20: Workman’s Cramp

“There’s absolutely no reason for a man over the age of eighteen to ever be fired from a job,” Khalid Kazemi said.  He was standing over Smile, who was a picture of smoldering agitation at one end of the couch, but he wasn’t looking at his younger brother.  “Especially not a job for high school students,” Khalid added.  “I can understand why you haven’t told our mother and father about this job, but why did you have it in the first place?  Is delivering food really all that you’re capable of?”

Smile said nothing.  His fists were balled at his temples, eyes on the floor, and he was clenching his teeth, hard, so hard he thought they might crack if Khalid didn’t shut up soon.  Sheerin was in the kitchen, ostensibly scrubbing the space between the stove and the counter, but no doubt listening to every word they said.  At least Khalid was speaking English.

“I had to reassure our mother when you failed out of med school.  I told her you’d be okay, that you were still finding your way.  She asked me to talk to you, while I was here, you know.”

“About what?”  He tried to keep the anger out of his voice, and failed.

Khalid sneered.  “About what you’re doing with your life.  About why you’re wasting time delivering pizzas and screaming into a microphone for a lousy, no-talent band instead of building your future.”

“Oh.  That.”

“Be sarcastic all you like, Ismail.  The fact remains that you’ve done next to nothing with your life, and it pains our mother and father to see that.  Don’t you see how it hurts them?”

If I had a life, Smile thought, there’d be no one to shovel the walk for them.  He didn’t say this.

“So now in one night, you’ve managed to wreck your car, lose your license, and get fired from a job that a monkey could do.”  Khalid shook his head in disbelief.  “I wish you had just told me you needed help.  I could have helped you find something better.”

“As if I weren’t capable of doing that on my own?”

‘”Well.  You hadn’t done it, had you?  Why aren’t you still in the EMT program?”

“I don’t want to talk about that.”

“So you managed to flunk out of that program, too?”

“I said I don’t want to fucking talk about it!” Smile yelled, snapping his fists down to his sides.  The walls seemed to tremble.  Maybe that was just the blood pounding in his ears, though.  The urge to bust Khalid in the mouth was so strong he could taste it.

Khalid was looking down at him like he was a child.  “Ismail,” he said sadly.  “I don’t know what to do.  What do you want me to do?  What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know,” Smile said, not looking at him.  “I don’t care.” He hadn’t meant to say the last out loud.

“Well.”  He squatted in front of Smile, looking his brother in the eye.  “That’s the problem, isn’t it?  That’s the heart of the problem.  You don’t care about anything.”

Smile shrugged.  He was thinking of Dori.  He wondered if she had really been relieved when he’d suggested they should break up, or if it had been his imagination.  He had told himself he was going to wait to call her, but there were things he needed to say.  Rationally it seemed like once he’d gotten her car fixed, that would be it, and they wouldn’t have anything else to talk about any more, but the feeling of release wasn’t there.  He still wanted to see her.  Oh, not to date her, but he wanted to hang out with her at least.  The last few months of their rotten relationship had managed to temporarily obscure the things they actually liked about one another, but now, when he thought about it, he remembered.

Khalid was still lecturing him.  “I’d pay to send you back to med school, but I think you’d just flunk out again.  It’s time to start acting like a man instead of a boy, but I’m not sure if you’re ready.”

“Yeah, well, maybe I’m not.”

“I wish you’d take this seriously.  Look, I’ve talked to a friend of mine.  He can get you a job at his cousin’s shop.  It’ll keep you employed, at least.  And I won’t tell our mother and father about your shameful situation.  I think that’s best for you, and best for them.  But you need to do something for me, in return.”

Smile said nothing, and waited.

“I want you to decide what path you’re going to take.  Before Sheerin and I go home, I want you to tell me what you’re going to do with your life.  No false dreams of riding to success on the wings of your nonexistent musical talent.  I want to know what you plan to do, and how you plan to accomplish it, and I want you started on it in the next two months, because you’re going to kill our mother if you keep up this lifestyle.  Do we have a deal?”

Smile stood.  One punch to the mouth was all it would have taken.  One punch, and Khalid would have walked out the door, bloody, and taken his bitch wife with him and never come back.  Just one punch.  His shoulders tensed, then slumped.  “Okay,” he said.