Everyday, I would take the bus to school, make my own breakfast, do my own hair. My dad promised to always pick me up from school, and he did for a while. He got a new job, which required him to be out more. He forgot to buy the peanut butter and jelly for my sandwiches. Today, I just had some white bread and a bag of chips.
Thursday was the first day Uncle James picked me up. He rode in a silver Toyota Corolla with tons of bumper stickers littering the vehicle. He had this “I Don’t Care,” demeanor. We rode in utter silence, his focus dead on the road. My schoolmate, Suza gave me some mini M&M’s, she told me that lunch should comprise of more than a piece of bread. I happily agreed and accepted the snack with gratitude.
As we entered the freeway I noticed that Uncle James started tapping his thigh as if he was a broken metronome practicing his audition for percussion in the Sydney Opera. The tapping was slow, steady, and rhythmic at first. I didn’t notice the gesture until I felt my seat propel forward as my body jerked an earthquake out of my chest. His taps became slaps and his slaps became taps. Uncle James never said a word, just endless tapping and focus on the road.
I continually got driven home by Uncle James, we started talking after about a week of silence. Uncle James is actually a genuinely interesting character. He was an special effects artist, and he met quite a few famous people of the movie industry including my favorite, Leonardo DiCaprio. He said he knew my father when they were in college and are close friends.
My dad finally brought me home after about a month of neglect. His muscles looked overused, as if a battering ram had charged at him. His chin had a bit of stubble from the days of not shaving. His hair loosely resembled a birds nest, with stray hairs sticking out, defying all the laws of gravity. His white button up shirt had two buttons undone. The collar was crumpled as if his tie was there to disrupt the even folds of fabric. His eyes looked blurry, distant, as if not in focus. I contemplated about touching him to see if that would put him in focus.
My dad queried, “How was school?”
He was following protocol, “Fine.”
“I’m sorry, Sweetheart.” The earnesty in his voice was evident.
He looks tired. “I know,” changing the subject quickly I ask, “How do you know Uncle James?”
Relief was painted in hues across his face, “We were close friends. He was who introduced me to Flora.”
Mom. That was a matter for another day, I thought when I blurted, “Why does Uncle James slap his thigh? Is he a psychopath?”
Dad’s shoulders rolled back, his hand combed through his hair as if would help. He continued to do so as he replied, “Uncle James likes to sleep. He slaps himself to stay awake.”
My dad’s silence decided that the conversation was over. Uncle James came to pick me up the day after.