There comes a time in every youth’s life where he or she has to make a hard choice, or a string of choices. These choices are usually life changing, and helm him or her gain perspective about their skills. Petal was a classic example of such a situation.
Petal was the only daughter of Marilyn, a local floral store owner in Downing Street where they lived in London. She had named her daughter after her merchandise, something of a poetic inside joke. Petal’s father had left her and her mother when she was just 2 years old and they just had each other in this world, and according to them, that was more than sufficient. Petal loved her mother. She didn’t like to tick her off for anything, and as a result they got along very well.
Marilyn was earnest and effective in getting Petal educated. Petal never felt that she was the daughter of a single mom. Her mother was always there for her. She completed her education in a local public school with flying colors. She then went to college and finished her graduation as a business major in London as well. She wasn’t a bad student at all. In fact she was so good, that she had gotten offers for work in France, the United States and believe it or not, Japan.
What was admirable wasn’t the fact that she had those many offers, but that she rejected each of them. She decided to find a job in London, because she wanted to support her mother now. It was her turn. She decided she’d work for a few years and pay off the loans and mortgages and then she’d buy a small home in Newcastle where her mother’s relatives all lived and they’d run a small store, just enough for their daily needs. She had it all figured out.
But there was just a tiny problem. She hadn’t found a job that agreed with her in London. She had gotten offers from companies abroad and all of them required for her to travel to a different country. None of the organizations had agreed her request to let her stay in London. Now it felt like she had to start from scratch to find a job. And these were trying times. Finding a job in London wasn’t an easy job. It meant long hours of staring at news paper advertisements and giving interviews, then waiting patiently for one of the firms to call back. And she did just that.
Marilyn observed as her daughter did all of this with a silent tear in her eye. Her daughter, who had topped the university two out of the three years her course, took. Her picture had come on the papers a few times; the firms that took her in were firms to die for. Her pride for her daughter new no bounds and it pained her to see how Petal was wasting away her future for her sake.
She soon found a solution for her daughter to get a good job. A few blocks away from her shop, there was a firm in which there was a person, Joseph who frequented her shop to buy flowers and manure. She figured she’d ask him for any openings that might be there in his firm. And she did just that. The very next day, Joseph came to the shop.
“Joseph, we’ve known each other for a few years now, could you do me a favor” Marilyn asked meekly.
Joseph was surprised, He knew Marilyn was a proud woman, he enjoyed talking to her, and he had found out how she had taken care of her infant daughter and lived through alone without any outside help. And for her to ask help, he knew she really needed something and had no other options. Thinking this, he said “Sure Mary, anything for an old friend”
“Thanks Joe, you know my daughter, she just finished college and was searching for a job, could you hook her up with something?” Marilyn said.
Joseph understood what the problem was. He had come to know Petal too and knew how she had left her opportunities for her mother. He respected the little girl. He knew he had to help them. He said “Sure Mary, I will see what I can do; I’ll call you up later today after I’ve asked around”
And then he left, he knew what he had to do. He rushed to his office and picked up his phone.
Petal had let feelers out for finding a job. Meanwhile, she knew she couldn’t sit idly at her house wasting her time. She had to start some sort of part time job as she waited, something to get a little cash in and something that keeps her engaged. She asked a few friends, one of her friends had a family restaurant her father owned. She asked her to come in for a little interview.
Petal went to the restaurant which was right at the end of Piccadilly in central London. She walked in and tried to find her friend’s father and found him standing right outside the kitchen talking to one of the chefs.
“Mr. Shanks, Becky said I could come meet you today, I was looking for a job” She said, with a smile.
Now Petal was by no means unattractive. Quite the contrary, when she made an effort, Petal was a beautiful girl, with well-groomed hair, a sharp nose and sparkling pair of eyes and lips that actually seem inspired by her name. And her features got her quite a bit of attention from the opposite gender. Her real beauty lay in the fact that she didn’t quite understand how beautiful she really was.
Robert Shanks was a restaurant owner and a father of two. He was married for 20 years, but still in essence he was still a man. He couldn’t help but stare with wonder at Petal as she walked in. Then he caught his bearings and said “Sure dear, Becky had mentioned you, we are actually looking for a hostess as our earlier one got married and moved to Spain. Would that be fine for you?”
Petal was taken aback, she had wanted a counter job, she wanted something do with crunching some numbers. That was what she was good at, she didn’t want this, and not because she didn’t think the job was hard, but because she didn’t think she looked the part. But she didn’t show her disappointment, she knew she was being done a favor and she appreciated it.
“Sure Mr. Shanks, that’ll be lovely!” she said faking excitement.
Shanks did not notice any change in her countenance and even if he did he didn’t show it, “Alright then, you can start tomorrow, I’ll chalk out the other details of your employment and have a contract prepared for you to sign when you walk in tomorrow, good night dear” he said and went back to the kitchen to finish his conversation.
Petal left the restaurant and took the bus back home.
A couple of weeks passed. Her opinion for the job hadn’t changed by a bit, but she didn’t mind the people she was working with. They were a bunch of happy go lucky set of waiters, chefs and back staff. They were fun to talk to, and everyone had been handpicked by Robert Shanks. If nothing, he knew how to treat his staff. He was a good man. Her job meant she had to allocate the guests to their seat, greet them and make sure the guests know the specials and any events that are going on, in the restaurant. Every staff member in the restaurant had come to realize how overqualified she was for the job, but they thought the girl was sweet, and they enjoyed her company just as much as she did theirs.
