All he wanted was some privacy to get himself under control, so of course his father was waiting in his bedroom. It was an effort to not just start crying anyway and keep going until Dad had given up on talking and left him to be miserable. But he didn’t want to cry in front of his parents. Didn’t want them to pretend sympathy and try to ‘reason’ with him in order to get their way and get him to settle down and do what he was told again.
A wave of tiredness hit him and he yawned widely. “Can we do this later? Please?” he asked as he pulled off his jacket.
“I think it’s better if we don’t drag it out any longer. You need to get back to school and I need to get back to work, son. Just sit and let’s talk.”
“I’m tired,” he complained unhappily.
“Adnaan, do you have to make everything difficult?” Dad sounded tired himself and Adnaan felt a twinge of guilt. He shoved it away.
“Yes,” he told his father stubbornly.
“Fine.” Dad patted the bed. “Come lie down and I’ll talk until you sleep.”
He stayed where he was, wondering just how far he could push his luck. “I don’t want to talk.”
“Adnaan, I’m not asking.” Dad’s voice had taken on that sharp edge that let him know he was treading on thin ice. “Come here and listen, or you don’t get to have a say at all.”
The threat wasn’t empty. Reluctantly, he sat on the unoccupied side of his bed, facing away. He didn’t lie back.
Dad waited until he’d stopped moving before asking: “What do you want to do instead?”
“An Arts degree,” he replied dully, not naïve enough to be fooled. This wasn’t a concession, it was just his Dad’s way of starting an argument about how useless an Arts degree was.
But today, instead of Dad telling him that BA grads had the highest rate of unemployment, all he did was ask “You’re willing to start from scratch?”
“Then why can’t you finish your BComm?”
Adnaan nearly shouted. “Dad, I don’t want to!”
“Lower your voice,” his father scolded immediately.
He sniffed. “Sorry.”
“It’s too late in the year for you to start a new degree now, isn’t it?” Dad’s voice was calm and even.
“Don’t know,” he admitted. He hadn’t asked his Dean yet or filled in the application forms to cancel his modules. He hadn’t done anything because he’d wanted to tell his parents first. Now, he regretted not just going through with it by himself, even though he knew they would have been furious.
Dad wasn’t phased by his noncommittal reply. “I’m telling you it is. You’ll have to begin again next year.”
Was Dad trying to discourage him because of the wait? “Okay, so I’ll do that.”
“Then, Adnaan, why can’t you finish out this year?” The satisfaction his father felt at having cornered him made the words unbearably smug and Adnaan finally succumbed to his frustration.
“Because,” he snapped, “I hate it! I hate learning this.”
Dad was unmoved. “You’re going to waste thousands because you don’t like something? You want to keep studying next year? Fine. You want to whine and moan? Fine. But you will not waste an entire year’s worth of tuition and time because it’s no fun.”
Was that really what his father thought? Still? Even though Adnaan had tried time and again to explain it? “I’m not whining. I’m telling you that I can’t do it. I don’t understand it!” His breath caught on a hiccup.
Dad frowned. “You’ve been studying this for four and a half years now. You must have absorbed something.”
“You’ve seen my grades,” Adnaan shot back. “Does it look like I get what’s going on?”
Dad scowled suddenly. “Have you been failing on purpose?”
“No! What – No! How could you ask me that?” He’d never do something so ridiculous and he thought his parents would know that about him, at least.
“Don’t get upset.” But Dad looked a little guilty. “I had to ask.”
“Or,” Adnaan countered, feeling his temper begin to rise, “you could have just had a little faith in me.”
“Faith in what, Adnaan? You’ve been begging to stop doing this ever since the beginning.”
“And maybe, Dad, that was a sign that I shouldn’t be doing it!” He got to his feet. “I can’t believe you. I’ve been telling you this over and over and over again and you just haven’t been listening at all, have you?”
Dad ignored him. “This going round and round is pointless. I’ve agreed that you can pursue what you want next year. I will even fund it. This year, you’ll finish the studies you committed to. I’m not negotiating it anymore.”
His jaw was aching from where he’d unconsciously clenched it and it took a minute to remind his facial muscles how to relax. “What if I can’t?”
“Adnaan, for God’s sake!” Dad was starting to look really angry.
“If I fail again, then what?” That was the problem and neither of his parents were getting it. He kept failing. He wasn’t trying to fail, but it happened anyway.
“If you study, you won’t fail.” Dad said, as though it was just that simple. “Just study a bit.”
The assumption that he was lazy, that he’d been deliberately neglecting his work was what hurt most and pushed everything over the edge. Sitting down again, he pressed the palms of his hands over his face and ignored his father’s attempts to keep talking to him. He hated this. He hated, hated, hated it. It felt like he was in a pool and there was someone swimming beneath him, trying to pull him down under until he suffocated.
He was vaguely aware of someone coming to sit next to him and an arm settling around his shoulders, the other going around his front and settling on his arm to rub up and down. “Don’t cry,” Dad told him. “Come on, shh.”
He tried to swallow back the noise he was making, but it just spilled out louder. Dad stopped shushing him and started talking again. “If you really can’t, then you can stop. Okay? Just the next few months.”
He nodded. “’Kay.”
Dad didn’t seem to have heard him. “And you wanted to travel, didn’t you? Once you’re done, we can start planning that for you.”
There was a steady hand rubbing circles on his back and he felt his eyes begin to droop. He mumbled out another noise of agreement and then let the wave of exhaustion sweep him away.