calming, he walked out onto the balcony. His friend was slumped on the couch, lost, when Naren climbed on-to the parapet. He spread out his arms to breathe in the cold night air and lost his balance.

While Shilpa and Dhiren stood staring at the lifeless body of their son sprawled on the concrete floor she noticed that the small nest was lying by Naren’s twisted feet. Thankfully the sparrows had flown away already.

Short Story by

Smita Pal Sinha