Mask by Bader Shehab

Kids these days, they just hog their phones all day and can’t even spare a second to say “hello”. I can’t even make eye contact with my kids – bending their necks over their texts, Twitter timelines and pointless YouTube comments. It’s either their phones or their gaming consoles controlling lifeless characters performing auto thefts or murdering hookers. All while their pointless notification feeds load up so that they can check on it and get the dosage of ‘feel good’ Dopamine in their clogged little heads. I want to conversate and have an uninterrupted interaction with my kids again. Most importantly, I want to enjoy a warm meal with them. Which is why I recently introduced the ‘basket policy’, a simple fiber basket I bought on discount from Walmart. The policy states that both Annette and William Shakesworth must place their devices in that basket before stepping into the dining room. Otherwise, other punishments can ensue as well. I enforced allowance deduction, push-ups, and taking their devices away myself. They all seemed to work nicely until they started upholding the basket policy themselves. Though my kids are bummed out, not having their phones and all, but at least I get to talk to them. It’s therapeutic for all of us – seeing them bend their foreheads on their palms, giving me brief answers and the usual: “I’m not hungry” so that they can go back to their phones sooner, I can see through it all.

They may be distracted, forgetful, hasty, ill-mouthed, procrastinates, tempered, or impatient. But, millennials are extremely intelligent and are living life much, much faster than my generation, at a day and age I couldn’t even imagine possible not too long ago. And, I’m not that much older than they are. Their mother passed away during labor so I had to be their father and mother figure. My mother helped me with raising the kids and I had to work a second job to keep up with expenses. It has been a tough fifteen-year journey for my family, but now I’m in a better place financially and can afford more time to spend with my kids. Annette and William are the greatest human beings to have ever enter my life, but they are also a handful to put it mildly. Or I’ll just put it bluntly; they’re a pair of midget devils who at seldom times can be angelic.

“Hey daddy.” Annette greets me with her usual splendor.

“Hey baby.” I replied. A moment later in walks William. “Hey dad…” A bit of a buzz kill, but at least that’s something… he sits down across Annette and myself, then stares below at something and I notice a bright light.

“Ahmm, forgetting something are we, young man?” I tried to keep a playful tone. “Fine, dad…” Before he could bring his head back up his eyes were already rolling on a second lap into his skull. He quickly walks to the basket and throws his phone inside. He then sits down folding his arms across the empty plate. “I’m not hungry.”

“Will, your phone won’t go away, just eat your food and you can go back to it.” I have a lot of patience, something I never thought I’d have when I was their age. “I made you guys meatloaf, gravy sauce with some peas and mashed potatoes, your favorite!” I held up a fork and steak knife and cut a slice for Annette, William and myself. I topped their dishes with gravy, peas, and mashed potatoes. Annette and I dug into our foods, but William was just pushing the peas around in a pool of sauce. “Hey, buddy, what’s wrong? You have got to eat something.” I reacted.

“I’m fine, dad.” He replied while keeping his eyes trained on the peas. I poured some water for them and I stood up to get some wine for myself. As I walked back in I caught Annette staring at her watch for an unusually long time, “Waiting for someone, pumpkin?” I asked as I sat back and kissed her head. “Oh… oh yeah daddy, Jessica’s parents are going to be here at 7. They’re taking me to the movies.” Annette replied nervously while hiding her watch with the other hand.

“Oh, okay, I didn’t know that – they never called… well anyways, have fun.” I smiled back at her lively sunshine of an expression she tends to return even when nervous. Her facial designs only but remind me of her late mother… “Buddy, Will, you have got to eat or your food will get cold.” Will was resting his chin on his forearms examining his food.

“Fine, dad. I’ll… I’ll eat.” William managed to look me in the eye and cast a slight, but noticeable smile. “Ahmm, can I get some bread, dad?”

“Oh certainly, ha! As a matter of fact, I’ve just baked some this morning! Oats and raisin.” I smiled back cheek to cheek. I walked back in the dining room while carrying warmed bread in a basket, but again I caught Sally staring at her watch and this time it was William as well, staring below surely at a device of some sort. I checked the phone basket to make sure all their devices were there and I counted three of them; mine, Annette’s and William’s. “Guys, what are you doing?”

“Nothing dad, we’re… eating?” Annette replied the obvious while flipping her watch over and under her wrist, it illuminated an unusually bright light under her sweater. I’ve never seen a watch so bright – I thought. William just sat quietly without uttering a word. I placed the bread basket square on the table and walked around to his side.

“What are you hiding, Will?” I asked in an investigative manner. It felt like I was being played and needed to get to the bottom of it. “It’s my iPod, dad.” William replied as he stuffed it back to his sweatpants pocket. “I was just… just fixing my playlist.”

“Give it to me, please.” I couldn’t hold my temper anymore and my tone changed, the kids noticed. “Dad, it’s not a phone, it’s an iPod.” William was trying to be smart with me again, using my lack of tech knowledge to outtalk me out of trouble, but to no avail.

“I don’t care what it is. It’s got a screen on it, it illuminates and it’s at my dinner table – no, period.” He lazily held up the device over his shoulder and I took it. Walked back around to Annette’s side then I immediately noticed every time her phone went off outside the dining room, her watch illuminated a bright screen. “What you got there, young lady?” I took a closer look at her watch; my shortsightedness didn’t help either. So, I pretty much stuck my head under my daughter’s neck, and God almighty that watch had the same applications like on the phone. “How do you even manage to see this thing?” was my first reaction…

“Dad, I just use it to see the time, I swear.” She lied because I could have sworn I saw the WhatsApp, Facebook, and Google icons. “Daddy, please…”

“No, you don’t need to stare at your watch all that time we’re not at the airport. Besides, how do you get that watch? Fancy spy gadgets like that what are you, Charlie’s Angel? And, you young man, nice try with the iPod… I wonder what’s next; one of those tablet device things I suppose and tell me it’s your cafeteria tray? I mean, wow… just… wow. You guys really outdone yourselves. Had you wasted your time reading Shakespeare and Wordsworth, like I have in my age. Instead of all that pointless texting and snapchatting then maybe you’d make fine scholars of letters in the future…” I’ve just about had it up to here at this point. They both stood up from their chairs, and Annette walked over to William’s side while I watched. Okay, now what – I thought.

William took the center of the room, Annette slightly to his right, spread his arms in dramatic expression and to my shocked ears and eyes, began reciting Macbeth’s soliloquy. I couldn’t stand straight, I had to lean on the wall behind me when my arms gave out from leaning on the chair. As if Will’s shock was not enough, Sally took center stage and Will moved to the left wing; she then recited what my ears recognized as Wordsworth’s sonnet: “The World Is Too Much with Us”. She paused at the correct punctuations, knowing them by heart, and emphasized her tone/delivery at the correct places, Wordsworth would have been proud of her performance… I was left in a state of confusion and gratitude, pure joy and mute – at once. They made a grandiose finale, both stepping center stage as they bowed, and performing a dramatic exit stage right. I managed a slow clap as their words reverberated in my head…

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