A Life Of "Do I Have To's"

Matthew took his place at the dinner table that day in an uncharacteristically cheerful mood. Yet, the explanation was simple. Company. It was rare for visitors to stay for more than half an hour or so, and never had visitors occupied themselves with residents other than the person they had come to visit. But for Stuart's 70th birthday the whole family had invaded the home and thrown a party for all the residents. And now they were all invited to dinner with a few guests spread around each table. Matthew watched a young mother struggling to die her daughter's bib. The struggle was not due to any failing on the part of the bib; its source lay elsewhere testified by a persistent whine and the forceful question: "Do I have to?"

Matthew reflected on these strangely familiar words. It wasn't so much recognition at first sight; more a slow lapse into some other world, a world which had belonged to him, still belonged to him and which was now slowly becoming visible again in his mind's eye.

That very first struggle with his mother. She had been trying to get him to wash his fingernails, which were more than usually dirty. Three times he had tried and three times been sent back. The third time his mother had come with him. She had been ruthless in her scrubbing despite the plaintive "Why do I have to do this every day."

Then, there was his first day in school. He had apparently cried his eyes out when his mother told him she was going. But he couldn't remember that. All he could remember was seeing his mother appearing at the end of the day - she had obviously been crying herself - and letting out a surprised "What do I have to go already?"

"Yes dear," had been the warm reply as a smile broke out over her face. But you can come back again tomorrow. He had always considered that as his first victory.

As he grew older the complaints became different. School was no longer the fun it used to be and cries of "Do I have to go today?" or "Do I have to do this physics homework? became commonplace. Fortunately there were more interesting subjects than maths and physics and Matthew suddenly remembered drilling the now familiar phrases "Est-ce que je dois?" and "Muss ich wirklich?" That other languages used this self-same expression never ceased to amaze him.

But the do I have to's in his life were not always negative. There were the agonising choices that had to be made. "Why do I have to choose between a trip to France and one to Germany? Why can't I have both?" In the end he had chosen France and met that pretty little Louise. Despite all his coaxing she would always ask him "Do I have to?" And Matthew didn't have the heart to force her. And of course, the day came when he had to leave. They never saw each other again.

But later came more success in that area and when he did finally get around to asking Mahdi if she would marry him, she, at least, did not answer "Do I have to?"

And so he entered one of the most rewarding periods of his life. With hard work came success. But success only brought on more hard work and a constant string of Do you have to's from his somewhat frustrated family. Until the day came when Matthew himself asked "Do I have to?" and resigned from the company, ending his career in the most rewarding job he'd ever had, encouraging young people to push beyond their own "Do I have to's" to a realisation of their full potential.

And then came the worst "Do I have to" of all, as his beloved Mahdi told him from her deathbed that it was time to say good-bye. Even now the tears started to fall as he remembered that moment. So much so that the little girl at his table forgot her struggle with her mama and asked "Mammy, do grown-ups have to cry?"


Life's like that! Told from a nice perspective ;)

1 August 2008 at 10:48  

A lifetime in a very short story, with a bitter-sweet last sentence. Very well done! You might check your first paragraph for words you might have omitted in the throes of creation, i.e. last word of 1st sentence.

2 August 2008 at 03:38  

Thanks for pointing to this omission.

2 August 2008 at 08:17  

Wouldn't it be dreadful if someone answered a marriage proposal with 'Do I have to?'!!
Life really is full of moments which force us into uncomfortable situations until we finally have to say goodbye to people forever.

2 August 2008 at 14:23  

very poignant story of a life and ultimately a death - very nice setting for matthew's flashback, so appropriate!!!

2 August 2008 at 23:46  

Very cleverly done!

3 August 2008 at 01:08  

So very sweet.

3 August 2008 at 17:50  

That was a great read..very well written..I liked how if flowed quickly through a lifetime without a long story.

4 August 2008 at 03:46  


22 August 2008 at 20:56  

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