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Stories

A Prodigal Life

Author’s Note: This story is much longer than my usual, but bear with me to the end and enjoy. Adapted from a story a lot of us know, but told with a different perspective.

The world will not allow my selfishness to exist. Therefore, I will not be greedy.
I am the good guy, the good son, the good one.
The one who respects, the one who lives up to expectations.
I am the one who does not ask for much because I know I will not be given. Therefore, I am not greedy.

But look, my brother whom I love, is going off to live his own life. He refuses to be bound to this good life that I live. He wants to see the world, the women, the life.
He wants what I want, but do not ask or seek for, because it is not good.
And off he is, to get it.
But I do not begrudge him that. He is young. He will learn that living that life is not good. It bears no reward.

Father looks ill-pleased. He does not want my brother to go. Father would not let me go. It is a wonder he lets my brother go.
I ask why, and father tells me it is because he has much to learn. He will come back home.

And so I cast my mind off it, for there are tasks I must accomplish. I am needed of my father. There are things I must do for him, to further his wealth and keep his glory.
I am the good son.
I do not ask for a reward, for all that belongs to my father belongs to me, and in due time I shall inherit it all. The rewards of my long labours. The result of my late nights and early mornings and back-breaking hours.
I am promised it all.
In due time.
I am not greedy, I am content to wait. After all, I am the good son.

Often my thoughts turn to my brother. Is he living a good life, or ‘the good life’? Is he safe? Is he well? Does he spend long hours toiling?
I think of his inheritance that he has taken with him, and I wonder if he is using it well. I wonder how much richer he has become.
There is no word from him, and the news does not carry his story. He must not like publicity, and as such, he is investing without drawing attention to himself.
Smart boy. I am proud of him.

But now I must return. I run an errand for my father, that will take me away from the comfort of my home for a time, and it is an errand I am not happy to run, but it is demanded of me.
I am the good son.

So off I go, with much less than what my brother left with, on an errand that will cost me a lot I have been working on.
The girl whom I propose to marry would have to wait for me, but since I do not know how long I will be gone for, I can not ask her to wait.
The side business I am establishing for myself will have to be put on hold, but I may lose all my investors before I return, and have to start from scratch again.
But this is an errand for my father, and it is worth it, for in the end, I will inherit that which my father sees fit to give to me.

I miss my brother as I head off to do my father’s bidding, and ever my thoughts turn to him.
It has been three years now, and still no word from him.
I am not worried, for I know nothing bad has befallen him. We are tied by a fate that lets me know when harm comes upon him, and my heart is not tight in my chest with dread, and so I know he is alive and well.
Often I have feelings of uneasiness, but even these pass in time.

Sadly, I wonder if he is married. The younger, before the elder. If he is, I will congratulate him and hold and hug him, and welcome his wife into the family. Or wives, if he has decided to marry more than one.
But my happiness for his fortune will be genuine, and I will be happy from the bottom of my heart as I clasp my arms around him and embrace him.
He is my younger, and I miss him.

My task is long, and I return successful. I have done as my father asked of me. I expect his praise, and fantasize of his happiness to see me return to the household.
I wonder if my girl is still waiting and willing, and if we can be wed before the month is up.

Of all the reasons I have to remain good, these two are foremost in my heart.
Of my inheritance from my father, I can wait, for with it comes his loss, and that I wish not for.
But still, it remains an excuse to be good, and not a reason.
And yet, as the good son, I stand as a pillar to guide my brother. Upon me lies the responsibility.

But as I approach my home, my musing is cut short, the sounds of celebration I imagine in my head replaced by actual sounds of celebrations coming from my home.
Have they spotted me from afar and begun a celebration in my honour already? I am touched, and hasten my steps towards the house, happy to be the good son.

But then the guests see me, and they are surprised and welcome me back, and I am confused. If they are surprised at my return, then for whom is this banquet hosted?

And then I see my father, dressed in finery, and beaming, the look of happiness I imagined him wearing upon my return.
But it is not for me he wears that look, it is for the guest of honour.
My brother has returned, as my father said he would.

And I go in to hug him, genuinely happy, and eager to hear all he has done and wrought in the four years he has been away.
I look around for a wife or children to mark an increase in his life, but there is none.
And my father embraces him again, as I hear he has been doing for the two days since my brother has returned. Today marks the third in which they have been celebrating.

After stowing away my gear, I sit next to my brother, eager to hear of his life abroad, and he tells as much as he can.

In his first year, with half the fortune of my father that he left with, he travelled the world, seeing sights and places and people that I have dreamed of seeing. He speaks of food he has tasted, and wine, and women.
And it sounds glamorous, and exciting, the kind of life I would like to experience some of. But it also sounds expensive.

And he recalls until the second year, by which time his fortunes have depleted to a third of what he set out with. And regaining some sense, he decides it would be best to replenish it.
So he goes to a world famous casino, there to double or triple his wealth in one go.
I am apprehensive at his telling, for I have heard word of this casino. They are corrupt, and more people leave there as losers than winners, and never with more than they came in with.