It was a Wednesday; she left her house to make her way to the bus stop, when Petal felt like she was being followed. When she looked back there wasn’t anyone but she just couldn’t shake the feeling she was being watched. She quickly made her way to the bus stop and took the bus and sat way in the back in the same seat she sat in everyday, and opened her novel to read, and forgot all about her earlier discomfort.
The bus travel from her house to the restaurant took about an hour, so she usually got a few pages to read before her stop came. So she usually did that, and she liked the calm that the bus gave her. It wasn’t the quiet that she liked, but the clamor with a hint of calmness. She knew some of the travelers in the bus, they used the same bus daily just like her, and they had work places to go to, or place to visit. She liked the familiarity that her routine had brought.
Soon her bus reached her stop; she got up and looked past the rear glass of the bus. She noticed that a car that had been parked near her house earlier in the morning was following the bus closely. Her discomfort from earlier returned. She passed it off as a coincidence and got out of the bus.
She entered the restaurant and went around doing her morning routines that she did every morning. In spite of being constantly engaged in some work or the other, she couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched; she peered outside to see that the car that she had seen was parked outside.
Patrick, one of the waiters who had taken a friendly liking to Petal noticed how she was on the edge. He walked up to her and said “What happened, Petal? You look like you have an upset stomach”
Petal came out of her trance with a start “Oh its nothing, Pat. It’s just that, I think I am being followed.”
Patrick was surprised. Petal hadn’t stuck him as the paranoid type. He asked her for details. She told him how a car had been following her all morning. “Oh, is that the one, the emerald convertible across the street?”
Petal nodded. Patrick took of his waiter’s apron and excused himself from his supervisor and went to check the car out, to see for himself. When he walked to the car, no one was in it. He rushed back to the restaurant and told Petal just that.
Petal was all the more worried. She said “Maybe this is all just a big coincidence, I’m sure it was nothing.” Then she went on with her day while keeping an eye on the car to see if anyone walked to it but no one did.
Soon it was 8 pm and her day had ended, she walked to the bus stop constantly looking behind her back. The car hadn’t moved after she left. She breathed a sigh of relief. She had imagined it after all. She got onto her bus and quickly glanced behind to see if the car had moved. It hadn’t. She got more reassured.
She found her favorite seat empty. She finally sat down, her worries forgotten. A man, she had never seen in her bus before sat next to her. He had gotten onto the bus from her stop as well. He was a middle aged guy with graying hair, with clothes that seemed too upscale for a bus passenger. She smiled to herself thinking about the diversity that a bus brought.
She smiled at him politely, he smiled back. She opened her novel and continued reading. The man just sat there. She felt her eyes looking at her, but she was too glued onto her novel to think anything of it. Soon her stop came. She got up to leave, so did the man. She quickly got down and started walking towards her house. He followed.
“Walk a little slower, Petal. I can’t quite keep up with you” He said suddenly, breaking their hour-long silence.
She froze. How did he know her name? Who was he? Why was he following her for so long? Was he the one in the car? Why had he left the car and followed her in the bus instead? Was he some sort of insane stalker? She reached for the pepper spray in her purse.
“Easy, Petal, I can’t have you spraying me with that. I just want to talk. I promise I won’t lay a hand on you.” He said.
She turned back and looked at him. After briefly studying his features, she said “Who are you?”
“Petal, I am your father” He said, smiling.
She was dazed. Her head spun. Her father who had left her and her mother when she was just 2 years old was here in front of her. Or was he her father really? She barely even remembered him; she barely remembered her face, or his voice for that matter. “What…. Why?” She mumbled.
“An old friend called me a few weeks back. Mary had asked him to find a job for you. I wasn’t in London then, so I made sure to meet you the first thing I came back. I did not know how to approach you, so I just followed you, until I figured things out for myself. I am sorry if I scared you, dear” He said.
She did not know what to say at this point. She had been freaked out and on the edge all day and now she found out it was her father who had followed her. Her long-lost father; she did not know how to react. But she knew she had to go home first or her mother would be worried.
“Let’s walk home, I want to go home, and I can’t process this so quickly.” She said
He nodded, “I will come with you, and it’s about time I met Mary too, after all this time”
On the way back he explained how he had been dedicated to his work back in his youth and how he hadn’t wanted the weight that a family brought. He had distanced himself from the family that he had made to concentrate on his work. He had soon prospered due to his dedication and was the CEO of TechMecha Inc, a phone company which had revolutionized a few technologies and had come up with next-gen phones that he had designed himself along with a few experts. And he finished by saying he wanted her to work for him.
Words were dancing around in petal’s heads. All this was too much for her to take in over just a casual walking conversation. She needed a day , no maybe a week to process this. She looked at her father in the light of the street lamps that were there on the way back home. She knew her mother would be waiting in her house before she can start eating her food. She knew that she might even be happy to see her father after so long. But what she didn’t know was what she thought. She was definitely not prepared for this. Maybe her mother would help. Maybe a night’s sleep would. She didn’t know.
Soon they were home. She rang the bell.
“I’m coming honey, wait” Her mom’s voice echoed outside.
Soon, her mom was at the door, she opened it.
“Hey, mom, guess what, dad’s back home.” She said as both of them walked across the threshold, into the house.
Her mother wore the surprised face akin to that of a goldfish as she turned back and closed the door. It was going to be a long night.