He’d told her he wasn’t coming back. And he meant it.
It’d been a rough night outside of the house; the endless parade of tiny crystal raindrops, the drunk murmuring of disorientated men and the thunderous humming of passing vehicles, but it was really nothing he couldn’t handle. Freedom came at a cost – he understood that – so if that meant surviving a few sleepless, chilly nights then so be it.
He certainly wasn’t prepared for many though. In his blazing fury, he’d only packed two sets of clothes, a half-empty can of antiperspirant, a jumper and his laptop. Plus, the only pair of shoes he had were the trainers on his feet and an old pair of worn out socks. He had his phone, earphones and wallet. But a wallet full of expired cards didn’t really help him.
Though he wasn’t prepared physically, he’d played and replayed every possible scenario he could think of in his head. He had a plan, and he wasn’t messing it up. Not this time. He knew what he was going to say; he’d envisioned the smiles, the tears and the happiness. It was going to be perfect. He’d hopped off the train and found himself in the midst of the bustling city of London. Honestly, he didn’t think he’d get this far, and he didn’t know what to do with himself at first. But it’s not like he could go back, could he? He flipped his hood on, burying his bewilderment away from this strange city under a layer of thick material and shrugged his backpack higher on his arched back.
His phone buzzed.
He knew it was Mum – again – he didn’t have to look. Besides, looking back wasn’t part of his plan.
Instead, he looked up at the clear sky. He exhaled, manifesting the tight pressure he felt in his lungs into a small puff of air. Like the air, the pressure seemed to rise off his chest. Even though it was only in the corner of his vision, the sun captured the opportunity and extended its bright rays; blinded him momentarily. He turned, raising his arm and let his head fall.
And then he saw it. A telephone box. Standing, dull grey in appearance. A phone with credit; that he could use. It enchanted him like it was calling him. It hypnotised him, not with its charm or its outer lustre but its ability, its power and its mastery. It would set his plan in motion. He didn’t even realise he’d placed his hand on its handle. But nothing good comes free. The price of his happiness was displayed on a sign in the phone box:
‘Minimum fee 60p.’
After a little digging, under all the empty wrappers and crumbs in his pocket, he found 84 pence. Perfect.
He dialled the number. He knew it by heart because that’s where he kept it; close to his heart. He pressed the receiver close to his ear. He felt his body trembling with excitement and dread. His plan was in motion. And he wasn’t going to mess up. Not this time.
“Not this time,” He whispered.
“Hello?” the receiver came to life in a pained and groggy fashion as a voice echoed from the other side.
“Benji? Wh–what are you doing? What number are you calling from?”
“I’m in London, Dad. I’m calling from a phone box,”
“A phone box? What are you doing in London? Does your Mum know?”
He stayed silent. Turning away from the dialling pad, he traced his finger along the edge of small windows in the phone box. His finger came back spoiled with dust.
“I mean she saw me leave the house,” He mumbled. “She didn’t stop me,”
To be frank, being told off by his Dad didn’t feel how he’d thought it’d feel; it gave him a warm feeling. Satisfaction. It was something he’d never really experienced, and he didn’t understand how anyone could complain about it. It felt amazing. After all, it meant he cared, right? He beamed silently.
“And she approved?”
“Look, I don’t need her approval. Aren’t you happy, Dad? I came all this way and…” He closed his eyes, bracing himself; forming the words in his head. “I wanna spend the summer with you. You said I could remember? You said we’d go places and I’d see things I’ve never seen before. You said you’d turn me into a real man and that I should give you a chance. Well, I’m giving you that chance, Dad, to be in my life. ‘Cause… I actually wouldn’t really mind having an actual Dad,”
He heard Greg chuckle softly at his last statement and it made him laugh too.
He’d said it.
He’d bared his feelings, and he held his breath waiting for a response.
The silence that followed proved unbearable. Benji’s fingers clutched the phone tighter, closer to his ear. He wanted to hear every word he’d imagined his Dad saying in return. He wanted to hear his voice crack under the emotion and he wanted him to tell him he’d always loved him and he was ready to re-establish their strained relationship.
But he didn’t hear anything. Just the sound of Greg’s mouth opening and then sighing instead of speaking.
Benji gulped, trying not to panic at the sign of his plan spinning out of control.
“Dad? Didn’t you hear what I said? I said I want to be with you,”
Greg sighed. “Listen to me, Benji, okay?”
When it hit him, it hit him hard. Like a merciless slap in the face.
“You don’t want me… Do you?”
“No no Benjamin, it’s not like that-”
“Then what?” His mouth twisted bitterly as he tried not to break down. He held his lips tight shut.
“Benji, look, I’m not even in London right now. I’m in Malta…with Genesis. We’re visiting her family.,” He then managed to croak out with a certain distaste in his tone: “I guess we’re getting serious,”
“You’re not gonna run away from commitment again, are you? Genesis is a real nice lady, and she doesn’t-,”
Greg chuckled. A sly, guilty chuckle that made Benji’s skin crawl. “I can’t promise anything buddy. You’ll understand when you get older,”
Benji scoffed. He hated where this conversation was going.
“So… That’s it? You’ve ditched me? What am I gonna do now then? I’m already in London,”
But he didn’t answer. Benji listened as he heard another voice further away from the phone. He couldn’t make out what they were saying, but he got the idea that it wasn’t that of a friend and it certainly wasn’t male. And he just about made out the sultry, low tone; nothing at all like Genesis’ shrill, bubbly voice.
“Dad? Who’s that?”
“Are you even with Genesis? Have you ditched her too?”
Greg’s voice deepened drastically, practically chafing the receiver. “Hey! You better listen up, I don’t have to explain anything to you. What I decide to do is none of your-”
Benji shook his head. This man wasn’t even worth the effort to scream and shout. “Every single time, you always make so many excuses. Always. Well, damn you and your excuses. I’m not that gullible 6-year-old that you left 10 years ago. I’m not falling for them anymore. And I’m not waiting another 10 years for you. I thought you cared about me as much as I did for you. But now I see that’s not how it is,”
“You may be my biological father, but you’ll NEVER be my Dad. You don’t deserve to be. Just like you don’t deserve my Mum or Genesis,”
“We’ll all be better off without you,” He sighed, looking down at the remaining coins in his shaking hands. “I just hope I have enough money to call Mum,”
And with that, he hung up.