He confirms my story, and tells of how, plagued with wine and busty women and substances he is not proud of, he lost his sense, and with it, almost all of his remaining wealth.

The guests are listening avidly, eager to hear this tale. On my father’s face, I see only happiness at my brother’s return.
Am I the only one feeling uneasy?
I manage to catch the gaze of my brother’s eyes, and in that second before he averts his eyes, I see his shame. The story is not one like we had expected, and the ending will be worse than its beginning.
But I hold my tongue and my peace, and continue to listen, trying to silence this unknown emotion I feel creeping up on me.

My brother continues his tale, and at this point, he is committed to a hospital for his mind to be repaired. He is weaned off his use of these substances, and when he leaves, another year has passed.
By now, he is healthy, but considerably poorer.
With his little remaining money, he tries to invest in the market, but he has been away from it for too long, and forgotten the tricks of the trade that my father taught us both, and he loses all he has.

Bereft of hope, he considers taking his life as recompense for the loss of half our father’s wealth, but luckily he remembers that our lives are tied by fate, and his death might very well end my own life too. He remembers that for all his wrongdoing, I am innocent, and I love him, and he stays his hand from harming himself.
He looks at me, and I see gratitude in his eyes. Whether he is grateful that my memory is what kept him alive, I do not know.

After that, he seeks for work wherever he can find. He eventually finds work in a diner, cleaning up after everybody, and taking out the trash.
It is not a bad life, for others live such lives, even though they seek for better ones.
But it is not the life of a prince. Not the life of someone who has so much going for him.

And at the end of the year, his fourth year away, three months ago, he packed his bag and headed home, not to take a place as a son, and not even as one of my father’s workers, for he fears the wrath of my father at the loss of his wealth.
He is coming home to be one of my workers.
He knows I love him, and counts on the love and responsibility of the good son to shelter him and help him recover from the ‘good life’ he sought to live.
He knows I will do it without thinking, for it is a natural inclination of mine.
And he is right, it is.
But since I was not around upon his return, he had told my father of his wish, to which my father had shouted aloud: “Nonsense. I will not have a son of mine as slave to another. You shall be restored to your glory, as a prince, and as a son of your father.”

Now the guests, having obtained such juicy rumour, are already eager to go and spread it. Cell phones are brandished, and I realise some would have recorded the entire recollection, so I wave to the helpers in the house, and whisper to them to confiscate the devices, and remove such content as should not be there.

And as the helpers go among the guests, deleting such harmful information as they have recorded from my brother’s tales, I spot my beloved among the guests, and a ring upon her finger, the hand of which is wrapped around a gentleman who, while enraptured in the tale which my brother is divulging, still looks at her with eyes of love.
And I know I have lost her to my equal, or maybe even my better.
And my heart is happy for her, and at the same time, cold.

My father speaks aloud to me, to the hearing of the assembled guests: “Your brother has returned. Embrace him as you will a brother, and treat him not as you will a servant, for that I forbid. And now that he has lived the so called ‘good life’, now he can live like his big brother, and be a better son than you, for he has seen what he should not do, and will do that which he should, better than he should.”

And the guests cheer at my father’s words, and my brother has the good grace to be humbled by the announcement.
But now I understand the emotion that has been rising in my chest for what it is. It is anger.

And I wait until the party is ended, and the night is gone by, before speaking to my father and brother alone in the hours of the morning.
This I say to them: “Now that my younger brother is returned, you testify that he will be a better son than I, the good son. And although I do not begrudge him your love, for you love us equally, I begrudge him your forgiveness, easily given as it is, for all he has done I would be punished severely if I had done but a tenth of. And my grace would not be restored, neither would my place at your side.”

But my father replies: “You are the elder, and the first born. Of you much is expected. The younger should learn from the elder, and the elder in turn from the father.
“You are a good son, as I have raised you, and in your own way, you have pointed your brother in a direction that will make him a better son, and a better man. Delight in that.”

And after numerous words are shared, I embrace my brother wholly, and welcome him home. Then I lead him to my office and for the next few months I show him all he needs to know, to the delight of my father.

And true to my father’s words, he is a better son than I am, or ever was, and even I am pleased.
At the end, when he has learned all that he should, and proven he can apply them all with ease, I pack a few bags and kiss him and my father goodbye.
And I leave my father’s household in the care of the better son, for the good son is no longer good enough.

Lost to me is the girl with whom I had hoped to live my life.
Belittled is the effort which I have put in over the years. The hard work, the long hours, my sacrifices.
And my father’s forgiveness, which I thought would not be forthcoming upon my actions, I now find freely available.
Having lost my reasons to be good, I find it best to leave.

I do not leave with half the fortune, only as much as I require, for I am smart and I can make more on the way.
When I come back, I am assured of my father’s forgiveness, and of my place in his house.
But until then, there are places to go, and things to see, people to meet, and delights on which to feast.

I am off to live the prodigal life.

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